Thursday, 16 September 2010
Our first week in Ghana was spent travelling on coaches, cars and Tro-tros and wandering round Accra, Cape Coast, Beyin, Ankasa and Elubo, often in wonderment at the myriad activities before us.
The sheer number of people interacting on the streets from 5am throughout the day is the first thing that hits you. Women and children carrying on their heads 10m long planks of wood, enormous bowls containing goats, chickens, water, fruit and vegetables. Children playing with home-made toys. Hawkers hanging around vehicles at traffic jams trying to sell Fu Fu, Yams, plantain crisps, water sachets. Men in suits, others fixing machines, selling railings, motorbike parts, mobile phones, sitting at wooden shacks playing board games or drinking at wooden shack spots (bars). Women at stalls selling fruit, shoes, clothes, fish heads, pigs trotters, nuts, mending clothes, pounding yam and cassava, mending clothes… The road verges and makeshift footways are teeming.
Upon first meeting, Ghanaians display a warmth of feeling that is difficult to do justice in words. Sometimes this is quite overwhelming, for as an Obruni, you receive this warm welcome from almost every single person you pass in the street. Ma achi! (Good morning!) Akwaaba! (Welcome) Wo ho te sen? (How are you?) Often followed by a hearty handshake and a bear hug. Or from children chants of ‘Ob-ru-ni, ob-ru-ni..’ combined with much dancing, clapping, laughter and pointing or a chase down the street. I haven’t checked whether other white people experience this or there is some other aspect of my physical appearance that prompts such mirth.
When you have an actual reason to meet someone, the welcome is perhaps less animated but just as genuinely interested and joyful. Normally an infectious broad, beaming smile is combined with a handshake so lengthy it would wear out Mr Shake-Hands-Man, and complex enough to baffle Stephen Hawkins. At least two finger clicks and five hand positions are required as a minimum to avoid ridcule. I intend to write a book with diagrams on this some time.