My name is Big Sam. At first, I thought I had put on a little more than the freshers fifteen pounds, but then I am reminded that Big Sam is the nickname of Sam Allerdyce, the West Ham manager. I am gifted this nickname by Dennis, who I’m not quite brave enough to nickname Bergkamp (too far perhaps for a Man United fan). This is how I break the ice in Accra, with my newfound Ghanian family; some things may be extremely different, but just like in the UK, it seems that one of the easiest forms of initial male bonding is football. I scrape out my knowledge of current premier league players, but resort to discussing the Arsenal Invincibles team, a roster even the most casual of Gunners should have memorized. This conversation is perfect. I’ve known these guys for half an hour, and already they’re pointing and shouting and explaining who’s going where in the transfer window. Not only does it break the ice, it feels oddly familiar; taking the piss out of my lack of sports knowledge is a favourite pastime among my inner circle of friends.
But enough with the sports talk. I’ll put a foot in it. I’ve just woken up on a Sunday morning, a few hours before breakfast and church. Writing is the one of the few things I have picked to fill the time. First on the list was a shower; my first wash since leaving North London, unless you count the monsoon last night. The shower has no hot water, but I don’t think anyone’s complaining. The main difference I notice is nothing to do with the shower, but that a shut bathroom door has little meaning over here…like a little boy I cry ‘There’s someone in here!’ My friend mumbles a sorry, then walks in anyway to grab his towel. And immediately I’m overcome with indifference. I muse over it as a fun observation at the time (maybe worthy of my blog?) but remember that things are done differently in Ghana, and that’s why I’m here. I want to understand and get used to how things work, just like I’ve quickly become accustomed to the layer of dry of sweat that will coat you almost as soon as you leave the house, which forms underneath the layer of sun cream, both of which are covered in a layer of mosquito repellent come evening. And after one night here, I know it will be easier to accept this sticky alchemy rather than try and fight it. And that’s the mentality; acceptance, monkey see monkey do, go with the flow. With everything.
Even food. Especially food. I was both excited and anxious about this. An exchange trip to China a few years ago has prepared me to go to bed hungry after trying four different dishes and finding edible solace in only one. But I don’t think that should be a problem here. Our breakfast consists of tuna sandwiches, something strongly resembling an onion bahji, and what is called ‘porridge’ but is more like a thick brew of oval tine with a strong dash of ginger. I try to like it, but the sensations in my stomach tell me this is not the time to be adventurous. I stick to my tuna sandwiches. How British of me. Next up, lunch. Delicious. Barbeque chicken wings, yam balls (Who knew Yam was sweet?) and rice in a spicy sauce, called Jollof. There’s not much to say here, only that I pretty much scoffed the lot. Dinner was a little more experimental. My partner, Gerald, (who I will be living and working with for nine weeks after our seven days training) warns me that the evening meal of Banku and Talapia may be my downfall. I’m looking forward to my time with Gerald; his first question was “Do you like to party?”, so I think I’m in good hands. Gerald led the celebrations of the evening and got everyone dancing, so he’s very much the ring leader, but he’s also been very helpful and understanding on my first day here. Our conversation following football revealed a lot of common traits; determination, a go-and-get-it attitude, a desire to stretch across multiple disciplines and, most importantly, a passion for FIFA.
Anyhow, Banku! I open up my light blue polystyrene package. I lock eyes with a full bodied fish, grilled and browned but not yet beheaded. It’s another moment of ‘OhmygodwhatdoIdo’, followed by a smile. It’s this kind of stuff that I’ve come here for. I skin the fish and tuck in with difficulty using my fork. An upward glance reveals that the Ghanians are eating their Talapia with their fingers. So I dig in, picking the thick and numerous bones with my fingers and sucking the white fillets off my fingertips. It may sound nasty, but its almost no different to demolishing chicken wings back home, and just as tasty. Next up, Banku. It’s a white ball, dough-like in consistency. It tastes bitter on its own, but I am told to dip into the sauces; red pepper sauce and black pepper sauce, both of which are not as terrifying as they sound. My first few bites are accompanied by deep breathes and attention seeking whistling, but then I realize that I’m overcompensating. This spice is almost ‘aesthetic’. It’s there for a second but then it fades, and the combination of the two sauces adds a lot of flavour. Unlike curry back home, where the spice builds up on your tongue ‘till you run for a glass of milk, this heat is short and sweet. It creates the effect of spiciness, but doesn’t overpower the flavor, and I find myself thinking back to it during the night as a favourable midnight snack.
In summary: I said goodbye to my friends and family for ten weeks, to get on a plane to Ghana with ten other people I hardly know. We arrived at Kotoko airport at 6am. I ate and met my new friends, and had a nap at 11am which ended up lasting four hours. I got a working SIM in my phone (it’s nice to know that when I’m homesick my friends are merely a facebook message away. And in turn that I’m reachable if anything happens b) and got caught in torrential rain on the way home. We danced, we celebrated, we ate, and then we watched a film together. One by one people disappeared off to bed. I floundered into my covers as the end credits rolled, after covering myself in mosquito repellant. My first proper day in Accra, Ghana, was a very busy one. But I can’t wait to see what else it has in store for me.