Going native

You'll have to read to the bottom to find out about this.

You’ll have to read to the bottom to find out about this.

The main reason you have been getting to read about our adventures in Kumasi, Mensakrom and the north, is that for the past month we have stayed in Asuoyeboah. For the first two weeks we ventured no further than the internet cafe. It’s only in the past two weeks that I’ve gone into the krom (city) a few times. Ah, the freedom!

Not that I regret spending so much time at home. It’s just been a different, more domestic focus. One of the reasons for this was that I discovered that there was no point in sending ActionMan to school. By the time he’d been sick and we’d traveled around a bit, there were only three weeks left until the end of term, which would be mostly taken up with exams.

I was torn between disappointment at an opportunity lost, and relief. I admit it, I’m prejudiced against Ghanaian schools. I’ve heard too many reports of caning to feel happy about sending my child to such a school. Even though the school we were looking at professed non-violent methods, it seems – at least according to AM’s brother 50 Cedis – that this is its philosophy rather than its practice. Beating children is still a fairly accepted practice in Ghana, although that’s gradually changing.

If it hadn’t been such bad timing I would have enrolled him for a couple of months. I could have vetoed physical punishment for AM and it would have been a good opportunity for both of us to get a better understanding of the system here, plus for him to meet more people his own age. But it was not to be.

I decided that although he can probably manage a few months without school, I could not manage another seven weeks of him lounging in front of action DVDs all day every day. So I am home-schooling, with his co-operation. It started well but got derailed by illness, and the fact that all his brothers are home on holidays now.

I have a very flexible approach. Last week he was learning lost wax bronze casting at the Kumasi Cultural Centre. The week before he spent a couple of days building a wooden dog kennel for Gye Nyame and Angel, the family dogs. It’s unlikely they’ll use it, but it was an excellent project, which he accomplished with Owaruku’s assistance. Perhaps the family will buy some chooks for it instead.

The rest of the curriculum is basically lots of reading: New Internationalist, BBC Africa, National Geographic, Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, plus maths and spelling online. Oh, and learning to cook with Serwaa. And swimming.

I got a list of hotel pools from the Ghana Tourist Board a few weeks ago, but it took a while to get around to going to the pool. Finally Owaruku finished school early on a Friday and the three of us caught a trotro to Sofoline, which is the name of the big roundabout on Sunyani Rd. We changed for a trotro to Santasi, which would drop us in Patasi, where I planned to hop in a txi and ask them to take us the the Rexmer hotel. On the way to Patasi I got cold feet about this idea, and was wondering if it was really going to work out so smoothly, when I spotted the hotel. It was right on the road we were traveling!

It was wonderful to have a swim after so many weeks of being hot and sweaty, but it was the hotel restaurant’s menu that really got ActionMan going. Hamburgers, bombe alaska, spaghetti bolognese, fresh orange juice … he even got excited about pizza, which he normally doesn’t like. So after splashing around for a while and trying to persuade Owaruku to venture into waist deep water, we headed for the restaurant and AM gobbled down pizza chips and fresh OJ faster than you can say tomato sauce.

We came back the next day with 50 Cedis and nearly drowned both of them in a foolhardy attempt to piggyback them across the pool. Oops. However it did prove the Owaruku that he could push off from the bottom and survive in the deep end. And I’m exaggerating. 50 Cedis was not really in any danger, he just liked to capitalise on the possibility that he may have been (typical).

We celebrated their survival with hamburgers and chips and bombe alaska, a meringue coated pudding I’m in no hurry to try again. I don’t think watermelon works in baked puddings. We were lucky that AM brought his pocket money because they couldn’t take Mastercard even though they’d assured me they could. Seems to keep happening here! So we didn’t end up washing our own dishes.

You are probably wondering by now why I titled this post ‘going native’, and in fact there is scant evidence for me to make that claim.

I do not pound fufu, fetch water, carry impossible headloads or chew bones. I avoid offal, malta (it’s a drink) and Nigerian soap operas. I am not born again and never will be. I’m hopeless at bargaining, a soft touch for cash and a shameless consumer of luxuries.

But … I can claim to be:

  • A competent baby carrier. In the mornings I often tie Treasure onto my back and we go to buy koko and akosi or bofrots at the local mini-market. Until ActionMan vetoed it because I’m destroying my knees.
  • A dutiful daughter-in-law (you’ll hear more about that soonish).
  • A lover of fine cloth – who wouldn’t be, here?
  • Chief toilet flusher for those too small to lift the bucket up to the cistern
  • A good dancer. Well, AM might disagree, but everyone else seems to think so. They all have a good laugh with me anyway & tell me I “love life”.
  • A responsible parent & citizen. I went along to the open day for Obaaku and Daniel’s school. I put up with children shouting into the mic and bad acoustics, felt clucky about the cute kindy kids and took photos of Daniel’s dance group performance (sound familiar?). The unfamiliar bit was how all the mums and dads went up the stage and stuck red one cedi notes over their child’s foreheads before depositing them in the donations bowl. Yes, I did that too, plus made a larger donation later.
  • Getting better at the lingo limbo … slowly. I still don’t have very sophisticated conversations, but I can shop, make jokes and understand when Nana scolds me for forgetting to buy her dokono (also known as kenkey, a steamed cornmeal wrapped in corn husks and eaten with chilli, fried fish and okra stew). “I told you to buy me dokono, I expected you to bring it. They didn’t give me enough to eat for lunch but I didn’t worry, I knew you’d be bring my dokono, but you didn’t bring it etc. etc.” Oh dear.
  • Able to chop ampesi, waakye, redred and jollof with the best of them – and even fufu, if I have to and it’s not sheep soup.
  • Beneficent provider of funding for fruit, chewing gum, phone credit, bofrots, bread, chocolate, birthday cakes and most recently, a new roof for Afia Serwaa’s braiding salon.

And finally, perhaps most significantly:

  • Hair fashion victim! Yes, after almost 20 years of more than nodding acquaintance with Africans, and five trips to the continent, I finally took the plunge and had my hair cornrowed. Afia Serwaa bought some red hair extensions (auburn, not scarlet) and did a fine job of braiding my hair one relaxing afternoon under the oil-palm tree beside her little salon.

I’ve always resisted this before. I don’t really think many white people look good in the style. I don’t like how our white scalp shows through. ActionMan shares this opinion and I wish I’d had a camera on hand to capture the horror, disbelief and dismay that chased each other around his face when he saw what I’d done. The only other people who didn’t gush “wo effe paaa” (you look gorgeous) were Gyamfi and DadaK (who approved in principle but wisely didn’t comment) and 50 Cedis, who sniggered whenever he looked at me and took me aside to tell me – in that open and frank way that somehow reminds me of Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, that it really didn’t look that great and I’d “made a wrong decision”.

Well, I thought so too, but mainly because of the pain and itching, which didn’t stop until I’d taken them out, and the fact that it all started to unravel very fast. Oh that obruni hair, difficult paaa. Tufts of mousy brown sticking out of the auburn braiding – not a good look! It would have been better if I’d still had long hair, but it’s currently a bob, & didn’t work well with long braids.

So it’s cornrows, never again. I’m still undecided as to whether I’ll try ‘rasta’ braids before I leave. I’m not keen. I think I’ve stepped outside my hair comfort zone quite enough for now. Perhaps forever.

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