The "Working in Ghana" Project


[Zoore is a single man in his late twenties. For the past eight years he has followed his father's trade in a suburb of Accra. Zoore is from Tamale in Northern Ghana, where he attended primary school. He occupies a single room in a three-room detached domestic servant's quarters. Philip Awekeya spoke with Zoore on the verandah of the main residence; they conversed in English and Dagani.]

At the age of about twenty I left Tamale to do farming in one of the villages in the Ashanti Region (central Ghana). After two years I stopped the farming venture because I realized it was taking much of my energy, yet brought in very little profit. Most of the time I was broke.

In order to have some little money to meet my basic needs I decided to leave the farming village. I came down to the Accra area to join one of my cousins and be a butcher. Being a butcher is different from being a farmer. Instead of weeding in the bush and at times fighting with snakes, I now deal with animals, that is, sheep and goats. They are indeed helpless, especially when they are dragged into the slaughter house. Here, in the room of no return they begin to urinate and cry pitifully. Despite their cries I pass my sharp knife through their throats, turning them unto a carcass within a matter of seconds.

I then either skin them or burn off their hair outside the slaughter house and send the dressed meat back into the butchers’ area where it is cut into various pieces that sell for two hundred cedis (then about forty cents) to one thousand cedis (then about two dollars).

I am pleased to have taken on to my father's trade. I prefer it to farming, which as I said is quite tedious yet brings in few benefits in terms of income. As a butcher, there is no blessed day that I fail to get money into my pockets, unless I don't find an animal to kill. This certainly is better than farming, where one has to work for almost a whole year before having farm produce to sell.

Besides being assured of pocket money, you are also assured of providing meat for your wife, mother or girl friend for making fine soup. You also stand the chance of meeting many people especially young ladies whom you can make friends with. Being a butcher has enabled me to make friends with quite a number of beautiful young ladies.

Being a butcher, you do not have any rigid time for reporting to work and for closing. You are at liberty to go to work at anytime you choose, but you must keep in mind the opportunity to catch a quick market from "chop bar keepers" (sellers of prepared food). I go to work as early as 6 a.m. if I have animals to kill. This certainly is different from government work where one is expected to report at specific times and close after eight hours of continuous work. As for me, anytime I finish selling my meat products I simply return home, take my bath and relax in my room listening to music from my tape recorder.

My work place is near the market. The slaughter house is far too small for my fellow butchers and myself because now we number over ten, yet the place can conveniently accommodate only six of us at a time. We also face serious water problems at work. We need a constant flow of water to keep the place tidy. The lack of water makes the place smell badly most of the time. I feel unhappy about that and curse the Water and Sewerage Corporation for failing to do something to solve this knotty problem.

I do my own work and therefore am not subject to the supervision of a boss. However, my customers expect me to kill healthy animals and also cut the meat into good size so that they will not feel cheated. Besides, most of them, especially the young ladies, expect me to wear a cheerful face when serving them, and above all dash (give) them some meat in addition to whatever quantity they buy. It is indeed not very easy. I have to be tactful, otherwise I will either lose my customers or I will run out on money. I must master the Ghanaian market tricks. One of these tricks is to tell any customer who complains about the size of the meat that, it is because you are my regular customer that I have cut your meat to this size--otherwise it would have been much smaller. In short, what my customers expect from me is gentle language and not words like, "if you don't want it, go away and make room for other people."

We butchers regard each other as brothers even though we do not all come from the same region. There are even foreigners among us, yet we work closely and share jokes. We have a leader whom people refer to as the chief butcher but we call him "mejira" (Hausa word meaning senior man or elder). He comes from the Republic of Benin but commands respect from all of us because he is calm and wise. He takes time to settle our disputes and to counsel the young men to be wary of running after young beautiful ladies; otherwise we shall not be able to save money towards building a house in the future.

Recently, opportunities for me to make quick money are fast eroding due to the huge importation of frozen meat, ranging from frozen chicken to frozen beef. It comes mostly from Western European and Latin American countries. The imported meat is cheaper than what we sell, and as such most of the chop bar operators (food sellers) prefer to buy it, rather than to buy from us. As a result our market is falling fast.

I fear what my future will be like if the government does not reverse the open license system that allows large quantities of imported meat to come into the country. Unless this is stopped I am afraid most butchers including myself will in due course wind up our business and go back to wherever we come from.

As a self-employed person, I have no one to compare myself to in terms of work benefits. No one pays me weekly or monthly. What I consider as my pay is what I get at the end of each day's sales. My pay varies from time to time, depending on the type and size of the animal I kill, as well as whether many animals have been killed by other butchers, and also how much imported meat is available. My good times, and for that matter, my better pay days depend on a lot of factors, especially on the absence of imported meat in the supermarkets.

My health needs are not cared for like workers in the government service and in other organizations like Food Distribution and Flour Mills. Workers in such establishments usually have their medical expenses refunded to them and they are entitled to full wages whenever they are declared medically unfit to work. I have the responsibility of treating myself. I go without any form of earning when I fall sick and can't carry out my work. My daily prayer is that I wake up healthy each morning, fit enough to go to the villages or Accra to look for animals to buy for slaughter.

I am a member of the local butchers association, which is a branch of the National Butchers Union. Personally I do not see what good things this association is doing for its members, except extracting money from us. For instance, I wish that the local union would put pressure on the Water and Sewerage Corporation to install a water tank at our butcher shop so we could be assured of regular water for our work. Unfortunately, the leaders have not been able to carry out this important assignment, yet they collect union dues from us all the time. As for the leaders of the National Butchers Union, the less said about them, the better. They have all developed double bellies out of our money. They insist that we pay union dues, yet I cannot understand what work they do in our interest. They cannot even talk to the government to ask it to withdraw the licenses given to market women and supermarkets that allow them to sell the imported meat which is fast killing our trade. The day will come when we shall not kill any animal in any of the slaughter houses, and will not pay union dues. Then we will see what these so-called union leaders will feed on. When that time comes I will simply go back home and take up the hoe (return to farming).

In the past six or seven years my parents up north have been happy about the work I am engaged in because I could afford to remit money to them almost monthly. Of late the market has been spoiled, and my income has been drastically reduced. I am therefore no longer able to send money to them regularly and as a result, I feel they are not too happy with me. My prayer is that things will eventually improve so that I can regain my feet and again help them buy a few of their basic needs.

The work I do has opened me up top many people in town, especially the young ladies. Being a butcher has helped me make many friends, most of whom are shop owners. Whenever I go into the market or stores to shop I am pleased because most of those who know me through my work will reduce the prices of their goods to enable me buy the quantity I desire. This is what most people would like when they go to any market and I am therefore happy that I get this privilege.

Apart from the price reductions that I enjoy in the market and stores, I can also boast of getting uncountable greetings from the women folk whenever I take a stroll to any part of the town. Above all, I have been able to establish very good friendships with a number of beautiful spinsters here in town, one of whom I hope to marry in the course of time.

From the way people relate to me, I believe that a person is respected by the community not on the basis of what job he does, but on how well he serves people in the exercise of his duties. The important thing for all workers is to take note of is how they serve the public and not the titles of their jobs.