Last week I did not show up here. I flew, for the last time in the year, to Switzerland, to conclude the tall list of travels I had to undertake, in 2017, and what a way to conclude a year-long world tour, being lifted from sea level in Winneba, to St. Moritz, a luxury alpine mountain resort town in Switzerland’s Engadin town, standing 1,822 meters above sea level. I had to attend the UBS Philanthropy Forum which took place over the weekend.
As I emerged from the British Airways flight to Zurich, I noticed that I had all along, from Ghana, sat in the same plane, and in the same business class cabin, with a woman who looked too familiar to ignore.
Then at the arrival, I saw another, who also looked like someone I should know. And the two familiar women began to whisper something into the ears of each other, as they looked my way. I had flown throughout my trip, from Ghana to Zurich, wearing what appears to be the lightest and the smallest T-shirt any air traveler would wear, and looking at the freezing weather at the time of arrival in Zurich, the two women had launched themselves into worrying about me, and how the weather was going to punish me.
Who were these two women? Theo Sowa, the CEO of the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), and Graca Machel, the wife of the late President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela – the two, arguably, the most important social enterprise women in Africa, attending the same meeting with me, and gossiping about me? Eiii, Simpa Panyin, this is me ooo. Efua Odobirba, come and see your son ooo…
As I climbed the mountain in the luxury vehicle that had picked me up, and we drove the three hours up the mountain, I reminiscent the first time when I caught two girls gossiping about me when I was in Winneba Secondary School. Those girls liked to gossip too much; they always gossiped about my worn out shoes, my repugnant armpit, and my hard hairy legs. One of them later asked her friend to inform me that she had “fallen” for me, you see that thing?
Anyway, what a beautiful city to be in. I don’t like mountains, especially rocky ones, but this town blew me away. We spent most part of the three hours driving up through mountains, winding and zigzagging the roads. And I couldn’t help but admire the beautiful scenery that the climbing left in our wake, as we went through under-mountain tunnels, and re-emerged out of tunnels which have been created through rocks, and through the mountains themselves.
I kept asking myself what would have become of these mountains if they were found in Ghana. We would have turned some into mining ridges, keeping the rest as centres of degradation, or we would have gone for a loan somewhere, and would have invited the citizens of the loan owners to bring their machines on these beautiful mountains in search of gold, like what we have done to Obuasi, and all of its associated towns.
Anyway, the trip proved to be one of the most impactful, and fruitful international trips I have done in a long while. It was a festival of ideas, and an assemblage of accomplished people who are looking for opportunities to invest in social enterprises, alongside social entrepreneurs whose works have been vetted, and have been celebrated to have great accomplishments in their personal journeys into social entrepreneurship.
As I sat through the display of ideas, and as I listened to the eloquence unfold, I knew I was a small fly, and I kept wondering why I was brought into that room? I am talking about Sir Richard Branson, the Founder of the Virgin Group of companies, whose companies began with the establishment of the Virgin Atlantic Airlines, as well as the Virgin Mobile, Virgin Stores, and many more virgins. When such a personality appears on the same stage with Richard Anderson, the Founder of TED, the viral conference project that has gotten the entire world talking, these are the calibre of minds that had gathered in one room, and having conversations around impact investments around the globe – so what was I doing in their midst?
And yours truly sat at the feet of such people, nearly invisible, and wondering whose idea it was that I was invited into such a creamy room? What was I doing in a room where men and women spoke of solutions to the world’s created problems, with authority, and with confidence, in an atmosphere imbued with wealth.
As I sat through the wealth, I began to think of the beautiful Switzerland I have seen. I have previously visited Switzerland a couple of times, but somehow I had not sunk home its beauty, until now. I began to think to myself, why do we have such a clean environment in St Moritz? From my hotel to the event grounds is about ten minutes walk. Throughout my time, and in my wildest awe of what I had been thrust into, I tried deep to look for filth, or even a chocked gutter, as evidence for what I can use to prove that Ghana, after all, is not alone in the filth business.
As I walked through the disappointment of seeing clean, nearly spotless pavements, as I saw clean streams and preserved mountains stood firm, I thought to myself whether I should find a way of talking about how we celebrate filth in Ghana, at least as a way of demonstrating how the rest of the world is missing out, on how to make money out of creating filth?
I searched hard enough, but, the more I searched, the more St Moritz flaunted its beauty in my face. Then I entered into the realms of fantasies; why don’t we try something, like just teaching the entire St Moritz town, some basic skills in life? Like bringing in a few facilitators from, say Chokor in Ghana, to facilitate a workshop for them, on say open defecation, and how the practice of practicing it could create jobs for their people?
I looked at the road that leads into the St Moritz town, and I asked how long that road has been there, and I was told decades, and I told myself, these people are not smart koraa oo. How can you construct a road that lasts several decades, how do you then secure another road construction contract, when one road lasts forever? Couldn’t the contractors have paid sufficient bribes, in order to do shoddy works, like what we do in Ghana, so that the roads would damage within two weeks, so that the contract could have been awarded again to the same, ‘taflatse’, greedy bastard?
I was just trying to find some good reasons why Winneba, for instance, is better than St Moritz. So for instance, I wanted to know why the road from Yerepemso, to Osubonpanyin, which was funded through the EU, which was constructed some two years ago, has started having manholes on them? Is this not because Ghanaians are stronger than their counterparts in Switzerland, and that we walk with iron metals on our roads? Is it not because we walk with shovels under our feet?
My brother, have you used the bypass road, from around Budumburam (around Sapato) emerging back at the main Kasoa road at tollbooth? Have you seen that road? It was done some two years ago; it has been done, redone, and still has manholes on them, and my information is that the contractor complains that there are too many slopes that make raining water wash the asphalts, do you get the nonsense?
Anyway, as my victory over fantasies waned, I began to face the facts, that I have to, sooner, face the same people whose intelligence I stood in awe; I had a presentation to make, to demonstrate why I was brought into that room with them.
What did I have to tell the gathering? Nothing. I had only myself, and my bag filled with Challenging Heights, as I dangled myself, alongside Nick Grono of the Freedom Fund Australia, and Leslie Johnston, CEO of the C&A Foundation, Switzerland.
I could not have told them the story of the Winneba Aboakyer Festival. I could not have told them the story of Winneba Fancy Dress festival (watch this space next week). Woyome has not paid the money he owes us, so I could not have told them how government officials deliberately refused to act intelligently. Lavenda Hill is still smelly, so I could not have told them how we have been successful in failing to address the issue of filth in our cities. I could not tell them the story of how our Electoral Commissioners are now accusing each other of stealing. As I kept parading myself in my smallness, I suddenly found my voice that said; tell them that the world exists!