"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Wednesday, June 30, 2004 A slow day in Ghanaland ... catching up on video editing mostly ... so I'll take this chance to catch you up on some little bits of Ghana culture (popular and otherwise) that might have slipped my previous accounts. Call it "An Obroni's Guide to Accra"
And I would be remiss if I didn't start with the absolute highlight of my trip. Forget the wonderful people. Forget the amazing hospitality. Forget the beautiful children. You come to Ghana for one reason and one reason only. You come for the...
Fan Yogurt - Among the infinte number of things that people young (way too young) and old sell in the middle of the streets to anyone driving or riding by is Fan Yogurt. They carry huge tall boxes of it on their heads and run alongside cars selling it ... defying several of what I previously thought were immutable laws of physics. One of them is that frozen things in cardboard boxes in the heat should get warm ... but these don't. Fan yogurt is frozen yogurt or ice milk that comes in little packets. You pay 2000 cedis for one, they hand it to you wrapped in an old lottery sheet, you wipe off one corner, bite the corner off and suck on it for all its worth. I thought the strawberry was good UNTIL I HAD THE CHOCOLATE. Here's a tip ... it doesn't matter how bad a day you are having in Accra, a ChocoFan will make it better. It's like really good frozen chocolate milk that melts as you are sucking it down. MMMMMMMMMMM. You can see us often sitting on tro-tros sucking on our ChocoFan like babies with binkies!
Water Satchets - Same principle as the Fan Yogurt (though healthier albeit far less satisfying). If you're from the West, drinking tap water here is not a good idea seeing as there are little critters in it that our stomachs don't have enzymes for. No worry. In addition to big bottles of water, you can buy water in satchets from hoardes of people who run alongside cars and sit in the markets yelling out "Pure Water!" Only not all the water is pure. Lisa and Rachel clued me in on this the first day ... first you have to look for the "official Ghana seal of approval" on each bag. That tells you that it really has gone through a place that actually purifies the water, not one that just puts tap water in little packets. Then ... and here's the cool trick ... try to get packaging that has more than one color on it. R&Ls theory is that the ones that can afford more colors probably have better machinery and the water should taste better. Don't know if it's all in my head, but it seems to work. (A sideline to this ... if you're a big fan of ice, don't come to Ghana ... no ice for Westerners -- it's all made out of the tap water and the critters are alive and well when they thaw out!)
Movies - People say they have American movies here, but I haven't seen any theatres with them. What they have everywhere is Nigerian movies ... which are absolutely hysterical. Picture American 1970s and 1980s B-movies where everything is WAY overacted. They are also usually pretty violent ... not a lot of gore but a lot of gunplay. My brother would be in heaven here.
TV - Accra has three channels, which carry similar programming. By far the most popular thing on TV is the EuroCup soccer, which is in the semifinals this week (I'm in the minority pulling for Greece because Schroedter's cousins are there right now). Other than that, the staples are Spanish soap operas, lots of news, the occasional made-for-TV American movie that you have never ever heard of, and lots of religious programming. Imagine my chagrin to be getting ready for church on Sunday and hear the 700 Club on in the living room. By far the best is the Ghana News. For a Millennium Development Goal nut like me, it's wonderful. You never hear news about international development in the U.S. Here ... it's ALL you hear. There's also no real crime here to speak of (other than the occasional robbery) ... and I have yet to see ONE news story about a killing or really any crime since I've been here. So refreshing after American news! The best part is the weather on the nighttime news. They play all this really funky hip-hop music for about 30 seconds with pictures of clouds and rainstorms and sunsets as an intro and then you have this really hip guy dressed to the 9s in his native garb with a big smile on his face telling us what the weather is going to be like tomorrow (basically, every day it's 82 degrees with a chance of rain). We call him the happy disco weather guy. He's our hero.
Music - Gotta tell you ... haven't been too impressed with music here. Emmanuel loves reggae, so when I'm with him, I get to listen to some good reggae (Robin will love that!). Other than that, the main kinds of music are (in no particular order) -- American top 20 hip-hop and rap, really bad (IMHO) techno, ultra-sappy Christian pop, almost as sappy American and British pop (lots of Bette Middler and Celine Dion and they love the boy bands here), and ... by far the funniest ... local covers of old U.S. Top 40 hits (One day I was walking down the street and heard a cover of "I got you, babe" in Ga). Even the music at church has been disappointing ... they sing mostly things right out of the Church of England hymnbook. Emmanuel and James are trying to get them to jazz it up a little with local rhytymns, but they are slow to come around. Actually, some of my alarm clock music from the Pentecostal church isn't bad ... but a lot of it is songs I used to sing at church camp. Nothing wrong with that ... unless Jesus Loves Me, This I Know isn't your cup of tea at quarter to five in the morning!
Food -- In a word -- outstanding! You have to be careful what you eat ... gotta make sure the meat is well-cooked and never have any dairy (exception: FanYogurt) or mayonaise because the power goes out pretty often and you never know how long it was out. But with a few simple precautionary rules, you can have a culinary delight daily here. I was reading somewhere (maybe it was the Poisonwood Bible), about someone going back to America after being in Africa and not being able to taste the food. I believe it. Everything here is just bursting with amazing flavor ... even the stuff that isn't really hot and spicy. And the produce ... let me tell you about the produce. Bananas and mangoes and watermelon and pineapple and fruits I'd never heard of that just explode and melt in your mouth. I've gotten used to fresh fruit and homemade bread/toast and an egg that's pretty much just out of the chicken every morning for breakfast. One thing, though ... the Atkins diet? Not gonna happen in Ghana. This place is Carb Central. Everything is fried and breaded. The only thing I haven't seen fried or breaded is the goat (the other white meat).
Radio - James gave me a radio for my room which gets BBC World, so I am a happy camper with my psuedoNPR fix (but better, because like the news here, it's heavy on the international development news. Also, it's really interesting to hear how the world reports on America ... if you hadn't caught on, we've become pretty much of a tragic and dangerous joke). But the rest of the radio is either music (see above) or talk shows. The talk shows drove me crazy for awhile because I could swear they were speaking in English and then I wouldn't be able to understand it and I thought if I just listened harder I would be able to and then ... hey... there was some more English again and then I couldn't understand it again. (All this is happening on the buses ... which play the talk shows at full blast in the afternoon). Turns out they don't stick to one language on the talk shows. Pretty much everyone here is multilingual and they switch back and forth with incredible ease. Also turns out that many people speak "pidgeon" -- which is what you would guess ... something that is barely recognizable as English but is basically angloslang. So when you listen to the talk shows, you will hear a couple sentences in English and then the conversation could be in Ga, Twi, Pidgeon, English or any number of languages. I've stopped trying to follow it, BTW.
Tomorrow is Republic Day. Nobody works. It's the anniversary of Ghana becoming a republic and joining the U.N. (It's really cool how people include that part ... it was a really big deal for Ghana to join the U.N. They really take pride in it here!). I think I'm going with Nie Aboe, Mackinnon, Ann and a bunch of the crossroaders to a waterfall a couple hours from here for an outing. We were thinking of going to Buduburam today, but that fell through. We'll go next week.
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