As Michael and I walk along the road that connects Ajumako and Essiam, the two local villages, a brand new Mercedes-Benz drives by. Surprised by the sight I ask Michael whether he knows the man driving the car, assuming he’s of importance, as it’s a rare sight seeing such wealth in our area. “What man?” he replies. Thinking he would have noticed the flashy grey car passing by. I point to it as it rides of in the distance, passing by Heritage Academy, which lies in between Ajumako and Essiam. “The man driving the Mercedes,” I say to Michael. He looks at me with a confused stare in his eyes. Realizing that he has no clue what a Mercedes is I end the conversation and we continue walking to Essiam, our final destination. It is market day in Essiem and I’m looking to buy a watch and some fabric for a dashiki, which are handwoven here for a price unimaginable back home.
When we arrive in Essiem it doesn’t take long to find the stand full of watches. It is hosted by two men, one in his twenties and the other much older. When he opens his vitrine I find myself looking at hundreds of watches, face up in an orderly fashion. Having my mind set on a certain model I pick out an Armani watch that fits the criteria and will hopefully last for me the year. After trying it on, liking the fit, and haggling for a good price I rhetorically ask Michael whether he thinks it’s real. He doesn’t seem to understand the question. So trying to clarify I start pointing out all the luxurious brands in front of me, asking Michael if they are authentic. After having tried at least eight different ones, including a Rolex and an Omega, I finally quit my endeavors and realize that the all so well known brands to me are merely just random names to Michael. It seems that where to me there is a huge difference between a watch from Rolex and a watch from Nike, to Michael only the design is different. It seems that where to me a watch can represent status and wealth, to Michael a watch is just watch.
It is these two events, happening in such quick succession, that made me think about the importance status symbols have in the Western world. The capitalistic induced desire of owning material goods that represent wealth suddenly seems so ridiculous. Why do we care about driving a Mercedes or a Jaguar, when a Toyota will get us there just as efficiently. Why do we care about owning a Rolex or a Cartier, when the only function they serve is telling us what time it is. And why do we care about having that whale or polo player on our shirts, are willing to spend ludicrous amounts of money to get it, when we can get the same quality for much less. All of a sudden that dream of one day owning an Audi seems so distant and in a way, even slightly selfish. Do I really need to spend thousands of dollars extra to get those four rings on my bumper and rims when that money can be used to send more than a handful of children to school. Do I really need those new shoes when the ones that I have still suit me fine. I hope that when I return back home I’ll be able to think of these two events and get myself to ignore the commercialized culture that has been created in the West and instead use my money where it’s needed. I hope…
Greetings from Ghana.
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