I sat at the glass topped cane table waiting for my food. Savoring the refreshing relief of the ocean breeze, I glanced across the heap of papers in front of me to three empty plastic bottles toppled on their sides. Undoubtedly left on the table by customers now gone, I could not help but feel a slight twinge of annoyance that my server had not seen to them. Soon after, my food arrived, and turning my mind from the bottles, I was once again immersed in my readings on Ghana’s land tenure system. It was at that moment that I felt an unexpected tap on my shoulder and heard the hisses of whispering behind me. Turning around, I found myself facing four young boys staring up at me inquiringly. I greeted them and in Fante—the local language—asked them how they were to which they responded with smiles and laughter, but after their laughter subsided, their looks of inquiry returned. Before I could say anything, a boy who looked to be maybe ten years old gestured toward the table and politely asked if he and his friends could have the three plastic bottles abandoned on the corner of my table to use as water bottles for school. Happily, I handed him the bottles, and immediately, each boy’s face lit up into a smile. As they ran off, I stared unfocused, lost in thought at the place where the bottles had rested.
Since my arrival in Ghana, I have had many similar experiences to the one above, experiences which have catapulted me into pondering humanity and differing perspectives. It is not simply about contentment as individuals, contentment for what we may possess by the sweat of our own brows, the graciousness of a higher being, or simply the absurdism of chance. Much deeper questions of materialistic desires and their relation to economic progress and modernity should be addressed. What is economic growth? Is it beneficial to tie growth and progress to conspicuous and ever increasing consumption? What constitutes well being and sustainable living? Why must it take tens of years, thousands of lives, and a Youtube video for those with material wealth to notice atrocities and instability in regions of the world lacking fossil fuels, rare earth elements, and other scarce natural resources? What are the implications of a world in which the bottom line of an account ledger is the difference between starvation and nourishment?
On a lighter note, I have discovered some wonderfully rich and delicious Ghanaian cuisine! Though it is more of a snack food, hands down, my favorite is kelewele—pronounced kelly-welly. Kelewele is a mixture of cubed, ginger spiced, fried plantains with groundnuts—essentially peanuts—often added. My Ghanaian friend, Jinjiwa, introduced me to kelewele, and I have been in love with it ever since. Another favorite of mine is Waakye, pronounced: Wah-chee. Waakye in its simplest form is a mixture of beans and rice, but it is acceptable to add any or all of the following: pasta noodles, hard boiled eggs, grilled fish, sausage, pepper sauce, and/or a tomato sauce. In a close third, is red red which is a combination of fried plantains and beans which are cooked into a palm oil based stew, giving the dish its red color. The bean stew also includes diced tomatoes and onions, mackerel, and red pepper. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of learning how to make red red from another friend of mine, Kofi, who is widely regarded as the best cook on his floor in his hall. Needless to say, my cooking skills leave much to be desired, but hopefully by the time I leave, I will have improved.
Though not my favorites, I do enjoy fufu, egg stew on rice, and banku. Fufu, a famous dish in West Africa, is a pounded mixture of cassava and plantain similar to the consistency of bread dough. The fufu is immersed in a large bowl of soup, most commonly light or groundnut soup. Typically, either cooked fish, chicken, beef, or grass-cutter—a large rodent—is also added to the light soup. The dish is eaten with the right hand only by using the first three fingers to cut the fufu and the meat. Both my Ghanaian friends and I found my first attempt at eating fufu an entertaining affair, but repeated attempts have yielded much better results. Unfortunately, I do not know exactly what goes into egg stew besides hard boiled eggs, but it appears to be of a tomato and palm oil base and is relatively spicy. My first taste of egg stew on rice was when I had the pleasure of meeting Jinjiwa’s mother in early April, and she graciously insisted on feeding us before we continued on from Accra to Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city. Banku is similar in texture to fufu, but instead of cassava and plantains, it is cooked fermented corn dough and cassava dough. Banku is customarily eaten with either fried fish or grilled tilapia and a spicy pepper sauce. Overall, I have found that I enjoy most Ghanaian dishes, and I cannot wait to try my hand at cooking more of them!
It is hard to believe that another semester is at an end, and I am excited for what the future holds. I can truly say that these last three and a half months have been more challenging but inexpressibly more fulfilling than I could have anticipated. Though lectures here at UCC end on April 20 and exams finish on May 18, much of my work is just beginning. With the help of a grant from B-W’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Studies, I will remain in Ghana until August to conduct research on refugee-host population relations in the area of the Buduburam Refugee Camp. –April 16, 2012, Cape Coast, Ghana.