Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Vacation on vacation

A few days, after trampsing (according to the urban dictionary that is a word) all over Accra we've been so tired and sweaty, we needed to jump in a pool. So we did.

At most hotels here you can pay to use the pool and facilities.

Golden Tulip Hotel was where we crashed for a few hours and did hand stands and flips in the water, with the other ten year-olds.

Although the hotel was nice with the pool, air conditioning and wireless, we agreed that we were glad we weren't staying there. You don't get a feel for the city in the sheltered compound of the hotel, or even with in walking distance from it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Traffic, roads and speed bumps

Once, I think I was in seventh grade, a teacher explained the concept of deadlock.I never fully understood how that actually could happen, until I got to Ghana.

While there are areas of Accra that have traffic lights, most of the places we drove did not. No lights and no stop signs makes for very aggressive and very defensive driving.

One thing that helps slow things down is major speed bumps and pot holes; although we frequently travel five in a car, which means the bottom of the car takes a beating.

In all areas there are constant, what Akwasi called, hockers.

Children, from what looked like eight and up, and adults alike sell everything: plantain chips, toilet paper, apples, loaves of bread and gum. As soon as you pull up to the light (or over on the side of the road), then hustle up to the window to showcase their products.

Although I hadn't seen on in Accra, in Tema there were also children dressed as clowns, collecting money on the side of the road in the same manner. Apparently that is a seasonal thing.

Rental cars here mostly come with a driver. To get one to drive on your own requires very expensive insurance. We rented an SUV with 6 seats besides the driver. For a day the car costs 120 cedis, plus twenty for the driver, plus gas, totaling about ~ 200 dollars.

A cheap way to get around is a trotro. These are small vans with as many seats as possible, that pick people up from the side of the road. Similar to a bus, but not as standardized; a taxi on a track of sorts. Usually there is one guy who hangs out the side of the van calling out for passengers, shouting the destination. The driver and passengers also use hand signals for where they are going, a short ways up the road, a longer ways up the road, downtown Accra, etc.

When the trotro isn't full, it's your best option. It varies, but the couple of trotros I've been on averaged about 20 cents for the cost of the ride.

When its full, it can get rather hot. And dusty.

In this ambulance sized trotro I rode at night, when you have to scramble just to get on one, there were twenty three people plus a crying child.

Pictures updated

I added some pictures to the post about the beach...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Run-off elections: Ghana decides 08

Having just experienced a presidential election in the US, it is great to be in Ghana for the run-off elections to compare.

Ghana's presidential elections occurred on December 7th, but there was a very close count, so neither the current governing party (New Patriotic Party, Nana Akufo Addo) nor the opposition (National Democratic Congress, John Atta-Mills) obtained enough votes to win, so they are holding another election today.
Today, after four hours of church with Victoria, Adwoa, Akosua and Chandra, I went with Akosua to vote.

She was register at her university, so we had to drive almost an hour. We passed a few queues in different areas of Accra, but not as long as the line I stood in to vote on November 4th.

In general you are not allowed to photograph anything having to do with the military, or government, but it seems like as long as you ask the right person, it is OK. Akosua put on her smiley face and asked very politely.

Much of the elections seems similar, in fact the opposing party's had signs that were almost exactly like the blue Change posters for Obama, except in Green.

Differences: the election booths, and in general the whole process was outside. There were two cardboard election booths, and once you are cleared to vote by showing your voter registration card, they give you a ballot. The ballot showed two pictures, their names and a blank spot next to the name. Put your pointer finger in some ink, and vote with your fingerprint.

Additionally so that you cannot commit voter fraud, a designated finger is dipped in a different, more permanent ink. It is usually your pinky finger, and Adwoa's ink still remains on her nail from December 7th! Today, they inked the pointer finger.

Although I've been listening radio, and the TV has been on in every house and place we've visited today, and some have reported police stationed in various areas, I haven't heard or seen any of it. noted:
The December vote, which coincided with parliamentary elections, was lauded by observer groups as free from the widespread unrest seen after elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe. Campaigning for the runoff has been less amicable, with both sides making vitriolic statements, ethnic slurs and threats of violence, Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, Middle East and Africa analyst at the New York-based Eurasia Group, said in a note to clients.

I haven't seen any of that. The most political thing I've seen was at the beach a group of people were chanting the party slogans.

Most of the Ghanaians I asked in the few days leading up to the election made a point of expressing that there wouldn't be anything to worry about, that Ghanaians were not known to cause commotion.

Safety first dad.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Labati Beach on boxing day

Today we went to the beach.

It is very popular to go to the beach the day after Christmas, another holiday, boxing day.

The beach started out looking normal, kids playing in the sand, chairs and umbrellas, waves.

Then about ten thousand people showed up.

No joke. I've never seen so many people on one beach. The water was standing room only, and there was a bit of an undertoe, so it was fairly common to get bumped. The ratio of males to females seemed to be about 4 to 1. Picture the big E or some state fair. Now put it on a beach. There you have Labati beach.

There were many vendors and musicians roaming around, asking if we wanted to buy anything: t-shirts, jewelery, Pringles, African masks, or book marks. A delicious snack we bought was something I don't usually think of on the beach:

hard boiled egg (with some spicy sauce on top).

Not to mention there were horses that you could get on and the guide would let you ride for a few minutes. Desmond, a friend of Akwasi's from Illinois, came with his niece, who got on. She looked pretty scared.

While most of the women were wearing bathing suits, most of the men were in underwear. Some were fully clothed, I even saw a guy with his sneakers on, and Adwoa told me most people don't know how to swim.

There was one lifeguard with a loud wistle, and a batton, who attempted to contain everyone into a certain region, where preumable the undertoe wasn't as bad. Andrea and I made the mistake of being on the outskirts and we got majorly wislted at. Lots of guys were kind enough to offer "help" swimming. I told them I'd be alright.

Afehyia pa! Christmas in Ghana

Is not the same as in the US.

First off it is very rare to give gifts, so there isn't all this hustle and bustle to get presents right up until the last minute. There are very few decorations, I've seen some street vendors small fake Christmas trees, about the length of my arm. A few people wearing Santa hats, but it is rare.

What is common is church and cooking all day.

Victoria lead the team of four girls, her daughters and a neighbor, making fufu and jollof rice.

We took turns pounding the cassava, but it was pretty difficult to get a rhythm down. With one person pounding and one person needing it is easier, but not easy.

Some friends of the family stopped in during various parts of the day, and everyone greeted us with "Afehyia pa" (which sounds like afishapa), a merry christmas.

A pastor friend of Akwasi's mother came and we had a group prayer blessing us for the new year.

Christmas might also be slightly different because of the election.

That night some of us decided to go for a treat: the movies. I'm beginning to notice that lines aren't really the thing here in Ghana. It's almost like bidding for a ticket, for some popcorn, for a coke. You basically have to grab one of the attendants attention to get them to help you, which is *slightly* chaotic. Part of the problem was that there weren't any prices listed, so ordering was delayed because many people first price out everything on the display. Also common, is people complaining to the attendant how long they were waiting...

Finally we settled into our air conditioned seats, and watched about 80% of Australia, when the lights went out. Blackouts are fairly common, sometimes they happen once a day, once a month, and they last from 5 minutes up to the whole night. So the theater waited... an attendant asked everyone to remain seated, as they has a generator they were about to get up and running.
Half an hour later, we left.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ago oburoni

One thing I'd read briefly about in another blog, but didn't realize how prevalent it would be was how people here call a white person "oburoni", sort of "whitey."

In the more congested areas it's common to hear someone trying to catch your attention, including to get you to move out of the way "Ago oburoni! Ago" -- move it! It's common to hear this at least once an hour, more if we're in congested areas.

Children often are usually the most persistent. Today I was taking a stroll around the neighborhood taking some photos, and a child ran (I'm talking full-speed) from her house to come over to me.
I said 'Hi, can I take your picture?" She then stood there shyly, until I waved goodbye, and she waved back. Then I moved on, and about 50 meters away heard her yell, "oburoni!" I turned around and she had come to the back of her house to wave me on. While the children don't usually initiate conversation first, but if you smile or wave, they are quick to wave back.

These three followed me on my walk for a ways, asking about what I was taking pictures about. I said hello, and kept walking along. Then after about ten minutes one of them asked me to take a picture of them in front of their house.

Coming off the plane you could hear the call "ey, oburoni, I love you." Thanks much love to you too.

In most places we've been Chandra and I are the only oburonis around, although a few nights out at some popular bars downtown I would have sworn we were in New York.

Merry Christmas Eve!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Food in Ghana

As I told you a few posts back, meat is not too avoidable here, usually you can substitute it for fish. Eating around the head is still something I'm adjusting to.

Fufu, a mixture of cassava and plantain that is beat until it has a gummy consistency is a big staple. It looks like mashed potatoes, but it isn't. It is usually in stew, and you eat it with your hand. This was the first Fufu I tried (goat meat on the side), and after getting used to the texture, I really enjoyed it.

Ghanaians only eat with their right hands. The left being for other important uses.

Victoria told me that the food tastes better when you eat it with your hand, and I actually agree with her, although it has taken some getting used to.

Other staples which are eaten with stew are rice (plain, fried, and spiced), yam and plantain.

Last night we had something called egushie, which tastes like egg but is a plant, which spinach, onions and palm oil.

We ventured to the supermarket, Shoprite, which was located at the Accra mall. Many things were comparable in price, but produce was extremely expensive. With one Ghanaian Cedis being equal to roughly one American dollar, these strawberries on the bottom shelf were almost twenty dollars! The equivalent in the US, probably being an expensive six dollars, considering the package was not even half full.

Last night we spent the evening over some beers at a restaurant in downtown Accra, and Guinea fowl made an appearance again:

Ghanaian names

Two of Akwasi's sisters are named Akosua (the oldest and the youngest), the female version of Akwasi's name.
This can come about because children in Ghana are frequently named for the day of the week they were born; the three of them were all born on Sunday. Maame is a nickname for the younger Akosua.

The middle name is often more unique, in honor or memory of someone. In Maame's case, her middle name is Sarfoa, after Victoria's grandmother. Sarfoa was often called Maame Sarfoa, hence how Maame came to have this nickname.

Ghanaian also frequently have English names, like Akwasi's parents, Nicholas and Victoria, which their parents also legally named them.

Finally it is also common to call people by affectionate names, such as Uncle, or Ma, even if they aren't your uncle or mother.

Got it?

Monday, December 22, 2008

How hot is it?

Chan here.

I’ve been assigned the task of answering the question “How hot is it?”

I don’t think that assigning a number to this heat would do it justice. I can’t even breathe without sweating. And I have my first-ever heat rash all over my chest and neck (it’s quite attractive). Sara came up with an ingenious idea last night though: freeze water bottles and sleep on top of them! Yes, it’s that hot. And thank you Sara – ice under the head has slowed my rate of perspiration. The three of us (Sara, Andrea and I) are sharing a king-sized bed (Dan, if you are reading this, it is way too hot for you to even imagine us having a pillow fight so forget about it) with a lovely, crocheted blanket. What I want to know is: why do blankets even exist in Ghana? Why.

And the bugs. These mosquitoes laugh at my bug spray. Seriously. I hear them giggle as they buzz away after biting me.

First night: flexitarian it is.

After arriving at about 9pm, we were all this wiry:

So Akosua took us to a local spot to relax.

These are restaurants or pubs in residential areas, and they very in size and what they serve. We had a few beers, and then I had to take my Malaria meds, with food. Akwasi said the only thing that was most likely safe for us to eat was meat. Beef or Guinea fowl, served up with some extra spice.

I figured I would have to eat around the meat here, but I didn't think I would be chowing down on fowl the first hour in Accra. Flexitarian it is.

Even for a local spot, we were all dressed pretty casual. And by casual I mean the clothes we spent the last two flights, and 24 hours in, so comfortable. Chandra laughed at it and said "It's alright I can still get my mack on if I wanted to..." True to form, someone complemented her... "I like your style it is very down to earth"

The Asabere family and their home

Akosua, Nicholas, Victoria, Maame(on the laptop), Adwoa, and Akwasi, opening gifts on the night we arrived.

Akwasi's family is so welcoming, as are most of those we've met so far. It's been quite common that the first thing someone has said to me is "Welcome to Ghana." The Asabere family has completely opened up their home to us, so I'll post some pictures for you to get a feel of where we are staying.

Their house is a one level, four bedroom home, in Haatso, a suburb of Accra. Andrea, Chandra and I are sharing a room, with a kingsized bed, and a huge bathroom. Although there is a huge jacuzzi sized tub, the water really trickles out, so we mostly use it for just rinsing. The windows, as you can see in the picture, are screened.

The homes are almost all fenced in, so Akosua told me she doesn't even know some of her neighbors, because most people stay inside.

We're about fifteen minutes from University of Ghana, which is where were are right now using the internet.

They live in a neighborhood where some houses are constantly being built; this is quite common since there isn't the idea of credit we have in the US, everything must be paid for up front. Akwasi's family waited ten years before being able to move into their home.

The neighborhood is pretty quiet, and very nice to walk around, when the sun isn't directly overhead. It got to be atleast 90 degrees for most of the day.

The current president of Ghana's son lives right around the corner in this yellow house, and there are very different styles and types of houses in the the area. One even looked like it was right out of New England.

One thing that is noticeably different: Ghana's sewer gutter system, or what I've seen of it, is above ground. Most of the time you cannot really smell it, but in more crowded places, such as the market, where Victoria's shop is, you can. Not to mention you have to be careful not to fall in. Akosua said that when there is flooding, little children have accidentally fallen in and drown. There are no trash receptacles, as far as I've seen, and while trash isn't all over the place, it isn't uncommon to see it on the ground.