Postcards from Ghana

The lawn mower 21/09/97

The last week I have been staying at a Farm Institute in rural Ghana; an agricultural project out in the Styx.

In the office a spitting cobra had been living under the photocopier. Until it decided to make its presence known to one of the female staff who ran out and got one of the gardeners to chop off its head with his cutlass. Snakes are a problem in this part of the world, particularly at this time of year. The rains are falling and the grass grows long. And snakes like long grass. Or so my gardener keeps on telling me. Before reminding me that the lawn mower has broken down for the umpteenth time. He comes into the dining room whilst I'm eating breakfast and timidly says "Please master…." "Yes Paul, what's wrong with the lawn mower this time?" "Please master, it's the rings…"

Now I have a problem. Who will pay for repairs to the lawn mower? My Landlord, the British Council tell me that they will not pay for repairs to the lawn mower. They tell me that the High Commission are responsible. So I ask the British High Commission in Accra to pay for repairs to my lawn mower. And for me the High commission is the Aid section, my employers the DFID. And this may be construed to be a bit cheeky. Because the DFID is British Aid and British Aid exists, in Claire Short's words, to alleviate poverty. Not to fix my gardener's lawn mower. Besides, I am told 'why doesn't he use a cutlass like everyone else?'

Because I am an ergonomist and I cannot possibly condone someone cutting the grass with a cutlass that requires him to bend over double. And how much do musculoskeletal disorders cost the average Ghanaian farmer in lost work?

But anyway.

Half my salary now goes on maintaining an ancient Rotary mower. If anyone comes out to visit me, please bring a Flymo.