I find it interesting to observe a different culture from the outside, but find it just as interesting to hear about the culture from a member of it. I’ve become fast friends with Isaac, a ProWorld staff member and a Ghanaian. He was in charge of most of my orientation and showed Abby and I around Cape Coast. He explained a lot of the culture to us and answered questions that we would have been uncomfortable asking others. Once Abby’s homestay family came to pick her up, Isaac and I were the last ones in the bunkhouse. We talked about a million things, from our future plans to drinking alcohol. Here’s a bit about the culture as described by Isaac:
Casual dating does not exist in Ghana. All dating must come with the intention of marriage. It also seems that the men have to do all of the work; they really have to woo the ladies. If a woman says yes the first time, she’s considered easy. People generally get married between ages 24-30. At 28, Isaac’s on the old side and is being pressured by his family to find a nice girl (which is why he doesn’t go home much). Couples generally aren’t supposed to be physical in anyway before marriage. No kissing, touching, and especially no sex. Any casual relationships must be done on the sly. Isaac believes that this is dishonest and can lead to lying amongst partners. The freedom to have relationships is one of the main reasons Isaac wants to go to the United States.
Ghana is VERY religious. While there are some Muslims in the northern part of the country, Cape Coast and most of Ghana is very Christian. There are churches everywhere. They even broadcast preachers talking over speakers. The one broadcast starts at 5AM and I can hear it in my bedroom. What a way to wake up… Since I’m unreligious, I find it to be a bit tiring or frustrating. However most Ghanaians cannot even comprehend not believing in God, so I generally just tell them that I’m Catholic. I was baptized and went to Catholic school, so I suppose it’s not that much of a stretch. Isaac believes that religion is more harmful than helpful in Ghana. There is only one “right way” to living in Ghana. He feels that the presence of religion limits people’s freedom.
Since I just mentioned that Ghana is very religious, it’s pretty obvious how they feel about homosexuality. It’s actually illegal here. Isaac says that about 99.99% of people in Ghana are against homosexuality. Out of the 0.01% that aren’t against it, only a few would actually admit in public. While I realize these aren’t officially statistics, they make the point pretty clear. It’s not ok to be gay in Ghana. Isaac says that if a person public admits he/she is gay, his/her friends and family would never speak to them again. It is considered an abomination. While I suspect that Isaac has no problem with homosexuality, he never told his opinion probably out of habit.
One of the first things Isaac asked me was, “Why do kids go crazy when they are twenty-one?” He really likes the show Kyle XY and saw an episode where the daughter gets really drunk. I find this hilarious as I used to watch the show myself. It was a nice bonding moment. Once I explained the laws on drinking and what happens if an underage person gets caught, he simply shook his head. In Ghana, the official drinking age is eighteen. However, people drink as young as ten years old. Bars will sell alcohol to just about anyone. The police don’t care or can be bribed to look the other way (Corruption is a big problem here).
One thing that I think is lovely about Ghana is the importance of family. Isaac didn’t seem to care about this. Extended family is very special here. While I only see my relatives a few times a year, Ghanaians see them everyday. In Ghana, family is your safety net. They support each other during hard times and celebrate when things look bright. The desire for individuality and the “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality is so strong in the U.S. that sometimes I am appalled at the lack of compassion and understanding I often see people having. In no way am I righteous; I am just as often appalled by my own thoughts and behavior as well. In Ghana, people want others to succeed. A high tide lifts all boats!