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Tales from a Rolling Stone

Ghana: Impressions

GHANA | Monday, 30 March 2009 | Views [897]

My first encounter with a Ghanian happened at passport control at the Accra airport around midnight on the evening of my arrival.  After the usual what are you doing and for how long questions, the young officer asked if I was married.  No, I replied.  He then asked if I had a boyfriend.   I found this funny.   Whereas I’d gotten the boyfriend question dozens of times by Colombian taxi drivers and Thai tour guides, an immigration official was a first. 

I’ve only been here a few days, but I’ve already learned that these are the two most common questions Ghanain men like to ask me.  Depending on my response, the third is often “I love you.  Will you marry me?” 

Less than 72 hours in country and I’ve already been proposed to twice.

If you say that you have a boyfriend or husband, the next question is always, “Is he black or obruni (light skinned)?”  So far I’ve had Mexican and Jordanian husbands and Argentine and Indian boyfriends.  I’m really not a fan of the black or white question so I like to choose brown.  I think my next husband will be Samoan.

In any case, Ghanians are verrrrrrry friendly and talkative.  The men especially like to chat.  Just today I was given four phone numbers from people off the street.  It was take theirs or give them mine so I chose the former.  The problem is that I’m already having to number names, because although many Ghanains have western names, a lot also go by the day of the week they were born on.  For example, Kofi, the first name of the former Secretary General of the UN, means Friday because he was born on a Friday.  When I was asked what day of the week I was born on, the guy I was talking to found it incredible that I wasn’t sure.  I told him I couldn’t remember back that far which seemed to be an acceptable excuse, but he made me promise to ask my mother to find out.  He gave me his number so I could call and tell him.

But yes, although the official language is English the most common native language spoken is Twi, which is really what you hear on the street.  I’m already working on trying to learn some basic phrases, and lucked out when a gentleman outside of a museum approached me and started teaching me greetings this afternoon.   Other people of note include Bungu, a guy who washes cars down the road from my house who always wants to talk or help me with my groceries.  Every time I pass he asks me how my day is and I ask if business today is better than yesterday, and every time I leave he asks if he will see me again and if maybe we can go to the beach next week.   Today he gave me a necklace he bought for me.  In the stall next to him is Jennifer who sells general items.  Yesterday, I went into her shop to see if she had butter and soap and told her I’d return to buy them later.  I only ended up buying the butter, so today when she saw me, she stopped me and asked why I didn’t come back.  “Yes sister, I came back but you were not here,”  I told her.  She said that she knew but wanted to know why I didn’t buy the soap.  I promised I would buy my soap from her next time.

Anyhow, the area I live in is called Osu which has the most access to western food than any other area in Accra, Ghana’s capital and home to two million people.  Osu is not to far from where I work either, a local non-profit organization that focuses on socio-economic and environmental development.  The belief of the organization is that if they can empower people with education and tools to help themselves economically, as well as take steps to improve environmental sustainability, they can improve the prospects of peace and human security in Ghana and Western Africa as a whole.  This philosophy is based on the idea that people who are economically secure are less likely to take up arms, and because Ghana is still largely an agrarian society, improving the way they treat the environment and natural resources has a direct relationship the livelihood of millions of its inhabitants.   So far I’ve been told that I will be helping with everything from policy and advocacy, to fundraising, leading workshops, and general office management, but I guess I’ll learn what that means with time.  Today I went and met the half dozen or so people who work there, and when they were all introducing themselves and their job titles, one guy, Sammy, said that he does a lot of things.  No one seemed to contest when he left it at that so maybe that will be my job description too, Sara Wasserteil, Associate of A Lot of Things.

To get to work I’ll be taking a tro-tro, the same as a chicken bus or mini-bus crammed with 10-20 people at all times, picking up and dropping off whenever someone needs to get on/get off.  Traffic in Accra is terrible so I am lucky to live near work.  My co-worker was telling me that it usually takes him between 1-2 hours to get to work depending on traffic, but yesterday left at 6pm and got home just past 10.  Did I mention how glad I am that I live nearby?

Otherwise, Accra is incredibly safe - one of the safest capital cities in all of Africa.  People are also known to look after one another, so unlike Cape Town, for example, theft on mini-buses is quite rare because other riders will often make a fuss if somebody is being bothered. 

Overall, I think I will like it here very much.  I don’t know how much there is to do, as it is very different and decentralized from any other big city I have been to, but the beach is just a 5 minute drive down the road and there is always Twi to be practiced. 

Lastly, while I do not have internet at home I do at work so have access most days (hint: write!).  I also have a cell phone, so if you’re in a mood to make me especially happy you can call me at 011 233 279 096 433.

All for now, but next time I'll write about the funeral I spent the day at today.  What an experience...

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