It is Wednesday night, the evening of our kids first day in school, and our second night in what is to become our home. We moved earlier in the week, all 13 suitcases, boxes, and plastic bags that we have been carrying around and living out of for the past seven weeks. I must admit it is a relief to finally unpack, and part of me wonders, what was I thinking when I thought I would need this book, or that sweater, or why didn’t I think to include a can opener? I guess that is the mystery of packing for the unknown, is that you pack from where you are, hoping that when you get there, you’ll have what you need.
We are glad to be here. After seven weeks of living out of suitcases in three different places in Ghana, as well as Connecticut, New Orleans and Texas. We’ve been on the move since July 1, and were promised a home by Aug. 1, but then there were complications, and by the last week we had created a lottery where each put in ¢10,000 cedi for a chance to pick the day we would really move. First it was Friday, then Saturday, then Monday, and finally Grace won with the most unlikely bet Tuesday.
Our new home is wonderful, large, and most rooms have an air conditioned. I think the Ghanaians have it right, placing an AC unit in each room, instead of cooling the whole house. As you leave the room, turn it off, and when you enter, you turn it on. AC feels like a luxury, one that we much appreciate.
Suzanne here: The house is very nice, it is an old house so it’s got old house issues – some windows don’t shut all the way, the screens are dirty and many have holes, etc. The ceilings are all interesting and very nice, and the house is quite large – 5 bedrooms and 4 ½ baths – so, there’s plenty of room for anyone to come visit us! I think the girls will enjoy each having their own rooms, and Wesley Fox has his own bathroom which is also nice. There is a downstairs guest room and bath, all ready for visitors (well, we’ll need furniture for it, but we have time for that). The kitchen is huge, with a stove (with an oven!) and a washer AND dryer! We weren’t expecting either the oven or the dryer (or necessarily the washer) so we’re quite happy about that. We do have bars on all the windows, so we’re very safe, plus a 24/7 guard. The house is on a dead-end street of just 5 houses, the street is called 3rd Dade Close (pronounced Dad-eé close).
This house carry’s with it one of the problems that our hotel, and then apartment had…mosquitoes. At night they come and feast on us, but tonight our hopes are upon a netting that covers our bed, and a good nights sleep. This feasting is starting to take it toll on Suzanne, who awakens to slap the insect, or insects, and the night’s sleep is lost. Suzanne here: Steve got mosquito netting on Wednesday (high priority) so Suzanne got her first long, sound night sleep in a few nights – just one or two mosquitos can bug you all night long, so you don’t sleep well. I think they bite through the sheets too. Suzanne, Steve, and Anna seem to be the sweet ones at night – Anna’s feet are covered in bites, and she wears socks and shoes during the day so they must come at night. Fox & Grace say they don’t seem to have problems with them at night. Anyway, the mosquito netting is marvelous.
The house has a study, kitchen, large general purpose family/dining room. Four bedrooms, three bathrooms, one half bath, and a guest room as well as outside servants quarters, and a guard. Mr. Manuel during the day, and Mr. Daniel during the night when we turn on the outside lights so that the only thing that is dark, is the inside of the house.
It is strange to live behind walls topped with sharpened metal, and a guard who locks the gate and unlocks it to let you in. When visitors call, he will ask them their name and purpose, and then he comes to see if master or madam is able to speak with them. The guard introduces our visitors and where there are language difficulties, he interprets, and if you need, will call a taxi. When we come home by taxi, the gate opens, and he helps us unload our bags, and it is all so strange and wonderful.
The economy has taken some getting used to for there is no middle ground. Things are either very expensive, or very cheep. For example today I hired a taxi to take me all around Accra to pick up household things, a list Suzanne thought would take two days to complete. With the help of taxi driver “Eric,” I was done by midmorning, and even had time for a cup of espresso (while I was waiting). I would tell Eric I need this, and he would call around to locate it. Eric took me to places I did not know, and at the end, the whole thing translated to 12 dollars.
It is a cash based economy, and for one who carried very little cash (and charged almost everything) this money thing has been an adjustment. The largest bill is equal to roughly $2.00, and the smallest, the ¢1000 cedi, is equal to a dime. So if you are buying something worth $100, it will take a million cedi, and you learn to count out fifty ¢20,000 cedi notes. These bills feel so clumsy in my hands, and the Ghanaians count with such speed. Coins are not use much except in the stores, where they are given as only as exact change. Other than that, the ¢20,000, ¢10,000, ¢5,000 and ¢1,000 are the bills of choice, and in negotiations, we just say, 20 or 10, and everyone knows we’re talking in one thousands. .
Negotiations, or bartering. Almost everything comes with a price that is a negotiation. Fox and Grace are masters at it, and most of the time I let them do the talking. I watched in awe today as my sweet Grace talked the taxi driver down from ¢20,000 to ¢5,000. “Oh, it is too much, … it is not that far… ¢5000 … we can walk it our self. ¢5000. (then she turns to me…”Ok Dad, we can get in”).
Our apartment was on the edge of a very busy circle. So the food store was right across the street, the internet café (where I post these blogs) right across the circle, the night life sprung to life about 8-9pm when road side cafes would come to life, with tables, charcoal grills, and blaring music. The food was spicy, and cheap, and it all looked so fun. I’d gotten to know the vendors, the ones I could trust, the ones I learned not to haggle with, like the “Grumpy Apple Lady” who had great apples but wouldn’t budge on the price. Four Tousand. (roughly .40 each) but they were worth it. The same apple inside the store was ¢29,000 (or $2.90). Here in this new place, I’ll have to find new merchants to trust.
Tonight we had our first meal cooked in this house, that comes with a full kitchen. It was beans, a sort of taco meat, pita bread, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and carrots, as well as fried plantain chips, and french fries (called chips, here). I am happy I packed a pressure cooker, a good knife, two tins of spices, and a salad spinner, as all these things work together to create the taste of home, the taste of Texas, and tonight as we prepare for bed, we have full tummies, and are happy for these things we have brought with us. It is good to be home.