I set my alarm last night for 7 AM, figuring 9 hours of sleep would be a good amount to start getting over my jet lag, but not too much to make me drowsy. I woke up on my own and looked toward the window and didn’t see any light. I was too excited to start the day, so I started making excuses that maybe Accra has dark mornings. I looked at the time and it was 4 AM. Good thing I was still tired, so I easily drifted back off. Then I woke up again, but this time to the smell of food. This time I was a little panicked that I might have over slept and I checked my the time and it was still only 6 AM. And there was really no smell of food, apparently Jesus was trying to feed me breakfast now before he lectured me. I tried to go back to sleep and practically sprung out of bed at 6:40. Now way could I have made it another 20 minutes. Then I got up and got ready to write a bit on the blog and shower myself. The shower doesn’t get much pressure at all, so I had a bucket and used a bowl to pour water over my head. It was surprisingly easy and I probably only used a few gallons to clean myself. It is a little disturbing to think about how many gallons per minute my shower used at home, to get just as clean as the bucket method.
Now it was about 8 and I could hear the boys in the other room playing. I went out and greeted everyone. I went out on the porch with all the dads to enjoy the morning. Then, I went in to have an amazing breakfast of eggs and pancakes. They were delicious. The eggs were white, which was apparently the color of the yoke, but tasted the same.
It was Joe, Irene, Brandon, and Shane’s last day before they flew back to the US. This meant that we had to travel around Accra and visit all the family once more. Jenifer, Charles, their son, and an Uncle Tt were coming along, so we took multiple cars. This meant that everyone fit into the big truck and Charles, Joe, and I took a car. First on our list, I had to get my US dollars exchanged into the Ghanaian Cedi. The exchange rate was about 2 Cedis to one dollar. Since it was Sunday, most of the normal places were closed. Basically everyone in Accra goes to church on Sundays. This meant we had to go into Nema. This place was probably more like what some would expect of a place in Africa, from movies and things. Joe and Charles told me, as we were driving down the dirt road through the middle of the market, that this was the not a safe town and most of the armed robberies in the area happened here. They also told me that almost no Obroni’s, or white/foreign people, walk on these streets and if the do they are escorted by a Ghanaian. The road was two lanes, but really only allowed for one lane because of all of the people spilling into the street from the road. This area, besides for maybe Manhattan in Times Square, was the most packed place I had ever seen. As we drove I looked in between buildings and could see the old run down tin houses that the market people lived in. Then we pulled over and got ready to walk over to the exchange shop. This was probably the most nervous I had been so far on the trip. I got out of the car and tried not get swiped by the angrily passing traffic. Then I followed closely behind Joe, not because I was scared of the people around me, but more about the ground underneath me. There were a lot of pot-holes and big ditches, sometimes covered by splintering wood. I figured if Joe could step on it, I would be fine. We got into the shop and it was very small with a waiting room in front where two men sat. The man to my right wearing a Muslim hat (excuse me for not knowing the name) looked at me and showed a huge smile. I exchanged my money for some 20 Cedis, 10’s, 5’s, and 1’s. Most of what I had was in 10’s. Now with a big wad of Cedis stuffed in my pocket it was time to walk a few hundred feet back to the car. The man at the front smiled again and gave me a peace sign with his fingers. This time I forced myself to look up and trust my feet. The market gave me a deep feeling of being alive, it was intoxicating. I didn’t feel unsafe. I started to notice the beautiful colors of the Shawls worn by the women and the surprisingly nice looking clothes worn by most of the men. Joe and Charles told me that everyone is dressed up on Sunday, no matter their location. When we reached the car we continued to drive until we hit a paved road again outside of Nema.
It was now time to visit some family, before Joe and his left. First we went to Joseph’s Aunt’s house. It was in the same neighborhood that Joe and Charles grew up. It seemed like a quiet and very intimate place. We pulled up to the house where a bunch of boys were out front playing Futbol. Yes, I said Futbol, get used to it Americans are the only one’s in the world who don’t use that term. Then we went inside and I was introduced to the Aunt, Uncle, and Nephew. The Aunt and Uncle were in their early 80’s and looked great. They were still as sharp as whips. The Nephew was about my age and didn’t talk much, but he was very respectable. Most of the time everyone was speaking in Ga, a widely spoken language in Accra. It’s similar to how Twi is spoken secondarily in Kumasi. Again, these are my impressions and what I’ve picked up and they could very well be misinformed. It seems like the Twi and Ga are my media to speaking the local language. There are many more languages that they speak in these two areas and certainly in the other areas of Ghana. I learned that Ghanaian culture and language are basically the same going East and West, but change going North and South. I believe there are 8 different sections. It was really interesting in that house because I was trying to pick up on some of the Ga words that sounded similar to the Twi (pronounced Chwi). This was especially difficult because most of the time there were multiple conversations going on. I still managed to pick out a few words and understand a few sentences. I also noticed that I could tell what someone was saying just by a gesture. I could also tell when someone was telling the group something funny. I got a bit caught up in the conversation and caught my self laughing at a conversation I couldn’t even understand. I was so caught up in the emotion of the talking, I felt like I was on the same page. I guess that is what some people do when they watch the Telenovelas. The uncle next to me was a very kind and gentle man. He didn’t speak much, but I could really feel the love he felt for everyone in the room. He grabbed my hand and asked me a few questions about what I will be doing in Kumasi. Joe warned me before I met his family, especially the older ones, that people don’t filter what they say and often will insult you. He said it comes from a place of love and I shouldn’t get offended, instead I should learn to insult back. The Aunt had the stage for many of the people in the room and apparently at one point Joe told me that she had been throwing around insults to everyone and I was included in one. I felt special being included. I really learned this lesson back when I played baseball in high school. Our coach would always say that we shouldn’t feel bad if he was on us a lot, especially if it seemed negative. We should feel bad if we got no attention at all because that generally meant they didn’t like a player and wasn’t interested in developing them. I knew the attention given to me from Joe’s Aunt was positive in this way and I enjoyed every second, whether I understood it or not.
We got in the car and made our way to the next house, which was one of their cousins, who they referred to as “big mamma” because she always took the lead on all of the traditional ceremonies. She was sort of the ring-leader keeping everyone on the same page. This woman was very nice and we only stayed at her place for 10 minutes. This woman gave me the same feeling they tried to create in the Oracle seen from the Matrix. Big Mamma didn’t look like the Oracle, but I had a feeling she knew just about as much. Apparently I’m not the one. Then we left and went to see Joe’s dad over in another place they used to live. His dad had about 3 house helpers that greeted us. This was where I was really got to practice the handshake they used in Ghana. It starts off normal ending with both people snapping their fingers. It’s much more complicated than it sounds. First there is a normal handshake then as the hands slide away from each other, the fingers catch by the middle finger and below, both people pull back and at the same time release to snap. Imagine snapping, but instead of your thumb providing the resistance it is someone else’s fingers pulling in the opposite direction. I was still pretty bad at it and kept bringing my thumb up for the resistance instead of trusting the other person to provide that. There is probably a nice metaphor in there somewhere. This area was beautiful and I was told a bit about the history of the land we were standing on, back when Joe and Charles lived there.
Next we headed out and went to Irene’s, Joe’s wife, mom’s house. Her family is from Kumasi, so I would be able to sharpen my Twi listening skills here. I met the mom, dad, and sister. I did something wrong when I went to shake the sisters hand and she didn’t expect to grasp hands I the middle. I did something wrong there and I’m still not too sure what it was. I’ll probably figure that out later. Since we were short on time to make it back to the airport, we left Irene, Brandon, and Shane at that house and Joe, Jennifer, Uncle Tt, Charles, and I left to go visit Charles and Joe’s mom at the cemetery. We pulled up at the end of a dirt road right by a bridge. I stayed in the car with Jennifer. As I was getting back in the car Joe was teasing me and said “Now, look at what you did Matt.” I looked over and there must have been 20 kids stopped on the bridge all staring at me. I don’t think they see too many Obronis very often. I smiled and kind of felt strange. I had never been in this situation before. I felt like some kind of rock star, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Jennifer and I talked for a bit, before the men returned from their trip. Then on our way back to pick up Irene and the boys we stopped to get food. We were seated and served at a table. I ordered a spicy chicken sandwich and some fries. Everyone else basically got a burger or piece of chicken. Apparently all the local stuff on the menu took very long to make because the place wasn’t very busy. The sandwich was spicy, but nothing like that green sauce from before. I struggled a bit, but was getting used to the spicy food.
As we pulled up to the place to pick up Irene and the Boys, we stopped in a position to leave quickly to make time for the airport. I met another member of the family outside and gave him a handshake. I wasn’t really thinking about it and somehow made the snap perfectly. I was so excited, I could have cheered! It felt completely different from before and that was all I needed as a point of reference to keep improving. We all got back in the car and headed back to Charles and Jennifer’s house. When we got back to the front of the house another man was opening the gate now. Apparently the last one wasn’t a very important part of the family. Except this man was now wearing a uniform. I found out that even though we were in a relatively nice area of Accra, they hired a guard to operate the gate and monitor the rest of the property. And that pit bull I mentioned earlier was doubling as the night guard. This time there were a lot of children over and a few other family members. Everyone was sad to see Joe, Irene, and the boys leave. We walked down the neighborhood and said bye to the neighbors. It was such a tight feeling of community, I felt like I never wanted to leave. This was exactly what I felt I was missing where I lived in the US. Everyone around the neighborhood was either Family or a dear friend. Even as I visited friends that were direct family, they all were so excited to meet me and find out more about who I am. Most of these people shouldn’t be mistaken for small town people either. Many of them had traveled all across the world including the US, Europe, and many other parts of Africa. The fact that they had all this worldly experience and used it to better the next generation of their people is very honorable. After all that, the people I had met still lived near the neighborhood where generations before them left their mark and no more than an hour drive away from the majority of their family.
We then took two cars to drive Joe, Irene, and the boys to the airport. The core group of the family was there to say their goodbyes. I thanked Joe for setting me up in such a beautiful situation. After we got back home, the house was very quiet and everybody was drained. I took this opportunity to get some sleep.