Surviving the Sun in Accra

My Adventures Living & Working Abroad in Ghana

The Price of Power…

…a price arguably worth paying at almost any cost – There is nothing quite like experiencing your first ‘real’ blackout. Mine happened last Saturday morning… at 4:30am, when we were frantically trying to pack and shower to catch a bus out of town.


Naively, we assumed that we were prepared for a blackout and were generally surprised we hadn’t experienced one yet, but knew that if it came we would be ready. Of course the moment that it happens however, you find yourself somehow surprised that you don’t have batteries in your LED headlamp, and you don’t know where they are so you spend the next 30 minutes cursing under your breath in the dark stumbling through luggage in hopes of finding those two measly AAA batteries.


In the end it was fine; we survived our first blackout and left the house half presentable after dressing in the dark. An hour behind schedule, we eventually made it to the STC bus station (state transit bus system) and purchased tickets to Cape Coast. After futile attempts in the last two weeks to visit the Gold Coast, we were finally going to make it and couldn’t be happier.


The drive was only three hours (to the West), and went by quite quickly. After checking in at an amazing little resort on the Atlantic Ocean, we headed to Kakuum National Park where we went on a canopy walk (an eco-tourism destination created by Canadians). The walk was amazing and none of us were bothered by the 50+ metre heights along the canopy of the semi-deciduous tropical rain forest. We weren’t fortunate enough to see a great amount of wildlife, but we did see a few truly beautiful butterflies along with a few tropical birds.


Next on the list of to-dos was touching a crocodile at a local crocodile lagoon… so we did (and I was definitely the most petrified). Nothing says safety quite like a woman holding a bowl full of raw meat and a thin poking stick!


The majority of the rest of the trip was spent visiting the two largest slave castles in West Africa (Elimer Castle and Cape Coast Castle). Both were created by colonial powers centuries ago and the European architecture was stunning. Walking through the slave chambers and condemned cells was horrific. We found it hard to spend two minutes in them with the high humidity, temperatures and lack of ventilation. It is incredible anyone survived up to six weeks in such awful conditions before being put onto ships which were typically just as bad if not worse. The tour guides that we had for both castles were excellent and I felt as though I learnt a great deal about the history of colonialism and the slave trade across West Africa. It was definitely worth the trip and although it was disturbing to stand there casually as a tourist, I’m glad I was able to experience it as it has played a huge part in the history of Africa. Recently I have been researching more into child slavery, which today still remains an unrelenting problem in Ghana especially in farming and fishing practices (ex: cocoa production).


On our last day at Cape Coast, we woke up to the waves and ate breakfast beside the ocean. It couldn’t have been a better finish to a great weekend away from Accra. The rest of my week is dedicated to laundry and hopefully Saturday morning we’ll be leaving for Mole National Park (located in the far north). I can’t wait to see some animals on a safari, but I can’t say that I’m looking forward to the 12 hour drive on washed-out dirt roads. I guess it’s true what they say – everything in Africa is an adventure – especially driving on the roads! 🙂




Part B: All in a Days Work…

Well its Friday evening now, I just got home from work and it’s nearing sun down. As I sit on the couch and sip from my glass bottle of pop, waiting to walk to the internet café with Theresa, I’m pretty relieved that this week went by without much trouble. I made my way around the stations to ride the tro-tro home yet again for the second day in a row, and it feels like a pretty big achievement.


With a clear depiction of the informal transit system from my previous blog post, I thought maybe I should move on to discuss the rest of the week’s happenings: our new job placements, a tour through the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Museum, a political riot and arrest, and finally, the topper of all great weeks… laundry, or lack there of.


This week was dedicated not only to getting a grasp for tro-tro routes, but also to become acquainted with our new job placements and settle into our research. Theresa is placed at ‘FIDA’ which concentrates on women and children issues, while Collin is at ‘Media Foundation’ which clearly, concentrates on matters concerning the media.


My placement however is with the Ghana Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), located in the Old Parliament Building. The goal of the organization is to mediate between feuding parties with regards to human rights injustices to ensure both parties come to an amicable settlement. The majority of the employees are lawyers by profession, but there are a few of us, like myself, who aren’t lawyers, but must still play the part in understanding the rules of the law and what does and doesn’t fall within CHRAJ’s mandate for mediation. At the moment, I have been placed in the Complaints Unit, which is where individuals must first come to create a formal complaint, before we can determine which department of the organization can benefit them, or if we have the jurisdiction to help them at all. Monday I will find out if this is my permanent position, and there is talks of placing me into the Women & Children’s Issues Unit which may enable me to work on a join project with Theresa and Collin (I’ll keep you updated).


Although I have only worked for two days, I have learned a great deal about their legislation and how the country is organized. One thing I thought was very interesting is that being engaged in Ghana is actually considered a ‘traditional marriage’, where the parents of the groom must provide a dowry to the family of the bride. An additional option is to create an ‘official court marriage’ where papers are signed similarly to in Canada. A couple can have both marriages, and can divorce from both. To divorce from an official marriage, its similar to divorce in Canada, but to divorce a traditional marriage, the brides family must give back the dowry (which is very hard for many families to afford).


This week was also very exciting because on Wednesday afternoon, the former chief executive of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation, Tsatsu Tsikata, was sentenced to jail for creating ‘economic loss to the state’. The State Court House is directly beside my building, so we watched as he was driven away to jail with a police entourage, and a massive crowd began rioting in disapproval à This year is an election year, and Tsikata happen to once be a member of the opposition party, who many respected greatly when he was in politics. Many are questioning if this is an effort of the current party to smother support for the opposition, but as far as I know, its all only speculation.


Well, after that excitement subsided, Vince took Collin, Theresa and I across the street from my office to visit the museum and mausoleum of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana after independence from Britain in 1957. The mausoleum is a gorgeous marble structure, and I have posted some pictures in the ‘Pages’ section. It was truly fascinating to walk through the museum and see the history of his life, the number of books and theses he wrote and see photographs of him with many other important leaders of the 20th century, including the founding fathers of the African Union (AU).


I am truly looking forward to tomorrow, as we have planned a trip to Cape Coast (west of Accra) to tour the city, the slave castles and go on a canopy-walk (similar to swinging bridges) at Kakum National Park, a rainforest reserve. It has been a long couple of weeks being isolated in our humble little abode in the suburbs of Accra, but I can’t wait to see more of the country and learn more about their history.


With that being said, I should wrap up this blog post, and try to figure out how to work our new washing machine. (Weird I know, but we splurged and bought a washing machine… its cheaper than having our dress pants and dress shirts cleaned each week, so we figured why not). If only washing machines were that cheap in Canada!



Part A: Transit – In True Ghanaian Fashion

It has been nearly a week since my last post, and now, sitting and reflecting on the week’s happenings, I realize that I couldn’t be farther away from home right now. This week was filled with a chaotic transportation system, a political riot & arrest, and a LOT of just sitting around and waiting. I think it would be best to divide this post into Part A and B to truly do the week justice. So here is Part A, based on transportation.


The week started off on Monday as Vincent (the brother of our advisor, and landlord of our flat) had kindly offered to take Collin and Theresa and I around on the ‘tro-tros’ to meet up with our employers and get acquainted with the upside-down transit system that is present in Accra.


**Tro-Tros: by nature, they are fundamentally run-down 15-23 passenger vans which give each passenger roughly 2 cubic feet of space to fit into (on most of my rides, I have not been able to square my shoulders up to the back rest because there isn’t even enough space to sit shoulder to shoulder).

  The absence of air-conditioning makes for an exceptionally hot, humid and windy ride as all of the windows are left open.

  There are two workers: the driver and the ‘mate’ (who hangs from the window of the sliding door shouting the destination to civilians on the street and collecting fares from passengers).

  My favourite tro-tros are the ones where the door falls off and has to be held on by the mate (which is more common than you might think).


Luckily for us, Vincent took us on the tro-tros a few days in a row, because it quickly became apparent that in Ghana, there is a high level of unspoken communication that enables the residence to function efficiently with very little verbal discussion. For a foreigner however, hand signals and head tilts don’t really paint a clear picture on where the tro-tro your about to get into is headed.


What we have learned so far is that there are three main hand signals used in our area:

a)      Rapidly pointing downward with your index finger: going to Madina Market

b)      Rapidly pointing forward with your index finger: going to Accra/Tema Station

c)      Pointing down with your index finger, while making a circlular motion: going to Circle Station


At first explanation, this appears relatively clear and easy enough… but in reality, these hand-gestures are often quite sloppy and nearly impossible to understand as one motion merges into another and then back again. When your standing at a junction between two dirt roads in the heat of the day, and traffic is rapidly moving past you, it gets more than a little stressful flagging down the right tro-tro and figuring out which way they are headed.


For the last two days, we have all headed our separate directions and have made it to and from work without getting lost… well at least not massively lost haha. We always end up finding our way home (knock on wood), so hopefully practice makes perfect and we’ll have it all figured out soon enough.


Being used to a bus system and the C-Train, it is hard to accept that there is not scheduled times, particular routes or regularity in the system at all. Taking transit here involves a blind belief that eventually the tro-tro you get on will actually stop at your station, regardless of how much time or what route it takes to get there. Work starts at 8:30am for me, so I typically leave the house by 6:45 which makes for a very long day when 3½ hours of everyday is committed to tro-tro rides. It is always dusk by the time I get home from work and nightfall takes place at 6pm.


With this being said, I will now officially state that I will NEVER complain about Calgary’s often tardy buses and break-downs on the C-Train tracks every again. No one understands a real commute better than the citizens of Ghana, crammed into a sauna-box of a van for two hours as you are constantly bombarded through the windows to buy things from sales people in the street (See the ‘Top 10 List’ posted under the ‘Pages’ section).


Although I might sound extremely pessimistic about this system, and frustrated about never knowing if I will be at work 30 minutes early, or an hour late… I think a part of me will miss the tro-tros when I leave. The passengers are always kind and go out of their way to be helpful, even if they don’t know what you want. Plus, I’m already getting used to being able to buy anything I want on my way home through the window… need more TP? No problem. Haha, only in Ghana J



*Quick Fact: It costs me roughly 1 CEDI + 60 Gp (Ghana pesewas), equivalent to about $1.60 Canadian to get to and from work each day

The Meeting of the Kelsey’s

I have decided that yesterday was without a doubt my favourite day so far. My day started off quite normal; woke up at the crack of dawn in an astonishingly bright room, surrounded by excessive amounts of noise including a few roosters I felt like strangling. What made this morning so much different from all the rest however was that it was fairly overcast outside and the temperature was quite a bit cooler. This alone can make any day in Ghana glorious in my books. I didn’t even wear sunscreen, so it was practically heaven on earth as far as I was concerned.

By the afternoon, we decided we needed a few more things for our house, so we hitched a taxi and went to the new Accra Mall. After grabbing some pizza, we headed home to quickly drop off our groceries and went straight to Legon University (aka University of Ghana) where we were meeting up with a friend.

**Back story: before I had travelled to Ghana, I was doing research and stumbled across a blog by another Kelsey (aka ‘American Kelsey’) who was studying abroad in Ghana. After sending her an email, we soon became good friends and she offered to meet up with me when I arrived.

Since she is leaving Ghana tonight, we decided yesterday was the best opportunity for us to meet, so Collin and Theresa and I went with her to a great local Ghanaian restaurant which her housemate’s frequented, and one of her professors owns. The restaurant had really great food, including Banku (fermented corn paste in a meat or fish soup broth) and kelewele (fried plantains with pepper and ginger). The highlight of this restaurant though was the live music. There is a decently large Rasta following in Ghana, and the live band was amazing. They played a mix of local Ghanaian music along with a few American classics like ‘Red, Red Wine’ by Neil Diamond. *One a side note: Bob Marley’s wife lives in Ghana now.*

After finishing our meals and dancing with a group of Kelsey’s fellow students, we were heading out the door when the lead singer in the band stopped us. He wanted to know if we enjoyed the music and would be back again the following Saturday. I replied that we would with one stipulation… that he promises to play some Bryan Adams (like father, like daughter). It took him about two seconds before he started belting out “Everything I do…. I do it for youuuu” haha. Apparently Bryan Adams is undoubtedly everyone now. Which reminds me: on our plane, each seat had individual tv’s and on more than one occasion, people around us watched the Celine Dion Las Vegas concert at full blast. People just can’t get enough Canadians I guess 🙂

We spent the rest of the evening at Kelsey’s house with her housemates and a few of their Ghanaian friends. It was great to meet so many other students who were living in Accra and others who now live here permanently. It was an amazing opportunity to meet up with Kelsey, and the 12 pages of notes she wrote out for us about Ghana are sure to be invaluable. Because all of her housemates are leaving today, they left us with a book on the Twi language, so Collin has already been practicing a ton. All in all, it turned out to be a most excellent day and I’m anticipating Bryan Adams Reggae style next Saturday night!


P.S. I now have a cell phone and can receive long-distance calls for free. To call out of Canada, the number is: 011-233-24-895-6351.

Getting Lost, Living with a Celebrity & Eating!

Well the past few days have been an adventure. Yesterday we took a form of public transportation to Medina Market and got lost on the way home. We decided to catch a ride there on a tro-tro (essentially a huge van which crams as many people in as possible). At the market all was fine, but getting back was hard to do when none of the streets have addresses and our house didn’t have a house number. Eventually we stumbled across a construction site and the foreman happened to be the director of the mission school located beside our house. He knew Vincent (who we are staying with) and offered to drive us home. In the end, it was a great and hilarious day which left us with a few memorable moments.

My top three Collin highlights from yesterday are as followed:

1. Ten elementary school kids screeming and pointing at Collin and repeating “China, China, China”
2. While walking past a fish vendor in Medina Market, a women asks Collin to buy some fish from her. He replies that he doesn’t know how to cook it so he can’t, and her response is: “Take me home and I’ll cook it for you”… followed by uncontrolled laughter from fifteen people around us (including Theresa and I haha).
3. Again in the Medina Market, a man stares at Collin and repeats “Ni Hao” over and over again making popeye flexing movements with his arms.

What I have learned from this is that even if your 3rd generation Canadian and have never stepped foot on China, you are still required to speak and act as though that is where you’re from. Needless to say, Theresa and I constantly feel we are living with the world’s largest celebrity… or at least in Ghana 🙂

As for a request from Amanda, Here is the low down on Ghanaian food as we know it thus far. There are tons of selection with regards to food options, but typical to my nature, I have only really tried the chicken so far. There are quite a few really great dishes such as Jallot (see picture in the Page section of this blog). Essentially, jallot is a very spicy rice, which is quite good. Ghanaians, unlike other nationalities in Western Africa often tend to use quite a bit of spices which makes most of their food hot. Thanks to my dad’s salsa, this is great for me and each vendor will prepare the same dish in different ways, with varying degrees of heat.

Another dish which is quite interesting in fufu. This dish is typically made with a batter of starchy cassave (similar to a yam or potato) and other dry ingredients which is then served in a spicy broth soup. Ghanaian’s eat with their hands, so this is a bit of a challenging meal, however they offer it with many different meat varieties, including ‘bush meat’ (which translates to be large bush rodent)… yummm… delicious. If Collin ever tries it, i’ll keep you posted on how it tastes. We have tried a variety of other items but I will let you know more about that in the future, and promise to take more pictures.

Well my time on the internet is nearly over, so thanks again for reading, and make sure to check out the pictures I posted in the ‘Pages’ section (located at the bottom of the 3rd column).



“A Journey to the South will bring you Unexpected Happiness” – fortune cookie

So after 3 flights, two beers in Frankfurt, a German danish and 27 hours of travelling, we finally arrived in one piece. It’s always expected that landing in Africa means one thing… hot hot weather and a lot of it. What I didn’t know however, was that walking off of the plane onto the tarmac, was about to feel like walking through a very warm damp cloud. The first step was the strangest: the back half of me was still freezing from the strong air conditioned 10 degree plane, while my first half was already dripping sweat, which seemed to be more from the 98% humidity than my pores. As the last to leave the plane, we jumped a quick shuttle bus to the terminal, and proceeded through customs. One stamp in my passport later, we were met by an entourage who escorted us to our transportation home.

Ohhh home… hmm… where to begin. Well I guess I should begin by discussing our unplanned additional houseguest. Her name is Charlotte, and she is a 4 inch diameter spider who resides in our washroom. After deliberation with Theresa and Collin, we decided to let her be (more so because Theresa and I didn’t want to touch her, and Collin has a parculiar soft spot for spiders somewhere in his heart). We tried to just take her outside but she was too quick so I guess we’ll just get used to her. The only problem though is that today I found another friend of hers… so we’re debating how many additional house guests we should plan on.

At any rate, our time here so far has been great. We have eaten a lot of Ghanaian food, and as promised, Collin has taken every opportunity to eat anything and everything. We already have begun seeing the city and wandered all around the university of Ghana’s campus. It was extremely beautiful there, and I promise to post pictures sometime soon. We also went to the World Bank and the Ghana High Commission for Canada which was neat. We found out that they host a big Canada celebration there, so I think we’ll be heading to that in a few weeks.

I’m rapidly running out of minutes here at the internet cafe though, so I should head out. I hope that all is well back home, and I will post another blog much sooner (I promise). Hopefully I will have a few pictures as well.


A Toast to the Begining

So tonight it finally hit, the realization that I am about to leave my consumer driven lifestyle behind, to embark on what I can only see as life-alternating experience. The next three months I will be living in, and absorbing, everything that Ghana, and West Africa for that matter, has to offer. The adventures and unimaginable experiences that will follow me there have the ability to change everything that I thought I once knew and may ultimately decide where my heart and passion in life truly resides.


For what I know now, I will be based out of Accra, researching governance in the country of Ghana and will lead a relatively similar lifestyle to what I have here… primarily the 8-4 weekdays and fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants weekends… however note that this is not including the hot showers, down-comforter and 3-ply toilette paper that I have become increasingly accustomed to here in Canada. Although the details of most of my trip are still in the dark (sorry mom and dad!), what I do know only pushes me further into the realization that regardless of what happens, in the end, I lead an incredibly plentiful lifestyle filled with all that I could ever need or want, and blessed with more love than anyone could ever know (thanks Matt ♥).


What I do know about here, allows me to truly look forward to what Ghana and the rest of West Africa has to offer. This blog will be a representation of my thoughts, feelings and experiences as I go through the motions… surviving the sun in Accra.