Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Blood, sweat & luxuries plus a wee bit of exaggeration

My flatmates excitedly told me about a BBC 3 programme about Ghana they had watched. I love them to bits and as happy as I was to see them I had just returned from a looong day in the library and the furthest thing I was interested in was a tourist feature. Oblivious, they charged on, and I was only half listening – fiddling with my blackberry-until a comment caught my attention. One of them mentioned how completely and hopelessly impoverished that she would have thought Ghana was, if she didn't know me and my friends or had never heard me talk about my life back home, after seeing that documentary. The newly minted patriot in me flared up, now acutely interested. Laughing they asked me to just watch it for myself. So I happily abandoned my plans to rest and continue studying to watch the said documentary, threatening to write to the BBC if I was unhappy in anyway.
The BBC series: Blood, sweat and luxuries basically takes 6 (later 7) young consumers who cannot live without their luxuries: jewellery, shoes, bags, gadgets etc and sends them to the countries where these items are produced; make them live and work among the workers - do the same work without perks and at the same rate of pay - and ask if they still think their luxuries are worth it all.
Ghana was visited to showcase the gold industry, to show appropriate suffering they went to a galamsey mine. Within the first few minutes I was irked because the footage showed no 'pleasant' or modern shots of Accra, just market scenes and hawkers. The narrator, Lucy Irving, then referred to Tarkwa as remote.... (ɛi saa, then the North diɛ...)
They are basically taken to the mine and put to work immediately. I found myself laughing when they are told they had to carry 100 headpans of sand. Their expressions were priceless. As you have guessed they could not cope, there was even a cat fight, and one fainting/panic attack resulting in a failure to meet the set target. Good old Lucy announced that it was a 100 degrees (conveniently omitting to mention whether it was Celsius or Fahrenheit). Maybe I am just being petty, but her tone while describing the bone meltingly sweltering heat was something I found...well, irksome.
They are then taken to the home of Emmanuel –their host- who at 25 is taking care of 17 other members of his family because his father is no more. This triggers various, varying degrees of stabs of conscience and emotion: either at their own irresponsibility or that of others around them. It even produced some tears. They expressed their surprise at how solid the family unit seemed and how grounded the young man was, attributing it to the Ghanaian culture. They meet Ato as well, who expresses his love for education, which he cannot attain; prompting them all to reconsider some choices they have made and question some things going on in the UK.
The following day they finish work, sell the gold and calculate the disparity between the price on the UK high streets and what the workers get for it.
Next, they go to Accra, to Abgobloshie, where a dump site for e-waste has sprung up, with children working on the site for a living. They spoke to a few kids and their parents and make a sweet gesture of giving them some protective gear. They did get fired up about the irresponsibility of some parents, who allowed their kids to do such things but speaking to a parent of such a child showed them that the problem was not irresponsibility but poverty. (I found that scene funny actually, Stella Pokuaa, mother of one of the kids asks the journalist “ɔntɛ ɛha anaa?” she doesn’t live here, does she? When Alexandria is asking her questions about why she allows her son to go to the dump site and so on)
This provoked some strong emotions towards the e-dumpers and governments in the UK and Europe.

On one (jaded) hand, I fail to see what difference sending these 7 kids to Ghana to see a galamsey mine and an e-waste landfill site made at the end of the day. With the exception of Sam and Alexandria, none of them really struck me as really affected, let alone people with potential to even educate, let alone influence anyone else. When Ato expressed his interest in education to the Brits, Oscar replied that "there is a far greater amount of happiness here than in the West". I found that comments like this detracted from what the actual purpose of the documentary might be. The questions the Brits asked were more of statements, designed to make the one answering look even more pathetic. And what did the documentary want to achieve? Remind the British of the situation? Discourage them from buying such goods?? Or give some kids their 15 minutes of fame in a new sort of reality show? And is it making the desired impact? Or has our butt just been bared to the public for nothing? (Literal translation from twi)
On the other hand, it is a new spin on the old story: the 'third world' is exploited and suffers to feed the 'developed' world's consumerism in exchange for spare change. It did show what really goes into the production of such goods - albeit in a student gap year sort of way, and not really a 'serious' investigation. And I congratulate the Brits for making an effort (even if their best often did not cut it) they did try! It showed the (seemingly) real emotions the Brits went through as they lived other people's lives; it was factual and the 'characters' could make it quite entertaining when faced with the pressures that some people live through daily. Such a delivery probably has more impact among the youth of Britain to make them more aware of where their pick-me ups really come from, and perhaps make them feel guilty enough to buy them from producers who (seem) to make an effort to ensure that workers are getting something substantial back. The awareness created by the programme alone will prompt some well meaning people to give a hand where necessary, as apparently an average of 29 million people watch the channel each month and BBC Three now reaches more young people in its broadcast hours than any other digital channel. And that is a good thing.
As for Oscar....he could take another blog post....