March 07, 2007
Happy Birthday, Ghana
Fifty years ago yesterday, Ghana became the first African colony to gain independence, under the leadership of pan-Africanist hero Kwame Nkrumah. Actually, the modern nation of Ghana was formed from two British colonies: Gold Coast and Togoland.
I didn't pay much attention to Ghana's independence day yesterday (though at David's insistence I text-messaged my friend Ackah to wish him a happy independence day) because I have very ambivalent feelings toward Ghana after spending a month there in the summer of 2005. Before I went, people told me that I would either love Africa or hate it. It turns out that this was just one of many pieces of misinformation people fed me before my trip. I neither loved nor hated Ghana: I loved some things and hated others. Here is a list of other things I wish people hadn't told me before I went:
- You will get sick (malaria, diarrhea, parasites, etc.)
- You will get mugged and/or raped
- Africa is dangerous
- The food is sketchy
- When you get there, you will need to wash the walls of your room with laundry soap
- Don't go out after dark
- Accra (the capital of Ghana) is just like Los Angeles
- Wear mosquito repellent
- If you ride a tro-tro (public minibus), you will die
- You can't be too careful
And here is a list of things I wish people had told me:
- Africa is no less safe than the US
- The food is delicious (though fattening), especially the plantains
- Forget about hot showers, but cold showers are less cold at night than in the morning
- Wherever you go, people will try to sell you stuff, and they will expect you to buy it (regardless of whether you need or want it) because you are white
- Carry toilet paper or, better yet, learn to pee like a man
- Tro-tros are fun, and much cheaper than taxis
- Sit in the front of the taxi, and don't expect to have a seatbelt
- How to make an international phone call (it took me two weeks to figure out how to call home)
- How to do laundry (I never figured that one out)
- Ghanaians are very well dressed (they know how to do laundry)
- Every man you meet will want to marry you; don't take it personally -- they just want to get out of Ghana
- Navigating is hard because Ghanaians don't use maps, street names, or addresses, but if you ask someone for directions, more than likely they will just take you where you want to go
- Food is cheaper on the street than in a restaurant, and no less delicious or safe
- Talk to strangers -- it is the only way to learn about a foreign country
Ghana was a difficult place to live -- I was dirty all the time, it was hard to find a toilet when I needed one, the maps were unreliable (I had three maps of Accra and all were different, so I had to triangulate between them to find anything), there was no infrastructure (VERY hard to find a working pay phone and impossible to get around except by taxi), libraries and archives were in dismal conditions, and things that we take for granted (like kitchens and laundry facilities) just don't exist. But there were some things I really liked about Ghana -- the food, the people I met, the climate, and the music. There was music everywhere. When I called David from the only working pay phone I ever found in Accra, he said it sounded like I was at a party.
Going to Ghana was a life-changing experience. I probably could have made it easier for myself by staying in hotels and hanging out in the expat section of town, but that isn't my style. I enjoyed staying with a Ghanaian lady (whose name was also Emily!), getting around Accra on foot, and eating meals on the street or in chop bars. If I had had a little more courage, I would have ventured into one of the bars fashioned out of shipping containers near my house. I would not recommend Accra as a tourist destination, but if you have a reason to go there, it is a very interesting place to go.
Posted by eklanche at March 7, 2007 07:28 AM
Happy Birthday Ghana! I had a foreign exchange student friend in high school from Ghana. Violet was a sweet girl, and when it didn't work out with her first family, she came to live with us. Fun for me, but stressful for my mother because Violet's family is seriously, seriously wealthy and she was used to having a personal driver, a chef, a maid, and lots of spending money. And for some reason, no one explained to her before she arrived that her "host" mother and father in blue-collar Rockford Illinois would neither have, provide, nor be any of those things! Not that that's a national characteristic of Ghanaians, obviously, but it's what I always think of when I think Ghana.
The boob song was hysterical. But, actually, I always regretted that the boob fair did visit me. Not too generously, though, thankfully. As an athlete, they just got in my way!
Sorry to respond to so much in one shot, but I also enjoyed your _Up Series_ post. Josh and I are only to 21 Up. We hadn't realized the one whose father was in Rhodesia was the poshest kid, but in retrospect, doesn't it seem predictable that he would develop the social conscience among the group - noblesse oblige and all?
We're off to Rockford for a week but hopefully we'll see you after. Sara
Posted by: sbfirst at March 7, 2007 09:21 AM
My experience with all sorts of foreign countries is that they are both more and less dangerous than the U.S., but in different ways - and usually one's personal safety as a woman is easier to protect, once you figure out the system, than it is here.
Posted by: esik at March 7, 2007 09:51 AMLogin to leave a comment. Create a new account.