DionRabouin.com (sort of)

The Ghana Diaries: Day one

Posted in The Ghana Diaries by dionrabouin on August 4, 2010

Day one.

It appears my trip to Ghana will be a little bit more back to basics than I had originally thought. After my dad picked me up at the airport and brought me back to his house – which, still, after 20 + years of buying materials, paying laborers and checking up on it, is not finished – he informed me that there was no hot water. In addition to not having hot water, there is only running water three days a week. Additionally, there’s no TV, no gas, no pillows, no shower head or curtains, and no a whole bunch of other things. What killed me is the way he told me about the hot water – like he had digital cable without HBO or something.

On the plus side, I’ve got high-speed Internet, chamber maids and a laundry wench, so I guess it’s not all bad.
Ghana’s an interesting place. It actually seems like it’s moved backwards since the last time I was here. My first visit was in 2000 when my father finally caved and brought my brother and me to see the Motherland. I haven’t been back since, but it seems like things are worse now. Maybe it just seemed more developed because I was 13 and expecting to see mud huts and fire pits when I came the first time. Maybe it’s the global recession hitting Ghana the way it’s hit everywhere else, but here the changes to the infrastructure and everyday life are more palpable. Maybe I just stayed in a nicer part of town last time.

The first thing I noticed today, almost immediately after I came out of the airport, was how smoggy the country is. I was really bothered by it and I’m from LA. My father told me it’s because they don’t have unleaded gasoline here, so people just drive around blowing unconscionably thick smoke into the air. The vans are the absolute worst. I almost gagged when one passed by our taxi, and again, I live in LA.

What may be most strikingly different about Ghana, though, is the way things get done. I don’t think these people have any concept of credit. It seems like literally everything is pay-as-you-go. From cell phones to labor, everybody gets their money up front or nothing moves. It’s a regular thing to see houses and buildings around town stand half-erected because the owner either ran out of money midway through the project or because the owner only had enough money for half the building to begin with.

There’s also much less of an emphasis on aesthetics. Almost everything seems to be utilitarian in design. It makes me wonder again about the inherent differences between cultures. Accra isn’t necessarily the most metropolitan city on the continent, but it’s a sizeable city in one of the most well-known countries in Africa. Juxtaposing it against Beijing or Dubai or New York or Brussels really makes you think about how unique African people are. I also wonder how Accra stacks up to places like Addis Ababa, Cairo, Lagos, Kingston, Nairobi, Port au Prince (pre-Earthquake) and others in terms of the architecture (or lack thereof). Maybe big, pretty buildings are a European thing.

There don’t seem to be a lot of big businesses here. It seems like most people operate minimally-staffed entrepreneurships, i.e., they walk around the streets selling some good or service. Again, this seems so strange, but I suppose it’s really just another way to do the same thing we do in the US. We didn’t go through the heart of Accra or the business district, but it made me wonder if “downtown” is the same way. Obviously the city is never like the country, but I’m interested to find out how much.

I always hear people say they’re struck by the poverty they see when they come to Africa or when they go to any developing country. That never really struck me (maybe because I’ve been anesthetized by the thousands of “Help Feed This Poor Starving African” commercials on American television) what really struck me is the difference in how people live. I think that does go back to money, though. Because they don’t have the money to construct these assailing, phenomenal albatrosses to nothingness across town they don’t and they just don’t worry about it.

Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Although, I’m not gonna lie, I could really, really go for a hot shower, and it’s only day one.