There was a nice surprise again in the mail today. I stopped by for more training in Kukurantumi and was greeted with the best phrase ever invented, "Hey, you have a letter." Something neat about the hand-written note though I muchly appreciate emails and the like. You get to read it and have it printed out for you to look at later all in one nice little package. Thanks Mom for sending it!
She did ask some questions that I feel embarrassed to not have addressed already, so here you have a longer post filled with details.
Where I Live: I live with a host family that Peace Corps had arranged prior to our arrival in the country. They are the best host family a guy could ever want. My mother and father are especially kind and treat me as a guest is treated in Ghana. That means very nicely. Their house has several rooms and my room is quite nice measuring around 10' by 12' with a door that locks and two windows. The walls are an aqua color which suits me just fine and the floor is a smooth poured concrete type of surface. I have the following furniture: a desk, a chair, a bed with foam mattress, and a small coffee table that houses the water filter and many odds and ends. Yes, there is a mosquito net outfitted just so above my bed so I don't catch malaria at night. The color is akin to a slightly soiled ochre but it can be any color for all I care, so long as it keeps the critters out.
So that is the room. The house itself is spacious and it faces a courtyard that is part macadam and crushed rock. Opposite the house is the kitchen which is a stand-alone building where a fire is always smoldering away, cooking up something good. The plot does have one other building that is under construction which is meant to house family and in-laws but for the time being the project is on hold. Near the kitchen and the addition is your bath room. By bath room I mean four walls and no roof. At about five feet high, the walls are meant to block your view in to the bather while not blocking your view out if you happen to be the one bathing. I must say I have had some really beautiful views out while completely lathered up. Also, the bath is done by whatever water you can fit into a bucket. I still think this is absolutely neat.
Unto itself in this house description segment is the VIP. All of our prospective home stay sites had to have at a minimum a VIP installed to get the nod for accepting a volunteer, and by VIP I mean the latrine. Ours is quite nice and doesn't have the smell you would expect even from a port-o-potty that you see at fair grounds. It isn't smelling like roses either, but you had better get that expectation right out if you are living here. You can sit if you want to while in the latrine as there is a deck that is made out of concrete that covers the pit but I would advise against it. There is a story to tell about this, but that is best saved for in-person conversations later and not for a web log where squeamish eyes are glancing. Oh, and VIP sounds pretty regal, right? It stands for Ventilated Improved Pit. Not nearly so luxurious now, is it? I should say that it does the job right, however.
So those things make up the general layout of the house. I am one of about ten people that live in the compound and there always feels like there is room for more.
What I Eat: This was also a question that for some reason I have not addressed in full here. I eat anything at least one time to figure out if I like it and if my gut can stand it. So far so good. As a guest in the house I eat alone every meal, just outside the door to my room in a hallway. I know that sounds strange but the culture here seems to be that the guest has his or her privacy when taking meals so that is my own little spot to chow down breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I sit on a stool that stands around nine inches tall. My knees are above my navel at that height and it took a while to get used to. The table that my meals are served from is around twice the height of my stool. At some point I am going to get a camera out and take a photo of myself eating for posterity.
That is where I eat, but what I eat can range a bit. Things you may be familiar with are here. I eat a lot of rice and from time to time some pasta is mixed in with a rice meal. Chicken and beef are possible candidates for my meats as well as a fish that must be plentiful from somewhere close by. Smaller bananas than we have in the states are gown here locally and taste just as sweet. Ghana also grows oranges nicely but they have tended to be more fibrous than the Florida ones that I knew. Still, these are the familiar meals. Let's see what the new stuff is.
Fufu. A staple food that can be made from a few ingredients that will vary from region to region. I think mine here is made from cassava, plantain, and maybe some third plant. Each ingredient gets trampled to death by a long piece of wood. One person sits low to the ground and turns and folds the fufu over while the second person repeatedly drops a long piece of wood down to smash the contents inside the wooden bowl. If this makes no sense I would advise a trip to your favorite video library on the web and search “pounding fufu” to see the process. The consistency of fufu in my house is just a touch sticky. The flavor is somewhat bland since no spices that I know of are added to the mix while it is being pounded. It essentially is a carbohydrate-heavy staple food that needs some support in the flavor department.
Enter soup. The word in Ghana is used for a more viscous concoction that is spicy, oily, and most likely red in color. I had some of this pour out of a container into my backpack and to this day the whole bag still has a faint soup smell to it. This is what you do with your fufu: you pinch off a small ball of fufu with your fingers and then get it to stick to the end of one finger in particular, dip that ball of fufu into the soup, then insert that into your mouth and swallow with as few bites as possible. Simple?
No. If the soup and fufu are fresh, then you are talking about using your fingers to manipulate food that has a temperature close to that of a cup of coffee. From what I have heard your fingers will get used to this, but I have yet to hit that level and must wait a bit or use utensils to start consuming. As I said before, every area will probably have slightly different types of fufu so my hope is that Hohoe has a tasty version of it.
Banku is similar to fufu in that you are eating it with your fingers (Ghanaians are right at home eating all meals with fingers only) and dipping the banku into a soup. The texture is different as is the flavor hence the different name. This one is mostly if not completely made from cassave. I had banku tonight and rather enjoyed the mix. Finger-licking good if you will.
Other foods that come to mind are rice ball, yams, and fried plantains. Each will come with a side of soup and sometimes stew. Stew is more dry and can be spread over the main starch of the meal. Rice ball (em-O two-O) is just cooked rice that is hard-pressed into the side of the pot to slightly break up the rice grains and create a sticky dense version of rice. Form that into a ball and there you go – rice ball.
One unusual thing here that is taking a while to settle in is eating for calcium. That means chewing through some bones in the meal. I have gotten used to fish bones (the small tiny ones) but I have yet to really get behind eating a chicken bone. They are hard to crack and not pleasant to chew, but this is how most people find a source of calcium. I am hoping the family notices that I am leaving fewer bones on my plate! Of course, if I should fail to eat all of my bones there is always a FanYogo to grab. They are packets of frozen yogurt that you get pretty much anywhere so far as I have found and taste great on a hot day. One a day has been my habit as of late. For 60 pesawas you just cannot go wrong (40 cents or so American).
Those are just some of the things that I have eaten so far here. The food is pretty good and I think once a body adjusts to a new set of nutrients then it is just a matter of adding a bit more each week and enjoying the experience.
If you get the chance, stop by and have some fufu with me.