My dear friend Sarah, who has been working with me for over 15 years, introduced me to her family in Kumasi. “During your next trip to Ghana, you must visit Kumasi” she said. How could I refuse? Before my departure to Ghana I discussed my travelling scheme with her nephew, Samuel Ofori. Naturally, once in Ghana, that travelling scheme was completely changed. However, Kumasi most definitely was going to stay in my program. I decided to visit Kumasi in the middle of my stay in Ghana. The four days I had in mind became a full week. A wonderful week.
Sarah’s two sisters – Regina and Mary – are living in Abuakwa, an outer part of Kumasi, together with Samuel and Emilia, the two children of Regina. I was taken into the family with such warmth and hospitality I also know of Sarah. She and her other sister Jennifer, who are practically my neighbors in Amsterdam called every day (about 3 to 5 times) to make sure I was well taken care of. Samuel and Emelia took very good care of me, as did Abena, the best friend of Emelia. Because I am a vegetarian Sarah was concerned about my food, but Emelia is a very good cook. I also learned later about the Ashanti expression: “A hungry man is an angry man”.
The family home is located next to a schoolyard that is also used for ceremonies. I witnessed how open the family home is; people walked in and out the house for a chat or to deliver some goods. On Saturday suddenly two trucks came by with chairs, drinks and food. “Oh” Samuel said “I believe they want to use our house for the ceremony”. A friend of the family lost a relative and the funeral ceremony was to take place at the square next to the house. The house was being used to facilitate catering for the guests. So for two days the house was filled with people, including relatives from the diseased who came from Germany.
Though it is sad to lose a relative, death is very much part of life in Ghana, more than in the West. Almost every day one loses a family member, friend or member of the community. An Ashanti funeral lasts two days, a black day and a white day. And besides mourning there is time for food, drinks and good conversations.
Funerals are expensive and sometimes the family doesn’t have enough to finance it. Then the community collects money amongst each other. Two days before the ceremony I attended, the neighbors were walking from door to door to collect money for another funeral. And since I was Ghanaian, I also had to contribute. Every contribution is written in a book and the donations will be mentioned during the ceremony. Obruni was written down in capital letters.
I made many friends in Kumasi, including the children in our street who shared a table tennis table. The table was just on the street and very well used. Everybody wanted to play against me, but after 3 serious beatings I had enough. Besides, it was hot and I also wanted to chat with the children. “Why do people in your country hate black people so much?” Kofi asked me. I looked at him in surprise and said: “I don’t know, what do you mean?” He explained that black people were called monkeys and used the Italian soccer player, Balotelli, as an example. “Well”, I shared, “Maybe it is not so much that they hate, but that they are afraid for what they do not know well. Like some children here are afraid of my white skin. And not everybody is like that. I grew up with people of many colors and different cultures and it never was an issue for me or my friends.” “Nooo” the children said “You are different, you are nice and kind.” My reply was that maybe I was not so different and that, like in Ghana, there might be more kind, nice people in my country than they think. We agreed that, though our skin had different color, we had the same color blood being pumped though our bodies by our hearts. And that the heart was much more important than the color of our skin. This led to a beautiful conversation on the heart and how important it is to be a good person and to be kind for other people, helping each other in need.
We continued to talk about soccer, the coming world cup in Brazil and the possibility that the Netherlands and Ghana were going to meet each other. Though we have Arjen Robben, all children agreed that Ghana was going to beat the Dutch big time. Well, looking at the Ghanaian team, they might be right.
Octavio shared that his father was in Italy and that he was going to become a professional soccer player in Italy. The other children shared that Octavio was really good. “And when I am a professional player, I will remember you and buy you a big, beautiful car.” Sounded like a fair deal to me.
A short walk through the neighborhood takes me quite some time because everybody wants to talk with me. Most know that I’m staying with Emelia (funny how I was immediately connected to her and not so much to Samuel). Here in Ghana I am called ‘Obruni’ which means white man, but the children and some of the adults in Kumasi now call me by my Ghanaian name – Kwabena – given to me during my first visit two years ago. The family and closest family friends call me Alein or Allan.
Samuel and Emelia guided me through the area, showed me the house Sarah and Jennifer are building in Kumasi and took me out for a swim in a hotel pool. Going to the market with Emelia and her best friend, Abena, also was a very nice experience. I had promised to cook and walking on the street and at the market, guided by two beautiful ladies also was nourishing for my self-esteem.
A peak experience to me was visiting church, this Sunday. Emelia and Abena took me to the church they are visiting. Not all family members go to the same church. I was deeply moved by the devotion of the people and enjoyed the singing in praise and glory. The mass took several hours and afterwards I was introduced to the chief minister.
As only Obruni in church, naturally I had a lot of people looking at me. I was invited to join the dancing and to shake hands with practically everybody present. The shaking of the hands is part of the ceremony and it is meant to express that we are all brothers and sisters, we are one family and our church is a community. After church many people wanted to talk with me and wanted me to take their picture. Emelia introduced me to many of her friends and it took us quite some time to leave. I still had the idea I was going to leave for Accra later that day.
In the end I stayed for another day and with pain in my heart I left for Accra on Monday. I needed to go to prepare for the business meetings I have in Accra, starting Tuesday until Saturday when I hop on the plain to Amsterdam. But I now have a family and a home in Kumasi and most definitely I will return there next visit. Hopefully Sarah and Jennifer will be able to join me then.