Uncategorized

Endless Summer

In Accra, I’ve gotten used to waking up early, realizing that it’s too hot to live, and going back to sleep to dream of ice cream and hikes in the snow. This lasts until the power goes out, forcing me into the reality of the heat and your looming to-do list. It doesn’t help that Techiman is perfect at night and cool in the morning. Imagine your favorite summer night in the beginning of September just as the air is cooling down and the breezes start picking up. I usually fall asleep with the covers shoved to one side of the bed and wake up at 3 am on the dot to snatch them back because it got too cold during the night. So waking up to a hot morning here is, frankly, just the worst.

This morning was different. This morning I woke up to the crack of my window breaking and water hitting me in the face. Considering the alternatives, I was thrilled. It was a great, and totally unexpected surprise. Evening rains here are normal. Morning rains are unheard of (at least by me).

It started raining so much last night that the taxi I was in almost got swept away in a flash flood.

“Does this happen often?” I asked as the driver quickly steered us onto higher ground (aka the sidewalk).

“Only during rainy season” he said. So only for half the year.

The rain had petered out around midnight last night, leaving stray thunderheads too high to actually drop any water and random bolts of lightning, but no rain. Around 4:30 am the sky opened up and an ocean poured out. Or at leas that’s what it sounded like. The thunder was so loud and so close that it broke one of my window panes–hence the watery awakening.

I ran to the kitchen and grabbed some cold Indian food for breakfast and settled in for what promises to be a long cold rainy day. I am so excited! I actually can’t remember the last time I was this cold and it was raining in the morning. Normally it’s hot all day and rains at night here. It feels like Chicago mid-july, with the bugs to match.

Trying to think of the last time I experienced this much COLD rain, I started counting backwards. As of this week, I’ve had a year of summer. I count summer starting with the first day you can wear a sun dress in California, and ending with the first day you put on blue jeans and a sweater. Using this scale, Summer started for me on April 13, 2014 ( I know because I was so excited to wear Audrey’s dress to work and wrote about it in my journal) and hasn’t ended yet.

For some people this would be a dream come true. I know my sister lives for sundress weather, and standing at 5 ft 7 and looking like Cindy Crawford, she was made to wear adorable sun-soaked cotton. I can understand her enthusiasm.

Being the decidedly less elegant Mathews sister, I prefer sweater and jeans weather. Which brings us back to me cuddled in my blankets wearing my Morocco sweater, planning a whole day of working from home and listening to the rain.

I’ll leave you with this:

All Summer in a Day, by Ray Bradbury

We read it in Ms. Castle’s 7th grade English class, and it’s always stuck with me. Whenever it rains, I pull it out.

Clara

Advertisements

Silas the Bagel Man

About two months ago, Dori and I were talking and the subject of bagels came up. I stated gushing about how much I missed them (along with everything else edible back home) and she mentioned that one of her Australian friends had found a bagel shop in our neighborhood. “Where is it?” I asked. She didn’t know, and her friend couldn’t tell her the directions. All she knew was that it had just opened the week before and that they had cream cheese. Real cream cheese, imported from France. I walked away that night sad, envious, and hungry, but vowed to find this magical place if it was the last thing I did.

Two weeks later, Jason whatsapped me a photo of a half eaten bagel with the braggy note: “Soooo good! How’s the bush?” After throwing my phone at the bed and having a bit of a strop I texted back to demand where he got it. The same Australian friend had brought it to him. And then left the country. No he didn’t know the directions either. Foiled again!

A month passed. I moved away from Accra, Jason and Dori left for the UK for a month, and everything settled into a new normal routine. I had almost forgotten that Bagels existed as a food group when I found myself back in Accra to renew my Visa this morning. My mother’s voice played in my head:

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go and find that bagel shop and send the braggiest text ever to Jason and Dori.”

“Air fives Mom!” I thought to myself, and set to work to find my breakfast.

After some feverish googling, I found a link for one bagel place in East Legon. There was a phone number listed below, so I called.

“Tysons bagels, good morning” offered the voice on the other end of the line.

“It is a good morning! Do you have bagels?” I asked.

“…Yes” said the voice

“Awesome! How do I get to you from Madina?”

The voice proceeded to give me complicated directions. The parts I remembered were “go to American House, we’re past Forest Green Hotel.” The rest I figured the cabbie could figure out. Poor life choice on my part.

“Thanks a bunch, see ya soon!” I said, and hung up the phone. Thirty Seconds later I called back. “Forgot to ask, do you have cream cheese?”

“…Yes” said the voice.

“Excellent!” I hung up again, and ran out the door.

The outdated Facebook map (which had street names, even though everyone one knows that streets here don’t have names) claimed that bagels and cream cheese lay a mere 2.5 miles from the Top Herbal House. My bike (and my spare bike) are in Techiman, so I spoiled myself and hopped in a cab. “Take me to the Bagels!” I told the driver.

“What’s a bagel?” he asked.

I spent the next 40 minutes of us getting terribly lost trying to explain just how great Bagels are and how long it had been since I’d had one. My closest analogy was that it was like if he hadn’t eaten Kenke in a year. He said he didn’t like Kenke. There’s no pleasing some people. Eventually he got me where I needed to go, even if it meant we took several detours and asked for directions more than twice. I offered to buy him a bagel for his troubles. He politely declined, claiming he “didn’t know how” to eat them. More bagels for me!

As I bounced into the shop, something seemed off. There were baskets labeled with bagel flavors–Whole Wheat, Sesame, Plain, Cinnamon Raison–but THERE WERE NO BAGELS. I was about to pout and start walking home in defeat, when someone came out of the back room.

“Are you the girl who called about Bagels?”said the person in a voice I recognized from the phone.

“Yes! That’s me! But, where are they?”

“They’re just coming out of the oven now, do you want a tour?”

How could I say no? I got a tour of the facilities and then a fresh cinnamon-rasin bagel with extra cream cheese and a cup of coffee and a side of good conversation. It turned out that Silas the Bagel maker had lived in DC for 20 years where he learned the secrets of “proper jewish bagel making” and was starved for american conversation. We spent an hour talking development and politics until I realized I was officially late for work and had to dash. As I walked out the door, I reached for my phone. My full and happy stomach and my Father’s voice in my head reminded me what a blessing it is to occupy the moral high ground. I put the phone away.

It’s good to be back in Accra, at least for now.

Silas hard at work.

Silas hard at work.

BAGEL.

BAGEL.

Best,

Clara

 

I’ll Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse…On National Radio

On Monday afternoon, I met Bree and Nicky in the market after work. We were looking for fixins for dinner that night–we had planned a Cards Against Humanity Obruni food PCV dinner party and I was only too happy to be included. As the truck I had hitched a ride on screeched into town, Bree texted. Nicky’s wallet had disappeared as she was shopping for a dress. In an attempt to recover her Driver’s license, we went to the local radio station for them to announce the loss. This was fine by me–I had nowhere to be that afternoon, and had never been inside the radio station HQ. Bree was friends with the broadcasters, and they welcomed us warmly.

The broadcast was going well. The DJ appealed to ghanaian sense of guilt at taking things from Peace Corps Volunteers who just want to save the world and don’t get paid for their efforts, while also making it clear that we didn’t care about anything but the license. Nicky went on air to appeal as well, using her best Ghana Pidgin and small small Twi. I was just dozing off in a lull of Air conditioner enjoyment when I heard my own name mentioned.

“And Sister Akweya Clara is here as well, she will be in Ghana long time. Sister, why do you wear a ring on your left hand, are you married? That doesn’t look like a wedding ring.” Before I could explain that Astronaut Mike Dexter was currently exploring Mars to make sure it was safe for the planned 2016 mission and would be back next week, Bree threw me to the wolves.

“Oh no, she isn’t married! In fact she is looking for a husband!” Cuz what are friends for?

Nicky was no help either “It’s true it’s true, she hasn’t even a husband!” I tried to kick them under the table, missed, and found myself falling out of my chair. By the time I had gotten my balance, the mic had come my way.

“Sister Akweya Clara, explain yourself: why do you wear a ring on your marriage finger if you are not married?” Ghanaians have a way of seeming more demanding than they actually are; while this was meant as a curious question, it came off as an intense KGB style interrogation.

Looking down at my offensive hand, I said the only thing I could think of:

“Normally I wear my ring on my middle finger, but lately my fingers have been Obolo because of the heat, so it only fits on this finger” I wiggled my Obolo hands to demonstrate. “See?”

The room got quiet and considered my case. My offending fingers were examined, the ring shoved on various knuckles, and everyone had a chance to make sure I was telling the whole truth. After a series of tests to determine that the ring was in fact mine and I was in fact not secretly married, I was declared innocent of all crimes, save that of having “Obolo Obruni hands” and being 23 and unmarried.

Lucky for me, they had a solution for everything. The main DJ, who had started the inquisition, turned to me and looked me straight in the eye: “So sister Akweya Clara, if you have no husband, will you consider me?”

I tried my best not to laugh; we were on live Radio after all, and it does seem poor form to laugh at a man who is proposing marriage, no matter how ridiculous the proposition.

“I have a good business here and I am a nice man. I can pay a good bride price and will never neglect you. So?” I froze and looked to my so-called friends for help. They were busy dying of silent laughter.

Confession time: normally I’m pretty callous with these things because they happen on such a casual daily basis. It’s one thing to turn down a proposal in a cab on the way to work or in a spot bar, it’s another to refuse potential suitors on live radio. For a split second I actually felt guilty saying no. And then I returned to reality and remembered how manipulative it is to propose to strangers on live radio because you happen to like the color of their skin.

However, that doesn’t translate in Ghanaian culture. In a place where women are glorified baby-making, fufu pounding, house elves, my frustrations with the Patriarchy and annoyance at impertinent strangers has no cultural grounding. What does translate is DRAMA. Ghanaians live for dramatic encounters, real or fictional. I’ve seen more Telenovela translated into Twi and English than I’ve seen in Spanish. I knew my only escape was to escalate.

“I’m so sorry, but I couldn’t possibly marry you, it wouldn’t be fair to either of us. You see, I’m madly in love with another man!”

Que gasps of shock, intrigue and surprise from around the table. Never mind that I had met these men not 15 minutes before–now the plot was thickening. How could I be madly in love with someone who wasn’t them?

My rejected suitor demanded, “Where is he? Is he here? Do I know him?”

“He’s not here. He lives in Spain.” Mild confusion ensued as everyone tried to remember where Spain was.

Bree, in an attempt to redeem herself piped up: “He’s a very famous scientist, and he’s incredibly handsome too!”

“Well when is he coming here?” the DJ demanded. My gut reaction to this question is always to say “next month” because it’s long enough that people generally forget, and no one asks too many questions. But these guys were pretty persistent–if a month passed and I didn’t produce Spanish Astronaut Mike Dexter, the gig would be up and I’d be harassed on the airwaves til the end of time.

“He isn’t. He can’t come because he is very ill. We are all praying for his health.”

This settled it. “We will all pray for his health, then!” After a quick on-air prayer for the health of my imaginary Spanish lover, we were thanked for our time and released. Though as soon as the mics were off, the DJ turned to me to say I was “a very bad girl” for being here flirting with Ghanaians and not in Spain nursing my dying scientist. Somedays you just can’t win.

All this to say fuck the Patriarchy–Ima wear whatever I want and don’t bother proposing–I’m on my way to Spain to tend to poor dying Astronaut Mike Dexter.

Austa Lasagna!

Clara

 

STOP! Hammock Time

Just re-read a comment from one Daniel Ellis Mathews, and he makes a fair point–for all my calling once a week, Instagram stalking, dedicated advice giving (both wanted and unwanted), and long distance nagging, I have not actually dedicated any cyberspace to the two most important people in my life. Considering that, this post is for those two goons I call my best friends and my siblings.

fallen leaf fun

Siblings that fall off cliffs together stick together.

 

When we were little, we used to love the hammock at Gram’s house. No matter who was in it, no matter how much the sun shone in our faces, we were there. I remember seeking out Pa in the back yard and “rocking” him until he relinquished the swing to us. He would let us clamor in and go find himself a gin and tonic to recover from our showers of affection. All three of us could fit snuggly in the soft rope swing and rock for hours, getting sugar drunk on Martinelli’s Apple Cider. After a few hours of cheap thrills, we would wonder where our Grandpa had gone and wander off to find him. He would see his hammock finally vacant and sneak back. We would give up looking and find him in the hammock and repeat the process. Que an infinite loop of cider and gin.

If I’m honest, not much has changed over the years. Pa died 5 years ago, but the first thing we still do on arrival at Gram’s house is race to see who gets to nap in the hammock by the pool. We can’t all fit anymore, so we have to take turns (like grownups). The losers are in charge of fetching gin and tonics for the hammock napper. We rotate turns throughout the afternoon until it’s too cold to be outside and we all go play cards in the Barn. Tough life.

Eventually our love of hammocks extended beyond our Grandparent’s house. The only piece of furniture I actually bought for my college apartment was a hammock–the rest I inherited from neighbors or retrieved form the street. My hammock is now my brother’s hammock back home–Dan has it hung out on the patio, where Audrey and Enzo the cat steal naps. I used to come home to find either of them napping the day away with Enzo along for the ride. Obviously I would fetch them whatever they wanted. Call it Hammock Karma–I knew they would do the same for me (if only out of guilt) at a later date.

Some days Gram’s house, the hammock, and my gin and tonic toting siblings seem further away than others.  Other days I barely miss them at all. But everyday I think about them, after all we do share a brain, if not a hammock anymore.

Considering all this,  you can imagine my happiness when I found what I thought was a sea green fishnet shirt rolled up in one of the corners of the Techiman house. Upon further inspection, and some eye rolling from Jason, it turned out to be an old hammock long forgotten and in need of repair.  So obviously we tried setting it up right when we found it, in the middle of the night, tears and all, with little success. Dave (our boss) came out to find Jason on the ground calling dibs on what was still a pile of limp rope and me laughing on the porch refusing to help until I got a turn. Old habits die hard.

By by day three of hammock ownership, things had somehow improved. Not only was the hammock finally working, we were even taking turns and fetching beer like civilized people should. Despite the air of outward civility, I was just biding my time until I had the house (and the hammock) to myself. Cuz let’s face it, sharing is for suckers.

As soon as they left I got the hammock out and climbed in for a nice nap in the shade with a good book. I had just gotten settled when I realized that my cup of tea was sitting on the porch, within eye sight but completely out of reach. There was no one to fetch it for me, and I didn’t want to get up. But what is the point of a lazy Sunday in a hammock without tea? It would have been fine except I could see it there, taunting me.

Weighing my conundrum, I finally unsettled myself and got the stupid cup. Of course as soon as I sat back down I realized I needed a pillow…then my sunglasses…then a blanket…and maybe some music…and so the next hour went until I finally had the PERFECT hammock setup. At which time Blessing decided I looked too comfortable and joined me for a nap.

image

Blessing drooling on my leg.

 

I only kicked her out when she started drooling on my last clean pair of pants. I draw the line at having to do laundry. No child is cute enough to merit that. No sooner had I tossed Blessing out than Fred came over to check out what I was doing. Before I could say “I’m reading quietly and not talking to anyone” (which of course I still can’t say in Twi) he had climbed into the hammock to show me how his reading was coming along. He started reading what I was reading, and quickly got bored with Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles. Then he sounded out “genocide” all on his own. No I did not explain that one to him.

Fred bounced off, bored of reading about the history of Sudan, and I settled in for some peace and quiet. No dice. Erik, the father next door came out to wash shoes and talk about Obama. Mavis stopped by to borrow a hanger. Mama Grace came over for more Aloe for her Chicken Pox. Immanuel dropped by to invite me to church next week. Andy came to borrow a bike to fetch water. I tried escaping to the house under the pretense of making lunch. Blessing came in and started sweeping. I retreated to the hammock and she followed and started rocking me, you know, to be helpful. There was no escape. Pa was definitely laughing at me from Heaven, pouring another G&T, and saying “How you like them apples?”

Lesson of the Day: no matter how hard you try, hammocks are meant to be shared. More than that: you can never be alone in Ghana. What surprises me is that no one else seems bugged by this. Everyone knows everything about each other, everyone is somehow related, and everyone is constantly visiting, greeting, and asking each other for things at all hours of the day or night. Being alone doesn’t seem to cross anyone’s radar. Alone time is a sad thing. Who would want that? As a result, the only time I get to be alone is when I am cowering under my mosquito net. Even then the bugs aren’t exactly under any restraining orders. And Blessing’s army of smalls will be at the window to rouse me by 0600.

Some days it’s for the best–no matter how much you want to just be left alone, lazy Sundays are more fun when you spend them with family. While my two goofs might be a world away, being adopted by the neighborhood is pretty nice. Though if I ever want a moment of peace, I might have to play dead. Even then, I’m not sure I’d survive a Ghanaian funeral.

Hope all’s well back home,

Clara

2015-03-29 23.40.21

Me cowering under my mosquito net pretending not to be home just in case someone comes calling at midnight. You never know.

 

 

 

 

Back From Outerspace

Looking at my old drafts, (all of which are currently unpublished, gathering kb dust in some back corner of the internet) it has been a month since I have even looked at this blog. I would apologize, but I think I start every post with an apology and a promise to do better–which I promptly break after hitting “publish.” So in the interest of breaking bad habits, I’m not sorry I haven’t posted anything. I’ve been busy moving across the country, starting new cycling programs for girls, setting up and maintaining the world’s coolest house, making new friends, and re-learning all my college rice-cooker cooking skillz. Along the way I’ve spruced up my bike and hung up a hammock and stocked my fridge with all the beer and cheese in Techiman, as well as eaten the Obruni store clean out of Pringles. Life here is pretty sweet.

Where is here? Here is Techiman, and Techiman is home. Months and months ago I posted about a crazy adventure that brought me and Jason and Freya up North for a few days. I’m back there now, living in the old house, fixing bikes, and working with Peace Corps Volunteers to train girls to ride. I wish I could say I miss Accra. But I don’t, not really. I miss Falafel, I miss secret Mexican Chicken Salads, I miss MaxMart and Kalamata olives, I miss my ex-pat friends and their adorable kids. But I don’t miss the constant power outages or the humidity or the traffic. And I really don’t miss the constant feeling of semis whizzing by and honking anytime I ride my bike. As if that wasn’t enough to make you want to stay here forever (or at least until you run out of cheese) I also live next door to this small person:

2015-03-03 18.53.48-1 This is Blessing. When not rocking Jason’s Alomo hat, she likes to cuddle, demand toffee, accuse me of lying about not having toffee, lock me in my own house so I can’t throw her out, and organize fellow smalls into 6 am flash mobs outside my window to chant “Obruni Obruni Wake up!!!” Most days I don’t know if I want to hug her or smack her. 2015-03-15 07.16.40-1 2015-03-15 07.10.05

Nothing like being woken up for a 7am selfie. The more time I spend around Ghanaian children, the more I realize that time simply doesn’t exist for them: my hungover 6:30 is their chipper 10am, and my 8pm burnout is prime time to ask me to fix their bike. Besides Blessing, there is a whole horde of children who come by to help me fix bikes (read borrow my tools and then ask me to do it for them once they’ve broken both bike and tools), fetch me water, demand toffee, and ask to see pictures of the Pacific Ocean. In return I school them in soccer, fix their bikes on a daily basis, and teach them about market economies and the value of unionization in a limited labor market. Really I pay them one lollipop per jerry-can of water. They have started to unionize: they want two candies per trip.

2015-03-01 16.36.58

2015-03-01 16.36.34-1 I am a terrible capitalist. Give it another week and I’ll cave. In other bicycle news, I’ve got me a new BFF: 2015-03-18 11.08.59 2015-03-18 11.09.18 Meet Bree Whitehead, Peace Corps Volunteer in Agosa. She is an ex-profesional bike mechanic from Oregon who loves to rock climb, tree climb, build shit, garden, and ride single track. We knew we would be friends when I found a perfectly buttery hub and showed it to her. Her response: “Wow, I’ve never met another girl who knows what a hub is, let alone what a good one feels like.” The rest is history. This last month we’ve been working on a new Learn to Ride Program in Bree’s village of Agosa. I dropped off 8 bikes for girls to learn on, and Bree and Patrick conducted a class at 4pm everyday for however many girls could come. All in all, about 50 girls learned to ride from scratch, and 30 or so came to just hang out and practice their bike skillz.

Along the way we’ve roped Luke and Sam into helping as well, and they’ve introduced a class in Bonkwae. Everyone is rolling right along. Until of course the girls crash into each other or the mango trees. The house is looking great, though there’s still plenty of work to be done. Last week I made myself a closet out of some rope and an old rim, the week before I built a kitchen out of tomato boxes. Next week I’ll paint the inside yellow. 2015-03-26 17.13.04-2 2015-03-27 07.32.22That’s all I’ve got for now, I’m still at the Field Office and need to get back to take laundry off the line before the bugs lay eggs in all my clothes.

Miss and love you all!

Clara

Vacation Dissertation

Who am I kidding, I’m not going to write about vacation. But a picture says 1,000 words, so here’s a dissertation on Spain and Morocco.

Super scant. Super disorganized. Great time! Much love and thanks to everyone I met along the way!

Clara

No Worries, Not Dead Yet!

Bad news Internet, I definitely meant to update this thing over the MONTH I took off to see people, explore, eat real food, and mostly not be in Ghana. But I didn’t. I even wrote drafts that I stored in my phone in the little notes section and then never used. But lets face it; they’re mostly useless now. Luckily for you, I’m back in the land of computers and lots of free time, so, being inspired by SERIAL (If you don’t know what I’m talking about stop whatever you’re doing and download Sara Koenig’s amazing podcast RIGHT NOW), I’ll work on sorting through all the photos and notes and try and update this thing in the coming weeks.

Here’s The Highlights:

1. COLD WEATHER. For a whole month I wore nothing but sweaters and scarves and pants. It was glorious.

2. REAL FOOD. Between Mary and Enrique smothering me with delicious and nutritious vegetarian cuisine and Antoine making me crepes every morning, I got to eat my weight in delicious food-stuffs. 

3. BICYCLES!!!!! As soon as I got off the plane and through customs in Madrid, I found me a bicycle. CUZ PRIORITIES.

4. NEW FRIENDS. Some real, some imaginary, some just plain fake.

5. OLD FRIENDS. The best kind!

6. ADVENTURE! Bike tour along the heavily armed Algerian border anybody?

7. ROMANCE! Suffice it to say that Jacques knows exactly what a gal wants—undying affection and a share of his chew toys. Sorry Gus, you’ll always be my number one…

8. SWASHBUCKLING! Yeah, I rode a horse.

9. SASS! May or may not have told a certain Spanish douche bag that if he ever wanted to get laid he should start by not telling women to “tranquilla” as he lectured them on their pronunciation of ENGLISH words…

10. MERWAH! Someday I will write a children’s book with her as the main character. Here she is raiding my bag in search of makeup. Jokes on you kid, ain’t nobody got time for that!

IMG_3525

All this and more as I get time to write it down!

Much Love,

Clara

Urgent Update

Stop the presses, hold the phones, grab a seat, I’ve got big news. You ready internet? Here it goes: I found amazing Mexican food right here in Accra. I can feel the eye rolls coming my way, so before I continue, let me remind you of the state of Ghanaian cuisine. Pull up another tab and Google fufu right now. Now keep that image in you head. Back? Great! Now look at this:

2014-12-12 16.36.01
I know. I was salivating too. That is a mountain if romaine, beans, peppers, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, chicken and cilantro all cooked in cayenne and cumin with lime juice as a dressing. And it’s bigger than my face. Well maybe not in this picture, but that’s because I was so excited I decided to just die in and eat it before taking a photo. That’s the halfway point.

Back home this would be more of a California/Mexican fusion dish and I’m sure some of you will tell me it doesn’t count. But y’all can go jump in a lake. After 3 months of no cilantro, no lime, no real spice, and a life’s worth of fufu, this is just what the doctor ordered. This tastes like home.

And granted, this is one salad at one Indian restaurant hidden behind a cafe on an unmarked road and it isn’t even on the menu, but it’s the closest I’m gonna get here. And in the interest of settling, I’ll take it!

That’s all for now folks. Feel free to resume business as usual. I’m going to go finish my salad. Yes it’s so good that I paused in the middle to update the internet at large. I feel no shame.

Much love

Clara

Egg and Bread Girl

It has come to my attention that today is the last Thursday in November. Now, back home this means Thanksgiving: a time of intense family politics, delicious food, gallons of booze, and tryptophan poisoning for days. Clearly it’s one of my favorite holidays, and frankly, I’m surprised more Ghanaians haven’t gotten into it. To celebrate I’m bringing y’all a food themed post. Yes, blogging about what you eat is narcissistic, but then again, so is having a blog in the first place. So having already crossed that Rubicon, let me say that I DREAM of my mother’s cooking. Vividly. In color.

Because of this, a lot of people (Danny, Audrey, and Max) ask if there’s food here. Before I comment on the racist undertones of that statement, let me offer this caveat: the national dish of Ghana is Fufu. I’d publish a photo here but haven’t found a polite way to take one without seeming like that ridiculous white girl photographing her food in the bush. It’s also super hard to handle a camera when your hands are covered in raw Cassava starch mush, fish scales, and boiling hot palm wine soup. I’d type you out a thousand words to compensate, but Fufu merits far fewer. I’ll give it five: Whatever you do, don’t chew. With that, I’ll let the internet and your imaginations fill you in.

Luckily, I live in Accra, and here we have a wonderful thing called Max Mart. What you need to know about Max Mart is this: Max Mart has hummus, lentils, lettuce, and cheese. It also has an aisle for “Ethnic Foods” which means an entire Indian/Mexican section complete with bagged nacho kits (yes that includes powdered sour cream, cheese, chips, beans, and “salsa sauce”) and Uncle Ben’s rice. The reception in there is great, and I usually call my mom as I shop to ask her important things like “What exactly goes into a caesar salad dressing? Can I substitute limes for lemons? How much is too much to pay for parmesan, on principle?” For those of you interested in the answers: Mom’s recipe for Caesar salad is on SimplyRecipes.com, according to Mom you can’t swap out lemons for limes (but I do anyways), and there is no price too high to pay for cheese.Whenever I doubt my genetic makeup, I remember conversations like these and then look in the mirror to see my Mom staring back.

Mama's Girl

The resemblance is kind of uncanny.


All this to say that Accra is the high life–we’ve got grocery stores with almost everything you could ever want (though half the time when you want it it’s “finished,” meaning they either never had it or didn’t bother to stock it that week) decent sushi, TWO smoothie joints, and good pizza, not to mention access to cheese. Last week I even found a bakery across town that has halfway decent pastries. It took 45 minutes to get there, but cost all of 6 bucks for a pretty good cinnamon roll, a great chocolate croissant, and a double espresso so strong I was shaking as I typed up my field report (sorry not sorry for the typos Jason). So life here is palatable. My only problem with cooking is that we only have power about half the time, so our refrigerator situation is beyond sketch. I’ve given up on the idea that we even have one, and just shop daily for veggies and other perishables and live off staples.

Shout out to Ben Rodgers–I eat a ridiculous amount of lentils, and yes I use your super fancy technique of cooking them in salt and water and never ever covering them. You’ll be glad to know that I have finally mastered the art of making a proper vinaigrette, though the balsamic situation here would make you cry. No they don’t have sherry vinegar.

But all this food glory only covers the weekends.  Of the last 27 Days, I’ve spent at least 17 in the Bush, dreaming of food I can’t have and getting progressively hangrier and hangrier. My google search history for those 17 days consists of different food items that have cheese in them and pictures of decent baguette.

And before I continue, let me state for the record that I am NOT a picky eater. Anyone who knows me will tell you that if it’s on my plate (or theirs), I’ll try it, and then usually wolf it down cuz food is food and if you haven’t finished yours then it’s fair game. If this were a 30Rock episode (which is the greatest aspiration anyone can have in life) this would be the part where we flash back to me stealing popsicles from kid siblings, sneaking bites of Seamus’s lunch when he decided he’d rather play than eat, swiping sandwich halves from Max as he yells at me to “keep my filthy mits” off his pastrami and pepper sub, sneaking crackers away from Risa on the side of Hwy 1 while she cries over how stupid Big Sur is, and lifting coffee off Jason when he’s not looking. Freya is the only person on the planet who has challenged my food stealing ways, mostly because she eats as much and as fast as I do, and that makes it very hard to steal from her.  Either something has to be truly revolting, or there has to be something physically wrong with me for me to not eat. That being said, I try and avoid fufu.

So if I’m clearly not subsisting off fufu, what do I eat when far from the salads, lentils, and cheeses of Accra? The guys will tell you that I eat only egg and bread. Much as I love them, they are incorrect. I only live MOSTLY off eggs and bread. In response to their concerns about my diet (not enough fufu, too many vegetables and eggs) and his paranoia about blood pressure/cholesterol, Jason has imposed a daily egg quota–I’m permitted two a day. Luckily the long arm of VBP law only extends as far as he’s willing to reach, and Mr. Finch has learned pretty quickly to never take food away from me. Some mornings I even have three eggs, just cuz. My tool bag is now known as the “egg and bread” bag by the guys. I’d be annoyed if it weren’t true–at any given time, I’ve got an omelet and some bread in there. And I’m ok with that.

There’s a food cycle to living in the bush–the first week you experiment out of politeness and a need to fit in. You eat the fufu, share in the Banku, slurp down the plam wine soup, and try not to choke on the fish bones. Every night you suffer for it. Pure starch fills you up fast and then disappears just as quickly. Think of it as eating a bath salt–it’s super solid in your stomach, weighs you down and sits like a rock until it fizzles up and disappears in about 30 seconds, leaving behind a slick coating of oil that makes you nauseous and hungry at the same time. All this would be worth it if eating like a Ghanaian somehow transformed you in the eyes of your friends, co-workers, and the people on the street who constantly yell racist comments your way. But it won’t. While it may endear you to some, mostly it just makes you more of a spectacle. No matter what you eat, people will point, stare, laugh and yell.

The second week you think you’ve learned your lesson, you take it slow and pack some ramen to combat the constant hanger. In public you still try whatever is given to you. You find your local staple (egg and bread) and stick with that for breakfast while eating local food for the rest of the day. You may go to bed hungry, but you know that there’s eggs in the morning! This has it’s drawbacks. I almost broke down crying my second week in the bush when inexplicably all the egg and bread women in Bawjiase decided to not show up to work. Ebenezer, Akapo, and Fatawu had no idea what to do with me and had the driver drive in circles trying to find someone to feed me until Jason showed up with a sandwich made of bread, butter, hardboiled eggs, and pepper sauce.

The third week rolls around and you’ve got a routine down. Egg and Bread comes from Kokor around the corner. Watchi (beans, rice, and egg) for lunch. Rice, tomatoes, onions, and garlic from the woman down the road for dinner. Tea in the morning, milo at night, chicken from the girls at the front desk. The hanger dies down and you can think rationally most of the time. This doesn’t stop you from googling images of food. But it’s a manageable week.

Week four is hell. Your routine may be useful, but it drives you nuts. The googling is too much. You dream constantly of foods you can’t have. For me, this meant mac and cheese and carrot cake. But I had planned ahead, thought this thing out–I knew I’d probably end up spending Thanksgiving in the bush, and packed accordingly. In the bottom of my bag was a box of mac and cheese I’d found in Accra. All week it sat there next to my clean socks, haunting me. There’s nothing harder in the world than knowing there’s cheese to be eaten but settling for rice and fufu.

I caved by Wednesday and commandeered the hotel kitchen when I saw that the kitchen girls were going to to try and boil 2 cups of noodles in 1 cup of water. They had never seen a white woman use a stove, let alone powdered cheese in a box. I tried to explain Thanksgiving to them, and would up saying it was the day where we worship our ancestors and the food gods in a celebration of family. That got across, though I may have given them the impression that the whole thing centered around boxed mac and cheese as the central dish. I would be totally fine with this change–turkey is over rated, everyone is just in it for the stuffing.

In any case, here is an album of food images to accompany a long tangential food rant:

Lucky for me, Jason pulled me back to Accra to celebrate in style with some of his and
Dorrie’s American friends. And while we all wound up bringing the same dish, (green beans with caramelized onions and garlic) it was a lovely evening with wonderful people. I got home just in time to Skype my family in California as they ate their own Thanksgiving Dinner.

2014-11-28 01.35.40

 

2014-11-28 01.30.28

 

It was clearly a civilized affair.

More later, miss you all bunches!

All my love,

Clara

 

 

Getting Down to Business

So when Jason told me that our job would be to make some semblance of order out of UTTER chaos, I didn’t really believe him. Or maybe I believed him, but I had no idea what UTTER chaos truly looks like. Here’s a picture:

Obed Affun, Samuel Geelk 1

Yes that is a horde of happy children swarmed around a couple bicycles. No they weren’t so much friendly as demanding and curious.

Which brings us to this two-week update: as of last Monday, we’ve started cadbury’s distributions. What this means is that we’ve got 5000 bikes to give to around 200 schools over the next 9 months. Every single one needs to be assembled, each child needs to go through a training, at least ten percent of the kids (most of the girls) have to learn how to ride, and every single bottom bracket needs to be taken apart and greased. That’s 5000 shitty bottom brackets that need to be opened, greased, packed, and reassembled. My role in all this: I get to figure out a system for teaching 500 girls to ride bicycles. Sometimes I lend a hand with the bottom brackets. Mostly I run around teaching kids how to pedal. You’d be surprised how difficult it is to learn! As it turns out, riding a bike isn’t as easy as it’s cracked up to be, at least not at first.

Essentially, I’ve become a roving PE teacher. And I love it. Even on the days when I come home with minor sunstroke and can’t move for exhaustion and I smell like an 8th grade locker room, (minus the ax) it’s a pretty sweet gig. I know my sun-conscious father is having a minor heart attack at the words “sun stroke,” but don’t worry Dad, I’m wearing plenty of sunscreen and a hat:

2014-11-11 10.43.15

Ghanaian school kids live in a world of pretty strict gender norms, so I tend to throw them for a loop. Women in pants are an oddity in the bush, women in pants and a polo shirt are almost unheard of, and bossy white women in pants and polo shirts are a spectacle to behold. I’d change my bush uniform, but there’s no way I’m going to run around in a long skirt to teach PE. Besides which, I’d still be white and bossy and a woman, and therefore a bit of a spectacle. I’d wear shorts, but lets face it, people in shorts get no respect. For now, I’ll settle for suffering in the heat and getting called “sir.”

Here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

Clearly life is busy in Awutu Senya province. Miss you all, and all the delicious things you guys get to eat (like goat cheese arugula salad from Le Petit Couchon)!

Much Love,

Clara