So, I’ve been in Ghana for over 3 months, and I’ve done my best to adapt to Ghanaian culture. I have made many Ghanaian friends. I can hold conversations in West African Pidgin and Twi. I know and have tried most of the foods. I’m constantly late for everything (I run on Ghana-Maybe-Time). I know how to do some Azonto moves (though I’m not good at them). I even enjoy the Malta drink that I thought was gross when I tried it. Recently, a Ghanaian girl EVEN called me an “inverse-oreo”; Black/Ghanaian on the inside, and White/Obruni on the outside (she did NOT use it as a compliment…haha). However, as much as I try to be Ghanaian or like acting Ghanaian, I can’t change the fact that I am not. (Or can I….?!)
Here are some constant reminders that I am not Ghanaian, or an Obibani.
1) I Wear Shorts: The only time I’ve seen multiple Ghanaian guys wearing shorts outside of their bedrooms is when they are exercising. Even in hot and humid weather, almost everyone wears pants.
2) I Wear Hats (baseball caps)
3) My watch works and is accurate: I’ve had a few instances where Ghanaians admitted that their watch was broken. Most taxis have incorrect clocks. My favorite was when the time was 6:83, and then twenty minutes later it read: 6:1J. Most classrooms on campus don’t have clocks in them either. Which sucks cause then I actually have to watch the professor and pay attention.
4) I Walk Fast: If I’m in a rush, I speed walk. Deal with it. I’m late anyways.
5) I Eat While I Walk: I think it’s considered rude to do so here. I find that if I eat while I walk, I forget about how much I’m sweating.
6) I wear sunglasses: Yes, they look cool and are a fashion statement. But, it also blocks the sun and helps me see. And, they look cool.
7) I listen to my own music while I work out: I’m usually the only white one in the weight room anyways, and I’m most likely the only one with headphones. It’s my short break from the same 10 songs you hear EVERYWHERE.
8) I drink water during my meal: In the words of my friend, “Why would I want to get full from WATA when I am eating HUNGRY FOR FOOD!?!?!?
9) I wear a seatbelt: At least I try to. Some taxis don’t even have them, but the way they drive here, seatbelts should be common sense. Last week a taxi drivers put on his seatbelt as he approached a security check point. Then, after he passed through, he took his seatbelt off.
10) I think I have the right away when I walk: I’ve come to learn that pedestrians essentially never have the right of way. It can be a four-way intersection/roundabout (where stop signs should/could be) where each car has a speed bump and I have to be extra careful but any car will turn as soon as they get the chance. Even if there are other vehicles or people in the way.
11) I wipe my sweat with my T-shirt: I stopped doing so because it makes your T-shirt get filthy with dust and dirt…and remember who is hand washing that same T-shirt? From what I’ve observed, Ghanaians use handkerchiefs to wipe the sweat. And blow their nose…
12) I use a handkerchief to wipe my sweat: Then I look around and realize that I’m the only one in the room sweating, a constant reminder that I didn’t grow up here.
13) I drink coffee/tea: You don’t find a lot of coffee shops….or any really. “Café” usually means it is an Internet café, without caffeine and pastries. It’s so hot I have a hard time drinking hot beverages, and the caffeine isn’t a good addition to the heat and dehydration. Makes sense.
14) I wipe with my right hand: I just grew up that way. I tried to use my left as Ghanaians do but I figured no one would know the difference. Unless, I used my left and never completed the job. Here, people get shocked/offended if you use your left hand because it’s “the hand that you wipe with”. Little do they know, I actually use my right hand to wipe! It’s harder for guys, here (girls don’t poop, so they don’t have that problem!)!
15) I text: Ghanaians don’t text as much as Americans. I find it’s hard to text some of my Ghanaian friends because they text in Pidgin and use completely different spellings. “I kant kam. hav a gud nyte” = I can’t come. Have a good night.
A lot of times my friends tell me they never got my text… the messages sometimes don’t go through. Or, they secretly hate me. I’m starting to take this one back, though…..I’ve gotten some good texts from Ghanaians lately. Like a pidgin text from a close friend of mine, “Shotta how far? Where you dey? What be the action for tonight?”
Or, a text from a girl I’ve NEVER MET before (my friend gave me her number and said she wanted to meet me), “Oh God can someone please help me. hmm am looking fr my man he is cald jeremy i cant find him thinking of him is killing me. pls if anyone finds him plz tel him how much am dieing to see him and have miss his voice so much and i cant wait to see him”. If you think of an appropriate response to that please let me know. I’m still thinking of a good one.
16) I talk while eating: I read that it’s custom just to consume your food and focus solely on your food while you eat. Meals aren’t considered to be communal (even though everything else seems to be). I’ve noticed most people eat fast, drink something, and then that’s that. I feel like if Americans did that, we’d never stop eating. I like to talk ABOUT what I’m eating. It makes it more enjoyable if you talk about how delicious it is. I also talk TO my food. Ghanaians don’t.
17) I wash both hands before I eat: At least I did before I came here! From what I’ve observed, Ghanaians only was their right hand before and after they eat a meal with their hands. They simply hold the water with their left hand and pour it onto the right, rubbing soap from your right thumb across your palm and fingers. Depending on the bathroom, they might not wash after they go wee wee either. There aren’t many sinks at outdoor public urinals (anywhere outside). For me, it’s a clean hand day if I wash my hands three times, not including my shower. (EEEEEEEEEEEW JEREMY GROOOOOOOOOSSS!)
18) I smell my food: It’s rude to smell your food here…EVER. If you are offered something, don’t try to smell it before you eat it/drink it. It’s not as fun that way either! Don’t smell anyone’s hands either. Or kiss them! ( see #17)
19) I expect good service at restaurants: Costumer service norms here are quite different. If you order something and you receive it and notice that it isn’t exactly what you ordered….you’re not exactly entitled to a brand new dish. I’m still interrogating this, as there’ve been times when I’ve been extremely persistent and then they finally gave in and got me what I wanted. But it’s definitely much different than what I am use to. Most times I feel like a snob demanding my money back, so I’ve learned to deal with it. I like not tipping, though. I might bring that back to the US!
20) I wake up between 8 and 9 and still consider it early: The only people I know that consistently wake up before 5 am do so because: they have sleeping problems and wish they could sleep later, they feed their goats before the sun rises (Shout out to Uncle Mike!), they do so for work purposes (sorry bout that), or they’re…..Ghanaian and just wake up super early! I’ve woken up to phone calls from friends before 7am multiple times. They weren’t even calling about anything urgent!
21) I understand what the printing on all my clothes means and represents: I’ve realized where ever Ghanaians get their clothes, they sometimes have no idea what their shirt means. I’ve gotten super excited when I’ve seen Minnesota sports teams, or even a BIG TEN shirt, but I’ve realized that, from my experiences, most people don’t know anything about the university or sports team that is on their shirt. My friend was wearing a Baltimore Ravens shirt that was written in Hebrew and had no idea what the Hebrew meant or was. I feel like it’s much better like that. No one’s out there to judge you on your university or brand name or musical artist you are supporting. They just wear what they think looks nice.
22) I pronounce my R’s: Closer=Close-ah, after=aft-ah. They do pronounce their ‘T’s, something my American accent lacks (water is typically pronounce wa-der). The ‘A’ is pronounced differently too. Once, I asked a security guard where the bank was. He looked at me, puzzled. I changed my accent, “ the bonk?”. “Oooooh! The bonk. Yes! right this way”.
23) If I call a friend and they don’t answer the first two times, I stop calling. Just the other day, I woke up with 14 missed calls from a friend from the night before. I called back in the morning and she said, “Where were you last night? I called and called and called and called and called and called…” Some of my female friends have been called over 20 times in a day! CRAZY.
24) I’m hairy. Many Ghanaians have told me that they were sad to see I have shaved off my beard. Then, I explain to them that, luckily, my beard will grow back soon. Probably a matter of just a few days. I once got a call from a friend who said, “Hi, I just called to say I saw you and I’m glad your beard is back. You look much better.”
25) People notice (and yell at me) if I liter or urinate in public. A common response: “Would you do that in your country!? If you got caught doing that in your country they would kick you out and send you back to Ghana. They would throw you in jail!” Another reason not to liter.
26) Washing my clothes takes 3-4 hours and makes me crave an ice-cold beer.
27) I stress being on time. (see #3 and #4)
28) The smell of “fresh“ fish at a market grosses me out. (see #18)
29) I will gain weight if I don’t watch what I eat. Weight gained. But, in the words of my Ghanaian friend, “You! You will eat fufu! I will make you fat! I like you fat!”
30) I get budged in line and everyone stands around like nothing happened.
31) I wear bugs spray and Sun block: at least I did when I got here…
32) I get excited when I see monkeys
33) I’m surprised when I see live giant snails for sale at the market- yet to try snail yet…but I will soon!
34) I like to look at items that I’m most likely not planning on buying. (see # 33) here..all you need is eye contact and they’re heckling you to buy something
35) I don’ like a ton of mayonnaise or shito or sauce on all of my dishes (see #29)
36) I’m easily recognizable after the sun goes down…by mosquitoes too! (See #31)
37) People pet my arms and say they love my arm hair (see #24)
38) When I make eye contact with a man and he’ll say, “White man! Hello!”
39) People refer to me as “Obama’s people” and ask me how Obama is doing “He’s very stressed at the moment” is a common response.
40) Taxis and sellers compete for my business
41) I have soft hands…? (At least that’s what most Ghanaians have told me)
42) I blog about my life here….and people find it interesting/different!
Jeremy ‘”Kwabena (inside out Oreo)” Ginsburg