Accra food guide

I’ve been introduced and reintroduced to some amazing local food. When I was younger my mum used to make a lot of African dishes, but I hadn’t had any in a while, and I’m loving all of the snacks and meals. We’ve explored a few market stalls, been fed in the host home and it’s worth noting that a variety of snacks are available from a trotro (local bus) when you’re stuck in traffic.

I’ll update as I go along, but here is everything I’d recommend so far (just remember Ghanaian food portions are quadruple our carb intake so at least ask for a half portion; around 4 Cedis worth):

  1. Fried plantain; boiled plantain I’m not a fan of, but fried plantain is awesome. Cut into large slices or chunks is the usual accompaniment style, but I’ve also had it chopped into small chunks and fried to a crisp which worked really well in a salad instead of croutons
  2. Garri; ground cassava used to carb up less carby meals or thicken stews. More recently I’ve also tried garri soakings (garri + water + sugar + peanuts) which they have as a drink/snack
  3. Redred; rice, beans, fried plantain and general goodness. A great veggie option that is usually served with garri
  4. Waakye (pronounced wah-chi); rice and beans. Often served with meat or a boiled egg, waakyi also comes with a spicy sauce. The boiled egg may sound random, but it’s quite a common alternative to meat with food for a hit of protein here. If you like your food spicy, you can also choose to add shito like a local (translates to pepper – a spicy fish sauce)
  5. Jollof rice; rice cooked in a stew rather than water or stock. It’s a game changer and is usually served with meat and sauce
  6. Tiger nuts; I can only describe these as milky pistachio nuts. After having a Google I learned it is a superfood that also goes by the name yellow nutsedge
  7. Fresh coconut; the only coconut I had ever tried was from a trail mix before coming, so it was really nice to have it fresh. The coconut water is an amazing nutrient boost if you’re dehydrated and tastes much nicer than the carton stuff I’d tried in the UK
  8. Kontomire stew; spinach and eggs in a sauce. I didn’t actually realise it was egg at first but I was a big fan. They put scrambled egg in a lot of spicy stew dishes and it works surprisingly well
  9. Rice balls; cooked rice compacted into a plastic bag/ball shape. I really liked the soft texture, but I didn’t realise quite how much compact rice I was eating until I stopped. Major food baby warning
  10. Peanut soup; teamed with your choice of meat and served with a rice ball
  11. Goat meat; I can only describe this as a beef joint texture with an odd taste. We had it with the peanut soup early on. I’d recommend trying it but it’ll be Marmite
  12. Tom Brown; their version of porridge which is powdered corn mixed with water. It is basically a brown paste that they serve with sugar. Don’t be shy to add a teaspoon or two as I wasn’t a fan until I sweetened it up
  13. Milo; hot chocolate branded as an energy drink. Often drank at breakfast as a meal supplement (one hell of a marketing ploy)
  14. Yams; a carby alternative for rice that is similar to potato. Most of the time it’s boiled but I’ve also seen roasted and fried options
  15. Corn on the cob; I know this is available in the UK, but it’s different here. Yes you can get your bog standard soft corn, but they have a variety available on the streets that is BBQ’d and it turns into a kind of popcorn/cooked corn on a stick. The corn is hard and often dipped in salt water before serving
  16. Plantain chips; their version of unsalted vegetable crisps are available either light or dark in colour. The dark version (coco) is made from riper plantain which makes it much sweeter

There are also a few things I wouldn’t recommend, but it’s all about personal taste so I’ll leave those for you to discover yourselves.

xo

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Preparing for Ghana – what to bring

Almost a month in and I’m starting to realise what I should/shouldn’t have brought. Anyone looking to travel Africa or apply for their own ICS experience, here’s a little advice.

Do bring:

  • Micro-fibre towel; always good for taking to the pool or using as a floor mat when exercising
  • DEET; aka mosquito spray. Available at Wilkinsons for <£1.50. I’m probably going to use x1 in 6-8 weeks, but I’ve not been spraying myself much
  • Mosquito net (if not already provided!)
  • Sudocream; works wonders on bug bites but also works for general first aid. It’s cheaper than normal bug bite relief and multi-use
  • Shorts; it’s not as conservative here as I thought it would be, but ideally you want just above the knee because otherwise your skin sticks to the leather trotro seats
  • Swimming cap (ladies only); if you want to go into a public pool, you have to don the head-wear
  • Snacks; I’d recommend cereal bars, dried mixed fruit and nuts as they keep for a while and are good for when you either don’t like what’s on offer or need a healthy boost
  • Greens powder; it’s basically powdered spinach/good stuff. It tastes disgusting but when you’re ill you’ll do anything to get better. Aldi had just started selling some for <£2.50 when I left (100g will do 10-12 portions)
  • Multi-vitamins; I can’t tell if they’re working, but for £1-£2 for 60 in supermarkets it’s worth trying to prevent illness
  • Power bank; power cuts aren’t as common anymore but I’m often on the go and couldn’t be without my phone
  • Speaker; it’s just nice to be able to play music around the house whilst you’re away
  • Music; I brought a speaker and forgot I had no music on my phone…wi-fi is near enough non-existent in Ghana so definitely get downloading before or rinse any wi-fi you can on arrival
  • A good camera phone; Android phones are really common here and you’ll stick out with an iPhone but it’s worth it for the best quality snaps!
  • Surge protector; if there is an electricity surge, having your gadgets plugged into one of these will protect them from obliteration. Available in ASDA for £6-£8
  • Backpack; I don’t understand why people don’t already have one, but definitely get one if you’re off to explore
  • Plastic/rubber flip-flops; everyone wears them around the house like slippers because of the sand that comes in from outside
  • First aid kit; plasters, paracetamol, ibuprofen, cold&flu tablets, re-hydration sachets, small scissors and Imodium of course. It’s really expensive to go to the Doctors and/or Pharmacy so just bring it from home
  • Movies/TV shows; I didn’t stock up on enough entertainment for the evenings. I also wish I’d brought a HDMI cable to link what I do have up to the TV
  • Dry shampoo; it’s not available here so bring as much as you’ll need for your stay
  • Tissues; George packed all 6 packs when I only planned on taking a couple, I’m glad I didn’t say anything because most public toilets don’t have any loo roll
  • Hand sanitiser; they don’t have soap either…
  • Small lunchbox; I wish I’d brought a container to put fruit in for lunch or snacks
  • Coin purse; even for the guys, having change floating about in your bag is a pain
  • Nail file; for your nails but also in case you need to file down your local SIM card. For some reason a lot of ours weren’t cut to size and it’s quite common here. Worst case I’ve seen phone shop assistants file them down on curbs though
  • Bottle opener; drinking isn’t really that popular so if you want to buy some alcohol from the supermarket it’s best to be able to open your own booze
  • Sports bras; I wish I hadn’t brought any normal ones, they’re a right faff to hand wash
  • Face moisturiser with UV protection in it; it just stops you from forgetting
  • Cards; you can’t go wrong with a pack of cards and bonus points for bringing Top Trumps too

I’ll add to this list if I think of anything else in the next few weeks, but hopefully it will be of use to someone!

xo

The Team Leader role

With the business workbooks now submitted, recommendation presentations taking place on Monday/Tuesday and our MPR (mid-programme review) next week, time is flying by!

For those of you wondering what I’ve actually been doing, here’s a 5-point summary job description for the Team Leader role:

– Coordinating bi-weekly enterprise visits to ensure business owner and Challenges Worldwide expectations are aligned, and work to date has been completed to a high quality

– Conducting bi-weekly host home visits to check volunteers are settling in, abiding to house rules and acclimatising to the new environment. Looking after their health and well-being throughout the programme

– Directly line managing 9 volunteer pairs (18 total) with a Ghanaian counterpart. Facilitating 121s, reviewing workload and progress, providing business support and helping them to resolve any issues that arise

– Effectively delivering weekly CMI training by engaging all 38 volunteers in activities. Encouraging them to present their own content, and teaching them to work as Professional Consultants within their enterprises

– Heading up the Accra site Communications Team to deliver our KPIs; producing imagery, blog posts, high quality articles, video content and PR, and researching into local recruitment opportunities to pitch to the UK team

It’s a lot of work, especially in Accra this cycle as we had a surprise last minute flux in numbers. Usually TLs look after 4/5 pairs, whereas we have 9; this teamed with the long commutes keeps us on our toes at all times. But with bigger numbers comes more exposure to an increased number of enterprises, amazing host parents and the opportunity to explore the capital on a trotro (local bus).

If it sounds like experience you’d like to have on your CV and you like a challenge – research into Challenges Worldwide, or ICS and the other partners they work with across the globe.


xo

Living like a local

Having only been here a couple of weeks I’ve already had quite a few culture shocks, both good and not so good.

Early starts

People get up really really early in Ghana. It is normal to wake up at 4:30/5:00 and start the day with exercise, chores, getting the latest social media update or your TV/reading fix. This caused confusion in the first couple of weeks as I thought my in-country counterpart Tilly just didn’t realise we weren’t starting until 8:30, but now I have learned to tune out her morning routine and she’s agreed to leave the lights off until 7am – compromise at it’s finest!

Hand washing

I knew there wouldn’t be a washing machine in the host home, and I had hand washed clothes before so didn’t expect this to be an issue, but it’s a lot harder than it looks when done properly. I’d at most washed a bikini whilst on holiday and half “washed” a towel if I’d gotten sand at it at the beach. This is nothing compared to a full load of washing including bed sheets when you wash a 10cm square section at a time at most. The technique involves rubbing the material onto your knuckles to scrub any dirt out, and expect a load to take a good 3 hours; if you’re lucky. I’ve also found that any lace materials scratch your skin off like a scouring pad, so when the online websites recommend cotton undies, they didn’t just mean for comfort whilst wearing.

Church

Last Sunday we attended a special Independence Day church gathering with our host family that was conducted in English. The ceremony started at 7:30 and finished at 12:00, and it was more of a party than the usual hymns and prayers I was used to as a child. Everyone dressed in beautiful African prints, or white linen if part of the choir, and I noticed that they are particularly fond of their sequins. As well as dressing fabulously, everyone was dancing throughout, singing, and praising the appointed prophet as he wished their illnesses away and spoke of riches due to be bestowed upon all those in attendance throughout the month of July. An experience I’ll never forget but I’m not sure I’ve been converted just yet. Here’s a snippet of the service.

I’m hoping I’ll adopt some of the early start mentality as although I would call myself a morning person, I’m not an exercise in the morning person, and need to be to suit my curfew. Hand washing will not defeat me so early on so I’m going to find new ways to try and speed up the process before I succumb to giving up 15% of my stipend to a cleaning lady. As for church, I’ll definitely visit the host homes smaller local church before I leave and remember the ceremony fondly, but I’ll leave the singing and dancing to people with more rhythm.

xo