“Travel expands the mind and loosens the bowels.”

These very true words were spoken by some important dude at some point in time but I can’t remember who to attribute them to. Anyway, this quote has really resonated with me lately for two reasons: 1) I’ve just recovered from a particularly lengthy battle with a bad stomach and 2) I need to remember at times to approach strange situations with an open mind. After all I am viewing the situation from my own cultural lens.

The most recent of these cultural misunderstandings has found me with two new “friends” trailing me and expecting me to pay for everything. I can’t come right out and tell them to get lost as they helped me out in Cape Coast and they would be very embarrassed and insulted. At the same time, I cannot afford to have them with me for the next week. As a result the last 24 hours has consisted of my carefully worded phrases such as, “It was so nice that you could join me for the weekend, ” and “It’s too bad I have so many busy meetings in Accra after the weekend.”

The fantastic thing about Ghana is the closeness of friends and family. However,  this can also have its downfall. Friends and family can drop by unexpectedly at any time and expect you to feed and entertain them. For a westerner, this is difficult to take in stride at times. Also, it is expected that friends who are perceived to have more wealth look after other friends and family members. Of course, to the people here, the fact that I am even able to travel makes me extremely rich so it is very difficult to explain to them that I really do have a limited supply of money, when they couldn’t even consider travel.

Friendship also differs in Ghana because you make friends in a matter of minutes. I wasn’t in Ghana a week and I already had 10 people phoning and checking up on me on a regular basis. I even have one friend texting me yogic mantras.

You also know that these friends and family members will be there to help you out in a flash whenever it is needed. When you treat people well here, your generosity is appreciated and reciprocated in whatever way they can.

So today I struggle with showing my appreciation to my friends and not running out of cedis (the Ghanaian currency) before I get back to Accra, and I’m not exactly the best at budgeting.  (I was nicknamed “a fund-loser”after notoriously making -$10 for my classroom at a family BBQ hot chocolate sale. To my defense, how was I to know the weather would suddenly change from 10 degrees to 25 degrees over night?)

In conclusion, friendships in Ghana are like approaching an ostrich on a farm. You want to get closer to get a good picture, but you never know when one just might bite you on the shoulder. (I know it’s a bad analogy but it fits the picture).

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