Monday, March 25, 2013

You know you are in Ghana When…

  • You are an “Obruni”, a white person/foreigner. You cannot even walk two paces down the street without being noticed. Children are either adorably enamored with you, in awe of you, scared of you, or demand things from you. “Obruni, give me money”, “Obruni, koko matche!” (Foreign red person, good morning!)
  • You get around everywhere in these vans called tro-tros which are pretty much the best idea ever. Cheap public transport (that is technically private since each van is privately owned).
  • You take a bucket shower at least twice a day.
  • Your water works about ½ the time.
  • Power is on for about 3 or 4 nights of the week. Right now it’s on a cycle where you get it from 6:00pm-6:00am and then the next day from 6:00am-6:00pm. Thus, about ½ of the week you have power. Here they call the power outages “Lights off” and they are orchestrated by the electric company unlike in Maine where the only time the power was out was due to storms or some other issue with the lines not the lack of electricity like the power outages are here.
  • To get your attention people hiss at you, beckon you with their palm facing toward you and their fingers moving into their palm, screaming bra, obruni, or school girl. And well, after being here for 6 months, you also call people with bra, the come gesture, and yes, you do hiss to get someone’s attention.
  • One of the first questions you are asked is “Are you a Christian?” There are two options for religion here; one is either a Christian or a Muslim. While they are tolerant of each other, the concept of not believing in God does not exist in Ghana. For the exchange students who don’t believe this has proved to be very difficult. 
  • You receive countless marriage proposals; have to deal with a ridiculous amount of sexual harassment. People constantly tell you they love you & that you are beautiful even though it’s not you it’s just your skin color. Try explaining that to them though, they deny it.
  • Every morning you have to “lay” your bed. Fitted sheets do not exist here thus you have to make sure the sheet is neatly tucked in. Heaven forbid you leave a crease, and no matter how hard you try to make it perfect, rest assured your host mom will find fault in it. 
  • People try to convert you to their form of Christianity claiming yours isn’t right & without their version you will go to hell.
  • In school if you do anything wrong you are caned. (Except if you are an obruni, which is pretty much a get-out-of-jail-for-free-card.)
  • Parents beat their children.
  • One greets by asking how the person is doing i.e. Ete sen? How are you?
  • You realize although growing up distaining/making fun of sardines, they actually don’t taste half bad.
  • 2 cedis turns into a lot of money. The idea of going back to American prices is something you dread.
  • Crying is literally beat out of children.
  • People ask you: “Do you know so & so, he/she lives in Ohio/the Bronx/Virginia?”
  • There is a dance move called ‘The Al-Qaida’ and no-one, except your one classmate who lived in the Bronx for 2 years, thinks that it’s named strangely.
  • There are food sellers everywhere. Be it food on ladies heads or at stalls.
  • Noise Ordinances do not exist. In the middle of night you can be berated by super-sterofied club music or amplified all night long church service complete with hours of “speaking in tongues”.
  • You have convinced more people you are half-Ghanaian than that you don’t have a boyfriend. (Sadly, I am not exaggerating at all.)
  • Unlike in the US where you go to a grocery store and keep food in your house, one just walks a little down the road to a metal crate store or to a market to get anything they need.
  • People carry EVERYTHING on their head and you try to too. Some things you are better at carrying than others.
  • Water comes in sachets that cost 10 peswas which you bite into the side of and well, suck the water out of it. At first you though this was weird but now you can’t imagine life without them. Paying a buck for water-yikes!
  • You squat pee like a pro now and laugh at how you used to be afraid of doing so.
  • You have seen “bathrooms” that are worse than anything you imagination could have come up with. You will never complain about a bathroom in the US again.
  • At home you are not “Lydia” but your Ashanti/Twi day name, “Abena”.
  • Talking to random strangers isn’t weird anymore and you wonder why you didn’t do so in the US.
  • You can greet people in at least 5 different local languages but are not fluent in a single one.
  • You say the Lord’s Prayer and the Al-fitr every morning during morning assemble
  • You understand the majority of what is being said in Twi but cannot speak it very well.
  • You have major respect for everyone especially your classmates since they are all so strong. They say “we suffer” and it is true, they do. But it’s not terrible, their lives are harder than their American peers but life is still life and where ever you go it is still beautiful.
  • People always ask you “Can you eat {Insert any Ghanaian food such as Banku} ?” “Do you chew or swallow your fufu?”
  • “Do you know you have pimples?” or “What is that rash on your face?” or “Why do you have pimples?”
  • You are getting fat and are told that daily by a host of people. Be it a neighbor, a relative, a classmate, and even a guy who you can tell is interested in you. Here they consider it a complement. My [least] favorite memory of this occurred while I was walking with some of the girls that I run with. One of the girls patted my stomach and realizing that it was not air or extra clothing but rather my fat exclaimed “Oh my Lord! Your stomach is HUGE! You really need to do more ab workouts.” And they said before I came to Ghana that Ghanaians were indirect. Yeah, I don’t believe that.*
  • This conversation happens way too often.
    • “Where are you from?”
      “I’m from the United States of America.”
      “Oh, America. Which state?”
      “No, what STATE?”
      “I’m from the state of Maine.”
      “No, what STATE?”
      “Maine, it’s the STATE I’m from.”
  • Pears=Avocados
  • Boutique is spelled like Butik
  • Pants=Underwear & Trousers=pants
  • Rubber=A plastic bag
  • To flash someone=to call someone but hang up before they can answer so the other person will call you back and using their credit.
  • You see just as many American flags as Ghanaian ones
  • Traveling across country alone is no big deal, you do it all the time
  • Not knowing where you’re going other than a name is no problem since you just have to ask anyone and if they know they will help you
  • Everyone seems to have a relative or know someone in either the States or somewhere in Europe.
  • You are extremely proud to be an American. You have become extremely patriotic since coming to Ghana. You realize how extremely blessed you are to be a citizen of the best nation in the world. (Yes, you may have become a bit bigoted.)
  • Girls to middle aged ladies ask to marry your brother, even though you don’t have one. Once they realize this, they ask for one of your guy friends.
  • People believe that Obama, Beyoncé, & Jay-Z among others are “devil-worshipping free masons”
  • People believe Obama planted a chip in every Americans arm as part of Obama care.
  • You are totally in love with the popular Ghanaian music.
  • People not only do not believe you when you say you don’t have a boyfriend, they accuse you of lying.
  • People throw their friends under the bus for fun. Even telling the teacher to beat them and laugh at their friends when they are beat.
  • Commenting mercilessly over someone’s deteriorating appearance is not even considered rude here. I.e. The other day one girl saw a picture of how I looked in the US and told me “Man, you used to be pretty! Why are you so ugly now?” Gee, Thanks.
  • Chop=eat
  • You can actually see the outline of the sun!
  • People are convinced that since you are white, you are rich. Which compared to most Ghanaians you are. One time I had ran out of money and when asked why I didn’t buy something, the shop keeper was aghast by my answer that I had no money, exclaiming “But that’s impossible! You are an Obruni!” with the same look on his face as a child who had just found out that Santa Claus isn’t real.
  • Your host mom always asks you how things are in London are even though other than the 2 hours you spent at Heathrow on your way here, you have never set foot in Europe.
* I’ve come to realize that the assumptions/cultural profile AFS Ghana provided us for Ghana is completely subjective. What I consider indirect or family oriented means something completely different than what Ghanaians consider those aspects to be. I’ll expand this thought in a separate blog post.


  1. Lol this list was funny and very true.

  2. Nice to Know the life of an Obwani AFS student in Ghana ahas changed very little....

    "You can greet people in at least 5 different local languages but are not fluent in a single one."

    Wait till you get home. No one even knows a word in any of the five!

  3. I'm a YES hopeful and this list is really interesting! I hope you enjoy the rest of your year there, it sounds really challenging but amazing!