and life goes on….

I am home and experiencing a distinct lack of culture shock. I experienced a greater culture shock when going from a northern village to the bustling capital Accra. One reason for this lack is that people are people all over the world. We all have the same needs and it is merely how we meet those needs that differ between cultures, inspiring the “culture shock.”

I have experienced a “culture awareness” since coming home. Our culture is unfriendly to each other, but even more so to visitors. I first noticed this with the foreign exchange students at university who are kept in their own dorm and make friends with each other because very few Canadians make an effort to connect with them. How do immigrants do? I think the plethora of neighbourhoods full of a single nationality reveal how well Canadians have done. Do people come to Canada just to start a “little Somalia” or “little Italy” or whatever other neighbourhoods there are? I don’t know, but I seriously doubt the first immigrants aspired to a continuation of the country they left. Keeping some of your mother culture and tongue is a good thing but doing it because you were not welcomed by those who live in the new place is a sorry situation.

Though I complained earlier about being called “white lady” or “salaminga” my colour could be a serious benefit when I needed help. Ghanaians would watch me and as soon as I looked confused or lost the nearest person would jump to help me. The number of times women grabbed my hand to show me the washroom and how to use it surpasses a dozen. I have a found memory of a degbani speaking lady indicating how to use a urinal. If she looked down on me for not knowing I she didn’t show it.

I was never laughed at or patronized during the many lessons I received and I appreciated how straightforward everyone was. Do we do that here? I think more often we simply avoid dealing with strangers because we don’t want to rude or make them uncomfortable. Maybe they don’t want help or maybe they were born here and we can’t help? this could all be true, but lets not use them as an excuse to be passive.

I’m not saying we should suddenly start asking every person we see if they need help, but let us all strive to be more open and available to everyone. Be conscious about connecting with strangers every day and maybe we can slowly change our country into one that accepts foreigners and is as friendly as it is polite.

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there’s always a salesman at the end of a rainbow

If Tamale is the pimple, than the road from Kumasi to Cape Coast is the smile that makes you forget there ever was a blemish. Almost forget. Because just like a pimple causes some mild discomfort, my heart was feeling some pain as I began to miss my host family. Mild I said? More like the type that makes you sob yourself to sleep.

Anyway as I rode the bumpy Metro Mas bus to Cape Coast I was suddenly made speechless (and that is saying something) by the majestic beauty surrounding us. Hills full of lush green foliage, layers of trees with skinny ones bursting past the canopy and up towards the sky. The cool air whipped my hair back as I leaned out the window. My heart felt like bursting with joy at the beauty, but my trip was bittersweet. This glorious wilderness reminded me I am headed towards my penultimate location. It is time to say Goodbye to the Country that has fed me, clothed me, welcomed me in (complete with many “salamingas” and “obrunis”) and taught me so much about myself and life.

I can barely begin to describe all I have learned in my stay, probably because so much has yet to present itself. Though excited, I will admit to being slightly anxious to return to Canada. I feel as though my time here flew by, yet I feel that I have lived here forever. As I sit here writing, I wonder how can one condense a country into a blog? I will never pretend to know Ghana. In the few months I have been here I have seen so much, yet I can’t even begin to comprehend the complexities of life here. How is it that an old toothless lady in the back of a taxi can care about me, a stranger, enough to offer to teach me Dagbani and feed me local food? How is it that a father will care enough about my experience and safety that he will tell his kids to leave their work and spend the afternoon showing me around?  The hospitality of this country blows my mind.

So do the salesmen….

On this Metro Mas we picked up a preacher on the road who jumped on and eagerly launched into an eloquent, angry, and loud sermon. At least, I thought it was a sermon (it was all in Twi) until he pulled out cough syrup, laxatives, and Alka-Seltzer. Then began the most brilliant salesmanship I have ever witnessed. With no Nigerian movies to amuse the 61 passengers, this was a grand show. He was forceful, he was convincing, and he threw in enough English for me to understand that in 2 hours these laxatives had cured a lady from 3 months of constipation. Needless to say, he sold about 30 packages. We reached the next town and dropped off the salesman, his bag significantly lighter and his pockets bulging with Cedi. This man is my new hero.

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Darn you Tamale, got me again

This was my last morning in Tamale. I arrived at the bus station on time (silly me) and proceeded to wait for a bus that came an hour late. though my bus was late, both buses heading to Accra came on time. A panic ensued. about half the passengers had come late and had to be bumped ahead of me in a line up to pay for their bags. I have rarely seen anyone in Tamale rush for anything and I was delighted to discover that a job which normally took 3 minutes per person was could magically speed up to that of 20 seconds with the help of a yelling and cursing man. It was wonderful.

As I waited for my bus I was amused by this photo

because this is what the stores directly beside it look like

they didn’t really look open to prosper…

maybe it’s because its a white man and an albino with a funky index finger who are shaking hands?

My bus finally arrived and as we pulled out I contemplated yesterday, my last full day. It was…typical. I had a full day planned, but rain happened tsunami style, for 4 hours. it finally calmed for a few minutes, long enough for me to slog through the soaking trenches in the middle of my road where the men are working. my arms were full and I was getting quite wet when I finally hailed a taxi to town. there was a massive crowd of people in the middle of town and it was growing. cars were stopped as people jumped out to watch the spectacle. my taxi driver turned to me and mused “we Africans like to bring justice” I looked confused and he continued “someone has stolen something so they are beating him.” sure enough a second later the crowd hurriedly parted and they dragged out the thief. he was covered in blood, barely conscious, and unable to walk. I don’t know where they were taking him but I don’t think the crowd cared, the excitement was over and everyone went back to work still smiling and chatting enthusiastically about what had happened.

The bus pulled into the country side and a brilliant and artistic Nigerian movie with excellent  sound quality started. Just kidding, it is up there on my list of worst movies ever, along with most of the other Nigerian delights found on STC buses.

This movie was called 21 days with Christ in which a virgin girl is captured to be sacrificed for a traditional ceremony. Her family and church pray for 21 days (I don’t know what the number significance is, I fell asleep in the middle) and in the end right before her throat is to be slit a bolt of lightening comes down from the sky and knocks the knife out of the man’s hand. now the story line sounds really bad, but combine a bad plot with terrible acting, a horrible script and you get something beyond ridiculous. Fortunately music makes up for the horrible acting and script. when you are supposed to feel angry the music gets really loud, when you are supposed to feel scared there are lots of bangs and light flashes, and when the mood is contemplative (which apparently it is every time it isn’t sad, angry, or scary) music that is often found at the end of family-friendly TV episodes (like road to Avonlea) will come on. This music happens when the family is eating, the little girl needs to use the potty the man can’t sleep, and other such unremarkable events.

now I’m in a new city and I can’t honestly say I will miss much about Tamale. I like to think of it as the pimple on the face, or the blemish on the back of a completely average looking individual. I am sad to leave my host family, but again, our last minutes together were underwhelming. I don’t know why I was expecting anything different. it ended like it started. slow, tiring, and with really heavy food.

This is a women selling carrots that I snapped from the bus window. for some reason it just made me laugh. I’ve never seen carrots look so dangerous

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Midnight Marauder

well not really a Marauder, more like a secret messenger. There is construction work happening in my area. a pipe to bring water to the area! hurrah, except it is taking ages. every time I walk past the workers half just sit and stare vacantly. There is a sign on either side of the work (which is completely blocking the entry and exit path to the area) that says “Slow down, men at work.” well last night as I walked home in the dark I felt like delivering a message
  Granted it is pretty obvious that someone put paper over the word “down” but I felt it conveyed a pretty obvious point.

I went to sleep feeling thrilled with my work and hopeful that in the morning the men would understand that slothfulness does not go unnoticed.

 

well, its been a day and the sign is still covered. while walking to the internet Cafe to make my host brothers email accounts I insisted on taking a picture

it looks terrible in the daylight, but it is there. I pointed it out to the boys and asked them why it was there. Yussif responded “oh, he has just put it there” I don’t know who “he” is, guess they don’t either. but Yussif assured me “but it is ok, because we know that it means you should slow down.”

Message lost

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paranoia and fatalism, which one is legit?

I am currently high on Caffeine, sugar, and ADD meds. this was not intentional, as I did not realize NESCAFE (the popular coffee substitute) contains significant levels of caffeine. or maybe it is hitting me hard because I have taken 3 packages, 2 tea bags, ADD meds that should NOT be taken with caffeine and many focussed hours trying to format a report. Anyway, somewhere between my 8th or 9th lump of sugar I realized that I am a walking safety contradiction.

last week I was feeling a bit under the weather and decided it was probably Malaria. Maybe it was a result of all my Ghanaian friends getting it, or that tons of JFs have gotten it while taking prophylaxis and I have been bitten by way too many mosquitoes in the past few weeks or maybe I just like the pain of the prick and the anticipation of the results. whatever the reason I found myself taking the “at home” malaria test.

a very negative test. and by negative I mean positive? I now understand Michael Scott’s confusion in the episode where everything thinks Kevin might have skin cancer and then he doesn’t

 

the test, a band-aid, and drugs in case the result is positive

 

so as the 1 line reveals in the 2nd picture, I do not have Malaria. Now the thing is I suspected this would be the result. My symptoms didn’t really match up, the only real symptoms were a stuffy nose, headache, and general exhaustion. My neighbours helpfully pointed out that I was getting sick because I had stopped exercising. I informed them that I had stopped because I felt sick. they nodded wisely and proceeded to point out that I had “increased” since coming to Ghana. I moaned at this news, fearing the truth of it. Paulina then suggested I start exercising again if I didn’t like it. I went into my room with a huff. I wasn’t getting the sympathy I needed.

so why did I take the test if I suspected it would be negative? better safe than sorry I guess. so why do I forget to wear a seat belt when I am in a Taxi? why do I drink water that may or may not be safe? why do I forget to take my prophylaxis and spray with bug repellent? why does this “better safe than sorry” not translate to other aspects of life?

am I developing the rampant fatalism than surges through the very essence of this culture? the fatalism that allows drivers to drive without rear view mirrors, moto operators to cruise at night with no lights, and pedestrians to walk oblivious to everything until a giant truck honks its horn as it barrels down the dirt road, the same truck that will soon be overturned in a ditch.

Why do I avoid yoga moves that may hurt my wrist yet walk around alone at night? Maybe some things are “better safe than sorry” because they fit into my idea of convenience. maybe I want to fit into the culture. or maybe I just forget.

 

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Scandalous Salamingas make a scene

yesterday evening I was sitting in my room, contemplating deep things like poverty, the meaning of life, sustainable impact, and how Seamus Mcfly’s wife in the 3rd Back to the Future is the same actress as Marty Mcfly’s mother. This means there was some hard-core inbreeding between 1885 and 1955, or they were really short on actresses.

anyhow, during this deep contemplation I was called outside hurriedly by my 3 female neighbours

These 3 in the picture to be precise. They are very Ghanaian and very female. we regularly paint our nails and tried to marry each other off (I am currently betrothed to at least 2 of their brothers). They also love watching me try to cook over a coal fire. last time the coals started exploding and I started dancing and shrieking as a avoided the flying sparks. they chuckled at this but really cracked up when I threatened to return the coals. I guess returning faulty post-burned coals doesn’t often happen.

I was expecting something crazy like a lose bull or a ground nut paste seller (good ground nut paste isn’t so easy to find, granted I am very picky about the texture…). I came out to see what was happening and saw in the distance several Salamingas (white people) standing in a circle. I haven’t seen any other white people in my area but this event didn’t seem so remarkable until Mary (the one in striped red in the picture) pointed out their clothes.  2 of the girls were wearing short shorts. The type that everyone wears in Canada but are rarely if ever seen in Northern Ghana.

My friends were clearly appalled at the clothes and clucked in disapproval. I’m not one to shy away from drama and I quickly took up the battle cry with exclamations of “the shame!” and “I can’t believe the nerve.” there were a handful of Ghanaian boys behind them and I shrieked “and those boys there are going to friend them because of the trousers!” the girls were all excited now and we went on about how shameful the Salamingas were. I avoided answering the questions “sister Sarah, do you own a pair of those?” and instead suggested throwing rocks at them.

it never came down to rock throwing, but maybe our negative vibes reached the foreigners because they started walking back to road. unfortunately for them they went through one of the “forbidden” bushy areas where many people will go to free themselves (and in all my time I haven’t seen a trowel in the area, so I chose to avoid the area knowing little surprises might await me under little bushes). needless to say the Ghanaian boys who wanted to friend the girls did not follow.

What started as me joking about the shame turned into me actually feeding off the genuine energy of the other girls and feeling indignant at the spectacle the “whites” had caused (lets ignore the fact that I was the loudest heckler). thought I personally don’t understand why exposed thighs are so much more significant than the chest or back I can’t deny the shock and irritation it causes among those who dislike it. I think through this experience I understand on some level what wearing shorts means here.

on second thought we probably should have thrown the rocks.

 

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It takes two

I was washing my hands at my house the other day. I soaped up both hands and alternated pouring from my plastic tea pot. The result was clean hands, but the process was very inefficient. It would have been so much easier if someone was pouring for me.

last time I carried water on my head one of my friends had to lift it on and off.

My host father always stops eating soon after I do, because he says he loses his appetite when he has to eat alone.

When the crazy rain happens one of us will grab buckets while the others switch them under the eve. 

Africa, is a continent that encourages interdependence. The west….doesn’t. I have found in my time here that strangers are almost always willing to walk you to the place you need to go, share with you (some explanation as to why many democracies in this continent result in a country stripped of it’s resources by leaders who want to share with their friends), and give you a ride on the back of their moto with no expectation of payment. they will even let you use their helmet  while they zip through traffic, defying death at every turn. (not always defying, I have seen the aftermath of a terrible moto accident. The guy on the moto was dead, the one in the car was just really sore).

when I first got here, whenever I had extra food at a restaurant I would take it home and hope that it would be good the next day without refrigeration. I lamented that I couldn’t be sure  and thought it was so wasteful. Then one day in Accra I was eating a creamsicle when an obnoxious kid started pestering me for money. I said no immediately than he said “well, than dash me your treat.” (since my stomach was not used to this type of creamy fat I was feeling nauseated but had refused to toss it because that would be wasteful). I happily handed the remains over and my utilitarian conscious was pleased. the kid was happy, I was happy, and the man on the side of the road who was using the kid to beg was unhappy (but because he is a parasite in the economic system, his happiness does not count).

After that, I stopped being being angry about my lack of fridge, and instead started giving away any extra food to random kids and taxi drivers. like I said, strangers share food. I have made some excellent friends over left-over yams, orange halves, boiled eggs, anything with a limited life span.

I used a tap the other day and wondered if the inventor was a hermit. maybe this person (avoiding gender use, but more than likely it was a man who go the credit) was sick of having soapy hands and had no one to pour.

I will admit I am rather independent, and I typically insist on doing things by myself, but I have learned that in this country, independence does not breed friendship, it stifles it. I have recently stopped insisting on doing things myself, and have allowed my Ghanaian friends to assist me. This has resulted in me feeling less irritated and more generous when they ask to use my things. I know they would reciprocate, and that they often do when it comes to knowing how to do something. Yesterday one of my neighbours helped me light a fire and make scrambled eggs, and I offered to pay for her taxi fair. We have reached a point where it is impossible to keep track of “helps” now it is such a natural thing for us to do what we can. Yesterday as it poured rain, I did most of the water collecting so I got wet. Today, Mary shared her ground nuts.

I appreciate it when people walk me to where I need to go because if they didn’t I would be helpless. Infrastructure here does not allow for self navigation, or for running water, or for many things that would make life easier, quicker, independent, and probably a lot lonelier.

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