“Akwaaba!”, a stranger shouts to me, with a big grin, waving to me as I walk by on the streets. “Welcome! You are welcome”, he says to me.
After four weeks of living in Ghana, I’ve become accustomed to being greeted in this way from familiar faces and strangers alike. ‘Akwaaba’ is the Akan word for “Welcome” and has become the symbol for expressing Ghanaian hospitality and friendliness, especially towards foreign guests.
Ghana is indeed a friendly country. It certainly is the friendliest country that I’ve been to and I’ve been to over 80 countries! The people of Ghana are warm, welcoming, and trusting — even with strangers. Something that I’m still adjusting to having come from a western culture (New York City no less, where your ability to ignore others is a benchmark of being a true city resident).
But in Ghana, things are different. “You see,” Afa, a stranger I met while exploring Accra, explained, “Many Africans were taken away from here hundreds of years ago during the slave trade. They were taken all over the world and mixed with other nationalities. Many come back to visit their roots. But you cannot tell just by looking at their skin if they are of African descent. If their roots are from here. If they might have been your brother, sister, relative. So everyone is welcome here because they might be your family. And family is the most important thing.”
Even armed with this knowledge, I was unprepared for what hospitality and warmth truly meant to Ghanians. In just my first 4 weeks I was welcomed and showered with kindness that reached a whole new level.
- A family took me in to stay in their home for a week, refusing to allow me to pay for my food or contribute monetarily in any way, and even purchasing new bedsheets, bath towels, and toiletries to make me feel welcomed.
- An acquaintance’ sister drove 50 minutes to pick me up, spent the entire day showing me around Accra, and even refused my money for all the site-entry fees and activities that she had prepaid for.
- A cafe owner called the bus station to find out their schedule for me. Then the following day she messaged to make sure I had safely gotten on the bus and was on my way back to Kumasi.
The welcoming nature and trust in strangers extends beyond adults to Ghanian children as well. Unlike many countries where “Don’t talk to strangers” is a common rule of many parents, the children in Ghana don’t hesitate to wave to strangers and strike up a conversation. Walking through streets, villages, markets, and churches children would wave at me, smiling cheek to cheek. When I offered a high-five and asked their names, they’d become overjoyed with excitement and bubble with laugh as they high-fived me. Parents would smile at me, nod lovingly at their kids, and sometimes join in on the conversation.
Why? Because to Ghanians, you might just be a long-lost relative returning home to your roots. And in Ghana, a close-knit family and collectivism is a core value of the culture.
This got me to start pondering about the culture in most of the rest of the world…
I’ve become truly fond of the kindness, connections, and boisterous laughter I’ve shared with Ghanians. It’s made me wonder when it became the norm in most of the world to ignore a friendly smile or teach kids to avoid strangers like the plague. Humans have become more fearful than joyful, more aloof than compassionate, more siloed than connected–and I’m not talking about social media connections here, but rather real human connections. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful, beautiful world if all of us could be a little more like Ghanians? A little more welcoming? A little more warm? A little more accepting of everyone no matter who they are or where they are from?