|It's not all bad|
After nearly two years in Ghana, I have seen a lot of the country, learnt a few words of Twi (about five), and tasted all that Ghanaian cuisine has to offer me – not much, being vegetarian. But I could live here another 20 years and still not master Ghanaian logic.
The taxi journey last night was a prime example. Walking to pick up a takeaway at Noble House, an Indian restaurant near the local A&C shopping mall, I heard the familiar parp of the horn. I said where I was going.
“You are going to A&C mall?”
“No, a restaurant near there.”
“OK, 6 cedis to the mall.”
“Fine, but it’s not actually the mall. It’s nearby. OK?”
“You know the way? I don’t know it.”
“Yes, I know, let’s go.”
He asked directions all the way, and then pulled up at the mall. No, I repeated, I’m not going to the mall; it’s a restaurant nearby.
“Oh, I have to pick someone up and I’m late. You said you knew the way.”
“I do, just take the next turn right.”
We turned left. Past an enormous, garage-sized ‘Noble House’ sign with a bright red arrow pointing the other way.
“It’s the other way.”
“No, nothing is down that road. It’s this way.”
“But you said you don’t know where it is.”
“I know it’s not that way. Nothing is that way.”
We got there eventually. I had to pay him eight cedis; not only did I not know the way, I had made him late for collecting his passenger. Taxi drivers in Accra drive a hard bargain.
|Where are the spuds?|
New arrivals are just as easily caught out. Our friends Lilly and Ole came for two weeks last year, and after a dusty trip to Mole, we retreated to relax at Till’s No.1, a beach resort just outside Accra. Owned by a German, the menu has a better-than-average selection. After a week of yam chips and fried rice in the north, Lilly spied the fresh green salad – lettuce, tomato, eggs and boiled potatoes.
One hour later (the standard waiting time for food in most Ghanaian hotels), out came the meals, including her salad – minus the spuds. She asked where they were; “Oh, coming, coming,” came the reply from the hurried waiter.
A further 20 minutes, and the salad devoured, but still no potatoes. As the plates were cleared, Lilly asked about them.
“Oh, please, no potatoes with salad,” said our smiling waiter.
“But the menu says potatoes”, replied Lilly (the chips I had eaten proved they weren’t ‘finished’).
“No, this salad doesn’t come with potatoes.”
“It says on the menu, though – lettuce, tomato, egg and boiled potatoes.”
“Oh, please, everyone here knows this plate doesn’t come with potatoes. You can ask my friends.”
|Sunset at Tills|
Simple logic: why on earth would a guest expect potatoes when the staff all knew the menu was wrong? To be fair, the waiter probably had the stronger case this time; most Ghanaian menus are as grounded in reality as the average Noddy story. “It is finished,” is a refrain common to anyone eating out. It’s difficult to believe some dishes ever ‘started’.
The moment I knew I would never get my head around the Ghanaian way of thinking was in Shoprite, Accra’s low-cost, poor-quality South African supermarket in the city’s main shopping mall. It had been a stressful Saturday morning, full of typical expat problems: the air-con was broken; the waitress brought the wrong coffee; it was too damn hot, again. Sweating and in a bad mood, I went to buy the week’s groceries before retreating home to watch Coronation Street on Youtube.
Vegetables are weighed and priced by a bored-looking shop assistant, but when I handed him my mango, he gave it back: “It must be in a plastic bag”. Refusing bags for single items is my own futile gesture towards reducing Ghana’s phenomenal plastic waste, but I knew it wasn’t worth arguing.
In between me getting a bag and returning, a Chinese couple had sneaked into the queue with half a trolley’s worth of veg. Swearing quietly and trying to stay calm, I impatiently waited my turn, then unloaded my basket of veg … only to find an unbagged avocado at the bottom. Swearing quite loudly this time, I went to get yet another bag, only to be stopped.
“That doesn’t need a bag”, said the assistant.
“Why did the mango then?”
He gave me the smiling, ‘what’s he on about?’ look that is a common Ghanaian response to irate obronis making a fuss about nothing. I tried again, this time with props.
“What is the difference between this (holding up bagged mango) and this (holding up unbagged, similarly-sized avocado)?”
“That one is a mango… and that one is an avocado” he answered.
Beaten again by Ghanaian logic.
|Spot the difference|