Apparently this is how Ghana has been labelled, and having now spent time there I can understand this sentiment. English speaking, regular transportation and tourism savviness makes Ghana a good introduction to West Africa.
Religion is paramount to life here, and plays an enormous role in everyday existence. Most shops have wonderfully religious titles such as “Hallelujah Welders”, “Praise Be Hairdressers” and “Peace Be With You Ladies Fashion”.
One night when I was having street food in Accra I was asked by a fellow diner what my religion was, my answer clearly didn’t suffice so he then offered a string of biblical quotations as encouragement. So ingrained is Christianity* into the lives of Ghanaians that this ability to quote verses from the bible is widespread amongst the population.
I could write several paragraphs about the embracing of religion in Ghana, but I will just mention their view on death. I visited an interesting carpentry workshop who specialise in building personalised coffins. In an upbeat way relatives of the deceased select an important factor in their loved ones lives and the carpenters magically create it as a coffin. The examples on display included a spider, a capsicum, a video camera and my personal favourite – a bottle of talcum powder.
On a more sobering topic, sporting 37 forts on a 500km stretch of coast line Ghana was the key departure point for the most significant human migration ever
recorded – the slave trade. It is unclear exactly how many millions of men, women and children were shackled together, and led through the door of no return to the waiting ships. Taken from their homeland, their families and their existence they exited Ghana through this narrow doorway into a life of slavery in the Americas. A very poignant place to visit.
There are some other interesting and definitely more cheerful things I want to mention about Ghana. Sounds good I hear you cry.
- People are often called by the day of the week on which they were born, with different conventions for male and female. The most famous example of this being Kofi (Friday) Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations.
- A sign of respect is shown through shaking hands – but not your standard handshake. This is a special handshake that upon exiting you click your fingers, it’s quite hard to describe in words. But this manoeuvre takes skill, and I often felt like my fingers were going to break such was the force on my fingertips. One to practice for next time I think!
- I was there a few days after the 2016 General Election, which saw a change in Presidential power. The election passed peacefully and the subsequent Presidential handover went smoothly. As a nation such pride was taken in this process and billboards across Accra declared the Election as another triumphant success for Ghana.
- This is a country of typically happy and friendly people. Everyone wants to stop and chat, give you directions or make sure you alight from the bus at the correct location.
- Almost every second shop is a hairdressers. Women pride themselves on their appearance, and have the most creative large hairstyles. They are also comfortable, and I think even proud, to be seen in the streets with hair curlers in.
*there are also many Muslims living in Ghana, but Christianity is the religion of the majority.