Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Out and about in Accra

Me blending in, in Ghana=a rather funny joke.

My first night here, I thought I'd put on something unobtrusive and conservative clothing for my adventure up the road. I was not so naive to think that no one would notice me--I'm white and clueless for heaven's sake!--but I thought I might at least appear that I was not totally lost. To a certain extent, I succeeded at this. (Though this may have been because I walked at approximately twice the speed of anyone else who was walking; and I even considered my pace a stroll!)
Not every eye was on me, and only a few people stopped and stared (and most of them seemed to be under 7!) But, it was immediately obvious that my dusky purple button up and brown linen shorts stood out on the dirt road. Everyone was dressed in bright colors! Most of the men just had t-shirts on, but the women looked quite nice in dresses and skirts, both traditional Ghanian and non-traditional. Not only that, but every person's hair was 'done.' I had assumed that dripping with sweat and 90-degree weather (or 32 degrees celsius) gave me implicit permission not to style my hair. My mistake! I felt like a pig with my hair all frizzy and thrown into a low pony. I'm not sure that I'll be able to correct this mistake every time I go out, but I'll certainly think twice about combing my hair.

The road I walked on may have been paved, but it was hard to tell because it was coated in reddish dirt, almost the consistency of dust. This is the dry season in West Africa so dirt blows south, even into Accra which is on the Gulf of Guinea, so absolutely everything is covered in dust. The sewers, which run along the side of many roads, are open or perhaps covered by a slab of cement with holes in it. So, there's a stench. It's rather like the smell of a port-a-potty, but not quite as stifling. This road is lined with tiny shops with various commodities: grocery supplies (I only saw eggs, oil, and soda, but I wasn't really looking), hair cuts and hair styling, cell phones and calling cards, mangoes, some t-shirts, alcohol, and countless other items. I stopped and bought some bananas and probably paid too much for them because I had no pesewas (think of them as cents, and cedis as dollars). But they were so delicious! 100% flavor and none of the waxy texture of bananas in the States.
Behind these shops I caught occasional glimpses of the kind of African city that's probably easy for you to imagine. One- and two-story shacks, brightly colored and probably dirt-floored. Curtains for doorways, chickens running everywhere, kids screaming, cars stalling, and taxis honking as they drive by. It didn't feel impoverished though. It felt like life. I'm sure I'll continue to reflect on what I saw that first night, and what I'll see throughout the month.

After walking further, I was totally famished and finally decided to find dinner. Though there were people everywhere, seemingly selling food, it was not self-explanatory to say the least. At last, I saw a man in an orange t-shirt grilling unidentifiable meat over a makeshift grill that looked like some kind of fencing (with small wires and small holes), over coals, with both ends of the rectangular grill metal covered in newspaper and grilled meat. Omnivores everywhere: please be proud of me, the Former Vegetarian. I walked up to him, pointed to a piece of meat (that was very likely chicken), and indicated that I wanted to buy it. We could barely understand each other, and I stood there forever while he finished cooking a piece of meat that (I thought) was already cooked. It was worth the wait however, and at the end of twenty minutes we had gotten to know each other, meaning we had established that 1) my father also grills, 2) this man was the champion of grilling, and 3) that I could take his picture. I assured him I'd be back, and left with a black plastic bag, lined with newspaper, and hot, hot meat smothered in a red spice mix and a few slices of onion. Before I was home I dug into the bag with my fingers for some bites of meat, and it was absolutely delicious! (My supervisor at Global Mamas and I got talking about meat today, and what I learned is that it's extremely healthy and lean because it's hard to keep animals fat here, and that it's all free range! Take that USA!)

My first independent foray was successful, and I feel brave because of it. Nonetheless, I still feel slightly apprehensive and totally out of my element. But to keep you from having to state the obvious in a comment, I'll say it to myself, "That's what traveling abroad means!"

Until next time, I'll be lining up my next outfit for going out and about in Accra.

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