DionRabouin.com (sort of)

The Ghana Diaries: Day Nine

Posted in The Ghana Diaries by dionrabouin on August 11, 2010

I have to remember that Ghana is a country and not a city. I think so many times we, as Americans, are quick to label or categorize an entire country based on our experience in one city or one place. Ghana, like any other country, is immensely diverse and the way things are in Accra is unlike the way things are in other parts of the country.

I found out the part of Accra I’m staying in is called West Legon. One of my dad’s contractors, an American expatriate from LA, interestingly enough, said that West Legon is like the Baldwin Hills of Accra. (If you’re not from LA you don’t know what that means, but that’s OK.) That would be a lot more comforting if we had hot water and such, but that’s neither here nor there. I went with one of my father’s friends to this city called Ada this weekend. We left on Friday and came back today. There was no Internet access there, which is why I haven’t updated since day one.

In Ada they were having the parade of chiefs. It’s a very traditional ceremony where chiefs from the local villages are honored in a ceremony that lasts most of the day. Each clan presents its village to onlookers, there are various cannons being fired, politicians from around the country put in face time, there’s traditional dancing and at the end of the whole thing the chiefs are carried around the fairgrounds on thrones by their villagers in very pomp and circumstantial fashion. This, in and of itself, wasn’t all that interesting. What was interesting was what was going on outside the festival. It reminded me a lot of the Black Arts Festival that we used to have in Denver. It’s mostly kids standing around socializing. After the festival ended, it was a Spring Break party, African style, for the next four days.

The most interesting part of Ghanaian culture to me thus far is the miscegenation of old, traditional culture and the prevailing hip-hop, generation-y culture of today’s youth. I use the word miscegenation because it’s more like a marriage than just a combination. Some of them still wear dashikis and other old school garb, but most wear a combination of the designer threads that you’d see on any group of young black men in the US and random imported shirts that look like (and actually are) Goodwill rejects. If you took their clothes and put them on American kids their age, it’s unlikely you’d be able to tell the difference. What’s interesting about it, though, is how seamlessly it mixes with the traditional culture. No one seems to find it strange that they’re buying goat meat from a woman with a tray of skewers on her head while listening to the “Lollipop” remix by Lil Wayne.

There’s also the miscegenation of American culture with African life.

I noticed on my first day that everything is very utilitarian. There are very few frills and almost no nod to aesthetics in the buildings, but that seems to also extend to the entire culture. Men routinely pee on the side of the road or anywhere they can find, and nobody thinks anything of it. No one worries about Port-o-Potties at outdoor events because people just go find a bush or some grass and “pay the water bill,” as my friend Kwame so elegantly put it. This all happens at the same time that they’re playing American music, wearing American clothes, drinking like Americans and generally doing their best America impression.

I don’t think it’s a lack of money either. It’s just that these high-society rules – that you have to go to a bathroom so no one can see you, for instance – have no place in their society. If something doesn’t have a vital purpose, why bother? As a tangent, I want to go back and reemphasize that Ghana is not one place, it’s many different places. If you want hot water and oven-cooked meals and all the comforts of home, they’re available and they’re not that expensive or hard to find. Like anywhere else, Ghana has rich folks, middle class folks and poor folks. If you hang out with the rich or middle class folks you can expect a day-to-day experience like you’re used to back home. But most people in the country live this no-frills, back-to-basics lifestyle, whether they’re rich or poor.

The festival in Ada made me think of why I can’t stand “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and shows of that ilk. It’s because those shows are entirely predicated on the concept of white privilege. I like to call them Pricoms. White privilege also has within itself the rich or “economically comfortable” privilege, so it’s not entirely about being white. The punchline of every episode is that there are all these rules in polite, white society that one can’t broach and “Seinfeld,” in particular, was all about the troubles in navigating those rules.

For instance, the most recent episode of “Seinfeld” I watched was the one where Kramer is dating the “low talker” and because Jerry can’t hear her request, he agrees to wear the pirate shirt on television. So, of course, Jerry has to wear the pirate shirt on television and we all have a laugh at him trying to squirm out of it and eventually failing. This is essentially the premise of every episode and I never understood why Jerry didn’t either 1) Explain to the woman that he couldn’t hear what she’d said and didn’t want to wear the shirt or 2) Just not wear the shirt. If everyone weren’t so afraid to say something impolite, there would be no show.

This, to me, is the essence of the Ghanaians – at least to my understanding thus far. A show like “Seinfeld” would never catch on here because they have none of those polite, white cultural norms. When someone wants your attention they hiss at you. When someone bumps into you on the street they don’t say “excuse me” to let you know it was unintentional – it’s just understood that it was an accident. Drivers honk at each other and at pedestrians in the street at will, but it’s not because they’re angry, it’s to let other drivers and pedestrians know where they are. Anyone without a basic introduction to the place who came from polite, white society would probably think the people here were terribly rude, but it goes back to a culture of satisfying basic needs and not needing to develop a system of high-society etiquette.

Another interesting part of Ghanaian life is the male-female interaction. In the US it seems like girls are always subconsciously afraid of being raped or abducted or chopped up and thrown in a river. The women here aren’t worried about that sort of thing, so they don’t take the precautions that American women take. The men are much more aggressive here and the women don’t really seem to mind. American women seem to always need to keep men at a distance until they get to know them. There’s this inherent fear and reservation among American women, that seems to cross all ethnic lines.

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One Response

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  1. Justin Adams said, on August 11, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Nice article…looks like your changing your tune from White chicks to Black women. Now only if we could of gotten to Tiger Woods sooner…..


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