As Mortuary attendants threaten to go on strike if their conditions of service is not attended to and given a facelift, I reproduce a feature I wrote while at A1 Radio in Bolgatanga in 2016 which addresses the hell Mortuary Attendants go through just because they decided to take up that “profession”.
READ FEATURE HERE
Stereotype, disregard, stigmatization are but a few words to describe the life of Mr. Alhassan Azaah, Head Mortuary Attendant at the Bolgatanga Regional Hospital who has over eleven years of work experience as a “mortuary man”.
Setting out in life, he never dreamt of becoming a mortuary attendant although he was one of the best undertakers in his village. But life, with its twist and turns offered him an opportunity to serve humanity as a mortuary attendant, so he gracefully woke up to the call, since it was going to put food on the table.
Mr. Alhassan recalls he chanced on an announcement of a vacancy at the hospital and knowing how prestigious it was to be working as a health worker; he put his documents together and applied for the job.
“Will you agree to do any work here at the hospital if you are picked to work here?” was the only question he recalls he was asked during the interview session and in answering affirmative, he was asked to go and wait for the response.
After several weeks of waiting, Mr. Alhassan Azaah received the all-important call notifying him of his appointment as a mortuary man. Although it was a relieving call, he had to think through with some close relatives and out of four people whose opinions he sought; three were in support of his new appointment, hence taking up the responsibility at the Bolgatanga Hospital.
Although things did not turn out to be what he envisaged, he worked hard for the love for humanity as a casual worker for four years with a meagre salary of forty cedis before he was put on the payroll as a full-time worker.
“I worked for four years as a casual worker. I think I started working in 2006 and I worked for four years without a better salary but I was happy to be working for humanity so I continuously was committed to my work until I had my full-time appointment.”
There have been several stories about problems mortuary attendants have to go through at the hands of corpse and that mortuary attendants need to be spiritually fortified the African way before they can take up such positions. Mr. Alhassan alludes to struggling with some dead bodies but insists there is no need for black magic before an individual becomes a mortuary attendant.
“Me I no get juju. It is God who protects me. All an individual needs is courage and the protection from the highest God”.
“One day someone died and I had to pick him from the hospital and prepare him for the morgue. This individual died out of a spiritual battle so when I carried him from the hospital and got to the morgue, he (corpse) put off all the lights in the morgue. I was the only one by then so I gather courage and shout at him to put the light on and he did and I prepare him and put him for there,” Alhassan recounted one of his numerous spiritual encounters with a dead body.
To him, the love and respect for humanity spur him on in his chosen career path. However, that love and respect he has for humanity have eluded him as he mentioned that most individuals see him and avoid greeting his palm all because he is always in contact with dead bodies.
He recounted an ordeal he had to deal with at the bank one day when he was going to take his salary. He recounted that on the fateful day, he had gone to ADB in Bolgatanga to withdraw his monthly stipend and upon arrival, he met one nurse who on top of her voice shouted: “eii mortuary man na aha de3 wo b3 y3 d3n?” Literally meaning what is the mortuary man doing in the Bank. He noted that all eyes were on him and so to avoid further embarrassment he decided to leave the bank but was prevailed upon and was served by one of the tellers and that has been the order since that day. In recounting this, a teary Mr. Alhassan mentioned that he had gone through several embarrassing situations in his life but that scene at the bank was the most embarrassing day of his life.
Apart from the daily embarrassment he has to endure due to his career path, he has also been ripped-off the opportunity to contest for Chieftaincy title in his village although he qualifies as a royal to contest for such a position; something that hurts him the most about the choice of career he made some years ago.
“I stood for Chieftaincy title sometime back but I lost. Although I still have the chance to contest, the work and how people now see me does not afford me the opportunity to go and contest because the respect is not there at all. So the next time there is an opportunity, I have to prepare one of my brothers to join the contest because as for me I cannot contest in this state when people no more regard me just because I am a mortuary attendant.”
Apart from the social embarrassment, Mr. Alhassan regardless of the essential service provided by him to the hospital, his finances and welfare leave much to be desired. After working for four years and receiving forty cedis, he as a head mortuary receives a little over five hundred cedis whiles all other workers are all casual workers.
Unlike various heartbreaking stories that are always told about how mortuary attendants sleep with dead bodies, especially beautiful girls they would not have gotten when they were alive, the love story of Mr. Alhassan seem different and strikes as the only bundle of joy he has. He is blessed with three wives and seven children; this he takes a lot of pride in because it is the only thing that keeps him going as a human being.
“Me I don’t sleep with dead bodies, I am happily married to my three wives. Two are in my village and the young one is here with me. My family, for now, is my source of joy. I have seven children and counting,” he said with a beaming smile resting on his face.
It is often said that finding job satisfaction only lies in passion for the job and not how much you earn. For Mr. Alhassan Azaah, serving his country as a ‘mortuary man’ is a passion and he gets paid for it.
Source: Offei-Akoto Ayeh