You are invited!
To come walk with me through the streets of Winneba, the fishing community of 60,000+ people that is my home.
We walk through our gate and are greeted by a young man standing a few feet way. He introduces himself as a teacher at the school next door and then launches into a passionate and joyous sermon. Half an hour later, we take our leave, encouraged by his reminder that God loves us so much, that He has a purpose for us here in Winneba, and that we can do all things – even the impossible – through Him. His church holds Friday night prayer meetings and we are invited.
We continue up the short path to roadside, where we are immediately greeted with a hiss.
“No, thank you! We are come to walk.” The taxi driver nods and accelerates in the direction of a promising knot of people further down the road.
“Obruni (i.e. white person), good morning!” A school age girl is smiling as she walks towards us, holding the hand of a tiny brother.
“Good morning! How are you?”
“I am fine, thank you! Where do you stay?”
“We stay at Roman School.”
“We shall meet. Good-bye!” Tiny brother looks back over his shoulder, wide-eyed, as big sister propels him forward.
“Obruni! Eteh sane*?”
“Eh-yay! Nyame adom!”
“Hey!” The older woman carrying a tub of cassava on her head is surprised and pleased that we know the Fantse/Effutu.
“Yo!” she responds with a delighted laugh. We wave good bye and take a few more steps forward, only to be confronted with the following quotation on the back of a tro-tro: Still Honourable Pepper.
Just beyond, a taxi window is telling us that its owner is Still Tompoo.
We pause, puzzle, give up and move on – older, but none the wiser.
We’re turning off the main road now, leaving behind broken asphalt in favor of well-worn dirt paths.
“Obruni!” We search and search for the high, piping voice and finally, just off in the distance, spot a tiny dancing form. “Obruni!”
When this siren call is repeated, half a dozen little ones tumble out of doorways or pop up from behind cinder block stacks. “Obruni! Obruni! Obruni!” they chorus. Their enthusiasm is irresistible and we wave hello – and then good-bye half a dozen times as with every other step they call out “Obruni, bye-bye!”
We round the corner and nearly collide with a young man on a bike. He immediately screeches to a halt, sticks out his hand, proposes marriage to me (or maybe you, if you are girl), introduces himself, and then asks for our names.
After dodging his request for our phone numbers, we carry on. But only briefly! We’ve been spotted again and nine small boys and girls have hurled themselves at us. “Obruni! Obruni!” Each has a hold of one of our fingers and they begin bouncing up and down, shouting in unison and giggling. We are laughing, too, and more than a little charmed by the way they seamlessly transition to a call-and-response chant, still clutching our fingers.
Their mothers and grandmothers are watching from the yards where they are cooking or washing or resting. They greet us with huge smiles and then shoo the children back.
“Obruni, bye-bye!” follows us out of sight.
Oh, this next interaction will not be so good! A toddler who was happily playing in her yard moments before is now screaming hysterically and trying to back away, while her older brother cracks up and tries to force her towards us.
“Eh-yay! Eh-yay! Is okay,” we say, trying to prevent the child from being forever traumatized by the sight of white skin. Older brother releases the captive, who flees – but backwards, keeping tear-filled eyes on us. Hoping to repair diplomatic relations, we greet older brother, shake his hand and exchange names.
Next, we meet 13-year-old Ama, 9-year-old Abena, and 8-year-old Efua, who have come to collect empty water sachets in a large empty rice bag. They have tied plastic bags around their hands to protect themselves from germs. We have a nice chat about school and then wave good-bye.
Turning another corner brings us right into the middle of a pick-up game of football. Two wooden sticks rescued from the burn pile are serving as goal posts. The cinderblock wall to our right is lined with neighborhood kids watching their friends take turns trying to outsmart the goalie. We carefully thread our way through mass of bodies, heads turning in every direction as we try to respond to all the greetings being sent our way.
A group of men sitting on a front porch spies us.
“Obruni! Braw! Come!”
We look at each other, shrug, and take a detour in their direction.
“Good morning! What is your name? Where do you come from? Where do you stay? Where are you going?”
We answer each question in turn, and then ask them a few questions of our own. They offer to send one of the small children with us to show us the way, but we assure them that we can do. We shake hands all around, and set off again.
Eh-heh! We have picked up a tag-along. A boy who looks to be about 12-years-old is walking beside us.
“Obruni, how is it?”
“It is fine. How with you?”
“Oh, is okay. Obruni, in your country do women give small children their breasts?”
Brows crinkled, we look in confusion at the small children he is gesturing towards but spot no breasts.
Eh-heh! The lightbulb goes on.
“Yes, some women do give small children their breasts. It is very good for them. But sometimes, they must to feed them with milk in a bottle.”
“Thank you,” he responds seriously, and heads back the way he came.
By now, we have nearly arrived at our destination (we need to buy soap and bread from one of the roadside stands). But first, we will receive a free Fantse lesson from a seamstress, have our dressing admired by one of the boys who goes to school at Challenging Heights, and play Double-Double (twice) and Thumb War (three times) with 7 or so of the children who live nearby.
In Ghana, we’re going nowhere fast. Aaaaand – loving it!
*Phonetic, rather than accurate, spellings.