Wild, Wild West Africa

The following post is lacking an official theme, but I hope it will be entertaining all the same. This week is more of a mash up of a whole slew of things we have been doing during training.

We went to see the traditional herbalist (aka medicine man) in Anyinasin.  He showed us the whole stock of herbs, plants, and bark that he uses to cure people of ailments such as infertility, fever, blindness, seizure, hernia, and premature ejaculation (which is obviously on the same level of seriousness as blindness and seizures).  His concoctions usually consist of a boiled blend of different herbs and plants which are then, more times than not, delivered as medicine by means of an enema.  My bigger issue with the whole thing was the time frame he gave for the effectiveness of his treatment.  Fever will be cured within five days and seizures within twenty minutes.  I just wonder, how common is it that a seizure lasts for more then twenty minutes anyway?

We also visited the district hospital in New Tafo.  My group had the opportunity to interview the staff members working in the family planning unit, which was quite enlightening.  I was surprised to find the broad range of contraceptives offered at this hospital, including the injection, implant, IUD, oral contraceptives, and condoms. The public health nurse showed us the flipbook that they use to discuss family planning with clients that come in to the hospital.  Each page she would ask us what we thought was happening in the picture and then discuss the significance of the event in relation to family planning.  It just goes to show, health class doesn’t really get less awkward after middle school. When she turned the page to the picture of intercourse, there was an awkward silence and a stifled snicker in the back of the room.  It was only after a solid thirty second pause that someone was able to answer “I believe…that this is a picture of sexual intercourse.” At least she put it delicately. I was tempted just to say “THEY’RE DOIN’ IT.” Really mature, I know.

Last Sunday after I left the Internet café, I did a bit of exploring around the marketplace in Koforidua. I spotted a few avocados and decided it was going to be Mexican night in the Afoa residence.  A few peppers and onions, some flour, a pineapple, and a bag of plantain chips later I was on my way to an “authentic” Mexican feast.  Mama Afoa gave me an indescribably incredulous look as I began to cut up the veggies and mash the avocado.  Honestly, it’s a bit sad that the lack of faith in my cooking now extends over two continents.  It actually turned out great, although the homemade tortillas were a bit doughy.  The Ghanaians did not like the guacamole at all, but I got praise from the other PCTs.  Plus, I like to believe that good guac runs in the family (if you haven’t had my mom’s, get on that ASAP).  So long story short, last Sunday I fed African children Mexcian food made by an American.









Not quite sure how much more multi-cultural it can get.  And I’ll leave you with a throw back to the good old days when Will Smith was primarily a rapper, rather than an actor.


High Life is Not Just a Beer

As many of you know, specifically my friends who liked to frequent T’s Pub during our BU days, Miller High Life is a pretty mediocre but good-for-your-money bottled beer.   When I think of High Life I’m brought back to nights of sneaking into T’s with four people using one ID, dancing in six inch heels until my feet bled, and singing karaoke to “I Want it That Way” with the BU gymnastics team.  Here, however, the words “High Life” refer to the local Ghanaian music that has evolved over the past century.

Classic High Life music is usually comprised of a combination of guitars and horns that incorporate elements of swing, jazz, and rock.  It is generally just happy music that lets you feel fine and free.  Understandably, this type of music is very popular throughout a majority of West Africa.  More than anything else, it is this music playing around town that convinces me I am actually in Africa. Well…it’s that and some of the sights we have seen so far, like this waterfall!!

In the 90s, High Life evolved to include aspects of reggae and hip-hop to create the new genre of Hip Life, which is comparable to the hip-hop and rap that we listen to in the States.  In fact, much of Akon’s music pulls from this culture, and he is extremely popular here.  In addition, more often than not, the Ghanaian rappers like to use their music as political and social commentary on the issues currently affecting the country.  It’s a nice change from “eff-ing Bs,” if you know what I mean. Ghanaians do, however, love to use famous musicians as the poster children for their hair salons.  You could be driving along the road and spot a number of barbershops sporting pictures of Chris Brown with a shaved head and Ludacris with shoulder-length corn rolls (even though I’m pretty sure he hasn’t had his hair braided since the turn of the millennium).

Going along with the song and dance theme, the dance moves here are like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  I consider myself to be a good dancer, but don’t ever ask me to demonstrate for you any of the moves I have seen here.  We are, however, learning a traditional African dance to be performed at our swearing-in ceremony in April.  Kids from a nearby dance academy come once a week to teach us the moves and perfect our steps. The drums are hypnotizing and the dance is beautiful when done properly.  The problem arises when twenty-four Obrunis come into the mix. The severe awkwardness and lack of rhythm make for nothing but a hilarious source of entertainment for anyone watching.  If you can picture it, there is one part of the dance where we make two lines and two people freestyle down the middle together, similar to whatever dance that is that we like to do in the states at events like Bar Mitzvahs or weddings.  Our moves just happen to include the running man, the crib walk, and the robot, a true classic.

With that image fresh in your mind, I will leave you with a taste of some Hip Life music, similar to the songs my neighbors like to blast at 5:00 in the morning.

Eat Aaaall

A large part of the culture here in Ghana is based on eating and food, so I thought I would share some of the dishes I have experienced so far:

Fufu is a product of cassava. To make it, one must chop off the outer layer and pound the inside until it becomes one big blob.  It is a slimy texture on the outside and so stretchy that cannot chew it, but simply must swallow it whole.  The flavor is pretty mild, so when it is put in soup or stew it is somewhat tolerable.  Just be sure to skim the centimeter thick film of palm oil off the top of the soup.

Banku is somewhat similar to fufu, but it blends in fermented corn with the pounded cassava.  This makes for a better texture (one you can chew) but a much worse flavor.  I try to avoid this at all costs.  Usually when the family eats banku I am given rice in my soup instead.

Grass cutter, or the Greater Can Rat is a rodent native to this area.  I have yet to taste one as far as I know (although it is possible that some of the mystery meat I have been served has consisted of grass cutter).  It is widely accepted to catch, kill, and eat grass cutter for dinner. Ew.

In addition to the more traditional dishes, I have also eaten a fried egg on bread for breakfast every morning, had bananas and apples for snack, and even purchased a Fan-Ice (ice cream in a bag) occasionally.  It’s not Ben & Jerry’s, but on a hot day you take what you can get.

Now keep in mind that Ghanaians take having guests very seriously, and neglecting to satisfy your guests’ appetites is somewhat of a disgrace.  They therefore pile my plate at every meal with enough food for four people and promptly order me to “eat all.” The food not exactly gourmet, and it is also physically impossible for me to eat all of that food.  I eat as much as I can but it is never enough to avoid the look of disappointment on my host mom’s face when there is food left in my bowl.  I am convinced the guilt trip is part of their ploy to get me to fit into that dress by the end of training.  I must say, though, Peace Corps did a great job finding me a Ghanaian Jewish mother.

So whenever you’re hungry, just remember I am never allowed to be.  Every time I eat, this song plays faintly in the back of my mind…