Jennifer Comes To Africa
August 5, 2012 § 4 Comments
Before I made it to The Putney School, my only encounter with bovines had been the zebu and Brahma breeds I still cross paths with in my village (including yesterday afternoon!). Growing up, they looked so huge and menacing. Ok, the menacing part was probably something that was fed to us kids akin to the monster-in-the-dark thing. I used to be told not to wear red around them. I still hear that today. It’s all silly and a bit funny now, but how do you explain to those people that these ruminants are colorblind and only see shapes and in shades of gray? The cows we have aren’t so large or menacing, even with those long horns. People avoid them and look at me strangely like I have some sort of death wish when I walk among them with ease.
I have this ease now because of the two breeds I handled at my alma mater. There aren’t many experiences quite like having your 17-yr-old 160-lb frame squeezed in by two 1200-lb Holsteins while you crouch to disinfect one of their udders before milking. ‘Squashed’ is a more appropriate description, and at 6am in those cold Vermont mornings, they weren’t the most thrilling of experiences, especially when one or both of them are pooping! This happened two other times and I was told they were simply bullying the barn newbie. It was then I learned how to straighten those giants up. I won’t say exactly what I was taught, but it involved their tails. We also had Jerseys (shorter and smaller), and they were equally temperamental, if not worse. Ok, I’ll have to be fair here, holsteins are normally calm, but to me there’s no such thing when it comes to half-ton animals… this also isn’t about cows. I’m looking at cows outside my wall and that’s got me starting off with cows… but my point here is that I learned you couldn’t just yell, spank/hit, or nudge those bovines. You had to really put the squeeze on them (literally) for them to do what you wanted.
Local Ghanaians can and often times are like Jerseys and Holsteins- especially when they see you the foreigner or returnee as their barn newbie. And if you don’t handle them the right way, they can and will bully you like I was by those cows in Vermont. Jennifer didn’t exactly do the ignorant-white-people-in-Africa thing, but she initially seemed a bit too accommodating and pumped to immerse herself into this environment (hubby and I were hesitant to seem cynical thereby damping her enthusiasm, but at the same time didn’t want to encourage her as we both knew she’d sooner or later hit her own wall). I love and still love her ability to adjust to an environment like ours, and I’ll always commend her for her efforts. It also doesn’t hurt having a husband who grew up in Ghana to act as ones proverbial anchor in these choppy waters.
There were the lazy home builders, the terrible internet, food/stomach problems, home sickness, indifferent construction workers who were supposed to make their uncompleted house livable…I could go on and on, but it feels a bit icky talking about friends I see every week. It was unfortunate that it took their going a lil’ nuts on these locals before a 2-day push was mounted to get the home mostly done- only with after a 2-week hotel stay, a needless expense no one should be forced to endure, least of all, the very foreigners we don’t hesitate to worship at any chance.
The more I think about this now, the more I wonder how much of our ‘legendary’ hospitality is because we really are nice people, and how much of it because we see suckers with $ signs we need to fleece quickly before they get a hang of how things work. An overprized alatsa phone, a taxi ride, ‘tip’ for locating misplaced luggage at Kotoka, 80ghc laundry (that one really got to me…AAHH!!!), 600ghc to transport home items on a flatbed from Tema to Oyarifa ONE WAY! And they always say it with a straight face! Thankfully, this Jennifer is smart about on what and how she spends her money, and after her first 3 weeks in Ghana, she’s more the wiser about how to spend money in Ghana.
Are you a Jennifer, or a Kurt? Have you gone through something similar? I know the cedi is on a bottomless tank, and it seems cheap against the dollar, but make no mistake, Accra can be an expense place to live if you let it, and before you realize you’re burning these ‘cheap’ cedis faster than your home country’s. We’re not all here to fleece you, so I’ll help you here. For taxi rides, ask a passerby, shop keep, etc what a normal fair is when it’s a shared ride, then multiply by 4 and add 1ghc rounding up to the next full figure i.e. if you’re riding by yourself or with companions not making a full car (e.g. if a single fare to your destination is 70p, you’ll offer him 4ghc (.7*4=2.80ghc+1..rounded up). Don’t let me hear you paid those thieves 10, 20, or worse. I’ll go on, but I’m waiting for Usain Bolt to run the 100m (I wrote the first half earlier), so I’ll stop here and let you ask me what things costs (you can ask anything, really!), and I’ll have an answer for you and maybe share it with everyone else in another blog entry.