Once again, to be met at the airport! To know that someone has been waiting for you! To see the happy and relieved look on their faces when you arrive! So it is when George, a driver from Planned Parenthood Ghana (PPAG), and Aseye, our in-country AJWS representative, pick us up at Ghanaâ€™s Kotoka International and take us to our home for the next two months.
Accra, the seaside capital of nearly 3 million souls, is low-built, steamy, and sprawling, and our house in the Mamprobi neighborhood is a sweat-drenched 20-minute walk from the PPAG office. Located in the western part of the city, we are quite far from the Osu restaurant/shopping district, but the mere fact that there exists a restaurant/shopping district for Accraâ€™s international set is an enormous luxury and a far, far cry from our first assignment in Birpara, India, where there wasnâ€™t a restaurant or air conditioning unit for miles around. In fact, our new African home (which is owned by a Ghanaian nurse working in the U.K.) has more creature comforts than any of our overseas abodes so far.
The Randymon understands. My co-author-in-crime (and his lovely Nicaraguan media-naranja, Ericka) is about to accept a 5-year post in nearby Benin, where he will oversee a massive port construction on behalf of Uncle Sam. The Western media, he says, â€œis way off the mark on Africa,â€ a sentiment that many a frustrated expat in Kampala also expressed and one with which Theroux begins his book, Dark Star Safari (â€œAll news out of Africa is bad,â€ reads the first sentence). That is, the West is led to believe that Africa is all pot-bellied babies, flies, and vulture-picked bodies, when in fact, many capitals and port towns are thriving commerce centers with all the latest communication networks and access to foreign goods (and just as expensive as many Western cities). Outside the cities is another story, of course, and our counterparts at PPAG promise weâ€™ll get a chance to travel upcountry to some of their rural posts in the north.
In the meantime, we spend our first week settling in and getting to know our new colleagues and housemates. We have our own apartment-type section of the house, which we share with a friendly team of caretakers whose job is to ensure our safety and comfort. In the style of the Bengal Bunch and the Nor’Eliya Crew (from our previous volunteer assignments), I give you. . .
The Ghana Gang:
First and foremost is Nanaya, a.k.a. â€œYa-ya,â€ a smiley 26-year-old who has been with this family since she was a little girl. Each morning, she carries a cooler on her head to a nearby school, where she sells 10-cent ice creams to students, then comes home in the afternoon to cook us traditional Ghanaian dinners–i.e. plantains, beans, yams, and canned sardines in oily red palava sauce.
Odaati and Kojo are quiet, shy, and overly-polite boys, one of whom is Ya-yaâ€™s little brother and the other–well, we havenâ€™t quite figured out his relationships yet. Both are hardworking and, we hope, will warm up to us as the days go by. Watching them do their early morning chores around the house and yard, itâ€™s easy to think how undemanding and spoiled most American childrenâ€™s lives are, though Odaati and Kojo offer not a peep of complaint. It is simply their duty, then they are off to school in the yellow and brown uniforms that they iron themselves.
Finally, there is our affable caretaker, Effo, and his slim but trusty watchdogs, Brownie and Blackie. The dogs, at first, are terrified of their new obruni (white people) housemates, and they cry and pee themselves when we are first introduced. But Brownie has begun to thaw a bit, and weâ€™re probably only a few sniffs and treats away from all being friends.
And now, excuse us–weâ€™re off to Osu, to celebrate African Unity Day by meeting up with some fellow AJWS volunteers. Akwaaba, everyone. Welcome.