I often hear that in places like Ghana, the “pace of life” is slower. But it’s not because people here are lazier, or just walk and talk slower. Allow me to demonstrate:
It all started with a trip into town to buy some skirts. Not for me, for the other two girls. Though secretly wearing a skirt in this weather wouldn’t be so bad… not that I would know from experience. Really. Forget it, let’s continue.
The first order of business was finding locks. We started at the department store:
Me: Do you have locks?
Employee: What kind of lock are you looking for?
Me: A bike lock.
Me: What about a regular padlock?
Me: Do you have any locks? Where is the lock section?
E: All our locks are sold out right now.
Me: Then why did you ask me what kind of lock I needed??
We walked to a market stand that had locks, but the owner was away. We walked to a second market stand, success! With the lock in my hand, the first few drops of rain landed on my forehead.
You don’t need a weather man in Ghana, you just watch other people. If no one else cares about the rain you’re probably fine. If people start hustling towards shelter, you’re in trouble. We were in trouble. Just as we reached our bikes the downpour began. Rain in Ghana is like snow in Vancouver—everything stops. At one point even the cars on the road in front of us stopped driving. So we sat and waited for the skies to clear.
While we sat waiting, a troupe of small uniformed school children walked by. They were walking near the wooden planks that traverse the 20 inch deep street gutters on either side of the street. One of the boys stepped on a plank that was unbalanced, it flipped and sent him sprawling. He almost fell into the gutter but was lucky to land on a few other wooden planks that were better balanced. The plank he originally stepped on was pinning his back leg, and his little gang of friends was too shocked to do anything. I stood up and removed the back plank while Maggie scooped him up, dropped him onto his feet, and tucked his shirt back in before he even knew what had happened. Daniella? She screamed. The boy looked at us. I would love to say his eyes were filled with thanks and gratitude, but he was still in shock and scampered off.
When the rain stopped an hour later, Mission Skirt-possible continued. We walked, we looked, we bargained (x10). We walked, we looked, we bargained, we bought (x2). Two skirts and one lunch break later, we got back on our bikes and started home.
Everything was going well until we decided to take a short cut. It started out as an innocent gravel road and quickly descended into a muddy road in the midst of construction. We skillfully navigated our not-so-offroad bikes around puddles, rocks, grooves, and baby goats. At one point Maggie was standing on the edge of a half constructed pipe/ditch and the ground beneath her simply caved in and she fell into the ditch. Impressively she managed to land on her feet, but not before a scream escaped. A few Ghanaian’s were watching us earlier, a smile in their eyes, chuckling lightly, waiting to see what our plan was. But after the scream everyone sprung into action. Before I had finished laughing at Maggie we were surrounded by a troupe of Ghanaians who escorted us back to the main road. I felt like we had failed some sort of test; we were obruni’s in distress. Everyone seemed very confused: why in the world would we leave a well built road to venture into these parts?
“We want to find a short cut!” said we.
“Yes, but do you know the nature of this road?” replied one member of our escort troupe.
All in all the short cut probably put us down 45 minutes and up a couple of friends. Every time we do something stupid we make new friends… this is not good reinforcement.
So why is the pace of life slower in Ghana? One part of the answer is because the consumer infrastructure seems to favour more human interaction. You actually have to talk to people to get things done. At home things feel almost automated; every big box store with the same layout and infinite stock. Go in, get stuff, pay, leave. Efficient, yes. Personal? No.