Here it is, sitting in the open air, highlife playing out loud and finally with some wifi, my first blog from the black star nation…
G H A N A!
Before I begin, I must warn you that this blog is lengthy. Undeniably you will agree that your first visit to a new country warrants a battle between the endless thoughts in your head bursting to be solidified on paper (or in this case my laptop)! We all have our ideas and misconceptions of a developing nation; the far too often employed comic relief images of hungry children, the aid dependent nation, the poverty stricken and deprived ‘Africa’. However this is far from what I have experienced of my first visit to an African nation. One thing which I need to stress is that no one nation is the same, just as no African nation is entirely the same, thus we really need to alter and adapt the development lens we view the developing world by.
Chale [colloquial term for the equivalent of our ‘man’] let me continue forwards with my first week in Ghana. Upon arrival to Kotoka International Airport Accra, we were bombarded with what we thought were our local counterparts, but little did most of us know, they were just a few random guys out to make some money from the confused foreigners! That first encounter was a reflection of Accra for us; a city defined by its constant hustle and bustle.
Our host home for the week was Uncle John’s place: Jem Afrik, a hostel on the second floor and initially unknown to myself, a factory that sews garments on the first floor. Uncle John with his jovial and cheery nature welcomed us incredibly warmly. Waking up on Sunday morning we were greeted with radiant sun rays and the task of fetching water for our showers- of course no power means no water in the pumps- frequent power cuts have become a norm in Ghana (I will expand on this further in my next blog). After a morning of bucket showers, my favourite part of the day arrived- lunch! I couldn’t wait to taste some authentic Ghanaian food. For our first meal I decided to be adventurous and try Banku and Tilapia rather than settle for Joloff rice- I love spice so for me food here has been great but I know some of the others struggled with the acute taste of spice.
We had met the team leaders and our some of our Ghanian volunteers the night before but the heat coupled with a delayed flight journey left us with a lack of visible energy so it was only on Sunday morning that we were able to properly meet everyone and begin to get to know each other. Sunday was a chilled day for us, a bus tour was arranged so we could see some of the iconic spots of Accra including Maloka market, Osu castle, Independence Square and Black Star Arc, Kwame Nkrumah mausoleum, Art Centre and waking down Oxford street-safe to say it was a lot less busy than home, a change gladly welcomed! We drove past most of the spots but stopped at the art centre to see some of the handicrafts being sold and excited Ghanaians wanting us to buy whatever we could quickly consumed us. An evening without power, playing articulate and ‘finish the story one person at a time’ gave us some interesting one-liners- one of our favourites employed by our very own Andy was ‘bump and grind’ – one that still lives on.
Monday saw the beginning of training at Yiri Lodge at the University of Ghana, a renowned university in Africa with notable alumni such as John Drahami Mahama, the current president of Ghana.
Breakfast and lunch was provided at Yiri lodge throughout the week and we soon came to realise that tea in Ghana is not just a drink but considered a meal. Breakfasts options were Tea or Hausa Koko… not both. Our counterparts explained that tea for breakfast includes a cup of tea and bread. I was bewildered, I am a tea addict, and drink tea at any opportunity especially first thing in the morning with another breakfast component not confined to just a cuppa! I chose tea every single day that week!
With a Politics and International Relations background, I was apprehensive about the first day agenda containing accounting and finance training – I am not great with numbers I thought to myself and this is going to bore me! How wrong I was, I have never enjoyed a maths related subject as much as I did on Monday. All the teachers and speakers employed for training were full of enthusiasm, life and genuine interest I haven’t witnessed for a while- training without it would have felt far longer than it was! JK, our teacher informed us how often starting SME’s will not keep a record of their finances to avoid government corporate tax, an outrageous 25%! Without the recognition that small businesses are the engine growth for developing countries, SME’s cannot flourish.
It was day 2 that I had my first obruni (white person) encounter and where I got the inspiration for the title of my blog post. On the way home from training, a group of children gathered around the bus and a little boy began to stroke my arm through the window and screamed excitedly ‘Mai en soh obruni muda’ which Andy informed me meant
‘I’ve never touched a white person before!’
making me laugh at the idea of me as an obruni.
Day 3, 4 and 5:
If there is anything that stuck out to me during training and in general my time here is that everyone so far has made an effort to really get to know you. All those giving us training were aware of our names within a matter of 5/10 minutes. Whether this is a uniquely Ghanian practice I cannot confirm but I can say that I have never had such an experience elsewhere.
Day 3, 4 and 5 we undertook CMI training, a qualification we can obtain by taking a test at the end of the program, looking at aspects of consultancy including client relationship and planning and managing consultancy interventions. This was the most extensive part of the training and an important one for us, working in the capacity of a consultant, to learn the relevant skills when approaching our business tasks. Part of our cultural exchange meant presenting on topics of food, language, politics etc. with our counterparts and Theo and myself exchanged some colloquial phrases –Theo had the cockney accent down! The evenings were a chance for us to sort out logistical issues such as buying SIM cards and internet, (an on-going issue for me) and to bond with one another and what better way than to throw a party! Wednesday was Claire’s (a UK volunteer) 22nd birthday so the Ghanaian and UK volunteers threw Claire a surprised party in the dark without any power! The lack of power was the perfect excuse to create a makeshift dance floor. The Ghanaians showed us some of their infamous moves and as for us, we didn’t fail to deliver either!
Day 6, 7 and 8:
Final day of training was filled with a range of marketing strategies and a lot of strange innuendos. Lets just say Mr Kwesi Dei our marketing teacher provided a whole different outlook to the benefits of tiger nut milk…
The weekend was ours to spend as we pleased and the tourist in us led us straight to Labadi beach! A day spent in the sun was well needed after a long week of training and adjustment to the weather and environment. It is funny how quickly you make bonds and friendships- certain situations throw you straight into the thick of it and before you know it, you are laughing and joking like you are childhood friends! That’s just how it has been for us so far with our Ghanian counterparts. Leaving Jem Afrik for our host homes on Sunday was definitely difficult having been accustomed to one another but it was just the first step of our journey!