Metro TV interns have a very unstructured program. We are encouraged to explore areas of our own interest. We are expected to hassle producers and editors for assignments. We may come and go as we please and make our own hours.
By our first Friday, we are expected to pitch 5 story ideas. By my third day at Metro,
I still had a blank page. I like to think this was because I didn’t know enough about Ghanaian politics and I was also having difficulty understanding the dialect.
On that day, I secured an assignment shadowing another journalist. We were going to the Ministry of Trade and Industry for a press conference. I was excited about the assignment, as trade and industry sounded like a decent source for story ideas.
I knew that I was going to an indoor government meeting, so I decided to wear a nicer shirt to work. I had a tastefully off-white dress shirt, which I didn’t plan to use on outdoor assignments.
I get into the back of the news car and fasten my seatbelt. When we arrive at the Minister’s Office, I get out of the car and notice that my shirt is already stained from my shoulder to the collar and down the front. I had failed to realize that the underside of the shoulder belt was covered in grime.
There’s absolutely nothing that I can do about this. My backup shirt was at the office in my backpack. I briefly consider buying a shirt on the street or rolling on the ground to make the entire shirt brown. There was no time for the first option and the second one was silly.
We head up the office. The room is packed and we are the last ones to arrive.
A man walks up to me and shakes my hand. He’s wearing a white, traditional Muslim garb that consists of a modest long white shirt with a short cylindrical hat. He looks young, fit, and very down to earth. He asks me where I’m from, I say I’m from the United States, and he welcomes me. I realize that at this point, the entire room of over 25 people – union heads, journalists, and government officials are all looking at us. I assume they’re just staring at me because I’m the only foreigner in the room and my shirt is filthy.
The man walks away and takes a seat – at the head of the table. It turns out that this man is Haruna Iddrisu, the Minister of Trade and Industry. He was addressing trade union heads over concerns that foreigners were coming in, posing as Ghanaians, and engaging in petty trade (cab driving, retail sales and street hawking can only be done by Ghanaian citizens).
At this point, I’m still trying desperately to understand Ghanaian English, which can be slow, articulate, uses British English terms like “lorry” and can be spoken in a low, monotone fashion. There I am, on national television wearing a dirty white shirt with absolutely no idea of what is gong on. I come out of the meeting with nothing new or original.
On the drive back to the station, my coworkers confront me. Keep in mind that when these conversations happen, the rest of the car is usually laughing and shouting at each other in Twi.
Coworker: Obruni? Why don’t you clean your shirt?
Me: I didn’t realize the seatbelt was dirty?
Coworker: Why do you wear a seatbelt in the backseat?
Me: It seemed like a good idea.
Coworker: We don’t wear them here.
Me: I don’t believe you. I see people wearing them. Isn’t it a law?
Coworker: Yes, but nobody wears them.
The next day I pitch a story on the enforcement of seatbelt laws in Ghana. The producers like it. They hate all the other ones, which are related to trade and industry.