Friday, February 18, 2011

Ago! Amee!

Takoradi, Ghana – Day 1

In Ghana the way people call to get someones attention is to yell “ago” and in response everybody is supposed to yell back “amee” so that it’s clear they’re paying attention.

For the first day in port, Karissa and I happened to have signed up for the same field program which was a Twin City Orientation. Takoradi and Secondi are known as the Twin Cities so we would be exploring those for the day. Not really sure what the trip would entail, we got dressed for the overwhelming humidity that we would undoubtedly have to endure for the day. We boarded the bus and were on our way.

As we pulled out of the port, I looked out the window and saw the roadsides covered by garbage and then when we started to get into the city the scenery changed. I was now looking out the window at sheds basically back to back with each other and clothing lines strewn between them. These were the houses in Ghana. I was taken aback, and still am, by the poverty that is so blatantly obvious in this city. Yet despite the fact the people sat outside their homes in ragged clothes and no shoes, many of them smiled and waved at us enthusiastically as we drove by snapping pictures, seeing their neighborhood from the shelter of our air conditioned bus, momentarily. The air conditioning soon died and we were all much too suddenly forced to understand what it would be like to live in Ghana with no air conditioning. The beads of sweat started forming as we all looked at each other and questioned if this was a fixable problem or if we would have to suffer this heat the rest of the day. Our guide soon came onto the loud speaker and announced that another bus would be meeting us at our next stop so that we could switch and get back to the comfort of the ice box.

Where we stopped was a fisherman’s village on the beach. From the road where the bus was parked we could see the tin roof tops of the huts, some covered by tires and all of them by dirt. We unloaded the bus and waited for our guide to start the decent down the stairs from the road to the village. There was a funky smell, chickens, fish, and probably some other stuff but after a few minutes we got I got used to it. Kids started coming up to us as soon as they saw us enter the village. Our guide tried to keep our attention to explain to us about the village and I tried to focus for as long as I could. I learned that in this village the men fish and the women cook the fish (smoked fish is very popular in Ghana). I also learned that in this village, everybody is “family”. They all know each other and whether they are related by blood or not, they all consider each other as family and work together.
Our guide tried to keep our attention so he could talk to us about the logistics of the village and the boats that they make by hand out of wood but our attention was quickly redirected to the adorable kids who gathered around us. As we made our way through the village to the beach front there was no hope for our guide. Our group spread out and each of us were circled by kids who wanted to know our names, ages, where we were from, but mostly, they wanted us to take their pictures. These kids absolutely LOVED the camera, being in front of it and taking the pictures. They would pose with wide smiles and then as soon as they heard the snap of the pictures being taken they would rush over eager to see what they look like on camera, giggle and then return to their last location for more pictures. Pose, picture, review, giggle, repeat. The women of the village made their way down to the beach as well. With their babies swaddled in fabric on their backs, they came carrying buckets of fish and proceeded to show us what they do with these fish for fun. As we watched in awe, they took a knife, cut a hole in the gills, pulled the tail and threaded it through the mouth, out the gill, and then did a little knot with the whole thing. We found out that they did this because if the fish are too long, this processes makes them shorter so it saves space. The women laughed hysterically at our curiosity about this process and they couldn’t have been happier to share it with us. They also were quite fascinated by my braces. One of the women looked at me with curiosity and then started pointing to her teeth. I knew immediately that they were wondering why I had metal brackets on my teeth and what the purpose of them was. I told them that they were to make your teeth straight but knowing that they probably didn’t understand, I called our guide over to explain. He laughed along with all of us and explained to the women what braces are and they oo’d and ah’d just has I had about their fish moments ago.

Our guide called to the group that we were moving on and we walked the few feet off the beach and back to the part of the village where all the “houses” are. We were going to see how they smoked the fish. With her baby still sleeping peacefully strapped to her back, the woman we had met on the beach lit a fire under a man made oven and showed us the trays of fish laid out stacked high over the fire. Im sure for people who enjoy fish this might have smelled appealing, but I am not one of those people. As interesting as it was, I was eager to move away from the smell of the smoked fish. The display didn’t last too long and then it was time to go. We started back to the buses and the kids lined the pathway sticking their hands out for high fives with smiles from ear to ear. These people seemed genuinely happy to have had us in their village and to have been able to show us how they live. It’s amazing how these people with pretty much nothing, especially in comparison to us, are just so happy. It was amazing to see that and be able to leave the village with that knowledge.

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