The Dos and Don'ts of Ghanaian community living
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Community living is a challenge for even easy-going Ghanaians, so how would Western individualists, like Finns survive with it?
Well, one could get started by learning these rules:
1.) Greet. Everyone. Always. Ask what's up. And when people ask you, you are always fine. If it's not the best day for you, you can say "I'm ok / managing" (well the latter one said by obroni is considered quite humorous here..). I think that it's not really a thing in Ghana to start introducing your good and bad news during small talk. When you greet or call someone, preferably use titles and family words with the name.
Male or female of your age group: brother / sister
Locals also call their male friends quite often: Charley, berma, masa
Men or women who are elder than you: ma, maame, auntie / da, uncle
When talking about somebody's (especially a child's) parents: Kofi’s mother, Kwame’s father.
2.) Make friends. Majority of Ghanaians are very welcoming to guests and visitors. Ghanaians are also peaceful and tend to avoid conflicts. Easy-going, friendly and free atmosphere creates a secure feeling and helps with everyday living. But of course when things get too bad, just feel free to express yourself. We are all humans. And Ghanaians also sure know how to freak out when the limit gets crossed...
3.) Take care of your own business. Take your dried laundries from the line in the evening. Clean your own mess.
4.) If the neighbor's kids are misbehaving or in trouble, look after them. They say it takes a whole village to raise a child. It's a shared responsibility.
5.) Borrow. Iron, salt, water sachets, charger - things that somebody's always in need of.
6.) Ask for help. Everyday house chores, directions, manners, a good dressmaker, barber shop or dinner - Ghanaians are always willing to lend a helping hand (sometimes even if they don't know the answer :)).
Becoming an expert? Here you go:
7.) When eating and somebody shows up, always say ”You are invited.” (and don't worry, nobody will touch your food!)
8.) Mind other people's business too. Rescue your neighbor's laundries from the rain. When somebody's rice is getting burned in the kettle, it's time to call that somebody or one of the girls in the house.
9.) Often when arriving home people might ask you: "What did you bring for me?" You can easily respond: "Next time!" It's a joke; you don't really need to carry stuff for everyone from every shopping. It's nice, makes the kids happy, but you are not father Xmas, are you? And when you do it once in a while, people really appreciate it! Even the smallest gestures. And you might experience gratitude from your people for days.
(Btw this "next time" statement works very well in many situations: when you don't want to buy those sunglasses that "fit you perfectly", or you don't have the energy to go chat with your khebab seller friend, or attend the Sunday church, or...)
10.) If you are buying something from a seller who's carrying the goods on his / her head, assist the person to take the load down and lift it up again.
11.) Steady your nerves. Don't trust any schedules. Be patient and take it easy when you end up hitting the road 2 hours late or the morning meeting turns into evening meeting. And when you are late all you need to say is:
12.) Stay away from your neighbors' fights and arguments. It's sometimes really hard to understand the local culture, beliefs and symbolism and it's definitely better to avoid getting involved in stuff that might have way deeper meanings than we can ever imagine. We also have to remember that our ways of thinking and acting are not any better than the ones in other cultures. So question things with open mind and understanding, please!
(It might be really hard to stay away from certain things especially related to human rights or gender equality. Sometimes you just have to act, but remember that if you don't approach things the right way, things could get even worse. You can't change some things alone, and change always takes a lot of time anyway. So when you see that neighbor's kid getting spanked, mind your actions carefully and think about the consequences.)
If the community is healthy and happy, common affairs and challenges are usually solved by gathering together and discussing the case. The house elders, landlords or other people with some kind of status usually lead the conversation. On the other hand, if the community isn't very united and the responsibilities are not in place, get ready to face issues with shared house utilities e.g. electricity, water, waste collection etc. I can tell you with experience that such problems truly suck.
13.) Don't use other people's laundry lines without permission. (Been there, done that..)
14.) Do not touch that rice burning in the kettle by yourself. (And don't tell the father of the house about the incidence.) Actually avoid using other people's kitchen at all if you haven't asked for permission.
15.) Music is allowed to be played around the clock. So don't complain. It's part of Ghana life. Get used to it.
I hope you found this information useful. Maybe these guidelines could be applied in your country of origin too? Be nice.
Community living life coach, Hanna ;)