Matthew’s Blog: An update from Ghana, Week 1 – Abroni! Abroni!

 

I arrived late. At the very last minute I had received an invitation to a final round interview and through a great deal of negotiation was able to postpone my departure to Ghana from Sunday 31st January to Tuesday 2nd February. I’ve now been here a week, and what a country! I haven’t heard back from the interview…grrr.

The Emirates flight was exceptionally comfortable. I’m fairly certain that the luxury in which we travelled with screens larger than my laptop’s, and leg-room equipped to cater for an adolescent Orca used to be sold as business class five years ago. Nevertheless in the pursuit of cheap flights our route to Ghana, West Africa, went via Dubai, Asia, which, having a degree in Geography I can safely say, is not in the correct direction when departing from Heathrow. Despite the twenty hours of waiting, flying and trying to sleep I arrived cheerful, excited and starting to sweat at Accra International airport around midday on Wednesday 3rd February. The smile rapidly started to fade as I realised there was a large blank space on my landing card next to ‘Address in Ghana’. I hadn’t made the most of the free Wi-Fi in Dubai to write down the details we had specifically been told to write down from a now inaccessible email attachment. The highlights from Nottingham Forest’s heroic Fourth Round F.A Cup defeat to Watford had beckoned too strongly. There is no Wi-Fi in Accra airport, and English phones take a while to recover from throwing their toys out of the pram when arriving in a foreign country. With a kindly Ghanaian happily informing me that there was no way I was getting through without an address the fear that I would be stuck in eternal limbo between Gate 4 and Accra Passport Control began to sink in.

The details are boring, but I was eventually able to make contact with the Challenges Worldwide office in Edinburgh, obtain the correct arrival details, and an hour later, with a great many apologies to Joshua who was waiting for me, we were trundling in a taxi to Suma Court Hotel, Bobo Lane, Accra, Ghana. It’s a depressing moment tinged with pride when the first time in your life you are spontaneously applauded upon entering a room three days late. Nonetheless, reuniting with friends from the induction week in Edinburgh, meeting the Ghanaian In-Country Volunteers, and eating a delicious lunch which doesn’t come on a tray with foil over the top, plastic cutlery and a bland yoghurt was great.

The next few days were a blur. Life at Suma Court revolved around days of training, group exercises and trying to remember 40 peoples’ names. The English concept of eight hours sleep evaporated faster than the condensation on the sides of the flexible disposable water pouches Ghanaians use instead of plastic bottles. Daily runs at 05:30 a.m began to be considered normal behaviour – a phenomenon from which I am still recovering. In the evenings card games, culture nights and a British display of how awful we are at dancing reigned supreme; at least in comparison to any Ghanaian over the age of about four months. Like Bambi, we were finding our feet and having a great deal of fun in the process.

The training itself was orientated towards the level 5 exams of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) qualification in Professional Consulting. All participants of the Challenges Worldwide ICS programme have the opportunity to take the exam after their placement ends and gain an internationally recognised qualification. The course provides those of us who have no business background the basic knowledge to help the organisations to which we are assigned. Cashflows, P.E.S.T analyses and supply chain maps filled our airwaves as details of the pool of potential businesses began to emerge. Individual preferences were noted and the team leaders retired to attempt to accommodate everyone’s preferences, put them in a personality compatible pair, and lodge them with a host home within a reasonable commutable distance (<1 hour 30 mins) – they returned two days later.

*******

I thought it was supposed to be a homestay. It turns out it’s a mansion! The highly fortunate four of us who are staying off Spinteks Road, Eastern Accra, have named our group after the two cheerful mongrels that roam around the drive pretending to be guard dogs. Team Scooby & Raz: Matthew (author, London), Bismark (cooler than most coldboxes, Kumasi), Ellie (a very friendly aerospace engineer, Herefordshire) and Glory (who could terrify a fully-grown tiger but has a heart of gold, and has assumed the role of team mum and chief negotiator, Kasoa). Bismark and I have been assigned to an agribusiness in Tema, just outside the city. ‘Anyako Farms’ is three years old, growing fast and has ambitions to become the largest producer of rice in Ghana by 2018. It was Bismark’s first choice, and my second choice. Our situation couldn’t really be better.

Kenkey

Using the Tro-Tro’s has become normality, somehow. The Tro-Tro’s themselves are local minibuses, that are run privately in teams of two – a driver, and a ‘mate’, who aside from collecting fares spends his time gesturing and yelling out the window indicating the vague direction of travel. It’s incredibly cheap, surprisingly efficient and exhilarating when compared to the Northern Line. Our first significant expedition into Accra came on Sunday, taking the form of a four hour meandering stroll roughly following the seafront from Independence Square in Central Accra, to Jamestown – the remnant of colonial Accra that sits on a headland west of the city centre. Crossing the square towards the beach, one of our numbers, Alistair, was only too happy to shake his body to the tune of “Abroni! Abroni!” (White Boy! White Boy!), which we could hear being enthusiastically sung by a small army of delighted 10 year olds. Sipping cold drinks on a terrace overlooking the Accra bay, surrounded by a multitude of new friends from two countries, it seemed a fitting conclusion to our first chapter in Ghana.

Matthew Blain

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