From an African's Eyes by Stephen Atabele
On the night of 14th February 2010, which was also a valentine day but Ghana’s Chocolate Day, the UK participants of the Global Exchange community exchange between Bolgatanga in Ghana and Plymouth in the UK, arrived at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra to begin their three weeks work shadowing attachments.
There was real anxiety both from the Ghanaian participants and the UK as well. This was because, apart from reading mails and participants’ profile, from both sides, there was really no way of knowing how one’s counterpart was going to be like. Questions that kept on popping into people’s minds were: would he or she be a pain in the ass? Would he or she be adaptive and receptive, would we get along well for three weeks!
The anxiety was further exacerbated by prejudices and stereotypes from both sides. For us from the Ghana side, we already had certain ill-informed notions about people from the UK (which would later change). The UK counterparts as well, also had certain ill-informed notions about Ghana and Africa in general. These rather ill-informed notions served as a facade on the first few days, but as we got to really know each other, we came to appreciate each other’s background and to realise that there was no one way of doing things, that some people had different notions and ideas about doing the same thing.
However, the Programme Supervisors did a good job in trying to disabuse from both sides those things.
And then, the UK counterparts checked out of the airport and came out to the visitors lobby to meet their Ghanaian counterparts for the first time. People were jittery. How will their counterparts look like? Everybody was busily introducing themselves in order to get their counterparts. That was the beginning, others were satisfied, but others, well, postponed judgement.
We soon got to know each other and to learn more about each other’s culture and way of life. The composition of the participants was excellent and as diverse as possible. People of all categories were there: indoors, outdoors, among others.
The weather in Ghana shocked the UK counterparts. Indeed, one of the UK counterparts had remarked at the airport that it was because they were still near the plane that the place was so hot, but she soon got to know that it was no plane. In Ghana, temperatures can go as far as 50̊C and as low as 18̊C. For us in Ghana, the weather was not strange, but it was interesting watching the UK counterparts as they battled with the heat by adopting coping mechanisms (like we would when we come to the UK). Some even had to soak their beds with water in order to sleep. One UK counterpart even wished he could enter into a fridge just to cool down! Even the water used for bathing was very hot. The taps poured hot water, although there was no heater. The fans blew hot air and there were no air-conditioners in the houses.
Within a few days in Bolga, the African mosquitoes had their long proboscis sucking white blood! And then the first victim of malaria was in the hospital but was luckily discharged. Others took a cue from that and had to carry cream everywhere to smear on their bodies to dispel the mosquitoes.
Food was another thing: in Ghana we eat plenty food, which was surprising at first to the UK counterparts, but some soon did enjoy eating our plenty food. In their host homes, although some ate a lot from there, others could not really eat satisfactorily and had to look for restaurants serving foreign dishes.
As a Ghanaian, I was amazed to find that some of the UK counterparts soon developed love for the place despite the challenges as some expressed the willingness to come back to Ghana at some point to savour everything. I was also happy to find that they enjoyed drinking our Ghanaian cold sweating beer (although some were indeed hot) and others drank our locally brewed fresh pito.
Above all, the conversations that we had with our counterparts really broadened our horizons and made both sides to appreciate each other’s way of doing things at the work place and in the homes. Such conversations always took the form of the Ghanaians explaining things; some also had conversations on international politics especially in Zimbabwe, Iraq, Afghanistan among others and also on our shared history, even extending to the Trans-Atlantic Slavery.
At the end, we soon realised that there was really not so much difference between Ghana and the UK in terms of education, the judiciaries and other national attributes inherited from British colonialism and a lot of other things.