Saturday, October 15, 2005

May I Be of Assistance?

Ghanaians are almost terminally helpful. If you are lost, stop your car and get out, open your map as far as it will go and wait. Within seconds you will have at least three Ghanaians standing by you, reading your map with you, discussing the best course of action. Even if they don't know where you want to go. Or, more likely, they know where you want to go but don't know how to get there, and are just putting in their two cents anyway.

When our sea container arrived, the semi truck that delivered it had to maneuver in some pretty tight spaces to get backed into our driveway. When they first arrived the three movers had the help of our guards, our houseboy, and our driver. Within minutes, they had picked up the help and advice of two men who had been walking down on our street on the way to somewhere else, and the neighbor from across the street. They all had an opinion of how the driver should manipulate the truck to best back it into our gate. We sat on the porch and watched and laughed and waited. It took about 45 minutes, but they did it. As soon as the truck was in the gate, the crowd dispersed, off to help the next needy person. ;-)

By now you know that traffic in Accra is, at best, congested. This can make it tricky when you are parking, and more importantly- unparking. Often a restaurant or store will have ten or twelve parking spaces directly in front of their establishment and their guard will direct you into one when you arrive. The real benefit is when you are ready to leave. Imagine you are at Frankies' in Osu on Oxford St.- one of the busiest streets in Accra. You have finished your lunch, you are sitting in your car and looking down the barrel of two or more lanes of unbroken demolition derby traffic. Enter Frankies' guard. He has a flag- he walks out into the traffic, snapping his flag at them, and they stop! He has already determined which direction you wish to head and conveniently stopped cars in both directions to allow you to back into the street. He will wave you back and say "Come come come come!" until you should stop, then he will smack you in the trunk and that is your cue to put it in drive and disappear safely into the traffic jam. It's a truly great thing.

On more than one occasion, we have been in a tight spot and the person who helped us was just a regular guy who saw we were in a bind and just started directing traffic and helping us move back and forth until we could safely proceed. A smile and a wave is all that is ever needed or expected- it's a simple case of "if you can help, do".

As we left Imperial China restaurant tonight we looked at each other as the guard stood behind us yelling "Come come come!" and knew that long after the memory of intermittent electricity and unreliable water had left us, we would be missing these warm friendly people and their willingness to help out any place, any time.