NaNa the ‘fanta prince’

So this post is going to be scattered (my apologies up front).

Accra is difficult to describe.  The streets are thin and the cars are fast—they don’t follow street signs or speed limits because those largely don’t exist.  Sidewalks don’t really exist either so people walk in the street among goats, chickens, dogs, kids and cars.   There are ditches/sewers on either edge of the road.  Some skinny, some fat.  Some shallow, some deep.  If I don’t fall into one while evading a car by the end of my trip, I will be shocked.

Ghanaian people are really, really friendly. I’ve been stopped a number of times just walking down the street by people introducing themselves, wanting to know my name and nationality, what I think of Ghana etc.  It’s difficult at times to tell whether it’s a genuine friendlessness or a scam waiting to happen.  So far I’d say it’s closer to the former, but we’ll see what happens.

At work yesterday I asked a colleague where I could find the nearest coffee shop.  He looked at me a bit funny, chuckled, and said ‘Back in the States.’  So after work yesterday, I ran around town in search of coffee (motivated by a Thursday morning monster of a headache–yep, I’m an addict.  I blame growing up in Seattle, and, you know, school) and something to eat.  Along the way, I dipped into a smoothie shop to get my fill and watch Mexico play Italy in soccer.   Soccer is really the only sport that matters in Ghana, so I figured I better brush up on my futbol knowledge before saying anything nutty during the World Cup.

Anyway, on to the coffee hunt—walking to the main grocery store in Accra was an adventure and a half.  It’s pitch black by 630pm in Accra.  And it doesn’t happen gradually—it’s like a light switch is turned off.   And yet the streets are overrun by people chitchatting, vendors selling anything and everything, and cabs constantly honking—not at you but for you, should you want a lift.  Anyway, I was stopped first by YaYa and Ishmael, who just wanted to know where I was from/what I was doing in Accra.  Then by Alberto, an artist (who was super hyped to know my mom is an artist), and a “hip hop star” named NaNa.   His stage name is “Fanta Prince,” like the drink.  We chatted—they invited me to go to Cape Coast, told me where they are from, told me about a couple of parties they are planning, and eventually asked me to buy some of Alberto’s paintings.  He was having a special sale; just for me of course, “buy one get one free.”  I declined and went on my way.

I was followed for a bit by a couple of beggars who repeatedly tugged at my shirt while saying “master, give me water.”  Awkward.  Uncomfortable.  So I hustled along, got my coffee (picture Johnny Drama shouting ‘Victory’ to get a sense of my excitement), returned home on less crowded streets, and read my book to the sound of rain pinging off the tin roof.

Woke up to rain pinging off the tin roof, and walked to work in a bright blue poncho.

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let it begin

So here’s the thing: I’ve tried to start a couple of different blogs in the past.  But inevitably, after one, maybe two posts, I get bored and quit.  This is another attempt, hopefully a more successful attempt.  But no promises.

Anyway, at the moment I’m sitting in Cambridge.  My flight takes off in roughly five and a half hours for Amsterdam and then on to Accra, where I’ll spend the summer working for Innovations for Poverty Action.  I’m hyped/nervous/anxious/excited/overwhelmed.  In short, I’m a bit of a shit-show, but can’t wait to get moving.

So why the title “big eyes, big ears, small mouth”?  As the story goes, a Ugandan man offered this advice to my buddy Patrick a couple of years ago.  It’s apt advice (I think) for anyone interested in policy.  But I think it’s particularly relevant for folks interested in development work.  After all, most development workers hop on a plane, land in a different country hours later, and offer advice or aid or some conditioned combination.  In the best case scenario, that advice is underpinned by years of immersion in the country, an understanding of it’s culture and people, and incorporation of their ideas and ideals.  And the aid is targeted toward projects known to work or individuals with the greatest need and least political power.  But this is something to be reached for–it’s the picture often painted in formal reports, not reality.

Anyway, the advice resonated with me.  I don’t have any expectations or a particular agenda about this trip.  I no doubt recognize the limits of what I can do and achieve in such a short time and in a country I know relatively little about.  I just want to learn.  I want to learn from the people, the places, and the work.  I’ve studied international development in the academic sense for a couple of years now, but I’ve always felt like a bit of a phony.  I’ve never worked, let alone traveled to a developing country.   And that’s not to say that I’ll ‘get it’ after a two month stay in Accra.  I’m a tourist.  This is a drive by. But it’s a start.

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