Monday, July 26, 2010

Ghana: The Scent of Asia and Musk of Obama

My first thought when I arrived in Ghana was, "This place smells like Asia." I can't really explain why. Maybe it's the tree-covered sidewalks with open drainage ditches that reminds me of China. Maybe it's all the wonderful street food and the culture of eating out that makes a quick bite on the road a cheap and tasty option. Maybe it's the insane Accra traffic that's resulted in traffic jams unseen to me since Bangladesh (I thought Africans don't own cars?!).

Accra (pop. ~4 million) is the bustling economic and political capital of the country nestled in the armpit of Africa. In the World Bank's latest "Doing Business" report that looks at the ease of doing business, Ghana ranked behind only Kenya, Tunisia, Botswana, South Africa, and Mauritius within Africa. Possibly as evidence, there are six cell phone companies competing here, easily the most I've seen in Africa, and even Asia. Driving around you can see construction sites of towers and office buildings going up that bring me back to India and China. The locals, as the country director of the NGO I'm volunteering with explained, carry a "sense of arrogance". But it's a good arrogance, something you don't see too often in Africa. They don't want pity. I've been trying to collect flags in each country I travel. Mozambique was a pretty hard find, as was Zimbabwe, but you'd have to be legless to not trip over a "Black Star" flag here. They are proud to be Ghanian.

And if Africa is the land of Obamarama, then Ghana is ground zero of this stars and stripes lovefest. Typically, in a tro-tro (the local minibus transport I take around), hanging on the rear view mirror is a Black Star flag and an American flag air freshener. Or, there will be an American flag on the dash with a big Obama face over the background of stripes, exactly like this one. It doesn't stop there, of course - lines of products have been released. I was pretty amazed when I drove past this the other day. The love for Obama stems primarily from his visit to the country just over a year ago, and the President's African roots.

Then there's the friendliness of the people. From my travels there seems to be two things that are almost universally the same across countries (at least poor countries). The first is that when locals are trying to sum up a country, they talk about how the X people are "very social". This isn't really unique to a country. The second thing is that X people are very friendly. I haven't been to a country yet where I didn't think the people were friendly. But here is where Ghana stands out - like in Bangladesh, random Ghanaians have actually sent me messages on CouchSurfing asking me to visit them. This has happened in no other country than Bangladesh for me.

So what am I actually doing here? I'm spending about a month and a half with TechnoServe helping them with a proposal for a project that will potentially work with rural farmers in norther Ghana. While I'm not at liberty to say much more than that, I can say it has been really challenging and extremely interesting to learn about different approaches to agriculture and eradicating rural poverty. And, in the meantime I'm learning about different aspects and approaches of poverty and poverty alleviation unrelated to my work, and of course sampling some of the best that Obama has to offer.

1 comment:

  1. Any chance of getting an Obama beer cap? It would make an excellent addition to my collection!