The lack of sidewalks and other amenities in Ghana changes jogging into a video game. I constantly have to become Mario to jump over pipes or open drains, duck rapidly to avoid running into ‘Back to the Bible 2011’ signs, and maneuver through obstacles including roasted plantain stands, coconut carts constantly obstructing the pavement, and roads so uneven you’d think they were paved by an alcoholic. The street is a fight for survival against arrogant trotro drivers who think they ‘rule the road’ and overpriced taxi drivers begging for you to stop running and pay for a lift back home – I stop for no one.
Actually – that's a lie. I stop for everyone. As soon as Ghanaians notices a foreigner like me running down the street, constantly hear yells of, “Obruni,” and loud hisses desperately trying to get my attention. It would be rude to continue running, so I drawback to say hello. Usually this ‘hello’ results in fifteen or more minute conversations – due to their kindness and intrigue. We start talking, and after I say that I’m from the United States, excited Ghanaians ask me if I am, “friends with Obama,” and I can’t help but smile. One overly infatuated guy even showed me his underwear with Obama’s face on it… amusing, yet slightly creepy. I also make a habit of wearing Manchester United jerseys (my favorite football club). People notice my attire and start cheering me on, high-fiving me, or even start booing as I run past them. It’s a great feeling to be in a nation of football lovers.
As if to top it off, I finish each jog with a coconut, freshly butchered off the street. It’s perfectly refreshing and serves as positive reinforcement of running. My current tally is 53 coconuts in 40 days; by the time I return home I’ll require a five-step program to end the madness.
Due to the friendly nature of Ghanaians and my coconut addiction, each 30 minute jog ends up taking me roughly two hours. It’s a riveting experience; no two jogs are similar' and every day I meet new people and learn more about the friendliness of the African culture. I see jogging as a way of ‘building bridges’ between people – Ghanaians have a stereotype that foreigners are usually lazy, and are genuinely shocked to see an American exercising. I’m helping alter that generalization. And besides – I’ll do anything that gives me an excuse to ‘suffer through’ another coconut.
AKA: The inside story of why I’ve been on the toilet for the past 30 minutes
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It all started on a sunny Wednesday. I had just finished 30 minutes of straight jogging (as a graduate of the “Couch to 5k” running program,) when all of a sudden I came across a man with a machete… and a large pile of coconuts.
I bought one for 60 pesewas (40 cents), and he immediately started hacking at the coconut while turning it, until it was clean-shaven at the top. On the top, he cut a hole for me to drink out of of it roughly the size of a quarter.
After drinking the juice at a speed similar to Charlie Sheen drinking alcohol, I handed the shell back to him and expected it to be thrown away. But Mr. Coconut Man had a different idea in mind. He grabbed the coconut, and proceeded to chop it into 4 pieces. He carefully scooped out the white, creamy inside with a spoon- as is done to an avocado.
He then handed me the coconut shell once more to eat my fill of the soft, creamy, innards.
It was delicious… yet my quest for refreshment was not fulfilled. I proceeded to order another coconut. It was even better than the first, and as I left the stand, my blissful belly was feeling very satisfied.
I began to jog home, but quickly had to stop due to the condition of my belly gurgling from all the ingested coconut water. I slowed down to a walk, and in a few minutes I came across a woman in a stand selling some type of fried dough for 20 pesewas (13 cents). I couldn’t resist, and bought one. I bit into it expecting sweet breakfast doughnut, but a savory and oily hushpuppy flavored batter awaited me. It was good, but it caught be off guard. I later learned that it was made from black eyed peas, and was called koose (recipe here).
After eating two coconuts and one koose fritter, I slowed my pace even more to an even-slower crawl and ended up cramping regardless. After arriving home, I took a quick shower, and then readied myself to take a nap. Five minutes later, my host-mom came knocking on my door:
“Breakfast is ready!”
A Note on Eating in Ghana:
It’s part of the culture that you should try eating everything, and always do your best to finish your plate, to not waste food. It was wrong of me to eat so much food outside, as breakfast is usually served in the home. Denying the food would’ve been understandable, but since I had only been with my host family for a few days, not the best thing to do since I wanted to bond with them.
“…. Be there in a minute!”
I begrudgingly slumped out of bed. At the table, the most extensive breakfast I’ve had to date awaited me. It was “continental”, according to my host-mom, and included large omelets, white bread, baked beans, and milo (hot chocolate).
Somehow I found room in my stomach to down an entire omelet, two slices of bread, and a fairly sizable amount of beans.
Every story must have an ending. It just so happens that mine wasn’t the happiest of endings. Although I "did my host-momma proud" by finishing the plate, it had its own consequences. I’m not going into details, but you can reread the subtitle of this blog post just to get an idea of the results.