7th of November, 2015. We, Cateau, Marianne and Henriëtte, just arrived at the airport of Accra after a long flight. So many impressions! The customs official smiles friendly. “Akwaaba! Welcome to Ghana!”, he says. Outside the airport, Daniel is waiting for us, the Ghanaian student who will host for the first night. He helps us carry our luggage and is very friendly. After some waiting, we walk with our luggage to the car. A police officer helps me with my suitcase. “Welcome to Ghana”, he also says, “my name is Kofi”. I ask him if he was born on Friday, because in the Netherlands we found out that Ghanaians are named according to their day of birth and Kofi was the name for those born on Fri- day. “Yes”, he replies happily, “how do you know?” I tell him I read about the Ghanaian culture, he smiles and wishes me a pleasant stay in Ghana.
After a drive we arrive at the house of Daniel where we will stay for that night. His whole family did their best to make our stay as pleasant as possible. We got a meal, water and fruits, the family is being so hospitable! The next day, Daniel takes us for a small walk in Accra. Streets filled with playing children, small stalls where food is sold and everywhere Ghanaian people asking “how are you?” or welcoming us to Ghana. After this walk, Dan- iel takes us to the bus that will bring us to Kumasi. There, he talks to a Ghanaian traveller that is on the same bus to tell him to take care of us. This Ghanaian man calls KITA when we are at Oduom, the roundabout where we have to get out and he makes sure that someone of KITA is picking us up. This way we are transferred from one Ghanaian to another, all to make sure that we are safe. Finally at KITA, we get a warm welcome. The Ghanaian students are so happy that we are finally there! They take us to the nearby village to do some groceries and they cook us a meal.
After two pretty long days of travelling, we are finally in our beds. We are surprised how extremely happy, friendly and hospitable the people are!
In general, people in Ghana are very friendly and hospitable. Inviting guests in your house, is a matter of course. However they will never ask you a favour in return directly, you are expected to leave a present, some money or another return. Be aware of the fact that it is not done to ask for money or presents in return of an invitation in some- one’s house, so leave your money or present discretely, but do leave something!
“Tomorrow morning, the morning devotion starts at 06.30” says Freda, one of our Ghanaian project members. “I hope you are all Christians” She asks this in such a way that she assumes we are Christians. We don’t know how to respond, a bit overwhelmed by this question we just tell her that we are all Christians. Later in bed we are still thinking about the way she asked the question. The next morn- ing we find out that the morning devotion is not obligated. The morning assem- bly, however, is. During the morning assembly, we all need to present ourselves. The Ghanaian students want to know three things, our names, the project we are working on, and our marital status. Hearing that no one of us is single brings a lot of disappointment amongst the Ghanaian students. Although we were quite clear and told everybody that we are not single, the following weeks we all received different marriage proposals. Luckily they all laugh when we answer them ‘Mem Pèo’, Twi for not accepting such a proposal.
In Ghana, religion is very important. You will see it everywhere on the street, in buses and in shops. Don’t be surprised when you see a priest exercise his profession in the bus or trotro. Also on the market, you may find priests with public address systems preaching very loudly. Every Sunday, people dress up beautifully to go to church. It is hard for Ghanaian people to understand it, if you tell them you are not religious. How- ever, if you find the time and energy for it, you can start an interesting discussion about religion with them. Also, Ghanaian people can be very intimidating when it comes to love and marriage. People can just ask you to marry them or such, but a friendly rejec- tion will be understood.
The first Friday, we are having our first meeting. Nick, our American supervisor, tells the whole group, including the Ghanaian students, that we have a meeting at nine. When the Ghanaian students left, Nick tells us the meeting will be at half past nine. “The Gha- naian students will always be too late, hopefully they will be on time now. That is why I tell them the meeting starts half an hour earlier”. Again, we are overwhelmed by the Ghanaian culture, but indeed, the students arrive too late and our meeting can start at 09.45. During the meeting, we even experience more surprising moments.
We had in mind to have a meeting about the planning and to start with the design of the cookstove. However, the Ghanaian students had something different in mind, as well as our Ghanaian supervisor. He tells us that it takes very long to dry the clay so that we should start building cookstoves immediately. However, we first want to think about the design and make a plan, before we start building. The Ghanaians are being confused, but listen to us anyway. After a couple of hours, we have a final design, without using clay, and also the Ghanaians are very happy with this design.
For Ghanaian people, time is not as important as it is to Dutch people. This may lead to a lot of struggles, like waiting for hours and hours. Accept this cultural difference, relax yourself a little bit and make sure that you have something to do while waiting. However, you should not be too relaxed if you want something to happen, you can also be a bit strict and ask over and over again for something.
Also, Ghanaians tend to act before they think. Therefore, if you are suggesting an idea, their first reaction might be uncomprehending and dismissive. However, if you take your time to fully explain your plan, in the end they will be enthusiastic.
Later in the meeting, we are discussing on how to get materials. Freda mentions that the Ghanaian students should collect the materials instead of the Dutch students, since it would cost much more if white people purchase something. “Why do white people always pay more for everything?” says Nick, clearly tired of this fact that he experiences every day. Michael laughs. “But you are white, so you can afford it”.
Later that afternoon, I am sitting on a small seat outside when a child approaches me. “You have colouring pencils, can you give them to me?” he asks. I tell him no, because they are mine and I need them. “Give me your phone then” is his response. I tell him that you cannot just ask people for their belongings. “Yes I can” he says and tries to take my sunglasses. I feel a bit annoyed and don’t know how to respond, I do not want to be rude but on the other hand I do not want to give him my stuff. He finishes the water he was drinking, looks at me and says “you have to buy water for me, give me one cedi”.
You will notice that Ghanaians often assume that all white people are rich. This shows off in the fact that you might indeed pay more for everything. For taxis, always ask a Ghanaian friend how much something would cost and tell the taxi driver that you pay no more than that, he might try to let you pay double or triple the price. Show him that you know the right price and pay no more.
This will also be shown in the fact that Ghanaian people, often children, ask you directly for money or your belongings. You can give a friendly but clear response and tell them that you need your belongings yourself. It also helps to say that you feel uncomfortable by their questions. However this might happen sometimes, most Ghanaians are very friendly and helpful. Don’t be too sceptical and distrusting, most Ghanaians do have good intentions and will not try to make money on you. The mates in the trotros are almost always very honest and will never ask you for too much.
It is also nice to tell Ghanaian people about the Dutch prices. You can tell them that you indeed might have more money, but that everything in the Netherlands is much more expensive than it is in Ghana. They will be shocked by the price of your rent and food for example.
The first week, the Ghanaian students take us to the market in Ejisu. Here we can buy fruits, vegetables and some other groceries. We are buying tomatoes. “How much?” the woman asks. “ten please” we say, because we want ten tomatoes. Strange enough, we get almost thirty tomatoes, but we have to pay ten cedi’s. The woman gives the tomatoes to us with her right hand and, at the same time, takes our money with her right hand. Quit clumsy, we would say. But later on, we learn that Ghanaians only use their right hand. At the next little shop, I am paying to the woman, but I see that I am holding the money in my left hand. I switch to my right hand quickly, the woman sees my confusion and laughs.
Later that week, we get to taste some Kenkey. It looks like an unbaked ball of dough, and it tastes the same. We are wondering whether people in Ghana also eat vegetables, since all dishes seem to be a kind of dough with some soup or stew. Later that evening, we are eating some “pepernoten” we brought from Holland. We let the Ghanaian stu- dents taste some. “It’s better than Kenkey, right?” we joke. “Yes”, Charlotte says, “but here in Africa we work very hard, so we need heavy food. On Kenkey you can work all day!”
In Ghana, you buy a quantity according to how much you want to pay. You do not buy ten tomatoes, you buy the amount of tomatoes worth ten cedi's. Also, Ghanaians often use their left hand for toileting. For that reason, it is seen as rude when you take or give something with your left hand. You also eat with your right hand only. Although Gha- naians can often laugh about cultural differences, it will be appreciated if you take this into account. Also, you might see some people with very long nails at their left hand, you can guess what they use them for.
Most Ghanaian dishes do exist of a ball of dough with some soup or stew and probably some meat or fish. Ghanaians think that vegetables are just not heavy enough, with the balls of dough you can eat less to have less hunger. Ghanaians are not aware of the health benefits of fruit and vegetables. Therefore, it might be hard to find them, but at the Ejisu market or at Tech junction you can buy vegetables. Also, you will notice that a lot of companies try to make people aware of malnutrition and try to fight malnutrition. You will find drinks (Milo) and Ice creams (Fanmilk) with added vitamins everywhere.