The Simple Answer – Speaking English in Ghana

Entry into Ghana was overshadowed by leaving Burkina Faso, which I was a little sad to be leaving.

But the immigration officials were friendly enough. While one slowly and meticulously filled out my immigration form (I could have completed it in a fraction of the time, but time is no matter here), I watched cartoons on the large television in the office. It was strange listening to so much English being spoken. When asked questions I found myself uttering the occasional French word.

From here the state of the roads deteriorated. A lot. The dirt road became bumpy and uneven. Corrugations spread across the whole breadth. They could not be avoided. I shaked, rattled and slowly rolled into Lawra for a late lunch. Energy sapped, I stopped at a bar to ask where I could get some food:

‘We don’t serve food here’. – I know, but do you know where they do? ‘There are many places’. – Ok, can you recommend somewhere? ‘It depends what you want to eat’. – I don’t care, anything. ‘But how can I recommend somewhere if I don’t know what sort of food you like.’ – Rice or spaghetti or… ‘Well you can get rice opposite’. – Thank you.

I’m sure that was harder than it needed to be.

I had already seen the stalls serving rice. But it was next to the road, with scores of men eating in the shade and a loudspeaker blaring out an indistinguishable racket. Noise. I wasn’t going to be able to relax there.

Walking back up the road, I found a chop bar in a compound. After washing the dirt off my arms, legs and face, I ordered rice balls and sauce. Not the tastiest dish, but the only one on the menu. It filled the stomach. I sat and read, trying to recover some energy. Eventually the curiosity of a not-so-white person with a bike got the better of the other customers.

‘Where do you come from?’ – Today, Burkina Faso. ‘Ehh!! By bicycle?’ – Yes. ‘Where are you going?’ – Wa. ‘Ehh!! By bicycle?’ – Yes, by bicycle. ‘You can do that?’ – Yes. ‘Are you sure? It is a long way’ – Yes, I know. ‘Where are you from?’ – England. ‘Ah, so you fly from England to Burkina Faso?’ – No, I travelled by land. ‘By this bicycle?’ – Yes (Sigh). ‘That’s not possible.’ – Well I had to take a boat from Spain to Morocco… ‘But the rest you travel by bike?’ – Like I said, yes. ‘Ehh!!! That’s not possible!’ – Trust me, it is. ‘When did you leave?’ – nearly 10 months ago. ‘Ehh!! when do you go home again?’ – Well I’m going to South Africa… ‘Ehh!!! For the World Cup?’ – No, I will be a year too late…. ‘Ehh!!!’

And so the conversation continued.

The roads in Lawra were tarmac’d. I assumed that the poor dirt roads were behind me. How foolish. Soon enough the tarmac faded and the orange dust returned. My energy levels were low and I struggled. Need sugar. Must stop. Drink coke. Can’t think. A passerby stopped…

‘Where do you come from?’ – Lawra. (not so far away, an acceptable response). ‘Where are you going?’ – Wa. ‘Ehh!! By bicycle?’ – Yes, by bicycle (Sigh, here we go again). ‘You can do that?’ – Yes, but not all today. ‘You stay here?’ – I don’t know yet. ‘You stay here. There is a guesthouse’ – That’s good to know (I shall do that – finally coke has kicked in and I find I can form a comprehensive thought – the brewing storm is not conducive to camping and I am too tired to go further). ‘So, where are you from?’ – England. ‘You always travel by bike?’ – Yes. ‘Ehh!!! ‘You come from England by bike?’ – Yes. ‘Ehh!!! But it’s a long way’ – Yes, I know….

And so the conversation continued.

I found the guesthouse, showered, ate some biscuits for dinner and slept as the storm passed. It was lovely being inside, on a bed. The first time in well over a month. In the morning I set off for Wa. In the afternoon I arrived. I liked Wa. Friendly people. Helpful and kind. I took a day to rest.

I left Wa late in the afternoon. Having been shown a great fast-food restaurant, Mammy’s Kitchen, I was determined to eat there one last time. I cycled, stomach full, until dark and camped on some rocks by the road. I had forgotten how well rocks retain the sun’s warmth. I sweated profusely throughout the night – I may as well have been pedalling in my sleep.

Up early the next morning. Ready to leave at first light. No taking down tent. Just need to pay. I speak to the one other person in the courtyard, a teenage boy:

– I need to pay for the room. ‘Yes.’ – ….. (Hmm, perhaps better to rephrase as a question) Who do I pay for the room? ‘In town.’ – What?! ‘Yes, in town.’ – Is there no-one here I can pay? (I really don’t want to have to go back into town and search for the owner). ‘Not here.’ – I can see there’s no-one else right here. Is there not someone inside? ‘In town.’ – You’re telling me I need to go to town to pay? ‘Yes.’ – Ok (Big Sigh). Where do I go in town? (Silence. I wait for an answer. Eventually…) ‘I am sorry, I do not understand you.’ (Hah, we’re getting somewhere!)

Attempt number 2. The tried and tested method… I take money from my pocket, dangle the room key, point at the door and then my bike and say, ‘I leave. Money for room. Who do I give?’. – Yes. Give me. I in charge.

Success!! Finally. I hand over the money. He gives me change. Easy. But I am exhausted and I’ve not yet gone anywhere. But at least I can now leave.

Life can be a lot easier when you don’t speak (much of) the same language.

4 Responses to “ The Simple Answer – Speaking English in Ghana ”

  1. Eeeeeeh? 🙂 Hilarious!

  2. Helen. The best laugh for at least a week, maybe longer,for me I mean. Are there any Africans on bikes these days? By the way we are being threatened by temperatures of 20.c towards the end of this week, just in case you don’t understand, I mean in England.
    Thanks for the update.

  3. Hey dude,

    My Dad forwarded this onto me, hysterical and so so true!! trying to speak English in Ghana was just ridiculous, they all understand each others english better than yours and the best conversation I had there was when I had a taxi driver from Togo who I spoke French to!!! So funny you’ve found the same thing! If you like fast food, head for Frankie’s when you get to Accra (if you’re ending up there in the end) best milkshakes ever 🙂 It’s on the main high street, you can’t miss it! Where else you heading in Ghana? Take care hun and keep laughing 🙂

    Mini Savage

  4. Helen – when you get to the coast, I highly recommend Green Turtle Lodge for a few days. It’s closer to the Cote d’Ivoire border, west of Dixcove. Be sure to pay up the night before you leave… otherwise they might have to wake the guy w/ the safe key, and he may be sleeping in another village. Bon voyage.

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