Living like a local: Kumasi

Kumasi is Ghana’s second city and the regional capital of the Ashanti region. Until researching to come to Ghana we had never even heard of Kumasi. Now we find ourselves living here for two months. However, it’s not a bad place to be located with welcoming people; a range of local and nearby things to do; and relatively good transportation links for exploring the rest of Ghana. Here in part one we discover what local life is like.

Day to day Tikrom life

After a failed attempt at Workaway, we ended up staying with a friend and a group of expats who were involved in a range of jobs related to aid work and volunteering. They were based in a small village not far from Ejisu, which lay on the outskirts of Kumasi. Integrating into Tikrom was made much simpler than we anticipated due to the support of our new friends who showed us the ropes, introduced us to the local shopkeepers where we could source food and generally made us feel part of the group.

The house itself had everything a westerner could want including: electricity; running water; indoor bathroom complete with shower and toilet; fully equipped kitchen; lounge area; fans; and decent mobile phone signal. Having others to socialise with also made a huge difference and stopped us from feeling isolated.

We soon got into a routine of walking round to the local shop to buy dry goods including rice, noodles, pasta, sauces and tinned goods as well as bread and eggs before crossing over the road to source vegetables. Vegetables were bought as an amount of money e.g. 2 cedi onions, 1 cedi okra, 50 pesewas tomatoes but once you got used to what you required it was a relatively simple system ensuring you always knew how much it would cost.

From Tikrom we were easily able to walk through the village to the next village of Baworo. It was here that we sourced a volunteering opportunity at a local technical training centre. Walking through the Tikrom village was a pleasant experience as children shouted out “Hi!” and locals greeted us more formally with a simple “Good morning” or “Good afternoon.” No one seemed surprised to see us so we assumed that they were used to visitors from other countries coming and going in the local area. It was also interesting to see people just going about their daily lives with us mere observers but, being there with purpose, not as intrusive. In time we became more familiar with the local way of life and I even engaged with a local tailor who was able to make adjustments to a top I brought to her.

Market day in Ejisu

It was only on our second day in Tikrom that our housemates were off out, with an open invitation, to Ejisu. Sunday was market day and it was the best time in which to source fresh produce. Not only would it allow us to pick up some food but would enable us to begin to learn the local public transport system. Walking to the end of our road we hailed down a line taxi. This is a taxi with a fixed fare running between two locations – in this instance Baworo (where we volunteered just past the edge of Tikrom) and Jachie junction (which intersected with the main road joining Ejisu to Kumasi). Paying 1 cedi each we piled in and alighted at the end of the line. After a mad ‘Frogger’ moment (or for the younger generation: Crossy Roads!) we made it across the road where we were bundled into a passing Tro who had caught sight of us.

Market day in Ejisu
Market day in Ejisu

Ejisu on market day was hectic! Every bit of floor space was taken up by sheets, flattened cardboard boxes and sacks covered in vegetables. The only thing was there were only about five to ten varieties that were on constant repeat. If you wanted to buy peppers for instance you had to walk past numerous sellers and try to glance, without looking too interested as then they’d begin the hard sell, to see if the quality was good enough for what you wanted. Then, just as at the shop in Tikrom, you would tell the seller how much in money you required. It wasn’t long before purchases had been made and the sun had really started to shine – it was too hot to remain out for much longer so we made the journey home. It was a simple but necessary outing, an insight into how locals lived their lives and a reminder that not all cultures had the supermarkets containing every item they could possibly need, all under one roof.

Local food in Antoa

Two of our housemates in Tikrom work for an organisation called Exponential Education with a further two of their volunteers living in the nearby village of Antoa. Living in much more basic living accommodation than we had and much more integrated within the community, we thought we would pay them a visit. A night was arranged for all of us to meet up to cook and share a local dish. This local stew was renowned in the area and we had the added bonus of a good friend and local Ghanaian, Charles, to help us in its preparation.

Traditional Ghanaian stew with yam and plantain
Traditional Ghanaian stew with yam and plantain

Walking to buy ingredients from Charles’s aunty in the near dark (as we had been waiting for a typical deluge to cease) we met several of the locals who knew our friends. They were not fazed at all to see us all wandering the streets of their very small village. Once again it allowed us to really see what life was like in the villages, something we could never have experienced as a tourist. It was so different to the life we had back home and the most similar place we could liken it to was our visit to the villages in Nepal[link] a full year ago. Assisting with food preparation also allowed us to learn the local recipe and the techniques required to make it, though whether we could repeat it without support, we shall have to wait and see. I don’t think I have ever seen a group of people eat a meal together as quickly as I did that night – testament to how good it tasted!

Tech, Tech, Tech!

“Tech, Tech, Tech!” shout the tro mates as they compete in filling up and moving on to their destination before anyone else. But what is a ‘tro mate’ and where is ‘Tech’ you might wonder. Well, a tro mate refers to the guy (I have yet to see a girl in this role, or driving a tro for that matter) who hangs out of the window, whilst the tro is hurtling along, and shouting out the destination that the tro is heading to drum up business. They also collect the money from the passengers and hand back the change. Tech is the local name given to KNUST – Kumasi’s university.

Tech is a great spot for expats living in the Kumasi area as it has a few more western delights including: banks that will take all manner of foreign cards (including Mastercard); a supermarket with lots of foods you can’t source at your local village shop (though no cheese); a few eateries serving pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and cakes; smoothies, fresh juice and yoghurt stalls; an Olympic-size swimming pool; and shops to sort out your tech including an Apple verified retailer and a Vodafone store.

We visited Tech on several occasions combining the need to withdraw money with the chance to spoil ourselves to fast food, buy additional items from the supermarket and even get a cupcake for Anthony’s birthday.

Edible bugs in Fumesua

The title might be a little misleading as I’m sure there is more to Fumesua that edible bugs, however, it was the bugs that brought a group of expats together to sample a new snack on Anthony’s birthday. Fumesua happens to be the location of the Aspire Food Group, an organisation that is experimenting in edible bugs. The palm weevil is a native species here in West Africa and can be found living in rotting palm trees. At the larvae stage they can be eaten to provide, amongst other things, a great source of protein. Although they are not particularly pleasant to look at, especially whist writhing around in the palm of your hand, they can be a possible solution to combat local malnutrition. Once cooked, in our case this was done as part of a kebab complete with vegetables and lots of spice, they don’t actual look too bad. And, if you haven’t got too much of an overactive imagination (sadly I have) then you can easily forget what they look like.

However, on what has to be the strangest way to celebrate your birthday with no cake in sight, we sampled our first (and for some of our group, second) palm weevil larvae kebab. I’m pretty sure that for most of us this will also be the last time we’ll try this too – many of us succumbing to peer pressure and that overwhelming YOLO moment! However, if the introduction of edible bugs can help tackle malnourishment then I’m all for it. It’s innovative ideas like this that we need more of and I hope to hear more about the Aspire Food Groups successes. It was also a very memorable way to spend Anthony’s birthday – glad mine involved the Sydney Harbour Bridge though – with no bugs in sight!

If you’re thinking of heading over to Ghana to volunteer and you are considering living in Kumasi then please get in touch. However, if you’re only going to Ghana to visit as a tourist then sign up for updates as we’ll be releasing our next blogs on what you can see and do in the Kumasi area and beyond.

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