Religion Everywhere

Religion is not something I think about a lot in Canada. For the most part, there is a separation of church and state, and most Canadians are too polite (and afraid of confrontation) to really bring it up in polite company. I have a few friends who are quite religious, and sometimes we discuss how that effects their lives in terms of relationships and such… But I’ve never been a fan of people who try to preach to me, or convert me to their religion. In Ghana, religion is everywhere… here are some examples!

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This symbol is very common in Ghana. It can be found on fabric, jewelry, and also almost every plastic chair. It’s means “except God”. I used to think it meant “accept God” – like let him into your life, but it actually means something more along the lines of nothing would be possible without God.

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You can also find religious references on trotro bumpers, advertisements, and especially in shop names (I have sprinkled some examples I’ve seen throughout the post). Since I live in the south they mostly reference “Lord”, “God” or “Jesus”, but in the north they often mention Allah.

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Since I got here people have asked which church I go to. Fortunately I came up with a good excuse early on, which is fairly accurate. I simply say that I’m always travelling on weekends so I’m unable to go. This makes sense to them since they think Westerners are too focused on being efficient, walking fast, and are always busy!

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The question “Are you religious?” is something I’m never asked. Instead the question is “Are you Christian or Muslim?” You can find a prayer at the beginning of any important meeting… people will even request it If it’s not on the schedule (as they did at the MBC training). It’s very common to say Insha Allah or “God willing” in everyday conversation.

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Check out rule number 4. “Two men are not allowed to book one room except a man and the son who is below eighteen (18) years.”  

Ghanaians are against homosexual behaviour. A few girls I know were even charged extra for sharing a room in a hotel.  Yazan (a male coworker) and I always share a room (to save money), but I’m guessing they assume we’re a couple.  Ghanaians mostly live at home until they’re married, and it’s not acceptable for a couple to have relations or live together before they’re married in most cases.  Mike (my old roomate) and I also were allowed to get a “couple pass” at the gym (because it was much more affordable, and we registered at the same time), but they still put his last name on my first name for the receipt (even though we told them we were just coworkers)…

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Ghana is made up of different regions, which were once different tribes and kingdoms, with their own languages, customs and religions.  During colonialism, many countries (and their missionaries) forced these new religions on the people.  Religion was also sometimes the only way to go to school or become literate.  Today 90% of the south in Christian, while 90% of the North of the country is Muslim.  In the North you can often hear the call to prayer throughout the day (starting at around 4 am – ugh!), and in the South, Sunday is a very important day.  However, many people still retain some of their old beliefs, and have mixed those with their new religion.

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Religion is obviously an aspect of most weddings, but I think it takes on a different level here. I only went to one wedding, but most of the actual singing and sermons took place before the bridal party even arrived. There’s also a whole stage for all the ministers. They’re mentioned individually throughout the ceremony (most even had a shout out to their wife in the audience). The more people you have on stage the better… It shows you’re a big deal. There were also at least 3 rounds of donations to the church that everyone was forced to stand up and dance towards the donation boxes at the front… The preacher also had his own little speech near the end where he discussed things never mentioned at North American weddings… like cheating, marital responsibilities and divorce.

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Religion is not just something people do on weekends. At the church near my house there’s praying and singing every night. I know a few expats that are not religious but go twice a week In their host community, and the minister still gives them a hard time for “never being at church”. On top of the regular meetings there are also youth groups, week long events for different holidays and weekend revivals. Miraculous healing and speaking in tongues can also be found… On New Years Eve, everyone goes to church. Apparently even if you’re at a bar or big party, you leave just before midnight to go to church, and go back to the party afterwards.

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Preachers can be found almost anywhere, not just in churches.  They often set up big speakers (running on a super loud generator), in the middle of the “side walk”.  It reminds me of buskers in Canada, except a big crowd always comes around.  I can’t understand what they’re saying since they’re usually in another language, but the audience seems to get really engaged.

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There’s also always preachers on the trotros unexpectedly.  In Ghana there are mixed reactions but mostly it’s positive.  People recite verses and say Amen and bow their heads to pray.  They even give him money at the end of the “service” – aka. when he decides to get off the trotro.  However, they all speak Twi (the most common local language in Ghana – though the local language in Accra is supposed to be Ga) so I don’t exactly know what they’re saying.  One preacher even had a handheld video player where he showed us movie of horrible disasters and weird surgeries.  The people on the tro continue chatting with the mate and on the phone through the preaching, and then if the preacher isn’t good they will make fun of him (at least after he leaves).  This morning one guy got on and started talking but he ended up getting off after only a few stops, and nobody paid any money.  I also heard them say something about “Evangelists” and then everyone laughed, so maybe he just wasn’t very convincing!  In the United Sates, people are a little less accepting of this random public preaching.

Overall I find the religion to be overwhelming. I’m not religious, which is very common in Canada. Basically I just avoid talking about it here, and try to be respectful when others are praying and such (as I would in Canada).  When I first got here I was talking to someone who mentioned how countries that are poor need religion.  Children die, their are natural disasters, crops fail… and they can’t really do much about it. Therefore they turn to God.  In Canada, religion is a choice, but it seems that in the developing world, the ability to choose to not have a religion is a luxury they cannot afford…

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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), Opinions and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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