Hey, folks. I gotta warn you. This one’s pretty long but I promise not to make it a habit. This is me shaking my puny little arms at two evils: inefficiency and bad customer service.
Customer service is a phrase which, even though found in our vocabulary, isn’t vaguely understood by the average Ghanaian. And inefficiency often trails closely behind. As long as there is a girl there waiting to serve you, you should be happy. She mustn’t serve with a smile. She mustn’t be nice about it. As long as you get your loaf of bread or whatever you want, you should be ok.
I am at Ernest Chemists. The woman is heaving, sighing and squeezing her face as if at any moment she would deliver a baby. She gets me the drugs I want but every step of the way, I feel as if I was the one intruding into her day. That day, only the customer service folks at DSTV were a breath of fresh air. Not the woman at the payments booth, she was surly. But the folks at Customer Service, they got it right. Even the teller at the GT Bank did not get it right even though in all fairness, the customer was being a pain.
Speaking of banks, do you know anyone who still willfully banks at the Ghana Commercial Bank (GCB)? The only friends I know who have an active account there have to because they are paid by a government agency like the Ghana Education Service and because they live in areas of Ghana where MTN is not everywhere you go. But I hear GCB has rebranded. There is a new Eagle logo and everything. I don’t know how deep the changes go but I agreed with my sister that even if they coloured the eagle green, we would still not bank there, thank you very much.
Shoprite Accra Mall. The women at the checkout counters are the worst I’ve seen for a big grocery store. First of all, their pace of service is so slow. Why do they let them sit down anyway? It makes them dumpy and just watch their hands…it’s as if they are told to move in slow motion. They don’t greet you, they don’t smile, they don’t even give you your exact change.
So what is it with customer service that we miss? Why do we create a system of inefficiency where the customer is always begging to be recognized, to be treated well? What is this nonsense about Ghanaian hospitality? Now, that is a load of horse shit. The hospitality we think we see comes from two things: one, many Ghanaians will not tell you the truth in the face. Full of pretense, they smile at you even when they are thinking murder. We are so good at this that we even deceive ourselves that we must be nice people.
Second, because we are so inefficient at everything, foreigners find the environment relaxing because the rules are so lax. Where in the world can you step in as a stranger, marry the Bank of Ghana’s daughter and almost get away with murder? When I finally got my permit to work in a foreign university, it was glaringly called an Alien Card. The Alien was there so that I never got too comfortable and forgot that I was not Korean. Before then, none of us aliens could open a bank account, register for health insurance or even get paid. But do you want to start a business in Ghana? Just build a kiosk on the side walk. Want to relieve yourself? Just piss on the wall. Want to be rich? Just start a church.
We are so good at being inefficient that we have created systems to support and aid it. I went to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) just to check whether my license was there so I could stop using a flimsy cover note. When I got there, there was no one there except a woman sitting behind a desk and outside her door, a white tent where seats had been laid out. All she had to do was to check my name against a list. But no, I had to sit down first. Perhaps to check how comfy the seats were? I had barely set my bum on the seat when she called my name and I had to scramble up again to go inside the room where I was told that no, my license was not ready. The fact that I have been using a cover note for almost a year now is another story all together.
And as for road projects, well, well, well. We make a lot of fuss about it and make sure everyone knows that something is happening there by causing major disruptions that leave you angry and your car sore. And by the time the shiny new roads are ready, you’re just about fed up and do not feel very grateful. And why create more traffic when it’s already so bad? I’m tempted to ask: who’s the idiot that put up those traffic lights in front of the Ghana Telecom University? But that’s not a nice thing to say.
So I’ve been speaking of inefficiency. But I’ve got to hand it to us. It is actually remarkable how we manage to keep this country still working at this level of inefficiency. Is it only me, or is there something seriously wrong with the way we know how to manage small spaces? All my life, at least, from the time I could understand these things, I was aware that the government of Ghana had acquired a huge tract of land on the Accra Plains where eventually, a new airport would be built. I was pretty excited about it. I guess I didn’t consider just what eventually meant. Years down the line, we are still stuck at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA), remodeling, redesigning and reworking that small space so we can have a semblance of order and believe the illusion that we have a modern airport.
Flying into Accra has always held mixed feelings for me: anxiety about my life, the future, the weather and the traffic. At the same time, happy because it is home and there is family. And then anger because as the plane taxies for us to disembark, I struggle to find just where the airport is. What I see is a small dusty rectangular building which has the audacity to say it is the Gateway to West Africa. When I feel the anger, that choking, all-consuming feeling, then I know I am back home, back in Ghana where things do not really work but where I’ve got to make it work all the same, somehow, some way.