The western world has stereotyped Africa as an entire country. So when I told Canadian’s that I was going to Ghana for 3 months people went one of two ways. The first way was “Wow” you are going to love it there everyone should be exposed to different cultures at a young age. But sadly most people’s reactions were telling me stories about a friend of a friend who got shot in Africa because they were white or that I was crazy to expose myself to all of those disease and that I would be lucky to come back in the same condition that I left. This is why I’ve put together a list of stereotypes that Canadian’s believe, hopefully this will clear the air on the subject.
1.“Don’t carry a purse you will get robbed”
FALSE – This one I actually took very literally to the point where I did not want to bring a purse, I was prepared to carry everything in my pockets. This is however not the case, since then I have been on TroTro’s (public transit), walking by myself and in Cabs and I’ve never had any problems. My only advice is be smart about what you are flashing around, if you open your wallet in a store with tons of bill that makes you a target, other examples are: computers or an expensive camera, I would still be cautions with smart phones but a large amount of the population does have them. In general don’t flaunt your “wealth”
2. “You will get a mass amount of marriage proposals”
TRUE – I think just about everyday I get a marriage proposal or asked for my phone number or for my Facebook name. I find the marriage proposals humorous because they simple want to marry into wealth which is why they ask. In my experience it has been mostly 30-40 year old males. Asking for my number is done more by people my age. That being said I have never felt uncomfortable with males approaching me with these questions. Other comments are nothing but flattering compare to comments that you get in Canada. In Canada I’ve had many comments shouted at me while walking on the street but never about my smile or eyes and that is all the Ghanaian men talk about.
3. “Never walk alone, always be with a Ghanaian. You can even hire one”
TRUE & FALSE – It is false to say that in general you should never walk alone, when you know where you are going and it is in the daylight there is really no problem with walking alone. However at night I would never walk alone as a young white female but walking as a pair of young white females is fine, it is encouraged to go out at night in groups (e.g.bars). You do not need to be with a Ghanaian at all time, it is good to explore the city with a Ghanaian when you first arrive and have them tell you the do’s and the don’t. But in general Ghana is a very peaceful country that really does not get enough credit. Ghana is not a violent country it is a hungry country therefore any theft that I have heard of as been indirect e.g. breaking and entering or leaving your purse unattended.
4. “People will rip you off because you are white”
TRUE – Everyone in Ghana is trying to get ahead and when they see an “obroni” (white person) coming they assume that 1. you are rich and 2. that you have no idea of the value of the Ghanaian Cedi. Which for the first couple of days is true but after a while you get a better feel for how much things should cost. I’ve noticed it the most with Cab drivers, locals can just jump in and get a fair price but every time I get a cab I need to barter a price before getting in because they will take advantage. Most of the time it is about 3X the price. The key is having a price in mind and being willing to go 1-2 over that. It is also important to keep in mind that when you are bartering over 1 Cedi it is about 30 cents CAD so you have to pick and choose your battles.
5. “Why are you going?”& “Will you actually be doing any good?”
This question always queues many crazy debates on politics, human rights and developed countries pushing their ways on developing countries. I am aware that many people feel that this not Canada’s place to send people. But no I am not building schools or working at an orphanage but we are working towards bridging the gap between getting out of school and getting a job by providing free workshops for youth. While being here I’ve realized how much of a partnership it is with Canadian Global Affairs. They have opened up internships abroad for Canadian Youth to get experience in a different country and to gain work experience. Within this organization everyone is learning. My position specifically is conducting an energy audit of the office space and implement any changes that are possible. I also set up meetings to brainstorm with local entrepreneurs that are interested in making there businesses “green”. In this scenario everyone is learning from each other and in no ways is it Canada coming in and saying that they need to change their ways. “Both countries are benefiting from this partnership, everyone has a say and therefore feels more respected.” – My Ghanaian colleague
Picture by: Kelsey Brasil