1. I started work – My internship with the Daily Guide has been very rewarding so far. I’ve written stories about the Ghana Aids Commission’s use of social media to help prevent new cases of HIV/AIDS amongst LGBT youth; the Social Security and Insurance Trust’s donation to the National Pensioner’s Association; the Ghana Statistics Development Project, which is a national plan to improve the collection, recording, and distribution of national statistics; and the launch of the Integrative Business Establishment Survey, which is the first economic census in Ghana. My co-workers are very funny and interesting and there are three other interns I’ve befriended. The cherry on top? Air conditioning.
2. I’ve broadened by culinary horizons – In Ghana, it’s always hard to predict what you will get after ordering from a menu. After just three weeks, I am un-phased by things that used to scare me: eye-wateringly spicy food, large chunks of goat in my soup, feral kittens begging in the office eatery, chicken thighs that spew blood when you cut into them, ice cream that is rock solid but tastes like frosting, and spring rolls with long blonde hairs cooked into them (not sure how it got there…don’t see many blonde chefs around here). But don’t be alarmed—I really love the food here and can truly say that I’ll miss it. My favorite dish is rice with palava, which is a thick, spicy spinach sauce made with chili and fish oils (reminds me of the Indian dish palak paneer) and fried plantains. I drink a lot of ginger infused pineapple just as well. I must admit we’ve cheated a few times at an American-ish restaurant called Starbites and a Turkish place—these are the only places where it’s safe to eat salad because they wash the vegetables in vinegar rather than tap water. I also bought a pint of Ben and Jerry’s for 40 cedi, which is the equivalent of $12…a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
3. I learned to ride the tro-tro – This one took me a while. The streets of Ghana are no joke—pot holes are filled with coconut shells, men ride bikes with propane tanks strapped to the back, you are covered in a layer of dust and dirt after crossing the highway, traffic is always bumper to bumper, and horns are used as turn signals. Tro-tros are large vans that are stripped and refurbished to squeeze in as many people as possible. They work similarly to a public bus in the United States in the sense that they are affordable and have all different routes, but they are much more intimidating. They often have open bottoms through which you can see the highway below your feet, exposed metal in the door panels, ripped seats that teeter as you drive, minimal ventilation, and shirts or flannels holding the seats together. They are decorated with Ghanaian flags and decals reciting the scripture or sayings like “No Trust Friends” or “God Is Luv.” The stops are difficult to find unless you are a local, and during rush hour you have to fight the rest of the crowd to jump into one. They each have a driver, who operates like a true Ghanaian on the road. This means he speeds and stops with startling vigor, cuts other cars without warning, et cetera. There is also a “mate” who sits at the door of the tro-tro and yells out the window where he’s going, “Circ-Circ-Circ-Circle!” or “Labadi Labadi Labadi!” When you get into the tro-tro, you tell the mate where you’re going. He tells you the price, which in my case is one-two cedi for a 45-90 minute drive ($0.30-$0.60), and he somehow remembers everyone’s stop. I hold a lot of admiration for the mates—they are practically hanging out of the unstable door in order to yell the route to the countless people on the sidewalks, they have an amazing memory, and they often run around in between stops to recruit passengers (sometimes they run and jump back in as the driver is speeding away). The perks of riding the tro-tro include holding hands with cute babies (although I’m pretty sure he only liked me because he’d never seen a White/Asian person before), acquiring words of wisdom from old ladies, receiving marriage proposals, and listening to a surprising amount of Ghanaian men sing John Legend’s “All of Me.”
4. I got fitted: African Style – Many markets are filled with beautiful fabrics with vibrant colors and amazing patterns. They usually go for 5-10 cedi a yard ($1.50-$3.00). We also found a really great tailor who sews the fabric into any style we want for 20 cedi ($6.00). I’ve gotten a bit out of hand with my orders, but it’ll be fun to run around Santa Monica and Eugene in my Ghanaian clothes. On Fridays, many Ghanaians sport African-wear in the office, and my co-workers, Felicia and Esther, were excited to see it on me. Unfortunately the wifi isn’t strong enough to upload photos for this one.
5. I went to Kumasi – This is the second-largest city in Ghana, after Accra, and is known for being home to the famous Ashanti Kingdom. It was a painful six-hour drive away but well worth the trip. Along the lush green road on the way there, we saw fruit bats, bush meat, and jugs of palm oil for sale. We went to the second-largest marketplace in Sub-Saharan Africa (think of a jam-packed Fox Swap Meet with narrow aisles going underground for miles, but selling everything from fabric, to spices, to toiletries, to meat); visited a kente cloth factory; toured the palace that housed two recent Ashanti kings; and took a boat ride around a large lake. Our hotel experienced a few power outages but it had a generator and hot showers. We were in heaven.