Meeting the yam (export union) family and lots more tro tro

The following Monday arrived and it was time for day one at the office. Fix up look sharp.  Cecilia and I began the morning commute in our beloved tro tro!  A tro tro, although it looks like a bus, does not operate like a regular stagecoach at home.  There are no numbers, or routes, or timetables.  Instead, there is a ‘mate’ (ie person in charge) who will lean out of the side window of the tro tro as it passes the ‘bus stop’ – these are laybys which have been labelled as stops according to certain landmarks, eg Old Barrier (which is no longer a barrier), First Boutique, and my personal favourite, A life (the stop closest to our home – named after A life supermarket which doesn’t actually exist anymore!).  Once you are at the tro tro stop you must listen carefully to the mate as he shouts out of the window where he is heading and if you are a pro (which I am not…yet)  you can watch his hand gesture (a hand going round in circles means this tro tro is heading for Circle, a hand pointing straight ahead means Accra central, etc..).  You jump on, hold on, and go!  Once you are in the tro tro the ‘mate’ will ask you for your money, and then you pay up your 1 cedi 40 pesas (bargain!).

Enough about the tro tro (for now!)  We arrived at Trade Fair. The first day at work was… interesting!  We sat down and had our first meeting with the Executive secretary of Ghana Root Crops and Tubers Exporters Union (that is where I work with Cecilia.. also known as GROCTEU if you can pronounce that!).  GROCTEU is a union that oversees and inspects all yams before they are exported out of Ghana.  Taking lots of notes and acting like we weren’t totally clueless as we nodded our heads was the first challenge.  Understanding what we had to do was the big second challenge!

For lunch, I tried fufu for the first time.  Fufu is cassava and plantain which has been pounded together into a sort of doughy lump, which is then placed in a bowl of steaming hot and spicy soup and served with meat or fish.  I took ground nut soup and some meat on the side… Cecilia was giggling across at me as I struggled to eat the seriously slimey fufu with just my right hand, NOT to chew it and just swallow, and then struggle as the after effects of the chilli hit my throat!  Anyway, practice will make perfect (the Ghanaians have been doing this all their life!)  Cecilia had to leave in the afternoon to go to her graduation ceremony … so suddenly I was flying solo in the office on my own still with absolutely no clue where to start with our project!  Luckily the executive secretary (a nice but firm and not-so-smiley man) had left us with lots of large documents about the yam export industry to leaf through… I spent the rest of the day reading through these and trying to understand what the business did and learn as much as I could as quickly as possible.

As Cecilia had left, I had to travel home alone.  The friendly GROCTEU accountant, Maxwell, said he would walk me to the tro tro stop and make sure I got on the right one.  Luckily I remembered what my stop looked like back at home (even though there is absolutely no sign or remote remnants of anything called A life supermarket – just a giant billboard advertising hair products!), so I got off the tro tro, headed home and that was day one complete!

I wasn’t so lucky the next time!   Another Challenge I Overcame This week (it’s called Challenges Worldwide for a reason!) was taking the tro tro home for the first time completely alone (Yes I am talking about tro tros again).  This time, there no Maxwell to lend a hand.  The journey from the workplace to home is simple… you get on at Trade Fair, take the tro tro to Teshie Nungua, and 20-60 minutes later (depending on traffic), you get off at A life and voila you are home!  The story of my first solo tro tro was not quite that simple.  2 hours, 4 tro tros and about 6 cedis later later I made it home, slightly distressed but also laughing at myself as I walked up the road towards my house!  How had I gotten it so wrong!  It started to rain as I walked home and I was so exhausted that as soon as I got home I slumped down in the grass and let the spontaneous rain shower wash away all the stress from the day’s events and journey home.  (I definitely recommend a rain shower as a natural stress remedy!)

This week, Wednesday was a public holiday to commemorate the day Ghana became a Republic… so there was no work for us.  Which meant time for some all-important sightseeing! We all met in central Accra and having waited two hours for the bus we had ordered decided to do a walking tour instead and catch up with the bus later.  So we saw the independence square, ate some bananas and ground nuts (an excellent snack combination the Ghanaians love) and then took the bus off to Oxford Street (the central shopping street).  We visited the Oxford Street mall before heading off for the main activity of the day: the football game!  After buying some irresistibly cheap souvenirs (Ghana caps, flags, etc) we were kitted out and ready to go.  The stadium wasn’t full but despite this the atmosphere was awesome!  On our side of the stadium there were bongos being played, chanting and singing and dancing… this did NOT feel like a football match!  It felt like I was back in the African bar.  The energy levels remained high throughout the match, and peaked at interval time when the half time ‘entertainment’ was… more football.  This time, being played by very very short people.  Dwarf football at half time – this is definitely not something I would ever have anticipated!  The crowd were going crazy.  At the end of the match we watched the winning side dance a victory routine across all sides of the pitch, and the fans go crazy with even more bongos and even more dancing.

The night was young (it was 5pm).  So off to dance some salsa we went!  To a place called Afrikiko, which hosts a salsa night on Wednesdays, including free salsa lessons!  We all jumped up onto the stage (some of us more willingly than others!) and learnt some salsa with a very sassy lady and gentleman who taught us all the basics and then paired us up. Even though I had danced salsa before, I learnt a few new moves and it was fun dancing with Kofi who was an extremely dedicated student and made us do the routine about 50 times over before we stopped!

After a three-day week in the yam export union, an exciting football game and salsa, it was only fair that we receive another day off on Friday!  Due to a last minute cancellation at Lorenell School we were given the day to ourselves.  Instead of staying inside and swotting up on business theory, we ventured across town to the Madina market in search of some colourful fabrics.  The market was a beautiful colourful chaos – colours, people, sounds, smells, so many things to buy everywhere and so many things to see all at once.  And the colourful chaotic fabric stalls were only a tiny portion of that!  After what felt like hours looking at reams and reams of incredible patterned material we were all fabric-ed out and so finished off our day with a trip to the university poolside.  I was the only one who got in the pool, whilst the others sun (cloud) bathed and then all rushed inside as the rain began to set in and I carried on swimming for a while.

So, somehow, I made it to the end of the first week ‘in the office’, just in time for the weekend!