Kumasi feels like Accra if Accra took a deep breath and downed a cool glass of water. It’s evident upon arriving here that there is a slightly slower pace of life. Taxi drivers and shopkeepers haggle less aggressively; people have more time to say “hello” or “sorry” as they pass you on the street; the traffic, while still a snarling, writhing turmoil, feels slightly less frantic than in the country’s capital. I’m enjoying getting acclimatized to this more relaxed vibe.
The city centre of Kumasi, however, is still a manic and fluid beating heart of madness. Walking through town, the shops seem endless. You can buy anything you could ever need from small shops on the side of the road; I saw cell phones, curtains, clothing, irons, shoes, iPods, brooms and make-up among all kinds of other items as I walked by. There are also bigger stores with more packaged goods and up-scale items.
I can tell you right now that my favourite part of shopping here is the fabrics. There are so many beautiful patterns in the most vibrant colours. It is common here to buy fabric and then bring it to a tailor to have clothing custom made. I have already picked up a few yards of fabric, as I need a dress made for a wedding I will likely attend next weekend. Don’t be surprised if I come back to Canada with a new wardrobe.
At the core of centre town is Kejetia Market. This market claims to be the largest in all of West Africa. There is an inside portion, a semi-indoor portion consisting of small roofed shacks built very close together, and sections outdoors where sellers have umbrellas or stands. The outdoor portions snake into surrounding streets in all directions like creeping limbs. As I’ve only been into centre town once, I have not yet braved the depths of this market; I have heard that if you get lost it can take an hour or two to get back out. However, I will be trying it soon, and I will be sure to update you all on how that goes.
Fun fact: the same man who drove my first cab from there airport in Accra drove my cab from the bus stop in Kumasi. The world is a small place.
Kotei & Votolandia
I live at the VOTO house (aka Votolandia) in Kotei, a beautiful, quiet area of Kumasi. Like many areas outside of centre town, there are a lot of trees and plants here; I guess there’s a reason why they call Kumasi the green city. There is a small market area 15 minutes walking from our house where you can find fresh fruit, veggies, meat, street food and basic essentials. It feels like the type of market where you can get to know everyone by name. There are so many little birds and lizards and chickens in this area; I have stopped noticing the roosters at night. We are also near a university (KNUST), and some fancier shops and amenities are available there. To get to centre town from Kotei can take from 30 minutes to one hour on a tro, depending on traffic.
The house itself is a really great spot. The balconies and accessible roof make my heart happy. I also love my room; I have a bigger bed here than I do at home, and I have my own bathroom. There is an open work space on the ground floor of the house, but we can essentially work wherever we like. We have a shared kitchen as well. One of the employees even has a dog, which means that I have a snuggle buddy.
There are several different churches in our neighbourhood. One is directly across the street from us; the sermon is amplified so I can hear it through my window. There are also singing worship groups there during the week. For instance, last Friday night there was an all-night amplified singing worship service. If you’re into live music at all hours, this is definitely the spot for you.
Being able to do laundry during work is a huge perk of living and working in the same place.
If you pretend your mosquito net is a princess bed, it’s 1000% more fun.
Let me tell you a thing: food is complicated. Now that I’m feeding myself and eating less takeaway, I’m starting to realize how little I know about food. In urban North America, we really don’t need to understand food at all. Everything is always in the supermarket, fresh, good and easy to prepare. Here, there is a market with food; however, it is your responsibility to ask for what you want and to make sure what you get is good. Food is in season when it’s in season. When it’s fresh, it’s far better than anything you’d get in North America. When it’s not, it’s questionable. I’ve always subconsciously assumed that if I had money, I would be able to consistently feed myself well. I am now realizing there is an art and a skill to eating well. Food is much more than a transactional consumer good.
The expansion of my comfort zone so quickly over the past few weeks has left me in a weird emotional drift. My first week in Ghana, I felt uncomfortable (in an amazing way!) because everything was new and a little overwhelming. I embraced my discomfort and leaned into it, thereby increasing my comfort zone and growing as a person. Now, my life is becoming “normal”, despite being way outside of my previous comfort zone. This entails a new kind of discomfort. I find myself questioning: if I’m not constantly pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone, am I making the most of my time here? I’ve been working 10 hour days or more, so I am definitely maximizing my work impact. But outside of work – how do I harness the full potential of this experience? I find myself comparing my experience to that of other JFs in my cohort. It’s not really fair to compare – everyone’s experiences are so different – but I still sometimes feel inadequate. I know this is silly, and I am consciously correcting that feeling, because I know deep down that I already am making the most of this experience; “making the most of it” just looks different depending on who you are, where you are and what you’re doing. I’m realizing that personal growth can come from a plethora of sources, from grand adventures to accumulated everyday experiences.
(In case you’ve been wondering, I’ll post a blog about my actual work soon! Capturing my first impressions of this country and its culture has just taken priority. Until next time!)