Okay. So this one is tough. In Ghana, the common greeting between everyone is a handshake, but its a special handshake. It starts as a grab, moves swiftly into a regular handshake, and then ends with your middle fingers snapping off one another. Grab a friend and give it a try, but don’t get too frustrated. I still haven’t really mastered it (and not for a lack of trying), but I quickly learned that there are certain people that can make you snap, no matter how hopeless you are at it!
I found this clip on YouTube that illustrates the handshake really well:
Although the official language of Ghana is English, there are a variety of dialects spoken all over the country. In Accra, and much of the southern half of the country, Ghanaians speak Twi (pronounced TREE; also known as Akan or Fante). To date, this has been the most foreign language experience I’ve had, but I had such a blast learning new words and phrases and practicing them with locals. Even if I may have butchered the language, locals loved hearing me try, and it opened up so many opportunities to bond with and learn from the beautiful people of Ghana.
Spelling in Twi is extremely difficult; most of the Ghanaians I met had difficulty spelling or writing in Twi. Many words make use of special characters that aren’t in the English language. In fact, the school where we volunteered had Twi lessons scheduled, but no certified Twi teacher to instruct the course (which focused on writing in Twi).
Therefore, for simplicity’s sake, my Twi “spelling” will be strictly phonetic. The following words and phrases were so invaluable for me in getting to know and earning the respect of Ghanaians!
Greetings & Responses
Good morning: MA-CHI
Good afternoon: MA-HA
Good evening: MA-DJO
** For enthusiasm, add OOOO to the end. As in, “ma-chi-oooooo”
How are you?: WHOA-WHO-TA-SEYN
What’s up?: EH-TEH-SEYN
I’m fine: ME-HO-YEY (more formal), or EH-YEY (more informal)
Mind Your Manners!
Ghanaians are big on being polite and minding your manners. These phrases will take you far!
Thank you: MEH-DA-SI
Responding to “thank you”: ME-SA-MEH-DA-SI
** This essentially means “I am also thankful”… Since generosity is so expected and commonplace, there is really no translation for “You’re welcome”
Please / Excuse me / Pardon me: MEH-POW-CHO
What are you called? YEH-FRAY-WHO-SEYN
I am called…: YEH-FRAY-ME
We will meet again: YEH-BAY-SHE-AH
We will meet tomorrow: OH-CHI-NAH–YEH-BAY-SHE-AH
(Since we were there for New Year’s) Happy New Year!: AH-FEE-SHE-AH-PA
Response to “Happy New Year”: OH-FIM-KOM-BA-TOO-YAY
I don’t understand: MEN-TEE-AH-SAY
“Small, small” (i.e. “Just a little”): KA-KRA KA-KRA
Enthusiasm: PA (Ex. Thank you very much = MEH-DA-SI-PA-PA-PA-PA…. can be repeated as often as you like)
ACCRA, GHANA, W.A.
DECEMBER 27, 2011 – JANUARY 13, 2012
My trip to Ghana was a lot of “firsts” for me. My first experience leading a group abroad, my first time on the continent of Africa, my first canopy walk, my first time eating guinea fowl… Just so many “firsts” in a country that was completely new and foreign to me. Even so, from the moment I stepped off of the plane the country felt comfortable and familiar.
I traveled with an amazing group of people. This part I cannot emphasize enough. Our group was thoughtful, sensitive, considerate, supportive, and in almost no time at all we became a little family. We were a mix of ten undergraduate and graduate students all hailing from VCU, plus me and my magnificent co-leader (School of Social Work alums). For about a decade, VCU has been working with Sovereign Global Mission (via Peacework) to help build a school in Adoteiman (a village on the outskirts of Greater Accra). After the school was completed and classes began, they sought to expand and were able to add a second floor. Our goal for this trip was to help with finishing the second floor in any way that we could, followed by working with the students in class with phonetics, and aiding the teachers. Between our weekdays at the school, we went on cultural excursions, and helped with a feeding program for street children.
I remember arriving on a Wednesday evening; things were busy and hectic from the beginning. We took a wild taxi ride to our hotel, and with the windows down the smells wafted in — a combination of earthiness, car exhaust, and residual smoke from garbage fires. Along the High Road were shacks and shops, splattered with logos and the most recent football scores. Although it was dark, everything I could see reminded me so much of the Caribbean, and between the smells and the sights it felt like a fusion between Trinidad and the Dominican Republic. This stayed with me throughout the two-and-a-half weeks.
We were constantly on the go. Between our work at the school and the cultural excursions, I’m surprised we even had the energy to go out on the town, but go out we did – nearly every night! Our
guides Ghanaian friends (long-time contacts of previous VCU groups) took us out to local bars and clubs, reggae beach parties, local eateries… We got a sampling of everything. It was cultural immersion at its greatest, and made the experience even more unique and authentic.
I can’t wait to share more about my time in Ghana!
Look out for more posts on the food, the culture, the sights, and more!
Yebehyia! (We will meet again!)