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Dialing for dollars: sob stories prompt Ghanaians abroad to open up their wallets


“How much are you sending today, Moses?” asked Madam Elizabeth, the owner of a Ghanaian retail food store in Newark, New Jersey, affectionately dubbed Heritage Distributors. Her question was an obvious giveaway that I have used her money transfer services before. Dialling

“Just fifty dollars,” I responded. She looked up my name among a long list of names on a laptop, yet another indication that her money transfer services was quite popular. She raised her head and asked for the name of the recipient. Sam Hamza Dagomba, I muttered. “Spell it, I mean, the last two names,” she barked. I wrote the name on a piece of paper and handed it to her.

The transaction complete, I walked out and immediately called Sam, who I could picture pacing up and down the veranda of the Agric. Development Bank where he was to pick up his windfall, anxiously waiting for my phone call.

Earlier in the day, at precisely 10 a.m., a phone call from across the Atlantic jarred me awake; it was long, shrill and discomforting and definitely not what I expected at that time of the day when I was still in the throes of a deep slumber.

I had worked all night and returned home in the morning physically drained and eager to have a hearty breakfast and jump into the comfort of my bed. But the call scuttled my elaborate plan.

The voice at the other end of the call was vaguely familiar. “Who are you?” I asked irritatingly. “Hi Moses, this is Sam,” he answered. Oh, him again, I murmured under my breath and began the painful process of sitting through a five minute deluge of requests.

Sam had called before. Just two days ago. And each time the message was the same. “You promised to send me money, what happened?” he asked. He was a friend from yesteryears, who resurfaced in 2010 during one of my sporadic visits home. I lost track of him in the 1980s and concluded that he had joined the huge migration overseas.

We spoke briefly, reminiscing about the good old days in Tamale when the Legion Dance Hall, Rivoli Cinema and Warders Canteen reigned supreme. Sam looked emaciated and forlorn. Asked why he was so dejected, he said he hadn’t worked in years and literally had zero job prospects as employers these days require some level of education. “So, I am looking up to you,” he concluded.

Little did I know that Sam’s tall tale was a prelude to something sinister. Before parting company, he managed to extract from me money and my cell phone number. Somebody warned, “Sam is a serial caller, be prepared.”

My experience with Sam is a snapshot of a wider problem afflicting Ghanaian diaspora communities around the world. From the cold pavements of Europe and North America to the hot, remote recesses of the Saudi desert, the story is the same; Ghanaians are contending with torrents of requests for money from an assortment of family members, long, lost relatives and friends.

“I have to pay my son’s school fees” or “we have to perform your grandfather’s final funeral rites and we need some money” are some of the sob stories peddled by our friends and relatives. They throw the bait and we seek our teeth into it.

Helping relatives and friends is morally right: it is a social contract, a solemn duty we commit ourselves to, our financial circumstances notwithstanding.

From the Ghanaian working a minimum wage job to the Ghanaian banker on Wall Street, there is always the nudging feeling that whatever is earned here, some must be sent home.

Thus every week they make their way into Heritage, Western Union or a similar establishment and remit. Honestly, this is an “obligation” we would rather scurry from given our mounds of bills….mortgage, rent, vehicle loan, student loan, credit card bill and what have you. But we hate being guilt-ridden, so we grudgingly dip into our bank accounts and dole out what we can.

In seeking to do good, have we become suckers, have we inadvertently exposed ourselves to scams and thievery? hoodwinked by scheming sisters, brothers, uncles and friends into parting away with bucket-loads of our hard-earned money? Admittedly, we succumb easily to their charms and sweet talk.

Stories abound about Ghanaians who have been taken to “the cleaners” by unscrupulous relatives and friends: thousands of dollars, euros, dinars and yen squandered by heartless family members and friends on frivolous things while the mansion you planned and saved for stands uncompleted, naked and exposed to the vagaries of the harsh Ghanaian weather?

Remember the $5000 your mother’s uncle’s wife managed to squeeze out of you ostensibly to start a business selling soap and other provisions and she promised to pay you back? Ten years later, you are still waiting for a payment that is not forthcoming.

Relationships with family members and friends can be complex and tenuous; we are afraid to offend them least we incur their wrath. We strive to satisfy their every whim, dot on their children and shower them with gifts, all calculated to win their love and approval. And we wonder why the pestering phone calls for money continue endlessly. We are wholly responsible; we have been generous to a fault.

We needn’t be reminded that we are duty bound to help our relatives. It is part of our DNA. However, extending a helping hand is strewn with pitfalls. Relatives can be highly ungrateful, doubly insincere, and unfailingly devious.

The concept of a financial meltdown is alien to our family members, or worse, they pretend not to know what it means; they assume erroneously that living and working overseas inoculates us from economic hardship and financial ruin. Reject a request for help and suddenly you are the scoundrel, the pariah, the tight-fisted bastard.

Relatives and friends ought to be told the cold, hard truth. We would love to continue the generosity, but life in Europe and the United States isn’t the same anymore; both are reeling from severe downturns in their economies and as a direct consequence, our fortunes have declined steeply; jobs have been lost, homes and vehicles repossessed and recovery is light years away. It is about time our relatives and friends gave us some breathing space…



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