Ajuna

Yes! Good sir/madam, you guessed it. That is my name.

No seriously, that is my name. Well…you see, okay, the thing is, actually, okay fine…that’s not my name. But interesting fact: over time, that is what it has become in Ghana.

I’ve recently learned that the ‘translation’ of Arabic names into local languages is done by more than one Muslim population in the world.

Now, please keep in mind that I’ve only deduced this from word of mouth as it was told to me by a couple of Ghanaian friends. But also note that when I was told this story I actually laughed to myself a bit because the same phenomenon occurs in my parents’ home country of Sri Lanka (and I, for some strange reason, thought we Sri Lankans were the only ones!).

Take my name in Ghana for example:

My name is Haroon (phonetically haa-roon), this an Arabic name. In Ghana, commonly this name is given to newborns as Haruna, (phonetically haa-roo-nah). Somewhere down the line, this became Ajuna.

The theory as it to how this happened is up to debate I suppose, but here’s what I’ve heard and, to be honest, it makes sense to me.

Think back to when you were learning a foreign language. What was your first step? I suppose this depends on the person, but for me it was (and still is) asking someone who knows the target language to say something only so I can repeat what I hear.

And this is what I’ve been told has happened with Arabic names in certain parts of the world. When not well-versed in Arabic, when hearing an Arabic name, in my opinion, it is only natural to say the name how it sounds to you. It’s just like how it’s only natural to spell a word how it sounds to you!

Here are a few other examples:

  • Dawood has become Dawrah
  • Abdur Raheem has become Abraim
  • Yunus has become Inusah
  • Abu Bakr became Abukaray which has become Bukalay
  • Mutawaqil has become Motouchilou
  • Bilkis has become Balkisou
  • Abdallah has become Ablai
  • Khadijah has become Adijah

Yes, I know what you’re thinking it…it’s a worldwide game of broken telephone! Till next time.

Haroon

P.S. Under 3 weeks left in my fellowship. Accra, you will be missed.

Why do I sound this way?

I remember that when my siblings would return to Toronto after months away in our home country of Sri Lanka, that they would speak sorta funny. The inflection in their voices was foreign. Whether they were asking a question or not, it sounded like they were asking a question. To be honest, it was a little annoying because it was something that I wasn’t used to. I was used to hearing people speak Torontonian English in a purely Torontonian accent. I remember thinking, “Dude, you’re Canadian, try sounding like one.”

Oh, how the tables have turned.

Recently, I’ve realized that I’m not exempt from adaptation. I’ve come to notice subtle changes in my behavior, intonation of voice, word choice, and sentence structuring that have made me do a double take. In my head I would ask myself: “Wait, is that really how I sound?”, or “Wait, did I really just structure my sentence that way?”, or “Wait, why the hell did I choose that word instead of the one I would usually choose?”.

Well I know why I sound differently to myself, and why I structure my sentences differently, and why I use different words – it’s because I’m living in a part of world where English has manifested in the population differently than it has in my home.

I find myself saying sorry for things I wouldn’t typically apologize for, and I’m a Canadian. If you thought Canadians apologize to much, I’m sure you haven’t travelled to Ghana. It’s actually awesome, if not slightly comedic. For example, if you trip on uneven ground, if a regular old Ghanaian sees this, they will say “sorry” and come right away to lend a hand. What are they apologizing for? In my head, they are actually saying “I’m sorry that you are hurting,” which, when you think about it, is actually kinda beautiful.

I also find myself saying small or small-small far too often. This phrase is essentially a substitute for say “yea but I really flipping suck”. The following is an everyday interaction:

“Ay, you speak Twi?”

“Oh, small-small.”

I’ve caught myself saying things like “AY!” when I’m surprised, or “OH!” when I’m feigning disgust at a taxi driver’s starting price (see previous post).

Quick anecdote:

One day at work I was calling some Ghanaian agribusinesses to conduct some surveying (oh man that was miserable – surprisingly so, accent barriers aren’t made better by terrible cell connection, who knew?) and I heard myself speak, and I was like, “wow, is this actually how I sound.”

Now, I always find it weird when I hear my own voice through a recording or otherwise, but this time was even more strange as I realized that I had adopted an accent. I would drop the ‘er’ and replace it with an ‘a’ (i.e. Peter becomes Peta, and water becomes wata) and the inflection of my voice had altered in places in which it didn’t used to alter – whenever I heard myself I was all like…duuude, woah.

I’m coming to accept it now. It seems to be a natural progression of things – eventually you start to sound and act like the people around you.

Till next time.

Haroon

P.S. This whole thing of me realizing that I sound different when I communicate in Ghana is even further exacerbated by the fact that I spend a lot of my time communicating avec les Québecois, who also speak English slightly differently than I do. I’ve noticed I’ve adopted a few of their speech tendencies as well – I laugh to myself whenever I catch myself repeating one of them.

 

12 Cedi

“Tsssssssss.” *Hand wave.*

Hissing is one way to hail a cab in Accra. It feels rude as hell, but hey, when in Rome…

*Taxi driver pulls over. I speak first.*

“Good morning my friend, how are you?”

“I’m fine, you?”

“Good, good. We are going to Dzorwulu (pronounced Jo-oo-lu), do you know it?”

“Dzorwulu, ahaa, which side?” Ahaa, I believe, means yes/exactly/precisely/yeah/yes in Twi.

“Dzorwulu junction, my friend.”

*Head shake, hand gesture to enter taxi.*

Before you enter, and there is some debate about this, agree on a price. You don’t have to, but from experience I would say it is harder to haggle once the service has been delivered. Go with however you feel most comfortable.

“Aaya sein?” How much?

“You give me two-five.” i.e. 25 GHS

*Laugh playfully* This is key. If there is something I’ve realized in Accra, it’s that you can’t be too serious.

“Oh boss, this is too much, we go there every day, I cannot pay so much.”

“How much you will pay?”

“I will go for 12.”

*Taxi driver chuckles.*

“Oh, but there is traffic, you pay 20.”

There is actually minimum traffic on my route to work.

“No, no, my friend, 12 is fair price, I will not go any higher. If you cannot do it, I will have to find another cab.”

“Tsssssssss.” *Hand wave.*

*Repeat entire process.*

*5 more times.*

Finally, you’re in a cab and on your way to work.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this process. It does get a little tiring after a while, but man, I have to say, riding in taxis can take credit for some of my better conversations in Accra so far.

The drivers seem to have similar stories. They come from all over the country to the city to work and provide for their families. Most of them seem to say they are renting the taxi they are driving, but some of them say they own it.

The fair price – why do I stick to it? Well, it’s the fair price. But to be honest, going up or down a few cedi wouldn’t change much in my life. But the way I try to think about it is as follows: I bargain because I don’t want to be ripped off, and even if you are still ripping me off after I’m done bargaining, I bargain nonetheless because I don’t want to feel like you are ripping me off. I want to be at a price where we can at least act like we’re being fair to each other.

You know, I once read a book where a foreigner in Mumbai, India had the thought process that he was fine with paying the “foreigner tax” because he had the privilege of being able to afford it and the man on the receiving end needed the cash probably more than he did.

I’m a strong believer in “to each his own”, so I think this approach is actually fine if this is how you want to operate. Heck, I behave this way as well at times.

Actually, I often catch myself thinking in Canadian dollars, and it’s troublesome. “Hm, 60 cedi for this shirt. I mean it’s nice, but that sounds like a lot. Wait, that’s only $20, screw it, I’ll take it.”

But at other times, I start thinking, I’m a foreigner trying to assimilate to a new culture. I want to live and be treated as the others do. If the locals bargain, I want to try and do the same.

In Toronto, I would spend $20 without thinking twice, but here in Accra, I’m sort of starting to see the need to think in the local currency – this helps in knowing the fair prices and can help in keeping me from over-spending. I find it helps me to be more conscious of my purchasing power.

Now, I feel this bringing me to a discussion on purchasing power parity and exchange rates, but because I don’t want to fall down this rabbit hole (really because I’m not all too knowledgeable on this front), I will stop here. Till next time.

Haroon

P.S. Ramadan is half way done! It’s been a breeze so far. Been to the mosque a few times – the experience is very similar to that in Toronto.  There is one very beautiful mosque called the Ghana National Mosque that is being built in Kanda, Accra by the Turkish. It’s not quite complete yet, but man it’s huge and beautiful. Shout out to Ottoman architecture doing it right!

P.P.S. I’m heading to Tamale, Ghana for a couple weeks on Saturday. Going to be staying with a family known to EWB to gain a little more North Ghanaian cultural understanding outside of the big city of Accra.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S. Re-reading this post I realize how all over the place I was – my bad.

6 AM

Good luck sleeping past then.

As a guy who likes to sleep until the last possible moment, and then some, it was a mighty harsh welcome when I heard the kids screaming, the women selling, and the men arguing at 6 AM.

And apparently, the rooster has no regard for normal rooster standards either as it will cock-a-doodle-do whenever he/she pleases. The attitude on that thing, damn.

What I’m trying to get across here is: as soon as that sun crosses the horizon, the city buzzes to life. The days here start early.

It was frustrating at first, but now that I’ve gotten (sort of) used to it, I find it interesting. Now I know, some people start early back in Toronto as well, but I would say society as a whole starts at 9 AM – i.e. when the average work day starts. That’s not the case in Accra. It seems that society starts when the people want to start and this begs the question: why do the people want to start so early?

I have some thoughts.

I think people either start their days so early partially because they want to, and partially because they have to.

I’d say one reason society starts so early here in Accra is because it is situated in a part of the world with roughly only 12 hours of day light, year round. To be as productive as possible, it is necessary to get the most out of the day. Maybe society doesn’t want to start so early, but they’re forced to. They have no other option, they need to work, and (for many people) to work, they need the daylight – this is their livelihood. You may ask the question now, what about light sources that aren’t the sun? To this, I would point to a lack of reliable and consistent infrastructure and affordable, constant power.

Then, on the other hand, I also think that this may be a choice. From my observations to date, the informal sector is so large in Accra that this place isn’t bound by the confines of the formal sector’s 9-5 schedule. From what I see, if street vendors want to start selling at 6 AM, no one’s stopping them. If taxi drivers want to start peeping their horns at 6AM, no one’s telling them to quiet down. If the man cutting a tree wants to use his chainsaw at 6 AM, nobody is getting in his way. The day-to-day society has been defined by its people – in Toronto, at least in my head, we’ve got it reversed: we’re defined by our society. Maybe the people of Accra are rebellious – it’s inspiring, if so.

In my opinion, each mode of operation has its ups and its downs. Till next time.

Haroon

P.S. Egg and bread just isn’t the same anymore. I’ve recently learned of another lady close to where I work. I may try her out once I open my fast for the day.

P.P.S. Oh yeah, I’m fasting. Ramadan started yesterday, more on this in another post!

Beep beep

The use of the horn by vehicles here in Accra is so interesting to me.

If I were to walk down a fairly busy street around noon, I would hear what seems like a thousand horns blowing at once. Now a lot of them would be taxis trying to give pedestrians a ride, but some of them would be telling us to get the hell out of the way because they’re about to pass real close and they aren’t going to stop, and others would be directed at other cars on the road for a variety of reasons (i.e. you’re moving too slowly, or get the hell out of the way because I’m about to pass real close and I’m not going to stop, or give me your right-of-way and the right-of-way of the car behind you).

The use of the car-horn is multi-purposed, and the reason it has become so is something I’ve been thinking about – why has such a car-horn-use culture developed? I can only hypothesize, but here are my thoughts.

I believe this culture has developed due to a lack of infrastructure.

For example, when walking down the street, there are no sidewalks, so you have to walk as one with the cars (just kidding, you walk off to the side). Most roads I’ve seen so far are two lanes wide, with room for a pedestrian on either side. As a result of this, when pedestrians take too much space on the road, a car will honk to let a pedestrian know that he is about to pass (car’s never stop unless it’s gridlocked, maybe this has something to do with most car’s being manual, meh maybe not).

Right-of-way road rules are currently unclear to me, but from my observations so far, if the path is unclear in front of your car (and there isn’t insane traffic) you essentially honk until you have a clear (enough) path to your destination.

What interests me even more is that everyone seems to understand the horn’s use. Pedestrians will move out of the way, cars will allow cars to merge and turn, barely anyone seems to get mad – it’s sort of an ugly beauty, a functioning chaos.

Honestly, at my current level of understanding of Accra, all these rules could be written out somewhere and I could be writing complete bull, but I feel as if it’s more of an unwritten rule – which makes it even more fascinating that thousands of people have caught on. If so, I think it could possibly be speaking to the oral-nature of the Ghanaian culture that one of my Ghanaian friends was telling me about (definitely more on this oral-nature in a later blog).

I like to think that it also speaks to the adaptability of humans when governing systems around them have failed to create structure. But who the hell really knows. Till next time.

Haroon

P.S. Day 5 of eating egg-n-bread for breakfast. I recently moved to more permanent residence and the street-vendor-lady who makes it near my new place isn’t as good as the old one. She’ll do for now, but the hunt to find someplace better is on.

P.P.S. I may start signing-off as Kofi henceforth. Try and guess why.

P.P.P.S. Yes, I just wrote about car horns.

Is this blog actually about egg and bread?

Hell no – but I had this awesome egg and bread sandwich today from a street vendor for a grand total of 3 cedis (~1 CAD). Yes, I will be going back tomorrow.

So what will this blog be about?

I (Haroon, a young man from Toronto, Canada), have recently moved to Accra, Ghana for 3.5 months to work for an Engineers Without Borders (EWB) venture called the Mobile Business Clinic Africa. I start work a week today, and I’m pretty damn nervous about making an actual meaningful contribution to the project. More thoughts on this and the venture when I start work.

How will I write this blog?

I want to write it as a stream-of-consciousness blog as much as possible. I think that will help to keep me honest and unorganized while also saving me a whole lotta time.

SO, I landed in Accra last night, and I’ve spent the last day learning about the city and its culture. A few interesting findings:

  • The egg and bread is delicious
  • To get a waiter/server’s attention, you hiss at them
  • When a guy on Oxford Street tries to sell you a bracelet with your name on it, you say no (unless you really want it, in which case I’ve been told 5-10 cedis is a good price to haggle for)
  • I got 12 GB of mobile data for 75 cedis (~25 CAD)!
  • To flush the toilet at the guest house I’m staying at I require a big black bucket
  • Ghanaian taxi drivers don’t like to admit when they don’t know the way to a destination (the perseverance is admirable to be honest, makes me smile now, but it may turn frustrating down the road [;)])

A word of caution, I’ve only just begun to explore and learn about the city of Accra, so please take my findings with a grain of salt. I’m sure they will get less touristy and more deep/EWBish as time goes. Till next time.

Haroon