Friday, June 17, 2011

An afternoon in the life

Its 5:36pm on Friday evening. The heat has finally worn off and it is actually pleasant. I am sitting in my room, windows open, curtains tied back, enjoying the breeze that hits me both from outside and from the spinning ceiling fans. As I walked home from running some errands earlier this afternoon, I took in the scenery, the views which are so different from what I am used to in the US. Alex asked me the other day if the road we were driving on and the streets we were passing looked anything like the US. I just laughed and proceeded to explain the differences, differences which he and many other typical Ghanaians cannot even imagine. He still doesn’t understand how it is possible to live in the US and not know your neighbors or how we can walk on the street and not greet those that we pass.  These are things that are essential here and add to the strong community ties that Ghanaians hold.
While walking along the main road here in North Kaneshie, the town in Accra where we live, I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that every single taxi that drove by honked at me. It made for quite a noisy walk as there are lots of taxis here! Everyone (well, at least the men) seems to think that taxi driving is the key to making a living here. Anyways, its amazing that they see a white girl walking alongside the road and automatically think that she can’t walk to her destination, she needs a taxi. While walking with Alex the other day he commented on this and stated that when he walks alone, not a single taxi driver honks at him. But boom, add the white girl into the picture and everything changes. They also charge a lot more when I am added into the picture. Its been quite a learning experience to watch Alex argue over the price with drivers as we all know that they raise the price the minute they see me.
The other day, while Alex was at work, I had to go somewhere that required me to take a taxi. I stood outside the house where we usually pick the taxis from and waited for the first one to stop. I inquired about the price before getting in the vehicle as I have learned from experience that its just easier that way and was given a price twice of that Alex told me I should pay. I tried to bargain with the driver but he seemed to take me for just another stupid foreigner that he could rip off and refused to hear my offer. I eventually sent him away and waited for the next taxi. This taxi driver pulled over and told me that it would cost me 20 Ghana Cedis to get to my destination. Alex had told me that it would cost me 3 Ghana Cedis. The equivalent in American dollars is not important here as any way that you look at those numbers, the price I was given by this driver was almost 7 times more than Alex had told me. I stared at the driver and didn’t even bother bargaining with him before telling him to drive away. I refused to even deal with someone who was just going to take advantage of me to such an extreme. I know that people here need to make a living and know that they can cut their work short or bring home more money to their families by ripping off foreigners but that’s just ridiculous! I eventually found a driver that drove me to my destination for 4 Ghana Cedis. I didn’t quite make it down to the 3 Cedis that Alex suggested that I pay but hey, I think I did pretty good. I have realized that bargaining for taxis here in Accra is much more difficult than in the village where I had one driver that I usually relied on and that distances equivalent to those driven in the village are more expensive here. I have also realized that traffic here, which doesn’t really exist in the village can be horrific, but I guess these differences can be expected when moving from a village to the capital city.
I also find it quite hilarious that when I am walking alone, so many people, regardless of the fact that I don’t know them, want to know where I am going. If I was a local Ghanaian walking along, I am sure that they would have no interest in where I was going but for some reason, that changes because of my skin color and perhaps also because of my gender.
As I walked along the road, trying to ignore the honking from the taxi drivers, I passed by tons of small shops bursting with food items, stationary supplies, cell phones, and shoes, phone credit kiosks painted the colors of different phone companies – MTN, Vodafone, etc., food stands that smelled of rice, meat, fresh pineapple, and bananas and even a car wash. As the brown and red dirt blew in the air, it stuck to my black TOMS (shoes) and my sweaty body. I wiped away the sweat with one of my handkerchiefs (I have quite a collection here) while continuing to walk and greet the store owners and others who I passed. I chuckled as a young man danced on the side of the street to blasting hip life music and stopped to watch his moves. I smiled as children stared at me and nudged their parents, ‘look at her.’ Its amazing to see the life here, to smile at the people, to greet those you meet on the street, and to be recognized by those you pass on a regular basis.
We are lucky to live around the corner from a Barclay’s Bank and due to my repeated visits, I am known by all the security guards who stand outside the bank. They greet me as I walk by and ask me how my day is, etc. If they are busy and I pass them without greeting them first, they shout out to me with the look in their eye, ‘why didn’t she greet me?’
There are times that I miss things about the US – paved roads, the rules of the road, having tons of choices in the market, constant electricity and water, and of course, my friends and family, but there are so many things that I love about Ghana, so many things that make this place so unique. The people may not be the wealthiest or have all the material items that they desire but they are for the most part, very happy and kind. They may live in shacks that are falling apart and provide for children that they do not have the money or resources to support but they work hard and do it with great dignity and honor. They realize what is important in life and I am coming to understand more and more every day what that truly is.

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