Ghana’s Main Draw: Ghanaians


Reading this blog, you may have the impression that I do not like Ghana.

You would be mistaken.  I take full responsibility for that.

All of my diatribes and complaints come from my frustration with living here.  These frustrations stem from several sources.  First, I am homesick.  I’ve been living here for three years now and been in Ghana continuously for 18 months.  Second, I hate waste.  The biggest waste here is people not living up to their potential.  Often times, I see Ghanaians working menial jobs for (maybe) 300 or 400 cedis ($120-$150) per month; other times, I see Ghanaians not working at all.

If someone had a plan, he could mobilize all these people to propel the country forward, I often think to myself.  Thousands of labor hours are being frittered away.  Globalization, poor infrastructure, the large youth population, a dearth of school materials, culture, and lack of vision contribute to under-employment and unemployment.  Sometimes I try to think of how the country could develop faster; then, I catch myself and realize, Who is going to listen to me?  I’m not even Ghanaian.

With proper schooling, more infrastructure, and better economic opportunities, I’m sure Ghanaians could be 5 or 10 times more productive.

Third, it’s not easy living here.  Many foreigners are surprised by how expensive it is to live in Accra.  In order to maintain a semblance of developed world standards, you will pay a small fortune for accommodation, import nearly all consummables, and buy generator fuel for the frequent periods of “lights out.”

Well, those are three reasons for why it may seem like I don’t like living in Ghana.  However, if I remind myself not to compare Ghana to the US, then I quite like the place.

Ghana’s main draw is its people.

Question: Can you be unhappy while dancing?

Perhaps two to three times a week, I see young men and children dancing in the street.  For instance, I once saw a teenager in the pavilion at A&C Square practicing his azonto for 15-20 minutes.  I don’t even think he had headphones on.  Or, just last week, I saw a young man doing a routine while walking by Cuzzy Bros.  He was moving his arms and walking with a beat.  On Saturdays, the playground at A&C blasts hip life music.  Every time there is a gaggle of 5 to 8 year olds mimicking the moves they’ve seen.  Only in Ghana, I reminded myself.  I see this sort of thing nearly every time I leave my bubble.

Answer: I don’t think you can be unhappy and dance.  Despite living in cramped conditions with irregular water and power, Ghanaians always seem find the good in a situation. Laughter is about as common as dancing in the street.

Of course, dealing with Ghanaians takes some practice.  I cannot overstate how important understanding culture and cultural norms are to getting things done here.

Very much related to the people, my second favorite thing about Ghana is the music.  The two main types of music in Ghana are highlife and hip life.  The former is older and offers slower beats.

Reggie Rockstone is considered the father of hip life.  He combined hip hop beats with highlife.  In most taxis and public places, you will either hear highlife or hip life.

Simply, I like Ghanaian and Nigerian music because the themes are positive.  For instance, Sarkodie’s song, “Onyame eyhira”, means “those God has blessed cannot be destroyed.”

I understand that music can be used as form of criticism but I don’t really understand the anger found in some genres of American music.

Third, you can’t beat the weather.  I cannot think of the last time the temperature dipped below 70 degrees F.  Sure, there are some of you who enjoy your “seasons” but I’ve had enough below freezing nights for a lifetime.  I have never had to wear a sweater/jumper much less a coat in Ghana.

Fourth, Ghana is rather safe.  I’ve heard horror stories of other African countries; heck, many parts of the US are subject to random acts of violence.  Crime is so low that the newspaper still reports on robberies and murders.  Unfortunately, in the US, metropolitan crime is so common that murders and robberies are an accepted part of big city living.

People, music, weather, and safety all offer reasons to visit and perhaps stay in Ghana.  Just like any other country, you need to keep your wits about you and there are several cultural aspects that take some getting used to.

Recently, I was watching an old episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.  For those of you interested in learning more about Ghana and seeing how normal people live, I recommend you buy the Ghana show (Season 2, Episode 10).



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