Even though Tamale is the largest city in northern Ghana, it’s defined by a small town bustle of bicycles and motorcycles weaving among overstuffed road-side stalls. Tamale is typical of most towns in northern Ghana where you can tell someone to meet you at “traffic light” and you will have no trouble finding each other.
Although quite a bit more confusing, this system of naming meeting spots and businesses extends to the large cities as well. In Accra, it seems as though the biggest, best, or closest thing in its’ category earns that thing as its name. The neighborhood where the Ministry of Health is located is called “Ministries,” the largest traffic roundabout is called “circle” (as in, “I will meet you at circle,” or “drop me at circle, please”) and Accra’s new shopping mall is called…wait for it….”the Accra Shopping Mall.”
Taking a similar approach, locations are typically defined by the nearest significant landmark. In Accra, navigating to our house consists of telling a taxi driver to take us to “one junction before the Papaye” and turn onto the “rough road.” Both Papaye (a chicken and rice fast food joint) and the “rough road” produce surprisingly successful results, which actual street names generally solicit blank stares. In Tamale, our guesthouse is once again defined by it’s relative proximity to a fast food place, and regardless of the region we are traveling through, the Regional Health Ministries become the place just past the [insert bank/hospital/hotel].