Many of you have asked questions regarding the situation of the water in Ghana.
For those who did not get to read what it takes to get water to the orphanage, check out this post: Fetching Water. The month before we arrived in Ghana, there was a large flood that damaged a lot of the nearby town as well as a major water pipe. For the three months we were there, the village had no running water. There were conflicting stories as to whether or not it was possible to get running water to the village as there was running water in the nearby town.
The water in Ghana is not safe for foreigners to drink. Some may try filtration devices or water purification tablets for the water. We brought purification tablets with us but ended up not using them. The only water we knew was safe to drink came in bottles or sachets and had an official seal. The sachets are basically plastic bags of water. It took a little time to get used to drinking out of a plastic bag.
A one liter bottle of water costs $.70 and a half-liter sachet of water costs $.07. Naturally, we drank the sachets. We would bite a hole in the corner and drink away.
I’m not sure what the water would do to us if we drank it, as we never did. We even brushed our teeth with purified water. When you can afford to have pure water, there’s no reason to not drink it. The locals drink what they can afford. Our host mother and sisters would primarily drink sachets of water. The orphanage drank all well water. It may have made them a bit sick from time to time, but their bodies have grown up with that water, so they are used to it. I don’t know what long-term effects it may have.
One student asked if we had to dress in a modest manner. That’s a great question. If you’re traveling to a different country for the first time finding the answer to this question can save a lot of embarrassment. In Italy, for example, you will not be allowed to enter a church without having your shoulders and knees covered. In Egypt, it’s very important to not have low-cut shirts. Being aware of the customs of a different country will make you and those around you more comfortable.
In Ghana, the answer is yes. There are two distinct areas of Ghana when it comes to modesty. The northern part of Ghana is primarily Muslim and requires more modest dress than the primarily Christian south. Wearing spaghetti straps in the north, one would be out of place. In the south (where we were) it was okay to wear tank tops in the village, but not as acceptable in town.
Ghanaians like to look good. They take pride in their appearance and will get dressed up whenever they go out, whether it’s going in town to the market or traveling to the big cities. While in town, there is a big mix between western-style dress and Ghanaian-style dress. Whenever dressing up, however, the locals will be in Ghanaian-style dress.
You’ll notice lots of bright fabrics with patterns. This is one of three basic styles of fabric you’ll see in Ghanaian clothing. This is the most widely available and cheapest option. Another option is batik. Batik is hand-dyed cloth with larger symbols. Different colors are created on the same cloth by creating patterns in wax before adding a second color. It’s close to what we would think of as tie-dye here in the States.
The last style of fabric uses Adinkra symbols. These are traditional Ghanaian symbols which still have great importance in Ghanaian life. One type of Adinkra cloth is made of cotton and can be any color. There is another type of Adinkra cloth not made of cotton that is usually red, white, or black. These fabrics are ceremonial. It’s customary to wear these fabrics for funerals. (Funerals in Ghana are big celebrations with dancing and singing. They are parties as opposed to sad, somber occasions.) You can see examples here.
There is one more fabric that is very special to Ghanaians. I didn’t include it in the 3 main types of fabric because it is not worn in everyday situations. It’s called kente cloth. Kente cloth is brightly colored cloth that is woven by local artists. It’s worn for very special occasions and worn by high-powered people (chiefs, queen mothers, etc.). We actually had a kente cloth weaver who worked just a few houses away from us in our village. It was very cool to see it being made up close.
The dollar in Ghana is called the cedi (pronounced seedy). While we were there, the exchange rate made it so one cedi equaled about 70 cents. The cedi is divided into 100 pesewas (just like the dollar is divided into 100 cents).
That’s all for this time. More to come!