Monday, June 27, 2011

KKT's Ghanaian Rules of Thumb

You're welcome.

wait...which way?
Getting Around
Planned to go to a restaurant the other night, got these official directions in the guidebook: "If coming from the airport area, cross the railroad track, follow road as it turns, take the 2nd left. This road will go over a small "river", then take first left - opposite a signboard that reads "cape 3 office". The restaurant is in a house, on right side, painted mustard yellow. There is no name on the house." I skipped dinner.  

You can sit anywhere you like, really.
Taxis are a pretty convenient way to travel if you don't mind haggling with the driver for a fair price (minus what my friend calls the "white man tax".)  Sit in the front seat and put on the seatbelt, if there is one.  The driver will honk throughout the speedy journey for no apparent reason; he may be saying "Get out of my way, pedestrian!", or "I'm available for a passenger", or perhaps just "look at me! I'm driving!" If it seems like the car is falling apart, it is.  One of the doors or something on the bottom of the car is sure to be rattling loudly, hopefully in time with the driver's honking to make up for the ominously missing radio.  If the door doesn't open from the inside, half of the time it won't, just act cool and open the door from the outside.  And always be friendly - drivers are happy to share directions and talk about their favorite football team.  If you don't feel like chatting, enjoy them singing along loudly to hiplife or a skipping CD of the greatest hits of Celine Dion.

If you are taking a cold shower at 3am, because your body temperature hits an unsleepable degree, and the power goes out (usually a very dramatic whirr into silence) - do not panic.  Enjoy the shower in the darkness and most likely, by the time you are done, the security guards will have figured out how to turn on the generator after a few loud arguments and many mysterious banging sounds.  Why does the power go out so frequently here?  Grossly deficient infrastructure.  It's the same reason that the streets are lined with tunnels of dirty water pouring into the ocean. Which brings me to another point - open defecation is practiced often here, even by women.  Watch where you're walking.  And please don't take part.

Sounds of the Night
Loud banging to fix the generator will be only one of the nighttime sounds you'll hear while laying in bed in a pool of sweat.  Church services take place in the middle of the night and worship is just as loud as it would be at a more appropriate hour.  Funeral processions will clang past your complex at 5 in the morning with chanting and drumming and bells that seem to follow no particular rhythm.  Frogs and crickets and birds and something making a sound that can only be described as Michael Jackson's signature "ee-eeee!" will also join the chorus.  It may seem like you'll never get to sleep, but don't worry, the heat will eventually ease you in to a soundless coma.

Food and Cooking
bug free breakfast.
Some of the juiciest mangos, passionfruits and papayas can be found in Ghana.  Adequate vegetables can also be found at stalls on the street, and yes, they will be covered in little bugs and flies.  You can get vegetables without inhabitants at the grocery store if you're willing to pay $3 for an onion (turns out, I am.)  Before you put everything in the fridge - forget everything you've learned about avocados and tomatoes and bananas not needing refrigeration - slice them all up to make sure the bugs have an escape route.  The simplest meal at home will take you twice as long to cook here because you have to inspect everything, cut out the questionable bits, and wash and cook every piece.  Or, if you feel confident in your ciprofloxacin medicine, go ahead and live dangerously and bite in to that fresh tomato.  What's the worst that could happen?

Marriage Proposals
Women with low self-esteem could use Ghana as a sort of rehab.  The catcalls of construction men in the Western world don't compare to the charm and persistence of Ghanaian men.  Men will tell you they love you, tell you they want to be close to you, offer to do anything for you and take you anywhere, ask you to be their wife or their Facebook friend before you've even had a chance to say hello. Responses like "I have a boyfriend" or "But you don't know me" won't put them off, but don't be rude. If two men in a car are driving slowly alongside you as you walk, stop and chat with them and firmly tell them that you are on your way somewhere. I conveniently leave my phone at home and refuse to memorize my phone number. Getting their information ends the conversation (if you're lucky) and leaves it in your hands. If you do give your number out, expect to receive phone call after phone call from men asking repeatedly "how are you?" They are not being sleazy, they just really want to know how you're doing.

The Fun Things
You can show up late to meetings and you'll probably be the first one there.  Handshakes here are almost as fun as high fives (with a clicking of each other's middle fingers).  Jollof rice is tasty.  Big beers are cheap.  The clothes are wild.  Life is lived out on the streets.  And everywhere I go, I am welcomed.


  1. Sounds like Ghana hasn't changed much since I was there! Your writing about the flies on the fruit took me back to my days in Zaire. We were encouraged to have our underwear ironed after being hung on the line to dry because of flies laying their larvae in it. We hired a man to do our laundry the first year. . .
    I used to wear a wedding band when I traveled through West Africa as a single woman and said I was on my way to meet my husband.
    Kim, thanks for these stories, the loan stories make me realize that you are doing a great thing.

  2. We have to iron everything here, too, Pat! I feel like I spend half of my time here ironing. Imagine my delight when a friend with a washer and dryer asked me to housesit. Biked over there with my entire suitcase of clothes and I've never enjoyed doing laundry more. Thanks for writing - I've now moved one of my rings to my wedding finger to see how well it works!