I had a kind of quintessential Ghanaian moment the other day. I had just left Madamfo Pa which is the organization that I work with here in Ghana. It is located in the Baba Yara community of Madina, which is a suburb of Accra, the capitol of Ghana. It is a unique community because it is so contradictory. It is in an urban environment but it does not feel urban at all. It feels quite rural. When I get off the public transportation on the outskirts of Madina, I walk for good ways before I get to work.
What I walk through is a very different kind of neighborhood than I am used to. Which is the point of studying abroad I suppose, to expose oneself to a different life and culture. Anyway, I walk down a long road with open sewers on the side of the road. There is a small stand where car batteries are sold, there are stacks of them on the sidewalk out front. There are several broken down cars in various stages of deterioration along the sides of the road. There are a few open stalls where basic necessities are sold however, there is very little traffic on this road, pedestrian or otherwise. I find it most amusing that among the very sand colored, cement buildings along the dirt road is a bright purple beauty shop with a giant speaker out front that plays very loud afro-pop music. I have never seen a customer or even a proprietor there but the music is always on. The shop keepers along the street are generally resting on benches or on a piece of cloth draped on the ground, trying to keep cool during this very hot and dry season. There are goats and chickens running about but it is a pretty quiet street otherwise.
In general, I have just been keeping my head down and walking with purpose to and from my workplace, looking forward to getting out of the blistering sun. Lately however, I have decided not to keep my head down. I make a point of greeting people as I pass by. I have discovered that even though a passerby may look very intent on getting to their location, much as I have been, when I say, “good morning” a whole new person emerges. It is so lovely. I am accustomed to that greeting being perfunctory and maybe receiving a nod in return. Here however “good morning” is an opening to a conversation.
Which brings me back to my leaving work the other day. I was making the trek down the very hot and dusty road to the trotro pick-up spot and I saw two women coming toward me. They were dressed in the typical attire of very brightly colored African print cloth wrapped around them like a toga over a plain t-shirt. Both women were carrying large bins on their heads with the goods that they were selling. I said, “good afternoon” to them. Both of their faces immediately brightened and they stopped to greet me and I knew a visit was in store for me. I have learned there is no point to being in a hurry in Ghana. As a matter of fact, to really experience life here and enjoy it, being in a hurry simply won’t do. They wanted to know where was I coming from and where was I going. One woman told me that her name was Ama efua (at least I think that is how she pronounced it). She said that meant she was Saturday born (they day of week you are born is important here). She was so delighted when I told her that I was Afia Theresa (Friday born) meaning that I understood at least a little of their culture. She got the biggest smile on her face and asked me where I was from. She said that she liked me very much and wanted my phone number. It was the most pleasant exchange. In the end, I assured them both that I am frequently in their neighborhood and would most likely see them again.
I was struck because while I was walking I had been thinking how difficult it must be to eke out a living here. I wondered how many hours and days did the shop keepers spend resting on a piece of cloth on the ground trying to keep cool. What I had been doing though was seeing the view in front of me from the eyes of my own experience. Which to be honest has been fairly limited until I came to Ghana. Meeting those two women reminded me to recognize the universal humanity of us all. Just the smallest of moments of me taking the time to raise my chin and say hello made all the difference in my walk home that day.
I was smiling and thinking over the whole experience with those very kind ladies when I finally made my way to the trotro. I was lost in thought so I was more than a bit surprised when a herd of cattle walked up right behind me through the bushes on the side of the road and one cow gave me a nudge while I was boarding the van. I whooped in surprise turned around and could think of nothing more to say than, “that is a cow”, stating the obvious. The locals got quite the laugh from my reaction as did I. Lesson learned, keep my chin up and watch for cows and you may just have a pretty good day.
Peace to you,