‘Obroni’ is just as common as “Welcome” when you walk down any street in Accra. As I make my way down the crowded streets, squeezing past vendors and the liter that has seemed to have overtaken any sense of a pathway, you can feel the touch of a small child as they reach up, gently brushing your arm.
It is almost like a special version of the game “tag” to them. As if, every time they touch their little palms against my sweaty skin, it is telling me I am in Africa, and for that matter, Ghana.
Ghana is a masterpiece that words seem to escape me when trying to capture her unique ‘development. The capital city, Accra, seems to be moving in a pace that is inhumane. Traffic is merely a dance done by the tro-tros, cars, and pedestrians. Twirling and spinning around each other. Each time they look like they are about to collide, they do a quick turn, barely skimming past one another. Bus drivers seem to have no fear behind the wheel. As if this has been the same routine done countless times before.
But for an outsider new to Ghana, you find yourself gripping on the seat in front of you, teeth clenched, wondering if you will make it to your next stop. The world of Ghana seems to change rapidly. You can walk past a beautiful, large yellow house tucked behind a gate. But take five steps to the right and you are witnessing a completely different story. The sight of Accra’s poverty immediately displayed in front of you. The houses constructed out of a metal ceiling and mud like walls, you feel like you are in a scene straight out of a movie. It is nothing like the world you left back at home, where houses are the same cookie-cutter design, neighbourhood after neighbourhood. You almost have to blink twice out of disbelief how wealth and poverty can be next store neighbours.
But, no matter where you go in Ghana, there is a sense of welcome around you. Like the warm weather that seems to follow you no matter where you go, you are always followed by the echoes of the word hello. One of the most welcoming greetings came from an old woman I met in Nima, a suburb of Accra, who gripped both of my arms and looked deep into my soul saying, “Welcome to Ghana”. Welcoming me into her home, no matter how little she had to share. It is these moments which make Ghana no longer feels like a world and a half away, but just home.
But not every greeting is done with care. At times they can be followed with aggression. Depending on where you find yourself, beggars and merchants will bounce on you immediately asking for money. Tugging at your arms or banging on your bus window, pressing their phones against the window with a written message asking you to buy one of their items. Sometimes giving out your name on the streets is dangerous. Even after exchanging greetings, you may be walking alone for a bit, before finding someone following you for a while, calling your name. Wanting you to purchase something from them. Not every hello and welcome is followed by the best intentions.
But for every moment of hostility, you find yourself in a moment of kindness. I met a Ghanaian named Patrick in Cape Coast who took me and my friend around one of the fishing communities. He showed us his home, and whenever someone would aggressively try and approach us he would tell them to leave us alone. Another thing is how grateful people are here. They are proud of the country they have come from and they are more than excited to share it with you.
I used a bit of Twi with an Uber driver here who instantly became all smiles, saying he would teach me more Twi. Everyone is always ready to share with you a piece of their home. Whether it is the delicious Ghanaian food that I can’t stop eating, or a child in one school yard offering to share with you their water that comes from a large bin with three cups the school shares to get water. Everyone always saying hello. And offering you to join them.
It is hard to say yet, what working in Ghana will all be about. The newsroom is small, nearly empty, and I am surrounded by words in Twi that I have never heard before. Like a lot of people I have met before, everyone is welcoming and curious. If I had to sum up a week in Ghana, those words would probably cover it. Welcoming. From me wondering how the social-economical world of Ghana is constructed and how five feet can be the division between wealth and poverty.
Ghana is a world, and a halfway. But despite every car ride that is a scene straight out of a thriller movie and the endless “No thank you,” you have to say, and moments you feel guilty avoiding the tenth child of the day banging on your window asking for money, her warm welcome always makes you feel right at home. A home that truly makes you never want to leave.
Article: Georgina FERNANDEZ, Intern,
Oregon University, USA