Monday, May 10, 2010

Me Ye Ghanaba

Well, we've hit the books again. Sat through half a day at school and realized I was already sick of it. The sweat, the uniforms, the late teachers, the hard wooden desks. And at the same time, I felt such an affection for my class- now that I know each person's personality, their niche in the dynamic, how they fool around... and as always when I am with them I begin thinking about how school was back home, the way we interacted with each other as opposed to how they do here, so during math class in which we are learning exactly what I learned last year, how to calculate the circumference and area of a circle, I began to brainstorm what makes a Ghanaian a Ghanaian.

Note: please excuse my repetitions, for I have probably mentioned some of these in passing...

First is the hand shake, as that is the prelude to all relationships. The Ghanaian hand shake ends with a little snap, one person's middle finger against the other person's. I find it funny sometimes, as I see "secret handshakes" to be a gangsta thing to do, when I see two men in suits finishing off a business transaction with this gesture, or I greet a grandmother and she snaps my finger. Also, handshakes are much more common- on average I will do this 7-12 times a day. Its a way to greet, a way to have a smile, just a passing "eeee, Yao" and we shake and I keep walking (I mean to a friend at school).

1) The person who enters a room, or meets another person who was already in that place is expected to greet first. For my first few weeks I was always greeting people, whether they were coming to me or I to them and my family kept telling me it wasn't good.
2) The younger person is always expected to greet the elder, unless in the above situation. In that case, if the elder is entering they will either not greet, or do a general one.
3) Youngsters are not expected, and indeed shouldn't ask their elder "how are you". An elder asks you, and you can ask in return but you must add a "please" before it, in Twi.
4) When shaking hands with people in a room, always begin at the right side.

"Twinglish" is common. Every so often they through English words. in their Twi... eg. "ma me book, wii" (give me a book), which helps me stay abreast in conversations now that I also get bits of the Twi.
"I'm coming" - it means they are going away and will come back shortly
"You don't have to" - you can't or really shouldn't
"00000" / "paapaa" - added to anything to exaggerate: "I'm hungryoooo" or "it was hot paapaa"

When speaking to an elder one is constantly saying "please", but in Twi. It feels weird to do it in English, but it would be: How are you? Please, I am fine.

Moving on... One always invites others to eat their food, and, if you are invited and don't want to take any you say "thank you", and if you want to eat you just eat. I used to say thank you as I ate, which is improper.

When in the presence of elders: Stand. Remove cap. Keep left hand behind back. DO NOT CROSS LEGS. Speak when spoken to. Keep hands out of pockets. Of course that is all the traditional formal stuff... often it is unnecessary.

Pure Ghanaian:
People suck their teeth to show annoyance or disapproval. I find it completely condescending, and very hurtful.
Hiss and/or loud kissing noises to get attention which I find rude and annoying yet effective, especially when trying to buy something off of someone's head.

Going out: LOOK GOOD. Look "fresh".
Iron everything. Have outfits that match- EVEN GUYS! Guys will wear sneakers with red on them, jeans, red belt, red shirt, red cap. Or these awful pink and/or flowered starched shirts with popped collars and their fake-worn jeans, stiff caps tilted to the side almost falling off their heads. They are the fresh guys. Girls wear very color coordinated outfits too of course, one or two colors. I have seen completely yellow and completely pink outfits- I mean pink skinny jeans, shoes, shirt, belt, necklace, earrings, hair clip. I would never have the audacity.
On the other hand, those who are out working, hawking, selling, wear completely discordant outfits- skirt with blue and orange stripes, a shirt with Obama on it and a scarf with a dull flowered pattern that belongs on Victorian drapes. Lots of skirts. And shawls. SO MUCH COLOR. My fellow YESer Adam Streeter has done a wonderful bit on all the second - (or fifth) hand clothing, so I'll do some promo and say you should check out his blog:

(Adam, since I know you are reading this, I expect your next blog will feature a certain address... winkwink.)

Last but not least is GMT. Greenwich Meridian Time.... or Ghana Man Time. : )
I'll just say if the invitation says 3, come by 4:30-5.

And now I am listening to Hallelujah in Danish and drinking an iridescent red drink called bisab which we made ourselves from dried flowers after I trekked all over town and into a very cramped marketplace to find them. It is sweet and tangy, bit of ginger, hint of cloves... like sour apple cider, but more robust. Petal syrup.

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