This afternoon, I decided to go out to get some groceries and groundnut soup. My friends Suhuyini and Tony were heading to the supermarket area, called Gate, in our company car (the “VOTOmobile” – hilarious, I know). I hurried from the house to get a ride with them. As I left the house in a rush, I didn’t have time to change my shoes, so – for the very first time – I left the house in flipflops.
We quickly arrived at Gate and proceeded about our business. After getting our food, Suhuyini and Tony told me they needed to get haircuts before heading home. I told them that’s okay, I’d take the tro home by myself. Suyuhini jokingly called me a “big girl” for saying this. I laughed; of course I could get home by myself.
I got on the tro, travelled down the road and alighted at my stop in Kotei.
At this point, it’s important to note that my tro stop is about a 15 minute walk from my house. The way goes through a paved market area and a residential dirt road. Near the tro stop, there are several food stands. People hang around these stands on hobbled benches, eating and chatting. I’m an obroni girl, alone, carrying a hefty bag of groceries. Now, let’s go on.
I start to walk down the road, lugging my groceries. Suddenly, I trip. I’m pretty clumsy, so this is normal. I lose my flipflop in the process. I slide it back on.
Except it won’t stay on.
“Oh no,” says my brain. I bend over and look at my shoe. My fear is confirmed: the centre toe piece of my flipflop has cleanly detached.
Conscious of the fact that there are at least 15 nearby Ghanaian guys casually interested in my debacle at this point, I jam the toe piece back into my flip flop, put my foot back on the ground, and try to take a step.
Nope. Shoe comes flying off, again.
I resign myself to the fact that I’m going to have to hoof it barefoot. Time to look real silly. I bend over to take off my shoes so I can walk to the nearest shop, maybe 100 feet away, and buy flipflops. Sorry health and safety guidelines, but I was kinda stuck on this one.
As soon as I begin to remove both shoes from my feet, the casually interested Ghanaian guys start yelling. One runs over. “No no no no,” he says. “We’ll fix it. Come sit, come sit.”
Normally, I would have politely refused. Flipflops are cheap. I could easily have just asked one of the guys to run buy me a pair from the nearby store, and given them a cedi or two to show my appreciation. But these flipflops were nice. They were a hand-made leather pair I got in Tamale. I wasn’t about to just toss these in the trash.
So, I head over towards the men who had been eyeing me this whole time. I sit down. One of them takes my shoe and runs off.
I learn that my rescuer’s name is Onasis. He’s friends with Sean, one of the other guys at the VOTO house. As I sit and wait, he and the other men talk in Twi around me. A couple of younger girls (their daughters or sisters, I assume) come over and sit down next to me. One of them begins humming what is unmistakably “The Lonely Goatherd” from Sound of Music. I sing along. They laugh at me. I’m okay with that.
Onasis tells me I should talk to his friend. His friend looks at me, begins speaking extremely rapid Twi, puts in his headphones and looks pretty embarrassed. Alycia: 1, Onasis the matchmaker: 0.
I was feeling pretty comfortable at this point. Onasis says to me, “Do you have 5 cedi? I’ll go get your shoe fixed.” I give it to him, assuming he will go pay the cobbler where the other man has taken my shoe. He then asks me “Where is your slipper?” – in Ghana, flipflops are sometimes called slippers.
I say, “Another man just took it!”
Onasis gives me my money back and takes off sprinting.
He returns a few minutes later. We sit, and wait for the first man to come back with my flipflop.
While we wait, Onasis turns to me. “Will you eat this all yourself?” he says, gesturing at my large bag of groceries. I tell him no, it’s for myself and a few friends, which was true; I had picked up some food for my housemates. “I am very hungry,” he pushes on. “You should give me money for food.”
This makes me feel a weird combination of emotions. Whenever people ask me for money, I feel a big jumble of sad, suspicious and uncomfortable. I know I have money to spare; I know the person asking probably actually needs the money. On the other hand, they might be taking advantage of the fact that I’m white and will likely give them too much money; I also don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype of white people coming here and giving handouts.
I handle this with my usual tactic of mild humour and sass: “Maybe when my slipper is ready, we’ll go get supper together.” Onasis laughs.
The first man now arrives with my flipflop. It has a nail in it. The men around me make some pretty unimpressed noises. After a moment, Onasis runs off again.
One of the other men hauls the nail out of the flipflop. Onasis runs back with a big hook-like needle. The man currently holding my flipflop begins to stitch the sole of my shoe. Turns out he knew how to fix shoes all along and just needed a tool to do so.
Quick as a flash, my flipflop is mended. The man who mended it hands it back to me. I thank him and Onasis profusely. “You are welcome, you are welcome,” they say. They do not ask me for money now. Regardless, I give them some. I would have had to pay a cobbler to fix my shoe otherwise; these men have now given me a service and so I pay them in kind. They say “God bless you,” and I walk away, hyper-aware of my flipflops and vigilant for further breakage.
A few hundred feet down the road, I come across a friend. She is a lady who sells smoked pork at a stand near my favourite street food joint, Blessings. “E te sen?” she says. “Me ho ye,” I say. She laughs. This is the extent of my Twi abilities.
The lady’s daughter comes out of the house behind the pork stand and says hello. Her name is Veronica. “When will you come visit me?” she says. She has been asking me to come visit her since one day a few weeks ago, when we chatted as I waited for my Jollof rice from Blessings. At first, I assumed she was just being polite when she asked me to visit her. I figured that if I asked a total stranger to come visit me, I would have been just being polite. Therefore, I should assume the same of her. But since her first request, it’s become apparent that she actually means it. We say hello every time I walk by her mom’s stand; each time, she politely and seriously asks me when I will visit. She genuinely wants me to come hang out.
“What do you like to eat,” she says now. “I’ll make it for you when you visit.”
I tell her this is too much. However, I do tell her that I’ll come by on Sunday after church. She smiles. I think I will actually go visit. She said she would teach me Twi, and I really want to learn. I tell her I need to get home now. We say goodbye and I walk away.
As the road disintegrates from pavement to dirt and the buildings transition from shop stalls to houses, I see a family walking together in the distance. There is an older woman, two women who look to be in their thirties, and a young boy and girl. I walk too fast compared to the Ghanaian standard, so after a few minutes, I catch up to them. They see me as I pass by. “Good afternoon,” I say. One of the younger women greets me. We each inquire about how the other is doing and then I continue on past them.
After a few moments, the lady calls out: “Hello? Where do you stay.”
Normally, I don’t like getting this question so close to my house. I’m always afraid people will want to come in, which I can’t really let them do. But for some reason, I trusted this family, and the woman just sounded curious. I wait up for them to catch up and point out my house in the distance: “This hostel here, with the green roof.”
She asks me, “Are you a student at the university?” I tell her no, I work here; there is a business in that hostel.
She looks at me, now a little confused: “You work here, and you go to town alone?”
“Yes,” I tell her, “of course.”
This impresses her, and amuses me. I’m pretty sure that when locals learn of a white person working here, they assume they live an extremely sheltered life. I am glad not to live that life. I honestly can’t imagine living that life.
She then asks me my name, so I tell her. She tells me her name is Dayna.
I ask her if she lives nearby; she tells me no. I proceed to the next most likely option: was she heading to the church across the street from my house? Yet again, no. She tells me she’s actually heading to register to vote in the fall.
This makes me really happy. I love the how engaged everyone here is with regards to the impending national election. People really care about who wins and what each party has done and promised. It’s a level of political engagement I haven’t seen in Canada, ever. Canada could learn a thing or two from Ghana.
After chatting with Dayna for another minute or two about politics and my work, I arrive at my house. We say goodbye. She heads along down the road with her family. I head in my gate to put away my groceries and eat my groundnut soup.
Humanity really is a wonderful, curious thing. This totally mundane series of events just reminded me of how beautiful interpersonal interactions can be. Thanks for reading.