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Jan
25

Short (true) Stories: A Digest of My Experiences in Ghana


Over the past five months, I have jotted down notes here and there about things I find interesting about my experience here, be it a cultural observation or just an interesting conversation I have had at one point or another. As my time here ends,  I hope this provides you with some insight into a “day in the Ghanaian life…” :)

Hand Shakes

In Ghana, people don’t just shake hands. There is a special handshake that is used; I imagine kind of an equivalent to the fist bump in the United States.  It starts with a hand grip, then a handshake, then a snap that is created by your fingers pulling against the other persons. It seems to be a sign of my assimilation to the culture that when I shake hands with a Ghanaian, they seem to give me a wink of approval when I shake hands the “Ghanaian” way…

 

Race Relations and Youth

I went to a birthday party in my first month here, and I met a little girl who told me I was the first white person she had ever seen.  She said she had seen “ones” like me on tv, but never up close.  She grabbed my arm and poked it. Then she shrugged in approval like I passed some secret test. She asked, “Do you have bread?” I thought this was a strange question. I told her no. She seemed bewildered and said, “So then if I cut you what comes out?” Bread, blood, it sounded the same to me, “Oh, you mean do I have blood?” I smiled. I explained to her that everything about us was the same except the color of our skin. The answer seemed to please her and she followed me around the rest of the afternoon.

Education

One day in class, I wrote the word “poverty” on the black board. I asked my students to raise their hand if they knew what it meant. No one raised their hand. My plan was for them to draw and write about what it meant to be in poverty. Since they didn’t know the word, I then wrote, “Poor” on the board. No one knew what that was either. I found this so interesting since most of them live of less that $1 a day. Over time, I have realized that my students really don’t view themselves are poor or lacking. They eat at least two meals a day and sleep under a roof, and while they know people in the U.S. and other Western countries have more, I don’t ever see them complaining about what their lives lack.

Work Ethic

Having a strong work ethic is considered to be part of what makes a person moral here. Often, you will see signs on taxi’s or tro tro’s that say, “No food for the lazy man.” Meaning if you are too lazy to work, than you are also to lazy to eat. It is actually really interesting to observe how this belief plays out in everyday life. Hardly ever do you see homeless people just sitting around on the street begging for change like you see in the U.S. While there is plenty of poverty, almost everyone makes some effort to work, even if it is hawking stuff from a bowl on top of their heads, or selling knick-knacks to people driving by in their cars. Also, after my wallet got stolen in Accra, my coworker, Patience said, “You need to be careful in certain areas of Accra, some people there don’t like to work, so they want to take your money instead.” I don’t know that if the same thing happened to my in San Francisco on NYC, I would naturally go to that train of thought.

 

Friendliness

Yesterday I checked into a hotel in a nearby village outside of Accra. A very friendly woman who works here let me in my room, and later came to take my order for dinner. People call her Ayisha, but her given name is Comfort. I chatted with her a bit, using the few Twi phrases I know.  I told her if she was around later, I might come down and chat. Later that night as I was falling asleep, I heard a light knock on the door, but didn’t get up as I was sleepy. Then, I heard a key turn and the door open. It was Ayisha, she came in, and sat down on my bed as if she was staying here with me. She patted my head, I said hello and that I was sleepy but would join her for breakfast. She leaned down and kissed my forehead before slipping back out the door. Funny that if I was in the U.S. and a hotel worker slipped into my room was I was sleeping, I would freak out! But here, it just seemed like nothing was out of place, as she was simply bidding a new friend good night.

The next morning she came in again and sat on my bed, I could tell that she was sad. We talked and I learned about her life. She said she was badly mistreated here at the hotel.  23 years-old, she had a baby boy and husband who both live up in Kumasi (about 5 hours north) and there was no work in Kumasi. Her mother knew the owner and sent her here to work. But she desperately misses her son and wants to return home. Though I had just met Comfort here at the hotel, talking with her felt like  I was talking with a friend I had known for years.

7 comments

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  1. lila says:

    Thanks for sharing! I love learing about cultures around the world. I can’t wait to experience you new handshake in person. It is so refreshing to know that there are children out there as a collective that are content with their lives… they are so rich with life that materialism isn’t even a concept that the society subscribes to. The hotel story cracked me up…yes, that would be really shocking if a hotel person unlocked your door in the U.S.! I must say Comfort’s situation breaks my heart. :(
    Can’t wait to hear what the handshakes are like in Benin.

  2. Christy says:

    Sweetie- thanks for sharing all that you’re up to! Am also wondering – Are you going to change the blog name now that you’re leaving Ghana?

    1. admin says:

      it will still be Syinghana.com, but I may change the title on the page itself to “SY IN GHANA (and Benin).. Did you ever get my email re grad schol grants??

  3. Bill says:

    Doesn’t need to be “true” to be the TRUTH. In fact, most times “true” gets in the way of truth.

    Good luck out there.

  4. Meggers says:

    I like the story about the hotel worker, Ayisha. I wonder why her given name is Comfort. She provides comfort in her hotel? Her way of caring for other people? Even Comfort needs to be comforted sometimes. :-)

  5. Joe says:

    You are amazing!!

    Love.

  6. ERIK says:

    l LOVE IT. YEAH, FUNNY THING ABOUT POVERTY: AS AMERICANS, GENERALLY WE FIRST THINK IN FINANCIAL TERMS. HOWEVER FINANCIALLY POOR GHANAIANS MAY BE (COMPARED TO US) IT SOUNDS LIKE THEY’RE WEALTHIER THAN MANY AMERICANS IF WE WERE TO TALK ABOUT CULTURE, MORALS, COMPASSION, ETC. MISS YOU SY, PROUD OF YOU. . . E

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