“Stop all the clocks”. That’s how Auden’s poem starts. Well, there are occasions here when that feels rather unnecessary. You see time in Ghana has something of a life of its own; now rushing forward, as though to get through its length of days in the blink of a eye, now languishing behind, awaiting I know not what.
There are days at the Resource Centre for Persons with Disabilities where all I can do is trawl the internet, perhaps stumbling upon a relevant report by Human Rights Watch, but more likely achieving nothing of significance. Afternoons which seem to stretch beyond sight, where the heat gets under your skin, into your bones, and all you can do is sit under the ceiling fans, and drink sachet water.
But these days are matched by those which pass before you have even realised which day it is. Days of meetings with city businesses and government organisations, discussing the importance of accessibility to buildings and services, and trying to hammer home the warning that they must make appropriate provisions by August or risk breaching the law. (This is the main thrust of my work at present. We are building on an accessibility audit carried out by previous volunteers to try to get a picture of how people the needs of people with disabilities are met and encourage action, facilitating the involvement of PWDs in the local economy and civil society). Further time is swallowed without thought by school and community visits (a.k.a. sensitisations), which seek to dispel some of the myths surrounding disability in Ghana (including that disabilities are caused by evil spirits which can infect you), and replace them with an awareness that disabilities are not inabilities, but limitations of the social and physical environment, and that people with disabilities are first and foremost people.
This ebbing and flowing sense of time is not unique to project work. It is just as common in our weekends, where long afternoons playing cards with my host siblings, or burning my way through books, are matched by mornings lost without a thought in church, or watching the Ghana Society for the Physically Disabled (GSPD) play wheelchair basketball.
So too, it rubs off on everyone else here. Appointments, for example, do not seem to be set in stone in the way they are in the UK, and need repeated confirmation. They may be cancelled at a moment’s notice, but equally may happen well ahead of schedule. Punctuality is not the cardinal virtue, rather it is subservient to sociability. Greeting your neighbour is more important than getting to work on time. Getting to church on time is practically unheard of (though interestingly the Catholic community at which my host family worships seems to better at this than the Anglican cathedral I visited once and decided wasn’t the place for me).
“I like time. There’s so little and so much of it.” Well, four weeks have already passed, and it seems like no time at all. And yet if you asked me about something that happened last week, I would be amazed that it was only last week. Eddies in the Space-Time continuum and all that…