Thursday, June 01, 2017


Berekum, Ghana
It's been months since I went to Ghana. I've been wrapped up in the grief of losing a parent and the whirlwind of a changing job. I'll try my best to recollect my trip to Ghana, though I'm sure a lot will have been warped with the months. But later is better than never?

I got off of the 10-hour plane ride (riddled with crying babies the whole trip) and found myself walking into a wall of heat. It was like my welcome to the country included an invisible welcome crew who cloaked me in a layer of heat that would stay with me the whole trip. My office's driver met me in the front of a sea of people, looking around confused and tired for their arriving guests. Once he found me, he escorted me to the office truck and shuttled me to the office (because I got in too early to check into my Airbnb).

The office is a large 2-story house, converted into office spaces and hallways for our overwhelmed Ghanian colleagues. It was a similar situation in Rwanda, so I wasn't very surprised that it was a practice elsewhere. People were surprised with me, though, because I was in the office as soon as I landed. I didn't have much choice!

Once I got to the Airbnb place around lunchtime, I did crash into a nap for a healthy amount of time before returning to the office. It was a huge apartment with a few rooms that were rented out to short-term guests like me. The amount of money we were spending per day for such a large (and very polished) place made me feel like we should have insisted on paying more, especially given our living conditions in NYC. The complex where the apartment was had a good-sized gym I paid for every morning so I could sweat on the cardio machines with the other well-to-do Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians before going to work, which was a 5-minute car-ride.

While driving around the area with the office drivers for lunch and dinner, I was highly amused while reading the restaurant names we passed - or rather, most of the storefront names for any kind of business. We got Turkish food that was named DNR (surely, an innocent abbreviation for doner, though still alarming!), God Is Great, and (my favorite) Jesus Made It! Restaurant. This was a constant source of entertainment for me while I floated around Ghana for the 10 days - I was constantly amazed by the inspirational business signs I would see. Apparently, the culture deems shop naming as a way to express religious enthusiasm.

What's more, I was surprised to see numerous healing signs for local witch doctors. These signs were amusing in design (a serious image of a man holding strange objects over people's heads, or simply posing with a drum) as well as the list of ailments that were stated curable by these magical people. The signs would range from topics such as "get rich quick" to "HIV/AIDS problems" or "barrenness". Or even something so medically reasonable as "snake bites".

Foodwise in Ghana, I was always served far more than I could stomach, and the flavors of the country were okay but not always things I enjoyed eating. I went to an upscale local dining place in the center of Accra called Buka for groundnut soup and banku (mashed up/balled up fermented maize) and found that the food was decent, but I am not quite used to the aftertaste from eating gelatinous balls of carbs. This was a common characteristic of the meals I ate. In particular, locals found it especially amusing to watch the random foreigner swallowing down fufu (mashed up/balled up plantains and cassava), which I found rather tasteless.

I quickly found out I was not eating their food appropriately, though - banku and fufu are not made for chewing, they collect flavor from stews and then are supposed to slide down the esophagus in a rather effortless way of filling up. The feeling of not chewing and gulping down something gooey was odd for me (and a bit confusing)...I admit it was not my favorite thing in the world. That said, there was always ample food in my stomach and I was stuffed most of the time.

I didn't spend a lot of time traveling around Accra - I went to field visit some of our stations nearby in outer Accra areas for a day or two, but I didn't tour the city to see what was going there.

In fact, on my weekend I took a domestic flight to Kumasi to visit my graduate classmate Salley and his family. I understood that he lived about a 3-hour bus ride away from Kumasi, but I found out it was more like 6 or 7 hours on the way to his home (closer to the Cote d'Ivoire border than anywhere else) in a rural part of Berekum. It was very hot there in the rural area with chickens and farms hung out. His family was very sweet, and invited me into their house with open arms and hearts. It was simple living there, with unfinished rooms lingering in their newly-purchased plot of land, but we had a nice time.

I will note that foreigners are not a common occurrence in the area, though -we took a trip to the local market to pick up food for dinner, and I turned somewhat into some kind of walking spectacle for the community. People wanted to touch me and interact with me in some way, though I didn't know how to speak with them (they spoke Twee, I don't). I sipped on an apple juice box while we traveled around the area and it seemed to cause quite a reaction with people who stared at the car; some people started to laugh and run with the car, others pointed in shock. I guess it's not common to see random white folk sucking on juice boxes.

On my way back to Accra for another week of work, my plane got canceled due to rain and we got stuck in Kumasi for a night. We walked around the newly-opened mall in the area, which was pretty much the busiest and most chaotic shopping experience I've witnessed outside of Black Friday in the US. We got nearly smothered in a grocery shop - where people were in full gowns there shopping for cheese and tea - and I nearly wept at the number of people who kept on barreling into me as we looked around.

A final note, Ghanaians are some of the nicest people I think I have worked with yet. Whoever I met or approached was extremely pleasant and accommodating to me while I blundered around the hot, new country.

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