I’ve been in Ghana now for one month and I realized I’ve been slacking in keeping up my journal, so I’m posting several random experiences I’ve had so far.
On most days I go out with a loan officer to take pictures of clients who are requesting loans for their businesses or have already taken a loan and we go to follow-up on their progress. The first problem you encounter when trying to find someone is there are no street names or addresses whatsoever. We had to find 11 borrowers who were all located within one small segment of Cape Coast, but to find each person you have to go up to random people and ask if they know of the person you are asking for. Sometimes finding the borrowers is fast, but other times it feels like you are walking in circles. However, this experience has had a huge impact on me. When I’m by myself, I usually walk on the paved roads and rarely venture deep into the residential villages of Cape Coast. There’s a whole different side of poverty within these villages that most visitors never see. The conditions are absolutely terrible. No electricity, no running water, a make-shift open sewer system, and chickens and goats literally eating out of the sewers. Small houses holding entire families are little more than mud walls with tin roofs. Little kids are just walking around during the day and clearly not going to school, nor will they probably ever get the opportunity to do so. Most adults in these villages don’t speak English because they’ve never attended school and never had parents who spoke English to teach them, so the cycle continues. My hope is that these loans can enable parents to have sufficient income to send their children to school. It’s truly the only way to improve their child’s life.
One thing I still haven’t been able to adjust to is the driving. Cars and pedestrians are all packed together onto semi-paved and unpaved roads. I’ve walked miles and miles through Cape Coast and surrounding villages and towns and have yet see anything that resembles a side-walk. This situation is intensified as both cars and pedestrians always feel they have the right-of-way. An employee at CRAN drives me and others to various destinations across the city and I’m always bracing myself, thinking a huge collision is only a turn away. I haven’t decided what’s worse, driving and thinking your going to clip a group of girls walking to school or actually walking and thinking your about to be hit by the next speeding taxi. No one else seems to even notice the cars missing them by mere inches. Girls and women carry various goods on their head don’t even blink an eye as a car will wail it’s horn and swerve at the last second to avoid clipping the person. Besides being the only white man for miles, I feel a little out of place because I’m constantly looking over my shoulder and stopping for cars and people to pass, so I’m not hit by the taxi that’s driving 30 miles per hour on a small dirt road.
My favorite experience in Ghana so far has been all the little kids and babies shouting “Obroni, Obroni” when I walk by. Obroni means white person or foreigner but has a positive connotation to it (at least that’s what I’m told). When walking up and down the streets little kids run up with huge smiles, touch your hand and sing “Obroni, Obroni…how are you? I am fine!!”. It’s inspiring to see these little kids living in such horrible conditions still being so upbeat about life and enjoying even the small events. When I first got to Ghana only the little kids would acknowledge me and I’d get blank stares from adults, but after a few days I realized I’m the stranger and should be the one to initiate the acknowledgement. So, now I just smile and wave at people working in their small shops and they break-out in enormous smiles, wave back and sometimes strike up a conversation.
The only talk in Ghana from late January to early February was the Africa Cup of Nations being hosted by Ghana. It’s basically the World Cup for Africa. If religion is what Ghanaians are most passionate about, soccer is a very close 2nd. I watched the games at my old hotel with either people from work, other Western visitors, or a few people I’ve met locally. The entire country was electric everyday that Ghana played a match. After a Ghanaian goal, every single person in the city would flood out into the streets, dance music would start blaring and there’d be a mini-party for about 5 minutes then everybody would return and continue watching the game. After a big victory, people would be out celebrating till 1-2 in the morning. After Ghana beat Nigeria to advance to the semi-finals, my friend came to my hotel and asked if I wanted to go to the middle of town and see the real party. I couldn’t imagine it would be any different than what was going on in front of the hotel but I went with anyway. When we got the center of Cape Coast, there were thousands of people jammed into the streets with reggae music blaring at every street corner. It was really a sight to see. The next day my co-worker, Eddie, asked if people were this passionate about sports in the US. I thought for awhile and told him the only way I could see this excitement and passion being matched would be if the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in game 7 with a walk-off homerun (I’m from Chicago).
I did a lot of research and talked to many many people before traveling to Ghana, but by far the best piece of advice I received before going to Ghana came from a former Kiva Fellow and current Kiva staff member. He said, in many parts of Africa, it’s not uncommon for a male to hold hands for an extended period of time (15-30 seconds) with another male after a handshake if he views you as a friend. THANK GOD I knew this beforehand. 15-30 seconds may not sound like a long time, but try holding hands with another male while walking through a crowded market for 20 seconds…it feels like an eternity./>