Q. So, how does it feel to be leaving Kumasi?
A. It feels like the end of a play I’ve been acting in, like curtains drawing closed across dirt stage littered in plastic, slowly pinching off the sound of the roosters, taxis, chain saws, crows, bulbuls and Muslims. It feels like a sigh of relief.
Q. Kumasi was that bad, huh?
A. Yes and no. Like any big city, Kumasi was loud, crowded and dirty, although as a friend pointed out the other day, it’s really more of a village than a city. A huge sprawling village of two million people all striving to survive. All outside cooking, sleeping, peeing, laughing, yelling, burning trash, carrying impossible burdens on their heads.
Each time I walked outside our compound gate onto the rutted dirt road I felt as if I were stepping into the pages of National Geographic. It was fascinating and often an affront to all of my senses. I was intrigued by the childlike innocence I saw in nearly everyone, a strong desire to please, to see the bright side of life, a prayer on their lips for someone bigger and stronger to hold their hand and walk them over to the good life.
Q. Do you think your African experience would have been different if you had lived away from town?
A. Definitely, yes. After living in a small farming community for nearly five years, we found Kumasi a bit outside our comfort zone. It helped that Bob had grown up in Accra when it was roughly the size of Kumasi and that we had lived both abroad and in cities with populations well over two million.
Q. Why did you agree to the move?
A. I have been keen to visit Africa since I was a young girl. When the opportunity presented itself, I encouraged Bob to take the job. I don’t think we would have moved to Africa had the job been anywhere other than Ghana. I had long wanted to experience the place of Bob’s childhood with him. Also, the pay was sufficient for us to pay off our debt and put a little savings in the bank. We hoped to share the adventure with our daughters and so connect them to their father’s African experience. In addition the project – research involving sanitation – fit our values.
Q. Are you glad you went?
A. Yes, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Bob and I experienced Ghana together, topped up our bank account and shared five months with daughter Amy. Not to mention we saw wild African elephants!
Q. Why are you leaving Ghana?
A. The project goals have been accomplished, Bob’s contract is finished and our house, property, friends, family and neighbors await our return.
The street outside our house and our next door neighbors.
Q. What will you miss about your life in Kumasi?
A. I think I will miss life without A/C which was reminiscent of my childhood growing up in New Jersey without air conditioning. When the windows are open the sounds of an active neighborhood make me feel connected and alive in a way that sealing myself up in a quiet house does not.
I’m definitely going to miss my friends. Expats bond quickly, forming fast friendships based on need and circumstances. Adrift in a culture that often seems incomprehensible, I reached out to a great variety of individuals and was welcomed into the fold without reservation. We all joke that we probably wouldn’t be friends if we met in our native countries. Like war, the act of surviving adversity in a strange world creates strong bonds between a wide range of individuals.
Predictably some of those alliances blossomed into deep friendships with people we may never see again. Which hurts. Fortunately we have the technology to stay in touch.
Kat and Camille with Kat and Agye’s Land Rover. Camille, Elodie and BJ whipping up a pre-Alliance Francaise movie meal.
Q. How will you describe Ghana to your friends back home?
A. Ghana is essentially a nation of five-year-olds, irrepressibly eager, happy, playful, rough around the edges, irresponsible, unruly, naive and often deceitful. The culture is the product of Colonialism, Christianity, corruption and tropical malaise. Ghanaians or at least the majority of people we interacted with in Kumasi are not problem solvers. The educational system encourages submission and suppresses independent thought. We see that most Ghanaians are happy to make do, not adverse to taking hand outs, have difficulty saying no, and often miss commitments.
Religion is so important that they eagerly attend all night services at the cost of their day time performance. Many are convinced that their big financial breakthrough is right around the corner as long as they continue making the church their priority. Many go to church several times a week, to services in which the collection plate is passed several times.
Q. What were the highlights of your stay?
A. Our trip to Mole National Park with Amy was highly rewarding. I really enjoyed the walking safaris, seeing elephants and other animals in their natural habitat and learning about the diverse ecosystem. We made enough trips to the beach, Lake Bosumtwi and to parks and botanical gardens with enormous old growth trees to balance out our time at home in Kumasi.
I also enjoyed tending to our home, compound grounds and gardens, walking to market for food and cooking in our windowed kitchen. I loved looking out at our neighbors and listening to them throughout the day. We lived in a quiet neighborhood a few blocks from a busy road with an eclectic mix of people. I settled into a quiet rhythm of writing, yard work, walking around greeting people in Twi and housework.
Q. Do you have any advice for others headed to Kumasi to live and work?
A. Yes. Don’t expect too much! Get out of town on a regular basis. Start a garden and a compost pile, it will keep you grounded. Walk to market at least once a week. Join the facebook group, Kumasi Expats or find another way to connect with other expatriates. Get used to living with ants. Learn enough Twi to show you care about the people and their culture. Don’t touch people with your left hand. Keep antibiotics and a regime of malaria treatment in the house. They are cheap, easily purchased over the counter from any chemist. Check out Alliance Francaise near Ahodwo Roundabout. Embrace the adventure!
Bob leaving Lapetite Chemists with a bag of over-the-counter antibiotics. Amy with the elephants.