Conquering the Basics of Living in Ghana

by Laurie Cale

You may have thought yourself the master of eating and sleeping, having performed these simple tasks repeatedly throughout most of your life, but as will be described, things are different in Ghana.

A rooster spawned from Satan
A rooster spawned from Satan. Photo by Michael Sean Gallagher

Sleep

There are three main antagonists to sleeping in Accra: mosquitos, the heat, and roosters. The mosquitoes are generally taken care of by the wearing of bug spray and through the use of the mosquito net, which provides a cozy little canopy with which to sleep under.  A ceiling fan effectively combats the heat, if you’re lucky enough to have access to one. For times when the electricity is out, however, a battery operated personal fan is recommended if one has a difficult time sleeping in a puddle of one’s own sweat. Light, cotton pajamas are also advisable if unable to go commando for the night. Having set-up your malaria-preventing fort, the fan thrumming along swimmingly above you, you may think you are in for a pleasant night’s sleep. How wrong you are. There will be roosters. 

These devilish creatures do not, in fact, arise with the dawn as legend has fabled them to do, but rather resoundingly at the hour of 4:30 a.m. and every hour from that time on.  The sound produced from the depths of their pompous chests is blood curdling, akin to the cries from some distant region of hell reserved for the only the most malicious of sinners. One call is enough to provoke a choir of responses from nearby and the surrounds, the cucrkacucrkacawwwwww echoing across the land like the trumpeting of war. The sound will invade your dreams and haunt your mornings as you spend more and more time imagining all of the variety of ways one may violently kill a chicken, and there are many. Thinking to enact a preemptive strike, one may try arming oneself with broom and horn to scare them out of the mango tree that is their favorite roosting spot (and that naturally must stand right outside your bedroom window) the night before. Zoom out of the area they will, talons back-pedaling grass in their efforts to flee. But never doubt that they will return once you’ve drifted off into a state of peace. Their demonic senses alert to your unconsciousness, their screeches will raise you from sleep once again.  If your window is open, investment in a slingshot seems like a valid and enticing alternative, however, if dislike of animal cruelty (even animals spawned from Satan) prevents this from being an option, bothersome earplugs may be the only solution for a full night’s sleep.  Some anger management against poultry may be additionally required.

Eat Fufu

Fufu, starchy dough made from cassava or plantain that is first boiled, then pounded with a long flattened stick of sorts, is a staple food throughout Ghana.  It is, with its accompanying soup, delicious and more wonderfully still, a finger food.  Fufu is prepared in great batches at chop bars throughout the city of Accra. To order, one requests the amount by price that one wishes to consume. One cedi, roughly equivalent to 50 cents, is a lot of fufu, enough to make an average person satisfactorily full. One cedi fifty pesewas is manageable if one is adequately hungry, and two cedis seems an impossible goal, but is regularly eaten by many Ghanaians who prefer to take one large meal in a day.  The fufu is scooped out from its original mass in the pounding bucket and, if taking it on spot, is plopped into a large plastic bowl. You will next be asked which soup you would like to take with it, free with the fufu. Palm nut, groundnut (a.k.a. peanut), and light soup are the most common varieties and you can order any combination of the three. All are delicious, with varying amounts of spice.  You may also request meat to be put in the soup. Common types are goat, fish such as tilapia (served and consumed whole), and cow intestines. Again, all are recommended.

You now have your bowl filled with steaming soup and fufu, but before you can eat, you must wash your hands in the bowls provided with what can only be described as dish soap, some brands smelling oddly of bubblegum. Once properly scrubbed, you are ready to dig in, literally. With traditionally your right hand (the left is reserved for a more unsavory task), scoop out a portion of fufu, which now resembles an iceberg protruding from an ocean of soup, and make an indent in the soft dough with your thumb. Let soup fill into this gap before raising the fufu to your mouth. Grasp it with your first three fingers and thumb and use your thumb again, only this time, as a kind of tool to forklift the fufu into your mouth.  

For best effect, do not chew the fufu, but rather, flatten it with your tongue before letting it slide down your throat, as though you were eating ice cream.  It is so, so nice.  If the soup runs out before the fufu, a free refill may be had. It takes some practicing to get to this point, so don’t feel bad if the reverse happens and you are left with half an inch of soup still in your bowl.  Possible side effects while eating fufu may occur including, but not limited to: orange mouth, profound perspiration, an overall sense of well-being, and the requiring of a nap.