My first full day in Ghana I am awakened by the sound of Sunday school, occurring literally right outside my window. It appears to consist of belting out hymns in a repetitive fashion, which I don’t mind since they sing well. Hesitant to interrupt, I decide to unpack a bit, but my host mom’s housekeeper Hajara comes and gathers me for breakfast. On our way to the kitchen, we walk past the school goers and I get to admire all the kids and women in their Sunday best. Breakfast is simple, a small banana with toast and various spreads, plus tea. I am only hungry enough for one of the four pieces of toast, and feel bad for wasting.
Hajara first struck me as slightly distant, but thanks to my inability to shut up when I am nervous, we have a lovely chat. We talk about how her mom taught her to cook, past volunteers who have stayed with her, and the two dogs on the property. Although identical, one is so shy it runs away any time you get near it, and the other is chained up because if loose it would probably eat you. It’s name is Challenge, which I found rather appropriate.
After Sunday school wraps up, I realize I have absolutely nothing to do all day. I decide to somehow contact Ed, my mother’s cousin’s husband who is here to train the police and military in paragliding. We’ve never met, but by coincidence were to be in Accra at the same time. All I know is that he comes to Ghana often, is a private detective, and jumps off of cliffs with parachutes at the age of 70 ish. Hajara graciously lets me use her cellphone to contact him, and he agrees to come collect me from the house.
In the meantime, I meet the other volunteer living with me. He is a Brit named James, and reminds me a lot of my brother (hi Charles!) so I like him immediately. A Projects Abroad employee named Fynn invites us to accompany him to the nearby office to take advantage of the wifi, which we gladly agree to. Finn is extremely nice, and stresses to me that I can come to him with any problem at all to get the most out of this experience. He clearly goes out of his way to make every volunteer comfortable. While he works, James and I watch American dad and family guy and discuss differences about life in the U.K. and US. James is really disappointed with how Americans don’t appreciate proper football.
When we make our way back home, I find ed waiting for me on my hosts’ porch. At least I’m assuming it was him, since I doubt there are many super fit older white guys with ear piercings and police polos around here. We pile into a taxi, and I ask about how his paragliding career began. Apparently when he was biking in France he saw people parachuting and assumed it was from a plane, which he did all the time (of course), but then realized they were jumping off mountains so decided to try. So casual! He’s one of the experts in the field today, so him training the Ghanaian military is kind of a big deal, although he insists the locals make an event out of everything. Either way, it is clear by the way people call out to him on the street that he is pretty well known. Everyone calls out “papa bone!” which means “bad man” as a term of endearment.
He takes me to the arts center, which is a collection of stalls where people sell various goods. He keeps joking about protecting me from the wolves, which I don’t understand until I get out of the car and several people swarm me going “MY FRIEND!” trying to sell me things. As rude as I feel, ed is adamant we ignore them and keep walking. This portion of the day was really an education in street smarts, as ed taught me how to avoid the tourist trap of being pressured to buy “local goods” that were actually made in China. As a white woman, I am a very naive looking target, which is uncomfortable, but understandable. Ed points out shops to me that have genuine items at fair prices that won’t rip you off, and teaches me the art of bargaining. Basically, ask for 1/10 of the price they give you, start to walk away when they refuse, and you’ll quickly be called back. Alternatively, say “you’re giving me the obruni (white) price, I want the obebeni (black) price” and they’ll laugh and drop it down. We then run into a friend of his named Colin Powell (yes, that is actually his name). Colin has the gift of knowing every single capital of every single place on the world. I tell him I’m from Illinois and he goes “ah yes, land of Lincoln, Capitol is springfield”. I didn’t even stump him on Sri Lanka!
Colin walks us around and takes us through a village that resides on the coastline. There are goats, chickens, and a really cute puppy that I resisted chasing after, as well as a really cute toddler that did not resist chasing after me. He points out a collection of makeshift huts right on the shore, and tells us that one family has resided there for 200 years. We’re talking a space of about five huts, made out of plastic and whatever else was available. I don’t know how they’ve done it, or why/if they’ve chosen to do so, but it’s extremely impressive. From their location, we can see a lighthouse farther down the coastline. Beneath it is a jail that Colin explains used to be a “castle”. These “castles” were used to house slaves before they were shipped overseas by Europeans, and it’s horrifying to see. I hesitate to draw comparisons between two atrocities, but it reminds me of concentration camps, and I question why we do not learn about the former.
After that sobering history lesson we pop in a local bar and grab some waters. Ed explains that beer all day is a popular activity here, and I assured him that it was a favorite pastime of my alma mater so I felt right at home (on wisconsin). The last lesson I’m given by Colin is the art of the Ghanaian handshake-normal, fist, normal, then pull on each other’s middle finger to make a snap. I got to try it on a few locals and they definitely looked surprised when I pulled it off. We said goodbye to Colin then made our way to the next stop-labadi beach.
The sign actually says “pleasure beach”, which is mildly concerning to someone with a dirty sense of humor like me, but it was in fact very pleasurable. You either walk or drive in, pay a few credis for a ticket, show the ticket to another man who gives you a stamp, then get frisked with a security wand, which ed tells me is a new development.
Funnily enough, labadi beach somewhat reminds me of the beach in sestri levante, Italy where I spent my summers growing up. There are umbrella-covered seats everywhere, fresh coconuts, and people walking up and down the beach selling goods. Unique to labadi beach, there are also men with horses you can pay to take a picture riding, musicians, and even an acrobatic show that included a man eating glass bottles. I can’t imagine the latter activity would end well, if you catch my drift.
While exploring, we run into a friend of eds who kindly invites us to join her and her friends at a table on the beach. Her name is Flera, and we bond over people always messing up our names. Her friends are Ashley and Isha(?), and they are incredible. They are so kind, hilarious, and laid back. Ashley and I were talking about meeting new people and she said “making friends is the best part of life. Sometimes people in certain cities aren’t friendly, but I still say hello because maybe one day they’ll look in the mirror and feel the love. Not having friends makes you old”. That was a terrible paraphrase, but trust me it was a hallmark-worthy statement, she was preaching the truth. My surreal afternoon consists of drinking beer, smoking hookah (or shisha as they call it) and drinking water from a freshly opened coconut. The girls order delicious looking beef kabobs, and we talk for hours, only interrupted by the occasional hawker we wave off. We discuss star beer vs club and which gives you a worse hangover, a friend of theirs who danced on a bar and fell off, and what their favorite local foods were. Their answer was simply “meat”. Yet another reason why I liked them so much. As it neared evening time, I had to be back for dinner, so we squeezed into a taxi and my new friends dropped me off at home after exchanging contact information.
I eat dinner (chicken and jollof rice with watermelon for dessert), as well as my lunch (ramen noodles with vegetables and egg) that I never got to, with James. He tells me about “things that will happen to you” which I told him sounded very ominous. What he meant was taxi drivers will stop and expect you to get in, people will call you obruni, men will whip their “dingles” out and pee in the street, and also will ask for my hand in marriage (hopefully not at the same time). I didn’t get any proposals all day, so I was a little offended. Soon after I laid in bed and found myself tired. I went to sleep, only to wake up at midnight thanks to jetlag which is why I’m writing now.
Reflecting on my first full day here, I feel so lucky to have met the people I did. Ed was an incredible tour guide, and just an awesome person in general. I asked him what he was in relation to me, and he said “let’s just go with friend”. It seems easy to make friends here because the people are so genuine. They aren’t talking to you because they have to, they actually want to. I’ll admit, there are parts of Ghana im still warming up to. I’m slightly uneasy knowing I am a target for being scammed, robbed, or lightly groped on the bus. But then I realize that’s pretty much the case wherever I am thanks to my angelic baby face. And I know I am smart and have good intuition, so with that and all the great people I have looking out for me, I think I’m gonna be ok.