Quite a few people have asked what we miss and it is tempting to reel off a long list of foodstuffs, shops, bars and restaurants and make each line rhyme – like a song from The Sound of Music.
Obviously we miss people the most. Speaking to friends and family in the very public internet café in Koforidua is no replacement. We’re incredibly lucky though in that the other VSO volunteers in Eastern Region are great fun and the area itself is beautiful. It makes the other challenges more palatable.
However, that’s no counterpoint to the lack of tasty, recognisable food. Sandwiches, cheese, milk (and variety of any kind) are missed as if they were old friends.
The local market here is made up of a maze of tiny streets and alleyways. Rickety handmade stalls selling tomato puree, sachets of pure water, cream crackers (soft and from China) and Jack and Jill wafer biscuits (a new favourite) are crammed together next to women selling oranges from huge metal bowls balanced on their heads, scratch cards to top up mobile phones and huge cauldrons of bean stew and rice. Taxis and people compete for space on the road – the pavements are split and crumbling and every few metres a huge gaping hole emerges with a black hole dropping some four feet to the litter and unknown gutter below. Precariously balanced barbeques on metal tins covered in offal churn smoke into the air next to men preaching with loudspeakers about redemption and women roasting plantain over charcoal. Watermelons, coconuts and pineapples are split and or peeled on request. Tomatoes are piled into pyramids ready to be haggled over and argued for. Second hand clothes and shoes are piled up and advertised with loudspeakers and loud voices. In the core of this maze is a covered area where more specialist products wriggle, squawk and stare. This is where the live chickens scratch in cages to be sold on for their eggs; snails bigger than a giant’s fist ooze and creep over each other in a pile (ready to be boiled for soup) and dead bats hang motionless from the poles where they were barbequed. (We have not yet tried such delicacies but just seeing them is more than enough to bring on emotional and physical pangs for Marks and Spencer’s foodhall).
So for those asking what we miss, I would say food. I would say crisp salad (without the taint and rumours of typhoid), meals cooked without buckets of red palm oil, and clean white foodhalls with baskets and too much to choose from.
More than anything I miss being able to walk the streets anonymously without every child and stranger calling obruni, obruni (white man). That is what I miss today, but in a year’s time I imagine I will be back in the UK missing the greetings of strangers, the catcalls of tiny, cute children, the adventure of stepping out of the front door, the immediacy of fried yam and hot pepper sauce sold on streets corners. I will no doubt miss the stifling heat and the overly familiar strangers, the brilliantly complex handshakes, the laughter and music and uninhibited dancing. That just seems to be how missing things goes.