I was born in India, but my family migrated to the United States when I was about one year old. Ever since, I’ve been back to India several times. I’ve lived in my grandparents’ house, showered with a bucket, chased street dogs away, embraced black outs, and survived quite normally in a third-world environment despite my first-world upbringing. I know the drill when it comes to unbearable heat and hordes of mosquitoes lining up to attack you. So I was ready for Ghana.
What I didn’t know is that Ghana and India are one and the same.
As soon as I stepped off the plane (not onto a jetway, but onto a movable staircase just like in India), I felt the heat and humidity right away. The first thing I noticed after being slapped by the heat was the smell. It smelled like India. It smelled like petroleum and overpollution and smoke. That sounds like a bad thing, but to me, it’s nostalgic. The airport even smells like the newly-cleaned tile smell in Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport.
How do I even begin to explain how crazy this is? The paved-but-not-really-paved roads are the same. The bad driving is the same. The food that Auntie Anne is serving us is the same. Even the use of the words “aunty” and “uncle” for non-relatives is the same.
I swear I’ve been here before.
The light soup of Ghana is like the jhol of my mom’s goat curry. The water sachets are identical in both countries. The way you negotiate prices with Ghanaian and Indian taxi drivers is an overlapping skill. The fish comes with bones in it, and when I told my mom, she said, “Now aren’t you glad I taught you how to eat fish properly?”
William, one of my very close friends, is on this trip with me. And he’s from here. So every time I see something familiar, I point it out to him. So we’ve come to the conclusion that our Motherlands are equivalent.
One night we were all at dinner. Our conversation steered toward Ghanaian cloth, which is a very hot commodity as I have learned. We were talking about the different styles: Angelina, wax print, Kente. And then Dr. Bowles said the word “batik.”
Something clicked in my head. A few gears started churning. And, at the same time, Dr. Bowles and I both said, “Tie-dye.” The same word, “batik,” is used in India for the same style of fabric. Ghanaian Batik and Indian Batik are shown below, respectively.
During class, Dr. Abane was explaining the social organization of Ghanaian community. It emphasizes lineages. Then she mentioned marriages. I swear, I could have predicted what she was going to say.
“Marriage is not between two individuals, but between two lineages.”
“Love is not a requirement for marriage. It can come afterwards.” However, I’ve always heard it as “Love comes after marriage,” but it’s the same concept.
Someone raised their hand and asked Dr. Abane if this was basically an arranged marriage. Dr. Abane disagreed. She said that people can find their own partner and they can be married after the suitor’s lineage is examined for flaws such as mental illness and crime. This is the slight difference between Ghana and India. In traditional society in India (India is modernizing, and the youth are participating in more love marriages), there is no chance of any activity remotely related to dating. The process of arranging a marriage is usually strenuous and demeaning towards women as men seem to choose their wives based on looks, educational background, and ability to cook food. In Ghana, there is an acceptance of public displays of affection which I’m not used to back in India.
I was shocked at the fact that I was shocked about the openness of Ghanaian couples. I mean, I’m used to seeing PDA in the United States so I didn’t know why. But it became very easy to appreciate the couples holding hands while walking down the street or the endless efforts of the college boys trying to impress someone who caught their eye.
Despite this important difference, I have found familiarity in this country. Even if I’m just learning about their history, language, and culture, I feel like I can identify with their way of living. I feel like I can understand the colonial history and the persistence of cultural collectivism. I’ve “survived” my first week here, but I don’t think it was too difficult. I’m excited to see what other connections I can make with my own culture because even if it is a strange case of déjà vu, I kinda like it.