Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.
The very thought of having to adapt to the place one calls home is quite bizarre. But that’s exactly what I’m going through right now. Before heading back to Ghana I was both excited and apprehensive. Excited because I’d get to really spend time with family and friends and catch up after all these years. Apprehensive cos, well, I’d been away so long and I’d changed. I wondered whether I would (re)find my place. More scary was the thought of whether other people changing would end up being a good thing or not. Would my friends still be my friends? Would they like who I am now? Would we have the same interests? Do they have space for me in their “new” lives? Just your typical five-year-old –goes-to-school-for-the-first-time kinda questions.
The verdict? So far so good. While I haven’t met up with all my friends just yet, I have reinstated contact with a good number of them, and thank heavens, so far there’ve been no first-time-in-ages awkward moments on the phone. We seemed to slip right back into where we left of. It’s almost like the past 5 years never happened. Almost. What can I say? I have awesome friends. In addition to family and friends – or should I say, relationships in general – I’ve had to adapt to some other things. The kind that you tend to miss when writing opinion pieces and articles about Ghana because, surprise, surprise, you’re not there in person. Well. Bringing to you, live and colored, a list of 4 things – “good” and “bad” – that I’ve (re)discovered about Ghana since my return a week and half ago (already!) I like to end things on a positive note, so let’s go with the not-so-good stuff first.
The Not-So –Good Stuff (Eek!)
You must be wondering – what does this one have to complain about concerning the weather? – Not too much. Actually, it’s the same thing I complained about while in the U.S. Come to think of it, we ALL tend to complain or comment on this one thing in particular: heat/temperature. It’s always either too hot or too cold. During snowy days in the U.S. I would lament the “treacherous, non-heat emitting” sun, which really does do a number on you and make you think it’s nice out…until you actually step out. Punkd! At moments like that I wished for the GH sun in my life. Well, my wish has finally been granted and it seems a thousand fold. Chale, I no go lie o. Ghana is HOT! It’s not the I-think-I-can-handle-this kinda heat o. It’s scalding, I’d-love-to-crack-your-skin hot. Think you’re living a part time or 24/7 AC (air conditioner) life: AC house >> AC car >> AC office and vice versa? Think again. The sun will have her day one way or another. It’s unavoidable. So, for all the climate change disbelievers out there, before you issue another statement about how climate change is a figment of our imagination, take a trip to Ghana and you’ll see its as real as your very existence. Full stop.
I take back the full stop at the end of the previous paragraph. The heat probably wouldn’t be half as bad as it is if there weren’t so much traffic in Accra. It’s not only about the endless hours people spend jammed together like sardines in a tin, but also all the exhaust and fumes from the cars. Global warming anyone? For the life of me, I can’t understand where all these vehicles came from. Ei, is this what they meant by Ghana being a middle-income country? Now everyone can afford a car. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but seriously, I’m beginning to think I shouldn’t learn to drive just to reduce the pressure on Ghana’s roads – which, side note, are getting better and better! – Yea, I think that should count as national service, anaa? It’s crazy!
Get this: where in the past, my siblings and I would leave the house (we live in Adenta) around 6:30am or 7am in order to get to school (Alsyd Academy in Dzorwulu) by 8am, I’ve had a good number of people tell me that they leave the house by 5am (meaning they wake up around 4am) in order to get to work by 6:30am at the latest and skip the 7am rush hour! Think that’s too much? Then, they work overtime in the office till around 8pm to get home by 10pm. Rough calculation – at least 5 hours a day is spent in traffic – (let’s not forget the heat), about 12 hours at work and the remaining 7 hours, well depending on your living situation, is divided between sleeping, seeing friends and family, housekeeping and so on. What about weekends? Let’s just say, unless you have no business in town, or especially at the Accra Mall at the Tetteh Quarshie Interchange, you can expect a little traffic time as well.
Conclusion: Ghanaians are truly living the bumper-to-bumper lifestyle with traffic guaranteed once you turn the corner from your house to the main road at almost all hours of the day. Even Wall Street’s professionals, who have the weirdest work hours, in my humble opinion, would take to their heels at this one! I really wouldn’t want to find out what happens in December when the Christmas returnees arrive. Not to say that people shouldn’t come o. By all means, imaraba (welcome/bienvenue/akwaaba), but leave your car at home and let’s get a-cycling!
The Encouraging/Good Stuff (Woopie!)
When I visited Ghana last June, one thing stood out to me: Accra was cleaner. I’m happy to report that it is STILL clean, and in addition, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) has notices around the commercial and business districts about good citizens taking care of national property (consequently, don’t litter or destroy public property) There are also a good number of dust bins along the major streets. It seems the days of last minute intensive cleaning in preparation for foreign dignitaries are gone. Ghanaians – like any other people – deserve to live in a clean environment and thanks to the government, agencies like ZoomLion, and GH citizens , we’re enjoying just that. I’m also happy to see how green Ghana is – vegetation-wise, that is. That’s something I missed sorely while in Senegal, which tends to have more of a Sahel vegetation. I guess if I’m loving the green, I should be more amenable to the heat? Hmm, we’ll see. Baby steps.
Positive Change, People and Networks
Ghanaians value networks. We call it “connection” and it tends to apply when you’re job-searching, tryna crash a party or get some other perk without much hustle. The thing about networking is that its an ongoing activity and skill. Until recently, not much attention has been paid to the value of not just networks or connections, but networking, which I’d describe as meeting, interacting and maintaining contact with like minded (or totally different) individuals for the purposes of self-development. Last week I attended the World Entrepreneurship Day Ghana event at the British Council and each of the panelists including Esi Cleland (AfroChic), Derrydean Dadzie (DreamOval), and Abena Sekyiamah (MAKSI), touched on the importance of surrounding yourself with people who add value to your life and purpose.
One of the reasons I decided to head back to Ghana was to enable me do just that. Establish strong networks. It’s one thing to undertake virtual networking, which is what I’ve been doing my entire time away, and it’s another thing entirely to engage in real-time networking. Since I got back, I’ve had the opportunity to finally meet (after facebook /twitter/skype LOL) fellow members of the GhanaBlogging community as well as positive and inspiring young Ghanaians who are making things happen. Most of these meetings were engineered by fate and quite by chance. I saw Mac-Jordan Degadjor (Accra Conscious Forever) on my way out from the Accra Mall after an earlier meeting. Yesterday, I bumped into Kajsa Hallberg Adu, founder of Ghanablogging and lecturer at Ashesi University College, after paying my sister a visit at their campus. All this makes me even more excited for my first Ghanablogging meeting. I cannot describe how this community of writers and bloggers has influenced me and encouraged me to strive on with Circumspect. Shout outs to the GhanaBlogging team and I hope to meet you all soon.
Without a doubt, great things are happening (or beginning to) in Ghana and across the sub-region. A good number of the people I’ve encountered have gone as far as quitting their regular jobs to pursue their dreams and initiatives! I believe a huge turnaround is taking place with regards to employment and more people are opting for careers (long term sustainable engagement) as opposed to just jobs (not as long term). It’s beautiful to be back and see all of this happen, and especially, to be part of it! While sub-Saharan Africa might not have the institutions or mindset necessary for undertaking a revolution similar to that of the Middle East, there is a more subtle but equally important wind of change taking place: that of owning one’s life , passion and choices. I hope to elaborate more on the inspiring journeys various Ghanaians are undertaking in their respective fields with Circumspect’s newly named “Visionnaire” interview series.
Bon, that’s my quick list of things I’ve come across so far. Any thoughts on the above? Please share. A la prochaine mes amis!