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$4 Paper Towels

Last night I almost threw up at the pharmacy counter.

The baby had run out of diapers, and my father requested that I bring a pack home. I only had 40 GHc left in my wallet for the week, and it was going to take at least 15 GHc to get home from where I was visiting a friend at the other side of town.

I walked up to the counter with my pack of 40 Pampers in my hand, and asked the cashier how much they cost.

“14.3 GHc,” he said.

I suddenly felt violently ill. I was sure I was going to toss my lunch right there on his (I assumed) wooden counter that was lit by an electric lamp. The lights had gone off in the area. I handed him the money and felt my fingers and back go numb.

My husband had called me earlier in the day to ask if I had lost my visa card, because I had taken out more money than usual.

“$300 was taken out in the last the days,” he said.

“Yeah. I know.”

I rushed to tell him how and where I’d spent it. Most of it has been on transportation, and feeding the family.

“Babe, I’m not even chilling, I promise you,” I swore to him. “Let me break down how the money goes:”

  1. It takes 12-15 GHc (each way) every time I leave the house.
  2. We buy a loaf of bread every day at 1 GHc
  3. We buy a can of milk every 2 days at 1 GHc
  4. We buy 2 eggs every morning at 50 pesewas.
  5. The kids always want a snack/a juice box/a soda for a treat every day
  6. In the beginning, they couldn’t handle the local fare, so I had to suss out chicken and chips or fried rice at 7GHc each every other day.
  7. My dad doesn’t grocery shop or take me to the store, so if I was home and needed say, meat, I would have to leave the house, spend another 5 GHc to get to the closest store or walk to a kiosk where the seller would rape me with her prices because I am so obviously akata (Black American).

That’s just the short list. As I am on vacation, it is only to be expected that I will of course go out with my friends and buy some drinks and something to eat. That is usually another 20-30 GHc blown. So yeah, I spend a lot of money in Ghana.

Life in Ghana just ain’t easy. It ain’t! They used to say life was hard here, but it’s really hard. I honestly don’t see how the average person manages to eat a healthy balanced diet on the wages they make. As always, those who are making it in Ghana are really making it, which is why these contractors can demand a quarter of a million dollars for a 2 bedroom flat and people will pay. The tax system in Ghana has only gone on to further exacerbate the class divisions that previously existed. The government taxes basic goods, and the retailer passes that cost onto the consumer. So a mother like me ends up paying $10 for a pack of diapers that will only last me 4 days in this country, whereas I would buy a box at $34 in the states that would last me a month and a half. It’s like living in Beverly Hills without any of the bleeding benefits!!

The first week I was here, I had $500 in cash on me. By the 9th day, I’d spent most of it. I was sure my father was wasting my money, because he’s not nearly as frugal as I am. I referenced one of his first purchases – a roll of paper towels – to prove my point.

“Daddy. Why would you spend 4 cedis to buy paper towels?” I asked incredulously. “Paper towels in the States cost 99 cents. I’d eat my own arm before I spend 4 bucks on ONE ROLL of paper towels.”

“Oh. I bought them for you,” he said. He seemed a bit hurt.

“Ah. We don’t need paper towels that bad. It was a waste of money. We just bought chicken, hotdogs and beef ALL for 7 cedis. You wait until I tell Adwoa how you are spending the money!”

The fact is, he was not wasting money. The fact is, when you have small children, you’re going to need paper towels. I was just projecting my aggravation with the pricing on his practicality. We go through a roll in a week in Atlanta…but I’m here to tell you that we just finished up that one roll this week, our 7th here! I don’t let anything go to waste in Ghana. I don’t make breakfast for myself – I eat whatever the kids didn’t finish up that morning. Now that I’m out of the wipes I brought with me, I use a cloth towel to wipe the baby, wash it and reuse it later. If I have a cup of water and don’t finish it off, I don’t dump the rest in the sink – I put the cup and that last sip of water in the fridge to drink later. I have to BUY drinking water after all!

So when I saw some government minister sit on TV with his navy blue suit and shiny gold ring, yobbing about how cheap food was two mornings ago, I had to hold myself back from hopping onto the next tro-tro (because I can no longer afford to charter a taxi) heading in the direction of the studio so I could throttle him! I dunno. Maybe I’m crazy, but something is totally wrong when even charcoal is considered expensive in West Africa!


This article has 4 comments

  1. Nana Ama

    Two eggs for 50p? What happened to people growing garden eggs, peppers and raising chickens and goats in the backyard?!!! Tell your dad to rip up all that concrete and get farming!

    Girl, you are not cut out to live in Ghana, get back to Atlanta before you go bankrupt!:):)

  2. David S.

    I read a disturbing report that concluded that when the oil starts to flow, Accra is set to become one of the most expensive cities in Africa, more expensive than Lagos. The problem according the report is that so much money flows into the country in the form of remissions by Ghanaians abroad, and foreign aid, and there is relatively little production activity locally. Not enough of the money coming in is actually being invested in local industries it’s mostly being spent on imports. Of course VAT makes the problem worse, like you said, an unprogressive tax that preserves the gap between the rich and the poor. When the oil money starts to pour into the economy, unless it’s diverted to actual investment, it will make things even worse. You may be paying $10 for paper towels on your next visit.

  3. nana ama

    Yup! David S. you are right! Even expatriates find things expensive in African countries who drill and export oil. Angola tops the list of the most expensive place to live and work in, according to the ‘oil expatriates’ polled earlier this year!

  4. Malaka

    God that is all so scary. I so wanted to believe that I was crap at shopping, and that *I* was the problem. You have just confirmed that none of this was an illusion!

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