1-20 May 2010
Yesterday, I went to Bolgatanga to meet some friends. I had some spare time and so went to an internet café after finishing all of my work. I frequent this internet café a lot. The owner of the café knows me. A solemiya (white man) in the land of Black people, where there are not many non-black people, cannot go unnoticed for long. The reasons for which I frequent that internet café are: 1. it is handled professionally. 2. It is air conditioned. 3. People who are managing it do not have a habit of overcharging to the strangers (They call the non-natives who are not living in the area for long time as strangers.) 4. It has relatively high speed connectivity.
Most of the people call the owner of the place as Big 10 or Biggy. It is the same name as that of the internet café. I don’t know his real name yet. When I first met him, I could guess that his accent was not Ghanaian,. One day, while sitting in the café, I heard some conversations between the people and came to know that he is from Nigeria.
So yesterday, when I reached the café, the attendant told me, “Boss! Lights went off, just 3 minutes ago.” I was disappointed but I liked the way the boy who managers said it. “Boss!” that’s an expression used in Mumbai lingo and something to feel at home about. Then the way he said it “3 minutes ago”, that’s something very precise to say, very rare in this part of the world. The boy offered me a chair to sit, since I decided to wait for some time and see if lights come back again in short time. I was sitting outside in the yard in the cool air and did not know how to kill time. I played some games on the mobile phone, but since lights had gone off, it was not a wise thing to do, since these games consume a lot of power in the battery. I stopped. An insane person came near me and started to talk with me. That was not a good way to kill the time, but somehow, he went away himself without bothering me a lot.
Then Big 10 arrived on the scene. He never talks like average Ghanaians. He says directly, whatever he wants to say and that is period for him. He is not a great conversationalist. After usual greetings, I thought he would engage himself in something, but since lights were out, he had nothing to do and he took a chair and sat beside me. I started talking with him. I had to do it, because just sitting there with empty mind amongst the people was not possible for me since I am not a Yogi. I asked him straightforwardly, “I heard that you are from Nigeria. What brought you here in this northern corner of Ghana?” He started to tell me his story.
“I wanted to earn big money and make my old man proud of me. I had planned to go to Italy. We were in a group, all who had set off from Nigeria. We first went to Togo and then entered Burkina Faso and went further to Mali. There was some train which went from Mali to Senegal. In Senegal, there were many routes to go further to either, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia or Morocco. We had decided to go to Tunisia and then further we were to be taken to Italy. But on the Algerian border, they checked us. Many of us did not have right papers and we were just not allowed to go further. I did not want to return home like many people from the group had decided. We spent some time in Bamako, the capital of Mali on deciding what to do further. I could not come to any conclusion. My cash was getting depleted day by day. With nothing to do, I just went back to Lomé, Togo with the group. They went further home to Nigeria.”
“I was determined not to go back home till I got big money. I came to Accra and started to do barbering. After working there for an year, I could not earn much and was frustrated. That is when I met a man from Bolgatanga, who offered me to give a place for setting up a shop. That was year 1996, when I came to Bolgatanga. Mine was the first barber shop in Bolgatanga, which used electrical razor machine. It was an attraction. Then my shop was at the same place as it is located now. The people visiting the office of the Member of Parliament upstairs started to come to the shop and they kept on coming back. Apart from barbering, I tried to do lots of other small petty businesses in the free time. I had understood the importance of Information Technology and the way it was going to change the world. I tried to learn computers and bought one computer and started first internet café in Bolgatanga. Initially, I though not many people would come to the café but there was constant flow of customers, so I bought some more computers and then renovated the place and got it air conditioned. It is doing well these days in spite of the competition from other internet cafés in the town.”
He was speaking in his way in small sentences and non-continuously. I was asking him questions and he was answering them. I further asked him about his family. “Now these days I go home and visit my father once in a year. I have a family here. I have two children. I was not getting well with my first woman. I have one son from my first woman and other from my current woman.” “Do you want to go back to Nigeria or do you want to settle here in Ghana?” I asked him. “You know, we have a belief that you always have to be near your forefathers. So though my woman is from here, I shall take her back to Nigeria. She has to come back with me; she cannot remain back here. I shall marry her one day.”
Many people were passing by and greeting him while we were chatting. He stopped one orange seller and offered me an orange. While eating the orange, he said, “Do you have more questions. Ask them.” It was as if he wanted to talk more but could not do it without my questions.
“Why have you named your shop Big 10” I asked him. I always get intrigued by this name. It is an exception to all the Ghanaian shop names I have ever seen. Most of the names of the Ghanaian shops are funny and always have something to do with God. (e.g. Allah The Merciful Fashion Shop Or, Who Can Say No When God Says Yes Electrical Shop.) “You know that in Nigeria, we always think of becoming big. If you are poor, you are nobody in Nigeria. So I have always thought Big and I always wanted to be number one in whatever I have been doing. So I thought of naming it Big 1 but then thought that addition of a zero to one makes its value 10 times bigger. That’s how it became Big 10.”
He was in full mood for talking. The lights had not returned yet. I had started thinking about what more questions I could ask him, but one of my friends called me as we had decided to meet in Bolgatanga and it was time to go. I had to take his leave and go off. I think that I shall never forget this story.