I have just returned from a 2 week visit to Ghana, accompanied by my daughter (Ruth) and son in law (Iddris). My overwhelming impression of my experience in Ghana is one of the amazing welcome and warmth from the many people that I met. The meaning of the word Akwaaba is ‘Welcome’, but the true meaning is so much more. Despite the huge cultural differences, I felt very much at ease and enjoyed many stimulating, fun and thought provoking conversations with Ghanian family members and friends.
As you can probably gather, this is not going to be an average travel blog, but will seek to discuss the many cultural, religious and political issues that I came across during my visit. I met many intelligent and eloquent people, with lots to express about the current situation in Ghana.
Much of my visit was spent with Iddris’s family in a village called Odumase, close to Assin Fosu in the Central Region of Ghana. We stayed in a house that Iddris has had built over the past 2 years and is next to his Grandparents house. It was very helpful to have a large and comfortable house to stay in, and also enabled other family and friends to come and stay whilst we were there.
The welcome and hospitality is the best memory of my experience in Ghana.
Several of Iddris’s friends came to see us during our stay and the huge importance of supportive friends really hit me. This appears to be so much more important in Ghanaian culture. Friends need to help each other out practically and financially. They enjoy laughter and fun (and of course football!) There were many examples of how Iddris’s group of friends had helped each other out. Even during our visit, several friends helped us out by meeting us and transporting us from the airport, taking us to our accommodation, helping with the rental of a car. This list goes on.. What amazing, loyal and thoughtful friends.
I was challenged to think about my own friendships in UK. How we are used to living in our own little boxes and can be very independent from friends. We have the financial means to be independent, but with what cost to the quality of friendships.
Another cultural difference that became apparent during my visit was the respect shown to older people (I’m only 55!). Older women are addressed as Mum/Mummy/Mmaa. I am told that it is seen as disrespectful to address a person who is older than you by their first name. This made me feel part of the family and so welcomed.
I was delighted to see how Christians and Moslems live, work and play alongside each other without judgment. Friendships exist across faiths and government encourage this tolerance and actively promote it.
It was evident that a high level of poverty in Ghana as a developing country. There are levels of chaos, especially in the capital that I have never experienced. Yet, amongst Iddris’s family and friends, there was lots of laughter. I was often woken to the sound of his Grandma chuckling with his Mum. A great start to the day! She has very little but is clearly grateful about what she does have and who she does have in her life.
Sad experiences in Ghana.
Sadly, an elderly family member was very unwell during our stay. I was shocked by the lack of care shown to him by Health Care professionals and the lack of community care. Primary care, as we know it in the UK, does not really seem to exist in Ghana. He was sent home from hospital without any clear plan to manage his pain and it was up to his family to follow this up with the local pharmacist. Happily, this pharmacist was well known to the family and paid for painkillers himself.
Herbalists and traditional medicine also appear to play a large part in the Health care system in Ghana. They seem to offer unrealistic cures, at a large price. As with all of us, if we are offered hope, we grab it with both hands. When family members cannot read or write and therefore find it more challenging to make judgements about the efficacy of the treatments, this is a huge challenge.
I met several bright, intelligent young graduates in Ghana who were without work. They expressed frustration about the lack of work opportunities in Ghana. There was no lack of ambition, and these individuals clearly wanted to develop their careers, but were disgusted by high levels of corruption in government. The current government promised to build a factory in every district, but there is little evidence of this coming to fruition. Poor infrastructure, especially in relation to transport is clearly a big contributory factor to the lack of development. THE ROADS ARE APPALLING. See this interesting article
I will now get off my soap box!
One of the highlights of our visit was a trip to this UNESCO world heritage site. This was an experience in Ghana that gave me a greater awareness of Ghana’s colonial past . It is with very mixed emotions that I describe this.
Cape Coast Castle was part of the transatlantic slave trade. Slaves were stored as commodities there by the British in appalling and inhumane conditions. I felt and feel utterly ashamed of my fellow countrymen.
The visit was extremely sad but also educational, and opened all of our eyes to the realities of how life was for the slaves.
The recent revelations about the experiences of Mo Farah, as well as this visit challenge us to think about the realities of slavery today.
I read an excellent book a few years ago in relation to this: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Here is a link to a review
I am continuing to reflect about my experience in Ghana. However, I will follow this up with more thoughts in a few weeks time.
Something a little more cheerful to finish.
A picture of Iddris’s cousin, Mum and Grandma making Fufu. Very physical work!