Be aware, when interacting with the local people; be conscious of using only your right hand. Hand over money with your right hand, eat only with your right hand, and if you forget and use your left in an interaction, apologize and smile. A lot of people think that somehow this is a Muslim custom, but that is simply not so. In many countries where sanitation is not what you are used to, the left hand is used for self cleaning. Although conditions in Ghana have greatly improved regarding personal sanitation, the custom will remain for a long time. If you are a leftie, double your awareness.
Also be aware of the fact, that although you may not consider yourself as being super rich, by your local standard, - just the fact that you are able to visit another country like Ghana, - just to see what it is like, that makes you super rich in the eyes of the local folks there. Instead of getting annoyed at the sometimes direct requests for money, on the street, try to walk a mile in their shoes, and understand how rich you look to them.
In Ghana, especially in more rural areas, it is polite to greet anyone that you are going to talk to or sometimes just if you catch their eye, just a 'how is it?' (ghanaian english for 'how are you') or 'good morning' will do.
One thing that I found quite shocking when I first arrived is that people will hiss to get your attention, but having tried it I found not only does it work very well but I would also get a small thrill every time I did it!
Ghanaians will also tell it like it is, if you are over wieight you may well be called fat, this isn't intended as an insult so don't take it as one, in fact sometimes it's a complement. When I told a teacher in my school that I was 23 he said 'I thought you were about 35, because you're so big' (I'm 5'6" and was around 11 stone then)
Red, yellow and green are the Pan-African colors
RED the color of blood that the people gave for their independence
YELLOW the color of the most important mineral of the country(gold)
GREEN for the fertility of the country
BLACK for the people who died fighting for their liberty
An annoying thing during a trip through Ghana can be the attitude of the Africans towards people from the West. The general idea in Africa is that as soon as you are white, you are extremely rich. Of course they are partly right: an average Ghanaian would never have the money to travel to another continent just to see the nice places there: in fact you are extremely rich when you can do that.
But of course that doesn't mean that you can just do anything you want with your money, and that part is difficult to understand for the average African. Without any shame they will step up to you saying "Give me money...".
When I was visiting a local chief just outside Tamale, I took a lot of pictures and I promissed the man to send all these pictures as soon as they were developed. Very seriously he told he that he would like the pictures, but that you would like a mobile phone better. Another example is a boy who stepped up to me asking if he could have my bicycle when I was leaving Ghana, expecting nothing but a "yes, of course".
These situations can be a little bit odd when you think you are doing good, and the people don't seem to be satisfied at all. Just think that it IS good to give a little bit, but that it is even wiser to show the Africans that it is not always a paradise in the West either and that you cannot give everything.
A thing that I really had to get used to during my stay in Ghana, is the usage of violence everywhere. At home and at school, that always is a stick around that can be used when children don't listen. And both parents and teachers don't have too many patience with the kids, so the "cane" is used a lot normally. Children are beaten on their fingers, on there bare back, or otherwise they are punished by having to stand in the afternoon sun for an hour, or by having to stand on one leg for half an hour.
Because the kids are that used to pain, that use it too when they are playing together. Children of 5 years old already slap eachother in the face, or beat eachother with sticks.
Also in the language this violence is used a lot. "I'll beat you", "I'll slap you", "I'll kick you" and "I'll cane you" is used a lot. And not only towards children. During my visit to Paga, in the north of Ghana, a friendly gentleman told me: "Next time you come here I'll slap you!"
When you are looking for something in Ghana, or you are lost, be careful with asking the directions. The good thing is that everybody will be willing to help you with it, but that also is the risk.
Because everybody is so extremely helpful, nobody will tell you that they don't know the direction. They will ask everybody to help you, they will just send you somewhere without knowing is it is the right direction, but they will answer you.
So, when you really want to know where you have to go to, you should really search for somebody who looks like he knows it. Of course that still is a guess, but it can help you a lot.
Another important thing: in Ghana streetnames are hardly used. Never ask for a streetname, but always ask for a company, a church or even a persons name in that street. A lot of - especially- taxi drivers are analphabetic so they can't even read the streetnames.
Ghanaian people are not embarrassed about their toilet visiting at all. It is something that you can talk about without any problem and that is part of life. Children in the classroom just tell their teacher "Sir, I go urinate" and men do their thing anywhere, even in the middle or the citycentre.
That is why you see a lot of signs "Do not urinate here" in Ghana. Especially on the walls surrounding governments building, it is often painted every few metres. A lot of these places are in very crowded mainstreets, where you normally wouldn't even think of urinating, but apparantly it is necessary to put these sign there.
The sign on the picture is in the middle of the National Cultural Centre in Kumasi. There too, urinating is strictly prohibited.
The word you will probably hear the most during a stay in Ghana (when you are white) is "Obruni". Especially little children will call you like that all the time while they wait for you to reply, smile to them or wave.
Obruni means "White man" or according to a story I heared it means "man for behind the horizon". White people still are a special thing to see in Ghana, and that is why a lot of children start flipping when they see one. They jump and they sing "Obruni, obruni, obruni" even when you are still hundred metres away.
Obruni is the word in Twi, the most spoken language in the country. There are regions where you won't hear the Obruni-version, but "Salaminga". This is white man in Dagbani, the language that is spoken in the Northern Region. In the Upper West Region around Wa you will hear "Nasara". And all these words have their own songs and ways of jumping.
How to react? Well, "Obibini" means "black man" in Twi. But just smiling, waving or saying "hello" will already make the day of a lot of these kids.
In Ghana, it is very impolite to use a left hand for a lot of things. This comes from a very simple thing. In a lot of moderate areas in the country, the people don't use toilet paper to wipe their behings, but their left hand. It is washed, but you can imagine that it stays the "unfresh" hand. Even though toilet paper is becoming normal nowadays, the tradition about this hand stays. Therefore there are some things you should remember:
- Eat with ONLY your right hand. A lot of local food has to be eaten with your hands, but even when you eat with knife and fork, it is better to bring to food to your mouth with your right hand.
- When offering money or goods, always offer it with right, and receive it with right. This can be difficult, but practice will work. When you buy a pineapple for example, you have to make sure you have the money between the fingers of the right hand already when you stretch your arm to receive the fruit. The salesman with offer your the pineapple with right too, and will take the money with the same hand. Sometimes this doesn't work and you need your left hand. It happened to me that the person using her left hand said "sorry for left" to apologise.
Almost everywhere in Ghana you have to be very careful with taking pictures of the local people. It is not appreciated at all when you take a spontaneous picture of somebody.
Taking pictures (or "snapping", like all Ghanaians call it) of children normally is no problem at all. They normally love it to be in front of the camera, especially when you can show them the picture with a digital camera. If you want to "snap" an adult though, you should at least ask it before you do so, and even then you should be prepared on receiving a "no" as an answer. Sometimes they ask you "why" so they give you a chance to explain that you just want to show the people back home what you have experienced in Ghana, and how beautiful the country is. And sometimes they ask you money for a picture. In both cases you are lucky, because just as often it happens that you simply won't allow you. If you do "snap" them, you take the risk of being attacked, or at least your camera being attacked.
Where does this fear for a picture comes from? There are two explanations for that. the first is that a lot of Ghanaians think that "white people" will use those pictures back home to show how poor and unmannered the Africans are. When they look at magazines and TV-programs about Africa, they often so only negative publicity. The result is a feeling of shame, and a fear of a picture.
The second reason has more to do with the religious background of a lot of Ghanaians. In a lot of regions in the country the people still believe in "voodoo" and a picture can be something to practise voodoo on. Most of the times that is not the reason why they don't want a white person to "snap" them, because they know that white people don't do voodoo. But towards other Ghanaians that can be an important reason to say "no" to a picture.
Ghanaian people are physical people: they like to meet people and touch them. Therefore, people will always shake hands with you when they meet you. In Ghana, you will find two ways of shaking hands:
1) The most popular way, thay you see all over the country, is a handshake that really needs some practice to get it. A person shakes hands normally, and at the moment you normally would let go of eachothers hands, you make a "click" with eachothers middlefingers. It goes just the same way as the normal "click" with your own thumb and middlefinger, but this time you do it together with the other person. Difficult to explain, difficult to do, but nice to learn! And everybody does it: from teenagers to old men, and all over the country.
2) The second way it the "muslim way" which you only see in the north of the country. A person steps up to you, shakes hand and afterwards, brings his hand slowly to his heart. This is a sign of respect, and as soon as you see that someones hand goes in that direction, it is polite to do the same.
In Ghana, it is very, very cheap to smoke. For a package of 20 of the cheapest cigarettes you only pay about $ 0,30! These cheap ones are Tusker cigarettes. There are several other brands for sale, but don't expect to find any Marlboro or Camel.
But: it is important to know that smoking is not socially excepted in Ghana. You hardly see people smoke here, except for some youngsters in the bigger cities. For the rest, only some men smoke when they are offered a cigarette. For women however, it is not done to smoke in public. I once was told about women who smoke in Ghana: "They are either Westerners or whores".
So: pay attention to where you smoke. In places like restaurants (outside) or bars it is no problem, just like spacious places. But don't smoke at markets or other crowded places. The people will clearly show you they don't like it!
Especially in the north of Ghana, there are a lot of different tribes. When children are born in these tribes, wounds are made on their cheeks to indicate the group they belong to. Traditional medicines are rubbed in, which leaves a clear scar.
Sometimes these symbols are one vertical line on both cheeks, sometimes more of these lines, but I've also seen a man with a face completely covered with circles.
The Akan people of Ghana, frequently name their children after the day of the week on which they were born. This includes the Ashanti people, and during our visit to the Cultural Centre in Kumasi, we were told of the various names and given the opportunity to purchase a cloth badge with our Akan name. I knew which day I was born on (Friday), but the guide worked it out for David (Sunday). The names are as follows:
Monday Male = Kwadwo, Female = Adjwoa
Tuesday Male = Kwabena, Female = Abenaa
Wednesday Male = Kwaku, Female = Akua
Thursday Male = Yaw, female = Yaa
Friday Male = Kofi, female = Afua
Saturday Male = Kwame, female = Amma
Sunday Male = Akwasi, Female = Akosua
It is an old custom in Ghana that when a rich merchant dies and was buried, his coffin would be shaped to represent the life he led when he was alive. Hence coffins would be made in the shape of cars, birds, fruits and vegetables, shoes and a host more interesting shapes. It beats being buried in any old plain wooden box I suppose. I wonder what shape I would like my coffin to be in. A bank note (from my days in the bank), or maybe a globe, to represent my interest in travelling.
We visited a coffin maker in Tema, to the east of Accra. There were coffins everywhere, and they were beautifully finished, with the interior being padded and completed with shiny silk. I was very impressed.
More Regions in Ghana