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Saturday, 30 April 2011

Friends

Writing this post on my balcony after Saturday rugby training and a few chapters of my book. Just to give you a context of where I am, here are a few photos.

Up Samora Machel, towards work which is just to the left of the tower block. Click...






Directly ahead, my usual evening perch, facing north and down onto Asylum Down circle. Click...





My tan lines (and rugby bruises)... and the next door “room” (mine is finished and quite pleaseant)






So it’s been a while since I last posted. I have been writing a lot of stuff for work and I can’t seem to muster the enthusiasm or the energy to write for myself in the evenings, which is a shame. Unlike my other trips to Africa, I haven’t kept a diary this time and so this blog has served a dual purpose; giving friends and family an insight into Ghanaian life whilst providing an electronic record for personal posterity.
 
So what‘s new? Well, firstly I am not making quite so many sojourns to the bathroom and my body seems to finally adjusting to Ghana. Secondly, I am a published journalist in a national newspaper having got a full page spread in the Ghanaian Times on the royal wedding, it’s dubious guest list and the point of the Commonwealth today (again please look for it at the other blog). Lastly, I have started to explore greater Ghana. A couple of weekends ago I went to the slave castle at Cape Coast and last weekend I went to The Green Turtle Lodge, a remote private beach and hostel an hour out of Takoradi (a city close to the Ivory Coast border).
 
Weekends provide my escape route from Accra and a vital ray of light on tough days at work (I sometimes question what the hell is the point, and if anyone is taking note of anything I write). I have fallen quite nicely into a little obruni clique who provide my weekend travel companions and link back to the west. All in all, there are about seven of us; me, Yasmine (German), Jasmine (naturalised German), Andrew (US), Rob (Dutch), Miriam (German) and Emma (Australian). Emma and I make up the CHRI contingent whilst the rest are from The German government’s international development organisation.
 
Our group is a fluid amalgamation of interns and low ranking NGO employees and there is a constant turnover of members as people come and go. The typical intern is in Ghana for 3-6 months so, in theory, I will see most of the group leave and be superseded with new interns before I make my way back to Europe. Every so often I hear tales from some of the others about crazy weekends with people who have long since left Ghana. Jasmine is the first of my new friends to leave and tonight is her leaving drinks do - we have already started to joke that we will only be mentioning her in passing to her “replacement”.
 
I hope everyone has a pleasant long weekend. I get May Day off but had to work on Friday. As a republic Ghana wasn’t quite as keen on the royal wedding as the rest of the world. Although I am not a royalist I still felt I was missing out on something so I listened to most of the ceremony on BBC world service. It was rather surreal mouthing along to Jerusalem and God Save Our Queen in a sweltering office with Kingham, the miserable git who sits opposite, wondering what all the fuss was all about.
 
Tomorrow I have been roped into a labour day march by the others in the office and on Monday I will choose between going to a Ghanaian Premier League game with Eric (one of the brothers with whom I share a room) or going to Krokobite (the nearest nice beach- about 40 mins out of downtown Accra)
 
Love to all.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

White Man's Grave

In the 17th and 18th centuries Gold Coast was known as the “white man’s grave”. Colonial administrators saw a posting to the area as a virtual death sentence. Cholera, malaria, heat and a whole plethora of tropical diseases laid waste to swathes of Portuguese, British, Dutch and Swedes who came to the tropics to trade in ivory, gold, spices and slaves. Today modern day Ghana, an amalgamation of Gold Coast and British Togoland, is a far safer place to be for an obruni. I don’t think I will be returning to blighty in a coffin like many of my predecessors 300 years ago; nonetheless it is hard not to think that the bugs and bacteria here haven’t got it in for me.

Rainy season is due to start in a couple of weeks time and mosquitoes are yet to really materialise en masse, yet I still mysteriously find bites dotted all over my torso. Last week I had the tell tale signs of early stage malaria, stiff neck, headache and achy limbs. Yes, flu perhaps, but after a combination of prudence and paranoia, I found myself in a chemist buying some delightful yellow tablets to blitz my system.

This week, courtesy of fly blown street food, I have had the pleasure of trying to contend with 30 degree heat and Delhi belly (the politest way to put). I spent Tuesday ill; sleeping, feeling sorry for myself and drinking disgusting electrolytes. With work being extremely frustrating at the moment I don’t think I have felt more miserable than the last few days!!

On the bright side I am not living in Pink Hostel anymore, nor am I hanging out with prostitutes (see previous blog). I am typing in my future room in a tenement building half way between work and the hostel. Why future room? – well , the current tenants haven’t actually moved out yet! I am staying on their floor rent free until they make the move to Danquah Circle next week.


My new room mates are two brothers from Kumasi; George and Eric. They moved to Accra from Ghana’s second city six months ago to work in a phone shop. Both work long days from eight to half seven. After work they spend their time sat in their pants engrossed in conversations with their fiancées back home. They seem remarkably relaxed about having a random obruni imposed upon them by their landlord and even maintain a sense of decorum when I manage to lock myself in on my frequent sojourns to the bathroom.

My room is on the third floor of the tenant building next to the Asylum Down’s centre. It appears that the building was originally two storeys and that the flat in which I am staying has been built on the block’s concrete roof. The walls are inset from the original balustrades and a door from the hall takes you out onto a thin strip of the original roof which now serves as a balcony. This balcony is now my designated evening hangout and I sit on a plastic chair watching and listening to the world go by as sunset falls. Already I have noticed a few regulars. On a two story flat about 100 metres away I see the same guy jogging up and down a flight stairs for twenty minutes before embarking on sets of sit and push ups. A little later, down on Samora Machel Street I see the same “fan-ice” guy who wanders past selling sachets of ice cream and frozen “yoghurt” (it can be described as yoghurt only at a stretch). 

Fan Ice is sold by guys either on bikes with a cool box or from a pushed buggy. The Samora Machel St Fan ice guy sells from a buggy and you can hear him before you see him. He drums up trade with an old fashioned horn, the type with a trumpet cone with a squeezable rubber bladder. It makes a delightful “argha-ha” noise, which reminds me of a 15 year old Arnie Stephenson who would make a similar squeak when squeezing an imaginary pair of comedy breasts.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for the kind comments about the blog. I hope everyone has a great Easter. I am going to the beach but will have to pass on the Easter egg. I went to a western supermarket to price one up. A bog standard Cadbury egg would cost me about £15. Chocolate here is rare and is generally imported at great expense from Europe. Ironic, considering Ghana is the second biggest cocoa exporter in the world!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Middle Class Anger

Contrary to my last post, it appears I haven’t made too much progress on my house hunt. I am still blogging from the hostel’s dining room.
 
Ghana is typical of many developing countries; It is a place of “haves” and “have nots”. There seems to be a genuine dichotomy between those walking between lanes of traffic selling drinks, posters, tv aerials (and everything in between) and the elite driving past in an imported Mercedes.
 
As a low ranking, young white NGO worker I fall into an odd no man’s land in Ghana. I am middle class and middle income but there are very few like me. This means Accra is not geared up to my price range. In the evening when I go out to eat I can go out to the local shack for fried goat and a subsequent stomach ache at 2 cedis a pop (about £1). Alternatively, I can go to Oxford Street in Osu and sit in an air-conditioned Italian restaurant for ten times the price. There is, however, nothing in between which means I have a daily debate on the merits of potential food poisoning vs imminent bankruptcy. Food poisoning wins during the week and the weekends I revert to being a westerner.
 
I have encountered similar problems in my housing search. So far I have been presented with either luxury apartments whose rental is twice my monthly wage or complete holes. The last three budget options have been...
 
Option number one, Danquah Circle. 200 Cedis a month (£120 ish)- House full of western people, but next to a huge evangelical church which has weekend services (with lots of lovely loud alleluia’s and expelling of the devil)at 6 am. As an added bonus it is also a red light area and favourite haunt of Accra’s prostitutes.
 
Option number two, somewhere north of Nkrumah circle (not exactly sure where). Only 60 cedis a month (£30). What is the catch you ask? – no furniture or bed, no working plug sockets plus a communal kitchen with no stove or sin.
 
Option number three, Nkrumah Circle. Again, only 60 cedis a month , in a central location and with my own bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. However I currently will be unable to use the kitchen or bathroom as both are filled with squatters (who the landlord proudly told me he is “beating around” in order to get rid of them.
 
It the moment I am warming to the idea of evangelists and prostitutes. Any suggestions warmly received!!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Daily Routine

First week of work successfully negotiated and Accra is beginning to feel a little more manageable. I am even making some progress in my search for a place to call “home”.
 
When I do finally leave the Pink Hostel I am going to miss the place. The characters in it and my daily regime have been my only constants since arriving in Ghana eleven days ago.
 
My typical day starts with my first shower at 6.30. I am always the first up in the room. To my left is a snoring Pakistani UN peacekeeper, on leave from his tour of duty in Liberia. Perched up to my right is George (also snoring), a 27 year old Mormon beefcake from Washington state. He is in Ghana to buy and sell mining concessions in the Ashanti goldfields a few hours to the north. Despite his Christian credentials he seems to be involved in some fairly shady deals and seems unwilling to discuss any details. A soldier, an NGO worker and a miner is quite an odd combo but we seem to tolerate each other well enough. If we get a missionary and a doctor checking in tomorrow, room 2 will represent the history of foreign intervention in Africa.
 
Breakfast is at seven. I am always the first down before being joined by a bunch of gap year volunteers who have paid several grand for two months volunteering in a nearby orphanage. Breakfast constitutes chunks of fresh pineapple, which is AMAZING in Ghana, followed by a two slices of bread washed down by black tea. (There is no dairy industry in Ghana so it is UHT or no milk at all- I choose none at all)
 
Work is a ten minute walk away from the hostel. Asylum Down is pretty quiet even at rush hour and with the exception of cars beeping at me as they pass, it is quite a pleasant start to the day. I am greeted by the same women selling fruit on the side of the road and then the traffic wardens on the corner of Samora Machel Street. “Hey, white. How are you?” or “obruni, how are you obruni?” You are never allowed to forgot that you an obruni (white man) in Acccra. “I am fine black, how are you?”-mmm maybe not...
 
Work officially starts at eight but I tend to get in before that. The office is still cool and it gives me a good opportunity to socialise with my new work colleagues. Theresa , Raymond and Kingham are already in as they always aim to beat the rush hour from Teshi. The rest of the staff slink in and the working day starts at about ten past eight. I am based in a side office with Kingham and Anastasia. I am tasked with researching human rights issues in the other four Commonwealth countries of West Africa. I am currently looking into the conduct of elections in the Gambia and I am hoping to cover the plight of the five presidential contests which will be taking place in The Gambia, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria and Sierra Leone over the next two years. Hopefully I might be able to get a work blog going on the topic- watch this space!
 
Lunch is at twelve and Emma and I go to “Champions” a nearby food shack. Street food in Ghana is pretty good. My favourite meal is beans and rice topped with a chilli sauce, although others are trying to get me into “red red”- beans and plantain. You order food by quantity. I usually go for 75 Peswas (about 40p) rice and 75 Peswas beans. The scowling ladies decide how much they judge 75 Peswas to be, and reluctantly ladle my meal into a small black plastic bag. The quantity of my meal seems to fluctuate daily, depending on just how inconvenient I am being for buying their food. We stop for a coke form the lady on the corner with the unnaturally large bust and go back to the office to stuff our faces on the balcony overlooking the north of the city.
 
The evening is all too brief. I knock off from work at half four and go straight back to shower and into the comfort of an air conditioned room. I venture out again after dark for a quick beer and snack. Unlike elsewhere I have been in Africa, the streets of Accra are still alive after sunset. On every corner there is a little shack either showing premier league games or playing afro beats. I usually settle in for half an hour with some “Star” beer and fried goat.
 
Love to all back home. Happy birthday Nicky Strong and good luck travelling Will.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

First impressions of Accra

I am loathed to start a description of life in an African country with old clichés. There are too many books on Africa that start with descriptions of an unforgiving sun scorching the earth below. Nonetheless this is where I start... Accra in April is too bloody hot!! I flew in on Thursday night and was welcomed off the plane by a brick wall of hot humid air. It was eight o’clock at night, it had been dark two hours but it was still 31 degrees. Ever since I have been drinking (and sweating out) litres of Voltic water and scuttling between strips of shade before retiring to a bucket shower and the a/c in the hostel.
 
I am staying in The Pink Hostel, a tourist trap in Asylum Down, a sleepy, leafy triangle sandwiched between the city’s main semi circular trunk way and downtown Accra. Accra from what I can tell, has no defined CBD but just a number of neighbourhoods with their own shops and markets. This morning I caught a Tro-tro (minibus) to Teshi, a fishing village on a rocky outcrop that has been subsumed into Accra’s urban sprawl. Unlike Maputo, the only other African coastal capital I have been too, the city seems to be unaware that it is on the coast. The Atlantic appears to be a city boundary rather than a focal point. On the east of the city the seafront is virtually bereft of any buildings, let alone hotels, whilst most roads run parallel to the Atlantic rather than to it.
 
I am holding up pretty well. The fact that I am meant to be here for a year has only began to sink in and it can be overwhelming at times. I have to keep myself busy otherwise I have too long to think about things! Fortunately, because I am here for so long, I have a big incentive to get a social life kick started. On Friday I had a crash course on the Accra nightspots when I went out for drinks with Emma, an intern who will be with me at work for a couple of months. We were out to say goodbye to some of her friends who were leaving to go back to their studies in Ottawa. It was a bit of headf*ck to be with people who were looking forward to going back to the west as soon as I had arrived. On Saturday I went out to East Legon, to a sport centre set up by Marcel Dessaily for rugby training with Ingo, a rugby playing German gap year student who I had met on Friday night. Three of Accra’s seven rugby clubs were holding a joint day, which meant that I was chucked in the deep end with a bunch of Ghanaian’s who had picked up rugby whilst they were in Britain, some middle aged French men, a Belgium, German and a bunch of younger locals who were learning as they were going on. I have never felt so slow or unfit in that hour and half and I came back with grazes and sunburn for my trouble!
 
Start work tomorrow. Wish me luck! Love to all, Henry xx