The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Quirky Ghanaian Ways, vol III

Bush Meat

The Grasscutter – this is a really large rodent, which in the Western Region is for sale along side the road, and it comes in two forms, fresh, and smoked. It comes under the heading of “bush meat” meaning wild meat. Grasscutter is quite popular though I have not had the nerve to try it. There are even grasscutter cultivation research centers that we see sometimes, and I wonder about what they serve in the canteen there.
[fresh grasscutter & smoked grasscutter for sale on cape coast road]

Snails - I’m not sure that snails actually qualify as bushmeat, but they should. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they are small, delicate, tasty ones the French call escargot these boys are huge, like a grapefruit, and tough as shoe leather, and the taste, well… On our 20th anniversary, Suzanne and I both had soup dishes with fresh snails, mine soup was green, her’s brown, and both of us were unable, physically unable to eat them. That night the only ones that ate well were the mosquitoes. But you can buy these snails at the market, out of bowls, on large platters, and the ladies selling them keep having to pick them up and move them back on platter, or into the bowl. That’s how you know they are fresh. There is an Ewe proverb that says, even the smallest snail leaves behind a trail of slime, and that is for dinner.
[Anna holds a tree snail]

Official Photographing at Public Events
I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to this, but at public events, like weddings, or church services, dance performances, and really anytime a large group of people are assembled, the Ghanaian photographers show up. These guys—and they are always guys—stand up right in front of the speaker, wedding party, performer, or whatever and film or snap (take a picture) with no concern that they are blocking the view, or a distraction. A few weeks ago at church, it was the Ghana@50 Celebration, and so there were photographers everywhere, especially during the sermon. I’m not sure what becomes of these pictures, or video, but I know it is really distracting to see the

[Kofi preaching] [Nii and Adzo Wedding]

The Left Hand
Quirkiness – you never wave, receive or give anything with the left hand.

Tradition - The left hand is the one that is used in the toilet, and so to use it in any social situation as an insult. One time when we were at Kinder Paradise (the proper name for the orphanage at PromProm) we played duck duck goose with the girls and I noticed that the left hand was rarely use, except by the obrunies. This one girl was running around the circle counter-clockwise crossing her right hand over her left, to pat people on the head, just so she didn’t pat using the left hand.

Never using the left hand presents some awkwardness, and is something that is constantly on our minds. For example, the guard brings the morning paper to the screen door. The natural thing would be to push the door open with my right hand, and accept it with my left, but that would be an insult, so I open the screen door with my left hand, and cross over my right hand over my left arm to receive the item.

You never wave with the left hand and so when I am driving and wave to someone, it is always with my right hand crossing over to wave out the window.

Now buying something is even more tricky, because each of us must hand something and receive with only one had. Say I’m buying fruit from my “second wife.” She tells me the amount, I count it out, hand it to her with my right hand while she is handing me the black plastic sack of fruit—also with her right hand—and so we exchange money and black plastic sacks. It is awkward, and when there are several things, I accept with my right and immediately transfer it to my left to hold. It is an intricate dance of fingers as she takes my money, puts my fingers through the loops of the black plastic bag, all the while the left hand is unused.

The Black Plastic Rubber (plastic bag)
Up until maybe 10 years ago I understand, you never saw plastic bags, or rubbers as they are called here. Everyone had a market basket that they carried around for shopping. Today, the market baskets are just for tourists, and the black plastic bags are everywhere…on the street, choking the gutters, caught in the trees along the road, and washing on shore on beach. It is really sad to see so much garbage. Apparently, the plastic bag it is a cultural thing in that it is unacceptable to carry food, or items in your hands. Everything must be in a bag of some sort so people do not know what you have. To carry it without a bag would tempt robbers, or brag, and both are bad, so items must be shielded from view…hence the black plastic bag.

Now my “second wife,” the fruit seller and I have come to an understanding. She doesn’t force black plastic bags on me, but loads everything in my bike baskets. In turn I bring her large bags of black plastic bags for her to reuse and give out to other obrunies.

Greetings –
Greet everyone. Period. Unless you are going to the convenience room (toilet), then you say (in Twi) “don’t greet me,” and the response is “I don’t greet you,” which is funny when you think about it because you’ve just done that. Our Twi Teacher explained that to greet someone on your way to answer nature’s call would be to say to them “I sh__ on you.” We were shocked to hear her say that word, “sh__” because you never, well almost never, hear Ghanaians swear. Maybe they do in their local languages, but almost never in English. In fact us Bucheles had to really clean up our language when we first came to Ghana, and we were pretty good about not using those kind of words.

A few weeks ago I was playing tour guide to our Fulbright friend Michael, who was on the final days of a three month scholarship in the coastal town (and University) at Winaba. So Michael and I were poking around Accra, and I took him to Independence Square, and Independence Arch. The Arch is one of my strongest memories from when we were here before, and I don’t know what it is about memorial things like this arch, but I love just looking at them. They serve no other function than to remind of some great event, and for Ghana, that event was 6 March 1957 when Ghana became the first colony to declare its independence.

So Michael and I are walking through the arch, and I see one of its doors open, and I think, WOW, this is a rare opportunity to see what is inside, so I run through the arch and hop up the stairs. Immediately, one of the gardeners starts yelling at me. “Why did you not greet me?!” She is acting angry, but I think she is just messing with me. She says “In Ghana, you greet first,” and then clicks her teeth at me. I say, “Eh, how did you know I was not going to answer natures call?!” I bring my hand up to make a point. “Then, I would not greet you!” She gets this confused look on her face, thinks about it, cocking her head sideways. It’s a good question, but she says “no toilet there” shaking her head, “it is just there” she says pointing to buildings about 2 blocks away.
“I did not know,” I say, “Eh, I am sorry, I did not greet.” Then she rattles of this sting of Twi at me, and the other gardeners are laughing. I have no idea what she is saying. When she stops, I step forward, bow, and say:
“Good morning Madame, how are you?”
“Fine, thank you” she says, which is what most every Ghanaian says when you ask, and she adds “and you?”
[Elizabeth taking my picture]
“I am fine,” I say placing heavy emphasis on the word fine and she starts laughing with me, and pulls out her camera phone to take my picture. I laugh with her, and all the other gardeners, and I take out my camera to take her picture, and she keeps taking mine, and then she says, “Obrunie, You dash me.”
I say, “Madame, you take me to the top” (of the tower). “Obrunie, you will dash me?”
“I will dash you I say and go to top,” I say drawing out the and really long and she calls over her helper and she leads us to the door, the same one I had, in my hurry, jumped up the stairs and not greeted. Now I was getting a tour.

[Michael climbing out of the window]

When we get to the top of the stairs, the door is locked, but not the windows, and so we climb out and there we are on the top of this monument to Ghana’s independence. There is a great view of the new stadium, of Independence square, of the Osu Castle, which is the seat of government, and these really large black concrete five pointed stars.
[Monica, our “guide”]

I guess the idea of being on top of the Arch was a lot more exciting to me than it actually was. It was something I had hoped to do someday, have the chance to climb up there, maybe because the Arch is such an old memory, and going to the top was a sort pilgrimage to honor that memory.

[A view from the top: Osu Castle]
[A view from the top: New Stadium being build for African World Cup in 2008]
Now that I’ve been to the top, I think of other arches I’ve been to, like

[the Brandenburg Gate]
[the Ark de Triumph]
[Jerash Arch, in Jordan]
[Indepedence Arch on Ghana@50]

And wonder what it is about this architecture that so captivates the human spirit? I think about my uncle Joe, who let a fella from the big city build a arch on his Kansas farm overlooking the interstate, just because he wanted to. I don’t have a picture of that arch, and wonder what has become of it today, and what it was built to memorialize then.

In the Old Testament, a smaller version was called an Ebenezer, and these large stones were upturned to memorialize a certain event, to help us remember, and for our children to ask about, and for us to tell them the story of say, how God gave Jacob a dream here, or there was a mighty victory there, or how 50 years ago this African nation became free.


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