Posted by: kristinej | June 10, 2013

June 10th, 2013

Lots of updates this Monday morning after a busy weekend in Accra. So consider this fair warning: a very long post, but also very interesting!

The bed bug saga continues and I am hoping to be relocated, but for now I have bagged up most of my stuff and am living in the living room, which is still bug-free. Thankfully, the toilet has been fixed and no more flooding has occurred. Work has not been too crazy yet, but by the end of this week I should be heading up to the northern Volta region where part of my project will be implemented. It’s a 10 hour drive due to poor road conditions, so that alone will surely be an adventure! I’m excited to see Ghana outside of Accra, though, and Volta is supposed to be one of the most beautiful areas, with forests and mountains. Otherwise, my Ghanaian coworkers here in Accra are super nice and very willing to answer all of my questions. I am starting to suspect, though, that I own more clothes made from traditional African fabric than most of them… can we say fabric addiction?! The fun thing here, though, is that Ghanaian women are very creative, and you see all sorts of sundresses and tops made from the fabric. I have two dresses that I had made in Mali, and the other day I was walking down the street in one of them when a woman said to me, “I dig your style!”

Last week I was joined in the apartment by Martina, a new intern from Spain, who will be based in northern Volta all summer but is here in Accra for about a week. Since she won’t be here all summer, we wanted to do some sightseeing over the weekend. Saturday morning we set out for Accra’s largest market, Makola. It was a typical large, open-air market, though not nearly as crazy as I would have imagined, at least the part we were in. Next we headed to Jamestown, one of the historic districts of Accra. Bordering the ocean, it is the site of a former British fort, where slaves were held and transported to boats via a tunnel. There is also a lighthouse and the remains of slave housing. I had read in my guidebook that you could only go down into the fishing harbor accompanied by a guide, and indeed upon arrival we were told that we couldn’t take pictures without a guide. As soon as we told the man, Emmanuel, that we would go with him, he said, “Take pictures of whatever, whoever! Take lots of pictures!” I use the word “guide” very loosely here but he did offer a few tidbits of information and it was definitely necessary to have someone leading us through what was essentially a slum surrounding the harbor. He led us through the slum area to the ocean, where from the pier we could see a few fishing boats out in the distance. He explained that he swims out to the boat each night at around midnight, fishing until dawn. We then walked along the short sand beach where a few people were swimming, guys were playing soccer, and vendors were selling fish and fruits and vegetables. The area was not only incredibly poor but also very dirty – there was clearly no way to dispose of trash or bodily waste, and the combination of those smells plus the fish smell was delightful. Still, seeing the handmade pirogues lined up on the beach, each differently decorated, was a site to behold.

Fort James and lighthouse

Fort James and lighthouse

Jamestown harbor

Fishing pirogues

Fishing pirogues


More pirogues

After our tour, we went back to our neighborhood and met the brother of a Ghanaian friend of mine from the US for lunch at an American style restaurant. The transition from the slum to a nice, air-conditioned restaurant was a little jarring. We felt like we were seeing our neighborhood with a new set of eyes – the open sewers no longer smelled so bad, the roads were astonishingly quiet and clean, and the tall buildings and shops a clear sign of prosperity. From there Lawrence took us to the Accra mall, where the culture shock was even more profound. While not as large as American malls, it had upscale shops, a food court, movie theater, and even a play area for children. It was clearly a haven for the wealthy, both Ghanaian and foreign, and it was interesting to see. On the one hand, a startlingly portrait of inequality (not that the US is devoid of that) but on the other hand, a refreshing view of what developed Africa looks like.

Finally, our day concluded with a pizza dinner with the other IPA interns and another American couple in Accra. While meeting locals and learning their culture is obviously one of the perks of living abroad, it is also always fascinating to learn from other expats, who come from their own countries and cultures and have usually traveled extensively. For instance, I think I have learned as much about Spain from Martina in the last week as I have about Ghana, and last night I got a primer on Pakistani politics from a fellow intern. I was also particularly entertained to hear about one guy’s experience at the Fast and Furious 6 premier at the Accra mall cinema, where apparently people were high-fiving, talking, and laughing throughout and where one man, after a particularly intense (and unrealistic) car chase scene stood up and shouted, “America!!”

Sunday was less eventful, but we still covered a lot of ground. In the morning Lawrence picked us up to take us to his church so we could see what that was like. He said that it usually lasts from 9-12, but he suspected we didn’t want to be there for that long, so he arrived according to “Ghanaian time” at almost 10:00. For whatever reason, the service only lasted until about 11, so we didn’t see that much of the service. Still, it was fascinating. In Accra there are churches of all denominations on almost every streetcorner, and the church we attended was a charismatic mega church. I’ve never been in a church so big – I estimated it could seat at least 2000, comfortably. And that was just the sanctuary! It was like a village, complete with street vendors, apartments for visiting missionaries, and – get this – an ATM right by the entrance to the church. Indeed, the minister spent a considerable amount of time on the offering portion of the service, first asking people who were tithing to raise their hands and bring their envelopes up to the front of the church while everyone applauded. Then the ushers passed around bags to collect the normal offering, and the minister made a point of saying to the ushers as they left that he was watching them and didn’t want to see any hands reaching into those bags! Finally, he appealed for a special offering for the missionary apartments, and the process was repeated. It was not my style of church (they also spoke in tongues while praying), but definitely worth seeing once.

After church we went to Lawrence’s family’s house for lunch, where we joined his father for yam and palava sauce (greens and fish), jollof rice (made without much spice, specially for us), and beer. Finally, the oldest brother of the family and his fiancée took us on a driving tour of the University of Ghana, Legon which was amazingly huge. On the edge of the city, the grounds are immense and the buildings spread out, but there seemed to be a college for just about anything you would want to study. Apparently they are also starting a PhD program in development economics.

All in all, we covered a lot of ground and learned a lot about Accra and Ghana in general. There’s so much to soak in, and you feel like you can’t possibly, in 11 weeks, visit all the beaches and sites, learn even a fraction of the local language, try all the local foods, learn your way around the city, and do the actual job you came here to do. But, there’s nothing saying you can’t try!

Qodesh Lighthouse Chapel

Qodesh Lighthouse Chapel

Our gracious hosts

Our gracious hosts



  1. love the update!

  2. Wow! Amazing what you can learn in a weekend. I guess there is inequality everywhere. Sad but interesting. Enjoy it all.

  3. So glad to see you are not afraid to see the real Ghana, even though real might be different to different people. You always manage to make the most of every situation and soak up everything there is.

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