Untitled: A Story from Anita Erskine’s Facebook Wall.

Photo credit: Google +
Photo credit: Google +

After dropping my kids off at school, I was driving away when I saw a young man in my rear view mirror. He was running toward the car and aggressively indicating with his hands that I stop. He eventually got to my window and politely apologized. I thought that was decent. So I became patient – allowing him to catch his breathe. He was carrying a stack of dailies, which he shifted uncomfortably from his right to left arm, so he could tap his right palm to his forehead in salutation to me. Raising my sunglasses from my eyes to my head, I wanted to be able to eyeball this stranger. He looked not more than 22 or 23. Tall. Lean. In a branded t-shirt. Then he said, “Please are you Madam Anita?”

I don’t like being called Madam but I let it go!

“I am please. Can I help you?”

It appears my ‘please’ touched a nerve. Soothing it and calming him down instantly.

Photo credit: Times of Man
Photo credit: Times of Man

“Madam please I have been seeing you every morning near this traffic light. Please I finished uni in June. I have been trying to get work. I have dropped over 100 CVs at numerous offices. Everywhere. Every time the secretary will say they don’t have any jobs. But I’ll still leave it. Last week, I got a call from a certain company in Dansoman. They deal in IT. I went for the interview but they said they are looking for a full time cleaner who will also be helping the secretary. But Madam I remember you sometime in April. When you were campaigning for the Vlisco program. And I remember you came to our hall and told us that we should be humble and smart when we finish school. So that we can get more chances. So I wanted to ask if you think this job offer is a good thing.”

By now I was smiling from ear to ear! Poor guy didn’t even know why. I must have seemed crazy! But truly THIS is what life is about!!!

“What did you study in school?” I asked.

“Madam please I studied Political Science,” he answered.

I paused for what may have been about 15 seconds. Looking at the steering wheel and hoping my response would somehow help this guy. And then I responded, “My first corporate job was as a Receptionist. It was the best I could get at the time. I had no work experience. But I knew the corporate world and getting into it was a vicious cycle. I told myself that if I could get in, I would be the very BEST I could be and leave the rest to fate I guess. I loved my work. Yes even with a university degree and graduating on the Dean’s Honor Roll. But I decided nothing would be below me. Funny enough I was such a great receptionist that people just called the office just to hear my voice! Long story short, I gave it my all. When it came time for the company to hire a Coordinator who would work directly for the CEO, guess where the H.R manager came to?”

I didn’t have to continue my story. He got the picture.

“Madam; I will take the job. And I will soon let you know how it is going. If you don’t mind, give me your email address. Maybe big people like you don’t like giving your phone numbers”

…Hahaha! I scribbled my email address on a piece of paper and handed it to him. He left the car and wandered off to continue selling his newspapers. I sincerely hope today is his last day at the traffic light!

*****

I absolutely love this story, and felt it was imperative to share it. I have never known much about Anita Erskine, even though she and I went to school together and were only one grade apart, but had I known she had this much compassion and wisdom, I would have made a better effort to get to know her better. Then again, I was a too-known teenager, so hubris most likely would have prevented me from befriending her.

The encounter Anita had with this young man is special in so many ways. So far it’s received 225 likes on her wall and numerous shares. The dynamics of this interaction are remarkable because they rarely happen in Ghana or in Africa at large. Celebrities (and a fair share of pseudo-celebs) generally seek to disassociate with the plebian population…not engage with it unless there is some transaction that is going to benefit the individual who occupies space in the higher caste. That Anita stopped her progress to engage in an in-depth conversation with a young man selling a newspaper is noteworthy, because few people are ignored with more vehemence than the guy selling the newspaper on any busy Accra thoroughfare. It’s hard, sweaty work with little return for all that effort. In addition to that, the general assumption is that the newspaper seller – like the chewing gum seller – is barely educated. But here we have a university graduate doing a menial task, despite his letters!

And that’s the other aspect I love about this story. Thousands of university graduates – and not just in Ghana – are sitting around waiting for something to happen. Waiting for someone to CALL THEM or GIVE them a job, rather than taking an opportunity, no matter how miniscule it may appear. When Marshall asked me to marry him, he was making $25K doing IT at a health billing facility. We shouldered the financial responsibility of our wedding (because neither of our parents contributed). I out-earned him by $10K, but rather than putting me in the position of paying for the majority of our wedding costs, he sold newspapers with the AJC for 6 months 3-4 days a week in addition to his regular job! Now he’s a sought after web designer for a Fortune 100 company.

I’m so grateful that Anita took the time to speak to this young man and to encourage him with her own experience. If you’re among the very privileged, you may find yourself airlifted to the top of the mountain of success; but the majority of us have to climb it from the bottom. The key to making it to the top is getting a foothold on the parts of that incline that are sure and secure, trusting in your endurance, seizing all opportunities to advance, no matter how small, and never losing faith. (It took me 4 hours to climb Table Mountain. This analogy means a lot to me!)

I too hope that this was this young man’s last day selling papers!

Happy Friday, one and all.