In some foreign countries (with the exception of France?), if you know a few words of the local language, it can go a long way. People appreciate the fact that you’ve taken a little time to learn their local tongue. Ghana is no different. Here are some words we’ve learned, thanks mostly to the woman who sells fabric next to the Waste Enterprisers’ office (she’s taken it upon herself to give us a 10-second Twi lesson almost every day).
Meda ase (meh-dah-see) = Thank you (or “I bow at your feet”)
We say this to everyone, and for the most part, people will laugh hysterically after hearing it. We think (and hope) it’s because most obrunis don’t know the word.
Eti sen? (eh-tee sehn) = How are you?
Eye (eh-yeh) = Good (the only response we’ve been taught!)
Akwaaba (Ahk-wah-bah) = Welcome
Obruni (oh-brew-nee) = White Person
Echina (oh-chee-nah) = Goodbye/Tomorrow
People have said “tomorrow” to us in English as they leave—interchangeable it seems, although "tomorrow" is usually not actually the day after today—it seems to mean “next time” (as in, “I will have the product that you paid for tomorrow, as in five days from now, not the day after today”).
Carole recently went to the U.S. Embassy in Accra. The Embassy guards were Ghanaian. They were having a conversation amongst themselves and when they noticed Carole, they asked, “Do you hear Twi?” Carole said, “I hear it, but I don’t understand it.” They laughed. One guard inside the station got on the intercom and said, “Do you speak Twi?” Carole said, “No.” He said, “Eti sen?” She replied back the only reply she knew: “Eye.” The guards started howling in laughter. “You do speak Twi!” they replied happily. She suspected not many Americans came to the checkpoint knowing the answer to “Eti sen.” That interaction was the last of her questioning from the guards. Those six Twi words came in handy, and were possibly the funniest things the guards had heard all day.
We’re hoping to get a Twi tutor soon so we can facilitate a little more local interaction. For now, we get by on our good looks and our six words.
For Your Educational Pleasure: There’s a “Speak Twi” app for Apple products if you’re interested in learning some for yourselves. When we get wifi in the office, it will be our first iTunes Store purchase!