Yesterday morning I had another chance encounter. Now, I’ve noticed that these encounters are getting frequent. Even before I began writing this blog, I seemed to be meeting quite a fair number of strangers, who wanted to talk, needed directions, and even one who came and randomly just held my hand and that of another friend – who I’m glad was witness to this particularly bizarre one. Come to think of it, it’s either that I’m always in places where people need to ask questions, or that I’m approachable (possibly even have the face of someone you’d want to ask a question from). Otherwise there’s an invisible force at work that attracts strangers towards me ;-).
Whichever way it is, I was undertaking my exercising routine, walking along Palatine road – heading towards Didsbury when someone on the other side of the road called out “Excuse me”
I looked, and saw a black chap maybe 5.5+ foot tall or so, wearing a brown coat and carrying a black backpack. He crossed the road and asked me whether I knew of the location of Jigsaw Hospital?
“Its something to do with people who have mental illnesses” he added.
Upon hearing that, I just about managed to suppress a smile that would inevitably have forced itself upon my face as soon as an uninvited and menacing thought declared “Ah, that’s where they keep the mad ones eh?”. I know, a bit harsh, but we can’t always control what we think.
I told him that I suspected the hospital was somewhere along Palatine road, but I couldn’t be too sure of the exact location as I had only dropped my mother’s friend at a hospital I didn’t previously know about somewhere on Palatine road the previous week, where she was going to catch a night shift. But because I was heading in the same direction, I offered to walk with him to the general location I had driven to that night.
After the introductions, he informed me that he was Ghanaian, and that he was going to the hospital to drop the house keys to his wife, who had just moved to Manchester from Ghana, and who had began to work at Jigsaw. I told him that I had some Ghanaian friends in Nottingham, where I did my studies, after which I inquired what he did in Manchester.
It turns out he is studying for a PhD in Luton, where he also happens to be a part-time lecturer, but was in Manchester to visit his wife for the weekend. So obviously I wanted to know about Ghana and his outlook on life in the UK.
“Ghana is doing well, very well in fact” he said confidently, “We are making long strides of progress” We tried to find the similarities and differences between our respective countries. He thought one of the things that sets Ghanaians apart, besides integrity, is ‘a drive for legacy’. “Ghanaians are thinking about the future, what can we do that we can leave for our children to inherit, they are not doing short-term fixes”
“What’s the politics like?” I asked
“Oh we are trying, the president is in court at the moment over corruption charges, so that says something right?
“I guess so” I replied “Unless of course it’s just a show and one is as slippery as Silvio Berlusconi”
He laughed. As I told him about Malawi, he listened intently but tended to repeat the ending of every other statement I made.
“So after the previous guy suddenly died, a new president, Joyce Banda was sworn in, who happens to be Africa’s second female president, and the first female president of Malawi.” I said
“Africa’s second female president, and the first female president of Malawi.” he repeated, not exclaiming disbelief or someother emotion, just repeating the last part of what I had just said, which I thought was an interesting way to conduct a conversation.
Then I asked him whether he would stay in Britain a little while after his PhD.
“Nooo, not living here” he said. “After I finish, I’m taking my wife back home, here they want your money, ” he said matter-of-factly. “They don’t care about you, all they want is the money and they have clever ways of taking your money from you”
“Council tax that always seems to be rising?” I commented, tongue in cheek
“Television licence, expensive accommodation, high taxes, National Insurance…what is the real purpose of National Insurance?” he asked, straight faced. I could only laugh
“In case you retire, or for your rubbish collection isn’t it” I replied, partly mistaking Council tax with National insurance.
“£110 a month for rubbish collection! Its better I go and earn something that I can keep and call mine, not live with this” he said
At that point we saw text on the glass door of a building to our right that read ‘JIGSAW…’. After a few more words and some polite goodbye’s and goodlucks, we parted ways.