Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Sweating like a pregnant fish

Ghanaians love to dance. I have already mentioned this before, but it is definitely worth mentioning again: Ghanaians love to dance. Love. To dance. Big time. Preferably on loud music and preferably just a little bit too loud for the speakers used (resulting in metallic croaky sounding loud music...). Hands, feet, bums, hips, heads, and knees, anything wiggles and twists. Bending and turning in places where I definitely don’t have any joints that I know of.
By now you might be picturing a happy moving young crowd during a night out at your own town, but it doesn’t even come close to the average Dutch student-boy pointing his index fingers in a diagonal up and down motion. This is actual dancing. No accidental moves or drunk jumping up and down, but breath-taking amazing hip twisting and original moves matching the words and typical rhythm of a song (mostly ‘Azonto’ or ‘High life’). And all of this is drenched with sincere and infectious enjoyment.

Friday, two weeks ago, we had a good-bye party of a Canadian girl that lived in Accra for quite some time. She had made some good local friends and managed to arrange some large speakers and a DJ with her roommates, to send her off Ghanaian style: BBQ and dancing in the courtyard of the house she lived at, all night long. That night, when I came home and landed in my bed as tired and sore as from a good work-out, I just couldn’t stop smiling. After the initial staring at a group of dancing guys (so cool!), I just dived in and... well... danced! I might have gotten a bit carried away, but it just didn’t matter, because everybody was just having so much fun! Some guys tried to teach me some proper Azonto-moves (often vaguely inspired from daily motions like pounding fufu). By the end of the night I was happy that there wasn’t much light out, because I literally was soaked. Or as I heard several times that night: “No worries, we’re all sweating like a pregnant fish!” Clearly, Ghanaian dancing + Ghanaian heat + Ghanaian humidity = sweating like a pregnant fish. That saying is a keeper for sure.

The Saturday after my mom arrived in Accra. Sometimes you need an extra viewer to change the way you look at things, or to actually see things again. The popping of her head out of a tro-tro window to take in a street view (just turning it didn’t do the trick) or her big eyes of amazement to passers-by, made me realize how many things I already think of as ‘normal’.  I don’t really think of the messy, slum-like back-streets as shockingly poor anymore, that’s just how it is. But yes, it is very poor, compared to Europe. But for some reason it is also much more nuanced. In a dusty (mainly because of the unpaved roads and the Hamatan, sandy hot wind from the Sahara), smelly (open sewers, sweat), and polluted (no waste pick-up system, too many old cars) city like Accra, the 20-80 rule reigns. This rule of thumb, often used for input of students during schooling, argues that for an 80% result, you need 20% of the effort. To add the additional 20% of the result (to make it 100%) you need 80% more effort. I really think that in Accra it is just not worth the time and the money to keep things looking nice. Within a day colours are faded by the sun and everything is covered in dust. Why spend money on your house to make it look nice, if you can do ten times more with that same money when it comes to fancy clothes, gadgets, and activities? Big, nice houses is just something for the really really rich.

This was one of the reasons why in the beginning I couldn’t really tell if someone was poor or rich, or where on the scale in between. The same people living in these back streets were the ones owning a blackberry and a giant sound system, as well as the ones going to a beach with 10GHC entrance fee during the weekend (which is quite a lot!). It just doesn’t really matter where you sleep, as long as you have somewhere to sleep, eat, and wash yourself. Happiness does not depend on having a shower, a bucket will do just fine. When these basic things are out of reach however, yes, then it really starts being difficult.

Of course, I have the luxury of living in a nice house and having everything I need quite easily available. And I already get annoyed when we don’t have internet for example (I am embarrassed to say, but I am slightly depending on it!). Our very regular water and power cuts lead to the discussion which of the two was worse. The conclusion: both are okay, as long as you know when it happens and it doesn’t last too long. Unfortunately Ghanaians don’t stick to time the way we do, so even if there is a schedule for the power-cuts in Accra, they never stick to it. Oh well... it is just the best excuse for not working and just sitting in front of our house with the rest of the street. Sorry, we had ‘lights-off’!

In between sight-seeing with my mom (which she also actually did on her own for a part of the day! Very adventurous of her!) I actually had a very busy week. My research-assistant Muni (who has been a great great help to me, not just by translating, but also to get things to happen) had to go back to her regular job somewhere way up in the north-east this Saturday, so we basically had to fit all data collection in this one week! This meant interviewing like crazy, and even getting the focus group discussion organized.

That morning of the group discussion was a whole lot of Ghana at once. I asked the women who agreed to participate in the group discussion to come at 8:30 am (quite a normal time here, live starts very early). Around 9:15 the first one showed up. After several reminder calls, two other women showed up between 9:30 and 10:30, after which the other four (“yes, yes, I’m coming! I am on my way!”) decided to not answer their phones anymore and not show up at all. Apparently saying “no” is just too difficult... So I decided to not waste any more time of the three women that came and recruited three more women in their first trimester from the antenatal care. Luckily they agreed on participating... The funny thing was that I felt so guilty for wasting the time of the three women that did come, but they were not surprised at all, just waiting around, blankly staring away, switching to the “low-energy”-mode that Ghanaians have made to an art. Imagine doing that in Holland!

The group discussion was very interesting, and definitely gave me a lot of information (the small stroopwafels and cold water kept the opinions flowing...). I am very much looking forward to analysing my data, because I really think the vulnerability of pregnant women here in Ghana is far greater than I even expected! Starting a clinical trial here seems almost unethical! Anyway, hopefully I can come with some good advice for medical researchers... (For those of you who still are not quite sure what I was researching again, I’ll go into that a bit more next time ;))

After finishing all this (unbelievable!) I headed out with my mom towards Cape Coast and Elmina, where we had a very nice weekend together exploring and relaxing. It took me some time to wind down the first day... Did I really just do my whole data collection in less than two weeks...?! But it was really nice to hang out with my mom, showing her around in this interesting country.

Yet again I’ve managed to write a long post... (I hope you manage to read up to this point!) and I didn’t even talk about:

... the pig family that randomly walked by on the beach
... the fact that my mom really took my advice of talking to all the taxi drivers at heart, which resulted in her hearing the most interesting life stories
... including one of a guy wanting to write a book on how to life your life by acting not waiting :) which would definitely change Ghana for good...
... that I bought fabric and got a dress and skirt made! Can’t wait to see the results
... that I pounded fufu with Sandra (a girl I met through church, who lives in one of the back streets), which basically was a joint venture with her neighbours, some lost chickens, and the beats of “chop my money” in the background
... that I’m surprised that we don’t have more fufu-pounding-accidents coming in at the ER, like crushed hands
... that adultery is such a common thing here, that it has been a major topic with the women in church already almost every Sunday (what to do if your husband...)
... that I have a double identity here (both Geerte, which is impossible for Ghanaians, and Christine). What’s in a name, right?
... that I am very much looking forward to actually working at the labour ward and the obstetric operation theatre the coming weeks


... that ‘God is wonderful tea’

Big hug!!

(ps. don't forget to scroll down for pictures, click to enlarge, and the fufu movie!)

My street at dusk

The women at church... and me :)

Walking in Sandra's neighbourhood

Sandra's room is in the house on the left

Mama picking Maringa leaves (very very nutritious!) with Sandra land lady

Making banku

The beautiful Sandra starting the pounding of plantain for the fufu

Me, trying not to get hit by the pounding stick whilst putting the fufu under it...

(fufu movie)

The result: fufu with groundnut (=peanut) soup

The women waiting for antenatal care at the clinic

Muni ready for interviewing

One of the midwifes in action

The mother of a friend from church, who sells red-red (beans with fried plantain) near the hospital, yum!

Exploring Elmina

The simple joy of a tire :)

Mom making friends

The upward view from the courtyard where the slave trader chose a woman for one night at Elmina Castle

Cape coast... me in action

Elmina harbour

Showing my picture to some kids at Ada (from last blog)


Accra's sewer on my way to the hospital...

Lighthouse of Jamestown (Accra)

Jamestown 'harbour' (Accra)


  1. i dont have a clue what this button tells me but i guess the comment section is working..
    great pictures! im only missing the one with the sweaty pregnant fish

    ps.: i really would wanna know what the little girl said on the exploring elmina pic. Maybe it was a "ur mom..." joke and her little friend was having good time ^^

    1. haha! yay! It works :)

      Trust me, you're not missing anything without a picture of the sweaty pregnant fish ;) And the little girl? Yup... a "Ur mom..."-joke must have been it, too bad my Fanti isn't good enough to have gotten it ;)

  2. I nevr followed a blog before but reading your stories and looking at your pictures is great. It makes me want to take the next airplane and go somewhere far away too. :)

  3. I don't know if Kaylene ever told you that she made fufu before. It wasn't authentic, but it tasted really good. She made it for the Elder in our ward that was from Ghana.

    We are enjoying your blog tremendously. Thanks for writing in english :)

    1. :) Really? That is so sweet of her! An elder from your ward e-mailed me, I still have to get back to him.

      I really like that you are following everything!! Big hug!

  4. Super leuk en interessant om te lezen. Mijn lover is 50 procent Nigeriaans (nooit dat hij ooit in Nigeria is geweest) en LOVES fufu. Ik ben er nog niet zo weg van....waarschijnlijk is locally beter:)

    1. Haha... nou eerlijk gezegd, ik ben echt een alles-eter, maar fufu hoef je me niet wakker voor te maken ;)

  5. Christine! Wat is fufu? Of moet ik een van je vorige blogs lezen? Leuk hoor Christine!
    liefs, Paris

    1. Haha 'moet'... Ben blij als ik weer van dat Christine af ben in Nederland ;)! Fufu is een slijmerige deeg massa die ze hier eigenlijk elke dag eten als avondeten/lunch. Dat of de gefermenteerde versie die banku heet. De smaak is ok, maar door de consistentie ga ik echt bijna kokhalzen als ik het doorslik :s Maar oefening baart kunst... Liefs! xx