Why you should care

Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Issah Karim
Obuasi, Ghana

I got the shuttle bus to the mine at 7:30 in the morning as usual. I swiped my card, but the gate didn’t open. There were some other miners there. The guard said we should all go to the manager’s office. After a long time, the manager came out and gave each of us a letter. We’d been laid off. The same thing happened to almost 5,000 people who worked for the company in Obuasi.

Issah Karim poses for a photograph.

Issah Karim poses for a photograph.

Source Issah Karim

Obuasi is a rich land. There is so much gold here. But look at our land: The forests are gone, and mining pits are everywhere. I started working for the gold mining company in 1986. I wanted to stay until I retired, and I was close: I’m 52. I have a wife and five children; I have my mother. The salary was enough for us all. And the company provided a bungalow for us to live in.

But by the time I was laid off on November 19 last year, things were changing. The company didn’t get profit [from the Obuasi mine]. I knew the layoffs were coming, but I didn’t think it would happen to me; I was with the company for almost 29 years. But producing gold is expensive now, because the price is so low. So the company is shutting down the mine for some time to save money. With the new way they do mining, my job is gone forever. The company wants fewer workers and more machines.

The day I was laid off, I went home not knowing what to do. I didn’t eat until evening. I don’t know how to talk about it even now. There’s so much to think about. I need a job. I need to look for a house. I have to pay school fees every three months. Sometimes I drink akpeteshie because the thinking is too much.

Friends gave me advice. One suggested I should buy Treasury bills, but that will take time. Another suggested I drive a taxi, but so many miners have already become drivers in Obuasi. When you go to the big cities like Accra or Kumasi, you see a lot of buying-and-selling businesses. That’s what people do to survive, because there are so few good jobs in Ghana. If you have the means, then you run your own business.

The company promised me severance pay: 25 percent of my salary for every month I worked. I earned every penny; the work I did was hard and I could have gotten injured at any time. This scar on my scalp was from one of those times, an electrical shock, 15 years ago.

But it’s been some time now, more than a month. There is still no check, nothing. If the money ever comes, maybe I’ll leave for one of the big cities. For now I have to be very careful with the little money I have left. I don’t want to rush, spoil the money and become a beggar.

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OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising -- the human.