By and large, we have amazingly comfortable living arrangements in Accra. We live in a gated compound with 24 apartments (including six other missionary couples), a pool and a gardener who keeps the gorgeous landscaping looking immaculate and washes the car twice weekly for $15/month. The compound walls are 12 feet high, topped with razor wire, guarded around the clock and our neighbors are mostly foreign diplomats. I’m not sure which of our neighbors is pulling strings, but most of the roads around us were just resurfaced in the past two weeks, which saves meandering across the whole road to navigate through a bone-jarring maze of potholes that could swallow an entire Yugo without even chewing.
Our apartment is fully furnished with two bedrooms, two baths, a patio, and room air conditioning units with remotes in both bedrooms and the living room. We have Wi-Fi, a back-up generator and a functioning water heater. Compared to some friends we know who are living in remote villages where you need a 4WD and a rural heritage just to get around, well-engineered mosquito netting and boatloads of insect repellent to avoid malaria, flashlights and buckets for when the utilities fail, we are living like royalty.
So while I really can’t complain, there are several issues related to the kitchen that leave me occasionally puzzled, but more often amused. Note: This post does not address food availability; we hit eight different food stores yesterday just to get stocked up for the week. More on that another time.
Precision is So Overrated. We inherited several sets of measuring spoons and cups in the apartment. Since Ghana, like most civilizations, uses the metric system, I checked to see if the spoons and cups used metric or US measures. Possibly to avoid taking sides, most of these “measuring” devices are completely devoid of any size markings. It’s not like the markings are worn off. There never were any. Just pick the size container you like, fill it level to the top, gently rounded, or heaping, whatever suits your fancy.
On that note, our cute little range/ oven has five dials on the front; one for each of the four stove-top burners and one for the oven. All the dials quite similar, though the stove-top burners dials are numbered 1-6 and the oven dial (center) has a “ᴼC” on it, a couple of broiler settings and the numbers 1-11. It is very reassuring to know that that the 9 is in Celsius, not Fahrenheit. Now we just need a new set of cookbooks that instruct you to bake your pie, roast or whatever, at “5” for two-and-a-half hours, then uncover and finish for twenty minutes at “8”.
My Kingdom for a Garbage-Disposal. I never would have guessed this, but the one appliance I miss the most from home is a garbage disposal. No such animal here. Any scraps from meal preparation, leftovers, or even wiping the countertop need to be deposited into the trash can. This can must be sealed tightly to keep vermin out and the odor of rapidly fermenting foodstuffs in. Which means every time you open the lid, you are immediately assaulted by the burgeoning compost heap happening inside. Fortunately, the trash can is rather small; we would be emptying in frequently regardless.
A Trio of Water Faucets. Rule number one in Ghana is don’t drink the water. So you either buy all your potable water from a reputable supplier or you need a water filtration system. Our apartment is equipped with three faucets in the kitchen sink. The brass one on the left is triple filtered for drinking water. The one on the right is double filtered. Not sure what types of bacteria remain before the final phase of filtration, but we decided this faucet is probably safe enough to use for rinsing dishes. The one in the middle is unfiltered, in case you’re feeling lucky.
Three-Second Rule. Ghana, it turns out, is one of the few nations that never was a signatory to the international “three-second rule”. Regardless of how well or often you clean (and we do), if any food item hits the floor, don’t even think about a rescue mission; it belongs in the trash. Just hold your nose and get the deed done quickly.
Plastic – The New Wonder Material. These apartments are probably no more than twenty or thirty years old, but whoever did the finish work was still caught up with the 1950’s, when plastics were all the rage. The washboard and counter-top surrounding the sink, and the sink itself, are made from molded plastic. That would have been really easy to install, and probably works great unless, like most of the civilized world, you happen to use hot pans anywhere near your kitchen sink or counter-top. Thus far we managed to avoid adding to the myriad of burn marks on and around the sink.
Spin Cycles in the Kitchen. In the slot under our counter where one might logically expect to find a dishwasher, sits our cute little washing machine. For clothes. Don’t’ get me wrong, I love having our own washing machine. I just didn’t expect to find it in the kitchen. It is weird to have to reach around Michelle while she is making dinner so I can swap out a load of laundry.
“Behind Door Number Two…” I suspect that because it never ever gets cold here, and because of the heat generated by having a small kitchen containing both a washing machine and an oven/range that economizes on space by scrimping on insulation, there are two doors separating the kitchen from the rest of the living quarters. Keeping the door into the kitchen closed not only avoids heating the up rest of the flat, it also gives you access to the pantry, that you can’t get into when the kitchen door is open. We compensate with a fan on the counter-top and opening the window when the weather outside isn’t positively frightful.
Hey, we/re having a ton of fun!