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Custodian Shares His Story

December 18, 2014


“In Africa there is a difference between a king and a chief, my father is chief,” evening custodian Dodzi Zaney said.

“My hometown is a small island in Ghana that is called Seva. It is a very small island, and a very beautiful place,” Zaney said.

Zaney’s family have been chiefs of the Ewe tribe for many generations. “When I grew up I knew my dad to be the chief, and when my dad was old, my elder brother became the chief,” he said.

Back in Ghana, Zaney is considered upper class, but he believes that he and the rest of his tribe should be equal to one another. “Some people want to put themselves into that [higher class] level, but I grew up to understand that it’s better to live a simple life,” Zaney said.

Being placed at a higher class ranking changes people, and Zaney feels that it is better to “understand who you are, and know that putting yourself in that [higher] position doesn’t make you better than somebody.”

Zaney said that the other chiefs back in Ghana put themselves in that higher class distinction but he claims that lifestyle is not for him, that it is “not part of me.”

He does not have much interest for the chiefdom he possesses, he said, “if you’re interested in something, then you would like to know how it all came together, I’m not interested in it so I never took the trouble to ask questions.”

Zaney did not grow up with his father or in the village that his father was chief of, which created his egalitarian feelings. “I grew up with my uncle [in Ghana], and he is also not into [the chiefdom], so I never took the trouble to ask my uncle why things are like that.”

Even upon meeting his father he was still disinterested, saying “when I was introduced to my biological father and I was seeing him do [chief] things, even then I didn’t ask him how it came to be that he was chief,” Zaney said.

Zaney’s only knowledge of his family’s history as chiefs was that “one day my great ancestors migrated from somewhere and were the first people to settle at my hometown.” After his ancestor’s initial settlement in Ghana, “they started receiving visitors.”

These visitors collectively made his family the chief because “if they come to you, you are going to give them a place to stay,” Zaney said.

The hospitality that his ancestors gave to the visitors made his family “become a chief over them, because they come to you with their problems, with their needs, and all these kinds of things.”

In Ghana, hospitality and respect are important. Zaney claimed that “if there is no respect then there is going to be misunderstanding and conflict.”

The many tribes that Ghana consists of respect one another’s differences in order to coexist.  Zaney give the example that, “when I was teaching, and as the teacher entered the classroom, everybody stood up and said ‘good morning, sir’ or ‘good morning ma’am.’”

Zaney said that he raises his children to have the same respect that he was raised to have. “We believe that as a child you need to respect an elder person. Whether you know him or not, you have to respect him.”

In addition to the respect that Zaney expects his children to give adults, he thinks that it is his duty as a parent to respect his children. “Even if I am older than you, I need to respect you, because if I don’t respect you, then you will not respect me.”

Zaney practiced this respect by teaching junior high english and religion in Ghana for five years. In Ghanaian schools, the children communicated using English. “Every tribe speaks a different language,” Zaney said, “but we all speak English, because we were colonized by the British.”

English is the national language of Ghana. When the children went to school they had to use English in order to communicate with each other, but at home they would speak their tribe’s language.

As a result of the language barrier, “people who travel speak three to four different languages. I can speak two.”

So how did Zaney end up in Charlottesville if he is a part of the upper class back home?

He got the opportunity of a lifetime. “I won the lottery that was for a green card,” Zaney said. He claims that it was “by the grace of God.”

Zaney is a college graduate, yet he works here as a custodian. Since he graduated college in Ghana, in order to transfer those credentials to the U.S. he would have had to retake multiple classes. Zaney decided to become a custodian instead.

“Even though I’m not teaching, I’m still seeing the kids, and having some interactions with the teachers, so I feel like I’m still in the school system,” Zaney said.

Zaney works here after school from four to midnight every school day. In the mornings, he is a custodian at UVa from six or seven o’clock, to the time he arrives here. This means that Zaney is away from his home  and children from seven in the morning to twelve at midnight.

He plans on keeping this intense workload up for two or three more years.

Zaney helps his family back in Ghana with any struggles they might have with money, so he feels as if he has to work these extranious hours.

Next time you meet someone new, think about all the things you don’t know about them yet. These people could be working insane hours, born in a different country, or they might just be royalty.

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