First Impressions of Accra

We landed in Accra, a city of 4 million, from Namibia (population 2.1 million) and were instantly struck by the heat, color, and energy of our new home. Looking at our fellow travelers on Air Namibia, we assumed that we would be the only folks in the "non Ghanaian citizens" line at immigration, but this was incorrect. Instead, other planes had landed at the same time and this queue was teaming with Africans in local dress. Many fabrics and styles were represented-- a kaleidoscope of color! Immigration was quite slow, as everyone seemed to have some type of story to explain to the immigration agents.

The next morning we reunited with our group of coaches and took this picture on the roof of our building overlooking the airport and greater Accra. Melissa Nsiah, a Stanford grad from 2008 is managing our orientation. She has been very helpful since she lives in Accra, but grew up in New York! Pictured here are: Melissa, Bill Scull, Jan, Ed, Clinton Etheridge, Kweku Flemming.
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We have settled in to our apartment in the Airport Residential section of Accra. We share a 3-bedroom fifth floor apartment with Clinton. Bill and Kweku are across the hall. Since we're the only couple, we have the master which is filled with natural light. Nice! In fact, it's bigger than our bedroom in SF. The living room is very spacious--perfect for group meetings and dinners on our laps with colleagues. There is air conditioning throughout, so it is quite comfortable. Our neighbors include two guys working in Security at the Saudi embassy (who waved at Jan when she went out on the deck in her pj's the first morning.) They later invited us up for a beer! There's also a gal working for UNICEF upstairs who apparently jogs every morning.
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Our building has a reasonable gym on the roof with a treadmill, spin bike and all-in-one gym for weights. We're hoping for air conditioning in the gym soon. One of the most important features of our compound is the diesel generator which is supposed to kick in whenever electricity from the grid dies. Reliability of power is a very major issue throughout West Africa so virtually every building has a generator for backup power. Our building generator is huge, resembling a freight locomotive albeit without the wheels.

Our neighborhood is a mix of old and new. Our building is two years old, but people have only moved in recently. Down the street is Auntie Paulina's vegetable stall which provides fresh fruit daily. Also nearby is the Diplomat's liquor store. The shopkeeper took one look at the five us and declared that we were instantly diplomats (and thus able to purchase French wine, chocolates, and other goodies.) There are two other six story buildings going up around us. Soon the sunlight for the remaining one story homes in our neighborhood will be eclipsed by these buildings, and we think these smaller properties will soon be torn down to make room for bigger and better. There seems to be no zoning, so business are located right next to residences --sometimes even in the same building. We are also down the store from the Koala grocery store, which seems to be owned by Lebanese shopkeepers. There's a wide assortment of items, including Ghee, cassava, baguettes, hair straightener, and ice cream. Our apartment even comes with our "house boy"(that's what he's called), named Francis, who cleans, irons, runs errands, and helps out whenever possible. He has a shy smile and is very helpful.

Traffic is crazy! We are lucky to have a driver to navigate the streets. After our first day, even Ed said he wouldn't be driving here! Every street is teeming with hawkers -- salespeople who carry food or other merchandise on their heads and sell them to passengers in the passing cars. They walk up and down the middle of the street hoping to make a transaction through the window. You can buy a ThighMaster, fresh fruit, coffee mugs, phone cards, clothing, electrical adapters, etc. We have yet to purchase anything through this method.

The local people are extremely friendly and hospitable. They call us "auntie" and "uncle" or "madam" and "sir". No question is too small or off limits. We have visited the local bars and pizza parlors (!) and made new friends.
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Our team of five has begun to bond. We all feel honored to be a part of the SEED program and look forward to the weeks ahead.

4 thoughts on “First Impressions of Accra

  1. Stan

    I have to admit, I had to look up on Google maps just where Ghana is. Will miss you both on RAGBRAI. Very informative and interesting to read about your doings.

    Reply

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