Food is one major source of the expression of the culture of a group of people. In Ghana, a country with different geographical vegetation and different cultures, there are different types of food sometimes with huge variations even within the same identifiable ethnic group. It is difficult sometimes for people of one group to be able to eat food of another group in Ghana. Ghana’s popular and staple foods include fufu with soup, banku, tuozafi, akple, mpotompoto, porridge, ampesi (cooked yam, cocoyam, plantain, etc. with pottage) and others.
My name is Dennis Owusu and I am privileged to be a volunteer of the Challenges Worldwide ICS programme in Accra, Ghana. When I was recruited onto the programme after going through the recruitment process, I had concerns over how UK volunteers would be able to cope with local meals. Both UK and in-country volunteers would be staying in a host home which invariably must be more skewed towards preparing and eating local meals. I had also thought that even if my counterpart would like to eat outside the host home for possible reasons of domineering local dishes, he/she would still have to eat local meals because most of the food selling in the streets are often more local than households meals except in a few continental hotels, restaurants, malls and bars which are extravagantly expensive. This might drain the pocket of my counterpart, I had thought.
Nevertheless I thought that the programme would recruit host homes whose families would be familiar with foreign dishes for the sake of the UK volunteers. I realised this with the head of my host family, Auntie Grace, who appears to know almost all the names of the popular British dishes such as Couscous and vegetables like spinach. I thought that my UK counterparts were fortunate and that my fears are swayed.
Seeking to inspire global citizens to challenge themselves to change their world as its name, Challenges Worldwide, suggests, the Challenges Worldwide ICS programme might have also consciously or unconsciously wanted UK volunteers to challenge themselves with not just the change in their physical environment, but the change in the culture, especially the culture of food. Few anecdotal observations I made indicated that the UK volunteers themselves were very keen adventurers who may want to accept and explore every change and challenge in their lives as far as the Challenges Worldwide ICS programme is concerned.
How were the UK volunteers going to be able to eat local staple foods such as fufu, banku, ampesi, emotuo just to mention a few? Do they know these foods? Will they be prepared separate UK meals? These and many other questions relative to food and feeding were lingering on in my mind since as a volunteer, I had personally understood the totality of the responsibility of making sure my UK counterpart quickly but carefully adjust to her new environment, which is not just the physical environment but the cultural and social milieu.
Some of these preconceived qualms almost disappeared when volunteers were hosted at Suma Court Hotel for one week in Accra, Ghana. As a player in the tourism sector which is expectant of the diverse backgrounds of its clients, Suma Court Hotel’s foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner were relatively continental and neutral. Food like rice and sauce, milo drink and toasted bread and sausage etc. As a typical Ghanaian youth, I must admit most of these foods were not my favorite especially with the accompanying etiquette and table manners. I had observed that the UK volunteers may be disillusioned that Ghanaian foods are not much different from foods at Suma Court Hotel. Besides the standard bedroom and washroom facilities, Suma Court Hotel’s foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner were relatively cross boundaries. UK volunteers did say that they were not disappointed in the facilities and food services at their disposal at Suma Court Hotel in view of the low expectations they had for some stereotypical reasons and stories they have heard about Ghana. Perhaps they had not face the real Ghanaian world including its foods.
Figure 1: Breakfast at Suma Court Hotel during in country training
My concerns over the challenges in the changes of food for the UK volunteers were confirmed when I was told during training sessions that for a Brit, spicy food means there is too much pepper in the food. I was like really? This is because in Ghana, ‘the food is hot’ might be an allegory for food with much pepper when you take away the literal meaning of ‘the food is hot’. In Ghanaian dietary parlance, food described as spicy should mean there is too much flavors. There were strong warning that Alastair, one of the UK volunteers is deadly allergic to nuts and so I could remember Lyndsey, a team leader, repeatedly asking anybody who had eaten nuts to clean hands and properly dispose nuts packs before the UK volunteers arrive at Suma Court Hotel from the airport.
Myself and Charles on one hand and Hattie and Lauren on the other hand, had to agree among ourselves that when we want to mean there is too much pepper in a meal, we would say the food is too peppery; and spicy to mean there is too much flavors. This was a skill of reaching a compromise which I learnt during my placement.
I must however admit that my concerns about adaptability of the UK volunteers to local dishes were dissolved by Hattie and Lauren when we started staying in our host homes with Charles. Hattie and Lauren would eat typical local Ghanaian meal without facial or bodily disdain. I did not see either that their body evinced any allergic or negative reaction to the local foods or meals. I had occasionally enquired from them whether they are able to take the local diets because they tasted or look similar to any British meal or they eat because they are being daring to try to eat local dishes out of curiosity. Hattie and Lauren would mention names of British foods which tastes or looks similar to local foods. Example include Couscous for ‘garifoto’, potato for yam, weetabix for Tom Brown and spinach for ‘kotomere’ stew among others. I had realized that Hattie and Lauren would eat local meals not because there exist names for foods that taste or looks similar to British foods, but because these UKs had perhaps resolved to challenge themselves with the culture of foods of Ghanaians.
Figure 2: Nutritious ‘garifoto’ (couscous)
Sometimes foreigner-friendly dishes prepared by host home, may not be accompanied with usual garnishes. But I read a genuine compromise on the faces of these two British to eat such foods.
Figure 3: Lauren and Charles enjoying ’emotuo’
I must be quick to add that I am not set to discredit the rich content of local foods especially those we enjoyed from our sweet host mother, Auntie Grace. Local dishes are nutritious, delicious and hygienic in their own respect. My point here is to commend the genuine and gallant attitude of Hattie and Lauren to eat foods prepared with totally different assortment and mixture of ingredients with different nutritional expectations at different times in alignment with the culture of the people of Ghana.
Staying with Hattie and Lauren teaches me that most meals in the UK should be light and not heavier especially during dinner. Unfortunately in our Ghanaian part of the world, dinner is supposed to be heavier with more carbs. We eat dinner or lunch without desert in our part of the world, whiles anecdotal evidence suggest contrary to eating UK meals. Snacking is very common among the UKs. But in Ghana, this is not taken serious.
In spite of these sharp differences in what I like to call the ‘culture of food’ between Ghana and the UK, I can vouch for the resilience, adaptability and flexibility with which Hattie and Lauren, as volunteers on the Challenges Worldwide ICS programme in Ghana, accepts and eat local dishes without disdain, groaning and preferences.
Hattie is a vegetarian. I would want to believe that my host mother, inasmuch as she is familiar with the names of British foods, she would not as typical Ghanaian woman, be familiar with the choices of foods or meals of someone who has lived her entire life as a vegetarian in a place like the UK which delicacies are mainly vegetables. This has not affected Hattie at all fortunately. Separate meals are prepared for Hattie and are contained in individual bowls and containers. I had always observed her readiness to eat without grumbling how it should have been prepared or how well it was not prepared.
These act of tolerance for Ghanaian foods by my counterparts, Hattie and Lauren, are worthy of praise and emulation.
Whereas I can commend the rest of UK volunteers for their respect and like for local Ghanaian foods, I can however vouch and put my head on the guillotine for Hattie and Lauren for their much higher and unfeigned acceptance to eat local dishes because I have stayed with them under the same roof and sat with them around the same dining table.
I believe there would be opportunity for UK volunteers either in individual host homes or collectively as a group to prepare typical indigenous British foods for in-country volunteers to one, know how good UK volunteers know their own foods and how to prepare them, and two, to test the like and respect of in-country volunteers for local British foods.
Until then kudos to Hattie and Lauren and by extension to all UK volunteers on Challenges Worldwide ICS cycle seven for their respect and like and smiles for local Ghanaian foods.