You’re an expat living in a far-away country and you’re supposed to have a sense of humor about the trials and tribulations that are involved in living abroad. Sometimes that is easier said than done. Sometimes you just have a really rotten day with not a bright spot or a laugh to be found anywhere. I remember having one of those bad days in Ghana, West Africa, which is generally speaking a pretty cheery place. They have certain medical professionals there who have solutions for everything that ails you, as you can see on the board on this photo by Berry Fine. Well, for almost everything. There’s nothing on that list that claims to cure a bad day.
OF MUSIC, FUNERALS AND OTHER ANNOYANCES
This morning we get up to find that we still can’t access our e-mail on the computer. The connection has been giving us trouble for a week and we’ve been haughtily told (over the phone) that it’s our computer, not the server. We’re not convinced, but have requested a guru to come to the house and rectify the problem, but no techie has shown up yet.
“You’d better call them again,” says my mate as he hoists on his walking shorts in preparation for our morning strut through the neighborhood. I say I will. Not that calling has done any good in the last week. I yank my sleeveless shirt over my head and wish I could do my walk naked. The air feels like soup.
After our slog through the mucky air, we shower and have breakfast while watching the news on CNN, which does nothing to lift my spirits. Breakfast over, I paint on my eyebrows and take the husband to his office, stopping at the kiosk to get a morning paper. PLAYBOY PASTOR GRABBED, reads the front-page headline. I skim over the first paragraph. A play-boy man of the gospel, who colluded with his teenage girlfriend and one other person to deprive a Kumasi-based businessman of an amount of C 110 million, has found himself in the jaws of the law. Nothing but problems everywhere.
At the office my spouse gets out and wishes me a nice day. I have no great hopes. Back at home I make myself a cup of tea. Burn my mouth. Damn.
At nine I call the office of the Internet service provider. Nobody answers the phone. I call Isaac, the techie, on his mobile phone. No response. This is how it has been for days. I go back to my book. My writing is not going well. I can’t even contact my writer friends across the world by e-mail and ask for loving support in my writing trials. My spirits are sinking lower and lower. I need help. A cure. A potion.
Somewhere nearby in the street a party is going on with enthusiastic singers and a drum band blasting church hymns all over the neighborhood. On and on. And on and on. Windows closed. Air conditioning on. Still, the air reverberates with the Rock of Ages. How am I going to write a love scene with this ruckus all around me?
About lunch time the band stops, and I heave a sigh of relief. Then the muezzin in the mosque starts chanting Allah Akbar, etc., off-key and loud.
I call the ISP again, and still nobody answers the phone. It just rings and rings. I have a feeling nothing is going to happen today to get me my Internet back. Or my sense of humor.
I stare at the computer screen and nothing is happening there either. I might as well run some errands. I grab my purse and rush out the door and into the car, which has been sitting in the blasting sun and is hot like a furnace. I open all the windows.
The band is playing hymns again and the noise is eardrum-shattering. As I ease the car out of the gate I see the street clogged with cars and people going in and out of a gate, all of them dressed in dark red or brown funeral clothes. Funeral celebrations in Ghana require lots of music, beer and partying. The whole town is treated to the music for free. The louder the music, the better the rest of the world can enjoy it.
Coffins too are cheery affairs, created by specialized artisans for those who can afford them. They come in all manner of shapes and sizes: Cars, boats, chilli peppers, beer bottles, Nokia cell phones, take your pick. Photo © Walter Callens
Ali, our gardener, is watering the flowers outside the gate and looks at me sorrowfully. “It’s a funeral,” he says, rather superfluously.
“Yes,” I say. “The music is too-too much.”
“Somebody die,” he elaborates. “He jus drop dead in the bahf.”
Dropped dead in the bath. Oh, God. “I’m very sorry,” I say. “Did you know the person? Was he old?”
Ali shrugs. “I not know the person.”
A silver Benz wants to pass and I’m blocking the road, so I move and get out of there, almost getting stuck in a pothole the size of Calcutta. I go to Top in Town Supermarket. Buy Italian pasta, Danish butter, Dutch cheese, Swiss Chocolate, and French wine. Somehow I’ve got to cheer myself up, but it will be an international effort.
Back home, I drink a glass of water and go back to my office. The drummers are still at it, but playing highlife now, which is at least a nice change. I guess there is only so much religion even the Ghanaians can take.
Photo of coffins by Walt Jabsco
Unfortunately, the singers and the band recuperate fast and an hour later they’re doing hymns again. By now I am going stark raving mad. It is too loud to ignore. It’s interfering with my work, my concentration, my mood. I’m losing my cool, my mind, my sanity. Somebody died. A sad thing, sure. But do they have to ruin my day?
Then, to punish me for my uncharitable thoughts, the electricity goes off and we have to turn on the generator, which in an instant fills the house with the stench of diesel fumes in spite of the closed windows and running AC units. I seldom have headaches. One sure way for me to get one is to blow diesel fumes in my direction. Within an hour the headache is in full bloom while the band booms Jesus Loves Me This I Know.
No, I am not having a good day, even if Jesus loves me.
But, in the fullness of time, meaning a couple of hours later, things do get better. The electricity comes back on. Two spiffy Internet gods arrive and fix the problem (the server’s, not ours). I’m online again! And then my man calls and asks if I’d like to go out to dinner in a nice, relaxing place.
Really, I have a wonderful life and nothing to complain abo
ut. Even my headache is gone.
And outside all is quiet.
* * *
NOTE: We all have bad days now and then. As an expat you often have problems and annoyances you wouldn’t have at home and sometimes your sense of humor bails out on you. I know you expats and global travelers have stories, so do tell!