Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Lake Volta Lights Out

Ghana is experiencing an energy crunch right now. Akosombo Dam, located in Lake Volta (one of the world’s largest artificial dams) isn’t producing enough energy to meet the country’s needs. Lake levels are just too low this year to generate enough power for Ghana, in addition to its export requirements (some say that contracts with Ghana’s neighbours, like Togo to the east, are given higher priority than supplying its own citizens with electricity).

So as a result we’re in a state of power rationing. That means that every forth night in my neighbourhood in Tamale, the power will be out from 6pm-12midnight. Some days, the power will be cut from 6am-6pm.

Last Saturday night, during the “lights off,” I sat outside with my Ghanaian brother, Samed, and his cousin, Faisal. We made green tea using the method popular in much of French West Africa, and which I learned in Mali. This involves making three separate pots of tea by steeping the tea leaves three times. The first pot, with the strongest flavour, is called “bitter like death.” The second pot is “soft as life”, and the third pot – the weakest – is “sweet as love.”

It was certainly relaxing to sit in the near darkness, with the weather quite cool in the evenings, making tea. Samed’s favourite was the third pot, the sweet one. In fact, he insisted we brew a forth post, christening it “sugary as lust.” At the risk of making a sweeping generalization, I’ll go ahead and make a sweeping generalization. Relative to Canada, Ghana is not a land of moderation. This can be seen in the coffee here (four heaping spoonfuls of sugar, followed by four spoonfuls of condensed milk is the norm). Oil, when used in cooking, is added by the cup-full: my egg sandwiches in the morning are usually 30% oil by mass. Music is played at full volume, even if it means that speakers are vibrating in protest (visitors might be forgiven for thinking that all Ghanaian music contains a level of distortion – this is actually the result of having the volume knob cranked almost to the point of falling off). Friends are visited frequently and with great energy. Criticisms are delivered without hesitancy (I’ve been told that I’m getting fat too many times to count). The maximal number of people will be crammed into any public vehicle, and then three more will be added for good measure. The weather is incredibly hot in the summer time, and cold and incredibly wet in the rainy season.

And it’s all quite refreshing, really. I like being in a country where people are willing to go all out. Where people don’t allow Western-style social norms to prevent them from discussing bodily functions. Where, if you care about someone, you express it unequivocally (“Luke, I’ve missed you so much!” is a common sentence to me). Where you don’t allow such apparent roadblocks as lack of space to prevent an additional bag of yams to be passed deep into the recesses of a public tro-tro – indeed, lack of space isn’t a roadblock: what would cause most Westerners to give up, is merely a minor setback here. And where “lights off” is taken in extreme stride: a fact of life here in a developing nation.

It’s certainly different. And I’m sometimes shocked by the differences (see my last blog entry), but I’m more frequently pleased and impressed, delighted to see a slightly different way of life. These differences aren’t fundamental, to be sure – but they make life interesting.

I’d better go now. It’ll soon be lights off, and I’ve learned not to be terribly bothered.


Laura said...

i want to try the sugary as lust tea.

i bet there's amazing star gazing there.

soph said...

being told you're fat is usually meant as a compliment (if you're a bit 'tubby' then you're likely to eat a lot ie be happy and you're likely to be wealthy too).
nice blog entry. enjoy your time out there!