Monday, June 2, 2008

You are an African!

It is 8pm here and the town of Hohoe is alive. Taxis are running up and down the main street, on which petty traders are still selling their goods, and several fires on the side of the road are cooking corn or egg or grasscutter (a large rodent). On the 25 minute walk to the internet cafe, I ran into several of my new friends: Snakeman, one of my 'suitors'; Level and Carobene, the 23 year old art and engineer students (respectively) - I met them on the street one day and Level is now doing 4 paintings of my school for me to take home; the headmaster of my school; and Rambo, the guy who drove me from the airport. They all call out my name or hiss at me to get my attention (hissing is not rude here) and it is such a warm feeling to be a part of this community, and to be 'home' after a very eventful, incredibly bizarre weekend.
On Friday afternoon, Lori, Jimmy, Ashley and I walked to Boondocks (our local bar) to have a beer and to wait for our driver. The ride was about 3 hours to Accra, with both good elements (air conditioning!) and bad (a CD of sermons and gospel music replayed 4 times). We arrived at Kizzi's house (Lori's nanny's cousin) in a suburb of Accra called Roman Hill around 8pm, after which his wife cooked us an amazing meal while we watched Ice Age with her little kids. Being in a house with a TV, and being served apple juice, and taking a shower with no dirt on the ground felt like such luxuries! Kizzi woke us up at 3:30am to start the 2 hour drive to the tiny village of Kwamu Obo, where the funeral service took place.
Funerals are always held on Saturday here - on Friday evening the body is taken to the spot, the burial and ceremonies take place on Saturday, and everyone makes donations and attends church on Sunday. The day was hot and sticky, and we all wore black with red cloth tied in our hair and around our wrists. The coffin was placed in the middle of a courtyard and for most of the morning, we sat and watched as prayers and goodbyes were said to the dead body (her name was Comfort, and she passed away at 60 from cancer). There was a disco ball on the coffin, and next to the coffin was the kind of speaker system that you would expect at a football game. Take note now; I will absolutely expect a disco ball to be perched upon my coffin. While some mourners sobbed and wailed, others would dance and laugh just feet away. An odd combination, but beautiful to watch.
After lunch, hundreds of us followed the coffin down the street to the burial site, and watched the coffin lowered into the ground. In the afternoon, we returned to the center of town for the donation ceremony: each family makes a donation which is announced on the microphone, and the donors then dance with the chief grievers of the deceased. While all of this was going on (hours and hours!), the four of us whities were welcomed so warmly by everyone. Lori got to put some woman's baby on her back for awhile, I was video'd by the funeral photographer for a good ten minutes and chatted with the local kids, and some guy let Jimmy wear his traditional robes for the service (Jimmy, a 6'3" white Alabaman, looked like Jesus all day in his robes and untanned skin because the villagers followed him everywhere and he stood about 6 inches taller than all of them). At the end of the donation ceremony, our names were called so we got up and danced with the family. While we were dancing, some woman said to me "You are an African! I can tell you love Ghana. You won't want to leave. Stay with us!"
Saturday night, we went to the local bar and then met up with the whole village in the courtyard for a big dance party. We must have danced for four hours at least. I have to say that Saturday night was, without a doubt, the most amazing night of my life. There were hundreds of us dancing - never stopping, never thinking, never feeling anything but the music. I danced with one 5 year old boy for most of the time and he blew my mind - he would have kicked Justin Timberlake's ass in a heartbeat. I feel like perhaps the woman was right; I am an African. It is impossible not to feel happy here when you are surrounded by people with such love in their hearts.
Sunday was an adventure in itself (met monkeys, immigration officers and a man from Wisconsin) but there just isn't time to go into it all! Arriving back at the house was overwhelming after such a perfect weekend. Lori, Jimmy, Ashley and I get along perfectly as a group - we are all confident enough to either be by ourselves or to experience this trip together, and it's such a pleasure to get to know people who lead such different lives from me. But the house does feel like a frat/sorority house and there is never any peace between the hookups and drama. Lori and Ashley were especially bummed upon our return, so we took some time for ourselves to remind us why we are here, and that what goes on in the house does not have to get in the way of enjoying our adventure.
Now that I am settled here, I have had a chance to ruminate on life in Ghana. There is so much of their culture that I am envious of; they break out into song several times during the day, they are so relaxed and happy, they are hospitable and generous with the little that they have to offer. I do feel like I could stay here forever. But then there are times that I am disheartened by the life here. They know so little of the outside world (hence the reason they treat us like celebrities), and they have no options in their lives. At first I marveled at their ability to sit for hours and do nothing, but I have since seen a sadness, or boredom, in their eyes. I returned to work today and I am so energized by this opportunity I have found for myself. I hope that as I continue to get to know the locals, I will see that I have been wrong about their sadness.
You know those days when something amazing happens to you; an eye-opening conversation with a stranger, an introspective moment, a joke shared with a friend? Every single day is like that here.


  1. What an amazing experience! I especially like the "met up with the whole village in the courtyard for a big dance party" part. I hereby resolve to break out into song at least once or twice each day.

  2. So what does that make you now? A Eur-Ameri-Frican? :-P

    Please bring this perspective back and help make our fair city a more positive and soulful place. Reading your posts after walking from the bus to my office was quite an eye opener! Can I be African too? heheh

    - S