Home & Life in Ghana
When I tell people that I spend my summers in Ghana, many ask: “Where do you live when you go?” “What are the conditions like?” or the less tactful, “Do you live in a mud-hut there?” The answer is no, I do not live in a mud hut (although I have been among them an occasional trip or two). I live in a house in Adom Nana, a fairly urban neighborhood outside the city of Kasoa in the Central Region. The city is on Google Maps, even, if you care to take a look. We live in a simple house that Patrick rents out to accommodate volunteers alongside his own family. There is one bathroom, a living/dining room, a kitchen, and about four bedrooms for volunteers. It is a comparatively large house on a small compound, with its own well-tank and tap, that provides us with running water.
There are the typical struggles of living in the developing world, of course. Ghana is now a lower-middle income country – elevated to that standing not necessarily because of any substantially raised income levels, but more for the well-managed oil wealth that has been realized over the past several years. Comparative to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, it is well-developed. Manufacturing has taken off here. Construction of homes and small business spaces, a sign of a growing and healthy economy is very apparent here. Informal markets still thrive of course, but formal businesses and stores are scattered throughout southern Ghana as well. Nevertheless, Ghana deals with the same things much of Sub-Saharan Africa does, particularly the very rural areas…
Electricity is touch and go, but it’s there most of the time. Mamma Pat always kindly reminds us: “Please. Turn off the fans and power sockets when you go. Here, we have electricity problem.” The water taps for the sinks, the bucket shower, and our toilet run when there’s enough to water, otherwise we draw it by bucket it from the well. Last week the entire region actually ran out of water for bathing, cooking, cleaning, and drinking. We purchased a finite amount from elsewhere for ourselves and the children. They are careful to save all the rain water, as the rainy season is upon us now, and that’s a free gift from God one never really thinks about. Doing laundry by hand with one soapy, two rinse buckets, and a clothes line is an exhausting endeavor that I admittedly do not frequently engage in… Our diet is predominantly some combination of rice, noodles, plantains, yams, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, and fried chicken. I already miss steak salads and turkey burgers. Two pizza places within an hour’s journey are a blessing, though. Dairy products are non-existent. Except for FanIce, little frozen ice cream packets that cost only 70 peswas (less than 40 cents) – which I do frequently indulge. With all said, we’re taken very good care of. Mamma Pat and Patrick always make sure we’re happy.
Odd pieces of daily life in Ghana that I have gotten quite used to, often seem bizarre to others at this point. I enjoy the massive thunderstorms in the wee hours of the morning, and the sporadic downpours in the afternoon that flood the streets a few days a week, often stranding us at the school or the house before the water runs off. Open air markets are the greatest – organized chaos with sensory overload for so much bustling around, yelling and bartering, sights of beautiful printed fabrics, and indescribable smells of spices, peppers, raw meats and seafood. Public transportation is always an adventure – taxis and tro-tros that still barely run only by virtue of duct tape, diesel fuel, and copious amounts of engine oil.
The sounds of Ghana are remarkable in of themselves. It is never quite silent here, perhaps only when the power is out at night. The laughter and yells of children all over the town fill any quiet moment; scratchy radios that play news pieces or religious programs are on every corner and in every house; roosters, goats, cows, and chickens roam and make noise from dawn to dusk, with an occasional dog fight at night; when you travel closer to the main roads, honks and horribly maintained vehicles that are decades make way too much noise. It is also interesting just the noises people make. Twi is a language that when spoken above a whisper, comes off as strikingly harsh and loud. All sorts of music, singing, and drumming is ubiquitous in many areas of town. Likewise, it is still interesting for me to live in an area where I can always hear the Muslim call to worship five times each day.
There is much more to living here, as well. It is a different world here. Time-keeping becomes less important, while conversation, polite exchanges, and sharing a meal become more important. Resourcefulness becomes secondary nature. Creativity something alongside that. I love being here, but I am Oburoni – a foreigner – so just shy of marrying a Ghanaian, I am always only an observer, a secondary participant, at best. I love being accepted as far as I’m able, though. It’s all a thrill, really. It is not a life I could live forever, as often as I have been asked that as well – I am verymuch a product of the East Coast of the United States, and I’m very aware and not at all ashamed of that..
With that said, I love the differences, and sharing in each of them. I enjoy the day to day, relaxing life I get to be a part of here. It always feels hectic at first and exhausting with the heat, but in the long-term I’m able to unravel a bit. Not oblivious to the fact that I often over-load my life with a seemingly impossible To Do list, one of the things I have grown to appreciate most is this opportunity to just relax and reflect. Last year I came over just a week after an incredibly difficult year at school – having taken all my sophomore and junior year courses for my degree in just two terms. This year I came one week after completing a full-time internship at the US State Department, through The Washington Center program that included a whole slew of professional and service programs as well. My semester in DC was incredible, but not at all stress-free. In many respects and for many of my experiences in the Fall in Boston as well, it was a rather formative year, packed very tightly, with little time to unravel it all.
A good friend said to me just a couple days before I left Boston: “You’ll have a good time. If nothing else, it will be good for you to consider everything you’ve just been through.” I thought it a rather off-point comment at the time. I had thought it, but no one besides him had really said to me before leaving. It has taken a second summer away for me to fully realize how important – and necessary – that consideration has been to me. I get to back off of the endless paper-writing, ease up on the obsessive planning of my future, and even let go and sort through some of the less than pleasant parts of my personal life. With limited internet and a phone number only my older sister has at this point, I get to fall off the map as far, or as close as I and those who make the effort to reach out to me, choose to. Instead, I get to be whole-heartedly with these kids first, live alongside many volunteers and travelers so like and at the same time so different to myself, and just be mostly on my own accord for awhile. Surely, one does not have to travel so far to find this – my beloved home state of Maine offers this refuge to many. But for me, my home and life in Africa offers a unique way to find this, with so many other things alongside it.