Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Things are always more complicated than they seem

I imagine that the pace of life in Ghana is some kind of karma for my years of impatience and rushing about. I have tried walking faster but it is self defeating in the incredible humidity and unrepenting heat. People walk slower for a reason. Many of the women glide past and overtake as I melt in the sun, most carrying enormous loads on their heads. Poise beyond our comprehension. The boxes and bowls often take three people to lift. Only one to carry.
I'm told there is a Ghanian proverb which suggests you can not rush a guinea fowl when he is drinking. It is sage advice for work. Even learning roles and goals is proving difficult.
We share the compound with the inclusion and disability office. There is a young girl with learning difficulties who sits outside my office from 8am until 4pm yet I'm told the inclusion office can not help her and that her parents have disappeared. When we speak to her auntie we're told that if she goes to school there will no-one to look after the granny in the village and that the granny will die. Nothing is simple to address. It is difficult enough to know how to cause a ripple, far harder to understand how to ensure its ramifications are positive rather than negative.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Hair and hospitality

Greeting strangers is an art form here. The handshake - which involves shaking and clicking fingers almost simultaneously - is no easy feat. The fact that we repeatedly try and - as with our Twi language skils - so often fail seems appreciated to a point beyond our understanding. In the UK we would not consider stopping to meet people we don't know. Here every walk is the start of a conversation.
The hairdresser Atta has spent two hours trying to teach me Twi and taken me as friend. She cut my hair and eyebrows with a razorblade - laughing hysterically at my every attempt to explain or retort in Twi. Friendliness doesn't quite cover it.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Home from home

The rain's hammering an audible trail across the hills. Thunder, like a child kick-starting a motorbike, signals another deluge. It's hard to believe we've travelled so far, to a place so different, only to find that it rains here more than in Glasgow.

Thursday, 16 September 2010


Our first week in Ghana was spent travelling on coaches, cars and Tro-tros and wandering round Accra, Cape Coast, Beyin, Ankasa and Elubo, often in wonderment at the myriad activities before us.
The sheer number of people interacting on the streets from 5am throughout the day is the first thing that hits you. Women and children carrying on their heads 10m long planks of wood, enormous bowls containing goats, chickens, water, fruit and vegetables. Children playing with home-made toys. Hawkers hanging around vehicles at traffic jams trying to sell Fu Fu, Yams, plantain crisps, water sachets. Men in suits, others fixing machines, selling railings, motorbike parts, mobile phones, sitting at wooden shacks playing board games or drinking at wooden shack spots (bars). Women at stalls selling fruit, shoes, clothes, fish heads, pigs trotters, nuts, mending clothes, pounding yam and cassava, mending clothes… The road verges and makeshift footways are teeming.

Upon first meeting, Ghanaians display a warmth of feeling that is difficult to do justice in words. Sometimes this is quite overwhelming, for as an Obruni, you receive this warm welcome from almost every single person you pass in the street. Ma achi! (Good morning!) Akwaaba! (Welcome) Wo ho te sen? (How are you?) Often followed by a hearty handshake and a bear hug. Or from children chants of ‘Ob-ru-ni, ob-ru-ni..’ combined with much dancing, clapping, laughter and pointing or a chase down the street. I haven’t checked whether other white people experience this or there is some other aspect of my physical appearance that prompts such mirth.

When you have an actual reason to meet someone, the welcome is perhaps less animated but just as genuinely interested and joyful. Normally an infectious broad, beaming smile is combined with a handshake so lengthy it would wear out Mr Shake-Hands-Man, and complex enough to baffle Stephen Hawkins. At least two finger clicks and five hand positions are required as a minimum to avoid ridcule. I intend to write a book with diagrams on this some time.



The aspects of life in Ghana which it seems easier to adjust to are not what I'd expected. The aptly named "bucket showers" are surprisingly good. The small minibuses crammed with human and animal cargo are remarkably invigorating, cheap and (so far) quite good fun (although we were particularly disappointed when the live cow they were trying to fit in the boot could not be caught). Doing without running water and electricity for a few days in the Ankasa wildlife reserve near the coast with Cote D'Ivoire meant we could see the flashes of fireflies drawing electricity in bursts across the night.
Less easy to get used to is the idea that as "obruni" we are (in some areas at least) something of a freak show - particularly for the children. A friendly chap on the bus pointed out that Andy's skin was not just white but "fresh white".
Most people have gone out of their way to be helpful as we have blundered about. Some have been indifferent and others have bowled us over with their generosity. Our clumsy meandering meant that we also got caught up in festival parade made up of chiefs bearing crowns, the President of the country and a reality television show about how to be a good couple. We offered our best advice and casually sauntered off.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


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