Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Getting there / First impressions (Week 1)

Coming from rainy, dark and cold Helsinki to rainy, dark and hot Accra, getting out of the plane feels like walking into a wall. The heat and humidity is overwhelming you in a very different way to say, the Finnish summer “heat”. You almost start looking for a big knife to cut your way through. This is in addition to the shock of having some nice, cold pints on Heathrow and, later on, in a few minutes moving from a luxurious BA flight filled with drunken Britons and happy Ghanaians to a long, static and sweaty queue of drunken Britons and not so happy Ghanaians. The first thing I hear is that just moments earlier, a cargo plane has crashed into a bus and some homes close to the same airport, killing ten people. Just in case I send some signs of life back to Europe.
After surprisingly easily finding our contact person and getting to a bus-station (Don’t ask which, it’s dark and I feel ignorant as a newborn), I have my first lesson on differences between African and European everyday culture. As has been written by probably every possible foreign commentator of Africa, the African concept of time differs greatly from the European one. A bus set to leave at a certain time does not have to actually do so, because there might still be things to be taken care of. This, it seems, has made the Ghanaians masters of waiting. No anxiety, no swearing, no walking nervously around. Mostly, not even reading a magazine. Just sitting and waiting. I admire this local form of patience and intend (and have to) learn it myself! Getting used to waiting and forgetting about time might very well make the difference between insanity and personal stability here. As for the bus ride, make no mistake: the bus is better than those long range buses I’ve been using in Europe. It’s air conditioned and the seats are at least half wider than in Finland (Usually, I’m never able to catch any sleep on them; here, I slept like a baby almost the whole trip.)
When finally in Kumasi, we stumble down a dark alley surrounded by low houses and enter a single-storey house. The neighborhood, possibly the whole city, is having a blackout. The house seems ascetic but more than enough right now since it contains a free bed.

My morning is filled with new faces and names I forget in a minute. I take a walk with a local around the neighborhood and feel like a little child, asking questions like: “Where can I get water and food?”, “How do I use a toilet?” or “How does stuff in the kitchen work?” There’s not really anything here representing something from back home (Like a supermarket or a grocery store…). Luckily, my sense of being lost and handicapped is eased by joining a small, short and very sweaty football game on the backyard. I’m reminded of the heat once again.

Later we visit the campus of the local university, KNUST (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology). It is nothing like my home campus in Helsinki. You enter the campus through a gate resembling a traditional Ashanti throne under the gentle stare of two handsomely uniformed guards. Inside, the campus looks more like a wide, deeply green garden than a university complex. Wild parks, dense with trees are everywhere, buildings are scarce. I don’t even try to estimate how large the whole campus is. What these guys don’t spend time on is letting new people settle down. After a couple of hours of sleep, I’m already busy planning the big picture of the development project we’re supposed to manage. Back in The House I have to move to a new room and learn that I’m sharing it with two men from the Ivory Coast and one from Burkina Faso. That’s one multicultural encounter from my point of view, not least because I don’t speak much French… Before going to sleep I get to taste my first Ghanaian dish, which (to the disgust of the Chinese interns) is eaten completely by hand, from one big shared plate. A bar has appeared just around the corner, and nothing is going to hold me back from a large, cold beer.

In the end, what has helped me the most in getting over the huge, initial shock of coming here has been the fact that I have found it astoundingly easy to talk to and come along with the people in The House and at AIESEC KNUST. We laugh to the same jokes and have the same problems, both small and big. This is in addition to the (quite obviuos) immense helpfulness and hospitality everyone here has so far shown. The atmosphere is best described by a quote from our manager: “Africans are communists by heart.” This leads to sharing everything, most importantly food and water, especially with new, ignorant and helpless Europeans. These people have kept me alive for the first couple of days! But then again, that’s just one more aspect of the culture I will gladly learn and get used to.


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  2. Doing good, keep it up! Nice to hear you arrived safely and looking forward to hearing more of your integration process and future escapades. :D

    Maby also a glimps of what the development project is about once you get it up & running?

    P.S. Be careful of getting to comfortable with the local perception of time as people who haven't been blessed by the experience of a more relaxed perception of time might not be as understanding, once you come home. I would know. Insallah!