Wednesday, 2 November 2016

"It's a mix between a wet dumpling and mashed potato"... Differences between the UK and Ghana

As mid-term is quickly approaching, and as the UKVs feel as though we have gotten to know Tamale quite well, we have decided to write our blog this week about some of the differences we have noticed between life here, and our lives back in the UK.

Although it is the third largest city in Ghana, Tamale is not a city as us Brits would recognise it. It is not developed in the sense that we know it. Tamale is home to many vibrant markets and street vendors rather than skyscrapers (or many buildings higher than a couple of storeys, in fact). However, like the cities in the UK, Tamale is a hub of activity; busy, noisy and highly populated – by people, and by vehicles…

A view of Tamale
On arriving in Tamale, one of the first things you notice is the driving. It is mental. There are no rules, and with such a large population, the roads are always busy. The laws governing the roads here are more like guidelines. A red light by no means equals stop. It’s just a handy hint that you should probably look out for incoming traffic at some point. Similarly, passing through junctions is always an interesting experience, with no-one particularly having right of way, but movement is advanced by those simply brave enough to power through first. Car crashes are common and non-dramatic (whip lash claims are not a thing in Tamale yet).

Cows crossing
Many from Tamale choose to get around by motorbike, but as not a lot of people own their own vehicle, taxis are popular. Taxis are how us volunteers travel around town, and at only about 1 cedi (20p) per journey, taxis are cheap! Yellow-yellows are the even cheaper, but more life-threatening alternative to taxis. There is no age limit for the drivers of yellow-yellows, so it is not surprising to see an 8-year-old behind the wheel. And predictably, ICS volunteers are banned from using these death machines. And if you really want to play it fast and loose with your life, and if you are looking to lose most of your body’s water content, bicycle is the way to get around at no cost. Another obvious difference we noticed regarding vehicles is that they are not road worthy, by any stretch of the imagination. We have no idea how they pass their MOTs. However, one great thing about travelling in Tamale is that there is no limit to the number of people you can fit in a taxi – with taxi drivers wanting to get as much fare as possible (we once observed 8 people in a taxi the size of a Golf!) Driving in Tamale is certainly exciting!

Inside a taxi
Another obvious difference between the UK and Ghana is the food! Living in Tamale, we are lucky because as a big city, there are a few import shops to get our creature comforts if we need them, and plenty of food stalls around selling a variety of local food. But meal choices are noticeably more limited, heavily carb based, and portion sizes are much more generous. Those thinking a Ghanaian diet will help them loose weight are sadly mistaken! First off is TZ, made from maize and water and usually served with groundnut soup. TZ is hard to describe. It's a mix between a wet dumpling and mashed potato, and yet neither of these things.

The famous TZ
Then there is Banku, very much like TZ, but salt is added, making it more sour to taste and is served with okro stew. Fufu is in the same family as these dishes, but made from pounded yams, again served with soup. These three dishes have been the hardest for UKVs to get accustomed to, as there is nothing comparable in the UK, but over time we are learning to appreciate them and even look forward to them! Indomie is a favourite meal of many Brits as we have it in the UK – it is basically packet noodles with vegetables. Jollof rice is another meal we adapted to easily. Yams and plantain served with various sauces and beans are our go-to lunch time meal, along with waakye – rice/noodles with a stew and hot sauce that can be served with meat and egg. Wagashi is a great snack if you can find it – fried cheese (like halloumi). Fruit can also be sourced here, although be careful what you ask for because limes, lemons, oranges and grapefruit are all called ‘lemons’!

A more cultural difference we have noticed is the practice of hand holding, which is very different in practice to how it is the UK. It is completely normal and very common for groups of guys/girls to hold hands (with members of the same sex). However, in the UK, hand holding is typically related with romantic relationships. In a country where homosexuality is illegal, there was a lot of confusion about this before the UKVs found out about the association.

Another difference linked to the use of hands is the significance of the left hand. In Ghana, the left hand is used for cleaning yourself, so your left hand is your dirty hand used for dirty jobs. It is therefore considered to be very rude to gesture in any way using your left hand. Unfortunately, a few of us have discovered the hard way just how insulted people get with the use of your left hand here in Ghana. However, we are learning!

Ghana is one of the most religious countries in the world, and the influence of religion can be seen everywhere, from the religiously influenced shop signs, to gender roles, to the use of alcohol. Ghana is both a Muslim and Christian country, but there are no religious tensions at all between these two belief systems. Both religions live harmoniously and is a great example to the rest of the world. Further, we are living in a predominantly Muslim area, and so drinking alcohol is restricted. There are bars and clubs here, but as we have a curfew of 9pm, and Muslim host homes to go back to, many of us are choosing to go teetotal for our time here. A far cry from how alcohol is enjoyed back home.

Awesome Finger of God Enterprise...
But one of the best differences we would identify between the UK and Ghana is just how friendly everyone is in Tamale. Anyone would be willing to help you out at any point, and everyone wants to strike up a conversation with the UKVs. Greetings are so important here, so it has been a bit of a cultural shock for us reserved Brits to start greeting everyone we meet in the street. Another great thing about the Ghanaian way of life is that they tend to stay in rather than travel out in terms of entertainment, so we are learning the importance of family time, games and just spending time getting to know each other rather than using external, expensive distractions as we do in the UK.

Ludo, our favourite game
So, although there are many differences between life here and the UK, some of which have taken longer to used get to than others, there are also so many things that we love about Ghana and we know already that we are going to miss when we eventually go back to the UK.

By Helen Scambler.

Also, keep an eye out for part 2 of this blog which will be coming up soon, going a bit more in depth about some of the cultural issues we are trying to tackle during our time in Ghana as compared with the UK…

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