Never Ghana Give You Up: Accra

I don’t have any excuses for the amount of dust and radio silence that this old blog has collected, and I always dread the inevitable moment, where I hang my head in shame because I had only one job. Record-keeping for record-keeping’s sake doesn’t come as naturally to me anymore, and I’ve developed the blogging habits of a drowning man who comes back up for a gasp of air, only to drop back down, never to resurface again.

But anyway, here’s to trying. (And I need to pour one out for Amanda, who has been providing me with all the mojo I need to stop being lazy and actually write a blog post — hi, you rock!) Status update: I’m currently in Accra, Ghana, actually, as I have been for the past three weeks, even though my sense of time has been slow-cooked enough for me to believe that I’ve been here for the past six months. More specifically, I’m wrapping up a community service program at work where 15 other Googlers and I work on various consulting projects with local NGOs in Accra.

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First off, I’m lucky — really lucky — to be able to take time off of my day-to-day work sched and do cool work with cool people in a country whose many quirks and facets have gained real estate in my heart. Mondays through Thursdays are for Soronko Solutions, where two lovely Googlers and I are helping to create a STEM mentorship program for high school girls in Ghana. Fridays are for teaching about tech to the kids in the local high school, followed by creating videos at the local arts centre. From 8am to 5pm, we’re knee-deep in hands-on work. Most days are exhausting. I have developed predatory instincts for caffeine. I never quite get my expected 8 hours of sleep. I deal with things like not having any power (which means running on 5% battery with my laptop and sometimes 5% of my own energy reserves) or not having a functional sink or toilet that are usually considered unthinkable back in Silicon Valley but are merely minor inconveniences over here. But the overall experience in Ghana has been the good sort of exhausting, in the sense that I’ve eaten a full delicious meal right after running on empty, and now I’m in the food-coma stage where I’m still digesting everything that I’ve experienced and I know I’m going to have so many good things to say after the fact, but if I could just lay down and roll around on a bed for a minute (because right now, at this present moment, I’m still bloated), that’d be amazing.

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I’ll talk about Accra first. It’s very much a city, but a city with social circles that overlap and run tangentially, where run-ins with people I’ve met from the week before are not coincidental but the new normal. On my flight from Accra to Dubai, for example, I ran into the owner of the gelato/pizzeria place where I had been going for my Friday morning latte fix. (Also, if you couldn’t tell, I have since relapsed from my three-year coffee fast. More on that later!) Accra runs on a system different than that of any other city I’ve lived in, but it works. Power might be randomly shut down at any given second, but people find other things to do than wait around for Internet. People run on a wider wavelength of time here, but you learn to adapt and slow your roll. Almost everything is up for debate. I have to negotiate upfront for everything from taxi rides to a pair of printed trousers at the market, and as somebody who’s stonewalled into stubbornness (“Ten cedis? Are you fucking kidding me.” And let’s not forget that ~3 cedis = $1 USD.) and much too prideful to budge when it comes to paying 6 cedis versus 7, I can probably count negotiation as an “area for development”. Despite these idiosyncrasies (or maybe because of), life still goes on — but at varying speeds, because everything here is up in the air.

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Some other things I’ve jotted down during my time here:

  • When I left New York, I never thought I would miss coffee. After coffee and I had our “I WISH I COULD QUIT U” moment back in New York, I gave it up cold turkey, didn’t look back for nearly three years, when slowly but surely we started easing back into a healthier and less frequent relationship. Long-distance, if you will. But absence does make the heart grow fonder, and when you’re working all day and going to group events all night, you become more dependent on caffeine, to the point where you don’t start your mornings until you go to the local Putt-Putt golf course to drink non-instant coffee at the lounge because Accra doesn’t do cafes. And yeah, you heard me: I go to Putt-Putt golf course lounges just so I can drink coffee. What’s it to you?
  • Similarly, I was never a fan of Sweet ‘N Low (I’m a Splenda girl), but the dearth of artificial sugar (a staple of my breakfast tea/coffee) means shamelessly hoarding packets of those pink packets in my purse so I’ll have my emergency fix when I need it. Yes, Ghana has forced me to admit that I am hopelessly addicted to aspartame. Also, shame is overrated.
  • I have better luck finding a unicorn than diet soda, which maybe explains why I froth at the mouth whenever I see a Coke Zero nowadays. Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I had soda with sugar.
  • My laughable experiences with Ghanaian toilets have not given me better insight into the mechanics of a toilet. Dumping water into a toilet can fool you into thinking that it’s clean, but don’t try this lifehack at home, kids.
  • Ghanaians seem to have either a soft spot for Chelsea or Man City, which runs anathema to my own football tastes. This doesn’t stop me from going to Man-City-centric sports bars, because sometimes all you really need is a large bowl of honey chicken wings and a football game (any football team, really!) on a TV to make your Wednesday night.
  • Chicken and rice play a starring role in my Ghanaian diet, and plantains have a supporting role. Vegetables, on the other hand, are strangely absent.
  • Ghanaian radio plays the same sort of music you’d expect in an elevator at JCPenney’s in Midwest suburbia. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard Celine Dion’s “All By Myself” played in an unironic context before (Bridget Jones doesn’t count.). I might even have heard more country music on Ghanaian radio than American radio, come to think of it.
  • “Seihor” by Castro, on the other hand, will never not get stuck in my head.

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Above all, though, Ghana will occupy a piece of real estate in my heart. Everything has been jam-packed and compressed in the past three weeks, that one blog post isn’t ever going to scrape the surface. I could talk about the people that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with (both Ghanaian and Googler alike) who are constantly doing amazing things, the high school girls in Accra that we’ve been mentoring who have enthusiasm and drive in spades, the constant friendliness of the people here, the joy of finding a restaurant here that you really love and know you will eventually revisit even though three weeks is about to draw to a close, the greatness of kelewele — I could talk about all of these things, but in a way, it still feels too soon and I have to remind myself that I didn’t actually make up any part of my experience here, certainly not the absurdities or the memories or the highlights that made Ghana Ghana.

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4 comments on “Never Ghana Give You Up: Accra

  1. I LOVE YOUR WRITING AND YOUR PICTURES AND YOU (AND PLANTAINS, O M G). <3 enjoy the next part of your many adventures!!!

    • I LOVE YEW. 🙂 Too bad plaintain chips don’t stay fresh for long, because I totally would have brought a Costco-sized bag for you in the spring!

  2. Very impressive. The photos are really interesting! Your stay in Ghana seems too. Thanks for sharing!

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