(Christmas tie and dye fabrics drying in the sun before sale)
Monday, December 23, 2013
1) While waiting for prolonged periods in direct noontime equatorial sun, the true moment of spiritual surrender is when the metal zipper of your dress begins to sear the skin along your spine.
2) I almost exclusively get bitten by mosquitos around my ankles. My theory is that because the bugs are attracted to the smell of blood, and I have very low blood pressure and poor circulation, the only place the blood congregates in my body in sufficient density for them to feast is in my ankles. Hamdulilleh for DEET? (said no non-GMO crop ever)
(Waiting while DK tried on flats at the Community One market)
3) 90% of lines and wrinkles on skin are from sun damage. White people tend to age faster than people of color because we have very little melanin in our skin to protect against such damage. Ergo the beauty aphorism “#blackdontcrack”…khaak bar saraam it’s nearly impossible for me (here) to wear the face lotion with SPF that I usually wear everywhere else. This is because one is constantly sweating and dusty and outside (and in the house it’s still 90+ degrees anyway), unlike in Oman, where it is just as hot (during the summer/fall at least) but where you spend more-or-less *zero* time outside of air-conditioned (indoor) spaces.
4) Similarly, make-up aesthetics in the Gulf, as far as I can tell, are basically “more is more” and then some. I wonder if this may be because among Omani women, for instance, only your face is showing, so I guess you have to make it count. Whereas in Ghana, people wear make-up sparingly. My two speculations are that a) in the culture here women have greater access to meritocratic evaluation, so one’s physical attractiveness/sex appeal does not play so prominent a role in one’s success. B) Ghana, as compared to Oman, has a culture of walking, working, playing and generally being outdoors, while Oman (and the Gulf), especially in Muscat, overwhelmingly does not: in Ghana too much make-up will simply melt off your face if you are out and about consistently in this kind of heat.
5) Ghanaians don’t really wear the color black. Perhaps both a) it is perceived to not look as nice on their skin as bright, vibrant colors and b) it is perceived as boring and/or depressing (and unnecessarily hot!!). Of course most of my clothes are black and white, so that I can wear bright funky jewelry and shoes with them. I’m a little concerned I have nothing appropriate to wear for the wedding on Saturday – Madame Emma even reminded me straight up – I cannot wear black to a wedding. Naturally. (My Scrooge McDuck alter ego grumblingly acquiesces.) Also I brought DK a black sequined dress for Christmas – I hope she’ll wear it, although I really doubt she will because of the color. #obrunimove
6) How to cross six three-lane highways consecutively and not get flattened (there are no sidewalks outside of Accra): a) run, b) hope for enough traffic in the first two lanes that you can cross halfway and stand in the middle of the highway in order to more precisely gauge the timing of your dash across lane three.
7) Faisal, my Rastafarian drummer/wood-carver friend (of Kokrobite beach tent camping fame) is still good and running his cultural dance drumming team!
8) Difference between kente and gitenge fabrics: gitenge is the Congolese name for what in French is called pagne, i.e. traditional, cotton, brightly printed African fabrics. Kente cloth is a much finer, hand-woven specialty, I think originating from Nigeria. You often see striped varieties of it, although it can have many patterns. It is dramatically more expensive than gitenge also because it’s not machine-made. Interestingly there appears to be no universal world for pagne/gitenge in English or Twi; every Ghanaian I ask just calls it cloth.
9) As is the case in many resource economies, the commodity produced locally is rarely consumed locally because those who produce it cannot afford to purchase it in refined form, i.e. after the capitalist’s “value-added.” For example, in Ghana, one of the world’s largest cocoa producers (and oh the sweet, lung-swelling, low-frequency glory of the cocoa pod’s fragrance!) you can buy local “Kingsland” chocolate, as well as Cadbury, although the latter is twice as expensive. Dornuki and I got a bar of each to taste test, and it was disheartening to see how poorly the former compared to the latter.
10) people don’t bake here, as there is little sugar and basically no dessert in Ghanaian cuisine. When DK and I went to Shoprite, they did not have wheat (only corn) flour, and when I asked if they had chocolate chips, i.e. chocolate for cooking, they looked at me like I was totally nuts. Ca va.
11) Ghana is a total cash economy. Much in the way that oral information is the norm as opposed to written, cash supercedes credit cards in almost every context. Even expensive clothing stores at Accra Mall sometimes only take cash.
Ben Schwartz, an old friend here, a Dartmouth alum, and the reason I originally came to Ghana, suggested to me over dinner a few weeks ago that Ghana’s is certainly not an “illiterate” culture, but perhaps a “non-literate” one: meaning that the entire body of pre-colonial cultural infrastructure existed and thrived largely independent of writing. Which means, although the British chaps did a bloody good job (😒😫😅😖) grafting their culture onto Ghana’s and subordinating everything that existed here before their arrival, the Ghanaian soul of the country still thrives, and operates from its own – organically different – premises.
This tension of socio-cultural organization manifests itself in a number of different ways, one of which is the interplay between oral and written language. A simple example: if you want to know when the cheapest flight to, let’s say, Lagos is, my Ghanaian friends would advise you go to the Accra airport and ask people from each airline company their schedules and prices. Likewise, airports (and banks, for that matter) can be baffling at first to westerners because apart from the few government-mandated signboards, there are no signs, directions, or written instructions of any kind. You must ask people where to go, which counter, which baggage claim, which line to get into or with whom to speak.
Information here is often personal, social and subjective, rather than depersonalized, individualistic and “objective.” Of course, one could make the argument that the same is true in the U.S., but that our pervasive infrastructure of bureaucracy and the written word mask the importance of wasta, or connections, i.e. relational information. Personally, I suspect that both cultures contain elements of both styles in comparable proportions; rather the instructive difference may be the relative visibility of particular behaviors in each place.