19 August, 8:00pm GMT – Downtown Accra

Today is our last full day in Ghana and our last day with Lianna and Brian. Tomorrow will be the last day I wake up at 4am to a rooster that won’t be quiet. Perhaps I’m just going insane, but the rooster’s crow here sounds nothing like “cock-a-doodle-doo” and a lot like the way the children cry out “obruni!”.  Going home and waking up to my alarm clock, a hot shower, and the morning paper is going to be an adjustment indeed.

Today, we visited the artist stalls in the Accra market. This market is like the art center in Kumasi, except much larger, and the vendors sell more kitschy items, such as t-shirts and cheap jewelry rather than handmade bags. It’s a huge grid of identically spaced stalls with two-story walls, a veritable rat maze of vendors that nearly sell the same thing, such that it’s impossible to remember which vendor promised you that good price before you left to use it as bait for negotiating elsewhere. We made friends with a vendor, who escorted us to the nearest ATM so Roxane could try to withdraw more money for the market. I ended up buying ludo (which Shreya found for me!), a hand-painted t-shirt, two batik print shirts, kente cloth, a batik print fabric spread, 4 paintings, 6 pairs of earrings, a wallet, and some kente cloth jewelry.  It was exhausting and took almost three hours, but we all managed to find gifts for everyone back home.

That evening, we explored downtown Accra on foot. We didn’t know exactly where we were going, but we knew that we could always call a taxi to take us home. We passed by a fashion show, a few memorials, and visited an arts center that turned out to have a concert playing that evening. While I was looking at the artwork there, a few of the volunteers looked inside to see what was going on, and ended up making it all the way to the stage of a gospel concert. On our way out, the local media asked to take our photo on their red carpet, so we posed in our t-shirts and khakis along with the locals in their evening wear. Once we got back, we spent a quiet evening back at the hotel, looking through photos and watching on TV the fashion show we had almost crashed.

Today, I wondered if I could have spent more time here. Looking back, I think I could have stayed another ten days to make my trip a full month had a packed a bit differently. First, I would have brought more to do. I brought about twenty “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” podcasts, which kept me sane on long van trips or when one of our neighbors at the hotel decided to blast music for a few hours. I wish I had also brought TV episodes or movies on an iPad, so I could share them with the other volunteers (I did get to share “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” with Shreya, thus introducing a Canadian to the wonders of NPR). I also wish I had brought an easy game like Cards Against Humanity, which I considered bringing but thought the other volunteers might be offended by (boy was I wrong).

I also ignored my own comfort in exchange for packing light, which helped since we changed hotels so often, but also meant I lost amenities that I regretted. Washing clothes every few days in the sink gets old fast. I also ran out of my nasal steroid that keeps me from getting constant sinus infections, and the smoke and dust here is not helping anything. When I get home, I’m going to get a prescription for antibiotics and drown in some hot tea and tissues. Next time, I think I would leave behind some of the snacks I packed – many of which I left in Ghana for the other volunteers, since we bought snacks on the road – in exchange for more clothes, medication, and an iPad full of entertainment.

Going home is going to be an adjustment. Having access to clean bathrooms, internet, and a variety of fresh foods is going to be a real treat. Never have I wanted a salad more than now. My parents called to ask me what I would like for my birthday dinner when I return, and I replied "vegetables." All of these seem like privileges rather than rights now, a point which hit the UOregon folks as well.

Despite this cultural shift, I will be bringing the culture home with me. First, in the form of the gifts from the market. I've taken photos of everything I could (by the time I took the photos, I had already given away most of the gifts) and put them in the album. Second, is in the form of food. The most common here are fufu (see how it's made here), banku, and jollof, which are so popular that the Falls Rest Stop restaurant consisted only of a line for each one. I was not a fan of fufu or banku, since you have to swallow the dough whole and I prefer to eat slowly and enjoy flavors. Rice dishes here were always delicious, especially jollof, and were easy to get vegetarian or with a boiled egg. You can also order rice with fish, but it's a small, fried, bony fish with barely any meat that is as difficult to eat as horseshoe crabs. For snacks, you can buy fried yams with hot sauce, corn on the cob (which is cooked so it's halfway between popcorn and corn), plantain chips, dough balls that taste like donuts, peanuts, and popcorn. At street vendors, you can find a variety of grilled meats and fresh fruits which they will cut for you. We often got pineapple and searched for days for mangoes, which few would sell to us because Ghanaians buy them when they are still crunchy, which the vendors have learned the obruni don't like. To drink, we had Milo or Nichoco chocolate drinks for breakfast, mango or pineapple juice when we could find it, and Alvaro soda. Pretty much any fruit drink you can find there is delicious. I'll be trying my best to recreate my favorite dishes from recipes online, but nothing will beat the real thing.

By far the best dish I’ve had this trip has been red-red, and the only recipe I could find for it anywhere was here. The rest of the blog is devoted to pescetarian international cuisine, so of course I (a pescetarian who is easily bored with American cuisine) have big plans for using this blog as my go-to cookbook from now on. The author is a former Peace Corp volunteer, so if you’re interested in reading an actually well-written and well-illustrated blog about volunteering in Africa, he’s cataloged his trip here.

The photos below are, in order: downtown Accra, food, the market, and purchases from the market.

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