Over the course of five months, what was once a 15-minute walk to work has evolved into an hour. I have friends to greet every day now.
There’s Kofi and Opoku at the food stall just up the hill from our compound. There’s the woman who sells fried dough balls and often has a purple lip from the medication she’s taking. There’s Kwame Baah, the security guard for the rich Indian family across from the school where hundreds of kids run, eat from bowls or bags while dangling their legs from the wall. And then there’s Mavis, the 17-year old who often greets me with a mouthful of toothpaste on the roadside. And this is just the people living on the path before the main road! I feel welcomed, safe and part of the neighbourhood when I walk by the people that over five months I’ve gotten to know.
This morning, though, things were different. When I stopped to greet Kofi among a group of smiling children, two young men I didn’t know asked me for money. They had watched an exchange between Opoku and I. Opoku had returned my change from our previous day’s transaction over water sachets. He owed me 10,000 cedis, or about $1. The two men knew I had some money, and they wanted it.
They performed the now familiar hand-to-mouth signal that means ‘I’m hungry’ and insisted that since I had the cash I should relinquish my spare change. When I said no, they became angry. Oboruni this, oboruni that. I don’t know what all they were saying but what I do know is that these new acquaintances would not benefit from the friendships I’ve formed over five months. If anyone is getting my cash it’s the kids who sit idle watching others go to school, or the young girl who wears torn flip flops, or the half naked man who sleeps under a now demolished tin structure.
The need in Ghana, amongst the people that I walk by everyday is great. The need to be heard, to be respected, to be educated is far greater than the need for my cash, though. (T)