Toronto – Zurich – Istanbul – Accra.
24 hours on the clock, less in the air.
In the Zurich airport, the inter-terminal train yodels at you and the bathrooms have automatic sliding doors. Swiss air feeds you baked goods on the plane. The Istanbul airport feels like a crowded mall. Turkish Air feeds you real meals that don’t taste like airline food and had a ridiculous number of new releases available to watch in-flight. All in all, Air Canada was the worst flight.
Today has been so disorienting I forget what year it is. My nails are so dirty underneath. The guesthouse has no malaria nets, doors that lock and all night security but no barbed wire wall. It’s funny because Western hotels have exactly those qualities but for some reason, arriving at the guest house it felt different. Two days later it felt safe and at home. You can hear everything in the guest house. There’s a rooster that crows all night and people constantly honk their car horns while driving. It’s a festival time for certain ethnic groups here right now, so we’re even missing out on a lot of street music at night, but it’s still loud.
Street food is delicious. Egg and bread is so good that Haroon made it his blog title. Chicken and rice is also deadly. Pure water abounds in sachets on the streets – bottles are rare.
I am so fascinated with the culture here. People are blunt and kind. Greetings are of the utmost importance; so long as you greet someone (especially if it’s in Twi) and ask them their opinion on something of interest, you have made a friend. We practiced our Twi with the gazillion taxi drivers we encountered.
Fun fact: you must barter a price for your destination before entering a cab. The cab driver will often give a different starting price for obrunis (white folk). Even Haroon is considered obruni.
Small goats and chickens roam around the Oxford Street shopping district. I bought a sim card and data from a lady under a shabby Airtel umbrella stand who set up my phone more efficiently than any customer service agent I’ve experienced in Canada. I’ve learned not to judge a shop’s contents by its exterior – I’ve eaten good food from stands, stalls, buildings, shacks and lean-tos.
Accra is really a mixed bag. “A true diversity of things”, as my coach called it. You can pay Canadian equivalent 100 or 1 dollar for a meal. We went to get our foreigner IDs, got ushered into a VIP lounge, in which the card printing machine was broken. There is only cold water in the shower and its wonderful.
There are a lot of Western cultural ideas I need to unlearn here. Trying to learn a local language and using it as best you can is seen as respectful and exciting here. I convinced myself that it was disrespectful in Canada because of my own discomfort.
Sometimes you also have to adapt how you talk based on who you’re talking to. That’s okay here. If your Ghanaian taxi driver needs you to talk like him to be understood, you just do it. It’s not cultural appropriation, it’s just necessary for cross-cultural communication.
Children said hi to me loudly while I was walking through a slum street. This made me feel really uncomfortable and guilty. However, I also learned that it’s a cultural norm for the younger to greet the older. Was I being treated normally as an older person, or specially as a foreigner?
We went to a beautiful, crazy, smelly, wonderful market and sipped beers by a beautiful coastline littered with trash.
My coach has to bribe her neighbour not to eat her street cats. Her boyfriend made us Red Red from the ingredients we bought from the market. Her apartment is next to a chicken farm and a school and its beautiful and tiny.
“The beauty of functioning in chaos”
The Canadian High Commission here is friendly and beautiful.
To get someone’s attention, you hiss and its totally okay. You beckon someone towards you with your hand upside down. You do NOT wave, shake hands or pass goods with your left hand.
You eat fufu with your hands. Real Ghanaians don’t chew their fufu. Also, the head-end of the fish is seen as the better half.
I feel challenged but I don’t feel scared.
Me and Alex head to Kumasi and Votolandia tomorrow. This is in a different region with a different culture where I will surely have more disjointed first impressions to share. I’ll keep you all posted.