"Africa is hot."

That’s what Matt’s best Ghanaian friend, Gabby, said to me when we arrived in Somanya: “Africa is hot.” He wasn’t trying to be cheeky or anything- he is an incredibly sincere person. He was just affirming my disbelief at how much I could sweat without moving.

When we landed in Accra- to the applause of the passengers, surely a harbinger of good travels!- there was so much to look at and listen to, but it was the heat that hit me first. After a long Minnesotan winter, I was really looking forward to daily temperatures between 90 and 100 degrees, and I have to admit, it was much, much hotter than I was ready for. Oppressive, almost. A shock to my frozen system.

It was time- about time- for me to sssslllloooowwww down.

One of my first impressions of laid-back life in Ghana.

After breezing through customs- no one even glanced at our declarations forms, possibly because we each only had one bag- we caught a cab to a small hotel, Frankie’s, located in Accra’s Osu neighborhood. Matt was chatty with our driver. I just kept my eyes open on the ride and silently chastised myself for not changing out of my long-sleeved shirt.

Our driver, like most Ghanaians we met, loved that Matt had taught there. He ended a lot of his sentences with “you get me,” like, “you know what I mean.”

Vendors selling a wide variety of products in a wide variety of containers lined the streets.
Bras and panties, among other things.

Matt asked the cab driver to drop us off a few blocks away from our hotel so I could get a sense of the neighborhood. I cursed my long sleeves and generally stared around in amazement at the people and shops and tried to avoid falling into the open gutters. We attracted a lot of attention. One man in particular, whose name I think was Michael, started chatting us up. He tried to teach me the Ghanaian handshake-snap combo, which was fun, but soon we were surrounded by three of his friends and we couldn’t keep walking. Something felt sketchy. Or maybe we were just tired. Either way, we wrote our names down for him and then pushed through the group. One of Michael’s friends told us we were rude and that we should be friendlier in Ghana. Matt just rolled his eyes and smiled at me.

The Osu neighborhood has a strong Lebanese presence; the restaurant at Frankie’s serves very good shawarma, actually. And interestingly, we landed in Accra at the same time as the president of Lebanon, Michael Sleiman. There was a big band playing for him. He was in country to sign a trade agreement with Ghana’s new president, John Mahama.

Room keys at Frankie’s.
While we checked in, I glanced through the headlines of the newspaper lying on the counter. “Teacher Strike to Begin Monday, March 18th,” I read. I poked Matt. He couldn’t believe it: when he first arrived to his site, at Yikrosec School, the teachers were on strike and remained on strike for three months. For three months he was unable to work and had to find other ways to fill his time. We’d planned to spend our first days in Ghana at his school and had hoped to sit in on a few classes, buuut with a nationwide strike, that probably wasn’t going to happen. On the bright side, we figured we’d have more time to spend with his teacher friends once we got to campus.
After a much-needed nap, it was time for food, and we started with possibly the most quintessentially Ghanaian dish: fufu.
Fufu is like a giant dumpling made of plantain and either yams or cassava roots. Everything is pounded together with a giant mortar and pestle (more on this in an upcoming post). The dumpling is then served in one of a few different stews, with or without meat. 
I ordered fufu and Matt ordered banku. Banku has a similar shape to fufu, but it’s made of fermented corn.
Fufu at a place called Asanka Local.
Many Ghanaian dishes let you ditch the fork. You eat and conduct business with your right hand ONLY. Left hands are reserved for bathroom duties. Sorry, lefties.
Fufu in groundnut stew.

We easily polished off our meals, using the fufu to mop up the stew. Sitting at every table was a bottle of soap, as ubiquitous as ketchup at restaurants in the States. I wasn’t sure what it was for until Matt dunked his hand in the bowl of water we’d been served.

We left the restaurant to head over to Duncan’s, a little bar that Matt used to frequent as a Peace Corps volunteer. Two little girls across the street called to us, “Hello, obrunis! You have long hair! It is pretty! We like it!” I assume they were talking to me. (Check out his new ‘do!)

At Duncan’s, I tried my first Castle (pronounced cast-uhl), a delicious milk stout and favorite of Matt’s. We met Duncan, who remembered Matt and embraced us both.

Ghana is very near the equator, so the sun predictably rises at 6ish and sets at 6ish every day of the year. By the time it was dark, I was so jet-lagged that I could barely keep my eyes open. We headed back to the hotel, and I slept hard. By sunrise the next day, I was ready for our first in-country trip to Matt’s site in Somanya.

Stay tuned!

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