Leila (2/3) “About being a foreigner”

Working as a foreigner in Ghana

It was rough. I didn’t know how white you can be. That was one of the reasons why I have finished my work in the hospital two weeks earlier than I actually had planned. Nobody remembered my name, I was only called Obruni which means “the english man” and stands for “the white man”.

There were days when I didn’t care that everyone talked to me, everyone touched me because you attract attention easily. And something that bothered me in the hospital or what I couldn’t deal with is that they have talked all the time in Twi. It’s a regional language. So they haven’t spoken in English which indeed was ok when it came to the patients. But if we were among colleagues they have only spoken english when they approached me explicitly. It was difficult to engage. But my host family spoke English with me which was no problem for them.

Patients found it super cool and super exciting that I was there. But they would rather being touched and treated by a black man. So I’ve spent the whole day cleaning the hospital and I thought “I didn’t come to Ghana for this”.

That was the first time in my life that I made the decision to cancel something.

The organization that has organized my stay was not happy with it because my host family indeed got money for letting me stay with them. But before my conversation with the organization I already had talked to the family. I previously had paid the money to the organization and they have forwarded it to the host family. The family has said “go, explore Ghana”. Of course I didn’t want any money back. The idea would never have occurred to me.

I then talked to the hospital and I don’t think it bothered anyone there.

Daily life and travelling as a foreigner

When you take the bus, a Trotro/minivan, and you are the first who gets on then you shave to sit down in the back corner and then the bus will be fully loaded from there. But if you sit in the front, especially as whites, it would be kinda rude.

My host father tried to explain a lot to me that “light-skinned” is something special and great. Anyone who has spoken to me or touched me could go home and tell his friends that he has now spoken to a white woman. My host father also told me even if one of them is a little more light-skinned then that’s just great.

That would be an ideal of beauty. So every culture has its own beauty ideals. For us it is to be thin and brown. For others, it is to be corpulent and light-skinned.

I sometimes didn’t feel like being “light-skinned” is something special and great.


Leila_Ghana2On my first or second day I went to Accra with my host mother and we walked over the market place. She knew exactly where she needed to go and walked straight through.

I needed 10 minutes for 100m because I was pulled away and held back all the time. People chatted with me and my host mother came back again and again and took me with her.

I was done when we were back at her house. It had been so hot and the way to Accra and back to her house took two hours.

I also spent the last two days of my stay in Accra and this time I walked alone over the market place. I just walked through, I could even sit down and eat something.

It was completely different. The comparison “first day and last day” was extreme. I think it has a lot to do with the appearance. I went quite naturally to the market after 6 weeks.

That was awesome because I was still white. It just seems you can learn how to deal with it.

Religious traditions

Church: I always went to church with my host family. They tailored a dress for me because I didn’t bring something like that.

The service there takes 4 to 5 hours. I didn’t know it would take so long. But there is singing and dancing all the time. I wonder how they can keep going. The children are allowed to do what they want.

Funerals: I’ve always wondered why the villagers walked with drums and noise, everything very colorful, around the houses at 6 am. It was a burial ceremony.

I was in southern Ghana, it is Christian. The north is Muslim. I find it interesting that it seems to work here because in other countries it’s not.

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