Friday, December 28, 2012

The Wild World of Accra

I don't think there's a place in Ghana that's as polar opposite to Bolga as Accra.  Accra is big, bustling, people everywhere, cars everywhere, money all over.  Bolga is small, quiet, much more a center of poverty.
I traveled down to Accra in November for Thanksgiving and my mid-service medical appointments.  Although this was my fourth time in Accra (the first time when we arrived in country last October, and then when I left for and returned from my trip back home in the summer), it was my first true Accra experience.  All three visits before I was only in Accra for a total of about 4-5 days, and all I could say I checked off my Accra To-Do list was go to the mall and see a movie.  This time I had a full week in the capital city, and it will probably be the longest I'll be there until I leave.
Luckily I had Kyndra with me to help me navigate Accra, and more specifically Osu, the area of Accra where the U.S. Embassy is, where the Peace Corps office is located and where a lot of ex-pats live.  So its a very nice area.  We arrived the day before Thanksgiving and stayed with the homestay families that the office set us up with.  I've always heard great things about the ex-pat families that PCVs have befriended, but I swear I hit the jackpot with my homestay.  The couple I stayed with were so very welcoming and friendly and interesting and they just let me have free rein of their house.  The husband, Steve, works for USAID and the wife, Nansie, is a tutor for international students in the area.
I was the only PCV at this homestay, which at first made me feel a little awkward, but I quickly came to enjoy the hospitality they gave all to me.  First thing I was shown was my room: A/C and a down-comforter.  Awesome.  Second stop on the tour:  TV.  Awesome x 10.  After a long day of travel, I pampered myself with a SHOWER, then proceeded to take advantage of the TV before dinner.  SPORTS!  COOKING SHOWS!  GLAMOROUS PEOPLE ON PROJECT RUNWAY!  OH MY!
Come dinner time, I was offered a beverage:  water, soda, wine, Corona.  Wait, HOLD UP, did you just say CORONA?!?  Oh, yes, that just happened.  And that was the exact moment when I realized I had hit the jackpot- clearly these are my people.  In any other situation, I would have taken the real, bottled wine.  But this was no ordinary situation.
Over a dinner of baked chicken, green salad with real, crumbled cheese, grilled veggies and bread with real butter, I got to know more about the ex-pat life in West Africa and their kids, and they peppered me with questions about Peace Corps, my projects, my site, and my experience.  I definitely told them some thing about my time here that surprised them!  It was so nice to sit down at a table, have a lovely meal and have a great conversation.  It surely made me miss dinner time at home.
After dinner, I watched a soccer game with Nansie, and then I was convinced to go salsa dancing with my homestay brother, Daniel.  (He's actually a Ghanaian who has known this family for a long time.  He's a musician and photographer, and is soon going to marry his American girlfriend.)  I'm so glad I made the decision to go out, it was the right one!  Its been since I was in Costa Rica three years that I last salsa danced, and I forgot how much I had to practice at it, but it was so much fun.  I definitely did a lot of watching, but for me that was even more fun than actually dancing.  The Ghanaians were such good salsa dancers- then again I shouldn't have been surprised since they are amazing dancers anyway.  We even ran into a group of PCVs that came to this same salsa place, its definitely a popular spot. 
After salsa dancing closed down for the night, we went to the nightclub Eppos.  When we got there at midnight, the dancing hadn't started up yet, so we had some particularly sandy street meat and drinks out on the street by the bar area.  Daniel at one point turned to me and said, "There are a lot of gay people that come here."  I was already getting that idea, but when he confirmed it, all I could think was AWESOME.  Homosexuality is illegal in Ghana, but at least in Accra these people can find a place to go have fun and be themselves.  That made me happy.  Too bad Accra is about the only place in Ghana you could get away with it.  We even joined up with a group that had been at the salsa dancing place.  I definitely made up for all the dancing I have not done the past 14 months!
Thursday was a lazy day before the feast.  I watched some TV while eating pancakes and drinking coffee, and eating American junk food snacks.  Mmm.  At one, I went over to the ambassador's house for Thanksgiving!  What a big, amazing celebration it was!  Pre-dinner drinks (I went with some real sangria), followed by feasting, finished off with dessert and coffee. We were treated to all the classics- turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, salad, creamed cauliflower- I was in heaven.  It was all so fabulous, the cooks did a great job, and there was no shortage of anything.  The ambassador paid for the meal out of his own pocket, so needless to say we were all very, very grateful for his generosity.  And he was a PCV once too, so he understood where we were coming from.
I thought about Thanksgiving a year ago, the feast we had in Kongo with our then-training group.  I thought about now thankful I am for all this- the new friends, the amazing, crazy, unforgettable experiences I've had this past year.  But I thought most of all about family and friends at home- how thankful I am that they have supported me throughout this whole process, no matter how difficult it has been for them. 
After dinner lots of people continued the party- we went to Ryan's Irish Pub to watch live NFL, then to Duncan's for 1.50 cedi beers and shwarmas across the street (not like we needed more to eat, but they were pretty darn good!!)
I had a weekend to kill between t-day and mid-service medical appointments, which were Mon-Wed the following week.  Luckily, my homestay offered to let me stay with them for the weekend, and they would have let me stay as long as long as I wanted, literally.  Who knows what I would have done otherwise, I would have figured it out, but I'm very glad it worked out the way it did because it helped me save a lot of travel and lodging expenses.  Then again, running around Accra isn't exactly a money-saver.
Friday was another lazy day watching NFL college games from the day before.  For lunch, my homestay parents introduced me to this amazing Cote D'Ivoirean restaurant, Clarissa's, in Osu.  They lived in Cote D'Ivoire for a long time before coming to Ghana, so this is one of their favorite places to eat.  And now it is my favorite place in Accra (I went there three times in 5 days- hey, I don't know when I'll be back!).  We got a bunch of attieke (I'm not sure of the spelling), which was a couscous-like grain and poulet (grilled chicken with this amazing, fresh salsa of tomato, onion and hot pepe).  All of that was mixed together and topped with a green or red sauce- heaven.  The chicken was grilled wonderfully, and the fresh salsa and sauces added great flavor to the initially plain grain.  (The next day I had the same thing, but with the grilled tilapia- equally as fantastic.)  I won't be in Accra much this last year in Ghana, but I know I will eat here every time I am.
Saturday I continued my tour of Accra nightlife.  Daniel and I started at the jazz club +233 where we met up with a bunch of his friends.  It was great to see live music again!  (Well, I guess I do see a lot of live music in my village- the local guitar, talking drums and traditional singing, and the clapping and dancing- but outside of my village I haven't been to any performances.)  I've missed going to concerts.  The band was very good, and the trombonist was especially great.
At midnight the jazz ended, so then it was off to see all the other nightclubs- Duplex, Eppos again, and then another one...forgot the name.  Eppos was definitely very straight this time, so maybe Wednesday was the exception.
My mid-service medical appointments were uneventful.  But that of course is good, I am healthy.  I will not be one of those people med-evacuated to Senegal, Morocco or South Africa, no sirree!  I am very grateful for my health, for sure.  It was just me and Dennis (also from the UE) hanging out at the office for our appointments.  We tried some restaurants in the area, got egg sammies down the street every morning, navigated our way to our dentist appointments, and I even took him to Clarissa's!  Daniel wanted to continue our going out every night, but I had to decline.  Accra is way too expensive, and after three very full nights of clubbing, I was beat.  Not so much physically, but mentally.  It took a lot of energy to be in a big, crazy city, to adjust my perspective to the atmosphere.  No doubt I had a blast, it was fun to go out again, stay up til the wee hours of the morning, feel like a girl again, but the three nights is the entirety of my nightlife experience in my whole service.  (I have yet to go out in Bolga, but really I have no interest whatsoever in seeing what its like.)  The life couldn't be more opposite to the one I lead in Kongo where I got to bed at 8:30 after reading a book by candlelight.
The week in Accra was fun though.  Tiring, but fun.  I had enough excitement to last me the next nightlife-less  year-ish.  I now know a great ex-pat family, I can now say I've experienced Accra, and now the north looks even more bleak that it did before, but even more so than ever, I know the north is my home here in Ghana.

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