Akwaaba – Welcome
‘Akwaaba!’ says the gentleman helping us with our bags onto the van. He quickly teaches me the only way to shake hands in Ghana, with a grasp around the thumb, a slide to the fingertips and a click on the middle finger. Just as quickly, he takes me aside and then proceeds to ask me for ‘£10 for the boys?’. I was informed he wasn’t with the Challenges Worldwide In-Country Volunteers (ICV) or Team Leaders and in my first moments I knew, the hustle is real in Accra.
Akwaaba means welcome in Twi, one of the most popular tribal languages in Ghana, and welcomed I have most definitely felt. From the sachets of water that we received at the airport to the plentiful portions of food we have been served and the willingness of our Ghanaian counterparts to answer our ever-growing barrage of questions; it has been a humbling reception.
When walking from place to place it is not uncommon to be stared at and to hear ‘Oburoni’ ripple through the crowds, amongst the hisses and endless calls from Tro-Tro drivers (Ghana’s private version of our public transport). Oburoni means white foreigner and it’s not difficult to spot this Oburoni amongst the stream of bodies flowing through the streets of Accra. Despite how this may sound and the attitudes some people display back in the UK towards people they consider ‘foreign’, here it feels like more of a term of endearment from the people of Accra expressing their delight to have you in their home country.
It’s these contrasts in culture that I embrace. While in the UK, hissing at somebody would seem preposterously rude, here it is an expected method of getting someone’s attention. Someone clicking in your face in London would promptly fill your body with rage. However, in Accra, it’s the norm. Gesturing, eating and handling things with your left hand back in Britain, nobody would bat an eyelid. Nonetheless, in Ghana, you may as well have just offended the mothers of everyone around you. Using your left hand to deal with people here is seen as highly offensive.
Irrespective of these differences, I’ve found it’s the similarities between the people of the UK and the people of Ghana which are more numerable and it’s this we must always focus on. For example, fairly early on, the UKVs and ICVs found out that we can both have a laugh at the idea of eating ‘wele’ (cowhide) even if it is for vastly different reasons!
Our first week on the program was spent at Hotel Suma Court in Haatso, northern Accra, where we were greeted by the ICVs who performed regional songs for us. The stereotype which exists that Ghanaians have generally better voices, rhythm and dance ability than the British was pretty much immediately confirmed and reconfirmed at a particular highlight of the week which was the Ghana Culture night that the ICVs put on for us. Here they taught some of us how to dance the Azonto as well as play some traditional Ghanaian drums. The night mostly consisted of a recreation of an encounter with a Ghanaian tribal chief with a detailed explanation of the tribal system across Ghana which is still very strong and remains in effect across the country.
The majority of the week was taken up by training delivered by our UK and In-Country Team Leaders, Project Managers and the volunteers themselves. The training consisted of presentations on the 10 compulsory pieces of analysis we will be required to conduct on our enterprises (explained in the next blog post), theories behind the CMI Qualification in Consulting that we will be working towards during our placement and many games and energisers with both UK and Ghanaian origins – while the Ghanaians didn’t know rock, paper scissors, we discovered they have a much better alternative involving bunnies, archers and walls.
During this training, you could not help but feel an insatiable hunger to escape the hotel walls and explore Accra. An image which encapsulates this feeling is a description of my view every time I went for a toilet break during the training. Looking forward I could see out of a small window. The window-frame, like a frame of a picture within which was displayed everything I knew so far about Accra. Its image forever changing; the rush of vehicles exploding colour across the canvas, the picture comes to life with the sounds of market stall owners calling for business and everything melting together in the sweltering heat. Behind the frame, I stand, feeling impatient, but upon reflection I am grateful that we had this isolated time to assimilate to everything Ghana has to offer; the culture, the language, the weather and especially the food (which I will make a special blog about in the future).
With the first week coming to a close we were finally welcomed into our host home which will be our place of residence for the next 11 weeks. As we sit down for dinner, the excitement starts to brew for our voluntary work placement, a sombre feeling cooks as we have departed from our new friends and the idea of working and living with our Ghanaian counter-parts digests in our minds. In to our rooms we go and the first week of our placement fades with the memories of our dreams in the morning. Akwaaba – welcome to Accra!