A friend of mine asked me this in an email not too long ago so I thought I’d share what came to mind.
Well first thing that comes to mind is people taking care of people. Here it’s a social/cultural norm that if you’re making good or ok money you are supposed to share it with your family, and it’s not just the nucleus family like back home (mother, father, 2.5 kids) but rather the extended family that can amount to a large amount of people. It’s interesting, and has its pros and cons. The pros are fairly obviously like a social security/welfare system built into society, where money gets redistributed within families/clans/tribes/ethnic groups. Linked to this is the expectation that your kids will take care of you when you get old. I find this drastically different from back home where you have nursing homes full old lonely people whose kids just dropped them off and pay the bill. When I talk to people in Ghana about this they are often shocked and appalled in disbelief – this would never happen here. For example, I have a coworker who’s about the same age as my father man and every morning he goes to his parents place (right next to his own) and fixes them breakfast while his brother takes care of their dinner every evening. Most people even house their parents when they get old.
I guess one down side is that you get lazy people mooching of their hard working relatives, and those hard workers sometimes complain because if they make money they’re expected to share with the family – but we’re not talking about loads of money here. One of my friends is a field staff with the Ministry but currently he’s in university upgrading. He’s hoping to buy a laptop for himself but will have a hard time saving while his family members back in the village call and ask for money (mostly for legitimate reasons but not always). This also applies to farmers because if they get a good yield and have lots of crops harvested people will notice and be asking you to share, some of those people are in need of it and work hard themselves but are struggling, while others are lazy and mooching in order to buy some gin.
So long story short, the good word is that in northern Ghana people take care of people. It’s not ‘every man for himself’ like back home where people are left out in the street or in a nursing home to die alone. I’m reminded of a saying that was painted on a small kiosk selling food, it read “Poor man will never eat grass”. I asked a few people here what it meant and was told that if you’re hungry and ask someone for food they will feed you, you won’t have to starve (or eat grass like a cow, goat or sheep). Some argue that this social norm is preventing development, while I would argue it’s keeping people from hitting rock bottom…the verdict is still out I suppose.