Archive for October, 2009

What We Eat

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Food in Ghana is a lot like food in Togo.  The popular dishes are some kind of starch (yam, corn, cassava or millet), which is pounded or ground, and boiled.  The starch is eaten with the right hand, by scooping up with the fingers and then dipping into a sauce.  The starch itself is usually not that exciting, and sometimes is pounded so mercilessly that by the time it is served, you don’t even have to chew.

The soupy sauce is the interesting part, and the types of sauce may depend on the region, and how far away you are from the ocean.  Northern sauces (either in Togo or Ghana) might have more goat or beef meat, while southern sauces will rely more on fish.

Naturally, the economic level also determines the sauce.  Some village families may have dried okra sauce every day; others enjoy peanut sauce, sesame sauce, or tomato sauce.

I like sauces, particularly if they have leaves in them.  There are tons of nutritious green spinach-like plants here, and each gives its own unique taste to the sauce.  (Bitter, peppery, or sweet). I haven’t yet learned to distinguish the leaves; when I buy them at the market the women only know the names in their local language.   But I haven’t yet met I leaf I don’t like, so I’m happy to buy whatever looks fresh.

My sauce making skills are getting better, and now I cook African style meals a couple times a week.  Eric makes the starch, and I make the sauce.  Yum!

a digression on women and work

Monday, October 26th, 2009

This post isn’t about Ghana. It’s about my career and what I’m learning. After running my own show in Togo, essentially being responsible for any events or programs as the founder and director, it is difficult to be back in an office buried under several layers of decision makers. I feel capable of more responsibility, and feel I have more to contribute. I’ve felt this way in other office jobs, but this time I did something about it. I went to my manager and explained to him that I could do more. It went well; he was open and receptive.

I wish I had thought of doing that years ago at other jobs. In fact, why didn’t I? Why did I have this idea that it would be too pushy? It seems so silly now that I think about it; I felt unappreciated but I also felt that it was taboo to ask for a promotion.

An op-ed in the NYTimes rings true with the following words on how to promote women’s rights:

“we can begin by telling girls to have confidence in themselves, to not always feel the need to be the passive “good girl.” In my time as an editor, many, many men have come through my door asking for a raise or demanding a promotion. Guess how many women have ever asked me for a promotion?
I’ll tell you. Exactly … zero.”

I’ve never had a female boss, and not even a boss of a boss has been female. (Although somewhere up the unknowable heirarchy at one of the universities I worked for, there might have been a woman.) It just goes to show; we still have a long way to go.

Probably no one reading this is a young woman starting off her career. But still, if you know anyone like that, encourage them to be strong, to go after what they know they can do and want to do.

Cement Ditches

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Accra has infrastructure.  I’m talking about niceties like banks and roads.  Along with the miles and miles of paved roads, the forward thinking city planners also build drainage ditches, which double as a sewage system.  These open, cemented gulleys are often 3 feet deep and well over a foot wide.

They are everywhere, and they are dangerous.  There are no pedestrian bridges to cross them; pedestrians must leap across them at their own peril.
I’m terrified of them.  I know I can easily jump, but the murkey green-brown water, or even just the steep, hard cement scares me.  I’ve been told that people accidentally step in or fall into them ALL THE TIME.  I asked my colleagues about it and they said “Oh yes, just yesterday a man in a business suit fell in here” and they pointed to a scummy water hole of indeterminate depth.  This did not reassure me.

Home, Work, and Play as an Expat in Accra

Monday, October 5th, 2009

I’ve been in Accra for a few weeks now, and I feel like I’m settling in.  Moving to a city is different than being a tourist, since you need to equip yourself with basic items and do mundane shopping, instead of visiting ‘the sites’.

I’m now an expat, which is markedly different from being a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I live in a house with 4 colleagues from England, France, and Korea.  The house is modern; there is running hot water, fridges, televisions, and even a karaoke machine.  My room has a fan and air conditioning.  This is the good life.

I walk about 15 minutes down a traffic clogged 4 lane road to get to work.  The company is a small technology startup of about 20 Ghanaians and 10 foreigners.  We are working on a solution that allows farmers and traders to share prices and offers to buy using their cell phones.  We plan to have an exciting new version in the next few weeks.

The work team with is a fun mix.  My immediate team consists of young programmers who have graduated from university in the past couple years.  There is one girl in that group, who is a sweetheart.

On Wednesday nights, we go salsa dancing.  There are free lessons at a hotel nearby.  It is packed with Ghanaians.  Many people are novices, just there to check out the scene.  But there is also a significant number of experienced salsa dancers who twirl, jump, and swivel in the most impressive manner.  Apparently, there is salsa dancing every night in the city somewhere.  It seems Accra is salsa-crazy.  I still have blisters on my feet from last Wednesday’s madness.