Monday, June 13, 2011

Ghana and Safety!

My job requires me to talk to young volunteers about safety issues in Ghana. It is the usual scare people about a new city speech, which is aimed at pushing these guys into being safe. I start with a little bit about pick pockets and how they are very clever here. They will get you on the Tro Tro, waiting for the Tro Tro, walking in busy areas and going into any event (such as a football match...story to follow). I then talk a little about going out in the evenings and not trusting everyone that comes up to you and guesses where your from and tries to be your 'friend'! I also let them know just to look out for each other and each others belongings and make sure people do not make any stupid friend choices.

Now the reason I start with this is because when living here (and not on a short visit) it is difficult to abide by these suggestions all the time. Definitely I have learnt my lesson whilst sitting on public transport, having lost a phone and a camera over the years whilst sitting on a tro tro. But when it comes to day to day normality sometimes you have to go out of your comfort zone.

The issues for me (and some others that I know) are that we can not always be out and about with a big group like the volunteers in Accra. They certainly have that comfort zone and there are always people to move with. For those of us living here, it is only one or two people we will be out with in the Evening and when and individual feels like leaving they may have to leave alone. Then there is the issue of taking a taxi alone in the night or deciding to walk if it is not to far away. (For us in Osu everything is walkable)

Now, recently I must admit I have become a little more intimidated by my own vulnerability in Ghana. Over the years I have always stuck out and I understand that my skin colour is certainly an advertisement for alleged wealth. People have always called out to me as they will for anyone that comes to visit or live here from outside. But recently it has been a little bit of a different feeling. I am hearing more and more stories from people about being robbed (not pick pocketed) when out and about in Accra. I am beginning to look at people with more suspicion when they approach me or try and be friendly with me. It is rather sad!

Not so long ago on Oxford Street (the Accra one!) I was walking along typing on my I-Phone and passed by 4 guys standing by a lamp post. It was one of Ghana's many holidays and not many people were around. It was weirdly quiet for the day. One guy started shouting at me.."hey.. hey.. hey" in a booming voice. I was pretty pissed off and almost stop to ask him what the hell he wanted but something in my told me 'no mate, carry on and just look over your shoulder'! So thats what I did he said "come here come here I like your phone!" I turned round and told him that my name isn't Hey so he should get out of here, and walked off very quickly. I am pretty sure that I have had stopped to talk to him I would not have my phone anymore. This is not the only incident that has happened and on a few occasions I have found myself running home (drunkenly) in the night because I am sure that I am being followed! (I sound like some paranoid guy now I know!)

Even the clubs are becoming aggressive. When trying to act chivalrously when a very big and tall guy was trying to latch on to some of my female friends, I ended up the one in trouble. All I said to him is "its ok!" as in please let go of my friend and move on. He did let go of my friend (which was great) but then he moved over to me and told me I shouldn't fucking talk to him or he would fucking punch me! Ok wonderful, what do I say to this guy who is towering over me. I decided "its ok" would be enough to make him move on. It didn't, and he continued his aggressiveness! I wasn't going to back down, but I certainly wasn't going to fight this giant. I held my ground until one of his friends decided that it would be a good idea to remove him form the club. (saved!)

As I mentioned earlier, it is not even safe to go and see a football match. I was with 6 of my volunteers trying to get into the world 11 vs Africa 11 peace match. It turns out the 7 of us were the only one trying to get into that particular gate and the other 20 guys (all holding some kind of handkerchief or towel) and all in everyones pockets. we had a phone stolen, that was recovered, but while it was recovered his wallet was stolen. My new journalism volunteer has hr bag knifes as she was surrounded by about 6 guys and they tried to steal her SLR camera. Fortunately she fought them off and ran away. In the end we had to get a police escort into the stadium!

So these are all stories where no one has been hurt but whilst thinking about writing this blog unfortunately someone was hurt. I would love to mention names and nicknames but I will let this person off and allow them to remain anonymous. My friend decided to go out for a run in the evening. Around 8 o clock, so nothing we wouldn't do in the the UK. After a few twist and turns she became a little lost. As she was running past a group of guys on a corner one stood up and smacked her in the face. (not a small punch if you saw the swelling!) After a little scuffle my friend ( very fortunately) managed to get up and run away! We do not really want to think about the motives for this attack (whether theft or something more sinister ) but whatever the case it was brutal and terrible.

Does this mean we can not be free at all in this country? Should we always remain inside and fear walking out? Do we all have to remain in cars to travel small distances? Personally I can not live my life like that and I will try to take little risks here and there if I can. I hope those around me also don't give into the fear and continue to go out and tr and feel free. We all need to be careful for sure but the sad thing is I know this will not be the last time I blog about personal safety!

PS MUM! If your reading this...dont worry too much! I am fine!

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