Awareness Into Action: Words, Guts, Witches and Heat

This series of posts documents two ordinary folks attempting to get out there and do good. Over the next few months, we’ll follow them through the setbacks and triumphs of their endeavor to take the inspiration of Mountainfilm and turn it into something tangible. (To catch up. start here.)

Ghana is a wonderful country. Its primitive forests preserve the mystery of the Dark Continent, the beaches remain undeveloped and uncrowded, and its people have the joie de vivre for which Africa is well known. Given all that, there are idiosyncrasies that expose themselves only after a few months of observation. Without further ado, I give you, “Poetic Grumblings of a Short-term Ex-Pat.”

Language Go on GhanaWeb.com. Go on, do it. There, they will tell you that the official language of the country is English. To euphemize, this is somewhat misleading. While most people in the larger cities do speak English, the vast majority of people in Ghana speak Twi or other tribal dialects. Given that languages are dying worldwide at a horrific rate, it’s wonderful to hear people speaking the language of their ancestors. But unless you plan to spend all of your time at the Holiday Inn, expect to hear Twi spoken in normal conversation.

Food The food in Ghana is pretty tasty. A typical Ghanaian meal will consist of fufu (cassava pounded into a doughy paste) served with spicy soup and goat, chicken, or fish. However, you will be hard pressed to find a meal served with fresh vegetables. Ghanaian food will make your guts stick together. You may find yourself gnawing on a piece of cardboard in a desperate quest for roughage. Bring fiber.

Arguing If football (soccer) is Ghana’s favorite sport, then arguing is Ghana’s favorite pastime. Ghanaians have strong opinions, and a vigorous culture of voicing those opinions. Your longer bus rides will crescendo in and out of several heavy debates over the course of a few hours. I’ve never seen a hand raised in anger here, but Jenny’s second-hand anxiety is at a permanently elevated level.

Superstition Despite the efforts of generations of missionaries, Ghanaians have managed to sustain many elements of their tribal cultures (though Christianity is an integral part of many Ghanaians’ lives). Along with some of these cultures come certain superstitions. This dichotomy manifests itself in really fun ways (movies, popular TV shows, radio broadcasts, etc.), and also really tragic ways (women being accused of witchcraft and banished from society). An illuminating anecdote: A guy was imprisoned for embezzling money. There wasn’t enough evidence to convict the man, but the prosecutor argued that the man should still be in prison, citing the belief that the man was a witch. The defense, in all earnestness, replied that that was ludicrous: if his client was a witch, he would have turned into a bird and flown away. The prosecutor rebutted this defense by saying that he couldn’t turn into a bird, as the necessary herbs to perform such a transformation were not available in prison. Bullet proof.

Heat It is motherf#!&ig HOT here. These are the grumblings that come from a very sheltered, short-term ex-pat experience. In fact, the length of time we’re spending here may not qualify us for the moniker. I would like to qualify the above by very specifically pointing out that I am not judging, I am merely observing. None of these observations are a large complaint; in fact, some of the above cultural characteristics are what make our experience here great. Learning and experiencing new cultures is a fun and exciting experience, but those who do so in longer stints must be forgiven for a bit of whinging. Next week, we stop our whinging and talk about a potential approach to solving some of Ghana's problems.

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