Hi…my name is Jacki Marshall, and I am from Charlotte, North Carolina working with the remarkable Kraban Support Foundation in Ghana. It is my first time in West Africa, and I was very excited about coming…..it is very different from East Africa, an area I am more familiar with. I shall be sending weekly posts back to the Kiva site, and I would love for you to join me on this amazing journey……Get ready for the ride…..I am!
The pre-departure was interesting. Where was I going to stay? How was I going to get my visa managed fifteen days before my departure….I did not feel comfortable being parted from my passport so close to my departure. Fortunately, it is possible to receive a 30 day visa at the airport upon arrival for $100. I went for this option knowing I could extend it later.
As providence would have it….. I had a family to stay with when I first arrived; I had met the daughter Regina in Charlotte quite by accident six weeks before I was leaving for Ghana. The last Sunday before my departure Regina and Rachel from Congo came over to my house in Charlotte, North Carolina and cooked a wonderful Ghanaian dish “red red”……and fried plantain…. I was hooked!
I was “on go”…..after a short two day hiatus in England visiting my family, I took off with Ghana International Airlines…six hours later we touched down in Accra, only one hour behind GMT.
It took nearly two hours to get to my new home where I would be staying with Regina’s mother, Ami. Two to three hours to get anywhere in Accra is quite typical as we were to later find out. Accra is one of the largest, most congested urban cities I have experienced. With over six million people, it keeps “bulging” as more and more people move in from the country seeking the “bright city lights”…. and a better life. All the streets are lined up with small kiosks, tables, peddlers carrying their goods on their heads……all “squeaking out” a living, mostly by small businesses, such as food kiosks, fresh vegetable stands, small provision kiosks, coconut stands, small drink stands, mobile phone “top ups,” where you add time to your mobile phones. Trading is the economy; “Each buys a little from each other.”
I found the heat challenging. I had never been this HOT in my life, and I have been fortunate to travel to many subtropical countries prior to Ghana. This was the hottest yet. Night time is the worst……because 60-70% of the time Accra does not have power…and therefore, no ceiling fans. No sweat lodges needed here!
My host Ami lives in Osadakaye, one of the more, densely populated districts of Greater Accra. Her nickname is “auntie,” and she is 67 with four grown children of her own. Three live abroad, one in London and two in the USA, one of which is Regina, my new found friend. She presently takes care of three school age “cousins”–Priscilla (15), Leticia (13) and little Jason who is 2 years. When I got there Jason was just getting over a cough and malaria. Ami supports them, pays for their school fees; in return, they help out around the house. Priscilla and Leuticia wake up at 5:30 am and have chores to do before going to school at 7:30 am. This continues after school. They usually cook the evening meal and help run “Aunties” drinks bar that is in front of her house. The drink bar closes at 9 pm. It is finally time for bed.
This extended family arrangement is very typical. Caring for extended family members is a cultural norm in Ghana. Ghanaians expect it from each other, particularly if a family member appears to be doing well. Contributing factors might be the death or illness of a parent, but more commonplace are the financial challenges a particular family may face. I find it a very attractive characteristic of the Ghanaian culture.
The power situation is serious. The power is out 60-70% of the time, and it has had a huge economic impact on the country (and our journaling!). Many small and medium sized businesses have gone out of business. The power outages started in October 2006. Apparently, the hydro-electric turbines were placed at too high a level, in the event of a low water level, which is now the case. It has made life very challenging. Fortunately, the power outages are equitably distributed through out Accra. The power situation makes us “plan ahead”……we make sure the cell phone, laptops, camera chargers etc. are CHARGED just in case.
To give you a couple of “windows” into life without power, we have attempted to download information four times in two days from an internet café, only to be told three times there is no power, and on the last attempt when there was power, network access was slow, and to come back later!
Similarly, in another instance, I wanted to send an email to Delana my Kiva Fellow in Ghana before she left Houston. She was joining me four days later. Whilst I was in Nana’s (Kraban’s Executive Director) office writing it, there was no power….then after about three hours, magically, we both heard the light, slow buzz of the power coming back on. What a lovely sound! We jumped on the internet and we were connected. I shall never take my internet access for granted ever again. One of the many, many life appreciating insights…. that continue to unfold.