23 August 2011 – First Day of COS (Close of Service)

I am in Accra staying at the Peace Corps main office here. Slept in a cool and quiet room last night; it was a good night!

First on my list of things to do for COS is to have blood work and test on other samples. Did that this morning. Then I headed over to the dentist. On my way to the dentist I passed Danquah circle where I stopped to take a few photos of the sculptures in the circle.

 

 

Ate at one of my favorite Accra restaurants today for lunch.

 

 

After lunch I went to the bank and waited 1 hour to find out that I needed to go to the office where my account was opened to close it! AAAAAGGGHHHHH

Then I did what any self respecting frustrated woman would do  – I went shopping!  Went to Max Mart and bought cheese, butter – real salted butter, sandwich meat, cereal, yoguart etc for meals while I am here COSing.

I am avoiding talking about BASCO because the relief I feel because I am no longer there makes me feel guilty. It was a tough road. Glad my Germans were there, Luise, Werner and Johan, to laugh and cry with me.

11 days to Houston!

-vc

2 July 2011 – Resorts

In Atimpoku I saw three resorts and there maybe more. I visited Aylos Bay because I heard you could eat on a shaded platform on the water.

 

 

 

My first course, pineapple. I had a good breakfast. I think the presentation made it taste better.

 

The view from my breakfast table.

-vc

-vc

2 July 2011 – Hawkers

People selling things off their head have been a continual joy to me from the day we arrived in Ghana. I love it that I can buy frozen yogurt, boiled eggs, water sachets, bowfruit, minerals, toilet paper and even a flash light out of the window of my tro tro. When traveling through Kumasi to the Sub office I always buy plantain chips a one specific intersection and spring rolls at the next one.

 

Atimpoku, being a major crossroads, has plenty of hawkers. Their wares are a little bit different because of the river. You can buy a kebab of oysters or snails and onions. You can buy a sleeve of prawns. And my favorite Bolo.

 

 

Bolo is a white corn cake cooked in a leaf the size of two hands. The batter is put on one half of the leaf then the leaf is folded over. Many leaves are put in a pot to steam. Oh the bolo is so sweet.

 

-vc

10 June 2011 – Thoughts on 3 years in Ghana

Today marks the end of my third year in Ghana. Seems like a good time to reflect.

Would I do it again?

Yes. Positively, absolutely, yes! Most likely I will volunteer for Peace Corps again through their Peace Corps Response program.

What have I learned?

How to take a bucket bath.

How to hand wash my clothes.

How to let the sun clean some of my clothes.

How to eat fufu and tee zed.

How to make jolloff rice, Wakeye, tee zed, banku, tomato stew, groundnut soup, palm nut soup, gari foto and crème caramel.

How to eat in a shared bowl with my hands.

How to squat and pee.

How to face a class of 70+ High School students.

How to speak Buli.

How to speak Twi, small small.

How to say a few words in German.

How to stay cool in 110 degree heat.

How to wear a two yard.

How to shop at a Ghanaian market.

How to get along with less.

How to dance High Life.

How to do traditional Ghanaian dances.

How to buy the best spring rolls off someone’s head in Kumasi on the road to the Peace Corps sub-office while riding in a tro tro.

How the people in Sandema rebelled against the slave raiders and won.

How to use gray water to flush my toilet.

What have I accomplished?

I can only have hopes about what I might have accomplished. My first hope is that I have inspired some students out of the 500 I have taught while here in Ghana like some of my teachers have inspired me. Mr. Grant, Mr. Farnsworth, Dr. Wilson and Grady Spires all contributed to my love to learning, I hope I did that for some students here.

I hope that I have given a positive snapshot of an American to the people in my communities.

I hope one person listened to me when I said that America is not the Promised Land. There are poor people there. Immigrants struggle and often take the worst jobs. I hope they heard me when I said it’s good to travel to broaden your experiences but where ever you go there will be obstacles to overcome and challenges to face. (Maybe this sounds anti immigration but really most Ghanaians I meet here think if they go to America they will get rich and that all whites will be as good to them as those who come here with NGOs or volunteer organizations.)

And I hope the friends I made here will remember me as long as I remember them. Even though America is not the Promised Land I hope at least one of them can come to see my home as I have seen theirs.

My Peace Corps service has been an awesome adventure. Like all adventures it has had some rough spots but these have been three unmatchable years.

-vc

One day in December – Crème Caramel My Turn

 Ever since Thanksgiving I wanted to make Crème Caramel. Twice I bought the eggs and ended up using them for something else. Today was finally the day.

 Last night I took the top off two Ideal Milk cans and let them soak in warm soapy water. This morning they were sparkling clean and ready for the burned sugar and custard. So was I.

 I collected the ingredients and laid them out on my cooking table. First I set the water to boil. Then I beat the eggs and sugar with a fork. Oh how I wanted a wire wisk. The eggs were somehow frothy when I added the milk to them.

 Then I remembered I should have burned the sugar. While the sugar was carmelizing I greased the milk tins and the notebook paper with Moi margarine. It is by far the best margarine in Ghana.

 I poured the carmelized sugar into the tins. The margaine melting made a lovely pattern and gave the sugar a sheen. Then I put the custard in. I folded a napkin (Dish towel) and put it in the bottom of the pan with the boiling water. Then put the filled milk tins on the dish towel.

I set my alarm for 30 minutes, grabbed a book and sat in my favorote chair. I could hardly wait.

The alarm rang. They were finished. Hot as the tins were I managed to loosend the sides and dump the crème caramel out on to a plate. All along I had been documenting the process with my camera. As you can see from the last picture taking photos was not the first thing on my mind.

 -vc

26 November 2009 Crème Caramel and more

Thanksgiving USA.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The smell of turkey since 5:00 am.
Family.
Stuffing.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
Cranberry sauce.
Madison High vs Skowhegan  High annual rivalry.
Winter jackets.
Friends.
Snow.
Chocolate cream pie.
Meme’s now Uncle Raymond’s sausage.
Green bean casserole.
A fire in the fireplace.

Did I miss it? Oh yes and much more than I  last year. Last year Ghana was still fresh and new. Missing Thanksgiving seemed small compared to all the great things that I was doing, seeing and learning. But this year I have been away from home for more than a year and am occasionally homesick.  So what was I going to do? Ever since I missed the July 4th picnic at the Kumasi Sub office I had been planning to go to the (KSO) and have Thanksgiving with Mike, Lenore and other PCVs in the area. But like most long term plans in Ghana this one was thwarted. Two weeks before Thanksgiving I had to go to Accra for medical purposes. (I am fine my doctor was just being careful. They give us good medical care here.) Thus I missed more than a week of classes. End of term exams were coming up and I felt I needed to stay here and prepare my students for their ICT exam.  Lenore was disappointed. We had planned to have Thanksgiving on the Saturday after and it was her birthday. I would have loved to share her birthday with her but Lenore understood. I sent Mike a text and he replied  with “God will bless you….”.

I had no classes on Thanksgiving Day. My first decision was not to be a baby and mope about thinking about what I couldn’t have.  I planned to have my own holiday.  I would read, do puzzles and take some photographs. In the morning I did the reading and the puzzles. I also had a mineral and some popcorn. The popcorn reminded me of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Just before lunch some of the students from 3C, the home economics tract, came by and said that at 12:00 pm  they were having practicals. Hamdia wanted to borrow my coal pot and some utensils. They invited me to come watch. I agreed thinking it would be a good photo op.

I had an orange and finished my scrabble puzzle. Then I took a bath. I put on jeans. I actually felt cool and now that I can again wear my favorite jeans again I wear them every chance I get. Last year at this time the heat and my weight would have kept me out of them. Changes. It was about 10 minutes to one and I had done everything I could to make myself late. In a year I have also learned that nothing starts on time. Even though I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach the whole time I am “late” I still try to be late. The exception to this is when I am in control of the situation like my classes. I will not be late to them.

I rode my bike to the uncompleted dinning hall. There were 5 people in the hall. Madam Miriam, the Home Economics madam, Dr. Jesus, a local photographer and 3 students dressed in their catering whites.  Madam Miriam was upset and threatening to leave because the students were an hour late. Dr. Jesus was asleep. The three students were setting up a table where they would do their cooking.

Over the next hour students trickled in an set up their tables. There were four groups of students. Each group had a table and had laid out their pots and ingredients in a orderly display along the edge of the table. Behind each cooking table were one or two coal pots, a small bucket of water and some more cooking pots.

Two groups shared a table where they would display their finished products. These tables had five stands on them, one on each corner and one in the middle. Over the wooden stands they had draped a lace cloth. Their serving platters were on the display tables under the lace, protected from the flies.

Around 2:15 the cooking finally began. Yam balls was the first dish they were cooking. The yams here are huge. They look like the calf of a leg. One yam can feed a family. They yam balls were very simple to make. The yam was boiled then mashed. They added butter, salt, white peppe and two egg yolks. I was surprised that they didn’t use the whole egg because in Ghana nothing is wasted. Then they formed the mashed yam into balls, dipped it in the egg white (ah ha!) and then rolled it in bread crumbs. Then this was deep fried.

While the yam balls were frying they started on the beef or cow meat for the kebabs. In Ghana they steam the meat. If you have read this blog you might remember me praising this  particular culinary method. The meat becomes tender and saturated in the spices added to the pot and its so simple to do. Chop the meat into 1 inch cubes. Place it in a pot. Add spices. In Ghana maggie is the spice of choice; it is very similar to our bullion and can be found in beef, chicken, onion and shrimp flavors. One cube of maggie for each serving, salt, and curry powder.  I add some American spices when I cook and leave out the maggie. I put celery powder, ground ginger and cumin as well as black pepper. Slice a small onion and a few cloves of garlic, to taste. Then put a small amount of water into the pot, cover and cook at least 30 minutes. In Ghana they are not afraid to cook their food plenty. I assume in this heat that well cooked  food has less chance of carrying disease or spoiling.

Next was the fruit drink which was made from fresh watermelon, pineapple and oranges. Madam Miriam shared a section of watermelon with me and I ate it as I watched the cooks grate watermelon and pineapple then sieve out the pulp. They used a familiar juicer on the orange. This was put into a lovely pitcher and placed on the display table.

The yam balls were ready. The four best were chosen and put on a serving platter.  They were garnished and placed on the display table. Students wanted to pose with their platters of yam balls and I obliged them by taking a photo. In fact during the whole day students were hamming it up for the camera. I did get some nice candids but they were always aware where the camera was and some even jumped into then photos. A few times during the day I told them to go back to cooking because they were so distracted by the camera.

There were plenty of yam balls left and I wished for one but continued with my photography instead of asking. Master Amino came in about that time. When I saw him walking around eating a yam ball I went to one of the groups and complained. I had been here suffering with them, taking photos and encouraging them. They gave master one, who just came, but they didn’t give me a yam ball! I got two. One from group I complained to and one from those next to it. Yum.

I walked behind one table to see a pot of yellow water about to boil. I think my face showed some concern because one girl hurried to show me the red powder they used to color the water. They were making saffron rice. Phew! I have eaten a lot of things in Ghana but…..

Madam Miriam was at a table and called to me to see the next dish. She was cracking six eggs into a metal mixing bowl then she added 4 tablespoons of sugar. She took a wire whisk. Wait a wire whisk I haven’t seen one of those in Ghana ever. I asked where she bought it. “In town” was her reply, “at the plastic sellers in front of Good Family.” Thats my friend. I’ll have to ask her next time I am at market. She began to whisk the eggs and sugar together. No could they be. Oh please don’t get your hopes up Vicky but could it be true are they making a dessert? Is that dessert going to be custard? I asked Madam what they were making. crème Caramel. I did shout for joy! I said I would watch closely to see how they make it without an oven.  Madam told them to whisk the sugar and eggs well. Then she told some others to caramelize some sugar.During the preparation I walked around to each table telling the cooks how much I missed crème caramel and that I hadn’t had any since I came to Ghana.

They had four small Ideal milk cans and Madam told them to grease the inside of the cans with margarine. Some caramelized sugar was then poured into the bottom of each can. The eggs and sugar were beaten to a frothy mass and a can of ideal Milk was added and folded in. The liquid was poured through a seive into the Ideal milk cans.  At another table there were four pieces of notebook paper covered in margarine. The cooks were covering the top of the ideal milk cans with this greased paper and tying the paper around the top of the can. This table used strips of polytin bags, another had string. The margarine was to help the paper stick to the can.

I walked over to the table where madam was demonstrating putting the cans of crème caramel into the pot. She filled the bottom of the pot with about 2 inches of water, then placed a clean napkin (Americans call them kitchen towels) in the pot. The cans of crème caramel were placed on top of the napkin. The pot was covered and then placed on the coal pot. Within an hour I could be eating crème caramel! Was this a good Thanksgiving or what!

With all my excitement over the crème caramel I missed them making a syrup from some of the fruits and the cooking of the rice. The rice came out a lovely light yellow color, not disgusting at all and was garnished with, tomatoes and green peppers. They were going to use the syrup on a fruit salad. They began cutting up the fruits but I knew how to do this so I wandered off.

In Ghana the rice must have a stew(it’s more like what we call a sauce and is usually tomato based). So a simple tomato stew was made for the rice. I didn’t watch because at one table the crème caramel was coming out of the pot. Madam called me over. The papers were removed from the cans and Madam slid a knife between the can and the custard to loosen it. (I was secretly hoping for a large chunk to be left behind in at least one of the cans.) Then she tipped the can over onto a serving platter. Then she dug into that first can and came up with a nice chunk of custard dripping with caramelized sugar, which she offered to me!

I followed Madam Miriam as she demonstrated how to remove the crème caramel from the tins. I picked up the empty tins and got the rest of the caramel out with my finger. The third group had made custard in a poly bag. They put it in a can and gave it to me, with a fork. Oh heavenly day, thankful day DESSERT in Ghana! I ate slowly making sure that I had carmel with every bite.

There were 16 servings of crème caramel on the display tables. I almost suggested that the cooks post guards. I was not sure I could control myself! As I was eying the desserts my phone notified me that I had a text message. Liz had sent me a Happy Thanksgiving message.  Students read over my shoulder we read Liz’s message  “Happy Thanksgiving! I hope whether you are working or spending the day with friends and family, your day is filled  with good food and fun!  We all laughed and I said to the girls surrounding me “Yes my day has been filled with good food and fun!” I immediately replied to Liz’s text assuring her I was having both and telling her the menu.

Charles, one of the two young men in the class, came with some questions about my camera. I gave my baby to him and watch as he took some photos near me. I relaxed when I saw that handled the camera with care and kept the strap around his neck.

Last to be done was the kebabs. The meat was well steamed and ready to skewer. The cooks cut up tomatoes, green peppers and onions and made the kebabs. They put them on a platter and then poured some of the stew over the kebabs. Weren’t they going to cook the kebabs? No, I guess not, the platter went to the display table with some garnish of spring onions.

Like ants at a picnic masters came though the door. How did they know the food was finished and ready to serve?  They claimed they were just headed to foootball practice and the aroma brought them in. Before they decended I grabbed a plate and took a heap of saffron rice, small stew, two kebabs from one table and one from another, two yam balls, fruit salad and one georgeous crème caramel. One of the cooks poured me some fruit juice. I found a student desk and sat down to enjoy!

Thanksgiving Ghana

Crème Caramel
Laughter
Coal pots
Fruit salad
Family
Kebabs
Saffron rice and stew
Friends
Yam balls
The smell of meat steaming for 40 minutes
Jeans
Bicycle
Fruit juice
Students

-vc

Food

Let me state the obvious. The food here is different. What I hadn’t realized is how acclimated to the food I have become until I was talking to a friend on the phone and described my dinner. Later in the conversation I asked him how he was doing he said “My food is better.”

 

‘What was wrong with your food?” I asked.

 

He replied “Nothing it’s better than yours. No leaves or fish eyes!”

 

I had said I was having vaata jenta, leaf soup and fish. I mentioned picking out the fish eyes because Ghanaians often mash the whole fish into the leaf stew. I was just use to it.

 

First many of the ingredients are different.  The greens are leaves or kontumari.  The corn is not sweet but ferments easily. Fermented corn dough is used in many dishes here. Garden eggs are a bit bigger than an real egg. They are yellow and they are shaped like an eggplant. (There is a photo on m flickr account) They are a bit like an eggplant in texture but they have a stronger almost bitter flavor. There are some seeds, agushi i think, that are ground up into a flour and used to thicken stews. Although I recognize some of the fish the fish is usually dried or smoked or salted. Goat meat is very popular as well as bush meat. Bush meat is any wild animal like grasscutter or antelope etc. Papaya is one native fruit.  The yam are like no yams I have ever seen so i’ll put them here in different foods! And casava, I like boiled casava very nice texture and flavor. The snails here are huge, as big as my fist. They do not taste as slimey as the ones back home. Oh yes and palm nuts and shea nuts.

 

There are also many familiar foods here. Mango, pineapple, oranges, limes and lemons, banana and apples. But the apples are imported and I have not yet eaten them. Chicken, beef, and salmon are familiar sources of protein. Thank goodness there are tomatoes. The other vegetables are carrots, okru (okra),(flickr photo) onions, garlic, cabbage, american or green peppers, peppe or chili peppers,  potatoes, corn on the cob, string beans, lettuce and cucumbers. There is white rice. A whole array of beans can be found at most markets. There are also many kinds of flour, corn flour, wheat flour.  Many familiar spices like nutmeg, black pepper, salt, and others. One fresh fish are small small crabs. they are no bigger than the palm of my hand. I will have to watch a Ghanaian eat them to figure out where the meat is!

 

Preparation of the food is very different.  My sisters in Suhyen cooked on a coal pot, used a grinding bowl and long metal hooks to help them cook. The coal pot is a stove. It’s black metal.  The base is a cube with one side open and the top open but covered with a grate. Four pieces of metal extend out and up from the sides of the base making the cradle for the coal. The shreaded shells of the palm nut (as kindling) are put in the base of the coal pot. Coal is put on top with small small palm nut kindling. The kindling is full of oil so they light quickly and burn long enough to get the coals going. The kindling is help along with a fan. My sisters would wave the fan so fast to make the fire burn hot and once the coals started to catch they would wave even faster! Finally the coals are going and they set the pot right on top of the coals.

 

The grinding bowl is wood and has ridges about a quarter of an inch apart all on the bottom and sides. There is an hour glass shaped pestle.  Each end fits nicely in the palm of a hand. I have seen my sisters and the girls at school use this grinding bowl and pestle to puree tomatoes, steamed garden eggs, garlic etc. It works as well as a blender if and this is a big if If you have the skill necessary to do it. I watch them and it looks like they are doing this elaborate dance along the sides and bottom of the bowl with the pestle and the food. It’s very cool. I will learn.

 

Many foods like fufu, banku and tee zed are stirred.  The home sized pot that they are cooked in has a handle on either side. the long metal hooks are hooked around the handles then the other end is placed on the ground. My teacher, Agatha, then sat on a stool in front of those two metal hooks and put each foot on one. when she did this the pot tipped just enough so she could then stir the tee zed.

 

Fufu, banku, kenke, tee zed and rice balls are all big sources of carbohydrates. Yam in the south and casava in the north are also carbs. These are often served with a stew. It’s not really a stew like we imagine but rather a mixture of greens, veggies and oils. The veggies are pureed in the grinding bowl then cooked in the oil with the greens. The meat or fish is cooked over the coals then put beside the carb and the stew is in the bottom of the dish. Sometimes the fish is smashed up into the stew like the example in the beginning of this blog.  If you go to a chop bar and you order one kind of carb, the kind of stew and what meat or fish you want. The stews are kuntumari, ground nut, palm nut, and light soup here in the south.  This can be eaten with hands. Amazingly Ghanaians and older PCVs can eat all the stew with their hands and scooping with the carb.  I cannot do that yet so i use a spoon to finish my soup.

 

I have also had kenke with tomatoes and onions cut up or rice with the same and some fish. I will mix my veggies and fish into my rice. I eat the kenke by taking a piece of Kenke in my right hand and adding some tomato and onion then eating it all.

 

Beans are also popular.  I have had the PCV favorite of red red. It’s beans in palmnut oil which is red and fried plantains which are red somehow!  It’s very good and not too spicy!  There is also waachi which is beans and rice with meat or egg.  Chicken and rice is often served to us when we go to a dignitaries or for special occasions. There are fast food and they have jollof and fried rice. You can get either with egg or meat. The fried rice is really not like American chinese fried rice it’s more Ghanaian chinese! Last night my fried rice had cut up hot dogs or what the Ghanaians call sausage.

 

What I crave the most are veggies. The Ghanaians eat veggies but not very much at one time and often they are pureed in a stew. It’s nutritious for sure but I miss the taste and texture of individual veggies. Even when they are not pureed there is very little veggie to carb. For example, on my last night my sister, Portia, made me spagetti.  A large bowl of pasta, some oil on it and garlic and onions. Then cut very small and scattered through out the pasta were specks of orange, green and red – carrot, american pepper and tomato. It was tasty. I am not complaining but just explaining. I think veggies are expensive to buy compared to the carbs so they use them sparingly. And I think in their active lifestyle they burn a lot of carbs.   Even cooking and washing clothes takes much more energy than we use and add to that the fact that they walk a lot more than we do and that farm work is very labor intensive you get people who need carbs.

 

I will continue to eat Ghanaian food and enjoy it but I will also be happy to be cooking for myself and eating more veggies.

-vc

 

 

Newington “chop shop”

Today Jeanette, Helen, Pat and I went to Steve’s, a local sandwich shop in Newington. In Ghana a chop shop is a local place that sells local food as opposed to a restaurant that sells fancy, non native food. Steve’s feels local. The people behind the counter are friendly and open. It’s a family run business. The mom and dad and their two son’s work there.

Today is warm turkey sandwich day. For the past two weeks I have asked about cranberry sauce and last week the woman who I paid said I should bring my own because the cooks were not going to make it that way. When I came in I was greeted with “She did bring her own cranberry sauce!” I handed one of the sons the container of cranberry sauce and said I want this on my turkey sandwich, please.  Helen seconded it!  When the mom came by our table she said “Oh they put cranberry on the turkey” and Helen replied “no she” pointing to me “brought her own in!” the mom said “I have been trying to tell them we need cranberry on the turkey sandwich, now maybe they will listen after a customer brings their own in.”

And of course, as I tell everyone I told them, I was going to Africa.  One of the sons told me about this young man who was in Africa and now works for them.  As I was leaving he hands me the phone and says “talk to him about Africa!”.  The young man again confirmed my previous understanding that the Ghanaian people are the friendliest people in the world.

Thursday May 1 the woman who told me to bring my own cranberry sauce is baking brownies for my last day at Steve’s.

Small town, small business, gotta love it!

-vc

Peaberry’s Cafe Simsbury

Peaberry’s is my cheers. I am going to miss going in there so much. My daughter is the manager. I love visiting with Leanne and Tracy and meeting the new staff. Today Leanne was celebrating March. “Don’t you just love March?” she asks when I come in. My reply is “I love March because April, May and June follow!” “Exactly” she replies “March is full of hope. And my birthday is in March!”

A woman next to me says “It’s his birthday today” pointing to the only guy behind the counter. “Leanne quietly says “Happy Birthday Evan” But I love birthdays and celebrating even a strangers birthday brings me joy so I begin to sing “Happy Birthday…” the woman beside me who said it was Evan’s birthday joins in “dear Evan …” then together on the big finish “Haaaaapppyyyy Biiiiirrrrthdaaaaaaaaaay tooooooo yoooooooooo”  Liz turns from the milk station and says “Even, meet my Mother!”

When Liz got me my chai she said “wow mom you even got a customer to join in with you!” I had to confess “It was HIS mother!”

Then I was reading the paper and it’s the day after the big prostitute scandal with the governor of NY, Gov. Eliot Spitzer.  The Courant has that awful picture of his wife standing beside him. I assume almost every paper did today. The guy next to me commented on how sleazy and self-serving  it was of him to have her there. So then the counter staff, the people at the counter were all discussing it. 

Visiting to Peaberry’s always brightens my day and I will miss it very much!

-vc

Thanksgiving 2007

Yesterday was the start of saying goodbye. It was my last Thanksgiving with family for a few years, if all goes as planned. It was a fun, happy, warm and yummy thanksgiving, tinges with a bit of sadness. My daughter and my new son-in-law had it at their house. Liz cooked up a traditional Thanksgiving feast. Turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Fiya, my granddaughter and their niece, was there and so was Liz’s friend Sammi. After dinner we girls watched football with Eric. Love that player named Kitten or was it Witten? We ate to much. We laughed a ton.

« Older entries