“Don’t sacrifice the moments that make you feel alive for the moments that make you feel secure”
I made my first visit to Kejetia today. I was told that on Sunday, Kejetia is actually manageable as less shops are open and less people are shopping because of church. This turned out to be true; while still pretty hectic in places, it was definitely do-able and quite pleasant. Highly recommend this option if you are a first-timer.
Walking along the train tracks that guide the market path, I heard countless shouts of “Obroni!” (white person). I’ve learned to accept this at face value. Kejetia isn’t the most touristy destination, so most people are just genuinely intrigued to see a white person there. Several people stopped to greet me, ask me my name, ask where I’m from and generally just make conversation. I don’t mind this at all – I really enjoy the culture here of talking to anyone and everyone. I made a few friends this way. I was asked for my number four times and gave it out once to a fellow named Marcus who insisted he becomes my friend. To be honest, he wouldn’t physically let go of me until I took his number. However, his intentions were good – there are just different social norms about physical contact here. People will touch your arm or your hand to get your attention as you pass, or hold your hand or arm while talking. Again, I don’t mind this, but it’s taking some getting used to. And we will see if Marcus becomes a friend or a nuisance.
It seems like everyone here has a friend or a cousin who lives in Toronto. At least half the time I say I’m from Canada, the response is something like “Ah, Toronto! My brother goes to school there.” The world is a small place.
All of these amazing conversations aside, I received some greetings and comments while in Kejetia that I’m not comfortable with, and which I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable with. Here are a few:
- “Hey, white lady, come here!”
I know this sounds a lot like shouting obroni, but obroni is more like “Hey look, a white person!”. The intention is different.
- “Come here sweetheart”
This isn’t said in a kind way. Harassment isn’t fun no matter whether I’m in Canada or Ghana. Unless I know you, don’t call me sweetheart.
- “I love you”
You actually don’t though. This isn’t as common as I was lead to believe it would be – people generally just ask for your number or to be your friend – but it has happened two or three times.
I don’t like the hiss when it’s insistent. It’s a normal way to beckon someone here, so of course I don’t mind it at first. But if I hear you hiss, turn to look at you, decide I’m not interested, smile, turn away and you continue to hiss… that’s annoying.
The result of my first Kejetia visit was getting 5 more yards of fabric (which is much cheaper in Kejetia than outside) and the most delicious fried rice (from which I might have caught an infection – worth it though).
I also took the tro to town and back to Kotei by myself without getting lost! My experience so far is that (brace yourself) tros are actually much more efficient than bus systems in Canada I’ve experienced. To be fair, they only stop on demand and in central locations, and there is no schedule, but they are always around and will get you where you need to go relatively quickly and extremely cheaply. For instance, one way from Kotei to Kumasi – a 30+ minute drive by car – costs 1.5 Cedi, or 50 cents Canadian. I don’t know why we don’t leverage similar concepts in Canada to offer alternative, private group transit. I feel like it may have to do with people’s desire to have a predictable transit schedule, but the predictability may slow the process. Also I’m not saying tros are a perfect, or even a good, system: they definitely have lower safety requirements than Canadian public transit and are difficult to navigate unless you have inside knowledge on the stops and their names.
So today I got quite ill. Like, temperature goes up 4 F in 10 hours ill. At the start of the day, I was easy-breezy about feeling sick – my temperature will stabilize! Cold meds are friends! Everything is fine! By the end of the day, I was freaking the heck out. Now, I’ve been taking Malarone, wearing fly dope and sleeping under my bed net consistently, so if I have malaria I’m the world’s least lucky son of a gun. The good news is, Malarone is actually a malaria treatment as well as prophylactic, so if I have malaria, my daily pills should heal me up. I feel bad for bothering my co-workers to go get me a self test – it’s night, and I’m taking Malarone already, like come on. But for some reason I can’t compromise on Malaria.
Update from later that night: Turns out the malaria self-test is negative! I just have a regular old flu or infection. Living to get bitten by a malaria mosquito another day. I had to stab my finger 47 times to get a good puncture for the blood for the test – how do diabetics do this stuff.
Update later that week: After three or four days of chills, sniffles and scratchy throat, I am 95% better. I started taking Cipro as soon as I saw the malaria test was negative and it broke my fever overnight. It seems like I picked up an infection, probably from either street food or one of the employees’ nephews who visited the office with a runny nose. Cipro is powerful stuff man. It’s listed as a treatment for plague. If you don’t believe me, Google it.
Today I attended my first ever Ghanaian wedding. VOTO’s driver, Louis, got married and so naturally the entire VOTO staff was invited. Here are some things I learned and experienced:
- Ghanaian weddings rarely start on time. We showed up an hour or so late, which wound up being perfect timing for the actual start of the ceremony.
- You don’t really have to know the couple that well to go to a Ghanaian white wedding. For the traditional wedding, only close family members are invited. But for the white wedding, or the church wedding, anyone and everyone comes. It’s a great excuse to party.
- There was so much joy and dancing and singing at the wedding. Even when we first walked in, before the bride and groom arrived, everyone was already dancing. We got up and danced several times during the ceremony itself. It seems like people are much less self-conscious about dancing and singing here than at home.
- The ceremony was entirely in Twi, but my awesome co-worker Efua murmured translations in my ear for all the important or funny bits. The sermons got hilarious at times and made fun of the bride and groom.
- The order of events was kind of like this: sermon, sing, sermon, sing, repeat … vows, rings, pray, sing, dance, sermon, pray, sing, dance, sermon, repeat … ask for offerings, sign the marriage licence, more dancing… photos, reception.
- Instead of having a bridal shower or wedding gifts, money is just solicited for the couple during the wedding itself. It’s interesting and kind of makes sense to me. If you’re going to ask your friends and family for money, might as well be straightforward about it.
- I learned how to pop a bottle of champagne during the reception. I helped serve it too, as it’s customary to share champagne with the people around you (“Hey, look, the obroni is serving us!”).
Going to the wedding brought up religion in a bit of an uncomfortable way. I hadn’t prepared myself to lie about my lack of religion while here. So when a co-worker asked me “Are you Christian?” I didn’t know quite what to say. I mean, if I’m not going to say I’m not religious, Christianity is the closest alternative. But if I say I’m Christian, it’s still a lie, and I still don’t know any Christian traditions or even identify with any denomination. It’s a bit of a sticky topic. I’ve started saying I don’t go to church at home, but have also decided that I will go to church on and off while I’m here to fit in.
All in all, my first Ghanaian wedding was really an awesome experience.
You would not believe what the cars here withstand. Don’t get me wrong, some roads (freeways in particular) are flat and well-kept, with street-lights, painted lines, the whole works. However, many roads are not like that. They cover the whole spectrum from extremely bumpy dirt roads, to paved streets that are more gone than there, to highways and freeways in good condition. It really makes you appreciate that the roads in Canada are so good that we actually know where the potholes are. Like, potholes are identifiable features and not just part of the road. I’ve never understood the abilities and importance of shocks until getting to Ghana.
Also – what’s a speed limit. Everyone here seems to just drive whatever speed they want. Cabs and tro-tros tend to drive uncomfortably fast on small roads crawling with pedestrians. Everyone is used to it, but it’s still a little unnerving.
Safety wise, being in a car here is my biggest risk, and I can understand why. I never expected to be in a cab which is making a funny noise like it’s being kicked, at night, after a rainstorm, with no seatbelts, while the cab driver coasts forward and WhatsApp calls his mom, but I’ve definitely found myself there. The funny thing is, it’s the safest option – tros and walking home are both more dangerous at night than cabbing.
So I go to the tailor a lot here. The temptation to pick my own fabric and have something custom made is so strong. Plus the tailor shop I go to is very sweet. A bunch of girls about my age work there and all joke around with me whenever I come in. It’s really nice. They have made me one dress so far, which I’ve been showing off everywhere because it’s so freaking nice. They are in the process now of making me a skirt, a crop top and a tunic. I will post more pictures of these as I get them.
Dinner with the VOTO Team (06/11/16)
There are some really nice restaurants in Kumasi if you know where to look. The VOTO staff all went out to dinner at a really nice Indian restaurant tonight. It was a celebration of VOTO’s five new interns – myself and Alex (JFs), Beatrice and Alvin (tech interns), and Priscilla (agri-business intern). We also celebrated several of the employees’ anniversaries of working for VOTO.
My favorite quote of the evening came from my colleague June. While we were eating, she commented that the Indian food was very spicy. I contradicted her, saying that it’s much less spicy than the Ghanaian food Rita makes for us. To this, she responded “That’s not spicy, that’s just pepe”. I thought this was hilarious. The spices in the Indian food (which tasted quite mild to me) were extremely spicy to June, who didn’t find the hot peppers in our normal food spicy at all. Goes to show that our senses are not objective in the slightest.
Cultural Centre (06/12/16)
Today, Alex, Beatrice and I went to check out the cultural centre. After a half hour walk from our tro stop near Kejetia, we found it! There was lots of cool artwork but few people. Apparently the artisans usually work there Monday to Friday, so we will have to come back another time to see them at work. However, we made the most of it: we spoke to some cool shop owners and picked up some paintings and kente. We were assured we weren’t charged the obroni price for the artwork we bought, but Beatrice wasn’t convinced. She’s going to go back by herself sometime and see if they’ll sell her things at a cheaper rate than myself or Alex could get. Regardless, we didn’t get as screwed over as bad as our friend Alex L’Heureux, a long term fellow in Accra – our paintings cost between 10 and 20 cedis, and not the 120 he paid.
We took a cab from the cultural centre back to centre town through Adum, the military area of Kumasi. This was very interesting to see. Our cab driver explained as we drove that the housing and infrastructure there was British-built and hadn’t been updated for decades. He was very upset about this, and thought the country should do a better job on the upkeep of its infrastructure, which I couldn’t help but agree with. Once back in centre town, we picked up some groceries and headed home, hitching a ride with Collins (a co-worker we just happened to run into) and then grabbing a tro off the street where he dropped us to get back to Kotei.
Hope this was an interesting look at the type of adventures I’ve been having day to day! I’m heading to Accra for a few days on Wednesday, so I’m sure I’ll have a few stories after that. If you’re interested in hearing about anything in particular, feel free to comment it below! Thanks for reading 🙂