Saturday, October 16, 2010

It's a Small World

Random impressions of Kumasi:
Tonight at dinner, we had an Italian (Dorella), a Spaniard (Nela), a German (Steffi) and two Americans (Liz and me) at dinner sharing Star beers (the Kumasi brewery) and pizza at the Queen’s Gate hotel. On our taxi ride back to the house, the taxi driver had the Billboard Top 10 playing on the radio and the song “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz came up as the number five on the countdown.

The night sky in Kumasi isn’t much darker than back home in the US. The stadium lights near our house really light up the night sky. Here’s a link to Google maps showing approximately where I live.

Not far from our house, there’s a four-lane highway being built, complete with a highway to pass over some of the neighborhoods. Even though it’s still under construction, people are allowed to drive on it—and do, as it’s the main thoroughfare through town. Riding in the back of the car feels a bit like being in a rally car race, with all the cars and taxis and tro-tros (10-passenger vans typically crammed with 15 people) jockeying for position on the dirt on-ramp. The locals are driving sedans and station wagons that sounds like they will rattle apart on the road, which is in atrocious condition due to it being the rainy season.

Last winter, I learned that there are places in the world where the local news does not even bother with a weather forecast, since the weather never changes. My sister is living on Guam, where it’s always a high of 85 and a chance of rain—70% chance in the rainy season, 20% chance in the dry season. Ghana is another one of those places—last week’s weather forecast was for a high of 29 Celsius, a low of 22 Celsius, and thunderstorms every afternoon.

When taking money out of an ATM in Ghana, you get an assortment of bills, including some very small denominations. I took out 150 cedis the other day and ended up with 5 20-cedi notes, 3 10-cedi notes, 2 5-cedi notes, and 5 2-cedi notes. Having these small bills is a good thing, as often storekeepers do not have correct change. Shopping can be done from the car window. Yesterday I got more money for my cell phone minutes by buying a 10-cedi Zain card from a street vendor.

Ghanaians ask for and give out cell phone numbers to people they just met. Today when I was getting my Vodafone mobile broadband key activated, one of the girls said she was my friend and wanted my cell number. I told her I didn’t know it (which is true) and asked her to write hers down instead. Yesterday I got a call from the coach of the Kotoko soccer team, who I met last week. He was just checking in to see how I was doing. Unfortunately, being an American with our societal distrust of strangers, I have trouble accepting that all of these people want nothing more than to see how I’m doing.

Where to find the obrunis (‘white people”): Ghana Black Stars soccer game; Vic Baboo’s café in the center of town; the Vodafone internet café with “Africa’s fastest Internet”.

Being an obruni has its privileges. Yesterday I stopped by Zain for a mobile broadband key (here in Ghana, you need multiple options for Internet and phone if you want to have reliable contacts), but they were closing up shop for the day. When I went back today, the guy from yesterday recognized my pale skin and blonde hair and got me in and out of the store in record time.

Time is a different concept here in Ghana. Ghanaians have a strong sense of family, which extends as far as third and fourth cousins and great uncles and all manner of extended relatives. Due to the myriad family obligations, many of them are late to meetings and school and anything with a start time. But since everyone has the same obligations, it’s accepted practice. I find the lack of time awareness to be one of the more difficult struggles.

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