Walking around as a white person in Ghana is roughly the equivalent of walking around in the U.S. wearing a tutu and a gorilla mask. It makes you an instant novelty. The difference however, is that while most people would avoid a person wearing a gorilla mask and a tutu, Ghanaians certainly do not avoid white people, or in twi, "obrunis." Other than my two safe havens of my host home and my classroom at school, I am verbally confronted everywhere I go, and by anyone and just about everyone. The majority of the banter thrown my way sounds harmless when explained on paper. Most often, the conversations are simple and short, polite questions, such as: "Obruni how are you?" "Obruni where are you going?" Obruni, what is your name?" So obviously, the reason I feel semi assaulted is not because of the content of what people are saying to me. The problem instead, is with the frequency that I am confronted and the frequency with which I must answer to there, "Obruni..." questions. It really is almost incessant, especially when in town I am greeted by a large portion of the people I pass. Considering that most the people are well meaning, I know it sounds rude on my part to say that I am starting to find all these conversations annoying, so instead I will just say that I am starting to find them tiring.
The other problem with these constant interactions aside from their frequency, is the way in which Ghanaians choose to attract my attention so that they can start a conversation. Often "obruni," or "obruni bra,"(white man come) are used to attract my attention, and as I've already mentioned obruni is not on my list of favorite words. The most common way people grab others attention, however, is by hissing. So, I'll be walking through sunyani and I'll feel as if I am surrounded by hordes of hungry snakes. As much as I would like to just tune the the hissing out and ignore it, I cannot because here in Ghana that would be quite rude. It is funny, because at home it would be rude to call over a complete stranger and demand a conversation, but here I am required by courtesy to at least say a few words. Most often the conversations are short and the people well meaning, as I mentioned before people most often just want to know where I am from, how long I am here, etc. There are however, slightly more annoying people, and those are the ones who like to use obrunis to get a good laugh. This often comes in the form of marriage proposals, requests for me to assist with hard labor, and the most common and most annoying, people who speak to me rapidly in twi and then break into hysterical laughter. I have learned that the best way to deal with these comic obibinis, (black men) is to just smile, nod, and continue on my way.
There is one more kind of interaction I have on a daily basis as a result of being white, and that is requests for money. Obrunis are not only seen as a source of amusement, but also as a source of money. The most difficult part about these requests, is that they most often come from children. I have seen next to zero beggars in Sunyani, but there are an abundance of school children who would love to have a little more spare cash in their pockets. Oftentimes, I'll just be walking to or from school, and kids of varying ages will come and grab my arms or hands, and then ask for money. As hard as it can be, I have to deny them all. I am going to be here for eight more months, and I definitely cannot afford to gain the reputation of being the obruni who is always leaking money. I do not have that hard of a time turning down the older kids, because they are often completely tactless. Apparently white people are so rich that you don't even need to be polite towards them, often they just say, "Obruni give me money!," and I have little difficulty turning them down. I cannot help but feel a bit guilty however, when I turn down the small, big eyed children who grab my hands so fervently.
Well friends, that brings me to the close of newsletter #4, I hope it has been enjoyable. I had intended to send this off more than a week ago, but I have to admit that I have been having quite a few problems with writers block, and hence it took me a bit longer to complete. The writers block was positive in one way however, and that way was that it gave me an idea. I realized that with each passing day life here is becoming more and more the norm for me, and there may be many things that you my readers might find interesting, but that I no longer see as so. My idea then, is to do a Q & A edition, or an edition that is at least part Q & A. So, please, if any of you have any questions for me that I have not covered yet, please send them to me so that i can incorporate them into my next newsletter. Also, if you have any suggestions as to how I can make these newsletters better please let me know!