Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Stayn' Alive

The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

 I am very grateful that my health has continued to be excellent since coming to Ghana.  From the detailed selection process, through the demanding training and now well into my two years of service, the Peace Corps has been attentive to my health and well being.   Peace Corps, Ghana has two Medical Doctors on staff, both have visited my site while traveling through the Region.  Most of the circumstances at the school where I teach are mandated by the Ministry of Education, but showing up ready to teach each day is one that I have some degree of control over. For the first two school terms (30 weeks) I have been healthy and  missed only 6 days of teaching and those were to meet Peace Corps' responsibilities.   Many of my fellow teachers are not so fortunate and have absences due to sickness. 

For the first seven months of my service, I ate Ghanaian food, prepared by Ghanians almost exclusively.  A few bouts of stomach distress, a few "no thanks" on seconds, and the loss of over 30 pounds are the outcomes of that period of my stay.  I am told the loss of weight is common for male Volunteers in Ghana.  Common for females to gain.  Not sure of the reasons, but for me,  I walk much more frequently, have had almost no sweets, drink a lot of  water, do some exercise each day and it has been blazing hot.   

The Ghanian diet in the areas where we trained and  now I live, is made up mostly of starch-based staples (cassava, yams, rice, coco yams, plantains) cooked in various ways and served with a soup that often contains fish or chicken and vegetables that are in season.  It is filling, can be very spicy, and frequently tasty.  Most often eaten using your fingers.   Fruits and vegetables are seasonally fresh, not often served as a separate dish, but usually cooked in the soup or eaten as a snack during the day.   Mangoes, avocados, pineapples, and papayas are currently sold all over the market and along the streets.    However, I believe most Volunteers miss the variety and types of foods common in their region of the States.  I know I do.  My list varies from time to time, but today it would include: a cheese burger from Five Guys; roasted peppers from a restaurant near Pittsburgh called Ricco's; and crab cakes from almost any place along Chesapeake Bay.  

 During my first school break in January, I completed the kitchen in the house where I live.   From the picture you can see it is not elaborate, but sufficient.  I started from a bare room,  built the counters and shelves, and purchased an electric kettle, a small gas stove, a toaster oven and variety of plastic food containers.   The stove pipe looking item at the far left is a water filter to allow safe drinking water from the well and rain water off the roof.  First meal from the kitchen was packaged noodles and have expanded from there.  I am holding a fresh pear (avocado) and poo-poo (papaya) that I will eat this afternoon.  My attempts at guacamole have not been endorsed by the Ghanians, but I find it acceptable with some chips I found in the market.  Add tacos to my list of food I miss.

Cooking is a time consuming deal for the Ghanian caretaker and her family as it is mostly done outside, over a wood or charcoal fire in a pot.   Most things growing out of the ground are reasonable fresh or dried, but fish is dried and has not seen water for some time.  At my house, the evening meal is started well before sunset and is eaten in the dark.  Lots of pots and pans to clean up at the end of the day.  Adjustments are made for the more frequent rains as we head into the wet season.  Cooking for myself has also required some adjustment in scheduling my time as going to the market, preparing the food, and cleaning up takes a lot more time than in my kitchen in Virgina.  I continue to be grateful for the pleasure of preparing my meals.

I have two place settings in case you stop in for a home cooked meal.  You are always welcome.

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