“Akwaaba!” This is one of the very first words I heard upon arriving in Ghana and the one I have heard most frequently during my first week and a half here. It means “welcome” in Twi, the language of one of Ghana’s major ethnic groups, the Akan. When I enter Freeman Methodist Center, the security guards and staff members always greet me with this word, as do the doctors and nurses at the hospital, my teachers at KNUST and the cultural center, and many of the street vendors I pass as I walk through the city. This word exemplifies the hospitality that Ghanaians are famous for. It is an expression of friendliness and acceptance that Ghanaians extend to visitors, particularly foreigners, and it has made me feel incredibly comfortable as a guest in this country.
I noticed this hospitality immediately upon arriving in Ghana. The word “akwaaba” is written on signs and billboards, and even on paintings like this one that greeted us at the guesthouse.
Since then, I have heard people say “awkaaba” more times than I can count. Often, this greeting is followed by a string of questions. How are you? What is your name? Where are you from? Do you understand Twi? Even someone you simply wave to on the street will want to greet you, learn about you, and help you become more familiar with Ghanaian culture.
At first, I found this friendliness a bit overwhelming. In many places in the US, strangers refuse to even make eye contact with one another, and certainly do not strike up conversations. Not understanding Twi or knowing the best way to respond made it even more intimidating to be approached by a stranger, and during my first few days here I would often just smile a bit and then hurry away.
However, as I have learned more about Ghanaian culture, and hospitality in particular, I have realized that when someone approaches me it is because they want to welcome me and get to know me. They want me to feel comfortable in their home. This custom of warmly and graciously welcoming the stranger has made it so easy to learn about Ghanaian culture because everyone is so willing to share it with us! People I’ve met have told me they want to help me learn Twi or show me around town, and one woman even invited me to go to church with her just minutes after I first introduced myself.
Ghanaians pride themselves on their hospitality, and they are right to do so! Traveling abroad can be incredibly scary, but when you are welcomed by the smiles and “akwaabas” of an entire country, it makes the experience a lot less intimidating.
Here are some links where you can read more about Ghanaian hospitality.