Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Behold, All Things Have Almost Become New

For most Ghanaian Christian youth, there’s the church your parent attend which you used to attend and there’s the church you started attending when you went to school. The two churches are so different, sometimes it hard to believe they are the same religion.

In your parent’s church, the choir still wears robes and sings hymn, the instruments include a trumpet, very old drums and probably even an accordion. The Priest still dresses in black, has that white collar thing around his neck and has “back-bush” hair cut. His title is a mere Pastor or at best Reverend and he still gives sermons in King James. During service, half the congregation is fast asleep or engaged in some frivolous conversation. Worst of all, during collection, the church manages to raise only a few hundred Ghana cedis.  

Your church, Something-Something-International, is so cool you don’t even have to call it by its full name; everyone calls it by its acronym, XYZ. The choir is so hip that sometimes the choir master raps during the song. The Bass Guitarist has dreads and wears a pink top. The ladies in the church wear trousers that are one size too small and no skirt drops below the knees. Your Pastor drives an expensive car (by the grace of God) is a Reverend Doctor or maybe even a Reverend Doctor Doctor but he’s so humble he allows everyone to call him by his nickname. During fund raising the church raises more that a few thousand cedis.

I hadn’t seen my parents in a while so when I had one free weekend I decided to visit them. There is no way I was going home for the weekend without going to church. My Dear Mom is one of those super-Christians and staying at home on Sunday is somewhere down there close to first degree murder. I had to psyche myself and prepare for a boring service at my old church.

Sunday morning and I was dressed up looking very holy. See, you can’t go to one of those old churches looking like you are going to a new church. Some random old person would call you aside and give you some words of advice.

The first thing I noticed after being away for two years was that there was a huge colourful sign outside. That wasn’t there the last time. There were lots of new people in the church who thought I was new. Can you imagine that? Where were there when we were still under a shed? I actually noticed a lady wearing trousers! It was baggy but still, trousers all the same. What was going on? The Usher even distributed a program sheet that said service would end at 11:30!! Things had changed in the two years I had been away.

Sermon started and the preacher was teaching on “7 Ways to Financial Success” and everyone was busy writing note. Gone were the boring, “Love your neighbor as yourself” sermons. The Pastor was hyperactive and shouting the sermon. (Why do preachers shout into microphones anyway? Why not just increase the volume?) The sermon was being interjected by random loud “Hallelujahs” and “Preach On”. All this felt strange to me. I was used to this in my new church but not in my old church.

Soon it was offering time and in the queue to the bowl there was this guy dancing like his life depended on it. He would go a few steps forward, twirl, jump and perform all sort of complex feet movement. The problem with this is that, I’m one of those guys who can’t dance. Yep, black man with no rhythm (this is actually considered a disability by some people).  This guy was making me look really bad and I couldn’t wait to drop my money into the bin and hurry to my seat. A few years ago, it would have been a solemn march to the offering bowl.

Offering time in an African Church

It was past 12:00 and it didn’t look like we would close soon. I kept stealing glances at my mobile phone and the program line up. It seems I was the only one worried about the time. Everyone else seemed to be “In the Spirit”.

Finally, it was time for announcements. That is always the last thing so you know closing time was just around the corner. It seemed they had not yet found a way to make announcements a bit more exciting. It was the old boring funerals, mid-week meetings etc all read in a very boring voice. I wouldn’t help but notice that the mid-week activities had increase. Apart from Saturday, every other day was occupied.

I was in a hurry to go home right after the closing prayer but that didn’t happen. Everyone wanted to talk to me. The old-timers in the church would stop me only to talk about my embarrassing childhood moment and tell me how old I had grown. Everyone wanted to know when I was getting married. I spent another 45minutes before finally leaving.

On my way home I noticed another church that hadn’t closed yet. It didn’t look like they would be closing anytime soon. I couldn’t help thinking to myself that I seriously needed to synchronize my watch to God’s time which was obviously the best and had a few extra hours.


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Art of Paying Bribe

If you’ve lived in Ghana for a while, chances are that you’ve had to pay bribe at one point to get something done. Bribes are an unavoidable part of the Ghanaian society. Without them, nothing moves. One popular Ghanaian politician said corruption can not be totally eradicated from society.

There are certain etiquette one has to observe in paying bribes. No self respecting Ghanaian will accept bribes “just like that”. The giver needs to learn the right way to give it. I’ve attempted to document the rules that govern the giving of bribes.

The giving of bribe inspires some of the most beautiful parables and proverbs you can find around. For example when giving a bribe, you don’t say, “Please take this Gh¢300 as bribe”. That’s just unacceptable. You have to say, “Please take this Gh¢300 to buy some pure water”. Never mind that pure water cost a mere 10p. This way the receiver can take the bribe with a clear conscience.

You also need to be wise enough to understand when someone is asking for bribe. Some time ago I had to get a Security clearance from the Police. I was told that it took two weeks for the report to be done or 3days for express. I paid for express and returned on the forth day. When I got there the report had not yet been done. According to the officer, there were so many papers on his table and his Binatone Standing fan kept blowing them away. He said he wanted a stone to put on my application so that mine didn’t get blown away. So I got him an expensive stone and right in front of me he filled the form and I was on my way.

You shall under no circumstance give bribe in a brown envelope. Brown envelopes in Ghana are synonymous with bribes so at all cost, avoid them. You can put the money in a white envelope or present it unwrapped. Bribes may not be presented as cheque or money order. If it has to be money, it should always be cold hard cash.

It is not bribe if it is not money. You may present your bribe in the form of hampers especially during festivities. Hampers have become a part of the Ghanaian society. You can even present a hamper in public without anyone frowning on it.

At the beginning of the High School academic year it is normal to see parents visiting the residence of headmasters with fattened goats. These goats are the means by which student who didn’t qualify ride into various schools. No one can accuse the headmaster of taking bribe; all he took was a goat.
You may also present what ever money or gift you have to the person’s children. For example you can offer to pay his kids school fees for one term or buy a very expensive gift for his kids on their birthday or Christmas. No one can say that is a bribe, obviously the kids are not the same as their parents.

If for any reason someone is bold enough to ask you directly for bribe, you are not allowed to bargain. Just pay up.
Always remember, if you don’t pay it won’t get done. Just accept that and don’t give anyone a lecture on morality or patriotism.