How To Offend A Ghanaian

July 7, 2011 § 3 Comments

Ok, this isn’t entirely about the title…

When I first came to Ghana, I tried being like everyone else. Ok, I didn’t really try to be like a regular Ghanaian- that’s impossible, but I tried a few things like walking in the sun. Bad Idea. I’ve known black people tan. I always saw the changes on my skin from winter to summer to early fall, and it was more visible since I always lived in cold regions like New England and Minnesota. What I didn’t realize was that we suffer sunburns. The melanin in our skin masks the effects, but when your skin has lightened over time and you’re immediately thrust into the heat from the cold, you see and feel the effects.

So, I resorted to using an umbrella. A girl I fancied thought it was tacky for anyone to use umbrellas when it wasn’t raining. I got so used to the cold in Vermont and Minnesota that I could go out in a single light t-shirt when the temperature was 30-35 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I’d bet a regular Ghanaian not acclimatized to cold wear will have on a heavy winter coat in 65-degree New Jersey spring weather. Should I find it tacky to see these people wearing heavy parkers in the spring? No, because they aren’t used to the cold. But use an umbrella here, and you aren’t accorded the same latitude. I was the uppity guy who thought he was much better than everyone else. It didn’t matter that I’d sweat bullets and my skin will be blazing hot after a day in the sun, longer after night had fallen.

Today, I went on a few rounds around Accra. I always carry a nalgene (water) bottle every time I go out. I usually get a few stares or an occasional “can you get me one?” On my tro-tro ride to 37 (more on that in a sec), I bought water from a hawker and proceeded to empty the two sachets into my bottle. Then I folded up the sachets and put them in my back pocket. I can’t bring myself to do that. I wasn’t doing that in the U.S., and I don’t imagine I’ll join in the tradition here. An older woman sitting next to me looked at me in what seemed like forever. Then she finally opened her mouth and said in twi “what? Where are you from? Do you think you’re better than us? Why can’t you just throw the sachets away? Why? Are you a white person?” Right… keep your trash: wrong; throw it out of the window of a moving van where rain will wash it into the drains to clog or on soil where it’ll take hundreds of thousands of years to breakdown: brilliant!!

I made it to 37 to the DVLA to change my license only to learn that since it’s expired (7 months), I have to- and this is the thing that cracked me up: “go and renew it, then bring it back to change it.” So, let’s get this picture straight: it doesn’t matter that I started driving in 1997. What’s important is that I buy a $1200 ticket to New Jersey, wait several weeks for the N.J. DMV to issue me a new license, THEN fly back to Accra, pay 50ghc, take 2 passport pictures, and wait another month to get my Ghana license! That was his assertion, however nonsensical it was.

“There’s no way I’m returning just for that!”

“Then you’ll have to start from the beginning with the learner’s permit.”

“Thanks! Dad, we can go.”

“Wait. You can talk to this guy (pointing to a guy standing next to his desk). He’ll tell you what to do.”

(after pulling us to the side in a quiet corner, this guy gives us the deal)

‘The normal process will take 5 months. I can do it for you. And if you want, I can get it for you in 1 month.”

“what do I need to bring?”

“Nothing… just your name, the pictures, and date of birth.”

“What about the tests?”

“You don’t need to do them. When you pay, I’ll call you in a month to come and pick up your license.”

“And how much will it cost?”

I swear they always look at you before quoting their outrageous sums.

“Only 300.”

On the bus ride home, a preacher sitting next to me stood up to do his spiel. He said a long prayer, and then began his sermon. He seemed a bit distracted as he had his face down into his phone, even during the prayer. I was a bit amused, thinking maybe this was one way Ghana had advanced with a preacher using his mobile to spread the word. He talked about end days. He talked about how we’d account for ourselves when our time came. He cautioned us against chasing money and ills of wealth and how it’s good to not make money a priority in life. Then his phone rang interrupting his sermon.

“Yes sir. I can make it. Thank you! I’m on my way!”

Then hurrying up to put away his pamphlets…

“sorry, brothers and sisters, but I have to end it here. God has answered my prayers today. I’ve been waiting for this job for a while and I really need that money. Driver, stop! I’ll get off right here!”

He sped off across six lanes of traffic at Sankara to catch a cross-town bus to who knows here.

A passenger said to laughter, “so the priest is allowed to chase money, but we should avoid it?”


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§ 3 Responses to How To Offend A Ghanaian

  • Love the pure water sachet part! I also fold them neatly and put them my back pocket. I always end up with a damp patch though,

    • Mike says:

      Graham, If I were you, I’d be a lil’ careful with light clothing. I stained two pants because i forgot to take the sachets out before laundry.

  • Linda says:

    Hahahahahaaaaaa. I tell you, it’s nearly impossible to adjust. When I was there 11yrs ago, they would look at James before quoting prices or sometimes give me a quote and when they noticed he was with me, tell meto my face “the price is diferent cuz you came with the white man”, as if he had a dollar tree in his yard . Sheer insanity and it’s an acceptable practice.

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