It’s been nearly seven years since my last trip to Ghana. This was my first time coming on the plane alone. Before, I always had my Dad with me to fill out the immigration forms and strong-arm the luggage. But this time I was all by myself. I had a momentary freak out because I couldn’t remember my Grandpa’s address and I didn’t have internet. I tried to to call and e-mail my father from the plane but that, of course, didn’t work. I imagined that once I got to Ghana, they wouldn’t let me past immigration. Luckily, I found the address amongst some of my downloaded documents on my computer.
My excitement began to build from Amsterdam. Once I stepped off that plane from India, I felt as if I got a little piece of my privacy back. People still looked at me but I no longer felt like I was absorbing everyone’s curiosity. Adjusting to the gazing was something that I had to actively work on all year. I would get used to it and then leave the city and come back and have to adjust all over again.
I could tell I was in Europe. The walkway between the plane and the airport gate was cold. It was raining outside. Everyone in the airport seemed to be wearing black or dark earth tones. There was a cheese stand that was selling some of my favorite mustard.
The plane ride from Amsterdam to Accra was six hours. The one from New Delhi to Amsterdam was eight hours. My layover was about six hours. It was almost a full day of travel.
The plane landed around 8pm in Accra. It was dark but still balmy outside. We walked from the tarmac into the small airport. The immigration space buzzed with excitement from the Ghanaian nationals who were coming home and the rest of us who were eager to enter the country. All the excitement was channeled into eagerness at the luggage belt. My fellow flight mates formed a wall around the perimeter of the luggage belt. I could barely find a space to park my cart as I watched for my two heavy suitcases. I wondered how I would get the suitcases off the belt without hurting myself or someone else. Luckily, I got some help from two chivalrous men with British accents.
There is a ramp that connects the baggage and customs area to the arrival hall. I’m not sure if a ramp is the best idea since one tends to gain a lot of speed if they have heavy bags (which most people coming to Ghana do). Luckily, there was no one in front of me and the whole situation gave me a reason to run (partially out of excitement and partially out of helplessness). There are always a lot of people in the arrival area from coolies and taxi drivers to eager loved ones. My entourage that evening consisted of three people: My mother, my sister and my uncle.
It was so gratifying to see all of them. I haven’t hugged my sister or my mother in 10 months and I haven’t hugged my uncle in years.
It’s bizarre going from a place where I was totally adjusted and independent to coming somewhere and being totally dependent on everyone else. Out of all my family members, I know the least about Ghana and Ghanaian culture.
Here are some initial observations that I’ve had so far (and some pictures of food):
–FOOD: Ghanaian cuisine is not really that veg friendly but the most amazing food grows here: coconuts, avocados, peanuts, plantains, papayas, mangos, black eyed peas, semolina, etc. So far at my Grandpa’s house I’ve had Watche (beans and rice) with a flavorful and spicy stew and Banku (sour and dense ball made of fermented corn), and some yams with eggplant stew prepared by my Mom. We bought coconuts only to discover right after that the guy buys his coconuts from my Grandpa’s coconut trees. We went to Buka, a Ghanaian restaurant in Accra. If I had to describe Ghanaian food I would say that it is very dense and spicy.
–STREET CULTURE: Its very similar to India. There are little kiosks/ stands that are shaded by big umbrellas that advertise a cell phone carrier like airtel or vodafone and a shopkeeper selling a few biscuits and candies from large plastic jars. I see more females walking around than in India. Also, there are more people selling things at intersections here but they aren’t just selling junk. They sell toiletries, juice, magazines, newspapers, banana chips, its quite handy, actually.
–FAITH: On Sunday mornings EVERYONE goes to church. Nothing is open until the afternoon and the market is far from bustling on this day. Everyone dresses in their ‘Sunday best’ and carries their Bible with them so it is obvious who is coming from church and who isn’t. Most Ghanaians are either Christians or Muslims. I haven’t been here on Friday so I don’t know what Fridays, pre and post Jumma, are like.
–LANGUAGE: The official language of Ghana is English. At the time of Independence from the British, there were different tribes that spoke different languages. Instead of picking one of these languages, they decided to continue with English so that no tribe would appear superior in the eyes of the government. Pretty much everyone in the Accra area can speak, read and write in English. Twi, is the second most common language. All of the popular music (Hiplife) is in Twi and if you address someone in Twi, they will understand. I don’t know Twi at all. My mother is from the north and has a different mother tongue. As a result, she prefers to speak English with my father so English was always spoken at home. I’m having a hard time remembering the words and phrases after I ask how to say them. So far I can say ‘ How are you’, ‘I’m fine’, and ‘Thank you.’ My accent is questionable.
–DRIVING: My mother has been banned from the front seat due to her overenthusiastic reactions to the way my uncle and the people in the surrounding cars drive. Sometimes people will drive into oncoming traffic on the other side of the road if it means that they can bypass traffic. People cross the motoway like it’s a normal street even though the cars are going incredibly fast. People toot their horns with no care in the world and they drive as if you can read their mind. Its not too different from India at all. I have a theory that the further east you go, the crazier the driving gets. Ghana may be west of India but its about the same.