From barber to businessman• A persevering Ghanaian in China

By Edmund Smith-Asante

Mr and Mrs Ketu (middle with citation) with some officials of Ghana's Beijing Embassy
Mr and Mrs Ketu (middle with citation) with some officials of Ghana’s Beijing Embassy

He referred to himself as a hustler telling the young students in the audience that they were living in China in better times and nothing they were going through could compare to the difficulties he faced 19 years ago as a ‘nobody’.

The story of Mr. Stephen Ketu, 50, is one that would intrigue many people and that is why it needs to be told.

He is now the General Manager of two flourishing companies based in China – the Tianjin Able Import & Export Trading Company Limited (AIETC) and the Tianjin Able Shipping Company Limited (TASAC) but he did not have a rosy start.

As Mr Ketu recounted his story to a section of the Ghanaian community who were able to attend the first ever Open Forum and Town Hall meeting organised by Ghana’s Embassy in Beijing, he drew loud applause for his inspiring story.

It even turned emotional at certain points when the entire hall at the Hopson Hortune Plaza Hotel, Haoting in the Chaoyang District, was gripped with his story.

His wife was also seen trying very hard not to shed a tear as she quickly wiped the corners of her eyes which were threatening to give her away.

Down memory lane

Perhaps he intended to become a businessman in future but the way it happened is not how he planned it.

Sounding religious at the beginning of his account he said “your ways are not God’s ways,” inferring that although his plan was to seek the renewal of his passport at Ghana’s Mission and return to his base in Hong Kong his plan ended up being altered.

Brig. Gen. Joseph Boampong, Ghana's Military Attache in Beijing presenting the citation to Mr. Stephen Ketu. PICTURE BY EDMUND SMITH-ASANTE
Brig. Gen. Joseph Boampong, Ghana’s Military Attache in Beijing presenting the citation to Mr. Stephen Ketu. PICTURE BY EDMUND SMITH-ASANTE

He told the intrigued audience that he was over the top when the Embassy told him that he could only get a renewal after between three and four months, which required that he stayed in Beijing against his will because his passport had expired.

But he said that turn of events ended up being a blessing, when a friend in Hong Kong who also had a residence in Beijing offered to help him with a place to stay.
He however, only had with him two pairs of trousers, a shirt, a shoe and some underwear, he recounted.

How I became a barber

Mr. Ketu told the bemused Ghanaian community that as he ranted over his unwillingness to stay in Beijing for four months a staff of the Embassy asked him how he got the nice haircut he was spotting, to which he replied that he did it himself.

‘Then please do it for us too. There are many of us here who need a haircut but we can’t find anyone to do it for us,’ he recounted the statement from the official.

He then reluctantly offered to give the haircut so that he may receive some favour from the Embassy in respect to his request for a new passport, he narrated.

Alas! That was not to be, as he was repeatedly told the process for acquiring a new passport demanded a period of not less than four months.

“I was shattered,” he said. “How am I going to live in Beijing when I have all my stuff in Hong Kong?” he asked himself.

The answer that came was not what he expected but he was urged by the Embassy staff to also extend his barbering service to staff of other embassies who also needed someone to help in grooming their hair – Thus began his journey as a barber extraordinaire in Beijing.

Becoming a businessman

Mr. Ketu said from then on he developed a very fruitful and cordial relationship with the Embassy of Ghana and so when a businessman approached them for a worthy representative for his business in Beijing, he was highly recommended.

After a meeting with the businessman who required proof that he (Mr. Ketu) could indeed be the worthy ambassador he sought, the latter said he turned to the Embassy which assisted him with all the necessary documentation and also stood as surety for him.

“From then on I became the reference point whenever anybody needed help with any business because the first businessman and the Embassy became so pleased with my work and faithfulness,” he said.

Mr. Ketu therefore, urged students studying in China as well as those engaging in various forms of businesses in China to remain truthful and hardworking.
“The Embassy is looking for Ghanaians who will bring them something good, not people who will bring them trouble and disgrace so be law-abiding citizens and be truthful in all your dealings with people,” he admonished them.

Family

Mr. Ketu is currently married to a Chinese woman, Judy, and it was the circumstances surrounding how the two met and were able to marry that formed the most emotional part of his story.

“I saw this beautifully woman, we became friends and I said I wanted to marry her but her parents said no because they did not know me and wouldn’t give their only daughter to a stranger.

“After a while they agreed to allow me marry her but they said now they couldn’t because they didn’t know my family. I was troubled but I went to see the Ambassador whom I always referred to as my daddy and said I always call you daddy but this time I want you to be my daddy so that I can marry the woman of my dreams,” Mr. Ketu narrated.

He said not only did the Ambassador agree to stand in as his father, but he also asked all the staff to represent his sisters and brothers.

That agreed they all went to Tianjin to see the parents of his wife at a set date.

“On that day we all left to Tianjin and when we got there the parents asked, what is happening here? The Ambassador explained that he was standing in as my father and the parents broke down in tears saying, ‘Ghana’s Ambassador representing your father; all we ask is that you take very good care of her because she is our only child.’”

Mr. Ketu received applause from not only the Ghanaians throughout his narration, but also from the officials of the Embassy who testified that he had become an invaluable asset to the Embassy and always offered assistance when needed.

They said it was he who single-handedly sponsored the open forum which was facilitated by the Embassy.

Mr. Ketu who has two children, a boy and a girl, also assists some Ghanaian students schooling in China with jobs when they return to Ghana after their studies.

Award

The Ghana Embassy in Beijing presented a citation to Mr. Ketu for his assistance over the years. The citation, which was presented by the Acting Head of Mission, Mr. McArios Akanbong, read in part; “In recognition of your success as an entrepreneur, your compassion for the less fortunate and your love for your country and the strong bonds of friendship between your company and the Mission.

“This feat could only have been possible by reason of your commitment to hard work, excellence and your trust in God. Your generosity is boundless, your humility exemplary and your love for your country and people worth emulating.”

Writer’s email: edmund.asante@graphic.com.gh

This story was first published on May 12, 2017 by the Mirror

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