Category Archives: Culture

Accra Accra!

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Hello,

I’ve been home for almost a week and thus have been really lazy about updates. Here’s a bit about my last few days in Ghana:

After bidding adieu to CRAN and my ProWorld family, I had one final goodbye left. I decided to head to Accra early and spend my last few days there. Thus, I hugged Auntie Alice goodbye on Saturday morning and left Cape Coast. Fittingly, it started to rain. I joked the Cape Coast was crying because I was leaving.

I decided to take the Metro Mass bus to Accra because of my two large suitcases. Caleb, KC, and I had to wait about an hour to get on the bus, but I only had to pay an extra three cedi for my suitcases! It was one of the most uncomfortable rides I have ever experienced. First, I was kicked out from the front row seats and forced to squeeze in between two rather large women because “No ladies in the front!” Really. Secondly, I spent the entire ride simply praying that we would make it alive. We passed several trotro accidents, a bus accident, and an exploded gas tanker.

Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park

Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park

Eventually we made it to Accra and were able to head over to the Salvation Army Hostel, or as I affectionally call it, Sal Val. We had terrific pizza at Mama Mia’s and went to a spot for a drink. We then felt obligated to visit a bar called Hemingway’s, which happened to be a casino (My first!). Both KC and Caleb won playing roulette and I mostly stood around for good luck.

These flowers smelled divine!

These flowers smelled divine!

While Ghana isn’t exactly a tourist mecca, it was on my bucket list to visit the more touristy attractions in Accra. Luckily, Caleb and KC were game and we first headed to Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park which hosts the tomb of Ghana’s first president and his wife. The park was gorgeous with flowering trees and statues. Strutting around the mausoleum was a peacock. After snapping some pics near the tomb, we visited the Nkrumah museum. It held random objects that the president used, including his desk and a mirror. I was most interested in the collection of photographs featuring Nkrumah with other world leaders such as JFK and Fidel Castro.

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The back of the mausoleum.

The back of the mausoleum.

After our visit to the park, we walked to the National Museum of Ghana. Of course we got lost along with way, but Ghanaians are always willing to point you in the right direction. The museum was okay. It had some arts and crafts like carved stools, woven fabrics, drums, and weapons. The museum had an interesting section on the slave trade. I was a bit perplexed by the second floor of the museum. It hosted quite a few Roman artifacts and a few Egyptian ones. I’m not sure how those two connect. Outside the museum was a lovely sculpture garden which we took a quick tour around.

The National Musuem

The National Museum

Sculpture Garden outside the National Musuem

Sculpture Garden outside the National Musuem

When Monday rolled around, it was time to say goodbye to Caleb and KC as they were catching a flight to Tamale, or so I thought. KC had been having sharp pain in her abdomen and wanted to stop at a clinic before the flight. It turns out she had appendicitis and needed surgery. Obviously they didn’t make their flight and they spent the day in the hospital. KC is fine and is currently at her homestay recovering. I spent Monday hanging out with my Ghanaian hostel roommates and watching movies. Caleb came back and took me out for my last dinner in Ghana. Before my flight on Tuesday, Caleb and I stopped at the hospital to visit KC and watched a movie. One of my roommates bargained to get me a cheap taxi and I headed to the airport. As I drove through Accra for the last time, it finally hit me that I was leaving this amazing country.

Wedding Bells

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This weekend I had the opportunity to go to a Ghanaian wedding. One of the ProWorld staffers, Osman, invited us to his sister’s wedding. Attending a wedding or funeral was on my Ghana bucket list, so of course I agreed. Plus, Osman is from the northern part of the country and is Muslim. I’ve never been to a Muslim wedding before, and was interested to see how they were conducted.

Osman told us that the wedding was supposed to begin at 8AM, which I though was incredibly early for a wedding. We weren’t exactly sure of the location, as the only directions we got were the “UCC taxi station” in town. The two new interns, Caleb and KC, and I decided to meet at 7:45AM and call Osman to figure out the exact location. Since this is Ghana, we figured that the wedding wouldn’t actually start until at least 9AM.

Of course the cell phone network was down, and we were unable to call Osman. After waiting around a bit, the network came back online and we were able to get a hold of Osman. We had assumed that the wedding would be in the Mosque in town, but it turns out it was literally at the UCC taxi station. They had set up four tents in the parking lot. When we arrived, Osman greeted us and introduced us to father and brothers. We were then led to the tents and given seats right in the front. The tents surrounded a rectangle area covered in prayer mats and there were three drummers to entertain the waiting guests. As we anticipated, the wedding did not start until close to 10AM.

 

Listening to the drummers before the ceremony

Listening to the drummers before the ceremony

The first thing I noticed was that everyone in attendance was male. KC and I were the only females and I was also a little unsure if I should’ve brought a scarf to cover my hair. Being the token obruni, however, insured that no one would rebuke us. The ceremony began with a large group of older men removing their shoes and sitting down on the prayer mats. As the father of the bride kindly explained, the men were Islamic scholars who would help consecrate the marriage.

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After the men prayed, the bride and groom were processed in and seating on two plastic chairs. Osman’s sister is apparently a graduate of Islamic school, and was therefore required to recite a passage from the Koran. The next session of the wedding consisted of the men showering the bride with money. This was done by literally sticking bills on the bride’s face and collecting them in a trash bag as they fell off. I was a bit horrified by the idea of the bills touching her face due to the fact that small bills are often very dirty and covered in germs. We asked Osman about the practice later, and he informed us that the practice was for good luck.

My favorite part of the ceremony: the money-sticking

My favorite part of the ceremony: the money-sticking

Once the men were satisfied with the bill-sticking section, the bride and the groom left. The Islamic scholars took over and recited parts of the Koran and prayed for the prosperity of the couple. After about twenty minutes of prayer, the ceremony was over and the couple was officially married. A small amount of money and some candy was passed around to the scholars and some food was passed around to all the guests. It was easily the shortest wedding ceremony I had ever attended, and the first in which the ceremony took place without the couple present!

Awkward wedding photo

Awkward wedding photo

After the ceremony and some more drumming, Osman led us to the bride as well as all of the female guests. We awkward took photos with the bride and her attendants. I had no idea where the groom went. Osman took us back to his house where we cooled off and chatted about the significance of different parts of the wedding. We were then invited to next section of the celebration, which mainly consisted of the women dancing. Since we were exhausted from our Impact project from the previous day, we regretfully declined and went home. I wish we had stayed for the dancing, but we would’ve had to wait several hours for it to begin, and we were very hot. I was glad that we went to the ceremony and wish Osman’s sister and her new husband happiness in her marriage.

The gang with Osman

The gang with Osman

ProWorld Day of Culture

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I apologize for the lack of posts. I managed to get a stubborn bacterial infection and was sick most of last week. After surviving some super strong antibiotics, I’m finally starting to feel normal again. Regrettably, I was stuck spending one of my last weekends here in Ghana in bed. C’est la vie.

Before me bedridden weekend, I had an eventful Friday. Along with the two new CRAN interns, I bowed out of work and took part in several traditional Ghanaian activities.

Caleb carving like a pro (or at least better than me)

Caleb carving like a pro (or at least better than me)

In the morning, we met Ebo, a master woodcarver who has a shop within Cape Coast Castle. He was going to try and teach us the basics in woodcarving. First, we stopped by his shop to check out the final products and learn about the different types of wood he uses. Ebo mostly carves with mahogany, ebony, and a local type of wood whose name I cannot pronounce.  His work was extraordinarily beautiful. He had sculptures and wall hangings of all different sizes and colors.

Ebo led us to a workstation on the beach with three small boards and a variety of tools. We were to practice using basic woodcarving tools and make a wood etching of a beach scene. Ebo had already drawn a picture of a boat in pencil for us to follow. We first carved the border, and followed with the boat. Next, we each could add our own designs. We carved our names on the back and then finished with a border around the edge.

Woodcarving is hard and I am terrible at it. I was easily the worst out of the three of us, and poor Ebo had to keep helping me. After a disastrous attempt at hollowing the seat of the boat, Ebo promised to fix it for me. After asking him if my carving was alright, I learned that Ebo is a lousy liar. He gave me a hesitant, “It’s nice,” which really meant, “My toddler could have done a better job.” Despite being very difficult, I really enjoyed our woodcarving workshop and am interested in seeing the results once Ebo “fixes” mine and applies varnish.

My attempt at woodcarving.

My attempt at woodcarving.

After lunch and brief tour of Kingsway for the newbies, we headed back over to the beach for a traditional drumming and dancing lesson. We were joined by the Missou University students, which helped limit my embarrassment. First, we were talk some simple drumming rhythms by our instructor, One Ghana (Yes, this is his legal name. I asked).  I really enjoyed the drumming and hearing the different types of drums.

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I take drumming very seriously.

I take drumming very seriously.

Next was the dreaded dancing portion. It was especially awkward as we drew a crowd of Ghanaians watching us for their nightly entertainment. We were asked to dance barefoot, which was uncomfortable due to the many pebbles on the ground. After a brief warm-up, we were led through a short routine that had lots of clapping and jumping. Being tall, I was able to hide somewhat in the back. Since, I was sick at the time and had just started my antibiotics, I really wasn’t thrilled with the dancing. I was super tired and just wanted to sit down. Luckily it was over fairly quickly and was only somewhat embarrassing.

Warming up for dancing

Warming up for dancing

Overall, I really enjoy participating in some traditional Ghanaian activities.  For me, the highlight was definitely the woodcarving. While I’ve always known that woodcarving is difficult, actually attempting to make something simple was very humbling and gave me new respect for the master craftsmen. I wasn’t a huge fan of the dancing, but a majority of that was because I was feeling so ill. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if I were healthy!

I tried to hide in the back.

I tried to hide in the back.

Proworld Ghana's country director, Shawn showing off her moves.

Proworld Ghana’s country director, Shawn showing off her moves.

Let’s Have the Food Conversation

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When I talk to people from home, the first thing they ask me is, “How’s the food?” This is probably because everyone knows that I love food and am addicted to watching cooking shows. I always joke that I’m the best fed college student as I often cook elaborate meals for myself. Born and raised in the Midwest, my usually diet tends to be meat and potatoes with a hefty side of cheese. Don’t get me wrong, I love fruits and veggies, but as a child I always said my favorite food was steak.

My diet at home. Notice the yogurt sitting next to me? Dairy Addict!

My diet at home. Notice the yogurt sitting next to me? Dairy Addict!

Before coming here, I was entirely naïve about Ghanaian cuisine. I thought I would be eating tiny portions of rice and fruit right off the tree. I figured I would come back ten pounds lighter. Well, I’ve been here almost three months and have already gained weight. I don’t have access to a scale, but I would estimate that I’ve gained about seven to ten pounds. I even contemplated naming this post, “Gaining Weight in Ghana.” After talking to other participants and the ProWorld coordinators, I learned that just about everyone gains a few pounds here. What am I eating that’s causing this weight gain? Carbs and oil.

Ghanaian’s diet is very heavy in carbohydrate and fats. If you think about it, this is entirely logical. Traditionally many Ghanaians have very physical jobs and combined with the extreme heat, they need large amounts of calories. Not to mention, you need to replace the salts from all that sweating. If you don’t have a lot of money, what is the cheapest way to get these calories? Certainly not from eating salad. Thus Ghanaians eat a lot of fried foods and dishes with a lot of carbohydrates in them.

Yam Chips! Ghana's answer to french fries. They are often drenched in oil, but tasty!

Yam Chips! Ghana’s answer to french fries. They are often served with a spicy sauce. Yum!

Unlike the U.S. where a piece of meat may be the center of a meal, meat is used almost as a seasoning. As I’m located on the coast, people eat a lot of fish here, usually smoked or salted. As for meat, people mostly eat goat and chicken, though you can find beef in some places. Pork seems to be pretty rare. Ghanaians also eat random “bush meat” like rats.  Eggs are used as a cheap source of protein, and local fruits such as bananas, pineapples, and oranges are eaten as snacks. Veggies are often eaten in stews and sauces rather than in salads. Despite the abundance of goats wandering around, there is absolutely no dairy here. People drink evaporated or condensed milk, use margarine, and never eat cheese. This has been really hard for a cheesehead like me! I’ve splurged to buy some imported cheese at the obruni shops because I was craving some desperately.

Since my homestay mother prepares all of my meals, I don’t have much say in what I’m eating. However, Auntie Alice is very much aware that Americans struggle with traditional meals and takes it pretty easy on me. She’s known to be one of the best cooks out of the homestay families and often gets participants who have special dietary needs such as vegetarians. That being said, I struggled with the food when I got here. Like I said in an earlier post, I have IBS and my intestines were not happy with my change in diet. Now I’m pretty adjusted and only have minor stomach issues. Without further ado, here’s a bit of what I’ve been eating:

Breakfast:

My breakfasts are pretty predictable.  I get toasted white bread with margarine. The bread is slightly sweet and Auntie Alice toasts it using a panini press. Occasionally, she adds raw onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes to make little sandwiches, and on extra special days, an egg. I’ve gotten pancakes maybe four times and I usually get fresh squeezed orange juice a few times a week. I’ve recently started getting oatmeal, which I’m super excited about. It is thinner than I’m used to, and served with sugar and evaporated milk. For a carb overload, I get some more bread on the side.

red red

Red Red

Lunch:

Auntie Alice packs me a lunch to take to work every day. I get a traditional dish called red red about twice a week. It is plantains fried in red palm oil with a red sauce that contains beans. Red red isn’t my favorite as by the time I eat it, it’s no longer hot and a bit soggy. Sometimes I get my red red with fish, but you can get it elsewhere with chicken or goat. I also always get white rice with stew. I really like my auntie’s stew as she packs a lot of veggies in it and sometimes adds chicken. I sometimes get jollof rice with chicken, which is rice that was cooked in oil, tomatoes, and spices. I also really enjoy that. Lastly, I get sometimes get french fries with chicken.

My tasty lunch of jollof rice with chicken

My tasty lunch of jollof rice with chicken

Supper:

Auntie Alice’s cooking skills really shine at dinnertime. I get a lot of variety for dinner. At first I used to get a lot of fish, which I didn’t like. I would get smoked or dried fish that has a very strong flavor. Finally, I got the courage to tell her that I’m not a fan of fish and now rarely get it! Fish here seems to be a hit or a miss for me. Depending on how it’s prepared, it can be amazing or not so good. Here’s a list of thing’s I’ve eaten for dinner:

Dinner of boiled potatoes and veggie stew. Photo Credit: Papa Kofi

Dinner of boiled potatoes and veggie stew. Photo Credit: Papa Kofi

  • Indomie: this is a Nigerian brand ramen. I get it on nights when Auntie Alice gets home late from work. I really like the spicy kind.
  • Boiled potatoes and stew: usually the same stew that I get for lunch. Tasty!
  • Spaghetti with veggie sauce: This is probably my favorite dinner as Auntie Alice makes a delicious tomato-veggie sauce.
  • Chicken and Potato stew: I guess the best way to describe this is similar to the filling of a chicken pot pie. It has chicken potatoes, and various veggies. It’s comfort food at its finest.  Sometimes she mixes it up and uses sweet potatoes, or makes it spicy.
  • Curry Rice with chicken: This is one of Papa Kofi and my favorites.
  • Palm nut soup with rice balls: Palm nut soup is probably the one food that Westerners really struggle with. I’ve yet to meet one that likes it. It’s oily, slightly spicy, and often has a lot of dried fish in it. This was the dish that prompted the fish conversation. I really hope I don’t get it again.
  • Banku with okra stew: So I really enjoyed the okra stew. It was packed with veggies and was slightly spicy. The banku, was just ok. I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat it again, but it wasn’t awful. Banku falls into the “starchy dough” category of traditional meals. It is made from ferment maize that has pounded into a cookie dough-like consistency. It tastes like unbaked sourdough bread. The texture is very strange to me, and I’m not sure if you are supposed to chew it.
Indome!

Indomie! This is the best flavor. 

My meals tend to be less traditional than many other participants. Poor Max had to eat banku every evening.. Since she has a full-time job and is raising Papa Kofi alone, she doesn’t have a lot of spare time. Traditional meals seem to take longer to cook, which is why I usually only get them on weekends.  Here are some other traditional dishes:

Here's a pic of fufu and light soup. My friend Mary's got this during an outreach.

Here’s a pic of fufu and light soup. My friend Mary got this during an outreach.

  • Fufu: Fufu is pounded yam/cassava dough that is a bit softer than banku.  You aren’t supposed to chew it andit’s pretty flavorless. Instead it takes on the flavor of whatever soup you serve it with.
  • Light soup: It is basically tomato soup and often served with fufu and fish.
  • Kenkey: Kenkey is similar to banku and is wrapped in banana leaves. I tried kenkey at work and did not like it as it has a very strong fermented flavor. It is almost always served with fish.
  • Groundnut Soup: Groundnuts are pretty much the same thing as peanuts. Thus, groundnut soup is peanuty and slight spicy. Most participants love it. It is often served with rice balls and occasionally chicken.
  • Waakye: it is a mix of white rice and beans that turns purple when served in a purple leaf. It usually comes with sauce and sometime gari, ground cassava. You can get it with meat, eggs, or salad. This dish is easily found on the side of the road.

Overall, Ghanaian food is spicy, flavorful, and often tomato-based. Despite the abundance of cookies found in shops, Ghanaians don’t seem to eat a lot sugar and their food is much less processed that I would get home. Despite their availability, vegetables aren’t frequently eaten, unless fried or in a stew. I frequently buy oranges or other fruits to jokingly ward off scurvy.  To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the more traditional dishes like palm nut soup or banku, and prefer the rice dishes. I look forward to continuing trying new foods here and need to ask Auntie Alice for her jollof recipe.

Obruni Fever

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Settle in for a long post, folks. I could go on forever about this topic!

The term “obruni” refers to any foreigner, but is often used to describe a white person. Since Ghana’s population is approximately 99% black, white people obviously stand out. Being an obruni in Ghana is like being a celebrity anywhere else. For better or worse, people want to chat with you, ask you for money, take pictures of you, or simply “take” you as a friend. I’ve been followed by herds of children, harassed by shopkeepers, and shouted at by taxi drivers. On the more positive side, Ghanaians are extremely friendly and helpful. My coworker, for instance, had her husband drive me to the bank even when it was out of his way.

As someone who has never experienced a minority, I have found it challenging to stick out so much. I have a tendency to be introverted and don’t particularly like being the center of attention. There’s nothing I enjoy more than anonymously walking to class, listening to my iPod. Here, I’m never invisible. When I take the 20 minute walk to work, I’m stopped by people on the street, shouted at from vehicles, grabbed, and occasionally followed. About half of the time, I don’t mind or even enjoy the attention. I like chatting with the plumber near my house and hearing about his cousin in Michigan. I find it hilarious how excited children get when they see me. The other half though, I find myself annoyed, grumpy, or uncomfortable about it. Sometimes I walk home from work praying that no one bothers me. It never happens.

So what exactly is happening on my commute? The first and most common interaction I have is a Ghanaian pointing out my skin color. Often times, I get “obruni,” in which I respond with “obibini” (Meaning “black person”). This responds seems generate laughter or indignant harrumphs. I also get the English versions, such as “white lady,” “white woman,” “white,” or the weirdest, “white flesh.” I don’t like being simply called “white” as it often seems to be an accusation. Whether I’m bother by the name calling depends on the persistence of the caller and the tone used. Some Ghanaians will shout their racial term of choice at me fifty times, even after I waved or greeted them. Others will move on after one shout, or ask for my well being. Obviously I prefer the latter.  To an American, pointing out race seems rude and taboo. Here it’s a form of identification and considered normal. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, just different.

Next, I’ve experienced a lot of grabbing. Ghanaians have no sense of personal space and do not understand that Westerners aren’t comfortable with being grabbed at. It’s sweet and fun when a child grabs my hand while walking to school. However, I feel uncomfortable when a woman grabs my arm to drag me to her clothing stand, or when a man tries to grope me on the street. Like the name calling, context is everything.

I also get hit on or proposed by the extremely persistent Ghanaian men. It’s an interesting paradox. I’ve never been so desirable to the male species, yet feel so unattractive. I’m constantly sweaty, dirty, sunburned, and bug-bite infested. I never wear make-up and my muffin top is expanding from the Ghanaians’ carb-laden diet. It doesn’t seem to matter, as I get hit on at least once a day. The only reason I’m getting this many proposals is because I’m white. I have met many Ghanaian men who claim to only date white women (including my host brother). I find it strange to only limit yourself to such a tiny proportion of the female population, especially for those who have never traveled outside Ghana and only have limited experience with foreigners. While average back at home, I’m seen as exotic in Ghana. I’m frequently called beautiful, asked if I’m married (Tip: Always say yes), am proposed to, or asked out on a date. The doctor I saw during my first week even offered to “insert me with beautiful babies.” Usually I just laugh it off or claim I already have thirty other husbands. Sometimes, it becomes really bothersome. I particularly hate the “kissy noises” that only seemed to be reserved for white women. In general, this sort of attention has me wary of Ghanaian men. This objectification makes me feel like a piece of meat or a zoo animal rather than real person.

Last, I am asked for money constantly, usually by children. Some Ghanaians seem believe that all white people are rich. I can understand why as most of their experiences with foreigners comes from television/movies, volunteers, and tourists. Television rarely shows poverty in the west, most volunteers are unpaid (the funds must come from somewhere!), and tourists obviously have enough money to afford a vacation. So white people are almost always overcharged be vendors, shopkeepers, and taxi drivers. I jokingly call it the “obruni levy” and can be avoided using bartering. More troublesome, is that parents teach their children to beg white people for money. It’s always shocking to me to meet a child who knows no English other than the phrase “Give me money.” Someone clearly went out of their way to teach the child to beg. I’m even more irritated when I notice the child is wearing a private school uniform, which means the kid’s family is probably not strapped for cash (Private school fees are VERY expensive here). I have no problem giving a few cedis to the disabled man I see on my way to work as he genuinely needs the money. I do take issue with parents teaching their children to ask white people for money without true need.

Now that I’ve gotten the negative experiences out of the way, let’s talk about the good. For every grabby, demanded person, there’s a lovely one who genuinely wants to get to know or help you out. For example in Kumasi, a man talked to a taxi driver for us in order to make sure that we weren’t being overcharged. Also, everyone that I’ve talked to has been helpful with directions or pointed me towards someone who could help. Ghanaians always want to make sure I’m comfortable, giving me the best seat or providing me water. Many of my experiences here have proved time and again how hospitable Ghanaians can be.

Last fun tidbit:many Ghanaians are unable to distinguish between nationalities. To them, white people look all the same. I’m frequently asked if I’m from Germany, Australia, Sweden, the UK, and even China. Sometimes, I like to play along and say, “Yes, I’m from China.” I would have thought that the accents would be a dead giveaway, but apparently not. Also it is often assumed that all the white people in Ghana know each other. While driving past white people (whom I’ve never met), taxi drivers always ask if I want to stop for my friends or if I’m meeting them. The drivers are always surprised when I say that I don’t know them!

Ghanaian Quirks

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As I adapt to living in Ghana, I discover more and more interesting tidbits about their culture. Here are some examples:

Ghana Man Time (GMT)

In the U.S., we often use the saying “time is money.” Ghanaians don’t seem to agree. It appears to me that Ghanaians have no sense of time at all. Do you have a 9AM meeting scheduled? The person you are meeting with probably won’t show up until 10AM. As an extremely punctual person, I sometimes become frustrated with the lackadaisical approach to time management. I find it understandable why some international companies are wary to do business here. However, GMT has some benefits. Since people are unconcerned about being late, they will often go out of their way to help you. For example, a fellow intern was lost and stopped to ask for directions. She asked a man clearly heading to work, and he walked her to her destination that was in opposite direction of his workplace. I was taking to the CEO of CRAN this week and he actually thanked me for setting a good example for my coworkers (I’m never late to work). So who knows, maybe this trend is changing in the workplace.

Sorry I’m Late. It Was Raining.”

Rain showers in Ghana are generally short. However, when it rains, it pours. Since most of the roads here are unpaved, it can get REALLY muddy. So during these brief rainstorms, everything practically shuts down. People run to the nearest shelter and wait until the rain stops. This means that rain is a valid excuse for being late or not showing up for something. I can’t wait to try this one back at home!

“You are Invited…”

Despite their poverty, Ghanaians are an incredibly generous bunch. It is tradition that when you are eating something and other people are present, you tell them, “You are invited.” By saying this, you are offering to share your food. Most of the time you will be eating something that’s clearly one serving. In this case, invitation is purely out of politeness and people really aren’t expecting you to share. However, if there is plenty to go around, people will practically pressure you into eating something. My coworkers, for example, save me from scurvy by always giving my oranges and bananas. I think this is a really lovely tradition and reminds me on a daily basis to be generous to everyone.

“But we probably won’t eat together”

In most cultures, sitting down to share a meal is very important. This doesn’t seem to be the case in Ghana. Eating seems less of a social activity and more about fulfilling physical needs. I rarely see Ghanaians eating at all. While there are plenty of snacks on the side of the road, people don’t seem to walk and eat. There is no set lunchtime at work. People come and go to the “kitchen” as they please and often eat by themselves. Occasionally everyone will have a “kenkey party” and sit down to eat together.  My homestay is no different. In the almost three months that I’ve been here, I can count on one hand the amount of times that I’ve eaten with my host family. Usually, my auntie serves me by myself and eats later. I’ve never seen Ben, my oldest host brother eat, but occasionally get to eat with Papa Kofi. I am very surprised about the lack of socializing during meals considering how community-oriented Ghanaian culture is. Plus many of the traditional meals are very labor intensive. It just feels strange eating alone after Auntie Alice spent five hours making me banku.

Favorite Colloquial Phrases

Along with using British spelling and terms (Think pants vs. underwear), Ghanaians have developed their own slang. Here are some of the most common:

“I’ll flash you”

No, this isn’t an offer for some indecent exposure, but rather a way to share a cell phone number. “Flashing” consists of calling someone and hanging up after a few rings. That way the person is able to easily add your number to their phone. It can also be used to signal someone that to call you back if you are low on phone credits.

“It is finished.”

This is always the worst thing to hear at a restaurant. It means that whatever you were requesting no longer is available. It can be used for just about anything: food items, Internet, water, electricity, etc.

“I am coming.”

This is probably the most ambiguous phrase of the list. It is usually used when meeting up with someone. The thing is, the person may not actually be coming right away. They could be coming in an hour, or perhaps even the next day! Equally confusing, is that it also used as a goodbye. For example, when my supervisor goes to a meeting or to lunch, she will say, “Marissa, I am coming.” Nope, she’s actually leaving.

Bath vs. Bathe

The verb bathe is not present in Ghanaian vocabulary. Instead, someone will say that they are, “Going to bath.” I find this one really strange. I’ve tried to explain the difference to some people, but it’s not catching on. Say it with me: “BATHE.”

“Dash”

To dash someone is to give them something for free. For example, if the fruit lady dashed me an orange, this means she slipped an extra one in my bag.

“Are you sure?”

This one is my absolute favorite! It means, “I know you are full of crap. I’m giving you one chance to tell the truth.”Pretty much, it’s the socially acceptable way to call someone out on lying.

Kumasi: “Wow! White Peoples!”

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I apologize for the lack of updates last week. I experienced a bunch of power outages, sometimes lasting twelve hours at a time. The Internet connection also was “finished” most of this week. On top of the technical difficulties, I’ve been fighting a bad head cold. So instead of staying up writing, I’ve been trying to catch up on my sleep. Having a cold in 85-degree weather is so gross! I then managed to acquire food poisoning, and spent most of my Sunday attached to the porcelain throne. Needless to say, it’s been a tough week.

Despite being sick, I was determined to travel somewhere this weekend. I had Friday off of work as was a national holiday called Farmer’s Day (Pretty much the Ghanaian equivalent of Labor Day).  Thus I convinced Abby to accompany me to Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana. Other ProWorld participants had fairly negative experiences in Kumasi, but I was determined to see the market, the zoo, and the palace. So armed with an outdated guidebook and no sense of direction, Abby and I headed to Kumasi.

Kumasi is about four hours directly north of Cape Coast. The ride was fairly uneventful except for the fact that the trotro was nicer than usual and air-conditioned. Abby and I rationed our water to avoid having to squat on the side of the road. As this trip was last minute, we didn’t plan on where we were staying, or what we were doing. We used my Bradt’s guide of Ghana (5th Edition) to pick a cheap hotel/hostel and figure out what we wanted to see. We found the perfect hotel, the Nurom Inn, Annex as it was in a central location on the map, and supposedly incredibly cheap. I tried the phone number list, but no one answered. This wasn’t surprising, as phone numbers change frequently here.

The closed Cultural Centre

The closed Cultural Centre

After reaching Kumasi, we were quickly introduced to the horrible traffic. Most of the vehicles here run on diesel, so we were asphyxiating on the fumes, and decided to walk. With the guidebook’s map in hand, we weaved through masses of cars and people to find our hostel. While Kumasi is unique in its actual use of street signs, we discovered that most of the names of the roads did not match those on the map. After wandering around and stopping to ask directions, we made it to where our hotel used to be. Yes, used to be. Apparently, the hotel had closed a while ago. So we referred back to the list of hotels and started walking around to find one that wasn’t too expensive and actually functioning. After about an hour and three hotels later, we finally got a room at the Sambra Hotel. We got stuck paying much more than we wanted to ($70 GHC), but the hotel was very nice. Our room was air-conditioned and we need to sleep under a blanket. Heavenly!

The market spills out into the streets

The market spills out into the streets

The restaurant we wanted to eat at was closed for renovations (Sensing a trend here?), so we just ended up eating at our hotel’s restaurant. It was pretty tasty, though a bit overpriced. By then it was almost 5PM, leaving us only an hour of daylight. Not wanted to waste precious time in Kumasi, we decided to tackle the market. The Kejetia Market is touted as the largest market in West Africa. Most travelers choose to use a guide to navigate the overwhelming huge market. Being fearless adventurers (And stubbornly cheap), Abby and I decided to head out on our own.

A glimpse of the market

A glimpse of the market

The first challenge was to figure out how to actually enter the market. While it overflowed onto the surrounding streets, we wanted to see the heart of the market that was surrounding by fences, train tracks, and buildings. So we weaved our way through, getting stuck in the smelly fish section before stumbling into the fabric and used clothing area. To the casual observer, the market is completely unorganized. While there are some random stalls here or there, the market is fairly well divided by product. There’s the food section, house wares section, apparel section, and more. For example, we walked through an area of the market that consisted completely of shoe vendors.

Inside the market

Inside the market

Walking through Kejetia Market is an overwhelming sensory experience. There’s the smell of fish, vegetables, leather, and body odor. Vendors are yelling out prices and urging you to visit their stalls. The aisles are narrow and you have squeeze past thousands of people in a mixture of traditional dressed and used clothing shipped from the West. Since Kumasi lacks a large expat population, Abby and I certain stood out. We were hassled to buy things and practically dragged to stalls. My favorite line was when a man selling belts exclaimed, “Wow! White peoples!” Strangely, the hassling didn’t bother me. I suppose I’ve simply gotten use to it now.

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The next day, we got up bright an early to hit all of the other major highlights in Kumasi. We started with the Centre for National Culture. Unfortunately, it is closed on Saturdays, so we weren’t able to go into any of the art galleries. We did take a couple pictures outside. We also spotted the large bat colony that naturally lives in the trees right next to the center. The bats were huge, about the size of a salad plate, and were making little screeching noises.

This picture isn't that impressive, but the amount of bats flying around certainly was!

This picture isn’t that impressive, but the amount of bats flying around certainly was!

We then headed next door to the Kumasi Zoo. It was the most depressing place I’ve ever been. A lot of the animals were stuck alone in tiny cages. The monkeys, in particular, seemed the saddest due to their social nature. There were camels that were free to wander around the zoo. One thought my hair was hay and attempted to take a bite. The cutest was this baby elephant. He was locked in a small pen while he was eating breakfast. He really liked me for some reason and started sniffing me with his trunk and playing with my hair. I desperately wanted to take him with me and put him in a zoo with other baby elephants to play with. We only managed to stay about a half an hour at the zoo before getting too upset and needing to leave.

"Let me out of here!"

“Let me out of here!”

After the zoo, we decided to head over to the Manhyia Palace.  It was a long walk to get there, as we had no idea where we were going and it was mostly uphill. This Manhyia Palace is the official residence of the Asantehene, or the Ashanti king. While Ghana has a parliamentary government, it still also runs on the tribal system. Thus the king is considered to have the second highest political position. He is in control of handing all affairs and disputes with the chiefs and paramount chiefs.

Entrance to the Manhyia Palace

Entrance to the Manhyia Palace

The first palace was built by the British and given to Asantehene Nana Prempeh I after he returned from exile in the Elmina Castle. It was given to him because his previous palace had been burnt down during a war between the British and the Asantes. This palace was turned into a museum after a new palace was built directly behind it. The museum contained a life-size effigies of several kings, original furniture, kente fabric worn by kings, and other relics. The most random was the king’s first refrigerator and television. I didn’t realize how important the king was to Ghanaian society before visiting the museum. He has been visited and given gifts by many important leaders, including Pope John Paul II. I enjoyed our tour, but unfortunately was not allowed to take pictures.

The outside of the palace

The outside of the palace

After our tour, we got a quick lunch of fried rice and got on a trotro to return home. Our trip to Kumasi was short, but we were able to visit all of the main tourist attractions. While Kumasi wasn’t my favorite destination in Ghana, I am very glad I went and enjoyed my trip. I was proud that Abby and I were able to navigate the confusing city and only took one taxi the entire time! If you had told me during my first week that I would be randomly wandering around a major Ghanaian city, I would have thought you were crazy. This goes to show how much I’ve grown and adapted here.