It doesn’t take long for the locals’ way of speaking to rub off on you. If someone asks you how you are doing, you say “By God’s grace, I am fine,” or “By God’s grace, do I lie?”
A machete is as universally useful as duct tape. They are used for everything from farming, to pencil sharpening, to getting rid of snakes, to cutting up a chicken for some tasty jollof rice.
The village locals disagree on which church is best, but everyone goes to church. You realize why when the nondenominational branch holds a meeting packed with loud singing and masses of people dancing, reminding you of mosh pits at concerts you went to as a teenager.
There is a learning curve to washing your clothes by hand, but you know you should start with the whites first in case your knuckles crack and you have to wash them all over again.
Mostly from the local kids who run after you hollering, “obruni, obruni!” If you are lucky they will kiss your hand too. This tends to be uncomfortable, but on rough days signing your name as “Britney Spears” can give you a good laugh and an undeserved self-esteem boost.
Because not knowing if it was a Monday or a Friday is the equivalent of not knowing your birthday. You’ve consulted a calendar to find out because it’s easier for the locals to say ‘Akua,’ the name for a woman born on Wednesday, than your confusing Western name they associate with another gender.
The anticipation of a proposal no longer excites you, just the creativity. Some favorites include “I marry you, for free!” to “Marry me, what’s your name?” But sometimes someone will just point to you like a watch in a shop window and say, “I like this one. Give her to me.”
And you debate who has it worse over dinner. Sure your friend taking Doxy gets massive sun burns and red bubbles on her toes, but Larium made you hallucinate about snow falling outside the window. Your medication is also the best because it’s been months and you haven’t gotten malaria — yet.
When you don’t own a TV and curfew is at 6 pm, you start doing what you grandparents did for entertainment and play local games. Playing a few rounds of Wallie or Dame is now one of your favorite pastimes.
You stop and admire the fabric in the market or learn how to batik gorgeous prints of your own. You also covet kente cloth, a traditional weaving once reserved for the royals, buying bits of it up and rationalizing how great they will be as scarves someday.
And you’ve seen blue, green and hot pink ones. You’re not fazed by spray painted animals because you know that is how local farmers keep track of which ones are theirs.
Because as fearless as the locals are, they don’t mess with snakes. So you engage in the village protocol: Scream until a neighbor comes with a large stick to take it away.
You know this is a sign of a genuine friendship and has nothing to do with romance.
Each morning you’re expected to help sweep the concrete around the compound where you live with a bundle of sticks tied together, but the others complain about your efforts and teach you how to “sweep a floor properly.”
Ghanaians in the village want to know about Obama, even if you are not American. They can also tell you where to buy “Obama biscuit” cookies, and you’ve seen a laundry bag in the market featuring Barack, Michelle, and Oprah all under the presidential seal.
And you no longer make the mistake of chewing it when you know it is meant to be swallowed whole with a stew.
Since running isn’t a thing in the village, you can’t jog past a crowd without people pointing or having a group of kids try and race you (to say nothing about the time you tried doing yoga in front of your home). Sometimes you run on a less-crowded route to avoid a scene, but then you are dodging potholes and chickens who dart in front of your feet.
Because you can hear the jubilant eruption from locals huddled around a portable TV in the center of the village a mile away when a Ghanaian scores a goal, and you don’t want to know what that palpable energy looks like when they are angry. Plus you’ve come to love Ghana, and you would rather see them win anyway.