A Day in My Ghanaian Life

After being bombarded with requests (from one person), I am here to write you about what a typical day here in Ghana looks like for me.  Enjoy, for I plan to get descriptive.

5am – 6:15am – Rise and Shine!

Waking up occurs around the 4th or 5th rooster crow.  I never sleep later than 6:15, and if I do, I can expect my host mama to come knocking.  My first weeks here I used my phone as an alarm clock until I realized how unnecessary it was!  A combination of rooster, the sound of sweeping, and voices in and outside of my room are guaranteed to wake me.  I join my sisters in their sweeping of my room and the compound.  The brooms consist of dried stick things tied together.  It’s actually really effective, though it can be sore on the back because you have to bend over.

7am – Baff

“Go and baff!”

My host mama will yell to me if I’m sweeping for too long.  The ‘th’ noise is pronounced ‘f’ or ‘d’ here.  I grab my bucket and fill it with the pipe water located near our compound (I still have not taken this for granted since my village stay!).  If I’m not feeling well, or it’s particularly cold, my mama or I will heat up some baff watah (bath water – gotta love the Ghanaian accent) on the coals – an amazing feeling.  I get my wash cloth, soap, and watah, and step into the stall that doubles as a urinal.  It’s lined with concrete, and opens up to the sky, making night baths amazing.

7:30 – Breakfast Number 1

My host family will usually eat leftovers from the night before, or go out into the market to get some breakfast ‘to-go’.  The exception is my host mama and I.  We now have a ritual, that I tried to shake because I didn’t like the privilege, but now I’ve accepted because I love it.   I’ll go (or she will) down to the main road and get Kpandai bread (way worse than Tamale bread and known for it) and some milk, if it’s needed.  I come back, and my mama and I will pull our chairs up to the little wooden table and take some tea with too much sugar and too much cream, and some bread.   We chill out in silence, or chat about the day.  I love this relaxed start to my day.

8am – Work Life

No two days in the office are the same!  I’ll either bicycle or walk into work, greeting people along the way.  If I’m feeling particularly friendly, I’ll stop with each greeting and converse with the people, and this usually means it takes an extra 15 minutes instead of the usual 5 minute commute.

At work, I’m usually the second or third person in the office.  When I’m first, I go into the little compound across the path and greet the family there (they don’t speak any English).  I’ll mime until I get the key to the office.  I go through the entire office (two rooms) and greet everyone, which usually takes the first half hour of my day.

My work day will consist of any of the following, and usually all of the following:

– AAB meetings with AEAs and their farmer groups, and the transit to and from their village (this can take a full day)

– AEA ‘coaching’ sessions – these are essentially discussions about how their meetings are going, the needs of their farmer groups, their challenges and successes, business ideas, etc.

– Meetings with the officers and Director – updating on AAB, discussing MoFA and the current projects, etc.

– Random field experiences – meeting farmers, seeing the fields and current projects in action, etc.

– Computer training

– Developing workshops (results-based management, training on AAB, additional AEA training), writing blog posts, e-mailing home, etc.

An excel workshop with Stephen - the MIS Officer

10am – Breakfast No 2

I love second breakfast!  At first I wasn’t taking it, until I noticed everyone else in my office would leave around this time and come back with various breakfast foods.  My stomach would rumble and they’d invite me to eat with them (as everyone does).  I now go and get my second breakfast with them.  This is either coco, porridge, or egg & bread.  Coco is the consistency of thick water, and usually tastes like ginger and some sweet and sour mixture.  Porridge is the same, except with chunks of maize flour.

1pm – Lunch Time

Lunch lasts anywhere from 10 minutes to 3 hours here in Kpandai.  I like to try different things from the women selling their food along roadside, but now that I’ve discovered my favourites, I usually stick to them.  A lovely lady sells jollof rice with delicious chicken down the road.  Watcha (can’t spell it) is rice and beans, and also yummy.  Now that the first round of maize has been harvested, I can almost always find some corn on the cob to munch on.  Fried plantains and beans, boiled yams with a sauce thing, all good stuff.  And if I’m lucky, a woman will walk by yelling/singing “heeeere’s rice watah!” and I’ll get some warm, sugary, creamy, rice porridge for a special treat.  In fact, just as I was writing this, I heard Madam Edith and her rice watah jingle and booked it outside – today is a good day.

Lunch is also a great time to run any errands – pick up some new threads from the seamstress, get your bicycle repaired, grab some phone credits, visit the carpenter to see if your stool is ready, etc.  Also, if it’s market day (every 6 days in Kpandai), the number of goodies available to you increase tenfold. Everyone comes in on their market trucks to sell their wares.  I adore market day.

5pm – Home Time

The office closes around 5pm.  Yes, it’s an 8 to 5 job, by definition, but you’ll rarely be working the full 9 hours.

I head home, greeting along the way, usually feeling either very motivated from a productive day or very demotivated from a day where no one showed up in the office and therefore I spent my day with my laptop at the District Assembly sucking on a bag of groundnut paste (essentially delicious peanut butter). Luckily those days are the exception, not the rule.

Either way, when I start walking home and my little sisters run up to greet me and my mama asks about my work and my brothers are playing football outside the compound, all becomes well.

6pm – The Dinner Experience

Have you ever stirred T-Zed?  No?  Didn’t think so.  Because it’s impossible to stir, so if you’d said you’d done it, I would not have believed you.  I am now resigned to the role of vegetable cutter or fire fanner or soup stirrer, because I am not fit for the role of T-Zed stirrer.  Imagine stirring concrete seconds before it has hardened.  My two host sisters take turns with the giant lump of carbohydrate that will become my dinner.  I actually love T-Zed.  It, along with the other carbohydrate dinners such as Banku, Kenkey, Fufu, are served with a soup or stew.  There is usually fish, or some unidentifiable meat the size of half a finger in the soup.  Light soup is my favourite – it’s essentially watery, semi-spicy, garlicy tomato soup.  I also like groundnut stew, and dry okru (a vegetable soup).  Wet okru soup is like snot.  Not my favourite.

Fufu is also a favourite – this is when boiled yams are pounded with a gigantic mortar and pestle.  I love pounding fufu with my siblings.

Pounding fufu with my sister as Mama Monica and Jessica look on

If dinner has already been prepared by the time I come home, I’ll sit in the yard and watch my brothers play an intense game of football or volleyball – and occasionally I’ll join in, end up falling flat or diving, realizing I’m not on grass, and cutting up my skin on the dirt.

We eat around 7pm, just as it gets dark.  Originally, my family wanted me to eat alone in my room with my chair and plastic table, which is what is shown as a status thing for guests.  I then graduated to being allowed to eat outside, alone, with my table and chair.  Eventually I broke this down to eating outside alone, without my table and chair, and I now eat with my host sisters, sitting on either stools or the concrete part of the compound.  There have been times when I’ve eaten with my brothers as well.  I like to stir things up. You take the ball of starch, use your fingers to ‘cut’ a piece of the starch, and dip it into the soup, then eat it!

Other Night Time Activities

Bucket shower number 2 is in there somewhere – most people here baff twice a day.

After eating, I’ll either watch football  with my family on the grainy TV, help brother Joefere and his mates with their math, chat it up with my host sisters or brothers, or entertain Jessica and Janet as they brush my hair and tie knots in it.  There are days when I need some solid alone time, and I’ll hide in my room with my laptop, my journal, or a book and relax.   Usually Jessica will follow me regardless of my pleas and I’ll end up with a sweet hair do.  “Your hair, it’s talia” says Jessica.  I say thank you, assuming that talia means fine.  It means macaroni.

Football in the Yard

I go to sleep around 8:30 or 9pm, and awake when the rooster crows for the fourth or fifth time.

50 Responses to A Day in My Ghanaian Life

  1. Yer old man... says:

    Nice to hear that you’re baffing regularly Sarah-Bear. 🙂 And I’m extremely jealous of your daily routine. Believe me, I’ve got very little understanding of the hardships you’re experiencing, not having lived thru them myself – eg. the food sounds a bit yucky. But the simplicity of making fond connections with friends and family throughout the day, and to be a part of what seems to me to be a genuinely caring and close-knit community really tugs at the old heartstrings. It’s these sorts of experiences and the feelings they generate that will beckon you back.

    Interesting (and food for) thought – what you encounter daily in the village is what we in NA strive to obtain from our vacation time – a yearning for something simpler, with smaller demands on one’s time, productive, bonding with friends and family, communicative, and re-generating. Kinda like Lake Temagami. Kinda…

    Much love,

    Yer old man…

  2. Pete says:

    Please give us some insite into the effect of the Ghanaian success at the World Cup. Does this effect the daily lives of your family – brothers and sisters?

    Thanks

    • slegger says:

      YES!

      It was all anyone was talking about! Spirits were up when they were winning, and on game days, no one could think of anything else.

      My brothers and sisters would always greet me with “Sarah, 6 hours until the game!” or an update on what happened during the previous match. On several occasions lights would go out during a match so they television would be out of commission and everyone would gather around the radio.

      When Ghana beat the US, everyone went crazy with excitement – I’ve never seen so much patriotism. Likewise, when we lost to Uruguay in penalty shots, I’ve never seen so many grown men cry. It was literally devastation. The following day, it was as if the town I was in had just shut down. No one speaks of it now.

      Hope that helps 🙂

  3. Andrew S says:

    “…It means macaroni.” cracked me up..
    i’ve fallen behind reading your entries (not that im anywhere as busy as you are, so no excuse really), so im trying to catch up tonight! i was talking with Mike on Canada Day and realized i havent read one since “Family Life”.
    Your pops pretty much summed up what i was thinking while reading this current entry, im curious to try some of these foods and get a taste of Ghanaian cuisine (ie when you get home lol).

  4. Aileen C says:

    Hey Sarah!

    I was at the Ontario Retreat this weekend and was thinking about you and realize I haven’t commented on your posts! I just got all caught up with your posts, and just wanted to say how inspiring your stories are. I love hearing about all your experiences, and I can’t wait to read more.

    Also, I like this second breakfast idea… maybe I’ll have to try that out over here?

    Take care!

  5. Olivia says:

    That Ghanaian food sounds delicious!! We will have to do African dinner nights throughout the fall. And I’ve always been a fan of second breakfast 🙂

    Good to hear what your days are like. As always, your posts crack me up!

    Love,
    liv

  6. Alex Joyce says:

    Great to hear about your days Sarah. It is 10am here… sooo I guess that would be time for second breakfast?

    How are you finding your people-people relationships with all that greeting and chatting? What is your favourite kind of work day? What do you find the most challenging at work? What do you feel you’re really rock’n out at?

    Miss you!
    Alex

  7. TaraMc says:

    Srah!

    Just was doing some catching up on your blog posts. I love your descriptions (“Wet okru soup is like snot”), and how fondly you describe your host family as siblings and such. I can only think of how awesome this whole experience must be for you. Any homesickness or are you right in there loving life?

    Take care! xoxox
    Ciao!
    -Tara

  8. Dear Sarah,
    It was a wonderful experience in Ghana. I read your story with much interest. Could you please highlight on women empowerment in Ghana. How do you think, whether your host mama and sisters are earning something?
    If you have time to know more about me, my organization and my community, please visit the following sites:
    http://www.engineeringforchange.info/?p=1149%5D
    http://www.ewb-international.org/larnaca10.htm%5D
    http://www.ewb-international.org/larnaca09.htm
    http://groups.google.co.uk/group/fuelbriquetting/web/photos-of-the-briquette-training-workshops-in-nepal

    I would appreciate to receive your feedback,
    Warm regards,
    Sanu Kaji Shrestha
    Winner of Special Achievement Award from PCIA in 2009 (a US-EPA Award for
    innovative cooking fuel for the poor community)
    Runner Up of World Challenge Award 2007 on “Cooking without Gas”
    Founder Chairman
    Foundation for Sustainable Technologies (FoST) (a NGO)
    P.O. Box 10776
    Galkopakha (opposite to Dhungedhara), Thamel, Kathmandu
    Phone: 977-1-4361574, mb.9841419021
    http://www.fost-nepal.org

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