What a day! I don’t know where to start if I’m honest. I’ll try the beginning.
I woke up at 05.45 realising that I’d lost my iPod! I think I left it on the plane yesterday. After a panicked scramble through my belongings I gave up and began to unpack my things.
Breakfast consisted of two pieces of buttered bread which tastes like brioche and yellow tea which at 6am was plenty of food. Today was my city induction day and so after breakfast, Fynn’s assistant Andi arrived to show me around. This was the beginning of my introduction to a city which could not be any more different from where I live at home. We got on a ‘Tro-Tro’ – an unroadworthy minibus sized van which any westerner would have sold for scrap years ago – and headed for Kwame Nkrumah circle or more commonly just Circle. The ‘mates’ in the Tros which are a kind of conductor shout ‘circ circ circ’ as they approach you whilst making a circular motion with their hands which is quite intimidating when you’re not really sure what to expect from the city.
This twenty minute journey was, as you can imagine, uncomfortable but at GH₵0.60 (20p) there is no justifiable complaint. You’re crammed into this bus with a maximum of fourteen other people, sometimes more and are somewhat recklessly transported to your destination. It really isn’t as bad as it sounds!
At this point, the phrase ‘culture shock’ was discredited as a complete understatement. Circle district is like central London on New Year’s Eve only with heat, sweat and £200 in your pocket waiting to be exchanged for Cedis. As the only white person in sight you rapidly begin to realise that you are the now the ethnic minority; I think the natural first reaction to this was to become paranoid and uneasy. I clung onto my rucksack with as much eagle-like grip as I could muster.
As I followed Andi through the crowds of people I received calls of ‘Obroni’ which is an acknowledgement of my skin colour. Andy swore, as have previous volunteer testimonials that the term was not meant offensively but it made me consider how racial discrimination against minorities in Britain must make the minorities feel.
The smell of the city is of Kerosene when you’re by the roadside and spices and food mixed with urine from the many ‘piss walls’ and humidity when you move away. It sounds unpleasant but it just adds to the character of the city.
From circle we travelled to the Projects Abroad (PA) Head Office where I met Emmanuel Abaaja, the country director and Rhoda, the desk officer who has been guiding me through the preparation process. I signed some forms that Andi gave me, looked through the PA handbook, looked at a route plan for the day and messaged Isabel on Facebook as I had not yet managed to speak to her.
After spending a while at the office we headed back to circle (Yay!!) to buy a temporary mobile phone as my Blackberry had packed up within 5 minutes of being in the country and an Internet dongle. Altogether with credit this cost ₵115 (about £40) which I thought was pricey but I was unprepared and I can now communicate with people so all in all I was fine with the price. We had accomplished all of this by 11am!
We then visited the Human Rights Office in Asylum Down where I met aussie Ollie Shepherd, project leader, and volunteers Lucy Picton – Turberville, Cecilia Maccacaro, Viola, Areomi and Garance. I was unintentionally rude to the latter three by repeatedly not understanding their names; especially Garance. I am looking forward to working with them.
Lunchtime! At 11.30 am which isn’t strange if you’re Ghanaian. Andi ordered two bottles of water, tropical juice, Jollof Rice (a spicy red, tomato-ey rice), Banku and Shito (an extremely dense ball of pounded cassava and corn and a red, hot-spicy sauce), Red Red (fried plantain and beans), and fried chicken and it was really very nice. Andi ate with his hands which is traditional in Ghana but was very unexpected as some of the food was rice and beans which I wouldn’t have associated with eating with hands. I have found that it is important to keep an open mind at all times when you’re here; if constant comparisons are made between here and your country of origin, you run the risk of not submerging yourself fully and becoming out of touch with local life.
After lunch, Andi directed me into a shared taxi to 37 where the military hospital is. This is where I have to travel to on the way my placement via Tro. The traffic at the police hospital was at a standstill. At 37, Andy wanted to buy something for his wife so stopped to negotiate with the child-vendor. In the meantime, a toddler came up unnoticed behind me and poked my leg, giggled and ran off which was a beautiful and charming moment of my day. Undoubtedly she is not used to seeing Obronis so I was a kind of novelty.
We then took a tro back to Pig Farm where I gladly rested after the morning’s tribulations. I learned a lot today and was extremely glad of Andi’s presence as he saved me from being pestered by angry and/or ‘mad (sic)’ men who saw my skin colour and reacted by confronting me for money/food. This is not me being a white boy complaining about being victimised, it was Andi who said that that was the reason.
Andi wasn’t only a bodyguard though, he imparted a lot of useful information and warnings as well as getting to know me and making me feel welcome.