Akwaaba! (welcome) to Ghana

WHEN IN ROME, DO AS THE ROMANS DO!

August 10, 2013  |  By Jasmin Paul, Germany

Akwaaba! (welcome) to Ghana

Photo : Wiki Commons

Probably the more precise term is to say: When in Accra, do as Accra’s population do! “Never shake somebody’s hand with your left hand, because it is a sign of disrespect”, “Use a tro-tro (local transport filled to the brim with people and the occasional goat or chicken) to drive nearly everywhere you want to.”, “Be fugal with water” and “Use your right hand to eat your food”, are the first advice given to strangers get from the locals.

Coming from the formal, tidy-minded and always on time Europe, Ghana seems strange to visitors at first sight. On closer inspection strangers come to appreciate thatclocks in Africa run much more slowly than in their own country – and sometimes things happen that the visitors might not expect.

It is not unusual that a taxi driver takes on other passengers or has to organise another taxi due to damage on his car or because of an urgent private matter. Besides using a taxi visitors can take a so called tro tro, minibuses in a sometimes alarming state, which drive every few minutes from more or less binding stops. The rule of thumb: you can get on almost everywhere on the run but only get off at bus stops. And there is always a traffic jam in Accra. So it is better to plan an extended travel time. Nevertheless driving by tro tro is an adventurous experience that every visitor should take in Accra. You can meet so many different, interesting people and feeling the spirit of this refreshing Ghanaian city first-hand.

Also refreshing are the people in Accra and in Ghana on the whole – at least most of them. Wherever a visitor will go, he or she will receive a rousing welcome. If you have a problem, you can talk about it. If you need anything, you can always ask. And if you get in trouble, there is definitely somebody who will help you.

But with the traders on the local markets it is a whole new ball game, especially on Oxford Street, the street that never sleeps. Some of them ask you politely to buy a bracelet, a wooden figure or a colourful cloth; some of them follow you a few metres on your way; some of them grab you and pull you to their stall for selling. Standing firm is the only answer in the last case, unless you can be persuaded to buy something. Then you have to haggle with the trader over the best price and sometimes you can pick up the one or another bargain.

Visitors also have to meet the challenge of living without running water regardless of whether it’s hot or cold, especially in host families and cheap accommodations. At first it feels like living in the European Middle Ages - washing your clothes by hand in a bucket, taking a bucket shower with a small amount of soapy water after having drawn it from a tank into the house. At first you will miss the luxury of the ‘Western’ bathroom flowing of milk and honey, but after a few days the limited access to water seems to be the most normal thing in the world. At least until you go to the movies and see an advertisement for a wellness spa!

 The best opportunity to experience the land, the Ghanaians and their customs and traditions is to live amongst the people, for instance in a host family. You will get to know typical hostility and familiarity as well as the delicious indigenous food like Fufu, RedRed and Jollof rice. And it is easy to explore the diverse areas with public transport. Visitors can for example enjoy the fine sanded beaches at Cape Coast, a 40m high canopy walk in the Kakum National Park or stroll along the busy streets at the market in Kumasi, the capital city of the Ashanti region. There will be for each person their own Ghana.

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