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Tales from a Rolling Stone

White Funerals and Very Messy Hands

GHANA | Monday, 6 April 2009 | Views [1147] | Comments [3]

I was in Accra for less than a week when I attended my first funeral. I didn't know the man, supposedly he was the great-uncle of my country program director, although who really knows the relation. She introduced me to her “grandfather” telling me that many of the people at the 300+ person funeral were her grandparents so I'm not confident in the actual relation.

Anyhow, I was advised to wear either black or white to the ceremony, and since it was an occasion of mourning, I opted for black. When I got there, however, it was immediately clear that I would have stood out less donning a wedding dress.

What I was not told was that if somebody has died after the age of 70 it is considered a celebration and those attending the funeral wear white. Only if the deceased has died before 70 do people dare wear black. Lisa, another volunteer in my program was wearing a red outfit she had made in Ghana having been told it was funeral cloth. Again, she was not told that was in the Ashanti tradition, not the Ewe. So although Lisa and I stuck out like sore thumbs, I must admit that I spent a lot of my time admiring everyone else's wear. I would say that 80% of the men and women were wearing clothes made out of identical cloth; however, since it was all custom made I would see a row of women all wearing dress cut from the same cloth, but all in different styles. It was pretty magnificent.

(On a tangential note: I have recently learned that because western attire has become so much the norm in Ghana, many people make sure to wear their African style clothing on Fridays. Inspired, I'm getting a dress made today. Don't laugh.)

But back to the funeral. All in all, the event was a very interesting experience, and something Ghanians are known for. First of all, the man who died did so in January. Let me repeat, JANUARY! I guess Ghanian funerals can happen anywhere between two months and a year after the actual death, so this funeral was “early.” You should have seen the body too – it was an open casket. The man was still in good shape, just very waxy looking. Too much detail?

Anyhow, it wasn't the animated soulful church singing that surprised me next, but the conga line the relatives started smack in the middle of the service. Even more peculiar was at the reception afterwards, where not only were their traditional drummers (not so strange), but two kids who came out to do African dance in HULA skirts! You know I couldn't make that up.

In any case, there is a brief introduction to the vibrancy that often characterizes Ghanians and all that they do. I actually went to church with my landlady today and that was just as colorful and energetic of an experience. Singing, dancing, and even jumping, there was Preacher R. Kelly and Pastor Brian McKnight – everyone's voices were incredible - and only magnified by the fact that it was filled with 2,000-2,500 God-fearing Ghanians singing and dancing right along with them. I'm sure if synagogue was like that it would have a 70% attendance rate too :)

Ah but yes, Ghanians do love God and make sure to let it known, as a good percentage of all stores have God, Jesus or Jehova in the name. So far I've seen In Jesus' Blood Rice and Beans, God is Great Metal Works, the Jesus Connection bus stop, and my favorite, which is listed down below. There are even better ones too, I just cant remember them all.

Food-wise, its all eating with your hands here and that goes for everything. A very typical meal is a groundnut (peanut) and fish/chicken soup with a piece of dough either made of mashed up cassava, maize or plantains. That's what my co-workers have for lunch and there are no utensils involved. Just stick the dough in the soup (and make sure you get your whole hand in there!), then they take the bony fish out (of course, with your hands), spit the skeleton out, and back to the dough it is. Although I tend to bring my own food, they always get a good kick out of me eating Ghanian grub. I'm actually attending my first Ghanian seder this week in celebration of Passover. It's being hosted by my American friend Lisa, but since she's invited Ghanians and they wont eat anything other than their local cuisine, fufu, banku, and keliweli will make up the so-not-kosher menu. Of course, I'll be doing my best to stick with it :)

That's about all for now, but I want to end with my top sights/encounters of my first 10 days in Ghana:

Top Sights:

  • Sign advertising circumcision services with the drawing of a baby holding a pair of scissors and a bloody you-know-where...except that there is nothing there, as it appears as though he has been castrated rather than circumcised.

  • Old woman using a cane carrying a suitcase on her head.

  • I Will Make it in Jesus' Name Chicken and Rice

Favorite Exchanges:

  • Man on street: “Hey Obruni (light skinned person), give me money!” Me: “Hey Obibini (black man), give ME money!” Everyone around smiled.

  • Me: “Can I buy chicken at the Koala Supermarket?” Program Director: “Chicken that's already dead? Yes, you can buy it there.”

  • Man in my building who goes by Grandpa: “You are from the United States? That has 54 countries.” Me: “Yes, it has 50 states.” Grandpa: “Ahh, 52 countries in America?” Me: “50 states” (another man also yells “States! States”) Grandpa: “Okay, 54 states.” Me: (sigh) “Yes grandpa, 54 states.”



Your journal blogs are my favorite bedtime stories. Love it!

  rachelle Apr 11, 2009 1:13 AM


Hi Sara... My mom knows Judi Gottschalk and asked me to get in contact with you (but didn't give me your email address). I have been to Ghana several times and am moving there this summer. My boyfriend lives there now as well. If you'd like to chat, send me an email. I guess your mom told Judi it would be nice for you to have a contact in Accra (moms are always worried...) My email is [email protected] Katie

  Katie May 1, 2009 1:53 PM


Hey, Andy told me you were in Ghana and to look you up. From the looks of it, the Gottschalks know the entire xpat community in Ghana. Anyway, I live in Elmina, but travel to Accra often. If you ever want to escape the crowd and chill in Elmina I can hook you up. Give me a call or email, my number is 0285248257. Peace.

  Josh May 21, 2009 1:49 AM

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