We have officially been in Ghana for a week now. I am beginning to adapt both physically and mentally to my new environment, the culture, the people, the weather (it’s hot), the food, the similarities and the differences. It has been a whirlwind since my fellow interns and I arrived in Accra last Saturday. I’ve already seen and experienced so much and I am finding it difficult to put it all into words. It has been inspiring, challenging, exciting, exhausting, wonderful and difficult.
We have been in Kumasi since last Tuesday, where we will live and work for the next two and a half months. Many Ghanaians are friendly, welcoming, curious and helpful. The pace of life is more laid back and slow moving here than back home, although you wouldn’t suspect it amidst the bustling city centers, active nightlife, congested traffic and lively markets. I am slowly orienting myself and have picked up some useful Twi phrases, one of the most widely used local languages. I’ve learned phrases like good morning/afternoon/evening, how are you?/ what is your name?/ I’m from Canada/numbers and a few food terms. It is considered rude to not formally greet someone before beginning a conversation or a business transaction. The locals find it very entertaining to hear an oburoni (white person) speak Twi. I am also getting a better sense of how to get around Kumasi which is very challenging since street maps are near impossible to come by and formal street addresses rarely exist. Most directions are given as “far” or “not far.”
We are lucky to have arrived in Kumasi during the FIFA World Cup as soccer fever is definitely in the air, it adds an extra energy to the already vibrant city. Most locals are glued to their televisions and watch every match. The city basically shuts down when the Ghana Black Stars play. The streets are draped in red, yellow and green and the citizens are decorated in the team’s apparel.
Although my impressions have been generally positive thus far, I have also encountered some challenges. There are very few tourists in Kumasi, so the three Canadians attract a great deal of attention. We stand out as outsiders like a sore thumb. It is odd to be called oburoni, as my referent and it is frustrating to be thought of as representing money because of my skin color. There are a lot of shocking realities here. Although Ghana is one of the most developed African countries, there are still many impoverished areas and people living in inadequate conditions.
I had the opportunity to shadow a story with a local colleague about a neighborhood that floods every time it rains, which is often in Ghana’s June-July rainy season. I spoke with some of the residents who showed me around and invited me into their homes. Their houses and yards are badly damaged and left in dilapidated conditions; the constant flooding destroys their possessions, soaks their mattresses and leaves their walls crumbling and covered in black mold. A local man, Courage Kwame, showed me areas where water levels have reached up to five feet high. He called it “living in the ocean,” but due to financial difficulties he and his family have no other option but to stay and put up with the situation.
I am happy to be working at Kapital Radio where there is an interest in human rights reporting and human rights stories. Many Ghanians believe the media can be used to bring awareness to a variety of vital issues and change the conditions of people like the ones I previously described.
I have only gotten my toes wet in Ghana’s culture and complexities so far, but I look forward to learning more and sharing my experiences with you.
Akyire yi (See you later).