Hello, I Must Be Squatting

I’m trying to sleep on a straw mat in the village in Northern Ghana where I’m a Peace Corps volunteer. It’s the best way to keep cool when there’s no air-conditioning and nighttime temps are in the 80s.

Lots of people are outside sleeping in the center of the compound where I’m living. They’re talking. Their babies are crying. I try to tune them out and am almost at the dream state. Then I hear “aninwula.”

That’s the evening greeting.

No matter the time of day or night, most Ghanaians would be seriously insulted if you ignored their greeting.

And this just isn’t any Ghanaian. It’s an elderly woman. To properly greet an elder requires not just a verbal response but a respectful squatting stance. So I rub the sleep out of my eyes and stand up in order to squat. After a polite exchange — I squat, she squats — she moves on, and I’m able to lie down and try to get back to sleep.

Nothing interferes with greetings for the people of the village, who are predominantly of the Dagomba ethnic group. Even the semblance of a greeting by someone passing by means everyone has to respond. Also, the younger person in the encounter should be the one who initiates the greeting (although on this hot night, the elderly woman started things off because I was sleeping).

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Photo: You’ve got to get down — literally — when greeting someone in Northern Ghana. (Kiley Shields for NPR)