Thursday, June 3
“One of the best-known rules throughout much of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia is avoidance of the use of the left hand. In Ghana, the left hand is used solely for holding one’s toilet paper, and nothing else… Never shake hands, point, gesture, eat, give, or receive with your left had.”
–Ghana, Culture Smart!, by Ian Utley
I went with Kelvin for my first meal in Ghana on the beautiful South La Beach (La short for Labadi), right around the corner for the JAC office. Kelvin was going to order me fried chicken and French fries, but I wanted to try something typically Ghanaian: tilapia and banku (a kind of sour ball of maize that you dip in stew or hot sauce. Unless, like me, you don’t like hot sauce).
Service in Ghana is often slow (things generally move more slowly here), but the food finally came: a glorious platter of a crisp brown tilapia fish, framed by a ball of doughy banku and a dollop of ketchup and hot sauce.
“Go ahead, eat,” Kelvin said.
“I’m just waiting for the waitress to bring silverware.”
Kelvin began to laugh. He explained that here, people eat with their hands.
“Oh, right! I read about that.” I looked down at the daunting whole fish and said to Kelvin, “You go first.”
He took a steaming bite of fish in his hands and showed me how it flaked off. He motioned for me to break off some of the maize.
I grabbed and bit and brought my fingers to my mouth, when Kelvin half-laughed, half-cried, “Not with your left hand!”
“Oh right, I read about that too! Sorry.” I quickly put the maize down.
I washed off my left hand in the bowl of water the waitress had brought. I ate the rest of the meal with my hand right hand only and kept my left on my lap.
Glad I made that first mistake with Kelvin and not someone else. Whoops.
Oh, and if you’re out to eat and the person you’re with pours a bit of their drink into their glass, swills it, then tosses it out onto the ground – it’s probably not a libation to the ancestors. They’re just cleaning their glass. (But they do offer libations sometimes! I’m not crazy.)
And if you exit the airport and men in suits and IDs ask you where you’re going, they’re not the taxi drivers who want to rip you off, they’re the officials who need to see your baggage stamp before you leave. The taxi drivers are over in the next room.
Also, don’t bother trying to buckle your seatbelt. Even if there’s a belt, there’s no buckle. (Mom, ignore this plz.)
Tags: africa, airport, banku, beach, culture, culture smart, eat, faux pas, Ghana, ian utley, jac, junior art club, Kelvin, labadi, left hand, libation, libation to the ancestors, right hand, seatbelt, south la, taxi, tilapia