Perhaps I’ll write more about this when I return to the States. Perhaps not; you might be okay without the mawkish but honest sentiment. Either way. That’s all for now.
Q: At what times is it appropriate to make phone calls in Ghana?
A: ANYTIME! Any time at all! The person you’re calling doesn’t answer at 11:36 pm? No problem, call them at 5:22 the next morning! Seriously, no trouble at all. None. Whatsoever.
Q: At home, I use reusable menstrual products. But in Ghana I’m worried that I won’t be able to find clean water. Should I switch to tampons while I’m there?
A: You might think you should, but honestly, it’s a toss-up. If you are outside the center of the major southern cities, it’s equally hard to find a place to dispose of your used tampons. If you’re willing to use bottled water to clean your sea sponges, it might even be easier.
Q: Do you think that was TMI?
A: There’s no such thing as TMI about bodily functions in Ghana.
Q: What if, on the day before I leave, I give the bag I have been using for most of the trip to one of my students, only to realize, when I am an hour and a half away and it’s very dark, that my passport is still in that bag’s hidden pocket?
A: Well. Since you asked.
It’s kind of stupid to get into that situation in the first place. Even if you’re wearing a dress that precludes wearing your magical passport belt, you should make sure you put your passport back in its magical belt EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, even if you’re stressed out about leaving.
But if this does happen, then you’d better just hope you have some of the most loving, thoughtful and responsible students in the world. And the phone numbers of their relatives.
Q: What are you doing at an internet cafe on the day you’re leaving Ghana anyway?
A: Hypothetically, printing my e-ticket confirmation. Thanks for asking.
Q: How do you answer your phone in Ghana?
A: Say “Hello good morning” (or “afternoon” or “evening,” as appropriate). If you leave off the “good [time of day],” the caller will continue to say it himself until you respond in kind.
Q: How are your toenails doing?
Q: Have you read the title of this post?
A: Okay, point.
Q: What could I do if I were allergic to tomatoes?
A: You’re not, are you?
Q: Nope, just curious. What could I do?
A: Not go to Ghana. In fact, from what I’ve heard about the neighboring countries, I would advise avoiding West Africa altogether.
Q: How do you begin a performance in Ghana?
A: With an opening prayer, obviously! And then an introduction of the chairman, and then the chairman has to make a speech, and then the emcee has to banter for five minutes in a language you don’t understand! Jeez, didn’t you even know that?
Q: Tro-tro prices were raised five days before I was scheduled to leave Ghana.
A: That’s not a question. But I’m sorry, that sucks. Although you should acknowledge that the rates on tro-tros are still much cheaper than the prices you usually pay for public transportation.
Q: That’s not the point! When you live in a country, you live at the scale it offers you, not the scale of someplace that’s far away.
A: Also not a question.
Q: Somebody’s prickly today.
A: Well, I have a flight in twelve hours! Could you just ask a fucking question?
Q: Excuse me, but aren’t you supposed to be “Answer”?
A: Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!
You didn’t mind the word for the first few weeks. You swear you didn’t. You were a curiosity and a novelty, a white stranger; how else would people see you? How else could they respond?
What you did not expect was that after six months of working in the same very small corner of the same small town, the response would be exactly the same. This might have been different if you were a friendlier person, but you’re not sure. Small children still scream “OH-BROO-NEE-KO-KO!” as you walk by, repeating the words until you wave to them eight separate times or are out of earshot. Little girls and boys in green-and-white school uniforms still stand at the door of your classroom and gape at you. “Bye-bye,” you say firmly, closing the door on them. Your students have come to imitate this action. One day, before class starts, one of the oglers calls out, “Obruni!” The three students who have arrived early bring the child into the room and instruct him, in Twi, not to say “obruni” but to call you by your name. You are not sure how to respond.
On the first tro-tro, several old women in beautiful church clothes turn to stare at you as you scramble into the empty seat in the back. “Obruni,” one woman says with hostility, “you take drop-in!”* It is clear that none of these women are confident English speakers. “No drop-in,” you answer, trying to smile. “Tro-tro.” For the rest of the ride, all the women continue to steal angry glances at you, as if by taking this tro-tro, you have displaced a Ghanaian who should rightfully have your seat.
A young woman lets out a string of rapid Twi and stares at you as if she expects you to answer. When you smile and shrug, she laughs loudly and turns to the man next to her and, still laughing, lets out a string of conversation in which you catch the word “obruni” several times. He laughs as well. You keep walking.
On the second tro-tro a young man says, “Hello, what is your name?” “Akua,” you answer, reluctantly. He proceeds with the usual litany of questions–which country, where do you stay, can I take you as my friend, can I have your phone number–and when your responses are less than enthusiastic, he adds, “I have a friend at Legon who is white. You know that I like white people very much. White people are very intelligent. We blacks, we are not so intelligent.” You are unsure of whether to ignore him or debate with him. Debating usually wins.
When you get home, you will get on a subway and no one will speak to you, or even look at you. It’s gonna be awesome.
You spend time in the mall and at the University and in the neighborhoods where the white businessmen live, just to see what it’s like when you’re one of the crowd. You still feel you aren’t, quite. You are uncomfortable when you stand out and uncomfortable when you don’t. You are confused. You decide this is probably a good thing.
The gaping children come to the door at the beginning of your class, and then two of them shout, “OH-BROO-NEEEEE!” at once. Your student Juliana marches to the door and screams something at them in Twi that includes the name of a local private school, Glorious Child. Her classmates laugh, and the oglers leave.
“What did you say to them?” you ask.
“I said, ‘Ah! You go to a rich school like Glorious Child and you have never seen a white person before? What is that?'”
You recognize all the strange local snobberies and politics tied into that statement. But you cannot help but love being defended in that manner.
*A drop-in is a private taxi.
The Daily Graphic website is “under maintenance,” so I’ll simply share this story, written by Abdul Aziz.
Need to give more attention to drama and theatre studies
A tutor in Drama Studies from the United States of America has called for more collaboration and cooperation between Ghana and the US in the field of theatre arts and drama.
Ms [Gsupernova],who was on a six month educational exchange programme under the Ghana Literacy Project, stressed in an interview that arts had the potential to save the world.
She therefore called for equal atention to be accorded theatre arts and drama as were being accorded economic and financial matters in bilateral and multinational cooperation.
She observed that where theatre arts and drama were given serious attention, critical thinking, leadership and independence flourished among youth.
She said where theatre arts and drama were widely practised different talents tended to complement one another for the betterment of the society.
Ms [Gsupernova] also said that drama could encourage development and social justice as talents fed one another and led to the creation of something which was bigger than the actors themselves.
Giving an example, she said that as an ensemble, the students of theatre and drama had to see each other’s perspective and understand each other and people in general to be able to fit into an ensemble.
The tutor said for instance that the students currently undertaking theatre studies and drama under the newly constituted Theatre and Performance Club started first by learning how to collaborate.
She said theatre games and exercises were employed to enable the students to know each other as in an ensemble before teaching them different ways of telling stories as well as the techniques and literary analysis.
She said the work could not be completed without mentioning the efforts of some Ghanaians such as Ms [Priscilla Adjei] and Ms [Sarah Boateng], who would continue as the programme’s leaders after Ms [Gsupernova] had departed.
Mr [Micheal Mensah], an assembly emmber for Pokuase, and the WomensTrust, a local microfinance nongovernmental organisation (NGO) that were partners of the Ghana Literacy Project were of immense assistance.
Two plays written by the students of the Theatre and Performance Club will be on show at Pokuase on June 6, 2009, as the final outcome of the six month educational project between the Ghana Literacy Project and their counterparts in the USA.
The dramatic style characteristic of Ghanaian journalism and my own tendency to hyperbole were not a winning combination, perhaps. But being in the news was still pretty neat.
GOD’S BARBERING SHOP
Apparently, there comes a point when we shed even the last vestiges of subtlety.
I believe that hawkers belong in the Things I Like About Ghana serial.
Traffic in Ghana, and particularly the Greater Accra Region, is nightmarish. Everyone moves bumper-to-bumper, roads are in a constant state of disrepair, people make hairpin turns without regard to pedestrian or crossing vehicles. I quake in fear of a twenty-car pileup every time my tro-tro is stuck in traffic directly behind a gasoline truck.
However, because traffic is so often at a standstill, half the things you might possibly want to buy in Ghana stream by your window in the hands of hawkers.
Hawkers also exist as you walk down the street, of course, but the experience is most vivid, and frankly most reassuring, from a car window. Reach a highly trafficked spot and suddenly your tro-tro is surrounded by people clutching wares in their hands–anything from handkerchiefs to meat pies and ice cream to keychains to energy drinks–screaming the name of the item, most often preceded by yes. “Yes plantain! Yes plantain!” “Yes Mentos!” “Yes pure water! Pure!” “Yes Christ!” (This last does not, in fact, refer to retail purchase of the Savior, though I guess that wouldn’t surprise me; one of the biggest bread bakeries near my workplace is called “Christ in You,” and all its bread bags bear this moniker.)
Often, the traffic will start moving again right as a transaction is being made. In this case, the purchaser continues to hold his arm out the window with the change clasped in his hand and either throw it (which seems terrifically rude to me) or wait for the hawker, now running at a pace approximately equal to the vehicle’s, to catch up to the window. It can be amazing to watch.
I’ll admit that the onslaught sometimes makes me feel slightly crazy and slightly claustrophobic, and that being singled out as a more likely purchaser to be harassed more directly gets under my skin (to coin a phrase), but it counts as a point in favor of the nation that half the things you want converge upon your car, ready for purchase, the instant you want them.
At this time in two weeks, I will no longer be Obruni and I will no longer be Madame.
As I believe I’ve made clear, I could take or leave the first, with a somewhat exaggerated emphasis on the “leave.” The second, however, has grown on me. Sure, it derives from a stiff, artificial formality in the Ghanaian school system that tends to exist at the expense of real relationships and which I therefore can’t stand. But it’s become who I am, with my kids. And of all possible permutations of myself in Ghana, that continues to be the one I like best.
And I can’t use “Madame” while teaching in the U.S., or it’ll just look like I ripped off Esme Raji Codell. Hmph.
On the back window of a taxi:
OBSERVERS ARE WORRIED
Given the average speed and steering ability of Ghanaian drivers, that is surely reasonable on the part of the observers . . .
Last night I came home from work to discover that the newly red Hot Temperature Pork Show emeritus has now been painted with a white Vodafone logo.
Hot Temperature Pork Show has gone corporate.
I don’t know what else to say.
We are officially in the throes of the Rainy Season, and I am much the better for it. Even as I find I am only carrying an umbrella on the days when it remains stubbornly sunny, I feel a great sense of relief whenever the sky turns from glaring blue and white to a mottled gray, whenever the air starts to smell like liquid and a cool breeze shifts through the tro-tro and my sinuses begin to ache from the change in barometric pressure.
So much of the challenge in Ghana, for me, has been the barrage of observation. I am constantly visible. Places where I can hope to be ignored, even for a second, are rare at best, and they’re often places I feel conflicted about walking into–places that seem to be created for obrunis, often to the exclusion of Ghanaians. I go to them sometimes anyway, for the relief, but I always feel tailed by a shadow of guilt.
When it rains, I feel no such tail, but I do experience that sense of relief. I genuinely feel like people look at me less when it is overcast, and of course that’s true when it is pouring, so focused is everyone on getting rubbers (local terminology for plastic bags) around their hair and getting shelter as quickly as possible. (Given that it rains fairly often here during the season, Ghanaians are absolutely frozen by rain–it’s seen as a perfectly reasonable excuse for missing all sorts of things, including my classes. Sigh.) The sun functions as a spotlight, and there is no greater pleasure than being out of it.
Plus, I just like rain. I always have, in spite of the headaches associated with barometric pressure fluctuations. I’m not sure if I would want to live in Seattle, but I’m not really cut out for the tropics either. Rain feels like release, given by the elements. And honestly, I could use that too.