Imagine a life without Starbucks, French fries, cell phones, or hot and cold running water. A personal auto to take you anywhere you want to go? Forget about it. Cars are as scarce as a meal of roast beef and potatoes in rural Ghana. The creature comforts I take for granted are luxuries reserved for the privileged few. For Example, I think I could not survive without air-conditioning. The Otinibi Villagers live happily without it in southern
Ghana, where the temperature hovers around 95 to 100 degrees year round—characteristic of the “dog days” of summer in my hometown of Aventura, Florida.
In a typical West African village, waking up at seven or eight AM is considered sleeping in. Most people get up early to do laundry and other chores to avoid the heat, even though it is still hot. By six AM, music is playing, people are talking, and roosters are screaming. It is time to pound cassava and plantain into a mixture called “fu-fu” for breakfast. The villagers make the pounder from a bamboo branch. The practice requires training and patience. Arms unaccustomed to pounding “fu-fu” tire quickly.
“Fu-fu” and “Kenkey” are the staple foods of village life. These are starch dishes. Fish is the most common form of protein eaten in the villages, especially in coastal areas, where fishing is the primary source of income. Beef and chicken dishes are rare in the mostly poor, rural areas. If you want to eat chicken, you have to own it, kill it, and cook it yourself. Fruits and vegetables are also hard to come by.
After breakfast, children walk to school, usually in groups. A school generally serves six or seven villages. Distances from the students’ homes range between few hundred yards to one and a half miles. When they return from school, the children normally play outside. At around four PM, it is time for them to help prepare the evening meal. After dinner, which finishes around six PM, village children typically go outside to play again. Sometimes the older men and women tell the kids folk tales and stories by the fireside. The evening usually ends with drumming and dancing. Drumming and dancing is very important in the lives of Ghanaians. Music is the food of the soul.
Village life is unrushed, unlike the hectic pace of a city like Accra, where traffic snarls are common, and street merchants rush at pedestrians, hawking everything under the sun. Villagers share a deep history and strong traditions, placing huge importance on family and customs. Professions are often passed down from father to son and mother to daughter. There is an emphasis on the connections between people. You do not just wave and say, “Hi, how are you?” and receive the standard response, “Fine, thanks.” You stop, talk, inquire about family, friends, and life. Perhaps those of us with more comfortable lives can learn something from these Villagers.