July 2009


This is an insert for the article “Fufu – The Feast of Kings and Queens” which appears in the Spring/Summer 2009 issue of  “Destination Ghana“. See my previous post.God is love

For the new initiate, let us look at the ingredients. In the southern parts of Ghana, fufu is most commonly made with cassava and plantain, while in the north it is made from yam. These ingredients are peeled, cut into pieces and boiled until cooked. At that time they are placed into a large wooden mortar and pounded until a starchy ball is formed. The ingredients chosen and the degree to which they are pounded will determine the consistency.

The connoisseur will then look to the soup. And what a choice there is, each with its own attributes, and each reflecting the unique culinary abilities of the cook and the raw materials at his or her disposal. Light soup may include many different ingredients: tomatoes, garden eggs, onion are most common. Groundnut (known elsewhere as peanut) paste gives nkateε nkwan (groundnut soup) its special flavour and makes that soup very rich and filling, while abε nkwan must be eaten while hot before the palm oil (abε) congeals and makes it difficult to swallow.

Flavouring is also adjusted by the amount of red pepper and ginger to be added, determined by the preference for hot food. No soup would be complete without a source of protein, and once again there are many choices: fish, both fresh and smoked; poultry, most commonly chicken but on special occasions, dabodabo (duck); meat, both domestic (goat, cow) and wild (grasscutter, antelope).

This article was written for the Spring/Summer 2009 issue of “Destination Ghana“, published quarterly by FotoMagic Publications in Accra. This magazine is available  on Lufthansa and Virgin Airways flights originating in Ghana. It is also available free at the Silverbird Bookstore in the Accra Mall.

What does it take to make a man or woman happy for the day? Well, in my case, happiness is a large cold Star beer and a meal of fufu!

While fufu is the staple for many, it should not be mistaken as a poor man’s food. Rather it is a meal of many choices and combinations, capable of satisfying a broad spectrum of discerning palates. Having said that, fufu is also an acquired taste and is not for everyone. It takes experience to learn to distinguish between soups that are prepared well, and each individual has his or her preference of fufu consistency.

Chop bars (so named because the manner of eating fufu is to “chop” it with the thumb and two forefingers and then place it in the mouth, taking care to swallow without chewing) are another matter of personal preference. Over the years I have found some favourites and I am happy to share my choices.

Bamboo chop bar3reduced

I was first introduced to fufu when I arrived in Ghana in 1971 for a two year teaching contract. When I travelled away from my home village, I would sometimes take a meal at one of the local chop bars but did not particularly enjoy the food. I met my wife some time later and she began preparing soups and fufu. It was only then that I began to fully appreciate well prepared soups – there is nothing quite as good as a meal prepared at home with the love and care that only one’s wife and family can offer.

Having said that, our lifestyle does not allow us to take all of our meals at home. Sometimes we have to eat out and now, armed with the experience of home cooking, I am better able to discern the best places to eat.

I am a “country boy,” much happier in a village setting than in the city. Perhaps that is why my favourite chop bars are in rural settings. When we returned to live in Ghana in 2001, we were surprised to see many changes had taken place in the traditional chop bars. Individual wash basins and soap brought to the table replaced the communal wash basin and the bar of Key soap that had been common. Cloth napkins were also offered along with toothpicks. All of these changes were new to us, and I often jokingly referred to each of these features as a level of “Star” rating for each location where we ate.

Chairman's Base

A tip to the unsure – if you want to find the best places to chop fufu, ask the taxi or lorry drivers. They always know the best places and their recommendations have never failed me. One of my nephews is an accomplished driver and he has directed me to two of my favourite places. One of these is located on the highway between Accra and Kumasi, in between Anyinam and Nkawkaw. It specializes in “bush meat,” both akrontae (grasscutter) and antelope. The soup is a light soup, always served hot and with the correct amount of  flavour.

In recent months, my son introduced me to a chop bar located on the Accra-Cape Coast highway midway between Kasoa and Winneba Junction. The owners opened for business in 2002 and have gradually built from a humble thatched shelter on the side of the road to a solid block structure with a high ceiling that remains cool even on the hottest of days. For those who prefer natural shade, there are tables set up nearby under trees. Grasscutter is usually available as is aponkye (goat). The name of the chop bar is Sua Papa Yeε. Auntie Faustie explained to me the meaning: the best gifts are given willingly without expectation of return and these are the best blessings. What a wonderful thought to consider as one dines on the great meals that she and her staff prepare.

Sua Papa Ye

My wife and I spend considerable time at her home village near New Edubiase in the Ashanti Region. The road to Obuasi passes by two popular chop bars. “Chairman’s Base” is set beside the road and offers conventional fufu and soups along with an assortment of refreshments. Once again there are trees to sit under, or if you prefer, an open dining area shaded by a terra cotta tiled roof. The latest popular music blares from the bar, and it is not uncommon to see “big men” enjoying their meal in the company of lovely young women.

Several miles from there is the place that receives my “5 Star” rating for the chop bar with the best food and the best ambiance. A small stream meanders beside crude benches cut out of the bamboo which grows in that area. The benches are located under the overhang of a very large bamboo clump. Occasional breezes cause the bamboo to sway gently overhead, ensuring that it is always cool. It is an idyllic setting, and one that attracts a steady clientele of diners from all walks of life – the ubiquitous lorry drivers, market women moving back and forth to the local market towns, professionals and civil servants as they go about their business, and business men and women who have discovered this place and make sure to time their travels so that they can stop here to eat. The choice of food is limited to either grasscutter or antelope – both will delight the palette – and it is not uncommon to see diners packing away enough for two because the food is so good!!

Of course, once in a while, even country boys are forced to go to the city. In Accra I have checked out a number of places. Asanka Locals in Osu (they also have an outlet in Medina) is a very popular eating spot. It offers a wide range of meals including fufu. Another well known option is the Heavy Do Chop Bar with three locations; Mile 7, Kokomlemle, and Abossey Okai.

When I travel to Kumasi, my usual meal time destination is Friend’s Gardens. The owners, Charles and Comfort, are always gracious, and the food is consistently great. My favourite is smoked beef in a soup seasoned with seeds from the prεkεsε tree, (which is used as a traditional remedy for the treatment of high blood pressure.)

Bamboo chop bar5

Any time that we are passing through Cape Coast, we stop off at HomeStyles for a visit with our good friend, Auntie Jo, and of course we also take in a meal of fufu. Light soup with goat meat is our usual choice, along with an opportunity to compare notes on business. HomeStyles is located across the highway from the East Gate to the University of Cape Coast and enjoys a steady patronage from that institution’s faculty and staff.

Frequently business takes me to Takoradi for the day, and of course, what better excuse for a meal of fufu. There are several dining choices, and each offers a great chance to watch people. God is Love Chop Bar is usually packed with diners from various walks of life – business men and women anxious to eat and return to work; civil servants in no hurry to go back to their desks; students from the nearby technical institute enjoying a break from institutional food. Fufu is the only choice on the menu and a local FM station plays popular high life or reggae music, depending on the time of the day. Akroma Plaza serves meals outside under thatched roof structures as well as inside a large air-conditioned dining room where you can watch Nigerian movies on a wide screen television on one side or listen to American country music on the other side. The clientele are usually well-heeled professionals, high ranking civil servants and successful individuals from Takoradi’s business community. The menu offers a wide selection of continental food for those who do not want to take fufu (although as a fufu lover, I cannot imagine why anyone would not want to do so!!)

Well, there it is – my take on one of the world’s best meals – FUFU, a feast fit for royalty. When next in Ghana, make sure to enjoy the experience. As we say here, “you are invited!”

Sign above the door to a local drinking establishment

Sign above the door to a local drinking establishment

I have been a bit slow since our evening of salsa dancing on the Rooftop of the African Rainbow, but there is something from Saturday afternoon’s presentation that keeps coming back to me. It is time for me to wade into a topic which has been weighing on me for some time.

On the weekend, our hotel hosted an awareness creating conference on the topic of prostate cancer. One of our guests is a medical doctor specializing in cancer research and treatment, with emphasis in the sphere of public health. During his presentation, he compared the availability of information and treatment for breast cancer, which is only experienced by women, with that of prostate cancer, which is only experienced by men. The doctor told us that the National Health Insurance Scheme of Ghana provides payment for treatment of breast cancer but not for prostate cancer.

The doctor went further to talk about the reasons for the discrepancy between these two treatments. He spoke about the way in which the concept of “women’s empowerment” has left men in a disadvantaged position, and for no reason other than the fact that they are men. The example of prostate cancer illustrated the doctor’s point.

The concept of “women’s empowerment” is a western idea, and one which grew out of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. This was a time of the Peace Movement and a time when “people of colour” were pushing forward their rights, particularly in North America. As a naïve and idealistic socialist, I was a strong supporter of all of these causes. It was clear to me that men and women had equal rights, just as people of all races and sexual orientations were entitled to be treated with those same equal rights.

In a similar way that Christianity made its way to this continent, well-meaning people brought the women’s liberation movement to Ghana. Those people came with views based on the perspective with which they were familiar – i.e. a western context. As a result, it is currently in vogue in “development circles” to address “gender equity” when foreign aid packages and programs are being decided. In fact this has become so much the case that issues which address community as a whole are often given little or no consideration, in preference for those which purport to enhance “women’s empowerment”.

In anticipation of the daggers of indignation being drawn, let me hasten to say that I am all in favour of women’s empowerment BUT with one proviso. Let us ensure that the empowerment of women is accompanied by the empowerment of men, as well as that of children. Let us recognize that empowerment of one segment of society at the expense of another is not empowerment at all but rather a form of that which we are trying to rid ourselves and that is colonization and enslavement.

When I read about foreign NGO’s and aid agencies talking about the way in which this or that project which they have undertaken is going to “empower women and children”, I smile to myself and think about Kejetia and Makola and Fumso and Bolgatanga and Agona Nkwanta and Kasoa and all the other markets, big and small, in Ghana. When walking through any one of those places of commerce, it is clear where the power lies. Yes, perhaps the western business world may still be dominated by men, but in the marketplace, it is women who rule.

And so before we leave the topic, let us return to the issue of treatment for men’s prostate cancer. Let us here in Ghana not be led astray by the western world. Let us remember that women make up half of the population while men make up the other half, and let us ensure that equality and empowerment is practised in all directions. Remember, men and women, we are all in this together – if we are all sisters, let us acknowledge that we are also all brothers. Let us also ensure that policies which are made in Africa and Ghana are based on an African and Ghanaian context and not one from the western world.

No Shaking

In a recent blog post I exposed a problem that was experienced by an American tourist as he was departing through Kotoko International Airport. The incident involved the improper actions of three Immigration Officials. Several readers have requested that I provide a follow-up to that incident, and I am pleased to relate this reaction from one representative from the Government of Ghana.

Yesterday I forwarded to the Deputy Minister of Tourism a copy of a letter which outlined the incident. In a very quick response (less than five hours after transmitting the message), the Deputy Minister called me to learn more details and to let me know that he shared my concern. He assured me that he will request a meeting with the Head of Immigration in order that the matter be properly investigated and rectified. Wonderful! This is precisely the response which is required. This is the kind of action which will keep our country moving forward.

There are two other sides to this incident which I would like to bring up. Two years ago I submitted my application to the Ministry of Interior to become a naturalized citizen of Ghana. That application has been in the hands of Immigration officials since that time, and I have been assured that the processes will soon be completed. I confided in a friend yesterday that I have been somewhat reluctant to push the issue of the Kotoko incident too far because I did not want to jeopardize my application. He correctly pointed out to me that “no country is worth becoming a citizen of if you have to compromise your values in order to gain citizenship”.

My friend went on to point out that we all have a responsibility as citizens to speak out when we see situations which are not correct. Failure to do is the way in which countries cease to be ruled by just and transparent laws. Of course he was right, and the response from the Deputy Minister has allayed any concerns which I may have harboured. No doubt those in charge of the Immigration Service will also wish to see this problem solved because they do not want the actions of the officials of a few to reflect badly on the Service as a whole.

There is yet another aspect of what has unfolded and it is this: in the 8 years since I returned to Ghana to make it my home, I have witnessed a profound change in attitude in many of the government agencies with which I have dealt. I have seen men and women acting out of a sincere sense of responsibility and with professionalism and self-confidence. These people are a new generation of bureaucrat, people who are of a generation younger than my own (I am now 61), people who do not exhibit the attitudes which we used to have to endure in dealing with anything of an official nature in the early 1970’s when I first came to Ghana.

It is this new generation, as exhibited by the Deputy Minister and many others in agencies as diverse as Immigration, Internal Revenue and Education, who will move this country forward. These people in turn rely on the citizens of Ghana, each of us, to act as guardians of our working democracy by always keeping them on their toes. Let us all take our share of shaking things up when things need shaking.

Stay tuned, for more updates on the incident at Kotoko, and on my application for citizenship.

Obama is coming - will he be allowed to leave?

Obama is coming - will he be allowed to leave?

Recent media coverage has given a lot of attention to the hopes which have been attached to the visit of President Obama to Ghana. This week, the Minister of Tourism, Mrs. Juliana Azuma-Mensah spoke about the positive impact of the President’s visit, and she  once again reiterated the importance of tourism to the economy of the country.

Meanwhile the reality that faces some of the tourists who are already in the country has illustrated that there is more work to do in areas other than cleaning up the town of Cape Coast. On Tuesday, four days before the arrival of President Obama, one of our guests, also American, went through a harrowing experience at Kotoko International Airport when he was catching his flight to return to the United States. This man had a valid multiple entry visa which had recently been updated when he traveled to Cote d’Ivoire and re-entered Ghana. He was returning to the United States after spending considerable money during his stay in Ghana, and was planning to return at some future time for repeated visits.

Immigration Officers pulled him aside in the Airport and accused him of being in the country illegally. He showed them his American passport and valid visitor’s visa, but to no avail. After being threatened that he would be put in jail, and with the fear that he miss his flight which was soon boarding, the gentleman offered the officials a payment. After much argument in which they requested a larger sum, they finally accepted $300 and allowed him to board the plane. He left Ghana, traumatized by his experience, and firmly convinced that he will never return to this country.

The Minister of Tourism has recently referred to the Obama visit, stating, “Ghana must hang out all her best wares to be captured by the cameras to enhance our domestic earnings for economic growth.” It is clear that there are some Immigration Officials at Kotoko International who are taking the Minister’s pleas quite literally – they are ensuring one of two things:

  1. They have enhanced the domestic earnings of the Immigration Service by collecting this additional fee

OR

  1. They have enhanced their personal earnings for their own personal economic growth.

Is this the experience that the Minister wishes to be captured by the cameras?

Is this the thank you that the Government of Ghana is offering to American citizens who have come to this country to spend money? Perhaps  the Minister should turn her attention to matters other than some of the short term window dressing on which her government has suddenly and lavishly spent money if she is sincerely devoted to increasing tourism revenue for this country.

This is not the first time that we have heard of these kinds of incidents at Kotoko. It is imperative for the Government of Ghana to take seriously the issues that beset potential tourists who experience difficulties in getting visas to come to the country, and even more importantly, it is time for the Government of Ghana to ensure that the lasting impression of Ghana that a tourist has is one created  by their positive experience while in the the country  instead of an incident such as the one which our guest experienced this week at the last point of exit – involving greedy Immigration officials at Kotoka International Airport.

Prairie Steel Products, Clavet, Saskatchewan

Prairie Steel Products, Clavet, Saskatchewan

Occasionally incidents make us aware of the way in which we are all interconnected on this globe we call the Earth. Actions, large and small, taken in one place will have effects that we often don’t anticipate. Global warming is perhaps the most ominous example.

Other times, we see the connections and they give us a “feel good” sense of belonging to the larger community of mankind. Recently I snapped this shot. A citizen of Dixcove was walking the road which connects his village to our village of Busua. He was happy to have something to keep the hot sun off his head, and I was happy to enjoy a connection to my home province of Saskatchewan. Greetings to the good people in the little village of Clavet, with a special hello to those who work for Prairie Steel Products.

Dixcove, Ghana meets Clavet, Canada

Dixcove, Ghana meets Clavet, Canada

Nana Pra upstream

Nana Pra upstream

Crossing the River Pra

Part 2

As you now know if you have been reading this blog, the bridge at Praso has been closed for repairs. Ten days ago, my wife and I decided to detour around it via Oda. With the wisdom of hindsight and past experience, we set off early from New Edubiase at 11:15 a.m. Branching off the highway several kilometres south of town, we were pleasantly surprised to be driving on a recently tarred road, travelling by oil palm and cocoa farms and then into the forest reserve. It was a lovely drive, with only a few short stretches as yet incomplete, and we made a note to remember this drive to take visitors who wish to see the countryside.

It was not long before we reached the Pra River. We crossed on a short bridge, stopping at the other side for me to snap some quick photos before a truck and passenger lorry approached from the opposite direction. The tarred road ended at the bridge to be replaced by a narrow and rutted path. We soon caught up to a timber truck that lumbered along at a snail’s pace until he reached a knoll and pulled over. Thinking he had done so for my benefit, I quickly slipped on by him, just in time to see the orange Mass Metro bus bearing down on us. I squeezed to the right and the bus passed by.

The road began to improve slightly, and then returned to a tarred surface like the one which we had first encountered. We smiled with assurance and debated where we might begin turning back towards Assin Fosu. Would we have to go all the way to Oda or would there be a turn off somewhere that would shorten the trip? Once again I remembered my excellent road maps, still stored safely in the glove compartment of the car back in Busua!!

The tarred road ended, and turned onto the paved highway which leads into Oda, thus ending the debate. Soon we could see the old single lane bridge over the Birim River on the outskirts of Oda. We passed over, stopping briefly at the Police barricade to inquire about directions to Assin Fosu. The Inspector puzzled over the question for a few moments and then advised us that we ask at the lorry station in town. We were grateful that he was not related to a certain taxi driver – the memory of our wrong turn a few weeks earlier was still with us. If the Inspector did not know, at least he was not giving us an incorrect answer.

Nana Pra downstream

Nana Pra downstream

It took several more inquiries to get on the proper road but soon we were heading towards Akim Swedru, cruising along on a tarred surface, passing through that town until we reached Akim Achiase. The good road promptly ended, and from there until we reached the junction at Assin Brofeyedru, it was slow going. We were not alone on the road, meeting passenger lorries from time to time, often carrying funeral goers.

At one village we drove up to a makeshift blockade, manned by young men dressing in red and black. A timber truck had been stopped on the other side of the blockade and some of the young men were in a discussion with the driver. Several young men came up to our vehicle, asking for one Ghana cedi from us before they would allow us to pass. They explained that the chief of the village had just died and the funds were required in order to celebrate the funeral. We readily made our contribution and were once again on our way.

Finally we passed an intersection which we recognized, even though we had only seen it once before and then in the dark. It was the place where a certain taxi driver could not bring himself to tell us that he did not know the correct way, the junction which set us off on a wrong turn several weeks earlier. Of course, the driver meant no harm – he was only trying to please us by supplying an answer to our question. Chances are that he really did not know where that road passed.

Another few kilometres and we pulled onto the Cape Coast/Kumasi highway at Assin Brofoyedru. It was almost 2:30 and had taken slightly more than three hours to drive a distance that would have been done in less than thirty minutes if we had been able to cross the bridge at Praso. Is it any wonder that so many people are so unhappy with the contractor who was supposed to complete bridge repairs two weeks earlier!!!

The remainder of our return was on familiar turf and by the time we were safely back in Busua, we had visited four of the country’s Regions, beginning in the Ashanti Region, crossing south and east into the Eastern Region, then returning west and further south into the Central Region, and then along the coastal highway to the Western Region. Our trip had begun an hour and half south of Kumasi, taken us through Oda, then skirted around Cape Coast, and bypassed Takoradi.

Four Regions and four Regional capitals in one day and on road surfaces of all types – not bad, I would say.  We could only hope that urban dwellers, particularly those in Accra, would consider making such a trip from time to time. Perhaps the awareness which the trip would generated might influence better decisions by taking into account the majority of the nation’s citizens who still live in rural areas. The road less traveled for some is the only road for them.

The bridge that does work

The bridge that does work