Post Travel Musings
Ghana has changed!
Twelve years ago when I first walked on Ghana’s soil, life was happening at a much slower pace. We laughed with native Ghanaians over reassigning the meaning of GMT from Greenwich Mean Time to Ghana Maybe Time. However, that phrase no longer applies in so many places because Ghana is becoming more and more like fully developed countries. There are many more roads with four lanes, gas stations with convenience stores, watches with second hands, chop bars1 with refrigerators, shopping malls with food courts, supermarkets selling TV dinners and wine from Australia. There are more cars on the road, more pollutants in the air, more sit-coms from the BBC, more housing developments and subdivisions with gates. It would usually take me three or four days to shed the American modus operandi and adopt a different pace. This time it seemed it wasn’t even a factor and people were often waiting for me. This change is not universally liked in Ghana!
But not everything!
As I write this E-quip Africa’s container is still in the confines of the Tema harbor even while several people in Ghana have picked up their extra sharp shears and are attacking the red tape suffocating the flow of imports into the country. There are some theories about this which label the 'crimson sticky' as deliberate because each new runaround extracts more dollars or cedis from the source. Well… maybe, maybe not.
Ghana boys still come running out of their shops and stalls at the market trying to convince the obroni shopper they have the best quality and price—“Papa, I’ll be your son forever! Papa! Buy from me!” Obronis2 still pay too much because they don’t want to hurt obibini’s3 feelings. (The attached photo shows Doug [obroni] digging for more cash [cedis] to pay obibini [young Ghanaians.])
Laughter and fun is still heard everywhere amidst huge smiles, finger-snapping handshakes and arms embracing the visitor. Vendors still stand in the middle of the street at stop lights, police barriers, toll booths and bus stops selling light bulbs, cough drops, maps, toilet paper, newspapers, Ghana cake4, dried fish, oysters on a skewer, bread, fruit, hats, sun glasses and deodorant. Deals are made on the go and when the traffic light changes if you can’t run to keep up with the buyer, you’ve lost a sale. Handicapped people weave in and out of traffic, some in wheel-chairs, some with crutches, some with partners all asking for help from anyone who will listen.
The traffic in Accra is still horrendous despite triple underpasses, multi-lane round abouts and huge interchanges.
Rural areas are still traditional, lacking improvements in roads and infrastructure, dealing with unreliable sources of power and water, deprived of the opportunity to connect to a world becoming more and more bound together electronically, and more welcoming and accepting of foreigners than ever. The bush still offers tranquility, rest, bird songs and community ritual.
I’ve often thought the USA is in its adolescence in comparison to European and Eastern cultures, flexing its newly developed muscles, tripping over its own huge feet, clumsily trying to walk with grace, ready to rumble. Extending the metaphor to Ghana, it seems to be pre-adolescent trying so hard to emulate the grown-ups it admires, trying out this and that to see how it fits, getting the shoes on before the socks and on the wrong foot and maybe a bit brain-dead as many 7th & 8th graders appear to be. Bargain rates on hotels there are now very difficult to find and cost as much there as here, but the bricks, timbers and buildings themselves have remained the same in many cases so today’s rates seem way out of whack.
You know Ghana skipped right over landline telephones and went straight to cell phone technology. It surely makes more sense to build the towers for transceivers than to erect miles of wire on poles or bury cable underground. That’s a good thing, the right way to go, but the skip can leave gaps, gaps that would not be there if things went more slowly, gaps of experience and knowledge that are not easily identifiable—you know something is not quite right and wonder why.
E-quip Africa is doing its little part to help those in Ghana who are interested (mainly schools) achieve some of these changes. While talking to teachers in several schools on this trip I heard over and over how teachers at all levels are very frustrated that the government is requiring them to teach ICT (Information & Communications Technologies) but does not supply them with computers. They asked if I could imagine teaching basic keyboarding and computer skills at the blackboard! And, no, I couldn’t.
Yes, Ghana is changing, but I believe that change is the only real constant in this world, no matter where you are or whom you are with. It’s exciting to be a part of that, no matter how small!
1 A chop bar is an eating establishment of varying size often run by a family serving traditional dishes out in the open, under a carport-like shelter or inside a fence. It may or may not include a “spot” which is more like a snack bar serving alcoholic drinks.
2 Obroni means foreigner, or visitor, typically a “white man.” It is used without prejudice in the manner of a friendly greeting. The origin of the word is tied to first sightings of ships as dots on the horizon of the sea, coming closer, growing larger and carrying foreigners.
3 Obibini is the companion word for obroni and means “black man.” It also is used without prejudice, said and heard with a smile.
4 Ghana cake is made with mashed ground nuts (peanuts) and honey which is allowed to dry and harden then sliced into geometric shapes about a half inch thick.