DionRabouin.com (sort of)

The Ghana Diaries: Day Fifteen

Posted in The Ghana Diaries by dionrabouin on August 17, 2010

I’ve been making a point to eat as much Ghanaian food as possible while here. What’s interesting, and perhaps unique to Africa or may be the case in many different places, is that some of the best African food isn’t found in the fancy restaurants or upscale cafes, it’s found on the streets.

Frighteningly, these street vendors often don’t take proper health precautions and their food can make you very sick, so there is a delicate line one must tread. The food is just one of a million things you find sold on the street here. People sell everything from disposable shaving razors (“Shave! Shave! Shave!”) to pre-paid cellphone cards (“MTN! Tigo! Vodafone!”).

I recently fell in love with waatkye, which somehow is spelled waatkye, but is pronounced watch-a. The Ghanaians spell things very strangely, but I suppose that’s another thought for another day. On second thought…

TANGENT: OK, so I don’t know what it is about Ghanaians and English, but the way some words are spelled here makes no sense. There’s this place near where my dad lives called Haatso, which is pronounced how-cho. Apparently ‘kye’ = che, which I suppose sort of makes sense, but how does haat = how and so = cho? There are a few other examples of this, but it’s not worth trying to remember them for a tangent.

I digress. I fell in love with waatkye recently. It’s this mixture made of red beans and rice that is topped with cabbage, spaghetti noodles (which I’m positive aren’t really spaghetti noodles), meat and this spicy, red pepper meat sauce that is a party in you f-ing mouth. It’s so good! And what’s even better is how cheap it is. If you skip the meat, which is really not much of a concession given that most times it’s not that good and has a tendency to be undercooked, it’s only like $1 for a pull plate of waatkye. It’s like crack. I could eat it all day.

I’m also in love with jollof rice. But I’ve been in love with jollof rice for quite some time now. I realized I loved jollof rice a long time ago and it’s just rare that I can find some stateside that’s any good. It’s everywhere here and it’s delicious. Seeing jollof rice everywhere is like going to Italy and having veal parmigiana vendors walking the street selling slabs for one Euro, it’s just not fair.

There are also these little plantain chips that are like potato chips, except a thousand times better. Why don’t we have these in the US? They would make a killing! I know we can grow plantains in the country, or at least import them cheaply from South America, because my dad bought them from Safeway after we came back from Ghana last time and fried them until we puked yellow. I also know New Yorkers eat them semi-regularly – they call them plantins for some reason. So why on earth do we not have plantain chips at every major supermarket in America? I’m pretty positive creating them takes the same of processing as potato chips, probably less. And they’re so much better.

Maybe it’s the food that makes people so nice here. Although, I’m not sure that it’s really niceness that I notice, it’s more a willingness to help. I had this strange watershed moment about Ghana today when my cab driver pulled over to the side of the road to ask someone for directions. It wasn’t the biggest deal, but can you imagine – suspending for a second your knowledge of GPS and its ubiquity in taxis across America – a cab driver in the US stopping and asking random people on the road for directions. I found it breathtaking. It’s little things like that about this place that make me think some times.

Of course, my super cheap father freaked out that I had taken a taxi and cost him – gasp! – 10 cedis, which I had to explain to him is like seven dollars (I just did the math and it’s actually less than seven dollars) and I was going to pay him back anyway. I was discussing how cheap my dad is with a guy I interviewed today. He was in awe. I should start a twitter account called MyDadisSoCheap and just update it anytime he does something that really gets to the essence of his extreme parsimony. The feed would look something like this (These are experimental and therefore might be more than 140 characters.)

MyDadisSoCheap that he slept on the floor of the house that he’s been building in Africa for 20 years because he didn’t want to pay for a mattress.

MyDadisSoCheap that the floor was made of tile and he slept on it for two years.

MyDadisSoCheap that his rice cooker is broken and rather than spend $20 to buy a new one, he N-rigged it, which short-circuited the electricity.

MyDadisSoCheap he complains when he pays more than 20 cents for a melon. A whole melon!

MyDadisSoCheap that even though he could have hot water in Ghana, he refuses to pay for it.

MyDadisSoCheap there is not a single pillow in his house, despite the fact that this is Africa and pillows couldn’t possibly cost more than $5.

It would go on like that.

One of the things my father’s penchant for stretching pennies turned me onto, though, was canned smoked tuna in vegetable oil. It is delicious. I was forced to eat it everyday when he abandoned me here to go to Cape Coast for two days and left me with no television or hot water (have I mentioned there’s no hot water here?). I thought it would be abysmal, but it’s actually really, really good. I’m adding it to my short list of things to buy at the store when I go home.

Speaking of home, even after giving the woman at Delta my best doe-eyed, sob-story face I couldn’t get my flight changed for a reasonable price. It would’ve cost almost $600 to change my flight to the date I wanted, so instead I’ve got to fly standby and hope for the best. Even that is going to cost me $250, which is probably more than I’m going to make for doing the stories while I’m here. * Sigh * se la vie, I suppose.

I’ve left this day intentionally void of any postulating, proselytizing or philosophizing. I will leave you with one final thought and it’s something Teddy Roosevelt said. I read it in an article by Dan LeBatard of the Miami Herald. LeBatard was using it to talk about the relationship between the sports journalist and the athlete, but I think it really fits as a take on those who talk versus those who do, i.e., the never ending battle between those who go out and try to do something and those who talk about those who tried to do something…in life.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

P.s. I really wish all these websites would stop including their link with that stupid “Read more http://www.whatever.com.linktothearticle/blah” attached at the bottom. Do they think people are going to forget and attach that to their story? Do they really think people have closed down the page they copied from before pasting the quote and are now unable to find a link to the story? What possible purpose could this stupid device possibly serve besides annoying anyone who bothers to cut and paste something from their website? If there was a list of all the sites that use this retarded mechanism and all the ones that did not, I would not hesitate for a second to never again use the ones that do. Not for a second.

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