The title of this post is what people here refer to as my “Ghanian name.” I was greeted at the airport almost two weeks ago by a very kind man named Nyame. After 24+ hours of travel he met me outside baggage claim and proceeded to sit me down, tell me about how I’m going to fall in love with Ghana, crack jokes that I couldn’t follow, and then pull out a book of Ghanian names so we could discover mine. This was all before we left the airport. He wanted to sit outside and chat for an hour before thinking to call a cab and bring me to my hostel. Having been here for almost two weeks, I can now see how this was a traditional introduction and excellent example of the pace of life here in Ghana. Before I get into what I’ve learned this last week, you should know that you pronounce Nanayee as nah-nay-uh and it means that in 1994 I was born on a Thursday. I’ve met a few other Nanayee’s, and sharing my Ghanian name has become a quick way to bond with women in villages when we have a hard time communicating (language barrier).
Last weekend, 4 other volunteers (from Italy, Ireland, and Norway) and I traveled together to a popular area in Ghana called Cape Coast. Somehow (really, how?!) we managed to accidentally book a room at a hostel that was less than 100 yards from the ocean for a total of $15/per person for the entire weekend. I’m still not sure how we managed to do that, but I’m glad we did! On Saturday we all visited Cape Coast castle, a castle built by the Portuguese during colonization in the 1400’s and one that played a very significant role in the slave trade of western Africa. It was heart-breaking and important to see. That afternoon, the two women from Italy and I took a trip one hour north to visit Kakum National Rainforest, where we walked through the jungle on Tibetan bridges and tried not to think about African safety standards.
This last week was spent understanding more of Ghanian culture and learning about how business and people operate. Here are some things I learned about their culture:
I should probably already be married and have children. I’m 21, why don’t I have children?? There are no trash cans. People gather and then burn their trash (usually daily), which means there are random fires along the streets and the air kind of smells like burnt hot dogs and sewage. Amazingly enough, you get used to it! Wild chickens and goats and cats and dogs roam free here. Everywhere. Is that a litter of kittens I see playing inside that restaurant? Why yes, of course it is. There is a word for foreigner that they use to refer to anyone that looks different than them (pronounced Oh-bro-knee) and they use it constantly. Because in Ghana, it’s not rude! It’s how they greet you. There is not one hour that passes while I’m around town where random Ghanians don’t shout, “Hi Obroni! How are you?” If someone says that to you, it means they noticed you and are sincerely wanting you to feel welcome. I will say- at first it was cute because only children said it to me. And then adults started yelling it at me when they wanted my attention, and it became annoying. But after becoming aware of their intentions when using that word, I now know it is just Ghanians being friendly and curious. Hmm, what else? This week I learned that it is considered good and beautiful for women to be fat. I was also advised that if anyone were to ever comment on my weight and say that something about me is “big”, to take it as a compliment. Being fat here means that you have enough to eat, and therefore, your socioeconomic status is greater than others. I have also become acutely aware that my host mother, Naomi, consistently overfeeds her volunteers (despite protest on my behalf) for that sole purpose. She is trying to fatten us up! We’ll see.
I have a million more things I could share about the culture, but I want to save that for next week and talk about my experience with microfinance this week.
After a cultural seminar organized by Projects Abroad taught me that nothing here starts on time, even important corporate meetings, the slowness in my internship began to make sense. Each day this week, Monday through Thursday, I visited a different rural village and met with women who were either 1) hoping to begin a new loan beneficiary group, or 2) who already had taken loans and met weekly to pay their installments. We made it a point to meet each day at the villages around 9:15 AM – an entire hour later than volunteers on other projects begin- and asked the women of the village to meet us at 9:30 for our meetings. The earliest any of the women ever showed up was 10 AM. They are not concerned about being on time, and the phrase, “I’m coming,” does not necessarily mean, “I’m on my way.” In fact, it probably means something more along the lines of, “I am thinking about leaving soon after I do this or that. I might be there soon.”
Despite the relaxed attitude and nature of business in Ghana, the women who show up at the meetings have proven to be loyal and honest, always doing their best to pay. This week I had the joy of watching a new group of women interview for loans and saw them step up into leadership roles; some even wanting to set guidelines with penalties, should a group member not comply. This seems like common sense in America (or really any developed country), but in Ghana it was highly unusual. Unusual and inspiring. After our meeting yesterday at the village called Akokoa, I got to see some of the women in action. Many of them set up a market during the day to sell lunch to the school children during their break. It was amazing to see hundreds of kids fly out of their classrooms and race each other to get a bowl and buy some rice or beans or Banku from a few of our loan beneficiaries. It was exciting to see women benefitting from these loans and being able to do steady business at the school, and (of course, for me) it was a dream come true to play with some sweet African children simultaneously.
That’s all I have this week- stay tuned for next week’s novel! (No one has ever described me as “concise” 🙂 )