Monday, 16 May 2011

Man Love

Monday lunch time. The office’s electricity has gone off in one of the city’s frequent “brown outs” and everyone is counting down the hours until they can bunk off. I am sat on a plastic chair in the meeting room as my usual back office feels like a greenhouse without the ceiling fans. The meeting room has two veranda doors which have been flung open to let in a welcome breeze. The weather outside seems changeable and the blue skies have given way to a dark and foreboding sky. I am praying for rain.
On Saturday I spent two hours outside in a thunderstorm whilst playing rugby in East Legon. Whilst most of the Ghanaians couldn’t wait to get out of the rain I savoured every last drop!!
As one of the few in the office to have a laptop I am still typing away (on this blog) whilst the others are staring at blank desktop screens. I am listening into a misinformed debate between Emma, the Australian intern and Stephen a Ghanaian trainee lawyer. Like so many conversations in Ghana, the discussion has shifted towards religion. Emma, an impeccable western liberal, is sticking up for the rights of homosexuals and those from other religions whilst Stephen, a bible thumping evangelist, is explaining the evils of both.
Gay rights is a taboo subject in super religious Africa. Even in human rights organisations gay rights are largely ignored or even criticised. Homosexuality here is still seen very much as a devious choice. I have slowly tried to push for us to cover LGBT issues by making passing references to the anti- homosexuality law in Uganda but my probing (for want of a better word) meets universal disapproval.
It is amusing that so many Ghanaian men who shudder at the mere thought of homosexuality are incredibly touchy feely with their friends. Interactions between male friends is very tactile and it is not uncommon to see them walking hand in hand down the street. Razaqh, one of my best friends from Accra Sharks is constantly grabbing at me when trying to explain something. A casual resting of his hand on my legs or those of teammates is not uncommon and I am learning not to show hardwired unease. As a farmer’s son with old school parents I am not even so good at hugging my sisters let alone a casual brush of the thigh by one of my mates!
As I am getting used to affectionate embraces from my friends I am also becoming more Ghanaian in my interactions with others. The handshake in southern Africa has a change of grip between the two participants whilst in Ghana the shake is finished by a slide and clicking of the index fingers. Throughout my life I have never been able to gauge when to hug, kiss, hand shake or wave at people I meet. After my time in Africa things have only got worse. Whilst all Ghanaians slide and click, expats are less clear-cut. Generally expats my age will click whilst the older ones tend to keep their conventional handshake. I have had several awkward moments attempting to click thin air, especially with the snooty Frenchmen who take the rugby sessions at East Legon.
Another habit that I am picking up is the simplifications of my language and instructions. Half of the stuff I say on the street would land me in considerable trouble in the UK. For instance to get people’s attention everyone in Accra will “TTTSSSSSSSSSSS” at people. Initially I tried “excuse me” when trying to hail a cab or ask the tro-tro mate (bus conductor) how much the fare was. However my polite English appeals would go unheard and so, in true Ghanian fashion, I now “TTSSSSSSSSSS” at waiters, street vendors and taxi drivers.
I have also taken to calling everyone “boss” and cutting out any unnecessary vowels. So for example if instead of,
“hello Mr bus driver, sorry to bother you. Please could you tell me how much a bus fare from Kaneshi to Krokobite junction is please?”
“TTSSSSSSSS” Boss! ““TTSSSSSSSS” Krokobite. How much?

Let see how my new manners go down at the wedding!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Ghana Rugby

I have been searching around for something to write about for a while. I have spent a number of evenings typing away, getting frustrated, pressing save, closing the laptop lid and putting on my headphones for a bit of Pink Floyd. I am currently overplaying the Division Bell. The album reminds me of dad and long trips wedged in between suitcases in the boot of the old Land Rover Discovery on childhood holidays. It is now my self-reflection soundtrack.
I have been in Ghana enough long enough to not actually know how long I have been here (I think five weeks). In this five weeks (?) I have spent two nights alone; one lucky night in the hostel when I was the only one booked into the dorm rooms and another night at Green turtle Lodge in Takoradi when I left the sweat box tent that I was sharing with Andrew in the middle of the night in search of somewhere less claustrophobic. I found a unclaimed four man tent on the sand dunes which later turned out to be a four man swimming pool as the humid atmosphere at last yielded its first rainstorm. By morning the only dry area of the mattress was an outline of me in a foetal slumber.
It seems these may be the only solitary nights that I will spend until I return back to the UK in June for Fran and Gary’s wedding as Eric and George’s house has fallen through. They are free to stay in the room until the end of their contract in late June, so it still seems to be the floor and itchy duvet-come- mattress for me. Rather impractically the king sized duvet that I double over and sleep on has a floral pattern made out of small golden plastic disks. These patterns haven’t been so well attached and my sweaty torso seems to be like a magnet to them. Every day at work I take great pleasure pulling them out of my hair and off my arms.
Despite being condemned to the floor and the gold disks for a few more weeks, I am secretly glad that Eric and George. I get longer living rent free before I take over the lease and they are good guys. Besides, it has been so long that I have slept alone that I probably can’t get to sleep without the soundtrack of snoring!
I am writing now because after a rough week or so I think I have gotten over the hump, or at the very least I have had one of those moments of clarity. When I was with Tenteleni we used to show volunteers a line graph which mapped volunteer’s moods when on placement. Initially the line shoots upwards as volunteers are excited about the new culture around them. However, soon after, the line crashes as excitement and optimism is replaced by homesickness and anxiety that the cultural divide is just so large. In the end the line recovers to a nice steady plateau as volunteers learn to cope with and adjust to their surroundings. I had to demonstrate this to volunteers as a project coordinator but I had never experienced it myself. In all honesty I found my placement in South Africa surprisingly easy and my mood in Swaziland was only dampened by my cowardly inability to bring a toxic relationship with a then girlfriend to an end. Ghana, I think because I put pressure on myself to “live” here, is the first time that I have felt a genuine yearning for home. However the graph seems like it might be coming to pass. After highs and lows of the past few weeks I am beginning to feel on a more even keel.
So what was my moment of clarity? Strangely enough it was my first games of rugby in Ghana. On Saturday the six teams in the league met at the University field in Legon for their second round of matches. The university was just the tonic I needed from a busy week at work. It is a palatial and green campus dating from either the late colonial or early independence era. Unlike downtown Accra which is a sea of concrete, the university is made up of grand white buildings with pan tile roofs, ornamental gardens and shade giving tree thickets.
I am currently on an economy drive so I got up early and took a tro-tro with Razaqh, the captain, to the campus rather than opting for a taxi. We were the first to arrive before the rest of the Accra Sharks met up. We played two games of sevens against Accra Spartans and another team whose name escaped me. None of the teams can source or afford proper rugby kit so whilst one team from the Volta region had a hand me down kit from a team in England, the rest of us wore plain coloured t-shirts or knock off football tops to create a team kit. Accra Sharks play in Manchester Untied 2010 away kit. We played Inter Milan and Liverpool. (Chelsea were also in attendance, but I guess we will play them in the next round of matches). 
The day was rather ridiculous. Before the start of our first game we lined up in our football kits to be presented to some minor dignitary, perhaps the president of Ghana rugby. We were also filmed and interviewed by three national TV stations after the games (both of which we won). Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that we were some elite league rather than an odd mix of passing western interns and Ghanaians picking the sport as they go on. The standard of kicking, the number of knock ons and forward passes was something to behold, as was the “refereeing”. One particular highlight was a game between Chelsea and a team in white. Both fly halves were unable to drop kick which meant that the ball never reached ten metres from the re-start (although if they connected with the kick, that was a bonus). The referee rather than giving the option to kick again or have a scrum decided that a penalty would be given well away from the half way line.
Nonetheless the day summarised why I was here: To be part of something. The league has only started this year and there is a small but growing core of players and followers. There was obvious excitement from all those involved that something new was taking shape. It was a real pleasure to take part in this new movement. I am also pleased to note that I have met so many genuine Ghanaians through training and playing with the Sharks. I enjoy a sense of parity and genuine friendship with my team mates, this is something is quite often sadly lacking when you meet other Ghanaians who seem to see obruni’s as a source of money or contacts to a supposed better life in Europe. I am not in Ghana just to pass the time with others like me but to meet and experience something new.