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TALKING DRUM: The ‘mortuary man’s’ strike, must we not beg the beggars?

File: A mortuary worker

Note: Content of this piece could be nauseating to reader!

Arguably, they are the least respected among the working class of our society. Probably, you would assume the toilet attendant is. But in my opinion, that’s certainly wrong!

For the toilet attendant, at least, the public respects them to a large extent. The janitors [toilet attendants as I prefer to call them in this piece] are not overly stigmatized. I have seen toilet attendants dine and wine at public eateries, greeted people – handshake – who knew the very work they do and all that. This, hardly could same be said of the ‘mortuary man’ – mortician.

Once we hear that a man [are there women too in the job?] is a mortician, we shrink and coil into our shells. There and then, any sort of interaction that could have ensued between the ordinary Ghanaian and the said mortician fizzles out.

“A mortuary man? Chai!” we say to ourselves, often cursing and hissing that our paths never cross again.

Nonetheless, I think that mortuary workers are one group of people whose job is as crucial as that of anyone else. In 2010 when I lost my beloved mother, Ama Adease, I once followed my brothers to the morgue of the regional hospital of Sunyani in the Bono Region to see her.

On stretchers inside the morgue laid some dead bodies as stiff as concrete. It was there [at the mortuary] that I really found the definition of the phrase ‘joint service’ as mostly used by Christians. Indeed, joint service is when both males and females, the dead, lie naked – only wearing panties – together in the same hall of a cold room.

In the dead man’s motionless state, even their own living family members become scared of them. Yet, the mortician basically ‘lives’ with them. They keep the dead in good shape till their family members come for them for burial.

Honestly, I am yet to see he whose job is as difficult as the mortician in Ghana if not the world at large. The question we ought to, therefore, ask ourselves is, “How much is the take home salary of the mortician?” Probably, other mortuary workers might earn something very decent but certainly not the man we call ‘mortuary man’.

This week, I heard in the news that these morticians take home ₵250 per month. I was totally shocked to hear of this. What could that amount of money do in our present day Ghana?

Does this not cement the assertion that Ghanaians value certificates more than the very brain in the skull of persons who bear such pieces of paper? So, once one struggles through school and gets hold of a certificate, they are overly better off than the one who could not acquire such.

Funny enough, these certificate holders oftentimes tend to do nothing substantial at their workplaces as compared to those who have no such credentials.

Last week, news broke that the Ghanaian Parliament and its Speaker, Professor Mike Oquaye, demanded a retirement package for members of the House. They argued that Members of Parliament [MPs] mostly end up as paupers after they exit office/parliament. Hence, their call for a retirement package aside their ex gratia.

This is how far the Lord has brought us! Our honourable MPs, who barely do the honourable thing by levelling the gap between the elected and their electorates, have a basketful of opportunities at their disposal. Yet, acting like the child of a witch, they are never satisfied with what they have and would ask for more like Oliver Twist!

“Odd as it may sound to the many representatives of the people elsewhere, Sweden does not offer luxury or privileges to its politicians. Without official cars or private drivers, Swedish ministers and MPs travel in crowded buses and trains, just like the citizens they represent. Without any right to parliamentary immunity, they can be tried in a court of law like any other person,” so starts Claudia Wallin’s article titled No perks for Swedish MPs.

When I chanced on Claudia’s article online, I couldn’t help but tell my Facebook friends and followers to endeavor to read it, too.

That ‘Swedish ministers and MPs travel in crowded buses and trains, just like the citizens they represent’? Wow! This is too good to be true. Again, that ‘without any right to parliamentary immunity, they [Swedish MPs] can be tried in a court of law like any other person’? I only wish the Bawku Central Member of Parliament, Mahama Ayariga, could read this as it took a High Court judge to ‘tame’ him to appear in court whenever his alleged criminal case – filed against him by the Special Prosecutor, Martin Amidu – was called.

Mr. Ayariga had earlier resisted appearing in court citing article 122 of the 1992 Constitution that MPs cannot be hauled before any court when Parliament is in session.

“I’m the one who pays the politicians,” says Swedish citizen Joakim Holm to Claudia Wallin, “And I see no reason to give them a life of luxury.”

In Ghana, the situation is the other way round. Our MPs and other top government officials are so well paid that even their tithe [to God] could be someone’s monthly salary. Per the morticians’ ₵250 monthly salary, for instance, they would have to probably work five solid months without expending their monies in order to pay one man’s tithe.

Are we not cruel to the mortician who has become a ‘beggar’ instead of us rather begging them to continue doing their job?

In her book, The Beggars Strike, Aminata Sow Fall tells an intriguing [fictional] story of beggars in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal. The Director of Public Health Services, Mour Ndiaye, who so determined to become Vice President of his country would do anything to gain attention. He orders his assistant, Keba Dabo, to get rid of every single beggar in Dakar.

This, Keba Dabo, successfully does. Indeed, Dakar was clean of beggars. Then, few days later, when Mour visited Serigne Birama – one of his marabouts – he was told to go sacrifice the flesh of a bull to beggars on the streets as that was the surest way to secure victory in his vice presidential bid. But what ensued, thereafter, is something that has always kept lingering in my mind ever since I read the book about four years ago.

“Monsieur Ndiaye, you can go. Tomorrow, if it pleases the Creator,” said Salla Niang [who leads the beggars] to Mour, “all the beggars will be back at their old posts.”

With the swiftness of a duiker, Mour doubled his steps home, slaughtered the bull as his marabouts had directed him. The following morning, he combed through every corner of Dakar and the beggars had fooled him by failing on their promise they would return to their post. Mind you, the beggars’ botched promise came after Mour had endlessly begged them back onto the streets.

The Ghanaian mortuary workers are so much disrespected and seen as nuisance as the beggars in Aminata’s book.

If we listen to the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission, which has earlier described the morticians’ strike as illegal, we are likely to have the impact of the strike escalating when it is resumed as they [morticians] have currently suspended it. And, when it does, no amount of begging the beggars will cool the tempers of bereaved families who would have had the bodies of their relatives locked up at the mortuary or turned away.

I have always told my good friend, the celebrated reggae musician and radio presenter, Blakk Rasta, how much I value him. Aside Blakk Rasta’s bank of knowledge that he shares daily with his listeners, there is one thing he says that always gets me thinking. That, “Now that you know, what will you do?”

My cherished reader, now that you know that someone’s father, brother or uncle working tediously as a mortician is being paid ₵250 monthly, what will you do? Will you support those [like the MPs] who are overly rich to be richer and the poor, poorer – just because the latter probably has no certificate yet are working like bulls?

By Solomon Mensah

The writer is a broadcast journalist with TV3/3FM. Views expressed here are solely his and do not, in anyway, reflect the editorial policy of his organisation.

Email: nehusthan4@yahoo.com

Twitter: @aniwaba

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