Saturday, November 22, 2008

too many cooks in the dormroom

It all started when I went on a homestay a three weekends ago. Grand Rapids has this sister city relationship thing with the Ga District, in the Greater Accra Region. This means that everyone, it seems, from the Ga District (East, West AND South, mind you) wants a chance to be hospitable to us. It's really quite kind of them, and we do appreciate it, but it is also a bit time-consuming. For instance, we just got back from spending the day eating a feast of Ghanaian food, drinking more bottles of water I thought a human could consume and dancing to the music of traditional African drums while enjoying the sea breeze off of the Gulf of Guinea. How did you spend your November 22? But the story of the homestay entails just five of us being hosted by a wonderful lady named Victoria who lives in Tema. She brought us to her house three Saturdays ago, socialized with us and taught us how to make delicious Ghanaian dishes such as bean stew or ground nut soup.

Well, after our delightful time with Victoria, my roommate Esther inquired what I could now cook. See, to Esther, if I can't cook Ghanaian food, I can't do all....ever. It's a little frustrating trying to convince her for three months that I'm not incompetent, I'm just in a different country. When I told her that I learned how to make jollof rice (a spicy white rice cooked in a tomato-based stew), she asked me to prove it. She claimed it was good to practice cooking here so I wouldn't "embarrass myself" at home. Thanks for the support, friend.

So this past Monday, Esther put me to the test. She gave me a shopping list of exotic spices and fresh vegetables buy at the night market. Oh, and Esther really likes meat, so I should get goat meat too. Well, it just so happens that goat meat is the most expensive meat on the market, and since I was already spending much more than I anticipated in this jollof rice endeavor, I stuck with chicken. To make a long story short, here I am, presumably vegetarian, coming back home with two kilos of chopped up chicken in a bag on the hottest day of the universe. Seriously, we're talking a dry 115-120 degrees with equatorial sun. I come back to our room muttering, dehydrated and smelling of chickens, and Esther sets me to work.

Our academic semester is rapidly coming to a close, which has created a little extra stress in my life. It's not that the work load is unbearable, but challenges arise when we're trying to balance final exams and research papers, while still attending classes. This being said, Monday was a little overwhelming for me as I looked ahead to all the work I had to do. On top of this stress, the LAST thing I needed was to cook a dinner that took four hours to prepare. When we spent all day at Victoria's, I apparently didn't perceive how long it actually took to cook all the food. And while seemingly simple, jollof rice takes a long time to prepare. Esther, who also has exams she is studying for, decided mid-cooking that she will rip me out for not paying enough attention to cooking and paying too much attention socializing with Amy (which was actually just venting to Amy about my day and having her help me organize my life and abundant stacks of study guides).

Anyway, the jollof turned out to be delicious, even though it was cooked with disdain on my part. Esther continues to be her....self. But now I know that food tends to be a bit more of a cross-cultural engagement than I can often handle, so I have begun to steer clear of Esther's attitude around dinnertime. Don't get me wrong, Esther really is great, but apparently our discussion at the beginning of the semester of how Ghanaians view food/eating quite differently than North Americans hasn't quite sunk in yet. And regardless of how many culturally stressing situations I've been having lately, I still don't feel ready to leave yet. It's not that I don't miss home or people or want to go home, but I feel as though I'm just now beginning to tap into who I am in Ghana, but I have to leave soon. Not having enough time to truly appreciate this culture is probably the most frustrating thing of all.

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