Ghana is Not Like That At-All (by Suzanne)

The big news for me is that I got an Embassy Badge. All the Fulbrighters were due to get them this year, and last week we all got processed and got our badges. It was so exciting, I went first of the Fulbrighters and 5 min later my badge was in my hands. I asked Sarpei, our liaison, “Can I go to the washroom all by myself?” And I did. On our way out, we were all in awe – “you mean,” we asked Sarpei as he was walking us out, “we could just walk right over there for no reason and no one would stop us?” It was fun, and will be even better for Sarpei now that he doesn’t have to escort us around every time we want to mail a letter or use the cashier (bank). Now I can just walk right in – I don’t have to put my purse through the scanner, I don’t have to check my phone and my pen drive at the guard desk, don’t have to wait for Sarpei to come get me at the guard house. I just walk right in. The bad news is that the Fulbright badges are for the Fulbrighters only, not dependants, so Steve, who usually does our Embassy business, didn’t get one. Which means now I have to do the Embassy errands. It’s o.k. since Ashesi will wind down soon (last class day is tomorrow). But right now I’m flat out busy.

Good thing going to the embassy is now effortless! On Wednesday we needed cash for the weekend (Thursday was a holiday) so I needed to go and I only had about ½ hour in the morning to fit it in. I had Eric (our driver) pick me up at Ashesi and take me to the Embassy (5 min). I walked right in (!!!), went to the cashier (no waiting), mailed a letter, and was out again in 5 min. (Really, this is SO exciting). I walked across the street to where Eric was waiting, and… the car wouldn’t start.

I’m not sure if we’ve blogged much about our car – it’s a bit of a clunker. Not clunker, exactly, just, not the highest quality of workmanship, compounded by years in Ghana where used parts are repaired over and over again. But, Eric takes care of the car for us, and we live just up the street from Yah-Yah (Lebanese name, I’m not sure how it’s spelled) who fixes our car for us, typically in a few hours, and the typical bill is less than $20. (No kidding – sometimes it’s literally 50 cents, often he doesn’t charge us until it’s a relatively larger bill, then he just adds a few cedis for the past repairs). Needless to say, we’re “regulars”. So, that the car didn’t start was not unusual, nor a huge hassle (or maybe it’s just Ghanaian calmness that has set in). I figured I could get a taxi back to Ashesi, or even walk since I was only 10 min into my budgeted 30 min errand. Eric opened the hood, tried it a few times, banged on a few things, and decided it was the starter. He said, “don’t worry, we will push it, it will start”. Again, not exactly unusual for us – we’ve re-wired that starter before. But, I think, I’m in nice clothes, should I go over to pop the clutch while Eric pushes? I am about to ask when Eric “Tzse’s” a man who is walking by, getting his attention. [Steve comments: Tzse is really a hiss, with a T sound at the start. Its a perfectly acceptable way to say “hey you!” in Ghana, and oh so convenient. Last summer when we were in the States and visiting one of the many Wal-Marts we visited, Steve needed to get Suzanne’s attention, except she was all the way down one of those really long isles. He could see her, just couldn’t get her attention. “Tzse!” Steve hisses, and Suzanne looks his way, and he signals her to come. ] Anyway, back to the non-starting car, the man is purposefully walking by, walking quickly, covered in sweat. (Usually people walk pretty slowly here, in order to not sweat so badly, so clearly he was in a hurry). Eric says ½ a sentence to him in Twi, the man looks up, shrugs, doesn’t even break stride but takes a left turn and gets behind our car and starts pushing. He pushes it into the road, just about into the Embassy driveway, Eric pops the clutch, it starts, and the man doesn’t look back but keeps walking the way he was going, after his 10 second detour of pushing our car to start it. I run to get into the car which is now waiting for me in the road, and off we go.

“That would never happen in the States,” I say to Eric. He doesn’t understand. “What?” he says. “In the States, if you asked someone you didn’t know to push your car so you could start it, they would look at you funny and keep walking. You would have to call a friend to come help you.” “Really?” he says. “Yes,” I say, “You see, this is why I like Ghana so much.” (Some of our Ghanaian friends really don’t understand why we would choose to be here a second year instead of go back to the States – or really, why we came at all. Many of them would do just about anything to make it into the States.) Eric is quiet for a little while, and then says, “You mean, in the States, if you asked someone to help push your car, they wouldn’t help you?” he finally asks. “That’s right,” I say, “unless they know you.” Eric is quiet a little while longer, and then, clearly still pondering this, he says, “Ghana is not like that at-all.” I agree.

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