Growing Up in Ghana

By Betty Asamoah

As a teenager I always wanted to become successful and popular like many African American musicians and political activists I saw on television. For this reason I spent most of my off-study times reading and listening to these role models. Because I spent most of my teenage years in a boarding school, where most of my colleagues came from the most affluent families in the country, I often got frustrated in trying to cope with the expensive campus lifestyle because I wasn't from a rich family.

Nonetheless, I learned how to compete on a different level; that is, to excel in class work and entertainment activities. For instance, I quickly learned the latest dances and lyrics of all the popular songs at the time-- which put me in the limelight among my peers. By doing these things I made friends from rich families who often paid my way to all the expensive places in town. At a point I realized this was a mixed blessing because I came to know how to live an expensive life but never had the cash to do so.

The consequences of this dilemma could have been fatal because most classmates who were in a similar situation resorted to stealing to keep up their lifestyles. Thanks to my strong moral background I always knew the best way to catch up was to through hard work and prayer, not theft.

Boarding school and holidays

Even though educating a child is very expensive in Ghana--since there is no free education--an average Ghanaian tries to educate his/her child at least up to junior secondary school. Children ages 12-14 enter junior secondary school and stay for three years for academic and vocational training. They must pass a Basic Education Certificate Examination. Those who continue their education move on to senior secondary school for three more years.

Most of the schools are boarding schools, so most teenagers spend their time at school until the school breaks for holidays.

During holidays most libraries, especially in the cities, are filled to capacity. Teenagers flop at libraries to research, exchange ideas with students from other institutions, and above all to broaden their outlooks. It is no surprise that teenagers also date at libraries.

Waiting to Date
Cultural differences prevent the average Ghanaian teenager from dating until the completion of his/her education. Parents advise their wards to be extra careful about unwanted pregnancy, which can result in the abrupt end of their education. Teenage pregnancies are not common because of this advice.

Dances, sports, and parties
"All work and no play, makes jack a dull boy," so goes the wise saying--so, a visit to a discotheque during the school holidays is very amazing. Teenagers crowd in the discos to dance to the tune of the new hits across the globe.

Apart from Ghanaian's own 'highlife dance', they enjoy pops, reggae, and jazz as well. Attending parties has become commonplace of late. If it is not a naming ceremony (giving a name to a new baby), it might be a wedding party, or funeral celebration where people come from far to pay their last respect to the deceased and to console the bereaved family.

Sometimes teenagers spend their time at the beach. Especially during the dry season (January to March), teenagers go to the beach in numbers to escape the scorching sun. They don't only go there to swim but also to play games like beach volleyball and football. As in most European countries, "football" in Ghana actually refers to the sport Americans call "soccer."

Teenagers entertain themselves with football. This is because, as compared to the other sports, football is cheaper and many people can participate at the same time. Other sporting activities like aerobics, athletics, and boxing are also enjoyed.

To widen their outlooks, teenagers often travel to other parts of the country to visit their friends and relatives. They also use this opportunity to acquaint themselves with the other parts of the country, which are inhabited by other tribal groups.

Ghana's major tribes include the Akan (my group), Ewe, Mole-Dagbane, Guan, and Ga-Adangbe. The Adinkra symbol (see illustration) is a visual representation of social thought relating to the history, philosophy, and religion among the Akan people in Ghana. It means Gye Nyame (except God.) It symbolizes the omnipotence and immortality of God, who is the only one who will see the beginning and end of time.

Job shortage

Ghana is a third world country, unlike the advanced countries where teenagers can easily seek white-collar jobs. Most Ghanaian teenagers are self-employed. Some learn trades like tailoring, carpentry, or barbering to take care of themselves and usually the whole family.

Similarly, some of the lucky ones are employed in various institutions--factories and companies--and they live on their scanty salaries US$50 a month.

Some teenagers are born with silver spoons in their mouths, so with a little effort they make paradise out of hell. These teenagers have their parents as judges, bank managers, and politicians. This rich class in our society gives US$100--$200 each year to their children.

Friends of these lucky ones get some small amount of money, or a "dash from their booty," as a means of survival. Some generous relatives also help teenagers. A distant relative, who may happen to be reasonably rich, sometimes contributes something to the teenager.

Some teenagers take to the streets as hawkers, traveling from town to town peddling goods as a means of livelihood. Friends and relatives who have traveled outside the country, sometimes send money home to care for their families.Most Ghanaians eat three meals a day. Meat, fish, vegetables, and fresh fruits are usually part of every meal.

A better life
Up till today I am glad for all that happened in my teenage years because it taught me how to be disciplined in my efforts towards achieving my goals. I am 23-years-old now. My father, who is a resident of the Netherlands, informed me of the International Business and Management Studies in the Netherlands. That is where I live and study now.