It’s that time of year again, time to look back and sum it all up. What stands out most in my mind is the difference between the first and last six months of the year.
In June, Bob and I left the American South to live in Africa. We moved from Pittsboro, North Carolina a small, agricultural town of about four thousand people where we were part of the white majority (64%) to Kumasi, Ghana, a West African city of one and a half million people where we are a minority (7%).
Here’s an example of what it’s like to be an Obroni, or stranger. A couple of mornings ago, Bob and I were walking home with fruit and vegetables and crossed paths with a Ghanaian family. A young man gently pushed the youngest boy forward to take a good look at us. The little boy looked up and his face filled with surprise, followed by confusion and fear. He retreated to safety and continued to watch us with wide eyes.
A strange face to any child is frightening. My mother told me that she used to cry when her mother took her to the department store bathroom which was attended to by a negro women. After much coaching, mom was able to control herself, proudly telling the attendant, “See, I didn’t cry!”
Caucasians must look like ghosts or cadavers to a child who has not seen a white face before. I’ve also heard that some parents threaten their children with banishment to a white family if they don’t behave, so this little boy may have been wondering if his fate had finally come to pass.
Becoming a minority over night was only one example of the differences between our pre-African and post-Pittsboro lives. Here are some examples.
Sights, sounds and experiences unique to our life in North Carolina:
- Oaks, beech, loblolly pines, pawpaw, chestnut, pecan, sweet gum, and peach trees
- Cardinals, blue jays, blue birds, orioles and chickadees
- Snow storms
- A largely overweight population
- Some pedestrians, dogs on leashes, livestock behind fences
- Laws against drying laundry outside and keeping livestock
- Access (within driving distance) to passenger trains
- Garbage free public areas
- Concealed grey water drainage systems
- Miles of paved streets with barely a pot hole
- Potable water from the tap at any time of day or night
- Lights (electricity) on for days, weeks and months at a time
- Baby apparatus: carriers, backpacks, car seats, pacifiers, stroller, etc.
- Gun shots
- Stores that sell any type of plumbing fixture you might need, all in one store
- Air conditioning
Sights, sounds and experiences unique to our life in Africa:
- Breadfruit, avocado, banana, baobab, mango, coconut, breadfruit, cocoa, royal and oil palm trees
- Bulbuls, bee-eaters, weaver birds, whydahs and plantain eaters
- Termite swarms
- Muscular people with incredibly correct posture
- A heavily-peopled landscape; people laughing, walking, sitting, urinating, bathing, selling, buying, begging, nursing, cooking, eating, and carrying stuff on their heads including pans of live chickens
- Humans lying atop enormous loads of truck cargo
- Goats tied to transport van luggage racks
- A woman walking with a car battery atop her head and a loudspeaker strapped to her forehead
- Roaming livestock: cows, goats, sheep, chickens and dogs
- Meat dogs – dogs as a food source
- A small herd of sheep running down the middle of a busy road including a newborn lamb with a dangling umbilical cord
- Laundry drying on razor wire or spread out on the pavement
- Cheap taxis everywhere at any time of day and or night
- Garbage choked roadsides
- Air that smells like roasting cocoa one minute and burning plastic the next, or sewage, or mock orange, or exhaust (or vaporizing dimethoate!)
- Women wearing their babies on their backs, tied on with two knots in a simple piece of fabric
- Broadcast sermons, rants and prayers at all hours of the night and day
- 25 acres of contiguous open air shops
- Tailors on every block who will make you a dress or a shirt for $15, including the material
- Mosquito netting
Common to both places:
- Dining with friends
- Friendly smiles
- People willing to stop and help, asking nothing in return
- Crickets and frogs
- Sparrows, doves, crows, herons and egrets
- Fresh, locally grown produce and rice
- Horseback riding
- Cellphones and texting
- Lots and lots of cars
- Political and bureaucratic corruption
All of that said, what we miss most about the world we left behind is our friends. We lived in a community-minded neighborhood of English speaking people who shared our values and our passion for growing food and caring for the environment. Routine potlucks, walks through the woods and work parties kept our ties strong. While we are thoroughly enjoying the climate and adventure of life in Africa, we look forward to returning to our home in North Carolina.