As per usual, apologies for the lack of updates…this is a late post but nonetheless one that had to be written! I hope it allows you to understand (to some extent) why I love Ghana so much.
Rather than head back to the UK for Christmas, I opted to stay in Africa and enjoy the sunshine. It’s funny how you adapt so easily to different climates – I now complain when it’s below 15 degrees celsius, a mild temperature for British Summer Time! Since I had very few friends in Kenya and no invitations when I decided to book (sob!), I bought a ticket to Accra, Ghana. Even though I’m one for visiting new places and ticking off countries (I’ve been competing against my dad on who can visit the most), ever since I travelled there in January 2013, I’ve fallen more and more in love with the country and I was desperate to go back. Anyone that knows me can testify to this since I never shut up about the place! In fact, some people even say I’m Ghanaian inside.
Let’s be honest, I thought I’d built in up in my head and that I would be disappointed. I’m a bit of an idealist so this does tend to happen. Amazingly, everything was how I remembered I felt like I was home and I could just feel this huge grin on my face as soon as I stepped out of the airport. I was pretty shattered from the flight though. Since I still haven’t got over my student spending habits, I went for the cheaper indirect option (saving over £250!) with RwandAir which meant flying via Kigali, with a stop-over in Lagos. Sadly I didn’t have a chance to explore Rwanda or Nigeria but some of the views from the aircraft were stunning. Both countries are still high up on my list to visit!
Right back to my adventure in Ghana….
Since I was there for two weeks, I’m not going to give a day by day account of my stay there (to be frank, I spent a lot of time relaxing!) but instead, I’ll provide a snapshot of the highlights of my trip and the top 5 reasons why I love Ghana.
This was my first Christmas away from my family, and in a hot country. To be honest, it didn’t really feel like Christmas – it just felt like a regular day, and in a way it was kinda nice. There was no real build up to Christmas in Kenya either, to be honest it was good to escape all the adverts, decorations absolutely everywhere and the crazed shoppers. It was quite refreshing in a way and also meant that there was no anti-climax. It was weird though, it was 35 degrees Celsius, I was sweating buckets (sorry but I was) and lots of people were wearing and selling santa hats. Since I couldn’t spend Christmas with my family, I decided I would spend time with individuals that perhaps didn’t have a family to celebrate with. I headed to Achimota, to the Street Girls Aid refuge who I worked with when I undertook some research for my Masters dissertation last year. Street Girls Aid is a charity that supports children living and/or working on the streets of Accra, particularly pregnant girls. They are a partner of StreetInvest, a UK-based NGO that supports investments in street-connected children so that their rights, needs and potential can be fulfilled. I love the work I do now but I will always have a soft spot for organisations that work with street-connected children and one day, I hope to set up my own social enterprise initiative to support such vulnerable yet resourceful individuals.
Anyway, when I arrived, I introduced myself to everyone and I was asked to help out with preparing lunch – fufu with groundnut stew. Yesss! They were so kind and made me a special version as they knew I didn’t eat meat. I was pretty useless at pounding fufu, it’s quite the skill so I was then told to dance for everyone (I’d shown one of the street workers one of my azonto videos) – this went down superbly. Other than helping prepare the goody bags for everyone to take away, I spent most of the day dancing and chatting to both girls currently at the refuge, and girls who had either stayed at the refuge during pregnancy, or had received vocational training in dressmaking, hairdressing, etc. The fact that all these girls chose to spend Christmas day there, regardless of their current situations, just demonstrated how grateful they were for Street Girls’ Aid’s support when they were in need.
I decided to travel out of Accra to the Akosombo dam in the Volta region – the dam that created Lake Volta, the world’s largest artificial lake . I’d heard a lot about it but I didn’t get a chance to visit last time. Since I didn’t want to miss out on the array of concerts happening in Accra, I travelled there and back in a day, which is definitely do-able providing you set off early. I left for Tema station in downtown Accra around 7.30am and by 8am, I was on a bus to Ho. It didn’t cost much at all, if I recall correctly it was between 10 and 15 cedi, which is less than £5 (one way). At Atimpoku, I alighted and got another tro tro to Akosombo, I then had to find a taxi driver that would take me to the dam itself. Since it was the Christmas holidays and I was in Africa after all, obviously no one could visit the dam. Anyway, the driver took me to a viewpoint where I could see the dam (essentially a hotel’s restaurant/bar).
However, after reading a few bits and bobs online the night before, I was set on spending an hour or so on the lake, in a fisherman’s boat. Unfortunately, this was much harder than expected to organise although it did happen in the end. I was driven to the Akosombo port area where there was a market by the lakeside, a hotel with a garden restaurant and a few fisherman out on the lake. I managed to convince some guys to take me out in their boat for an hour or so for 10 cedi. I’m not going to lie, the boat didn’t feel terribly stable and I did think I was going to fall in on more than one occasion but it was definitely an experience. One of the guys laid out the net whilst the other paddled. It was so relaxing (when I didn’t think I was going to fall out) just sitting in the boat in such a tranquil environment. If you do get the chance to do this – I would really recommend it. Once I had finished my little boat trip, I headed back to Akosombo where I bought some lunch (mmm…plantain) and had a wander round the market. I left Atimpoku around 3.30pm and I was back in Accra before nightfall.
The video below depicts my experience of the boat trip:
Party in the slums
When I came to Ghana the first time, I was a penniless Masters student, working several jobs and living off baked beans. I self-funded my trip so needless to say, I had absolutely no money to spare. This time I decided I would do something for some of the children that live and work on the streets in Accra. As they would all have to work on Christmas day, they had planned to have a party on Sunday 29th December. I decided to sponsor this party. The money I used went towards homemade meat pies and soda for around 150 children. Not very nutritional I know, but since there were so many of them, a proper feast of fufu, stew and meat would have been quite expensive. As the kids had been in awe of my dancing on Christmas day, this party was seen as an opportunity to showcase my azonto and an azonto dance battle was held. Let me tell you, dancing in Accra’s full heat and humidity at midday was tough! Many of the children had never seen an obroni before, let alone see an obroni dance to all their favourite tracks. For me, it just illustrated the way in which music and dance not only connect people but transcend language and cultural barriers.
Top 5 reasons why I love Ghana (in no particular order):
Almost no matter where you go in Ghana, you’ll be able to hear music blasting from speakers. On the street, from houses, mobile stereos on the back of a motorbike….you name it. In some cases, it’s enough to deafen you, and half the time it seems like there’s a competition going on in the neighbourhood- whose speakers go the loudest?!!! It gets a bit of getting used to, but I absolutely love it (most of the time). It just really adds to the atmosphere and for someone that loves dancing (see reason number 2), it just means that I can get away with dancing and singing along to my favourite tracks wherever I am. I’m not sure about anyone else, I know I’m bias, but Ghanaian music and Afrobeats in general just puts me in a really happy mood. It doesn’t matter if I’m having a bad day, or I’m stressed out, if I hear one of my favourite tracks – it’s like all my problems just disappear and all I can focus is on that beat. An example is ‘Dancehall King’ by Shatta Wale (posted below). Hope this song puts a smile on your face like it does mine.
So concerts…apparently Christmas is the best time for music concerts and shows in Ghana. When I found this out, I was ecstatic. In fact, within 2 hours of stepping off that plane – I was at Sarkodie’s album launch (Sarkodie is probably the most famous rapper in Ghana at present). Let’s just say I was grinning from ear to ear. Unlike some of the Afrobeats shows I’ve attended in the UK (sorry but it’s true), to my surprise, most of the shows I went to were really organised. For those of you that are in the know, in the space of 2 weeks, I saw Sarkodie, Fuse ODG, Stonebwoy, Keche, Itz Tiffany, Joey B, Castro Destroyer, Dee Money, R2bees, E.L, D-Black and many many more. I attended the Sarkodie ‘Sarkology’ launch, December 2 Remember, Ghana Rocks, a 4syte pool party and the Bojo beach New Year’s Day party. There was almost an event every night! Such a treat. In the UK, we’re lucky if there’s an event like that every 2 months and in Kenya, we have Naija Nite which happens once a year. Ahhh Ghana.
As I mentioned above, these days I fancy myself as a bit of a dancer. An azonto-dancer specifically. Before I went to Ghana in January 2013, I detested dancing and didn’t think I could dance. Oh how times have changed…over Christmas, not a day went by when I didn’t perform in some way. Whether it was dancing for the kids who live on the same road as where I stayed in Kotobabi Down, dancing for the girls at Street Girls’ Aid refuge in Achimota on Christmas Day, performing live on stage at the Bojo beach party on New Years’ day or stealing the spotlight from the likes of E.L. at the Accra International Conference Centre…I was dancing. In fact, in Akosombo, I even performed in a market in front of hundreds of people. Don’t ask me how that happened…it just did! The look of surprise on everyone’s faces just makes me want to dance even more, they could never believe an obroni could dance so well and some recognised me from YouTube. I would then always say something in Twi to shock them further. What’s worth pointing out though, azonto is no longer that popular in Ghana, it’s all about Alkayida (please note, this has nothing to do with the terrorist group). Here are a few snippets of me dancing in Ghana:
Dancing at the New Year’s Party on Bojo Beach:
A few snippets of me dancing at the party in the slums I sponsored in late December:
N.B. The facial expressions aren’t obligatory, they just happen…
Even thinking about the food in Ghana makes my stomach rumble. I appreciate that it isn’t for everyone, it perhaps isn’t that healthy and there aren’t a tonne of vegetarian options but I absolutely adore it!
These are my favourite Ghanaian foodstuffs:
- Red red (AKA plantain and bean stew): This is probably my favourite dish, and I tend to eat it for breakfast/brunch although it can be eaten at any time of the day really. This dish is a mixture of black-eyed peas, gari (ground up cassava) and palm oil. The palm oil makes it red and the gari binds it all together. It is served with fried plantain….mmmmm, sorry excuse me drooling!
- Fufu and groundnut soup: Definitely an acquired taste for some…fufu is a starch, pounded cassava and plantain or pounded yam and plantain, or pounded cocoyam – it looks like a ball of dough. Groundnut soup is essentially a peanut soup that you eat with the fufu, it’s pretty tasty although can sometimes be a little bit oily. Most people would eat this dish with some meat too.
- FanYogurt / FanChoco (yes I know it’s not really a food group but it’s yummy): incredibly refreshing desserts available at almost every street corner for about 25p (1 GHS) – just look for the guy with the white coolbox on wheels. FanYogurt is frozen strawberry flavoured yogurt and FanChoco is frozen chocolate flavoured milk.
- Jollof rice: spicy rice with vegetables, often served with chicken (I normally have it with a boiled egg)
- Eggs with bread: what my obroni friends in Kotobabi call ‘the Ghanaian Big Mac’, vegetable (onions, peppers) omelette in a fried bread sandwich…I tend to eat at least one of these a day. Yummy!
4. TAILORMADE CLOTHES IN BEAUTIFUL AFRICAN PRINTS
I’m not going to lie, I think I’ve got a bit of an addiction. I absolutely adore buying fabric, picking a design out, getting measured and having a unique piece of clothing…all at an affordable price too! Backpackers, forget Vietnam, get a dress/suit made in Ghana! When I was in Accra over Christmas, I paid 15 cedi for a skirt, 20 for a shirt and 20-25 for a dress to be made. I’m not sure what the exchange rate is now but 20 Ghana cedi was a £5 back in January. Imagine that – that’s cheaper than a dress in Primark! Ghana also (arguably) has the best fabric in Africa. Yes, I know, I know, I’m biased but it is true. Wherever you go in Africa, they’re importing fabric from Ghana. My tailor here in Kenya regularly imports it. What’s good too is that you can get amazing quality stuff, which is obviously a bit pricier but you can also get relatively good quality material for peanuts. Where to buy? I personally like Makola market or around Rawlings Park in downtown Accra. Just make sure you check the quality before you buy, check it’s sturdy and doesn’t look like it would tear easily. Brands such as Davida, Woodin, GTP and High Target are popular (although I think High Target is actually Nigerian). What’s also great is that I always try to use tailors that were once living and working on the street, who were supported by NGOs to undertake training in dress-making and now have their own businesses. Elisabeth is just one of these individuals. Anyway, enough of me talking about it see for yourself. Below are just some of the items I had made in Ghana:
N.B. I do get things made in Kenya but it’s at least 3 times the price and the quality of material isn’t as good. That said, I met a lady this who revamps old pairs of shoes/bags and covers them in African print. I think these are perhaps the most beautiful shoes I have ever seen, and best of all, they’re mine!
5. FEELING SAFE
As most people know, Nairobi isn’t the safest place to be at the moment and personal security is an issue. I love Kenya but sometimes I do miss my freedom. Yes I do walk home from work regularly (mostly because the traffic drives me nuts) but that doesn’t mean I’m not constantly looking over my shoulder or expecting my phone to get nicked. No, Ghana isn’t completely safe and you do need to be sensible (don’t wear flashy jewellery, don’t carry your passport around, etc.) but it’s supposedly one of the safer, more peaceful countries in Africa. The fact that I can walk around alone in the day and not have to worry (too much) and pop to the shop across the street at night to buy food or a drink just makes life that bit easier. And less stressful! Here in Nairobi, as soon as it’s dark, I wouldn’t dream of even crossing the street and on the occasion I do go out, I take taxis and tend to stick with my Kenyan friends. That’s another thing actually, rather than being reliant on several unreliable (but security-approved) taxi firms, I can just hail any old taxi and get in – it’s always worthwhile to check your driver is sober though, I’ve made that mistake before! We also have the possibility of carjacking here, sadly it’s very real.
Right time to sign off, this post is almost 3,000 words and I am starving. Expect more posts to follow, including one about my recent holiday in South Africa. Not much news to report other than that, work is just as busy as ever. I am planning to come back to the UK for a week or two in July though if I can get time off…for graduation and just to catch up with family & friends. I’ll keep you posted on that one. Hope you liked the videos this time, I am going to try and film more whilst I’m on my travels – I think it really helps you remember certain moments or journeys, they say a picture is worth a thousand words but in my eyes, a video is worth a lot more! I won’t leave you with a song this time since there are quite a few videos to watch above. See you in the next post!
Sending lots of love from Nairobi x