August 6, 2011.
The Road so far…
Has been bumpy, riddled with potholes and orange in colour from the earth beneath it. Older cars and mini buses drive along it, repeatedly honking their horns, while people bustle along the sides trying to make their way to market. Alongside the road are open sewers with cracked coverings that serve as a walkway between cars and people. On the sides of the road, people set up stalls selling food, water (wata) and a range of other items. The sky is grey and the air is a humid- cool with such a nice breeze that I regret not bringing a sweater. The smell of diesel fumes and sewage make me queasy as I attempt to take in this huge city I have been in this past week.
Accra is the capital city of Ghana. There is estimated four million people who live here. The main language spoken is Twi (pronounced Trwi).
Akwaaba – Welcome
Medasi – Thank- you (spelling is uncertain)
Obruni – Foreigner / white person
Everyone speaks this language first, but replies to me in Ghanaian English- this perfect English with a thick stereotypical African accent. Sometimes I catch myself with a smile just listening despite not recognizing a word.
I have been staying in a guest house called Kokolemle (or something like that) off of the Paloma road / area. It is next to a hotel that we used as a meeting place for in country training and a 15 minute walk from the main market / circle. The guesthouse is nice with a friendly staff, toilets and showers. My room has two single beds, a desk, tv, toilet and shower. The room reminded me a lot of the residence in Siena I lived in 3 years ago, except now includes a bed net that I sleep under. The bed net is supposed to protect me from malaria infected mosquitoes, specifically now in the rainy season, but I have not seen many bugs. I feel like a princess under it, and it is the first thing that reminds me where I am when I wake up in the morning from my vivid dreams of back home – my brother, other family and boyfriend have been in almost every dream I have had since I arrived.
I am facing culture shock…I admit it, it is happening. It is not the poverty that is giving me the shock though. Witnessing people defecating in sewers or waking up from sleeping on the ground of a little shop is not what is shocking me on a conscious level – no, that I expected. It is the eating from food stalls, running around an overcrowded market and speaking to random strangers that make me uneasy. Not because of poverty, but because it is contrary to what I have known as the smart thing to do when travelling. I have learned that when travelling, eating on the street will make you sick, going into a crowded market will pose a security threat, and letting strangers on the side of the road ‘fix’ your phone, means you are never getting it back. Normally, I would never get into a tiny mini bus with 20 people in it, so small that it resembles more of a mini-van. You are not supposed to get into the car with the man yelling foreign words out of it right? Accra and Ghana are different than any other place I have been to. Everyone eats at the food stalls, and minibuses (known as tro-tros) are the only affordable way to get around. So far I have not gotten lost or sick from any of it, so I know my anxiety is just culture shock and not based on anything legitimate.
There are a few things I really enjoy about this culture that is foreign. People are very friendly. Not the, everyone wants to talk to me because I am white kind of friendly, but they will remember your name after a few days of returning back to buy water kind of friendly. Or wave at you in the tro-tro because you asked them a question the day before. I cannot tell you how many random conversations I have had with people about everything and anything. And these conversations were not just with the 20-something year old loud boys who wanted my ‘numba’, but with the big Ghanaian mamas, the teenage boys and the grandpas. Often the conversations are 5-10 minutes long, happening just while waiting for something or someone.
I also feel safe here. I was warned by the woman at the pharmacy that ‘Ghanaians are very smart, and that I should shine my eyes’, otherwise known as be careful or else you will be taken advantage of. But in comparison to other places, the people are very respectful. I walk around a market and people say hello not ‘please come buy this.’ I do not feel like everyone is eyeing my handbag, despite me knowing that they want the rich white girl to spend money.
Tomorrow I get on a luxury bus at 8AM and spend 13 hours to make my way North (stopping 3 times for break) to Tamale, the main city in the north. I will spend another week in Tamale doing coaching, job shadowing and learning how to ride a moto. I am still nervous to do things on my own and am a bit scared about what is up ahead, but this is all matched with excitement. I am happy to be leaving Accra and onto another city more closely resembling the rural areas where I will be living. I am also hoping there will be less diesel fuel smells and better food.
We shall see what is up ahead. This is whole adventure is what I have been planning for so brace yourself!