The Smallest Big City in the World
Reno, Nevada is nicknamed “The biggest little city in the world”, a name quite fitting for a city whose slot machines probably outnumber its citizens. Having been to Reno myself, I have always wondered what the opposite of this saying would be. Well ladies and gentleman, I am here to declare Kumasi, Ghana as “the littlest big city in the world.”
Kumasi is the second largest city in Ghana with a population of over one million and thus I expected somewhat of a booming metropolis before I arrived. I guess that’s why I was excited when I found out our work was right in the heart of “downtown” Kumasi.
“Downtown”, however, is comprised of only a few tall buildings, none of which rise higher than ten stories, and a cornfield (yes there is a cornfield in the middle of the city). But the lack of substantial infrastructure is not why Kumasi is small; most developing countries in the world have population centers that lack skyscrapers. Instead, I was baffled at how much everyone knew each other. Trips within the city always lasted at least ten to twenty minutes longer than expected due to the inevitable greetings that would ensue when any of our Ghanaian coworkers were with us.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that EVERYONE in Kumasi seems to know each other. One day a homeless man approached me and clung onto my arm refusing to let go despite my struggle. He clearly had some sort of mental condition and Luis (my coworker) immediately screamed at him to leave and he did. I asked him why he did that and he told me he was the local madman and that he just does that to white people sometimes. I forgot to ask him how he knew this man but at that point in the trip I wasn’t surprised.
Driving outside of Kumasi to the outer villages took the longest time though. We would be driving down the street when Mr. Gabby (another ghanaian coworker) would scream “AHH” and jerk the car to the side of the road to talk to somebody walking on the street.
“Mr. Gabby how do you know EVERYONE we drive by?” I asked.
“They’re very nice, you should meet them too,” he replied.
I know what you’re thinking, it’s not possible for a person living in Kumasi to know all other 1.2 million people. Ok, you got me, congrats, they don’t literally know every other person. However, I guarantee if two random people from Kumasi were put in a room together they would know AT LEAST one family member of the other.
Community is a word that is thrown around a lot in America. New Orleans is a community, so is the Irish community, and the LGBT community. Communities, both figurative and literal, show great pride in America and for some they define who they are. Yet there is one trait that separates the community of Kumasi (and Ghana for that matter) from any community in the United States. Dependence.
For many of the people living in Kumasi their community is literally all they have. The people of Kumasi rely on each other for everything, whether it be looking after one another’s child, lending each other a few cents to cover the rest of a bill or simply giving each other company during the hot hours of the afternoon.
In a society like this, mutual respect is a given and no one dares to commit any act that would harm the community. That’s why everyone talks to each other because the second you ignore someone you have turned on your community. And what do you have in life but the 1.2 million people you surround yourself with?…Right?
Listen, I’m not saying this is a perfect society. In a world like this individual success is usually frowned upon unless everyone benefits and often jealousy ensues when one person rises above the rest. But instead of looking at the pros and cons of a community so intertwined, ask why the people of Kumasi are so reliant on one another.
I don’t have an answer to that question but I do know that communities are strongest during hardship. Just look at #Bostonstrong after the Boston marathon or the people of Ferguson Missouri after the shooting of Michael Brown.
Perhaps the best translation of the community of Kumasi to America is family. Where is the first place we turn to during our hardest times? I go home.
“Luis you keep calling everyone, including myself, your brother, how am I supposed to know who is your ACTUAL brother?”
“They are all my brothers. You’ve lived in Kumasi for over a month, you are my brother.”