Let Me Count the Ways

Boys at Play

As a follow up to “From All Sides”, I want to explain that the reason I complain so much about Ghana is because I (mostly) enjoy living here.  I find when you like something you want to make it better.  If I didn’t like this place, I’d just leave.

Let me count the ways:

1. Ghana/Accra is safe.  I’ve been here for more than two years and I have yet to hear of a rampage.  Because the US Constitution protects Americans right to own guns (2nd Amendment), all Americans must accept that every few months a crazy white man will purchase a gun from a gun show then murder a dozen people in a school, movie theater, or mall before shooting himself in the head.  It’s the price of being free.

Once in a while, a crazy person will use his vehicle as a deadly weapon.  In April 2013, a man drove his vehicle into a crowd on the busy Venice boardwalk in Los Angeles.  In 1995, in my hometown, Shawn Timothy Nelson, U.S. Army veteran and unemployed plumber, “stole an M60A3 Patton tank from a United States National Guard Armory in San DiegoCalifornia, and went on a rampage… destroying cars, fire hydrants, and a recreational vehicle before being shot and killed by police.”

No doubt, Ghana has crazy people, too.  But money limits the damage they do.  Not only do they receive inadequate mental healthcare, but they cannot obtain a firearm nor a tank to express their craziness.  Most of the time, you see them half-naked, mumbling to themselves on the streets of Accra.

Most crime in Ghana is not violent.  Unlike the US, murder here is still rare and is still reported in the newspaper.  In the US, a drive-by shooting or a domestic shooting will rarely make the news.  It’s usually lost somewhere on page 17.

2. People are giving and friendly.  Excluding all those “evil-doers” and scammers, most people in Ghana are kind, friendly, and admirably under-exposed.  Most people are not even middle class.  The average adult in Accra probably makes less than 600 cedis ($300) per month.  And yet, with the little that they have, it’s expected that they share their food/things/home  with most anyone.

Let's Share

Yendidi! You’re invited!

Americans have clear property rights.  “Good fences make good neighbors” is an American idiom.  It means that maintaining good relationships with your neighbors/friends requires well-defined boundaries.  As an American, I’m unaccustomed to such generosity.  It’s humbling.

Beyond the generosity, Ghanaians are friendly and talkative.  Provided you don’t have any work to do, they will be happy to share their thoughts with you for hours on end.  All adjectives are peppered with the suffix “O” for emphasis.  For instance, “This sauce is spicy-O” or “Aaaaah, she is expensive-O.”

I enjoy listening to them talk.  As my auntie says, you can have a whole conversation with only vowels.  “Ooooh”, “Ehhhh”, “Ahhhh”…  Sometimes I will ask Yaw, my main taxi driver, an open question, e.g. “Why do you think the police are criminals?” so I can sit back and listen to him vent.

Lastly, I find it interesting to talk to them about their perceptions of life outside Ghana. Last week, we covered names of European countries in my French class.  Most people could not identify more than three.  (Yes, most Americans also cannot identify European countries.)  Europe is a far off place that has nothing to do with life in Ghana.  England is where they play football; it’s the country that colonized Ghana.

English Premier League Home Uniforms

English Premier League Home Uniforms

Remember — most people have never been on a plane.  Do you remember the first time you flew on an airplane?  Do you remember the fear and awe that you had when the hundreds of tons of people and luggage first took off in that aluminum cylinder?  If you have not travelled, then you cannot compare how good your country is relative to another, e.g. Ghana vs. Thailand, the US vs. France.  Again, I find their view not jaded by too much information.

3. Lifestyle   If you can put aside the desire to make money quickly and try to live like a Ghanaian, then the lifestyle here is quite attractive.  People take their time.  Making money is important but it’s not everything. For instance, sometimes I watch Teresa walk around the office.  She walks at a quarter of the speed of someone walking in Manhattan.  It’s painful to watch — it’s like she’s walking in sand.

The thing I most admire is their view toward family.  Having children is an obligation and it doesn’t seem like something most families plan very far ahead for.  I regularly hear of families with 3, 4, 5, 6 or more children.  On the one hand, I wish they were more interested in contraception because they could live more comfortably.  On the other hand, I think that children are a blessing.  The more the merrier.

4. Music is innocent.  I love hip hop.  I grew up on Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Digital Underground, Black Sheep, TLC, and Dr Dre/Snoop.  Listening to that music requires learning about the black/white divide and a “glamorized” version of living in poverty.  There’s a lot of anger behind the words.

If you’re my age and you don’t like hip hop, then you  probably listened to “alternative” or metal.  Kurt Cobain, Nine Inch Nails, and Linkin Park are all guilty of expressing their frustration.  There’s a lot of anger in middle class America.

On the other hand, lower-middle income Ghana offers a much more simple vision.  High life and hip life both revolve around everlasting themes of boy chasing girl or girl chasing boy, broken hearts, booty, sex, and God.  Compared to American music, Ghanaian/Nigerian music is relatively innocent.  It invites you to inhabit a Beach Boys song with better beats.

Below are the lyrics to the English verse of Efya’s song “Little Things”:

When you say cook the food

Let me wash the bowls

Come here baby let me touch your toes

Make me love you more.

When you suggest

Wash the clothes let me clean the house

Makes me really want to be your spouse

Is the little things that you do

That makes me love you more.

5. Giving goes a long way –  I tip my workers, taxi drivers, and random people when they are either entertaining or do a good job.  What’s amazing is that you can make a child pretty happy with a 2 cedi ($0.90) dash and an adult with a 10 cedi ($4.50) dash.  For the price of a Starbucks double mocha latte, you can provide someone food for the entire day and a ride home.

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