You Learn Something New Every Day!

Here are thirty new interesting things I have learned about life in Ghana… one for every day I have left in this country!  I hope that you find these thoughts interesting, and you might even learn something new. 🙂

  1. It’s super easy to get directions from anybody on the street here. People are more than willing to help! Taxi drivers, on the other hand, have no idea where anything is. Many are illiterate and also can’t read maps. They don’t even know major roads or important landmarks, so you better already know where you’re going or have GPS on your phone!
  2. Men urinate everywhere! I see them daily, but never women. Perhaps women drink less, are more likely to be at home, or are more willing to pay for use of public toilets. I’m really not sure.
  3. 90% of people in the North are Muslim (and pray 5 times a day), while 90% of the people in the South are Christian (where Sunday is a big day but some people are at church every evening!).
  4. Ghanaians love spicy food and carbs!  They often put multiple carbs together, like rice with noodles.  They assume everyone wants spicy sauce, so I often have to shout “NO!” before they pour it onto my plain rice and make in inedible (for me).  I don’t find the food has much variety.  There are pretty much 2 varieties of meals – a ball of carbs (fufu, banku, rice ball, TZ or Kenke) in a soup (groundnut, ochre, etc.) OR meat (chicken, goat, or tilapia) with rice (plain, fried, or jollof).
  5. Ghana is surrounded by French speaking countries.  Although Ghana has English as it’s official language, only people who have been to school speak English well (or at all). Younger people are more likely to speak English than older people.           20141104_10212320140929_173932
  6. There are many herbal shops found on the street. Apparently they can cure everything… typhoid, cramps, issues with pregnancy, hernias, cholera, and even make your penis grow!
  7. Ghanaians love things loud! Talking, radio, prayers and music. I’m surprised they’re not all deaf by 30… I should have invested in ear plugs!
  8. Polygamy is very common, and people of all religions and regional groups might have multiple wives. Most people think this is a bit funny, but fine as long as he can afford to take care of the family.
  9. When they say “I’m coming”, they mean “I’m going, but I’ll come back, don’t worry”. This is often paired with a forward and back motion of their second finger.
  10. Almost everyone drinks water from sealed bags (called sachets), which are sold ice-cold by ladies on the street (often from a big bowl on their head). 500 ml costs 20 peswas (7 cents) but 30 sachets (15L) costs only 2.5 cedi (about 80 cents). You simply rip the corner with your teeth and suck it all up at once. I can’t drink 500 ml at a time so I carry a water bottle that I dump it into.20140903_10230720141008_152349
  11. Almost every Ghanaian woman (maybe 90%) wears either a weave or a wig. They can spend hours in the salon (I heard about one woman who went from 1 am to about 8 am to have her hair done). For white guys who don’t know (*cough* Mike *cough*), a weave is basically permanent hair extensions.  They can be very expensive and time consuming to put in. They can be made of synthetic or natural hair (more expensive). Usually they’re the natural black colour but can also be red or blue or any other colour for contrast.  They are often braided and pinned in a way that they don’t move.  The men all have the same hair cut (short buzz cut), unless they’re a “Rhasta” with dreadlocks.
  12. When shaking someone’s hand, it’s customary to flick your middle finger against theirs as you release hands (which makes a snapping sound).
  13. I have a lot of problem with the gates and locks here.  Most doors are older, and have old school locks that need to be jiggled around and turned twice.  (My boss and I even stayed in a hotel where his lock broke while he was inside and the management had to come get him out!)  The doors need a key from either side to lock or unlock it, so if you lose your keys from inside you can’t get out (which is why I always leave them in the door).  Also, almost every house is located in a compound behind a big metal gate (for security). So unless you have a watchman, you need to somehow get the lock on the outside of the gate at night (if somebody is still out while others are in).  Unless there is a person-sized door and a car-sized door, the gate must either be unlocked, or it’s impossible to either get in (if the lock is inside) or out (if the lock is outside).  It makes it difficult for expats who live with families… especially when they want to stay out late without waking up the family when they return.
  14. 50% of the population of Ghana is below 15 years of age. There are lots of kids running around everywhere, and parents aren’t as paranoid about supervision as in Canada.  Kids that are only 5 or 6 often walk home from school alone (or with friends.
  15. Children all wear uniforms to school, and each school has a different style and colour (some schools even have own custom fabric with their logo or emblem on it). This can sometimes be a barrier for kids to go to school (if they can’t afford a uniform, or have a uniform that no longer fits or has a broken zipper)..20141029_14275820141029_133723
  16. Many Ghanaians are farmers.  Some common crops are – Pineapple, Mango, Maize,  Yams, Ground Nuts (like peanuts), Plantains (like Bananas but used for cooking – not as sweet, and harder in texture), Cassava, Rice, Cocoa, Pawpaw (Papaya), and Peppers (spicy).  They also grow animals like – Chicken, Goat, Tilapia (fish), and Grasscutter (looks like a groundhog – see picture above).  You can also buy snails and bats (but don’t eat them now, since all bush-meat is supposed to be illegal in the country – though it’s not enforced)!
  17. In Ghana, motorcycles often use the crosswalks with people.  Even if there’s a fence along the median, they sneak through the space that’s meant to keep out cars (and only let through people!).  It’s super dangerous…
  18. Most Ghanaians wash their clothes by hand, and they’re really good at it! They always look really well dressed and take pride in what they wear. In Accra, both western style and traditional style clothes can be found. Some women even have a new traditional fabric dress made each week for church!
  19. Ghanaians love to yell but very rarely actually move to physical confrontations. I’ve only seen a few actual fights but tons of angry yelling over minor issues. I wonder why it doesn’t escalate…
  20. Bribery is still very common among police, even though recent policies have increased their salaries to a good wage. Police barricades can be found on many big roads periodically. Often it’s cheaper to pay a bribe for your expired license each time rather than paying for a new one.ghana-regional-map
  21. Ghana has 10 regions!  I’ve visited 5 so far (Greater Accra, Volta, Ashanti, Northern, Eastern) and am planning to visit 2 more before I leave (Central and Western).
  22. There is a very large sense of hierarchy in Ghanaian culture.  The school system does not teach students about creativity and thinking for themselves.  For this reason, most employees don’t think they can make their own decisions, and refer to their bosses constantly.  The hierarchy here isn’t based as much on race, religion or other factors, but is based a lot more on education.  Those with graduate degrees from abroad are seen as the highest members of society, and those with only primary education (who are largely illiterate) are seen as the lowest.
  23. Many roads (at least in Accra) are more pothole than road.  Drivers swerve and weave in and out of the “lanes” to avoid these holes, which often makes a ride somewhere take a long time (and it’s very bumpy!).
  24. Customer service is not really a part of the culture here.  In Canada I find they always want to give the customer what they want, but here they are not afraid to say no.  You say “Can you find out this information for me?” and they look at you like you’re crazy and annoying and simply say “no.”  Often their response will be “It’s finished”, which implies that they used to carry the item but they recently ran out.  However, this is doubtful in most cases, and it’s likely they never had it or don’t know what you’re asking for.
  25. Preaching on the street is a normal part of everyday life here.  You see a big group of people standing around and think it must be an entertainer, but it’s somebody talking about religion.  This always draws a big crowd (especially because they have huge speakers on full blast!).             DSCN8840 20141003_140309
  26. Bugs are everywhere!  I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have ants, termites, got bit by tons of mosquitoes, or have seen a cockroach, etc.  There’s a saying “When in Africa, you’re never alone.” – which is very true!
  27. Bartering with taxis is a must, and you must decide on a price before you get in!  If you take the first price then you’re a silly foreigner.  You should usually start with about half of what they offer, and you’ll usually end up paying 2/3 to 3/4 of the price (depending on how fair their initial offer was and how much you want to argue).  You can recognize a taxi by it’s distinctive yellow panels on the front and back of each side of the car (and often also a glowing taxi sign).
  28. Women in Ghana carry their babies in a piece of fabric on their back.  The babies seem to love it, and are really well behaved when they are back there.  They take their babies this way on the trotro (often with another kid on their lap) and even carry heavy loads on their heads with the baby in the back.  The women lean over so their back is parallel to the ground, place the baby on their back, and then wrap the fabric around.  It doesn’t seem like they tie very tight knots, they just tuck it in, but it never falls off!
  29. Many of the phone and internet networks can be unreliable, so most people have multiple SIM cards for different companies.  Almost everyone gives out 2 different numbers.  The lucky people have a dual-SIM phone (my new one I bought here has it), but some people just carry extra SIM cards and change them out as needed.  There are 6 main networks (MTN, Vodaphone, Glo, Airtel, Tigo, and Expresso).  Everyone I know uses pay-as-you-go and buys scratch cards from vendors that you can find anywhere on the street to refill their account. A lot of people still have old Nokia phones, but the number of smartphones is quickly rising!
  30. Ghanaians love to laugh!

About Amanda

Hi, I’m Amanda! Originally from Ottawa, Canada, I am currently living with my partner (Steve) in Sucre, Bolivia for the next year. I work in the unique space between industrial design and international development – but what does that even mean? I’m passionate about working WITH marginalized communities in a way that utilizes design to improve the lives of different types of people around the world. I have worked, studied, traveled, and researched on every continent (except Antarctica), and most recently I lived in Ghana, Bangladesh and Nepal. I love exploring new cultures and learning more about myself along the way.
This entry was posted in Ghana (2014) - Professional Fellow Placement (EWB) and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to You Learn Something New Every Day!

  1. Brian says:

    In the advert for treating sicknesses, what’s the werewolf looking creature in the bottom left corner?


    • mandyrox2 says:

      I asked a few Ghanaians and they immediately recognised the picture as a herbalists in but we’re uncertain about the creature. It’s probably an animal (maybe a baboon?) which they think might be trying to sleep with the naked lady…


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