Monday, September 27, 2010

You're Ghana Like It

 I wish we’d have had more time in Ghana. I really liked our visit and was struck by the warmth and welcoming nature of the people we met. On about the second day, I asked Greg if he’d seen many elderly Ghanaians and like me he couldn’t remember any. Many called him “Papa” – probably because of his gray hair. When I got back to the ship, I looked up the life expectancy of Ghanaians and it is 58 years for men and about 60 for women. No wonder we didn’t see any elderly. Many of the lifelong learners and older faculty had stories of Ghanaians going far, far above and beyond to assist them when they were a bit distressed. They must’ve been amazed to see all the gray hair and wrinkles and felt that these people needed help. It simply wasn’t an option to not help.

We spent a good part of the first of only four days in Ghana waiting for our passports because the Ghanaian officials took their time processing them. On the last day of our stay we took a Semester at Sea (SAS) trip and after 6 hours without a bathroom someone asked a guide when we would be able to stop at a bathroom - the guide responded with “Fifteen minutes - real minutes, not Ghanaian minutes”. You can figure on about 5 real minutes per Ghanaian minute – they have a different sense of time. We had reservations to spend the night in Cape Coast and thought we needed our passports. Turns out that we never even gave our names to the hotel and we paid in cash, so no passports were needed.

On the second day in Ghana Kathy Poole and I took a cooking workshop to learn how to cook traditional Ghanaian food. SAS organizes Field Directed Practica which meet requirements for courses and they are referred to as FDPs for short. I started calling the workshop my FDP (family directed practicum) because I ended up with 8 students and 7 staff members in the group. The workshop was run by Global Mamas (an NGO founded by an ex-Peace Corps volunteer) which helps women perfect their crafts for international sales and assists them in becoming better business women by helping them learn how to email, use Excel, etc. The woman who taught the workshop, Esi, was a fun lady who has been leading the workshops for 7 years from her restaurant called “Nice and Rich”. The Ghanaians have fascinating names for businesses and I’ll go into that in a separate post.

Esi taught us how to make red-red a dish that includes black-eyed peas cooked in palm oil (which is red)

and ripe plantains also cooked in palm oil. It was good and a favorite amongst many in the workshop, but the ripe plantains were too sweet for me. I’d heard that Ghanaian food is unusual amongst African foods because they tend to eat spicy food, but none of what we prepared fit that description. I think that if it were prepared with more of each of the flavoring ingredients (garlic, ginger, dried hot pepper) I would’ve liked it more.
The Ghanaians eat boiled sliced yams (not our sweet potatoes, but real yams that are not sweet) and palaver sauce consisting of onion, garlic, ground pumpkin seeds, cocoyam leaf (substitute spinach), tomatoes and some things I’m probably forgetting. We’d had palaver sauce the night before and liked it a lot. We included smoked fish that Esi had smoked herself, but that flavor overwhelmed the nuances of the pumpkin seeds and I preferred it without the fish. Of course, we couldn’t tell Esi this because she was so proud of her smoked fish. I think that Ghanaian palates would enjoy that flavor, but the fishiness and smokiness was not readily accepted by our anti-fish American palates. When Esi was serving up the yam slices and sauce she asked me if I wanted one or two slices of yam and I asked for one. She said “no, one and a half”. We’d all had our cooking techniques corrected so many times during the course of the cooking that it struck us as funny that I couldn’t even choose how much I should eat correctly. To be fair to me, I did end up giving Greg half of one of the slices…so, I did only want one after all!

My favorite part of the day was making fufu (sorry to any Samoans out there – it means something not so nice in Samoan). To make fufu, you cook unripe plantains and cassava and then pound them together in what looks like a giant mortar and pestle.

Esi had the amazing ability to scoop up the sticky mixture with a wet hand in between the heavy strikes of the “pestle”. Everyone was cringing at the thought that her hand getting smashed by one of us inexperienced fufu pounders. Luckily, Esi’s hands were deft in avoiding being smashed:

Over time this kneading action produced what resembled yeasted bread dough.

I got to do some of the scooping action as well as the pounding. It was a lot of work to prepare fufu, but I think it was worth it as it was my favorite part of the lunch. We made two types of soups for eating with the fufu (the fufu is submerged in a soup) – light soup consisting of vegetables and some chicken in a light broth and ground nut soup which was the light soup with some added peanut butter. Both were very good. Below is a shot of Bea Nice (apparently her real name) fanning the brazier upon which some soup is cooking.

The action of eating the dish was interesting. One had to use the index and middle finger as scissors to cut off a portion of this gooey dough and then use those two fingers and the thumb to convey a bit of fufu and soup into the mouth. When half of the fufu had been eaten, we ate the chicken in the light soup and drank the broth (not easy with my wide-rimmed bowl) so that we could eat the other half of the fufu with the ground nut soup.

Throughout the workshop we all had to sing a traditional cooking song. Esi sang the stanzas and we sang the refrain which has been running through my head ever since. It was a fun day and in the end I think it was the fufu-pounding everyone enjoyed the most.

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