Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Greed and Desperation

I know this is long, but it reads quick. Then I want to respond below. The original entry by a Peace Corps volunteer in the Upper West Region of Ghana is much longer, and much sadder, but this is the part that really spoke to me.

All is can say is that I am completely powerless over people and how they treat each other and whether or not they choose to be honest or manipulative or kind and considerate. I guess when you live in a place where no one has what they consider to be “enough”, then everyman is out to gain only for himself.

Wait, I shouldn’t say that, just yesterday, I watched Francis, at the tea stand, give food and coins to a hungry man who came over and sat down on the bench. I’ve watched him give small pieces of bread and coins away countless times. My friend, Sandra, brings me food when she can barely feed herself. So, I
know that kindness exists here and I’m constantly witness to beauty in this world, I guess this week I’ve just been hit in the face with a big pie of manipulation and dishonesty and I want to punch something.

We’ve created a monster. By we, I mean development workers, religious organizations, and all other enablers that show up on their white horses to swoop into “poor” countries hoping to save the day. How could I have been so self-righteous, so egotistical to come here? Its almost impossible to make friends because even the ones who do care for you, are still hoping for a hand
out, how can they not, they watch TV, they see what they don’t have and what they think you do have it all.

So much of this country is dependant on the money we place here and we’re not helping anyone. We’re enabling them to sit around and drink all day long and not do anything for themselves except beg the white man for money. I do not
speak for the entire community/ country, of course there are the heart warming stories of the guy who walked to school from the village everyday as an adult, being teased by his family, wearing a uniform and sitting in primary school as a
full grown man because all he wanted to do was learn to read and write and in the end, completed University, and now does grassroots work for the Upper West, a true story that my co-worker Richard lived. But, these are few and far between
and don’t always compare to the pain I see others inflict on their fellow man out of fear or greed or some other drive I can’t seem to pinpoint.

WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE? I’m so confused. I want to weep but I’m so angry, the tears won’t come right now. Man, this is a rude awakening.


Last week, I argued with a carpenter who over-charged the women in the bakery group three times. He gave us a price for the doors and windows and then he upped it once, then he upped it again, this time to accommodate for the hardware, then months later, when we still had no doors and windows, he told
them they had to pay even more for installation.

This no good *******, pretended not to understand English each and every time I’ve ever spoken to him and I stupidly viewed him as a nice humble carpenter riding around on his old beat up bicycle. Well, last week, he showed up to put the doors in, after receiving the final collection of money, which these poor women took from their nearly empty pockets and put into the pot to pay him, and he spoke English to me!!! I lost it. I yelled at him, asking why it is that I care more about his community and these women than he does?

Why is it that we’re busting our ***** to build a bakery for
this **** community that comes along and sees a white lady and ups the price? (Which just proves that our presence only brings about greed, and it wasn’t meant to be that way but we designed this monster and after 47 years, its begging instincts are honed and his survival ones have nearly all been forgotten.)

And then, the carpenter just laughs, of course, because everyone yells here so much, it has no effect. I start to take deep breaths because I’m fuming and then I look up to see him getting on a brand new motorcycle! I wanted to strangle him, I asked him how he paid for it and gave him a death stare, but then I jumped slumped down on the ledge and sat, feeling weighted with sadness, I thought I was escaping that type of treatment but now I see that it happens everywhere, how was I so na├»ve?

Yesterday, while I was visiting the Sunday market, greeting the local women and enjoying the wonderful breeze that lasted all day after the storm that blew through the night before, this man walks up behind me and says, White lady, why don’t you give me 2000. I turned around and looked up at him and said in the loudest voice I could muster, I should just slap you! Then I walked away, but I really wanted to slap him, so bad I can only describe it as the way your mouth salivates at the smell of food when you haven’t eaten all day. So I turned and looked up at him again and raised my arm up and said, No really, I should slap you, why would you ask me that? He said, No, no, sorry, sorry. I put my arm down, felt deflated, turned and slowly walked away. I hate this feeling. I don’t want to hurt anyone, I understand, if I was in his shoes, I’d probably ask the
same thing. I just don’t know how to proceed. I’m lost.

I feel so sorry for this PC volunteer. I have never felt anywhere as "down" about greed and corruption in Ghana as she is feeling right now, but this has been sort of a "down" last few days.

I love our staff at Eban House. Most of them have been with us since we began last June. They are all warm and friendly and giving women. But even they aren't immune to the temptation of greed that the volunteer above talks about.

These women, most for the first time, are making a decent (not huge, but decent) wage, with vacation and medical benefits. They receive gifts regularly from our exceptionally generous traveling adoptive parents. Plus our kids (and staff) get "treats" like ice cream and "toffee" (Ghana for candy) and American-style treats that the parents bring. I'm sure that our staff have a lot more extras in their life than they have ever had before.

My American feeling is that the staff should feel happy about these positive changes and extras. That they would feel thankful for the extras they now have and work hard to exemplify the standards we expect of our staff at AAI.

But that isn't the case--at least not for all of the women I care about so much. At least a handful of them have proven that what happens when you get "some" is that you want "more"....and more and more and more.

I saw it happen with Bright's orphanage. When I first visited there it was a very basic home with a ton of love. No running water, no electricity, no extras, but a lot of love. Then adoptions started happening. And parents brought "extras" and fundraised for the necessities that they didn't have. Contrary to our American thoughts, they didn't become "happy" about their situation. And maybe that's too much to expect? I haven't bee in their position.

What did happen is that they wanted MORE AND MORE AND MORE AND MORE. More money for each adoption. More donations. Hoping for the necessities turned into a pot full of absolute greed. They became so greedy, in fact, that the adoption agency that was working with them pulled out--as they should have.

Back to our staff... I pray that this attitude of greed is not seeping into Eban House like a black sludgy poison. We cannot have it. We WILL NOT have it. It just makes me sad that it's even a possibility. This greed is like a person who has been hungry for months and then has a banquet of food and assurance that they will never go hungry again. They overeat. The gorge. They cannot get enough, even though they know in their heads they are now safe. They can't stop.

Does this happen with all people who grow up in a country where the white man represents money and "help?" Am I expecting too much to ask our staff to STOP always wanting "more?" Can they control it or is the feeling of desperation and "neediness" so deeply seeded in their psyches that they cannot stop it? I don't know. But it's my job to stop this poison from infiltrating our staff.



We're Ghana Adopt 11:01 PM  

WOW! That was powerful Anita!

Heather A. 11:23 PM  

I'm sorry you're dealing with such heavy issues at work right now. I know how disappointed you must be in some of the staff at Eban and my heart is hurting for you.

As far as the greed, I have to think that part of that is human nature. I know there have been times in my life when I've been jealous of friends that seemed to have an easier time of things, and for the most part, I think I have a very blessed life.

Maybe part of the problem is that many of the women haven't been around Americans and American affluence, and it's hard for them to feel satisfied with their own lives when they see families come in with cameras and toys and clothes, and then they go out to eat every day, and stay in nice fancy hotels that staff can't afford even with a month's salary.
We come in and unintentionally flaunt our weath and affluence.

Anyway. . . I know a discussion probably isn't what you need right now, so big hugs coming your way.

Love and prayers,

Heather A.

K 11:55 PM  

I certainly know how you are feeling.... I too have seen/lived it. My cell phone rings a few times a month with 'requests' from Ghana.

I am sure there is soooo much to it!

Money or lack of it can sure toy with a person's psyche, much like the way food (or lack of it) does.
Growing up with a sense that you are always in survival mode, actually changes the way the brain develops, and individuals can remain in that survival way of thinking.

I'll tell you what though -It really is a special blessing when you find genuine, giving, loving people who grew up without plenty. And all things considered, there really are many of them in Ghana! (Sometimes it takes 'training' and experience to be able to sift through the flattery (among other things) to determine who is actually genuine)

Praying that you find the best approach to the problem (and let me know if you do!)

K :)

flacius1551 6:12 AM  

Do you, in your life, ever stop wanting more? I mean, seriously, how many Americans think they have "enough"? Don't most people want a larger house, a second car, long vacations, etc., etc.? So how are Ghanaians any different? And why would you expect that they would be "grateful" for help that brings them up to the level of a tenth of what every American thinks of as his birthright just for existing?

The point of charity is not for the recipient to feel grateful. The point of charity is how it affects and changes the giver.

Ericka 6:18 AM  

As always Anita, powerful post.
My heart is heavy for the volunteer and yours struggling with this issue.
Thank you for the post, you continually open our eyes to important issues.

Teri 6:54 AM  

This post completely opened my eyes. Greed is something that everyone is guilty of, but being in America, and only exposed to the American way, I always think the greed is centralized here. But I suppose greed is human nature and exists everywhere.

I am praying for you and for the volunteers. This is a difficult and sensitive issue to deal with. My thoughts are with you.
Oh btw...we are sending in our application today! Finally!

A. Gillispie 6:57 AM  


I think you misunderstood--or I didn't write clearly. I don't expect anybody to be "grateful" to Americans for helping. I am talking about an internal feeling--a knowledge that your life is a good life. Yes, Americans always want more. That is human nature I absolutely agree. But there is something in most Americans that keeps us from TAKING more. I would never TAKE. I would never STEAL from one of my friends or employer. There is something in my psyche (and the psyche of most Americans) that would prevent me from doing that.

What I'm asking on my blog (theorhetically) is if that is missing in the psyche of those who have lived in despseration for a lot of their lives. These are GOOD CHRISTIAN women that work for me at Eban House. They are not common theives. I love them. And they are genuinely good people. But what is missing that would allow at least a handful of them to take that step that we Americans don't allow ourselves to make? Stealing, or outright asking for more? That is my question. I don't think there is any answer.

Yes, as a human I always want more, but as a Christian I try to squeltch that feeling. As a human/Christian I know that I have a BLESSED life even though many in America have more than I do. I do recognize the blessings I have. But sometimes it seems that those in developing countries that have had so few material blessings in their lives, once they have them, fail to recongize that. They fail to feel gratefullness--not to ME or the white man--but to whatever higher power they believe in.

flacius1551 8:06 AM  

And why should they feel grateful? I ask you again. Why should they not take advantage of their situation?

Consider the possibility that the fact that you do not steal has something to do with the context in which you live, in which you know that you can get what you really need without doing so, and that those opportunities will always be open to you one way or another. As opposed to the situation of people who have always lived in poverty, and then one day their situation improves. But what guarantee are you giving them? Are you going to employ them forever? And what happens if they have to stop working for you? Then they will be back in the same situation they were in before. It only make sense that they would try to enrich themselves as a means of dealing with an unstable society and an uncertain future, or in order to help out friends and neighbors. They are only acting rationally. You are applying your rather moralitstic worldview to a situation in which, for very obvious reasons, it doesn't apply. In the end, you may get the employees in your orphanage to stop behaving a certain way--but unless you are a lot more powerful than I suspect, you will not succeed in changing the entire world and context in which they live, which informs their actions in an entirely sensible way.

A. Gillispie 9:21 AM  


You and I agree more than we disagree!! My post is asking QUESTIONS, and I appreciate your point of view. I would love to know what your life experience as been and more where you are coming from. Are you from Africa? Or do you have experience in developing countries? Your writing seems as though you speak from experience, which I appreciate.

You answer my question as YES--there is something in the psyche of some of those in the developing world that makes them continue to have a survivalist lifestyle even after they have acheived "success" by world standards. I appreciate your answer, and I tend to agree (from what I have experienced so far in Ghana).

I do believe that there are those that would not take advantage of an already good situation in order to further their personal wealth. Maybe that is because they are too scared to lose the good situation they are in? I don't know. I know that fear-based motivation works well, even though it is a sad way to motivate people.

I don't pretend to think that I could ever change Ghana as a country, or the developing world. My only influence is over my staff in Ghana. And I'm sure that if that surivalist mentaility is there, it is there--regardless of what I say or do. You are right in that my only influence is within the walls of our children's home. In that place, if they take advantage of what is already a good situation for them, they will be fired. I really do love my staff, and each woman as an individual, so I hope it never comes to that.

As a US adoption agency working in Ghana we are already breaking the laws of what is "normal" and "natural" in Ghana. We can't give gifts and dashs for work, or we would be breaking American ethical practices. And our staff are required in many ways to run the home as "American" as possible. It is a bit like fitting a square peg into a round hole.

Thanks for your input. Very appreciated.

RJ and Rebecca Caswell 11:21 AM  

Hi Anita,
Thanks for posting this. I have thought about ordering African Friends and Money Matters but I haven't yet. You may already have it but here is the link on Amazon.
Also, the book Blue Clay People about a NGO worker in Liberia talked about some of these same things.
Your blog is fantastic!! I'll be praying for you as you navigate these relationships.

A. Gillispie 2:33 PM  


Thank you so much for the book recommendation! I went right to Amazon and ordered it. It looks like exactly the sort of book that will address these types of issues. I think I will also do a blog post sharing about the book so that those who don't make it to the comment section will know about this resource. I think it would be important not only for humanitarians and such, but also for families that have open international adoptions and have to weight the pros and cons of supporting birth family in any way.

RJ and Rebecca Caswell 7:20 AM  

I hope that you find the book helpful. I think you are right about it possibly helping families navigate open adoption relationships. I hadn't thought about it for this context but it makes perfect sense. OK- I just bumped it to the top of my Amazon priority list.
I added a link to your blog from my blog.

"MissMeliss" 7:55 AM  

What an eye-opening story. Thank you so much for sharing. I will pray about this situation.