Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Ghanaian Working Mum - through my eyes...

On cruising the warm streets of Accra in our air conditioned, less than a year old car, I was extremely comfortable and could have been anywhere in the world. So, I decided to sit back and watch. I was watching EVERYTHING, like a child..asking questions, trying to understand...essentially being an undercover, unpaid, anthropologist... I was observing.

One thing that struck me was the two kinds of working Mum that I observed. They were worlds apart but living right next to one another...

The majority of working Mums that I noticed were selling various goods by the roadside or in markets. They carried on their heads everything from bags of water and meat pies, to socks and wooden artefacts. They worked enthusiastically under the scorching midday sun, often near another working Mum, chatting and laughing as they tried to sell their items. 

How did I know they were working Mums? 

It was easy, they had their kids strapped to their backs, like this:

Fine, these women may have been looking after other people's babies, but that would be a lot of childminders carrying kids on their backs. From a few women that I spoke to, these little kids were clearly their own. I had warm memories when I saw these woman, and reminisced about 'carrying' my dolls on my back as a young child. I used to play 'African girl' and carry a laundry basket with a few socks in it on top of my head. I'd use a scarf to tie the dolls to my back and would parade up and down the house. This was me playing 'house' I guess. It was so humbling to see grown women doing the same - except they weren't playing.

At one point, I saw a woman with a HUGE bowl on her head, and a little girl on her back. She also had 2 other smalls child walking with her. She saw the tro-tro (like a bus - except you really wouldn't want to ride it) and started to run - with the bowl balanced on her head and the little girl slipping from her back. I watched eagerly, just waiting to see if she'd catch the tro-tro, and how she'd hustle 3 kids onto what was already a jam packed ride. 

She caught the tro-tro, she caught the little girl before she slipped, swung her onto the ground, handed the bowl from her head to the 'mate' (that's like the conductor) and she jumped onto the tro-tro. All three of the kids followed her. 

I wondered if she was going home, or to another spot to sell or what. Like I said, I was very curious about everything I saw... : ) I wondered if what I saw was a typical occurrence? Was it an unusual thing that I saw?

Either way, I was impressed. I made a little note of the incident (the bones for this post) and I plan to keep a mental note of this, so that on days when I find being a working Mum difficult, I can remind myself that if that lady and her 3 kids could catch the tro-tro, I sure can meet the challenges that I faced too.

So what about the other type of working Mum?

The other type was the high-society working Mum, who doesn't need to bathe her child if she doesn't want to (there is home-help for this). This working Mum doesn't have to cook, clean or drive their child to nursery (again, there is home-help for this). The only time that this kind of Mum has to spend with her child is 'quality time' - seeing sites, going on trips, playing etc. All the home-related tasks are taken care of for her. All her energy goes into working and whatever spark of energy is left is for playing with her child - she doesn't have to split her non-working time between her child and chores.  

I was as shocked by this experience as I was the last one... of course there are times when I would LOVE home-help! I mean, I would LOVE to have someone else plan meals and cook, so that when I get home from work, I can devote all my time to just playing with Little Miss O....I would love it if I could go to bed and the plates wash themselves...if the clothes would wash themselves. Now, call me selfish but I wouldn't want to share so much of my child with someone else. I want to be the one to kiss the boo boos, I want to be the one to read bedtime stories. In fact Mr O and I fight over who gets to collect Little Miss O from nursery and see her big grin when we arrive. These things I love.

Seeing these two completely contrasting versions of 'working motherhood' was just another example of how life can be sooooo different for people, so different for women, living just metres from one another...

Mrs O


  1. Actually as a Ghanaian who grew up in Ghana (though living abroad now) I can tell you that having a househelp does not mean not doing anything. A majority of women work alongside their househelps - while the househelp is washing the clothes or bathing the kids, the woman of the house cooks. While the househelp is washing the dishes after lunch/supper, etc., the woman of the house is ironing clothes for the next day. Many homes have househelps, including women who work as househelps in other people's homes. They are exactly that - a help. They don't do everything while the woman of the house sits around playing with her kids. If your Mum is Ghanaian and lived there before moving abroad, she will confirm this.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment anon. x I’m so pleased that you confirmed that what I saw is not the case Ghana-wide. I’m especially happy about your experience because being a working Mum in Ghana is something that I may well we doing in the not too distant future, and I quite like the idea of having 'help' as you say. Unfortunately doing all those things without help is such HARD WORK and I for one would take any help I could get! If I got to do the housework alongside 'househelp', I'm sure I'd actually enjoy the company. It’s so great to hear from your experiences to piece together the remaining pieces of my jigsaw and prove that things are not always as they seem. Thank you for sharing x

  3. I think you can have some 'help' in the US or UK without it having to be human. You can put your dishes in the washer and go to sleep, same as washer/dryer, etc. Most of the food is also already processed, puree tomatoes, chopped spinach, etc. All the best as you plan you working motherhood.


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