Thursday, June 25, 2009

on names...

Last year I went to a friend’s wedding back in the UK. I was talking to a uni friend and his wife and on being told ‘Oh we have a friend from Ghana’, I replied, half in jest, ‘Is his name Kofi?’ and they looked at me slightly bewlidered and said ‘yes, how did you know?’!

I understand that many cultural groups in Ghana (including the Ashanti of Kumasi) have an Akan name relating to the day they were born, and if they are not actually known by it, they will answer to it – and thus in the above conversation I had a one-in-seven chance! For example, Kojo is a male born on a Monday, Yaa a female born on a Thursday. I know Kofi Annan was born on a Friday, as was I, and I am thus an Afia.

Other names have meanings too. Like I said on an earlier post, Duku apparently means eleventh born, and I think I have established Obaa means lady. There are also names for twins, and what circumstances you were born in. I once met a guy called ‘Gracious’, ‘Justice’ is a fairly common man’s name, I know a ‘Perfect’, not to mention the supervisor called ‘Bonaventure’ (but known as 'Coach')!

I also know the culture of naming your baby after someone is very widely used here -someone who you respect or who has helped you out somehow, someone you would like your child to take after. A great guy I worked with at Barekese had a daughter in February and told me he would name her after me – when it turned out he had done, I asked if he would call her just Alison or if she would have another name too. He said ‘no she will be Kesewa Alison’. I asked what Kesewa meant and he looked like he was struggling with the English for a minute then said ‘aa like fat dis-ting’ (‘dis-ting’ being the general word when you can’t think of the word… like ‘whatsit’). This amused me for a moment, calling your baby Fat Alison. But here, being ‘fat’ is good, it is a sign of health and wealth, and so Kesewa was probably a blessing over the baby that she didn’t turn out to be a skinny runt like the person she was named after!

But names seem to have a slightly different significance here and I can’t work it out. My name is Alison, I expect to be called Alison, and if anyone tried to call me anything else I would not like it. Being called by my surname without a Miss before it feels impersonal and impolite. Yet one of our surveyors told me his name was ‘Sarni’ and so I used that name. However, when asking for him everyone looked at me blankly and said ‘we don’t have a Sarni!’ It later turned out everyone else called him Ibrahim. There was also a guy called Joseph who’s boss called him Chris, and he answered to it. Often I’ll be told one name for someone and yet it’s not their used name. And often I’ll ask a colleague the name of someone who I have seen them conversing with regularly and they don’t know! People get referred to by their job title not their name. And white people will often get called ‘Akosia’ – Sunday born – in the street (several different explanations have been given to me on this one, maybe something to do with the fact that the original white people were missionaries).

I can't work it out - despite the care and attention it seems Ghanaians put into a name, names don’t appear to have the same meaning they do in our culture, but I can't put my finger on exactly what it is!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

unplanned adventures...

In February, I changed projects from the Barekese Water Treatment Plant to the ADM Cocoa Factory. This is still in Kumasi but the other side of town, and all the assets (cars and houses) that came with Barekese were duly removed, and instead we were moved into apartments in the Golden Tulip Hotel, and got old cars which the company had lying around.

I’d grown quite attached to my butch Ford Ranger. No frills, but I’d had it from new and it did the job and I felt safe! Instead, I got an old Land Rover Defender which has bits of cardboard stuffed in the (dripping) AC vents to make them stay in, the oil needs topping up daily, the door leaks around the feet area, the passenger side locks don’t work, takes superhuman effort to unlock the driver door, you need to break about 20 minutes before you want to stop, the gas pedal once got stuck (cue scary swerve into oncoming traffic), the gear stick fell apart in my hand twice. And once it just stopped. And it turned out some shaft had snapped because it’d been welded back together when it snapped before.

So, I was not particularly confident about the thing, but having taken it on a couple of fairly long journeys and been assured that ‘anyone can fix a Land Rover with a handful of sand and a stone’, I decided to go up to visit my boyfriend at the weekend at the mine where he works, about a two hour journey.

I always take a driver out of town, particularly when in the Defender, just in case! And about half an hour from our destination, the car started making very strange noises, and we ended up having to wait in a little bush garage surrounded by rather pretty fireflies to be rescued by my very own (grumpy) superman, who luckily specialises in these things. The guys had a bit of a look at the engine but couldn’t fix anything, so ended up towing it up to the mine.

Next day, my company sent a car to tow us back to Kumasi, which was fairly uneventful for most of the way, just slow, until we reached a toll booth (8 Ghana Pesewas… about 4pence… compare that to the M6toll!) and a policeman stopped us. It seems that you are meant to tow with a towing vehicle and not with a Land Rover... so for once we were stopped for a legitimate reason… but anyway, if I am being driven and get stopped, I leave it to the drivers to sort out; if you, as a white person, show any concern or interest the ‘dash’ will be higher, as white means money! So I just sat in the car staring out of the window, making a phone call. I turned round to see a young man standing by the driver’s window staring at me. Just staring. When I get disgruntled here I seem to go all uber-English and polite (for ‘polite’ read ‘sarcastic’) so after about three minutes of staring I said in the Queens English 'Can I help you?' and he giggled and carried on staring. Then the driver came back (having made the lucky policeman 20cedis richer and the roads no safer – what’s the point of laws if you can pay a tenner to get off them?) and exchanged a few words with Staring Man and asked if I was scared because I thought he was a policeman. I said no, I just don't like being stared at. My driver told me this man had asked if I would marry him but he’d replied with 'no you could not pay her bills'!

I think this is great as of course being a Independent Woman I would ordinarily take great affront at such a suggestion, and so he needn’t worry, but of course in this culture, women don’t pay their own, so it’s a perfect retort!

Anyway, John and Duku then decided we should go on a detour to avoid any more police… and whilst on this back-road detour, the tow rope got stuck under front wheel of the towed car. Cue a stop, wheel off, rope out of wheel, wheel on, jack stuck in road, rope back on, head for the traffic of Kumasi. Which was a bit hairy, considering that the driver in the front car didn’t drive like he had a car on a bit of string behind him; still nipping into tiny gaps in the traffic while I held my breath and gripped the seat! We finally pulled into the yard with no further major mishaps… except the rope once more got caught as we arrived, and the brake pads went, brake fluid was leaking…and the heavens opened – at least we got back first!

The car is well and truly ‘spoilt’ and as a replacement, I got an… even older Land Rover!

Monday, June 22, 2009

a change...

Well it is an age since I have updated this. I think after being somewhere for a while one gets immune to the things which once seemed bizarre and crazy! Plus I could wax lyrical for hours on opinions on The State Of Africa and I don’t want to bore anyone/be too controversial…

However, a lot has changed since my last post, and my mum for one likes reading it. Even though she knows exactly what is going on in my life before it goes on here. Bless her.

You may have thought I was due to be coming home to the UK imminently. Well, I was. But, a great deal has gone on with my company (and that’s another story for another day) and I am actually staying, for a while at least. My time in Kumasi is almost over, and I shall be moving to Accra on Friday.

I have always said I don’t know which I prefer, Accra or Kumasi. Accra is a busy, bustling city, with restaurants of every cuisine imaginable and bars and shopping malls (well a shopping mall) and people of all nationalities and bowling and a cinema and big hotels and beaches and pools and sandwich shops and balsamic vinegar and live music and haloumi cheese and ready salted crisps. But sometimes I think you can forget you are in Africa (OK so at times that’s exactly what I want), and I sometimes wonder what the point is of being here if you could be in any city of the world.

Kumasi, on the other hand, is a lot smaller, with about five restaurants of any standard, and a similar number of bars, nothing else to do, and fewer international residents. But living here for over 18 months means I have really settled, I know Kumasi a bit, I have some good friends, and I know a lot of people to chat to when I go in to one of the (five) restaurants. In a word, Kumasi is a community, and people look out for each other, and I’ve grown to love that. I also loved when I was working on the water project (again, another story for another day) the fact that my drive to work took me through rural villages, and we felt like we were doing something do help those villages.

In Accra I will be working in our head office, and it’s new and pretty, and I can wear new and pretty clothes (I am a little fed up of steel toe cap boots and mud-splattered combats day-in, day-out), and I am looking forward to a wider range of food available and a more balanced diet again (there is only so many times you can eat tuna pasta in a week) (and I’m over that limit). I will also be doing different work, and as they say, a change is as good as a rest. So, apart from missing the community and good friends and acquaintances in Kumasi, I am looking forward to the change.