Monday, December 7, 2009

The Upside of No Social Life

My next entry will probably be about chronic diseases, so I wanted this one to be a little more light- hearted.

I will be the first to admit that I don’t have much of a social life here in Accra, yet. The apartment and office are near one another, on the outskirts of the city, quite far away from both the night life and where the white people hang out (an area called Oxford Street). The only public transportation available is in crowded (“private”) vans or personal taxis, and I don’t really have a desire to do either just yet. So far, I drive to and from work and home with Dennis, and I pretty much do what he does. As he is a pastor, who also has a full-time job, it’s safe to say that he doesn’t exactly party like a rock star. Dennis, Patricia and I spend our nights eating dinner, watching TV (mostly soccer) or DVDs, and getting to bed at a decent hour, as Dennis and I leave for work at 7:30 every morning. But I’m definitely not complaining…it’s really not that bad.

Dinner has markedly improved over the last two weeks. We went to “the market” over the weekend (another blog entry for sure), so I now have a good stock of food and spices and have gotten into the swing of cooking for myself. Sometimes I’ll try what Dennis and Pat are having, and it’s usually pretty good and always interesting. They are getting to know what I do and don’t like, so the bad surprises (intestines, liver, etc.) are fewer and farther between.

As for TV, that’s a different story. We get about 7 or 8 channels, and when we get home from work, the line-up has become pretty predictable. 3 of them are news channels. The SABC (South Africa Broadcast Company) is pretty high-quality and focuses mainly on African headlines. Then there is PressTV: a very high-quality broadcast that is actually based in Tehran. Sometimes they like to portray the US and its allies in a not so great light (as with the IAEA sanctions against Iran recently), but more often than not, I find it to be fairly objective and very good (ie: Sean Hannity and Keith Olbermann could learn a thing or two). Finally, there is local Ghanaian news; it’s pretty budget, but I find the topics very interesting. Lately, they have been discussing the new budget proposed by government and what Ghana should do with its forecasted oil revenues (definitely a future blog entry). Once you get passed the news, there is one channel that always seems to be broadcasting a terribly-dubbed Spanish soap opera. Another channel usually always has a soccer or rugby game on (often it’s from the Dutch, Scottish, Russian or another lesser league). The “American channel,” as I call it, which I suppose I am to find solace in, seems to alternate between reruns of Oprah, America’s Next Top Model, and CSI Las Vegas. And those of you who know I feel about these shows know that, in my humble opinion, this station might as well be static. The programs on the other few stations are a wildcard of televangelists, Ghanaian shows, science-y shows and the featured soccer matches (always the English Premier League) and featured movies (they have a weird thing for Eddie Murphy movies here).

As I said in a previous blog, Dennis and Desmond enjoy movies, and we have many DVDs. We don’t see Desmond much during the week, as he lives in Tema, but he comes over to spend the night on weekends, and that’s when we do the movie watching. Pirated DVDs from China are the norm here, where anywhere from 9 to 90 movies are contained on one disk, and we have many. Ostensibly, they all have themes – Harrison Ford movies, epic war movies, Wild West movies – and Dennis and Desmond seem to favor the action-packed ones.

The lack of a social life has also given me ample time to read. I’ve already finished one book – a fantastic read about microfinance and international development entitled “The Blue Sweater” by Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund (thanks Mrs. G. for the gift) – and started on another: “Selected Stories of O. Henry.” In times like this, I like to read the “classics” that have yet evaded me. When I studied abroad in Spain, I read “The Catcher in the Rye, “Lord of the Flies,” and many others. (No, I did not have to read them in high school.) However, I don’t think that I’m quite ready for the Kafka or Sun Tzu that I brought with me. And, when it comes time to applying for grad school, I imagine that will take up a significant amount of my time as well.

Another good thing is that I’m not spending much money these days. A penny saved is a penny earned, so it’s almost like I have a salary! An old coworker and friend of mine has been consulting for the World Bank for the last two months in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam, and she has had a very different experience thus far. Like most ex-pat aid workers, she socializes mainly with others of her kind (aka: white people). They lounge in expensive rented villas; spend money on gym memberships, massages and gasoline for their cars; and go out dancing and drinking ‘til all hours. If you don’t believe me, please read her blog. As she is a professional writer, I will admit that it is much better than this one. But I am glad I am not doing things that way, if only for the reason that the money I saved would last me about half as long as I’d like it to. Also, I don’t think she would argue that I am probably having more of an “authentic” experience living and working with only native Ghanaians. Last week I had my first conversation in 2 weeks with a white person: a missionary’s wife from “central Pennsylvania” who approached me after overhearing me talking to Dennis at the grocery store.

Like I said, I’m not complaining about being a loser, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I fully expect to procure a bike soon, to make myself more mobile. And, as of this writing, I doubled my “conversations with white people” tally this past week, bringing the grand total to 3. One of them, an analyst with the Clinton Foundation that I met at a Global Fund conference on Wednesday, invited me to a (sushi) dinner with him and some of his friends this weekend. He lives on Oxford Street, so yes, they have a sushi restaurant for the rich white people that coalesce around that part of town. I’m a little apprehensive about being one of the “obrofo” (the Twi word for white people, plural; “obroni” is the singular) patronizing a sushi restaurant on Oxford Street, so we’ll see how it goes. But at least I have something to do on a Saturday night.

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