25 THINGS – II
March 28, 2011 § 2 Comments
8. There was one more thing I forgot to say about you in my last entry, and that is safety- your safety. You’re in a foreign country and far away from home and that’s something you should never forget. Your laws don’t work here. Try not to piss off the wrong person who just might be having a bad day and might decide to take out his/her… (it’s mostly a he) frustrations on you. Keep your wits about you. Don’t go where you know you shouldn’t go, or follow that dude you just met into a cab to god-knows where. We don’t need another Natalie Holloway here. I’m not trying to scare you. It’s just something that you should always be mindful of. Whenever I leave home I try to get back in a good time. Yes, I’m from here. Yes, I can handle most people on my own, but it doesn’t mean I should always put myself in the wrong position all the time, and neither should you. Try not to do that solo trip, either, especially at night or on long trips. We won’t have another horror movie where that naive white person goes where everyone knows he/she shouldn’t go. Good. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.
Now, let’s turn that a little bit around. Ghana is also one of the safest places I think you could ever be on this planet. No, I’m not exaggerating. From 3rd grade on, I always went to school by myself on the tro-tro. I actually remember walking home from kindergarten a few times from a street over from my house and always feeling safe. You’ll find lots of very young kids going around town. Are they safe? Yes, for the most part. Everyone looks out for everyone, especially children. Ghanaians are also particular about protecting foreigners. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, brown, pink, or beige, if you’re somewhat new, there’s always someone watching out for you. I once witnessed a woman beaten up by two men and robbed of her handbag in Spanish Harlem, and no one flinched. Hell, there were people who actually turned away so as not to witness more of the crime. THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN IN GHANA. If you’re being harmed in Ghana, yell! If you’re in any kind of trouble or danger run up to any adult and ask for help. You can even grab their hands and ask them to walk with you- male or female. It’s often easy for me to rag on my people, but they’ll never fail you when it comes to safety. Just don’t go and do anything stupid. Now on to part two…
9. Personalities: On a walk a week ago, I watched two men in what looked like a heated argument. I was sure it would turn to blows as both ratcheted up the intensity. But then I realized what they were talking about: stolen food, as one accused the other of stealing his kenkey while the defendant claimed the others’ sister gifted it to him. So off they went, loudly lobbing insults at each other as they walked towards what I assumed was the second guy’s sister’s house to settle the issue. What made it funny was here was two grown shirt-less men: one in only a towel, and the other wrapped with a simple cloth, perching themselves side-by-side on the concrete ground outside the gate of a house on a very quiet Sunday morning, waiting for someone to settle their argument. If this were anywhere else, someone would have called po-po to complain. We’re loud. Or at least we can be loud. We’re also in your face. We like that up-close-and-personal thing. In fact, the more I think about this, the more I wonder if this is more an African thing or a Ghanaian thing, but since I know Ghanaians best, I’ll stick to them for now. The concept of privacy is a bit different. Private might be talking about one’s income, but apart from that, it seems just about everything is well within bounds. Don’t be offended by any surprising line of questioning. You can always decline to talk about some things.
Also, within the right situations, it would seem everyone wants to be your friend. When I first came home, I always got a kick out of watching people bewildered from learning I didn’t have a phone. A girl once offered to have me home for dinner, and although very flattering, I turned that down. That was ok with her. My admitting I didn’t have a number for her to call wasn’t. It was as if I really blowing her off by not giving her my number. I don’t imagine you’ll get that kind of encounter, but you can always give a fake one (if you’re certain you won’t see them again), or you can always not answer yours. Allow that people might want to connect or relate to you in ways that you’re accustomed to finding intrusive. It’s a cultural difference to which you can adjust.
10. If you’re a woman, be prepared for an endless array of potential suitors and marriage proposals. I’m sure not any has ever worked, but you can’t fault some of these men for trying. You can always say you’re already married. I don’t know if that’ll work, but I’d like to think that’ll be enough of a turn off for them. On the other hand, if you meet a man (or woman), don’t be dismissive of him as arrogant or cocky just because he carries himself a certain way. What you might consider cocky, he might see as self confidence. And this same dude you think so less of will be the same guy who will walk the length and breadth of Accra helping you find that one thing you’re looking for. Try not to make quick assumptions and conclusions about people because they don’t act a certain way or present themselves in a manner you expect.
11. Ghanaians like to celebrate everything. Give them an excuse, and they co-opt every holiday you have- even if it makes no sense for us to celebrate it. I was invited to a St. Patty’s day party last week. I appreciated the invite, but naturally, I turned it down. I don’t imagine how the Irish celebrate the day, but I don’t think it’s the binge-drinking fest I knew of in the U.S. Also, it seems a bit much for Ghanaians to be stealing yet another culture’s festival just for the sake of having a party. I’d be a bit annoyed if any other culture outside Ghana decided to start partying on Homowo just for the sake of having fun on that day because Gãs in Ghana celebrate the Homowo festival. We’ve already embraced Val’s day, Mother’s day, and even Father’s day with some strange zeal. I won’t be shocked to see Ghanaians start celebrating Thanksgiving this November, if they haven’t already in the recent past. It’s cool that we like our fun, but it can be a bit much sometimes.
12. Mixers: I’m not sure how all the different ethnic groups assembled in modern-day Ghana (ok, I know a lot more, but we don’t need know how the first settlers came down from the north 3000 years ago.), but life couldn’t have put together a more like-minded group of people. Don’t get me wrong, we argue about everything, and we don’t always get along. But we do everything together. Christmas, Easter, this fest, that fest… Sa’lah? Christians and Muslims almost celebrate each other’s festivities. There are also lots of multi-lingual families. It’s more the norm than exception and mostly how and why we speak so many languages. If you’re from Accra and neither of your parents is Gã or from the same ethnic group, you’re more likely to pick up their languages, Ga, and then English. There are lots of households where you’d find families speaking one language, but belonging to a totally different ethnic group. Or people having names usually identified with certain ethnic groups, but not their own. So you’ll find an Ewe with Akan name; Akans with Hausa names if you venture far outside Accra.
13. Food: Our foods usually have two main components: a starchy base, which is combined with a stew/soup side. If you’re comfortable with eating hot and often spicy dishes, you’ll love what’s here. I would’ve loved to list many foods you can try accompanied by pictures, but there’s not enough time, and there are many places online that have done a better job than I could. So, I would suggest you check this out: http://andyandtarasworld.blogspot.com/2010/05/something-fishy-in-ghana.html One other thing I’ll add is that you find someone who can recommend a good local place to eat (NOT Asanka Local where they don’t even serve with Asanka. In fact, don’t go to places just because Anthony Bourdain visited them when he was here). Also, don’t chew your fufu or use a spoon to eat fufu!
14. Languages: You’ll imagine almost everyone speaking Twi, but it’s not the only language in Ghana, and only about 40% speak it (mind you Akans don’t even reach that number). In fact, there are over 75 languages in Ghana. I’d say learn some Twi since it’s convenient, but if you’ll be spending most of your time in Greater – Accra, then I’d suggest you learn Gã, instead, as Accra is the ancestral home of the Gã- Adangbe. I’m not Gã, but I prefer not seeing Twi completely overshadow Gã, which is a beautiful language. You can pick up Twi later, but wouldn’t it be cool to leave Ghana having learned the basics of 2 languages instead of 1? As for learning a local language, I’d suggest you don’t try to speak any. Really, don’t. You’ll get it wrong 99.9999% of the time, someone will laugh at you, you’ll be dismayed and crawl back into shell, and then we’d be left with you not trying to speak the rest of your stay here. Instead, listen. You won’t pick up the inflections, intonations, and pitches in a day. You also can’t learn Twi, or any other language in a book. I can use one Twi word in three different ways. That same word can be spelled in three different ways depending on who is writing and what dialect he/she uses. I can then add an accent on one of the vowels of the word to make a completely new word. Think you can still learn Twi from those books? Listen, listen, listen, and listen again. Try to hear how words are spoken. And when you’ve heard them enough times, break down these phonetically, then search for sounds in words from your own languages that best resemble the sounds you hear from our languages- mind you, you’re doing all this in your head. Then when you feel comfortable with what you have in your head, try out your new words on any local. We’ll probably laugh at you initially, but a Ghanaian will be flattered you tried, and he will then try to help you figure out how to properly sound out your words. Never use another expat’s mispronunciation of a word and stick with it. That’s how we ended up with Ashanti (instead of Asante), and Obruni(s) instead Obroni/Abrɔfo. There are lots more and it’s one of my biggest bugaboos. I once watched some idiots on Faux News continuously misprounce Qatar (Gutter) and Sotomayor (Sada-mayer). But then again, why should I have expected differently. Don’t be like those idiots. If I used Eh-meraica (America) or Brigh-ton (Britain) all the time, I imagine others will find it annoying. It gives the impression I don’t care enough to correct myself. It’s dismissive and disrespectful; especially if I’m aware I get it wrong. Get it right or don’t use it at all.
15. Culture: Ghanaians like to operate on their own pace, and often take a lackadaisical attitude about things you might consider urgent or important. If you have a meeting or function, always give your Ghanaian friends 1 start time and your expat friends the actual time. I don’t know when or where this started, but Ghanaians have taken to arriving at functions late. The tardier the better, it seems. We aren’t lazy with time. We can keep good time. You just have to stress the importance of time. Each and every one of us knew how to get to school in time- not on time, in time. If it’s church, no one gets there late. So we can keep time; we’ve just adopted a very relaxed attitude about it. Unfortunately, this same attitude has extended to work and even many functions of government. You won’t get what needs done on time because whomever you’re dealing with feels since whatever it is you seek least concerns them, the onus is on you to get things moving at the pace you need. Sometimes- and this is the part of this society I hate- this involves bribery. Sometimes it involves you practically doing all the work that the official should be doing in the first place. But be mindful nothing moves efficiently. Unless it’s something government actually makes money on, like ports. That’s where you see things move efficiently- although, that’s also to their advantage. I’m not always the most patient person, but I’ve given to moving at the local pace for the time being. So, before you can figure out how to move at the pace you want, I’d suggest you learn to factor in a lot of time for things you want. This is also about travelling. A trip to Kumasi should take 90 minutes. You should expect 4-5 hours with another hour just getting out of Accra. It takes me about 2 hours to travel from just outside Adenta to Ring Road. It can be agonizing sitting in that traffic, but you learn to adjust. There is no hurry in life, after all, eh?
(last ten will be about what to do during your stay)