Tuesday, 13 February 2018

First Impressions

Amaaraba! Translated from the language spoken here- Dagbani, Welcome!

Isi, Akosua, Cath, Saniya, Becky, Mohammed, Ben, Ahfsa, Alhassan, Maya, Hassan

We are cohort 3/5 for PAGSUNG in Tamale, Ghana, and have already spent two amazing weeks out of the ten settling in and finding our feet which was desperately needed after our 12h journey from London Heathrow to Accra, the capital of Ghana. We then flew north to Tamale the next morning after a few hours of sleep.

Accra from the sky                       

The smells in Tamale and Accra are different. When you are in the plane waiting for the doors to open, it doesn't occur to you that there will be a different smell, but as you take your first step out, the first breath of tangy, spicy, humid Accra air rushes over you like thick honey. What is this? Last time you were outside, it was icy cold, raining and 4 degrees in London.

Then, as the plane that takes us from Accra to Tamale descends, we see small clusters of round huts surrounded by fields of brassy sand. It is harmattan, dry season. The air here is dry and thick with dust, less spicy and tropical. The drive from Tamale airport to our hostel is unforgettable, this is the first Ghanaian daylight that we have seen. School Children in the national brown and warm yellow uniform migrate to school, mothers walk with children tied to their backs with a strip of colourful material, though it is early, the coolest hours of the day are vibrant with people, colours, sounds and activity as people go about their tasks.
Approaching the centre of Tamale, the streets liven up even more and businesses spill out and border the road, selling fabrics, food and electricals. Women, heavy loads on their heads, sell goods to those in slowing cars; goats and sheep wander on and along the road seemingly aimless.

Finally, a chance for a nap in the hostel until lunchtime, when we go to the International Service office and meet our ICV counterparts. I'm not sure about how my UKV friends felt, but it feels like we are doing everything wrong- as we enter the international service office, the ICVs are sitting at the back, we barely register this and sit at the front. When Corin, the Programme Officer tells us these are the ICVs, we awkwardly turn and say hello. This also feels weird, wrong and not fitting for the occasion, especially when we find out in a later session that greetings are monumentally important in Ghanaian culture.
It is only later that it occurs to us that this is the first hit of culture shock and probably sleep deprivation. Anyhow, two weeks on and it doesn't seem to have mattered as we are all getting along and becoming good friends.

As part of settling in and bonding, we spent Wednesday touring the important places in Tamale. We first ventured into the market, which is a maze of shops all towering and clamouring over each other, spilling over the narrow paths.
Everything in the market is vibrant and enticing, an explosion of warmth, pattern, culture! We are navigated out of the city within a city by our counterparts and pass a 'western foods' shop, we stand in awe by the cheese and Cadbury’s in the fridge. In a way, it's comforting knowing that these foods we see so often at home are here too, not necessarily because we crave them but it's nice to know that if we did need a taste of home, there is a place we can go.

 I am a silminga

Walking around in Tamale, children we pass often shout “Silminga hello!”  (White person, hello) and wave excitedly. We are not a common sight here. It is not meant in an offensive way, merely as a fact, this is all that they know about us, and it is not just the children, but old women have also called after us, we are strangers in their city. We are also faced with certain stereotypes that are attached to our skin colour, that we are rich, that we can bring people back to the UK with us and help them to get a visa, that we can pay more for goods. What this can give us is a poignant insight into what it can be like for a minority group in the UK, or even anywhere in the world; that people instantly attach certain characteristics and stereotypes to you, making you feel marginalised and very aware of your differences. We should celebrate that we are all different, with varying experiences, cultures and life outlooks, and accept them openly.

 Police Barracks- the police people live here with their families and reduced renting, electricity and water rates. Sometimes families of 8 live in each apartment.

 Once we have visited the hospital, police barracks and other important local landmarks, we are ready for the treat of the day- swimming!

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