Tuesday, July 21, 2009

calling teachers...

Katie from Kumasi came to visit me at the weekend. For the second time in a row. I don’t know whether she misses me or has had enough of Kumasi.

Actually she was blatantly using me this time to go and see Harry Potter, eat salad, sleep in till 9 in a room with AC and meet a friend from the states who’s here for a month to volunteer at Katie’s NGO. But, I am totally open to being used if it means I have people to hang out with!!

I met Katie last year in Kumasi at one of those hardest times of being an expat, when the community of friends I'd built up disappeared in a puff of smoke. I was sunbathing at a local pool in the hope of meeting new obrunis... and it turned out she was doing the same thing (I usually use the phrase 'pimping myself out' but I don't want to give anyone the wrong idea). That was her third summer trip to Ghana, and she was about two thirds of her way through. Katie is a primary school teacher from the states, and had just given up her job to set up and run an NGO to support a little school in Kumasi. Even though it’s a school where the kids have to pay fees, I think she was shocked by the lack of educational facilities and quality of teaching.

So Volunteers In Africa aims to help not only with the teaching, but also with training the teachers to teach - to control the children, use effective discipline, make learning fun; and I guess all the stuff teachers in the US and UK are taught as part of their training. Katie also provides equipment and teaching aids - she brought 14 hold-alls of the stuff this time! VIA also educates kids in the US a little bit about Africa, so the emphasis is really on cross-cultural experiences!

Basically, I think it's great, and I think Katie is great too and I think she has chosen a thankless task! Launching an NGO as the credit crunch hit was probably not the easiest thing to do (although she has ways of getting round it... never mind fun runs or lying in a bath of baked beans for a couple of hours, my Californian friend held a beauty evening with 'cosmetic injections' available)(she tells me San Diego, USA must be a long long way from Manchester, UK). Back at the school, progress is slow and frustrating, and the stories she tells me about day to day school life make me giggle but also make me appreciate how incredibly lucky we are to have available to us the education system we do have. I am also humbled when I am moaning about the service at my four star hotel or the fact I no longer have my own personal driver.

Please have a look at the website, and the cause and group on facebook! And to all my teacher friends, please get in touch if you fancy helping her; with teaching and/or with teacher training! Because it's such a small organisation I think you'd feel you were making a real difference even on a short term trip, and I know she keeps costs to the absolute minimum. And there's a great Indian restaurant in Kumasi.

Monday, July 20, 2009

chocolate cake

Only those of you who have travelled will understand taking photos of food... but this was actually the best chocolate cake in the world. It was warm and gooey in the middle, perfectly rich but not too rich, with smooth vanilla ice cream to contrast. And it was in Ghana, and an hour out of Accra.

For anyone who is in Ghana and wants to know where to get this heavenly food, we were on our way up to the Aburi Botanical gardens. It's probably about ten minutes before you get to Aburi, on the right hand side, 'Hillburi', a restaurant and conference centre, with the promise of chalet accommodation in a few months. The restaurant looks over the Akuapem hills and has stunning views back to Accra. The food is fantastic, the infinity pool clean and cool, and the staff friendly and attentive. We had to fill in a questionnaire and everything.

the movies, ghana style

A friend and I went on saturday to watch Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince in the new cinema complex in Accra. It's quite bizarre to have popcorn and sit in big cocooning cinema seats after having fought with the tro tro drivers of Accra on the way to get there, but at last I'm getting used to these crazy contrasts of culture that hit you daily.

What I'm not used to was the African way of watching films. Before it started, I'd say the cinema was about a quarter full, but of course, it filled up as the film was in progress - and not just the trailers, not even just the first few minutes; all the way through people were walking in!

There's a constant hum of chatter too. And people getting up and walking out. Mobile phones ring all the time. The gentleman next to me took a phonecall halfway through, wittering away. I very politely told him not to do it again. The lady next to Katie left when her crying baby wouldnt keep quiet, and was replaced by someone else. And a couple of rows in front of us people were taking pictures of the screen on their phones. And the sound kept going towards the end. I don't appreciate the interruptions to me and my beloved Harry Potter!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

the non cocktail cocktail party

We are having a cocktail (‘drinks and small chops’) party after work today as a bit of a company re-launch. Sounds about as exciting as a cold teabag to me. Thing is, I don’t think there’s going to be any cocktails. Which is flaw no. 1 in the evening. I would be a lot happier if I could sit in the corner sipping away on a mojito. Or seven.

It looks like beers to me.

Also, no one seems bothered about concept of driving home after cocktail party. So even if they do have mojitos I shall be able to sip only a half, being the only person who actually has a conscience.

We have a new logo as the 'four men' are no longer legally ours. Can you picture the four men, red and leaning to one direction? Well the new logo, with all the imagination of a fridge, is those four red men mutated into four red blocks all sloping in the same direction as the four men, shaded in the same way.

In the same 'imagination of a fridge' vein, they are currently decorating our balcony in the Ghanaian style which is: wrap bits of material around the pillars and drape them over the windows Roman-style. I could have done waaay better with a few fairy lights. We now have rosettes which makes the place feel like a gazebo wedding off of a bad American chick-flick.

Next, I asked one of the girls what the dress code was for tonight, and to make it easier, what they'd be wearing, and she said oh just this and gestured to what she is wearing; a navy suit with a pink top, so I made an 'o ok' kind of noise and she said 'so can you find someting pink disting' - well no Linda I’m not going to come in exactly the same clothes as you are wearing, that would just be weird.

So really I'm none the wiser on Outfit. Can't go home and come back in exactly what I was wearing all day; that would be weird. Can’t go for my usual uniform of jeansandatop, as what we Brits view as casual chic Ghanaians view as shabby. And not shabby chic. And I don’t wanna go African if the girls aren’t going African. Oh look there’s the Obruni looking like a plonker in a big floaty print dress. Nope.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

so much excitement over a little pot of burnt wood?

I am one of those rare commodities, obscure creations, exceptions to the rule, a GIRL, who likes CRICKET. Not to play, I don’t think I’ve ever held a cricket bat in my life, and feel sure that I would hold it the wrong way round anyway (at least I know there’s a wrong way round), not to mention probably getting knocked out by the first red leather ball that came my way, but to watch! And it’s not just the men in whites (or men out of whites).

I don’t even pretend to know that much about it, but I love the myriad of factors that contribute to winning or losing. I love the fact there’s always something else to think about, I love the strategy element of the game, I love the fact it takes five days and they break for tea and lunch. I love the relaxed and rambling commentary and I love the memories it evokes of long summers with dad gardening with the radio on, dropping everything and running inside when a wicket fell, to catch the replay on the TV.

Even in the UK I have very few people to share and feed my enthusiasm, most of my friends find it dull, boring, and complicated. Since I have been here I have tried to explain cricket to Ghanaians, Americans, French, Dutch… all of them end up looking more confused than when I started.

So here I am, on day 1 of the Ashes, that biggest of sporting rivalries, with the rain slating down from a grey sky, in an ex-British colony, frequently wondering why Ghana did not pick up cricket like India did, and wishing it had done. Even the Brits I work with do not seem overly bothered, and I think if I said the word ‘Ashes’ to a Ghanaian they’d think I was talking about bush fires. So I am sitting behind my computer, wishing I was in the sun at home, pretending to work, sneakily following Ben Dirs and his BBC text commentary, with butterflies in my belly… and hoping 21-1 already isn’t the start of something horrible...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

al's got the grumps.

I have moved to Accra, and as some close friends (actually anyone who asks me ‘how is Accra?’ and waits for an answer) know, I have decided that it’s horrible and I don’t want to be here. Cue sitting all day yesterday in my pants fiddling round on the internet, trying to beat monsters on my DS, watching TV and generally feeling sorry for myself.

I have decided that my flat looks ‘tired’, it smells because no-ones lived in it for a while, I don’t know anyone, Accra has too many expats, I’ve got too much stuff, I’ve not got enough work clothes, I don’t want to stay in, I don’t want to go out, I’m not enthused by the work I’ve been assigned, food is too expensive, I miss home, I'm grumpy with my boyfriend for going home this week, I miss Kumasi, I miss friends there... basically anything and everything, I manage to find fault with. This mood is reminiscent of a mood I had travelling with friends in Riga, also known as the ‘Riga bunk bed mood’... when I didn’t want the top bunk, didn’t want the bottom, didn’t want to go for a walk, didn’t want to be left while they went for a walk, didn’t want crisps, didn’t want chocolate. And I’m sure my mother knows this mood all too well... sorry ma!

Anyway so through some encouragement of some friends who quite rightly said if I was going to sit feeling sorry for myself then I was going to feel bad about being here, I got up and went to find the car that has been assigned to me for a few weeks. We no longer get drivers in Accra, and so I have to confront the potential of breaking down in the middle of Ghana, or indeed just getting lost in the middle of Accra. Easy to do.

Still in a foul mood, I headed off to the Accra Mall... a western-style out of town shopping centre which, if you have just come down from Kumasi, is a bit of a shock, even if you know what to expect! I did a food shop in ‘Shoprite’... after Kumasi, I didn’t really know where to start! I got bread and vacuum-packed meat and yoghurt and cheese and banana cake and Flora! Flora! I then wandered round the mall, had a mocha in a little coffee shop (which serves bacon butties!), went to get a ‘what’s on’ list from the cinema, and then spent a good half hour browsing the bookshop! It was like walking into Borders or WHSmith! Needless to say, getting out and thinking about things other than my disgruntlement cheered me up no end.

In my flicking through the TV this morning, I came across Hillsong TV, and the pastor was preaching about every day being special, and how we should rejoice in every day, because, as it says in Psalm 118:24, ‘This is the day the Lord has made’. I think it really sowed a seed and got me thinking. I did not rejoice in yesterday, I failed to find any good in it; I wasted a God given day wallowing in my self-pity! So today, I rejoice in the day; in my friends, in the sun, and in toast and mum's home-made marmalade for breakfast!!

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Instead of updating my facebook status every fifteen minutes, I have decided to accumulate all status-related thoughts I had in one day in one simple list... yes I need to get out more...

Alison wants someone to go on holiday with

Alison wonders if every white person in the world is born on a Sunday, what white midwives do for the rest of the week

Alison wants a ‘magic leaf’ in her pocket

Alison is a bit disturbed that half of Kumasi seem to know her name

Alison is looking for a small boy with a long tape

Alison is no one’s wife

Alison wonders why Ghana gets spoilt when it rains

Alison is wondering why out of 16 channels three so often show the same thing

Alison thinks CNN is a bit backward

Alison thinks Ghanaian onions have the strongest smell in the world

Alison just found some indescribable goo in the middle of one of her onions

Alison likes chatting to friends from home

Alison didn’t know you could burn lentils

Alison still needs to pack

Alison thinks burnt lentils just adds to the flavour

Alison still wants someone to go on holiday with

Alison didn’t pack.