One Last Post About Ghana

Here is a random collection of funny/interesting things I learned and experienced during my time in Ghana that I don’t think I mentioned previously in my blog. Note that I tried to make these all as accurate as possible, but some of the cultural things especially are what I was told by various people, so who knows if my understanding is completely right. It wouldn’t be the first time some things were lost in translation.

Greetings

Everlasting walked me through the traditional greeting process (in Ewe) once, and it was amazingly long. I don’t remember every question exactly, but here’s the general gist.

Person 1: “Good morning/afternoon/evening”
Person 2: “Good morning/afternoon/evening. Are you fine?” (“Are you fine?” is how their “how are you?” equivalent directly translates)
Person 1: “Yes, and are you fine?”
Person 2: “Yes. Is your household fine?”
Person 1: “Yes, and is your household fine?”
Person 2: “Yes. Are your parents fine?”
Person 1: “Yes, and are your parents fine?”
Person 2: “Yes. Are your children fine?
Person 1: “Yes, and are your children fine?
Person 2: “Yes.”

Obviously replace any of the “yes”es with the appropriate answer if that’s not the case. I asked about the children question because what if you don’t have any children? He said that it’s just assumed that there are children in your household, whether they belong to you or a sibling or some other relative.

So this used to be what you were supposed to say anytime you saw anyone, even in passing. Everlasting said that it was cause for a lot of misunderstandings because if you didn’t have time for the whole thing and moved on without finishing the full greeting, the other person would think that you were mad at them. Now, in passing, you can get away with just saying “good morning/afternoon/evening” and asking the other person how they are. If you go to someone’s house to visit with them though, you would still go through the whole thing.

Handshake

This is something that I never managed to master. Can you snap? If so, good for you. If not, you have no hope of being able to properly shake someone’s hand. You shake hands normally, and on the release, you slide your hand back so you’re both pinching the other person’s middle finger between your middle finger and thumb. Then, you both make the same motion as a snap, so your middle finger hits your palm and makes a snapping noise. I can’t snap like a normal human, so I could never get my handshake to make a sound. Instead, I just went through the motions and hoped that the other person could do it right and make a sound to cover up my failure. Usually that worked, but on the odd occasion that neither of us could do it, we were left with an awkward silence.

Right hand

This is another thing I struggled with. Your left hand is considered unclean (hooray for lefties!), so you aren’t supposed to use it for much of anything. Anytime you’re interacting with another person, whether shaking hands, exchanging money or goods, or even just waving, you’re supposed to use your right hand. If you are unable to use your right hand for some reason, you say “sorry for left” so they know you’re not insulting them. You’re also only supposed to use your right hand for eating which is quite a challenge. Luckily, we usually ate in the house, with the other volunteers, and with silverware, so this wasn’t a challenge we often had to face. The waving thing though… that was hard. I had to make sure if I was carrying something to put it in my left hand so that my right would be the one free for waving. And next time you buy something, try giving the money to the shopkeeper and accept the item you just bought with the same hand. Not very easy!

The Ghanaian hiss

A common way of getting someone’s attention, whether it’s a waiter or a bartender or just someone walking by, is to hiss at them. It’s kind of a “TSSS” sound, and while you’ll probably get smacked for doing that anywhere else in the world (at least anywhere I’ve ever been), in Ghana it’s just a way of saying that you want to talk. I felt super uncomfortable doing it at first, but it really is normal there. Shopkeepers in the market (when they weren’t yelling “obroni” or “yevu” at us) sometimes did it to get us to come over and talk.

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A lot of tros have things written on the back windows, and this one quickly became our favorite when we saw it parked in Kumasi. Excuse my finger in the picture. Oops.

“Are you sure?”

This was one of our favorite Ghanaian questions. People asked this all the time, even about things that you are definitely sure about. For example:

Person 1: “What did you do this morning?”
Person 2: “I went to the farm.”
Person 1: “Are you sure?”
Person 2: “Yes?” and thinks: I was there wasn’t I? I don’t think it was a dream. Was it a dream?

Or

Person 1: “How are you?”
Person 2: “I’m good, thanks for asking!”
Person 1: “Are you sure?”
Person 2: “Yes?” and thinks: Am I sure?? Do I not seem okay? WHY ARE YOU ASKING THAT??

After we realized this, we all started asking each other “are you sure?” after every question, no matter how ridiculous. I still think it’s funny and have had to catch myself from saying it since I’ve been home.

“You are invited.”

When someone is eating and is in the company of someone who is not, it’s polite for the person who is eating to invite the other person to share their food by saying, “you are invited.” This is one thing that really caught us off guard because it’s a rare occasion at home when someone offers you some of their food. At home, it’s usually when you’re finished eating and have some fries left on your plate. In Ghana, it’s whenever the other person is there. To say no politely, you just say “thank you”, NOT “no, thank you”.

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Here’s one of the water bags. To drink, you just bite off the corner and do your best not to spill it on yourself. (Photo credit to Avy)

Water

The locals could handle drinking the well water in our village, but we, with our weak Western bodies, couldn’t. Instead, we used spring water anytime we needed water for drinking or tooth brushing. You can buy bottled water, but the cheapest option is to get water in sachets (you can buy a sachet of 500mL of water for about 5 cents US or a bottle for about 25). A sachet is basically a plastic bag of water, and it’s one of the things that I consistently thought was funny. Rare was the occasion when someone managed to drink out of one without getting water on themselves, and I mostly just poured mine into water bottles to avoid the trouble.

Litter/Trash

It’s amazing how well trained we become to live in our societies without even realizing it. Until I went to a place where recycling and trash cans aren’t as prevalent as they are here, I didn’t realize how reflexive my actions regarding trash have become. I can’t even make myself throw something on the ground without feeling horrible and having to go back to pick it up. In contrast, in Ghana there is a lot of trash everywhere. Everywhere. I only know of one dumpster in town and it was always overflowing with trash. I assume it got emptied at some point, but I don’t remember ever seeing it less than full.

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Here’s a picture of the beach in Ada Foah. Yes, some of that stuff is normal beach debris, but a lot of it is also trash. As you might imagine, I didn’t make a habit of taking pictures of trash so this isn’t even close to the worst trash pileup, but it’s the best I have.

At home, from the way my conscience reacts to throwing a plastic bottle in the trash, you would think that one bottle alone is going to destroy the world. Recycling, as far as I saw, is pretty nonexistent in Ghana. The only thing that we separated out from our trash was our water sachets. Everything else was thrown away, and then the trash was thrown into a pile in the woods. Which leads us to…

Fires

You know how when you see smoke, you instinctively panic a little and assume the thing that’s burning probably shouldn’t be? Yeah, I’ve lost that reflex. It maybe lasted two weeks in Ghana before I realized that almost every fire is intentional, whether it’s a field being burned to get ready for a new crop, a fire for preparing a meal, or pile of trash being burned for disposal. Yes, you read that right. Lots of toxic chemicals are being thrown into the ozone from Ghana.

A funny and also somewhat terrifying story – when we had only been in Ghana for a couple weeks, we were planning a bonfire and asked Joe if there was any firewood at the farm that we could use. He said, “no, but there are some old tires you could use”… crickets… “oh I guess it’s not very good to breathe that in.” Ha. Haha. Hahaha. I mean, it was so ridiculous that we couldn’t help but laugh, but at the same time it’s like… what the heck is happening here?

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A herd of goats behind our house.

Goats and chickens

When you arrive in a village in Ghana, one of the things that sticks out first is the fact that there are always goats and chickens all over the place. It seems like they’re all just roaming wild and that they don’t belong to anyone, but that’s not the case. They all have owners, and when their owner calls, they know how to find their way back home.

One day, Avy and Fernanda wanted to take a picture with a baby goat. We went to a house near ours where they usually have a big pen of goats, but none of them were home. We started walking away, disappointed, when the woman who lives there saw us, asked if we were looking for the goats, and proceeded to call them home. Her goat call was a combination of Ewe words and some clicks and other sounds, and within seconds, we could hear them all running home. It was insane!

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Photo credit to Avy. Thanks Avy for all of your pictures!!

Drive through markets

I know I’ve talked about these before, but it’s one of my favorite things and I finally have a picture, so I’m going to talk about it again. When you’re on a tro tro and are driving through a village, stopping in traffic, or doing anything else that would cause you to slow down, there are often people selling things off of their heads. Now, if you followed my journey at all, you know that carrying things on your head is not the easiest thing… for me, at least. For a lot of the people here, it’s as easy as carrying nothing. People are chatting and walking around and running like they don’t have, for example, a bowl of drinks on their heads. How? That’s something I can’t explain. Best I can do is carry a stack of books on my head.

Anyway, I digress. It’s totally normal to buy something through the window of the tro. Why is this not a thing everywhere? I don’t know, but all I’m saying is that it should be. If you want something in particular and there’s no one in view who has that thing, you can ask anyone and they’ll go get the appropriate person for you. Talk about customer service!

So there you have it! A few (okay, more than a few) fun facts for you to remember Ghana by. I’m off to Peru in just TWO weeks, so start preparing yourself for more culture shock!

Goodbye, Ghana

​Well here we are. No more ignoring it. No more convincing myself it’s a lie. I’m at the airport, and there’s nothing left to tell myself besides the truth. After months and months of being emotionally drained by people leaving, it’s my turn to be the leaver rather than the left. I’ll be honest, I think it’s easier to be in my position. For me, tomorrow is a new adventure in a new place. For the friends I left behind, tomorrow is another day in the same place that’s just missing something… assuming they’re going to miss me, that is. For the sake of my ego, we’ll go with yes.

This morning already feels a million miles away. I woke up at 8AM and started packing my bags. You know, you’d think I would have learned this by now, but everything always takes longer than you expect. Duh. I thought it would take maybe two hours for me to pack. How hard could it be, right? I’ve been organizing and sorting out my things for almost a week now. Two hours, max.

Four hours later, I was finally zipping up my backpack. Time flies. I finished just in time for lunch (fried rice and fried chicken, one of my favorites!), and we all ate together and watched our performances from last night (they were just as good the second time). You might have noticed that there were a few things I didn’t cross of my Ghana bucket list yet… here’s a reminder:

  • Walk across the Atimpoku bridge
  • Go canoeing on the Volta River
  • Take a picture with a goat
  • Catch a chicken
  • Carry water on my head with no hands
  • Finish the poop hole
  • Climb the mountain by the clinic
  • Stargaze in the soccer field
  • Watch the fireflies
  • Watch the sunset one last time
  • Go to the Akosombo Dam
  • Eat s’mores
  • Ride a motor bike home from Juapong 
  • Have another lip sync battle

Hooray! I did it!

Ahhh! I don’t think it likes me…

Okay he’s definitely trying to escape.

Shhh little buddy, I’m a friend!

Ooookay no he’s finished with me. Bye, little friend!

After cancelling the canoeing, I still had to take a picture with a goat, catch a chicken, and carry water on my head with no hands. I was surprised by how determined everyone was to help me finish my list. When I asked if anyone wanted to come help me to catch a chicken, we ended up with a whole crew (Avy, Lily, Nick, and Yara). None of us knew what we were doing, but luckily I had nicked some corn from the farm on Friday in anticipation of the chicken-catching. The original plan was to put a pile of corn on the ground and box a chicken in while it was eating, but do you know how hard it is to box in a chicken?? Just trust me when I say it’s nearly impossible.
We spent at least 20 minutes scaring the crap out of most of the chickens around our house. I had one near-catch, until I touched the chicken and freaked out because I wasn’t expecting to even get close. After that, none of that group of chickens wanted anything to do with me. Even the corn didn’t tempt them.

We decided that a change of scenery (and a change of chickens) was in order, so we walked around a bit and ended up next to the school, thinking that maybe we could use the walls to cut off an escape route. Ha yeah right… chickens are smart. They knew what we were up to. Finally though, I perfected my chicken catching technique. I dropped some corn near my feet and stayed bent over with my hands near the ground, and when one came close, I pounced! I got it!!! A small, terrified chicken, but a chicken nonetheless. It never stopped screaming while I had it, and as soon as we got sufficient photo (and video) evidence, I set it free. Does anyone know the memory span of a chicken? I’m a little worried about the permanent emotional damage I might have caused. I don’t think those chickens will ever trust a human again. On second thought, if that’s the case I probably did them a favor because the next humans who try to catch them will probably want more than just a picture.

The elusive goats

We were on a high after the chicken success and figured it was a good time to try to catch a goat. Unfortunately, the woman who usually catches goats for pictures for us was at church, so after about 10 minutes of chasing a couple of baby goats around, we felt bad and left them alone.

Pro balancer. Pretend that’s totally not sweat and is just water I spilled on myself.

The last thing on my list was carrying water on my head with no hands. I wasn’t feeling great about this one to begin with, and after countless attempts in a high-pressure, time-crunched situation, my best walk was about 6 steps. You know what? I’m okay with that. Balancing water is really difficult, and even though I can’t walk across town with a water bucket on my head, I can easily stand in one place with it, and I’m decent at moving with static loads. Give me a stack of books, and I’ll knock your socks off. That’s good enough for me! Plus, as Avy pointed out, usually people use one hand when they’re carrying water, so I’m basically a local.

Nick, Lily, Yara, me, Avy, Anna

I’m going to miss these people.

At this point, it was 3PM, and the plan was to leave at 2. Ha. Haha. Hahaha. So much for plans! It wasn’t a big deal though because I had a lot of buffer time scheduled in, so I didn’t actually HAVE to leave until probably 4:00 at latest. I took a quick, final bucket shower, stuffed my last few things into my bag, and assembled the crew on the porch for my goodbye picture. After that, we walked out to the street and caught me a tro to the mall. I got a prime seat in the front row for my last ride, and off we went, away from my 3-month home for the last time.
I met Evans at the mall for dinner before my 11PM flight, and as we said goodbye and he loaded me into a cab, I couldn’t let myself think about it as anything more than the same kind of goodbye we always say. A “bye for now, but obviously see you soon”. Thinking about it in realistic terms would have left me awkwardly crying in a cab, and I’m not into that.

So now here I am, at the airport, and honestly, I’m doing okay. I think part of that is because this was the perfect weekend. I did everything I needed to do. I spent it with all my friends. What more could I ask for? The other thing that’s probably keeping me sane is the fact that I still have some excitement ahead. I’m off to London for the next week! I’m going to see Sosane and James and my friend from high school, Maddy. I have another city to explore! For now, I have something to distract me from the reality that this phase of my adventure is over. We’ll see how I’m feeling a week from now…

Goodbye Sosane


Today included the first of a long string of goodbyes coming in the next week, and I can’t even begin to explain how much I am NOT looking forward to it. Sosane left today, and it’s really bumming me out. Time here simultaneously moves quickly and slowly (and no, that doesn’t average out to it moving at normal speed). It moves slowly because after spending three weeks with someone, it feels like you’ve known them for a lifetime, but it moves quickly because before you know it, your friend is packing his or her bags and getting on a tro to the airport.

A muddy goopy mess


This morning started off with another phone call for Amber, this time at a more acceptable hour. Her phone rang at 5AM with news of another delivery at the clinic, so she sprinted out the door and left Nico and me to go to the farm without her.

The path to the farm was still a total mess. It always has parts where there’s some mud or a puddle to walk through, but now practically the entire path is little puddles and goopy mud. I think it’s going to rain more frequently in the coming weeks, so who knows if the ground will ever dry out and get back to how it used to be.

The chickens, so close you could kick them


Nico and I had another exciting morning of shucking and fighting off the farm chickens. It’s crazy – they just keep getting more and more aggressive and cheeky! Usually, the chickens hover but keep their distance. Today, they did whatever they wanted! It was like we weren’t even there. We throw the shucked ears of corn into a big basket, and there were a couple of times when a chicken literally jumped into the basket to try to eat the good corn! We try to threaten them and scare them away, but they barely even flinch anymore. Little monsters.

One of our plants!!!


Schools were closed today because it’s Founders’ Day, a national holiday. I don’t know that most people here even know what the holiday is for, but it’s celebrating the founding fathers of Ghana. It takes place each year on September 21st, the birthday of Ghana’s first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. One of the kids in the junior high was using the day off to study his science notes, so I sat with him for the morning, read a book, and answered any questions he had as they came up. The more time I spend here, the more amazed I am that the students manage to learn as much as they do. The schools have textbooks, but the kids can’t take them home, so anything they want to study has to be copied from the textbooks into their personal notebooks. Then, since there’s no library or internet, anything that’s confusing just stays confusing because there isn’t any way to get more information about a topic besides having someone teach you. As if learning wasn’t already challenging enough!

Possibly the world’s most awkward picture… Pull it together, back row! (missing: Amber at the clinic and James in Accra)


Anyway, after lunch, Sosane showed up in the common area with her suitcases packed, and I was so confused. Her flight isn’t until tomorrow, but she has some things to do in Accra before she leaves. I guess I knew that she was still deciding between leaving today or tomorrow, but I had convinced myself that she would stay. Surprise, I was wrong.

I know she did it that way on purpose because she didn’t want people to make a big deal about her leaving. I understand, but I’m still kind feeling like “what just happened?” At least I can console myself with the knowledge that I’m going to see her in November. I’m staying in London for a week on my way back home, and she promised that she’ll come hang out!

Monday at the Farm

It’s crazy how clear the absence of one person in a big group can be. I guess I didn’t realize before how much our personalities all balanced one another, but something about the group dynamic has felt kind of off since Fernanda left. Besides that, I’m personally in a bit of a mental funk right now and I know it, but I’m not sure what it’s going to take to get me out of it. Hopefully we just need a couple days for things to balance back out, and my mood will follow.

The bed where we planted the eggplant seeds. We loosened the dirt, made little trenches with our fingers, sprinkled seeds inside, and covered them with a thin layer of dirt. After that, they get covered with palm branches to hopefully discourage the chickens from eating all of the seeds.

Otherwise, the day was good! We planted eggplant seeds at the farm and checked on the tomato plants that we planted in the bed a couple weeks ago. From afar, it looked like the chickens ate all of the seeds and that everything left in the bed was a weed, but after checking things out more closely, we found some tomato plants!! The stupid chickens definitely ate most of them, but HA! Take that, chickens! You may have won the battle, but we’re going to win the war!

Amber pulling the weeds around the tomato plants.

Sorry… phew… deep breath. The chickens really get me all riled up. They’re vicious! One time, I accidentally injured a frog when we were hoeing, and when I looked back at it 5 seconds later, it was gone. I thought maybe it had hopped away until that same day we saw a gang of them work together to kill a big frog. Another one snatched a cricket out of the air, mid-jump. We’re always throwing sticks at them and threatening them with machetes and hoes, and they move just enough to not get hit and then chicken laugh at us. Yeah, I didn’t know that chickens could laugh either, but just trust me on this. You can see it on their smug little faces.

Poop hole progress shot.

The rest of the day was chill because school doesn’t start until tomorrow. We spent some time digging the poop hole at the farm (a hole for the pig poop to be converted into fertilizer) and then played outside for the rest of the day. I also went back to the clinic to weigh myself again, and I haven’t lost any more weight! Well, that’s not completely true. It said I lost 2 more pounds, but I’m not worried about it like I was last time. That’s just 2 pounds in 2 weeks, unlike the 10 pounds in 2 weeks from before.

One of the plants from Nico’s seeds. It’s so big!

Tomorrow, real school starts, and I’m excited to see what it’s like! Apparently the first day is mostly cleaning and getting the school ready, but it will be interesting to see how it all works since my only school experience here has been summer school. Also, it looks like I’m going to be helping James with the PE classes, at least until another sports volunteer comes, because he said it’s hard to manage all of the kids, and generally the girls just don’t participate because the boys are ball hogs. Ha. Some things are the same no matter where you are. I said that I’m more than happy to help out and work with the girls. We’re going to have WAY more fun. Anyway, that won’t start until next week probably, so I have some time to mentally prepare. That’s good.

Another Sunday

​Church today was awesome!! Amber and I went with Agnes, our cook. I don’t know if the one that we went to last week is atypical, but at this church, they had someone translating. We asked after the service if they usually say everything in Ewe and English, and they said, “if we have visitors”… so they just did it for us. It was so nice! Actually understanding some amount of what is happening makes a huge difference. Nico went to another church, and he said that when he got there, they asked for a volunteer from the congregation to sit with him and translate. I guess the one we went to last week really wasn’t the best place to start.

This service was more similar to what I’m used to at home. The whole thing was about an hour and a half. We started off by praying individually about a few different things. I prayed silently but everyone else was shouting theirs out which was pretty cool. I obviously didn’t understand any of it, but you could tell that they were praising God wholeheartedly. We moved into some singing which was all in Ewe, and Amber and I joined in with the clapping. Next, they asked any new people to stand up so that they could be welcomed… it was nice and awkward because it was just Amber and me… and there was some time to walk around and shake hands and greet one another. Then there was more singing, the sermon, singing and offering, and the end!

The church location was cool too because it was just a bunch of chairs outside under a tree, and there was a box of instruments that people could take to participate in the music. The whole atmosphere was really chill, and I felt comfortable there, unlike the last church where I felt out of place and lost the entire time.

Our backyard chickens hiding from the rain

The sermon was also exactly what I needed to hear. The pastor talked about how when things are going poorly in your life, it’s easy to remember and call on God and the people who support you through the hard times. Then, once things are going well, you forget about God and take those people for granted again. It’s completely true, and it was a good reminder for me right now.

After church, the rest of the day was mostly uneventful. We went to half of the soccer game until it started raining, and then we sat at home, ate cookies, and drank hot chocolate. Those are the best rainy day activities, in my opinion. If only I also had a couch, fuzzy blanket, and big screen tv…