IF YOU arrived in Middle East, and you are a Doctor for example, you had a special problem. You were pelted with invitations and even if you were not able to attend all, you felt indebted.
It was all about the fact that, many of the people you came in contact with, either professionally or even by chance, were very eager to invite you to their homes, and you would not be able to reciprocate. On these occasions, one would encounter a lot of people, indeed, in their dozens.
In my case, it was much later that, I got the explanation, as to why it was not just a few people, but
always, that many. My getting to know this was through a German diplomat who was returning home, after a tour of duty, and he was in the process of organizing a farewell party.
He told me, in the Arab world, just as in Latin America, if you invited three guests, be prepared to have to cater for as many as ten. Every invited guest would bring one or two, sometimes three others, without prior knowledge of the host, and that in their culture doesn't stand out as anything odd.
That is the way they do things. They are not as formal as Europeans. Truly, that evening, it was just as well the German host had catered for so many uninvited guests. They turned up in their numbers, and it was almost overwhelming. In the most puritanical state in the Middle East, it was nevertheless not unusual to find a plethora of items on the menu, which ordinarily would be taboo.
Diplomatic immunity went a very long way.
They would include items that would make a Christmas party in downtown Washington be remembered less. Whisky galore, Budweiser beer indefatigable. That would be how you would give it a befitting characteristic. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and non-Believers would all have a ball, and with their loved ones in their arms, “dance their hearts out”` without any inhibitions. As we drove home with a couple of my friends that night, or rather the early morning, we had forgotten, and let us talk only of that night, that we were in the most puritanical Wahabist state on earth. But, looking back, would you be surprised at the turn up?
THE ARAB CULTURE
The culture of the place I was living in did not allow men and women to sit in the same hall in a house just to converse. It was forbidden to give a lady a ride in your car, if she was not your wife, your mom, or your sister.
The tussle was still on-going four years ago, when I was leaving for good. Things had to change, since the Gulf-war, following the late Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.
A lot of Saudi young men were unemployed. So, the idea of allowing only Saudi men to drive Taxis (popularly known as Limousines) looked such an attractive solution for the House of al Saud, -the ruling family.
How about the cultural rejection of a man driving a woman, whom he was not related to? But, wait a minute! Has money or the lack of it not changed situations in other parts of the world before?
Nobody in politics anywhere has forgotten Yekaterinburg, or Castile. So, whilst it was seen as anti-Wahabist, eyes were closed from the top, and the Limousines kept carrying women, and the drivers were men, AGAINST THE CULTURE, AND AGAINST THE RELIGION!
Mind you, behind all that, was the reality that, all private chauffeurs in the country were men, and most of them, from India and Pakistan.
Did they not drive women? You bet they did, and some of the most beautiful faces you would imagine to have ever seen; only they had to be veiled.
A wise Monarch made a decision that would put money in the pockets of his people, hopefully for good. Forget about culture!
THE GHANAIAN ATTITUDE
The first confrontation I had among my own people, (I am Ghanaian), was when the gentleman formerly called watchman, but now modernized and hence, -security guard- was late almost two hours, and everybody living with me was so nervous, because, everybody thinks life is not safe, when you are without security. When he all of sudden arrived, and I demanded to know why the impudence, he answered me in quite a relaxed manner:
“Ohhh, I live very far away. I have to change the tro-tro several times.” There was nothing in his statement, which sounded like an apology. His gesticulation was even more of rudeness. I thought I could educate him. “Start from home early”, I proposed, but emphatically.
Putting him down wasn't easy. His excuses were many. But, people I discussed this problem with advised me to try and “coax him” into improving, because, the next I would get, if I sacked him, could be miles worse.
People I know in the community who employ hundreds, if not thousands of people say, your best advice is, “when you give it a human face.” In effect, you soften and condone inefficiency, rather than get tough on it. This seems to be a national “something”.
Nobody seems to know what to do, to “get it right”, the way it seems to be, in a country like Korea. It is the law to be punctual to work, or else…
THE ASIAN TIGERS
In the scenario made mention of above, the new King in the Middle East has decided to take the bull by the horns, and to let his country ride astride the horse of Globalization. Hard work and you will be there.
The richest countries in the world don't live on crude oil only, ( Liscenstein , Singapore , Germany , and Japan ). Whilst I was toying with this article, I stumbled unto an article in The Chronicle, penned by our own eminent Ace Politician, a man so adept in economic matters, “the one, and only former Senior Minister, the Hon. J. H. Mensah.” Under the topic, “Why Ghana has failed to develop”, he highlights such issues as the NDPC, HIPC, & GPRS, and that they all have failed.
Talking on the same issue was Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, who, one step after the next, enumerated all the steps, where measures have been insufficient, inefficient, etc. Mr. J. H. Mensah cites the examples of South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, China, and lately India- all success stories. (The issue of The Chronicle, March 26th, 2007 page 2).
LAW AND ORDER
These are places I have visited too, as a man in the Healing Profession. Trying to drum it into anybody's head seems a fruitless exercise. There must be people like me, who believe that application of law-and-order is one aspect of our development that could serve us well. Under “law-and-order”, we should get to our places of work on time, and give full-hour.
There are people who believe, it should be within our reach, to get where the Singaporeans have reached, and beyond. Why don't we have hospitals that function like those in the countries the former senior Minister is talking about?
Perhaps, we should reconsider our more than lackadaisical attitude to work, whereby like my security officer, I should have sacked when he was two hours late, I would be advised to give it a human face instead. In effect, where the Malaysian, the Korean, or the Taiwanese puts in eight hours a day, we may put in less than four, and “give it a
human face.” Countrymen, the Germans did put in a whopping 12-hour shift a-day, and six days a week, during reconstruction. That was what ushered in “das Wirtschaftswunder,” or “economic miracle”, following World War II.
Our economic situation could be well compared with a post-war situation. So, where is the 12-hour shift, six days a week?
The writer is a Consultant Neurosurgeon, Komfo Anokye Hospital, Kumasi