what makes a good day
today i felt very present in my life. it seems the less time i spend on the internet, the better my day is. today wasn’t particularly remarkable, but it felt very real.
i made music all morning, watched an episode of 30 rock, read a chapter in ‘a clockwork orange’, played with puppies, talked with my girlfriend, went swimming, found a gym(!), made a delicious italian dinner with my indian housemates, and even made some work calls.
i’m particularly appreciative of the newlywed indian couple i live with. in addition to being great people who fill me daily with tasty indian food, they are a very entertaining couple to observe. they always keep things interesting and (along with their new puppies) provide great company.
i recently passed the 3-month mark for my stay in ghana; i’ve enjoyed my time so far. and i’m definitely looking forward to more days like this.
on colonialism: the french influence
Being West African neighbors, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire share countless similarities; if Ghana’s signs were not in English and Cote d’Ivoire’s all in French, it would often be difficult to tell them apart. Despite the overwhelming likeness of the two, during my brief stay in Cote d’Ivoire, the French influence became obvious.
The first French-induced difference I noticed in Ivory Coast was advertising for cigarettes, and accordingly, people smoking those cigarettes. Smoking is so rare in Ghana I almost forgot the habit existed. In the past, the government has created health campaigns against tobacco products and its crusade has been unbelievably successful. Not only do most Ghanaians abstain from smoking, but they abhor secondhand smoke, claiming it kills them when someone smokes near them. In Ghana, it is difficult to find stores that sell tobacco products and you certainly don’t see advertising for it. However, in Cote d’Ivoire, signs are prevalent, smoking is common, and vendors make their living just by selling cigarettes. Makes you wonder about the effects of advertising on creating demand for a product.
Although I derived no benefit from the widespread tobacco in Cote d’Ivoire, I did enjoy a few culinary delights of the French persuasion. Full-sized baguettes and good cheese were the first victims of my hunger. This was followed the next morning by buttery, delicious croissants (pronounced in atrociously over-the-top accent). Because I’m vegetarian I didn’t partake, but there is also a lot more ham/pork/prosciutto, which for reasons that may or may not be accurate, I associate with the French. Local food was pretty similar, although I found a greater assortment of vegetarian fare in Cote d’Ivoire.
Likewise, there is a large alcohol presence in the Ivoirian diet. Wine is had with almost every meal, and 10am is apparently not too soon to have beer or spirits (as evidenced by people getting their early-morning drink on for a co-op’s annual celebration). This is a major contrast to common practice in Ghana, at least with the people I’ve come to know. Many Ghanaians don’t drink at all, and if they do it’s rare and moderate. Sure, there are men who drink excessively and frequently here, but alcohol is far less a part of the culture in Ghana. Wine is more of a luxury in Ghana, whereas it—or cheap varieties of it—seems to be a lunchtime staple in Cote d’Ivoire. Again, this a clear sign of the cultural influence France has had on its former colony.
Finally, the most obvious difference is language. What surprised me about Cote d’Ivoire is how many people speak French. It truly is the national language and the primary way that most people communicate. Only one of the farmers I encountered didn’t speak French. This is poles apart from the situation in Ghana. Although it is the “official” language, only those with formal education speak English, and even then it can be limited. English is the language of power, position, and education in Ghana; it is not the language of the people. In the Ghanaian countryside, I’m pretty useless when we meet with farmers because so few of them speak much English and I know even fewer words in their local language. I don’t have any compelling explanations, but it seems the French (for whatever reason) were far more effective than the British at having their language adopted.
While none of these observations is tremendously insightful, it is interesting to examine the differences between two neighboring countries (especially when they share a very common ancestry). Without a doubt, much of the divergence comes from which European country claimed the area as a colony. I must say, given my linguistic deficiencies, Ghana is the place for me. But Ivory Coast, with all of its French legacies and adaptations, was a wonderful place to visit.