Throughout my life, this one question has always been at the forefront of my mind when trying something new. As I have moved from place to place, joined new teams and organizations this question would always format itself in one of two ways. How will I make friends? What if I don’t make friends? Naturally, after I accepted the position to be a part of the Humanist Action: Ghana family and live in Ghana, I began to wonder how my life would look living in a place and adapting to a culture I knew almost nothing about. I would stay awake trying to picture everything about what my new life would entail. Of course, my favorite question had a huge presence during this time. But this time the question took a slightly different form. I wondered how my friendships would differ from those I’ve made working in Philadelphia and Los Angeles or if they would differ at all.
I have been in Ghana for a little over a month now and as I have been picking up on the local language, Dagbanli, and learning different pieces of the culture of the Northern Region, the biggest piece that has stood out to me here is people’s willingness to be your friend. The sentence “Will you be my friend?” is often the perfect conversation starter and I find people often ask me this question to start a base connection with me. It didn’t take me long to realize that friendship is a huge value people here hold close to their hearts. The question that I had been asking myself was quickly answered. I think it would almost be impossible to move to the Northern Region and not make friends, but I do think the friendships I will make in the Northern Region will be entirely different from those I have from my other travels. So because of these differences, I’ve made myself some guidelines to help make my first interactions and moments the best they can be!
A Guide to Making Friends
- Greet until you can’t greet anymore and then find the strength to greet some more. One of the first important lessons I learned living in Yendi, is the importance of greeting. This is the perfect way to start a connection. Acknowledging people’s existence is important, and greeting does just that. Whether it’s a wave or a head nod it can start a great conversation. It’s also great for maintaining the friendships you have already made. I have realized that if you pass without saying hello to a person you have already a connection with, they will ask why you did not greet them and wonder if the friendship you made before is still intact.
- If you don’t understand what people are trying to say to you in Dagbanli, respond with a loud and proud “naa.” I often get confused with the number of pieces that go into greeting in Dagbanli. I understand that antire means “good afternoon” and I know the correct response is “naa,” but after that, things tend to get a little fuzzy! Learning and using a new language is sometimes a little intimidating. When I find myself in a situation where I might not know the correct response I find saying “naa” is a good route to take. There is not a direct translation for naa in English, but it means something like “I acknowledge your greeting of me.” So even when I use it incorrectly, people find it hilarious and also know I’m at least trying to learn and be a part of the culture. Most people will even help me find the correct response and help me practice it.
- Practice speaking Dagbanli with someone and don’t be afraid to poke fun at yourself. People enjoy helping and watching you fail minimally. The mispronunciation of words is funny globally! During our homestay, I made sure to travel with one of our pocket-sized Dangbanli books. One day, I found myself sitting with a group of women and practicing words from out of the book. What started out with two or three people multiplied quickly to nine or ten people. It was great fun! We sat, people laughed at me, and I laughed along with them. This is a fun way to start making friends!
- Lastly, approach every conversation with a smile and that’s the perfect start. A smile is a universal tool and goes a long way!
I’m not yet sure if I will find a group of friends to grab drinks with or just to hang out on Saturday nights to watch movies. But It is clear to me that I will make many great friends throughout my time in Yendi! I just have to remember to smile and approach people and new experiences with an open heart and mind.