Culinary Anthropologist

End of the road (for now)

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Smghanaborder.JPGAnother day, another border crossing.  More friendly and efficient people doing our paperwork with the minimum of fuss and a welcoming smile.  We were used to this by now – but this one was different.  This was the last border we’d cross – Ghana was the end of the trip.  We were running late, too: due at our friends’ house on the coast for Christmas, and only a couple of days to get there.

Smwhitebread.jpgWe’d only come a couple of hours from Ouagadougou – but somehow crossing the border really did seem to change things.  There were private cars on the roads, not just scooters and buses.  Villages were full of modern-looking buildings made of cinder blocks and tin rather than mud and straw.  People’s clothes were different – those Francophone West Africans really know how to dress.  The bread was suddenly square, white and sliced rather than long, thin and pointy.  And strangest of all, they seemed to be speaking some funny language we didn’t quite recognise – although it certainly did seem familiar …

maggi-fr-en.jpgIt took us a while to get used to the fact that people were speaking
English to us, and that we should really stop trying to speak French to
them.  It took us even longer to get used to the fact that the English
was different.  When our waitress told us she would “go and come” with
our beers, she meant she’d be back in a minute (with a milk crate full
of frosty bottles of Star, hooray!).  Smannanewlifeline.jpgWhen she said she “wanted to worry us
small” she just meant she had a question.  But it wasn’t so much that we couldn’t understand, it was more that we suddenly didn’t quite know how to express ourselves.  Over the last few Francophone months we’d never had to worry about the nuances, because our French wasn’t good enough – either we could work out how to say something or we couldn’t.  Now we were using our native language, but talking to people who used a subtly different version of it, there was so much more to think about …

But sitting under the tree at New Lifeline, eating a grilled guinea fowl and drinking our Star, we didn’t let it get to us.  We’d stopped in Bolgatanga because we’d been here before (back in Anna’s previous career life) and had reasons to come back.  First we had to get a photo taken, here in our friends Laura and Nebiat’s favourite bar, and the place they met.  And we couldn’t miss the opportunity to spend some time with Lamisi: after all, as she will tell you, “there’s no African dish I can’t cook”!

Smlamisibanku.jpgNo idle boast, let me tell you.  Smchillies.jpgFirst she took us to Navrongo market to show us how to buy the best okra, the best garden eggs, the best chillis, the tastiest hot spicy yam chips … while giving us an expert lesson in the art of haggling.  Need to find 25 cabbages for a wedding, and don’t want to pay over the odds?  Ask Lamisi.  Next back to hers for a culinary masterclass: from how to chop okra in your hands, to how to use an asanka to crush chillies, to how to use your feet properly when stirring banku.  Not to mention our first encounter with “beef coat”.  Smasanka.jpgAs the sun went down it found us sitting out in the yard, feasting on banku, okra sauce, hot pepper sauce and tilapia.  And as midnight rolled around it found us finishing up the tasty left-overs …

Smbeefcoat.jpgIf we could have stayed in Bolga, we would have done – and Lamisi’s banku might have been the deciding factor.  But we only had two days left to reach the coast, and over 400 miles to cover.  So we said sad goodbyes, got back in the car, and back on the bumpy road.  The landscape changed, and the climate too – crossing the Volta felt like entering the jungle after the arid north we’d got so used to.  Smvolta.jpgWe made it to Kumasi by evening, found a random hotel, and then found that it was next door to the most happening spot in town: what had been a nondescript corner by day turned into a heaving crowd of people, grill stands, tables and music.  We found a table, made new friends (hi Kwame), ate that fluorescent pink grilled sausage thing, and waved back at all the people laughing at our dancing – what an evening.  And we heard Angelina for the first time – little did we know what a theme it would become.

Smpatience.jpgStill over 100 miles to go the next day, so only time for one unexpected culinary adventure on the way: just outside Kumasi we met the ladies who make ajungo oil.  Piles of nuts, smoking fires, steaming bubbling cauldrons of chocolatey paste – we couldn’t go past without finding out what was going on, and Patience very kindly explained everything to us.  Smajungo.jpg(After making palm oil, they break down the kernels, boil them up and make ajungo – nothing goes to waste).  It’s a hard (and very hot) job, but Patience enjoys it – she works with her friends, chats all day, and gets to drink plenty of pito.  What’s not to like?

Smgreenturtlebeach.jpgAnd then a few short hours later, suddenly there it was: we’d reached the ocean.  Turn right, head for Dixcove, and pretty soon you get to Green Turtle Lodge.  This is where we’d first got the idea to drive all the way here, and now it seemed like the perfect place to stop for Christmas and a bit of time winding down before heading back home – especially as so many of our friends were here.  Tom and Jo and Amali, entertaining and lovely as ever; Laura and Nebiat over from Ethiopia; Jonnie and Sanna who we’d met in Nouakchott; Carla and Frank from Accra, Rich and Becs and Dave and Ren from England … if you can’t turn that into a party, then you obviously don’t have Tom around.  IMG_6178.JPGWe had a wonderful time: buying whole swordfish out of the back of someone’s car, learning how to cook palm nut soup with Mercy in Akwidaa, IMG_6211.JPGchecking out the excellent Takoradi street food, making good use of our Senegalese pestle & mortar to pound ginger juice for cocktails, and our Moroccan tagines to cook goat f
or dinner.  And just lying around on the beach a bit.  Thanks again to Tom & Jo for being amazing hosts, to Mercy for the cooking lessons, and to Mavis and Gifty and the rest of the kitchen team for all that red-red and proper coffee.

IMG_6586.JPGFinally though we had to wrench ourselves away from the beach, and face the reality of going back home.  It all seemed to happen very quickly: IMG_6524.JPGKobby found us a shipping container that fit our car; Carla and Frank had us to stay in Accra and pointed us in the direction of Asanka Locals for a final fill-up on fufu (have the fish light soup).  Then suddenly we were at that outdoor bar by Accra airport: a few Stars, a handful of goat kebabs, and time for home …

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