Posted by: kristinej | July 24, 2013

July 24, 2013

Today is the one-year anniversary of the death of Ghana’s president, John Atta Mills.  He had been in office for about 3.5 years when he died and had just returned from the US for medical consultations.  While he declared himself healthy and fit, and while some supporters demanded an investigation into his death, the President had suffered from throat cancer and had been growing visibly weaker over the past few months.  My friends here say that the nation mourned deeply when he died, and all this week there have been ceremonies around the country in commemoration.

Two other interesting political developments are in the works:  First, Ghana’s elections in December resulted in the election of Vice President Mahama.  However, the election was contested by the opposing party, and the issue went to the Supreme Court.  The ruling is due by the end of this month, and it will be interesting to see what happens.  Mahama has been President for a year now, since Atta Mills’ death and it’s bit hard to imagine what would happen in the event that his election is ruled invalid.

The other piece of interesting political news is that Sunday will mark Mali’s first elections since the coup there over a year ago. There are over 20 candidates, some serious candidates with an established political background and other virtual unknowns with little more than a Facebook page.  Some people have called for a delay in the elections for many reasons:  voter registration has been plagued by errors and omissions, it’s rainy season AND Ramadan meaning that voter turnout will be even lower, and areas in the north are still not terribly secure.  It seems there will be many reasons to contest whatever result occurs, which can only lead to more division and conflict.

But back to Ghana… I’ve spent the past two weeks living out routine daily life in Accra.  Here are some miscellaneous musings on what that’s like.

People often ask me what I miss most about the US (aside from the obvious, family and friends). When I was in Mali, the list was fairly long and included large-ticket items like food and privacy.  Here, the list is much shorter and nuanced, which stems both from living in Accra (an interesting mix of African and Western culture, but more on that later) and living mostly on my own (rather than with a host family). So what do I miss?

  • Sidewalks.  Number one, which might seem odd.  But those of you who know me know that I like to experience a place by walking and running around it, an endeavor made more difficult here by constantly having to avoid getting hit by a car.
  • Cars that yield to pedestrians.  In a similar vein, I would love if cars here even considered stopping at an intersection, or looking before pulling out of a parking spot.  And I have sworn to myself that I will get hit by a car before I jump into a sewer to avoid one that decides to give me about 2 inches of space.
  • Taxis that don’t honk.  There are about 1 million taxis in Accra and 99% of them don’t have passengers (my estimates).  The result is 990,000 empty taxis patrolling the streets.  And in case the yellow paint and the “taxi” light on the top of the car wasn’t enough to let you know that they are there to give you a ride, they honk constantly while driving down the street, just to make sure.  Sometimes they’ll even slow down and yell out the window to see if you need a ride.  As if I’ll suddenly realize that no, I don’t really want to finish my lunch, but actually do need to hitch a ride somewhere.  How did they know?!  The positive side of this is the comfort of knowing that no matter where you are and no matter what time it is, you can find a taxi within about 5 seconds.  I’ve often thought that if I ever got into trouble, the most effective thing I could yell out would be “taxi!” because surely about 10 men would appear instantly.
  • Good coffee.  Instant Nescafe just isn’t the same.

Of course, there are other “creature comforts” I miss.  The water is frequently off, meaning bucket showers, filling up the toilet tank with a bucket, and washing dishes with cupfuls of water.  And the electricity also goes out occasionally, but it’s been fairly reliable.  All in all though, life in the capital city is pretty comfortable and easy compared to my previous African living experience, and compared to living pretty much anywhere else in the country.

So what do I love about Ghana?

    • The people.  Every guidebook claims that Ghana is the friendliest country in the world.  I’m not sure if that’s true (Malians were pretty darn friendly), but Ghana surely ranks near the top of the list.  Even before I left, I had a list of Ghanaians I could reach out to if I needed to, and sure enough I have a network now that checks up on me when I travel, invites me to birthday parties, and asks about my day at work. While it might be harder to find life-long friends to share everything with, there’s no shortage of people to hang out with or to look after you.
    • Street food and vendors.   I’ll write more about the food later, but there are two things I REALLY love here: 1) I can buy a huge lunch for less than a dollar.  Once you figure out which shacks sell which food, and what quantity you should order, you have a whole range of options available to you.  2) Mobile food vendors.  Yes, women do still carry things on their heads, even here in Accra.  You can sit outside and not wait too long for someone selling fruit, vegetables, pastries, or ice cream (in a bag, of course) to come walking by.  And again, it’s cheap!  I can buy an entire pineapple or mango for a dollar, and they’ll cut it up for me right on the spot.  Best thing ever.
    • Funny signs. Some personal favorites (note: chop bar is basically a fast food joint)  “Mind your wife chop bar.”  “Don’t urinate here you fool.” “Jesus is Savior Barbershop.”

In case you were wondering…


My favorite

  • Fashion.  I’ve mentioned this before, but women here (at least those with money) take African fabrics and make really awesome dresses and skirts. 
  • The ocean.  While the beaches in Accra are not nice, you don’t have to go far to enjoy a quiet, clean, beautiful beach.  In addition, Accra’s position on the coast means there is often a cool breeze that makes it much more tolerable than inland cities.  The only downside is the recent smells of fish and salt permeating the evening air here.  My housemate suggested that “maybe the ocean is full.”


Last weekend another intern and I went to a beach about an hour outside of the city, and it was great.  The beach itself was on a sandbar, so we took a very short boat ride across the channel and found ourselves on a lovely, quiet beach complete with a restaurant/bar and a lifeguard (!).  Life’s pretty good when you can spend all day basking in the sun.


Bojoe Beach – an Accra oasis

Since I brought up food, here are some photos of the traditional dishes here.  Tasty!


Yam, plantains, and egg with palava sauce


Rice and beans (waakye) with plantains (kelewele), sauce, and cassava powder (gari).


Red-red (beans mixed with cassava powder and palm oil.


Kanki (fermented corn dough) with fish and hot pepper sauce


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