Monday, February 2, 2009

The Rest Of A Day In The Life Of...

...man the infrastructure for internet is just collapsing around here. By the way, I'm getting online so much because I'm taking a sort of weekend off to travel to the Peace Corp's Kumasi sub office and restock on vital food, books, and pick up my mail.

Anyway, so lunch usually consists of ampassee (boiled yam slices dipped in a variety of soups prepared using palm oil, garden eggs, tomatoes, fish, okra, and a couple other staples), gari foto (gari is dried, lightly fermented cassava grits and gari foto is reconstituted gari fried up with canned fish a revolving cast of the same staples), or something a little more exotic like curried rice (although after making the curried rice there's nothing to do but add tomatoes, okra, onions, fish, etc.). I really enjoy the cooking, and attempting to make some Ghanaian dishes as well as Ghana-ified Western cooking. Things end up tasting pretty similar because, no matter how you slice it, there are basically only four or five ingredients available all the time here. Fruit is seasonal, and mango season is fast approaching, when we will eat mangos until we're sick. Pawpaw season is winding down, when I ate pawpaws until I was sick. Literally.

After lunch I generally take a couple hours and chill out, listen to my iPod, read, or whatever. That's partly because I need the rest, partly because it's just too damn hot to do anything (the town shuts down, changing from a sort of familiar bustling small town to something abandoned out of a zombie movie or a western). One of the really interesting things about Peace Corps is that your media spigot is turned down to a trickle, and the lack of regular access to books, music, news, etc. has changed my relationship to media. For example: Neil Young's "After the Goldrush" is not, in fact, typical '70s music that sounds exactly like every other folk LP from that time period, but a rich goldmine for repeated listening. Less sarcastically, last summer I hung out with my sister Hannah, and she would regularly bring up references to literature in our conversation that would elucidate exactly what we were discussing. I admired that, and wanted to emulate her. It's easier to do here, where the five books you've got on your shelf may need to last a couple months. So I read more slowly, especially in the afternoon, and more deeply. Tolstoy...my God, Tolstoy. I don't know that I've ever read books more relevant to my life than Tolstoy's.

--Brief digression: I met up with my friend Will in Sunyanni a few days ago. We are each other's closest neighbors out in very rural Brong-Ahofa, so we've been profitably trading books back in forth when we meet up at the local markets. Recently I passed him "War and Peace" (I also have his copy of "Anna Karenina" at home) and we were walking through Sunyanni on the way to get a beer talking about life in Peace Corps, missing friends, and about how the ending to Anna Karenina caught us off guard and the qualities of Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, the protagonist of War and Peace. It was a wonderful moment.--

Patience usually hangs out inside during the afternoon, since it's usually a good bit cooler inside my room than outside, since we don't have any trees to give natural shade. It starts to cool down around four, and activity in Asiri begins to pick up again. People start walking around, you hear noise coming from the other houses. During this time of the day I usually go out and do a little bit of visiting. In Ghana, the way you show that other people are a valuable part of your life is to go visit them, not for any particular reason or with any particular design, you just show up. I'm not that good at it, it trips my internal wire for just about every ingrained bit of private, reticent New England culture. But I try. Right now there's just a few people I know well, but it's cool. After the heat is passed the garden also needs to be watered again, you can't water it during the full sun because the moisture just evaporates so quickly.

All of this generally takes me up until the early evening, when it mercifully cools down in earnest. For dinner I either eat with my friends Julius and Naomi, which is great, or my counterpart's family sends over a dish of what they are having. I feel awkward accepting it, there's another cultural tripwire about egalitarianism when it comes to meals, but they have assured me again, and again, that they don't mind pounding an extra portion of fufu (an amazingly unique way of eating starches, you cook them, and then pound them until they make a dense ball, then pinch off pieces and dip it into spicy soups). Ghanaians practice a culture of generosity when it comes to food, and in the end I'm glad to partake. It's helped me acclimate almost completely to Ghanaian food, and also makes sure that I eat at least one nutritionally balanced meal a day, which can get a little tricky here when you don't really know the right "pairings" (i.e. rice and beans, etc) for ingredients.

This account of my day is leaving out a lot; mainly a lot of impromptu conversations with my counterpart Mr. Barnabas when he comes over to use the office, with people who come by my house to visit me, with the neighborhood kids, etc. But if you spice everything I've written with those random daily interactions, there you go, that's my day.

After dinner it's dark, and I usually head inside to write in my journal, listen to my iPod, or most frequently listen to the BBC, which broadcasts an African news hour at 7pm and a global news hour at 8pm. Just puttering around the house, playing with the cat, occasionally doing any other work that needs doing, and thinking a lot about my projects in the community, which I'll try to talk about later. We've got a couple ideas rolling now, although there are a lot of uncertainties to deal with.

The reason I wanted to write out such a detailed description of my day is that this is what I do to keep myself in Asiri, mentally and physically, while in a sense waiting for bits and pieces of the projects to accrue. I don't mean to say that it's passive, but so much of my work here involves a random conversation with someone who is already test growing a new type of tree species, or learning that this community used to grow mushrooms commercially until the building collapsed in a storm, etc. So I do the gardening stuff, learn about how to farm, eat, talk to people, and gradually (or so it seems right now, cross your fingers) the projects begin to take shape. At least that's the way I'm thinking about it right now.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Holey moley, Sam. You always read voraciously. But now, cut off from other distractions, you're leading a literary life in a developing agricultural society.

I also have a better understanding of how involved a process cooking is in Ghana.

No mid-day siestas for us here in Maine. Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday, so it's six more weeks of winter for us!

Love, Dad

Anonymous said...

Hey, Sam--do you remember the sci fi book club--the leader (I forget her name) offhandedly said maybe B&N would have a great and long Russian novels group next--and I think they did although I never upped for it-you'll be able to lead one soon. Or maybe we could send you a James Joyce Ulysses--another reminder of early HS?? Watch for a 2nd box, as the first one had weight and postage issues! Mom

daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
daniel said...

hello. I will be traveling to ghana, specifically Kumasi, this summer and I had a few questions. What is the average cost of living there? for food, etc? Cost of a translator? Average plane ticket cost from the states to Accra? Any customs that are really important to know about before we arrive? Any customs of gift/money giving?

Thanks!

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