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!

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