Renting without Craigslist

I’m actually curious with the process of finding a host-family? (Thanks for asking, Belinda!)

Finding a host family wasn’t terribly difficult. It basically involved asking the question – “Hey, I’m looking for a place! Know anyone?” This was always followed by gales of laughter, I think partly at the fact that most things you say as a salamingo are unusual and somewhat funny to Ghanaians, and partly a little incredulous. There was actually a pretty standard process I followed:

  1. Greet and make small talk.
  2. Mention I’ve just arrived and need a place to live. Do they know anyone?
  3. Convince them you’re serious amidst the laughter.
  4. Thank them profusely for their offer that you could live with them, and explain the kind of situation you’re looking for (most of the people I talked to worked at the District, and lived in the city or nearby. I was hoping to live somewhere more rural, so I was trying to track down someone from a community a little out of town).
  5. Get a phone number for someone, and repeat the process.

Eventually, and after several iterations and hopefully not too many people insulted, this led me to a man named Nyabito. He is the Assembly Man (elected official representing a group of communities in District Level politics – basically equivalent to Councilmen in Municipalities in Canada) nearby. He introduced me to the Chief Yapasenaa in a community nearby, and fifteen minutes later, I had a room!

I’m basically living in the ‘burbs of Tamale. It’s about a fifteen minute bike-ride to work, so I’m close to town, but a fifteen minute bike-ride in the other direction and you feel like you’re in the heart of the bush. The family is very friendly, though there’s a pretty enormous language barrier. The only person in the family to speak English is the oldest son, who is fluent (his nickname in the family is the Lawyer); this is a pretty huge incentive to learn Dagbani, which is exactly what I need.

The room itself has plastered walls and a thatch roof. It was being used as a shed prior to my arrival, so it’s a little dusty, but once I have some time to settle, it’ll be home sweet home (and I’ll post pictures). I’m typing right now on a desk that’s much to high for me, and when I look to my right I’m looking out the window at the compound across the way. There’s usually quite a lot of activity, kids playing and men talking, but right now it’s very quiet. A radio is being played and in the distance, the tinny sounds of the call to prayer rings, for the second time (of five) today. I don’t yet have electricity, but there are lights in the courtyard, and I could probably get my hut electrified – we’ll see.

I’m just getting to know the family that I live with. They’ve made me feel very welcome in the days that I’ve been here. Whenever I arrive, my clumsy greetings are echoed by “Ah maraaba” – you are welcome.

(Two children just poked their heads through my open window, to greet me. As I’m typing, they are silently observing and whispering to each other – apparently I am fascinating.)

The day I first moved in, I had walked into the compound and dropped my stuff off. I was greeting my host-mothers and their children, when a man came up to me in the central courtyard and began gesturing and talking rapidly and agitatedly in Dabgani. He was pointing at the ground, and soon came to the end of what he was saying, staring at me intently.

I stammered a greeting, following it rapidly with “I don’t understand…” He knew English, somewhat fortunately, and started asking me WHAT I was doing in his compound. He asked me who I thought I was, talking to his wives and inviting myself in without his permission!

(A third and fourth boy have joined the other two at my window). This was intensely confusing to me, for several reasons, not the least of which was I’d met my landlord and his two wives, and this man was certainly not their husband. I apologized for the offense I’d caused, still not entirely sure what exactly that was, before explaining that I lived here…

(Someone just told the children off for looking through my window. They’ve vanished.) His demeanor totally changed. “WELCOME!” I came to understand he was a neighbor, and was just trying to set this salaminga who had charged into a random compound straight. I think he was quite embarrassed about it all, and I can’t deny I found that just a tiny bit satisfying… for once, it wasn’t me.

(The four kids just showed up outside my door, looking in – they’d circled the building.)

I have SO many questions about the family I’m staying with (the names of everyone being pretty high on that list). Others: Watching the family interact, there’s a familiar energy, a busy-ness and energized routine, about it all. What are the relationships? Do kids have two mothers, or is there a clear division on whose mother is whose?

What are you wondering? (post a comment below!)

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4 Responses to Renting without Craigslist

  1. Nicole says:


    I just saw this link on facebook and thought I’d take a peek. Your stories are wonderful to read – I especially enjoyed the haircut one. I hope you’re having an amazing time. I’m looking forward to hearing more about it.

  2. lindsay says:

    I’m curious about your relationship to the family….are you a tenant, living separately from them, cooking for yourself, or are you living with them, eating with them etc? What’s the compound like? are you in a separate building from the rest of the family or are you living directly with them?

  3. Belinda says:

    Now that you are settling in, I’d like to know what “a day in the life of Dan” is like. Can’t wait for the pictures of your new home!

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