I’m close enough to a group of white tourists in the market area of Takoradi, Ghana to determine they’re from an English-speaking nation. Likely Canada. If pressed, I’d say Ontario. Toronto, maybe?
They’re the perfect subjects to test my theory on something that I’ve noticed happens a lot here in Ghana: The ‘obruni’ snub.
I look over at the group, smile and say hello. They stare for a second and then turn away. Ah ha! I knew it!!
Obruni is the local word for “white man” and snub describes what white people do to each other here.
I first noticed the obruni snub shortly after arriving in Ghana. Before heading out to the countryside, I spent a couple of days exploring the capital, Accra.
You see a fair number of white folks in Accra. And they see you. But you’d never know it.
When two black people pass, they usually greet each other. Same goes for when a white person and a black person pass. But when two white people pass, they tend to look the other way. Obruni snub!
I wasn’t even aware of how prevalent the snub is until I met a reporter from Halifax. He had been travelling around West Africa and our paths happened to cross at a local beach resort.
Over beers one night he explained how other white people constantly snubbed him. They would shoot dirty looks, look through him, or simply look away.
We concluded that it has something to do with the “African experience.” White people come to Africa for a lot of reasons. Many come for some magical “pure” experience. As if microwave ovens, shopping malls and horseless carriages don’t exist here.
Some foolishly assume that talking to other white people somehow cheapens their three-week-17-country-bus-tour-of-sub-Saharan-Africa experience. Meeting white people isn’t why they came. They came to see the real Africa. You know, like lions and shit.
But just because you’re in Africa doesn’t mean that you have to be a dick.
If only the snubbers could take a lesson from Ghanaian children. They run up to you, grinning from ear to ear, to find out where you’re from, what you’re doing, where you’re going and what you think of Ghana. And they don’t want anything other than your attention.
Saying hello to someone is just polite. You might even find you have something in common (I like the Indigo Girls too!). Or exchange a great travel tidbit (hemp shirts are so comfortable!).
But many folks won’t change. A friend of mine once called these people “little lost souls.” They travel the world with this faux idea that wearing a Che shirt is not only cool, but that it will make the world a better place — unaware that they’re financing a sweatshop in Cambodia. Nice going, Chet.
Travelling is about experience. Experiencing the place you’re in, the people that live there, and, yes, the people you cross paths with. You don’t have to buy them dinner — but a smile to acknowledge that you’re a long way from home doesn’t mean you’re selling out. It just means you’re being human.
Have you ever had any similar experiences? Where…? Let us know.Africa • african • ghana • west africa