October 13, 2008

Life in Ghana

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Life in Ghana there.

A funny thing happens when you mention having lived in Ghana to someone who’s never been to Africa full-stop. Often they give you a funny look and you realise that they don’t know where it is. West Africa, you explain. Then they give you a certain fascinated stare as if you’re some kind of fearless traveler. ‘West Africa,’ they utter, imagining all the conflict they’ve seen on TV. Can you blame them?
I do it myself. When I meet someone from Sierra Leone I think of the warlords and child soldiers. My companion is probably thinking that it’s not that bad...the war is over...things are getting back on track. The media has a lot to answer for.
The point is that treating Africa and Africans as if they’re one big, homogenous, cultural blob is like assuming that Lithuanians, Swiss and Greeks are one and the same. Africa boasts one-third of the world’s nations and more than two thousand languages. Ghanaians alone speak about forty. Most people speak three or four on average and English. (English deserves a whole other post..).
Many times I’ve made new friends only to discover that they hail from yet another region and I have to learn the basics of another language. My head now spins with Fanti, Twi, Ewe, Hausa and Frafra...all mixed up.
If you did live in Ghana then you smile on the inside knowing that the myth of ‘scary Africa’ doesn’t apply here. You remember hanging out on endless empty beaches with some of the friendliest people on earth, eating fresh fish caught just off-shore and coconuts from the trees dotting the beach. You remember dancing on the side of the street in front of six-foot high speakers blaring the latest highlife with whoever decided to stop and join you and, invariably, someone does. You remember navigating the country in an ingenious system of cheap, if death-defying, mini-buses that reach all corners and often generate the best travel stories. You remember arriving at midnight in a new city and asking the young guy sitting next to you, who’d just been debating the democratic process in Ghana with his neighbour, the way to your hotel and him showing you the way and not asking for anything other than your phone number or address.

You wonder why this island of peace and friendliness is such a big secret. Of course, it has its downsides like everywhere else (definitely not for the impatient or high maintenance luvvies). On balance, though, it has a lot going for it, particularly for the nervous first-time traveler to Africa.

Below: up in Bawku where donkeys rule the roads

So, if you're wondering ‘what Ghana is really like…’

[Whispers] It’s not that bad.

It’s not the Africa you see on TV – war, famine and endless disease -- that Africa is half the story.

The much-neglected half of the story is that there are countries like Ghana (and Botswana and Malawi, for example) where citizens live in peace – poor, but peaceful. No war. Very little violence.

I recall an anecdote that my boss tells about such thing. An acquaintance of hers was accosted by a potential armed robber who held a knife up and demanded the backpack. The acquaintance, a traveler in Ghana replied, 'Oh, but I want to be your friend.'

'OK,' replied the suddenly demure armed robber who lowered his knife and accompanied the acquaintance to his destination. They don't say 'West Africa for the people' for nothing...(having your wits about you helps too).

Every day I see little kids charged with carrying full buckets of water on their head for the family’s needs grooving uphill all the way to the ubiquitous hip-life that plays along most streets all over the country. I don’t know if people are happier – happiness is rather relative – most don’t have much in the way of material possessions, but they certainly know how to eke joy out of thin air. ‘Why not?’ as your average Ghanaian is likely to retort if you ask why they love to dance.

Do you really need a reason?

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