Saturday, January 31, 2009

“Going to See The Kids” by Tammi's Mom; 29 Jan 2009

GOING TO SEE THE KIDS—that’s what geezers and geezerettes do, but our kids have made it an eXtreme sport. First our eldest daughter, Terri, and her family moved to Budapest for three years so it was off to Europe. As they were packing to return to the U.S., Tammi and Chris took off for Ghana. We’re starting to feel like Amazing Race contestants.

“Going To See The Kids” involves certain things. You’re installed in the guest room, you go out to eat together, take in the local sights and maybe meet the neighbors. Same in Ghana…well, sort of.

Ghana Gothic

Tammi and Chris’s new digs are pleasant enough—a two-bedroom apartment attached to the high school headmaster’s home, a nic
e yard…except the yard is surrounded by a high fence with a built-in guardhouse manned 24 hours a day to remind them that, though they make about $5 per day on Peace Corps salary, they’re among the elite in Donkorkrom and their possessions may be coveted. There’s a goat pen in the corner of the yard where table scraps are disposed of and cashew and lime trees, not exactly common in Ames, Iowa.

Don helping out with the chores

The house has electricity and running water—at least most of the time. The electricity cut out only twice momentarily during our stay but when Tammi and
Chris returned home bearing sausages after seeing us off they had an anxious two days trying to preserve their rare treat without refrigeration. The electricity is also really nice to have because it runs the ceiling fans, providing cooling in this sweltering climate.

Our stay was during the dry season so I quickly learned to shower first thing in the morning, when the water was most likely to be
running. When it wasn’t you could still shower and flush the toilet by getting a bucketful of water from a barrel in the kitchen or shower.

In tourist areas of Ghana r
estaurant dining can be pretty ordinary if you order off the continental menu—you just have to remember that chips are fries. In Donkorkrom there ARE no tourists, hence no tourist menu, but there are several places to eat out.

The first thing I noticed when we were seated at one of the local establishments is that there was a squeeze bottle resembling dishwashing liquid on the table. The waitress brought individual wash basins and towels, substituting for the lack of restroom facilities. The menu for the day consisted of rice, light soup and chicken. We each ordered all three. The chicken went in the light soup, a spicy, tomato-flavored broth, and the rice came alongside.

The next day we tried p
atio dining at a spiffy new restaurant/bar/guest house. This time instead of the chicken we each ordered grass-cutter, the most popular bush meat (probably because it’s about the only one available). The Ghanaians can’t afford to be finicky so our serving of grass-cutter (otherwise known as cane rat) included skin (remarkably thick and chewy) and tail (toothpick-size bones). It’s never going to earn a place on the menu at Hickory Park. To add insult to injury the kids made us try fufu which is basically a large goo ball made of cooked cassava and plantain served at the bottom of the bowl of soup.

After that, the kids seemed to realize that the geezers wouldn’t survive long on restaurant fare and, besides, their Peace Corps salary doesn’t allow such extravagance on a regular basis. They’ve adjusted local specialties to the western palate and their home cooking suited us better but it’s not like whipping up a bite in a hurry.

Chris grinds the coffee with a pestle (only Nescafe is available locally). He also roasts ground nuts (peanuts) and makes their own peanut butter. An all-purpose condiment is shitto, a spicy homemade red sauce. My personal favorite and the dish I’ll attempt to fix at home is kelewele, which is made with plan
tains flavored with lime juice, fresh ginger and pepe, Ghana’s version of cayenne.

Although we saw beautiful vegetables and fresh fruit in markets as we traveled around the country, Donkorkrom’s dry climate apparently doesn’t produce them in abundance. Carrots were more expensive than in our super markets and not nearly as nice. Tomatoes were tasty but small. Greens aren’t much in evidence. Meat is a luxury Tammi and Chris can’t often afford and when they do splurge choices are limited. The meat shop butchers one animal a day so if you’re hungry for goat on a beef day, you’re out of luck. Signs which say “cold store” mean they have freezer food. The kids went all out and bought four chicken fryer quarters. After two hours of cooking, Chris’s and my chicken fell off the bones. Don and Tammi couldn’t gnaw theirs off. After another two hours on the stove it made a flavorful addition to the next day’s pasta salad.

One of those "special" mother-daughter experiences

Clothes are washed in tubs, wrung out by hand and hung on the clothesline to dry. A broom with no handle substitutes for a vacuum cleaner. For entertainment there’s a small TV and one government channel with poor reception. Entertainment is provided by the ipod or pirated DVDs, which are available locally. Without labor-saving devices, entertainment isn’t such a priority.

The Martins see lots more of their neighbors now. Instead of waving as your cars pass, you have time to visit as you meet on the road. Greetings are more prolonged. Though Tammi and Chris’s knowledge of Twi doesn’t allow for involved conversations, the locals seem to get a kick out of exchanging pleasantries.

Neighborly gestures seem more meaningful in a subsistence economy. When
we were introduced to a shopkeeper he gave Don and I each a one-liter bottle of water. We stopped to admire the yams a neighbor was bringing in from his farm plot to sell in the local market and he gave us one big enough for a meal. We went to visit a member of the school’s art department faculty and were accompanied home by his daughters carrying a picnic basket with our dinner already prepared. When the paw paws (papaya) ripened, quantities appeared at the door, lots like zucchini does in Iowa.

We’re glad we went to see the kids. It costs lots more and it’s way more uncomfortable than going from Colorado to Iowa and back but you can’t put a value on time together. We’re glad we got to see where and how they lived and to go road tripping together to see Ghana up close and personal.

We’re going to be happy too when they’re back home in Iowa. Waiter, make mine a saucy southerner and a peppermint patty sundae.

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