Friday, May 30, 2008

Things I shouldn't do in England...

Inspired by my Canadian friends Leanne and Heather, who have written three lists on their facebook page; “Things we miss about Canada”, “Things we have become accustomed to in Ghana”, and “Things we will miss about Ghana”, I was thinking of all the things I am used to but really must stop doing when I come home… …feel free to comment…!

Pressing abnormally hard on the middle finger when pulling out of a handshake in order to do the customary ‘click’

Speaking in a variety of ‘ah-haas’, ‘eh-haas’, ‘eh-heeehs’, etc., The meaning is all in the tone…

Asking people to ‘flash’ me… (missed-call or one-bell…)

Expecting to have things carried for me if they are bigger than a small Tupperware

Driving a left-hand drive on the right

Using the horn instead of brakes/ indicators/ mirrors

Using the horn instead of everyone else’s brakes/indicators/mirrors

Calling random women at shops ‘mammy’

Referring to a ‘little’ as ‘smaaaaaaall’ or ‘small small’

Getting genuinely excited when I see cake and coffee

On being asked ‘how are you?’ replying ‘fiiiihn’ with an almost inaudible ‘n’.

Waking up at HALF 5 EVERY MORNING!!!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Garlic? Bread? It's the future..." (roughly) quote Mr. Peter Kay!

Whilst the boys of this world were watching the football last night, the girls of this world (well, Leanne, Erin and I) decided to go to ‘Funkees’ and sample ‘the best Pizza in Kumasi’, according to one reader of the Bradt Guide.

It started off fairly well, with two out of the three of us getting our first choice for drinks… only the sprite was "finished".

So then we saw garlic bread on the menu. 10 months in Africa and the prospect of Garlic bread made my mouth water… amid much excitement we ordered one garlic bread, and one garlic bread with cheese. We were discussing what form this may take as I sat back, confident, in my chair, thinking really, what could go wrong with Garlic Bread? But Leanne, with the wisdom of one who has eaten at many a Ghanaian Chop Bar, reminded us “you never know what to expect in Africa…”

The waiter came over as we were reading the menu, to explain to us that out of 16 pizzas they only had nos. 3 to 11. Unperturbed, Leanne ordered pizza no. 5, the veggie pizza, and back he trots a few minutes later with “Oh, Sorry Madam, we do not have the Vegetable Pizza”. On further discussion, it turned out that actually they had no mushrooms, and if Leanne was happy with no mushrooms, she could have the veggie pizza. Erin then tried to order a cheeseburger; “Oh, Sorry Madam, the Burger is finished”. Ok. I ordered my Medium size tuna pizza, Erin settled with a tuna sandwich.

So, we sat and chatted and drank our drinks, while the anguished cheers and shouts of the various Manchester United and Chelsea fans went up around us, and waited for our meal. Erin’s sandwich came first, nicely cut into triangle shapes, held together with a cocktail stick, followed closely by two plates of what looked like more triangle sandwiches. The Garlic Bread, we correctly assumed, in a slightly different form from what maybe I had expected, but, eager to taste that hot buttery garlic on soft warm bread, we all launched in, only to simultaneously choke and deposit our mouthfuls on the floor. On closer inspection, the ‘Garlic Bread’ was a crushed raw garlic sandwich, on lightly toasted bread. No butter, no herbs, no salt and pepper. And the ‘with cheese’ version was the same, with a DairyLea Cheese Slice tucked in for good measure.

Then the pizzas came, and, to be fair, they were good – oven baked, with nice soft dough and tasty fillings. But Leanne's ‘no mushrooms’ pizza turned put to be a no pineapple, no sweetcorn, no tomato pizza – she said it was basically a onion and green pepper pizza, while my pizza was a large, not a medium, because ‘the cheese is already measured out in large portions’.


Monday, May 19, 2008

The culture of Football...

A couple of weeks ago, as all football fans will be more than aware, Liverpool played Chelsea in the second leg of the semi finals of the Champions League. I am now living with an avid Liverpool supporter (oddly most of the expats on site are also Liverpool supporters)... a rather gutted Liverpool supporter in the end... but it meant I was very aware of the hype and excitement surrounding the match, not only in the UK but also ‘in Ghana here’. This was even more noticeable as the match finished, as we drove a friend home in the dying moments of extra time.

Everywhere along the route there were people gathered around tiny TV screens in the doorways of the little kiosk shops at the side of the road. It was something that I had also noticed during the African Cup of Nations at the start of the year, when Ghana were playing. About 20 or so men and boys, and women too, will all be straining to see the game, sat on the floor, on boxes, but all around a TV screen which I would have been ashamed of as a student back home! The picture is grainy, the sound poor, but still there are very few people on the streets!

This match probably had particular significance as of course Ghana’s favourite child, Mr. Michael Essien, plays for Chelsea, which makes Chelsea the chosen team of many Ghanaians! But the Premiership is such a well known brand; everyone here knows all the players, and everyone has ‘their’ team, many of them Liverpool. Tony, the Liverpool supporting housemate, was talking to some little boys from the North a week or two ago, and all of them had their favourite players; Fowler, Shevchenko, Torres; in fact most of them chose White players!

Of course, once the match had finished, celebrations were rife for the Chelsea fans - but good natured and happy and excited!

Again, this is something which struck me during CAN 08 earlier this year. Whereas in the UK I have no desire to follow football, here I really enjoyed it, and I think it’s to do with the attitude to football of the nation. The chat before the match is much less formation and tactics and substitutions and more just guessing the scoreline and who will score and when! Ghana-Nigeria is a match with as much rivalry and history as say England-Scotland or maybe even England-Germany, but Ghanaians seem to relish the chance to play their biggest rivals and there are parties between the fans and friendly banter. They are absolutely confident that ‘we will score them’, even at one - one with 10 men and 30minutes minutes left to play. The underlying feeling is a passionate excitement, a real love for the game and for the 11 guys that will play the 90min, and a desire to get behind the team of staff who keep these 11 guys going.

I think this is a contrast to the sometimes antagonistic attitude to the national sport in the UK. I sometimes feel that the media and the public are out to get the ‘New England Manager’ before he’s even started, that the slightest mistake from a player and he is vilified for weeks, that rather than congratulate we are quick to find fault.

The local radio station made me giggle on several occasions during CAN with their topics of discussion. There was one as to what it was appropriate for ladies to wear to football matches, specifically that when they stood up to cheer they should make sure that their jeans weren’t so low cut as to show their knickers. They discussed on several occasions, including a free-for-all phone in, whether it was appropriate for the players to be banned from having sex before the matches, whether they should have half a day off, whether they should be allowed to be alone with family members while the tournament was still on. They asked more than once if God was Ghanaian, and again invited a phone in to discuss the topic! They discussed whether Ghana’s loss in the semi finals was God’s fault. My cook, incidentally, genuinely believed that God would act on behalf of Ghana... and my friend and I were a bit surprised on the morning of the Ghana-Nigeria quarter final when the pastor in church was praying passionately and fervently for the sins of the nation, only to link it in with a passionate and fervent prayer that God would forgive these sins and thus help Ghana ‘score’ Nigeria in the afternoons match!

The morning after Ghana went out of the tournament to Cameroon, rather than incriminate and find blame, the local radio dj’s were broadcasting messages of pride, and keeping your head up, and praising the Stars!

My driver, by the by, professes to be both a Chelsea and Manchester United supporter... so I don’t know what he is going to do on Wednesday...!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

January 23rd 2008... education of a day!

(I'm afraid this is another back-dated entry, I forgot I'd written it...!)

It started with me going to one of the houses we are renting and doing up for the staff to live in, which I am kind of coordinating. I’d had a phone call from my boss the day before. “Alison. I’m at Alan’s house. It’s Primrose and Pink. What Are you thinking?”

Oops. Well, I’d known the ‘ivory’ had come out slightly yellow, and figured once the ‘tan’ was on it would make the yellow slightly less yellow. However, they had run out of tan, so I had given instructions to get ‘Dark Beige’. So I decided to go on the way to work, to see if my boss was being melodramatic and ‘stirring the shi*’. Nope. Dusky Pink. And the yellow made the pink more pink and the pink made the yellow more yellow. Even with the very light cream curtains, it still looked, well, feminine. For a single gentleman nearing the end of his career.

So, never trust paint colours in Ghana, they mix them in the shop. With whatever they have left from the day before I think.

My driver took me back to site, and on arrival I was told I Would be going to the ‘pouring of libations’ ceremony that was scheduled for the day, and I would be taking photos. I had rather hoped I could sit in the office while this ceremony was to take place, but on the other hand was glad I had no choice in the matter and was ‘forced’ to go. This was about 8.15, and we were told it would be 8 – 9 ish. Gradually Ghanaian gentlemen in the traditional dress (I’m afraid I don’t know what it’s called... worn like a toga but either the Kente cloth or the printed cloth with significant symbols all over it) turned up and wondered around site. We all disappeared to get on, and eventually we were all called into the conference room, past the boy with the umbrella, where the six tribesmen were clustered around at the far end of the table. The PM introduced us, which was translated by Emmanuel, our enormous (but as competent as he is huge) foreman, and I am sure when he got to me the phrase ‘Mammy’ was heard. Oh well, I’ve heard it’s a mark of respect here! Second from the right stood up, adjusted his cloth to show full chest (it looked official, maybe he was just itchy?) and introduced the party – the man who goes in front of the chief wherever he goes, the messenger who’s responsibility it is to tell the community whenever the chief has a message, the deputy, the linguist who speaks for the chief, the left hand man (who was the gentleman speaking) and, “last but not least”, the chief himself. Throughout this, the chief was winding his finger in each nostril in turn. We were welcomed to the area, and told they would be doing this ceremony so that the ancestors would watch over the project and there would be no accidents or programme hold ups. Yah, opens up a Plethora of theological debates.

We then had to wait for another chief, so that was another half hour wait. Finally we piled into the cars and went the 500m down the hill to the lakeshore. There was a lovely fluffy white goat tethered to a post. The ghastly growls coming from it suggested it somehow knew it's fate. We ‘obrunis’ gathered some way back; I didn’t want to get too close, not quite knowing how my slightly squeamish self would react to the slaughtering of animals in front of me. I wish in a way I’d have had someone who could translate and explain what was happening, there was a lot of splashing of gin on the ground, some drinking of gin, a lot of chorused agreements to things, and then the slaughtering of chicken and goat. Really, it passed with little excitement. The colourful spectacle though of the chiefs sat beneath their velvet umbrellas was rather eye-catching.

So I think my second learning point of the day was something of a small insight into tribal culture in Ghana.

Now, with the formalities of pink paint (I went WITH them and chose ‘Suede’ which I have since been told is ‘looking rather good’. Phew) and dead goats (they ‘gave’ the heart to the lake. By this point, I was back in the office dealing with how we would ensure minimal accidents, in an altogether more Western way) dealt with, I could deal with the Real excitement of the day.

My first ever football match.

Egypt – Cameroon.

In the opening group C match of the African Cup of Nations. In the stadium in Kumasi. Near my house. £7.50. For seats on the halfway line.

My driver was having kittens about the traffic, but I had to change into my Ghana shirt!

I think I was like a small boy who is first taken with his dad to go and watch his beloved Arsenal or Man United. The excitement as we walked up to the ground was amazing, and it wasn’t even a home match. The stadium has been refurbished specially for the occasion too so it’s all shiny and clean, towering above people trickling towards the gates. I was taking photos like a proper tourist. Once inside the ground tho, I couldn’t sit still. I must have been grinning for England. Or Ghana, should I say!

There’s a few things that have made me giggle about this tournament. Firstly, the nicknames. I watched the Pharaohs against the Indomitable Lions, and then the Nile Crocodiles face The Bullets. I believe the Elephants played the day before, as did the Squirrels. (squirrels? I was discussing this with some American ‘soccer’ fans (yep there are some) and we were hoping African squirrels are slightly more frightening than the western version. Flying squirrels maybe?) Today, Bafana Bafana are playing (the boys the boys). Personally, I’m with the slick-sounding Black Stars all the way!

Secondly, the fact that at the start of the Mali-Benin match, as the anthems were being sung, the entire stadium was plunged into pitch darkness. For fifteen minutes. This international match that was being beamed to all corners of the African continent, live on BBCi, live on the BBC world service I believe, and probably streamed on the internet too. And the Most Polite British commentators were apologising for this, saying ‘I’m sure the problem will be rectified imminently’, trying to explain it, but, to be honest, I wonder how much information they were getting! I just had this picture of some Ghanaian in a control room somewhere falling asleep with their head on the big red ‘power’ button, oblivious to the world’s expectations.
The last thing that made me particularly giggle was the fact that the flags of the majority of nations in the cup appear to be a variation of red, green and yellow. So if you turn up at a match wearing one of these colours, you’ll be sure to be supporting at least one of the teams playing...

The atmosphere was fantastic, the sun shining, and (I say as a complete novice) the football great too! An experience I was to repeat...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

March and a bit of April 08...

Life here in Ghana is much more exciting now we have actually started construction!

The first six –eight months of my time here saw the site mobilising – it was a real experience to see how much there is to do to get a job going here, but I think everyone was ready to start seeing something actually happening. The team is growing now too, we are taking along a lot of local staff and also we have a student engineer out for the summer from the UK – my new housemate. At the moment we are excavating a 40m diameter, 6m deep ‘hole’ in which we will be building the first of the water treatment modules. This one is a Clariflocculator, in which particles clump together and then sink to the bottom where they are scraped off and taken away, and the clean water allowed to trickle off at the top of the structure. It is nothing like what I have done before... I have been known to whisper several times “never building another house as long as I live...”!

However, starting the work has coincided with the hottest time of the year! It is sweltering; we try and get as much of the work on site done first thing because by ten o clock you are sweating from bits you didn’t even know sweated! It sounds like I will be getting a tan, but unfortunately I am developing a bit of a Builders Tan... arms, face, v shape at the neck! Nice. Stripey.

Easter was a bit of a non-event as I couldn’t find raisins to make hot cross buns, couldn’t find any Easter eggs, and had to work all weekend anyway! We did get Sunday off though – and I went to an amazing service at 7.00am (favourite worship lyrics... “It is such fun to see, such fun to see, Satan Lose... It is such fun to see, such fun to see, Satan Lose... Cos Jesus is the Winnerman, the Winnerman, the Winnerman”... but the overheads actually read “...such fun to see Satan Loose”... which kind of changes the whole meaning...!), and then to Lake Bosomtwe with our design engineer from site. This is a naturally-occurring lake, created when a meteorite hit goodness knows how many thousands of years ago. It is my favourite place to just go and relax, the forest scenery creates an amazing backdrop and makes it so quiet and peaceful!

We got a long weekend the following weekend instead, Friday I spent in my pyjamas all day (a rare luxury!); then a couple of friends from Accra were travelling in the area on the Sunday and Monday, so I met them at a Butterfly reserve just outside Kumasi. We explored some of the old fetish shrines and then Kejetia Market – allegedly the biggest market in the whole of West Africa! I love it, for all it’s smells, colours, people, noise, chickens, cows stomachs, cloth, beads, shoes... infact, I am sure you can buy almost anything you may imagine in that place!

My new housemate and I had a Bacon Buttie on Saturday morning with the last of the Waitrose bacon I smuggled back from the UK at Christmas! For me, it was spoilt by the quality of bread that you get here in Kumasi. I find it sweet, dry, and goes stale the same day! This brings me on to one of the most exciting things that has happened to me recently... (Africa changes one’s expectations...) I Found A Bakery! I had heard rumours of a ‘food court’ style place, similar to one they have in Accra, but never had time to really explore. On Saturday though, I was showing the new guy around a bit so I thought we may as well have a look.

I think my reaction would have been funny to see. There was a pizza place, a fried chicken place, a Nando’s style chicken place, a bakery which sells real bread, and an Ice Cream Parlour. I stood gaping at the array on offer for about ten minutes. The grin on my face didn’t go for about two hours. I never thought I would be so excited about finding an ice cream shop. I couldn’t decide what to have!

It’s actually quite nice to get such joy from such simple things. I’ve noticed it too when I have been able to go to Accra, the excitement I get from bacon and avocado sandwiches with an iced mocha is crazy! It has definitely taught me how much I take for granted back in the UK, but also has taught me that we can all cope without the little luxuries that we think we ‘deserve’ after a tricky day at work!