Finishing up with the differences on the road…
Honking– The scenarios when you may use that ominous horn mechanism on your steering wheel: warn someone backing out of a driveway if they don’t see you, avoid an accident, extreme road rage. At home, most everyone avoids using the car horn at all costs. Not the same in Ghana and other countries I have visited in the past. Up a hill, down a hill, around a corner, passing a car driving the other direction, passing a person on the side of the road, taxis trying to get passengers, or just letting everyone know that you’re coming down the road. Everyone constantly honks. I can’t begin to imagine the amount of ‘noise pollution’ tickets a Ghanaian driver would receive in America.
Wild Animals– Having never previously been to Africa, I had a preconceived notion that I would see lots of crazy wild animals roaming the bush. Zebras, lions, hippos, giraffes, monkeys, snakes, the whole shebang. During my time in Ghana so far, I have had one run in with a snake, seen countless lizards and wall geckos, and been told to visit the monkey sanctuary outside of Hohoe. So where are all the African animals? Well, apparently there are some hippos and elephants in northern Ghana, but other than that there are very few ‘safari’ animals in Ghana because they inhabit different terrains and habitats. A little bit of a bummer considering I have only seen lions and giraffes behind bars in a zoo, but it gives me an excuse to come back to Africa!
Food Vendors– Going to school in Los Angeles, the concept of street vendors and food trucks is by no means foreign. The idea of the street side food vendor, adopted to be in a moving vehicle in the states, was definitely borrowed from elsewhere in the world. Whether it be fruit stands and rice snacks in Asia, crepes in France, or grilled cheese in LA, Ghana is once again no exception. Classic Ghanaian street food: kosi (described as a spicy bean donut), tombei (comparable to Munchkins but so different and way better), coconut balls, azi (groundnuts aka peanuts), porridge, and the ever-consistent rice, beans, and shito mix. No, shito is not a curse word nor slang, in fact shito is a spicy pepper sauce used on everything here. And let me tell you, it gets QUITE spicy. Each stand makes shito differently, too; some make black shito with dried peppers, others make red shito with fresh peppers, and each one tastes a bit different. Everyday, we hit up the rice and beans stand a mere 30-second walk from our home base. The lady knows us now! She gets out her little measuring bowl and covers it with a plastic bag into which she scoops beans, palm oil, garre (cassava powder), rice upon request, and shito. She then ties up the bag and you’re good to go for only 1 cedi! That’s 50 cents, for a more than filling lunch!! On good days, our favorite rice and beans lady even roasts bananas on an open fire (cue Christmas music). Unless you have a vendetta against rice and beans, you won’t go hungry in Ghana—getting the proper nutrients, however, is a whole different story.
Religion– The dominant religion in Ghana is Christianity. Every sect of Christianity can be found here, and walking around on Sunday mornings I can hear several different church services taking place around town. Most everyone that I have met here is quite religious. One of the most intriguing things I have come across in Ghana is the religious names of stores, especially the ‘cold stores.’ Cold stores are similar to small grocery shops, but more of the stall variety. Every cold store I have seen across Ghana possesses some sort of a religious name—Amen Cold Store, Fear God Cold Store, Peace Be With You Cold Store, Jesus Cold Store, etc. Then there are the Internet cafes—Shalom Internet Cafe, God Be With You Internet Cafe, etc. We came up with the hypothesis that perhaps the town sign maker happens to be very religious but makes the best signs around, so every shop owner lets the sign maker give them a godly name. Another plausible explanation could be along the lines of magic, witchcraft, and wizardry, a phenomenon that the Ghanaians truly believe in. Maybe, the chill of a freezer and the abstractness of Internet fall under the category of witchcraft—the unexplainable. Either that, or everyone in Ghana wears their religion on their sleeve and that is simply the norm.
Witchcraft and Wizardry– On one of our first days here in Ghana, Patrick, the director of CareNet Ghana, told us that elderly citizens are often displaced from their families because society at large believes that the elderly become witches and wizards. The unexplainable is often explained in terms of magic, witchcraft, and wizardry. We went into one village where the elders were gathered drinking alcohol, dancing, and chanting. To us, they looked like they were just having a good time. However, it is important to note that the elders were very clearly separated from the rest of the community and that younger community members did not join in. One of the CareNet staff we were with explained to us that this was an example of stigmatism against the elderly due to such actions. Not only the elders, but also many Ghanaians in general explain airplanes, boats, and the Internet as magic since these phenomenons are otherwise unexplainable to them. While I might personally believe in fate and some degree of miracles and magic, I never contemplated that the idea of witchcraft and wizardry might still exist in today’s world outside of stories about Salem.