A new family member lying in the suitcase and the stupid price of that red pepper – Accra expat musings

9 suitcases are on the trolleys. We are almost there now. I watch the carousel closely for the last red one to makes its appearance. Suitcases on an airport carousel never seem particularly cheerful to greet their owners as they wearily trudge along the conveyor that reminds me of Jack’s first Thomas Train track and the repetitive motion of the little blue train going round and round.

I look at the circling luggage and think that it resembles its owners after a long flight; a little beaten up, weary and slow! Ours was only six hours from Johannesburg so we aren’t feeling that bad though. And then there is always the relief you feel when you do spot your case. Up until a year ago we have always felt that momentary gratitude upon being reunited with our possessions when travelling. But I can still recall our disbelief when that changed after we arrived in Bangkok and waited patiently to spot our suitcases which just never appeared, and the stress and worry that ensued! Oh how grateful we were to be reunited with our suitcases two days later for the balance of our three week holiday. I learnt a big lesson about not packing important things like chronic medication into a checked in bag!

As we wait to make contact with the final bit of stuff we are bringing into Ghana, I deliberate on the process involved to get these suitcases stacked on the trolley. The 1-2 days before we travel that I dedicate to packing them like a Tetris queen. The last-minute squeezing in of some bottles of decent wine that costs three times the amount to sip on here. The rather large kitchen mixer we are very excited about, that we have wheeled back this time in our hand luggage, and the array of its attachments spread across our various bags. I’m surprised we weren’t asked to open them up for a further inspection as the large dough attachment looks just like a pirate’s hook! And then there is the newest member of our family who has came back with us – my life size dressmaker’s doll whose torso only just fitted in one of the checked in bags. Her shapely dismembered body may have caused the flight staff working at the luggage scanner to do a double take!

I’m often mentioning how un-materialistic I find life in Ghana, which is definitely the truth, but we are still a long way away from minimalism. We do bring a healthy amount of stuff into the country, although we are far more mindful about using what we own and about not wasting. Our trips back to SA usually involve a lot of stock piling for the months ahead. I love the simplified life that having my own little pharmacy with our chronic medicines and vitamins for six months brings and the stash of nuts and seeds at our disposal that usually cost a fortune here. Toiletries and certain ingredients that we have bought in Durban are taken care of for a while and I don’t have to feel like Nancy Drew with a magnifying glass trying to hunt for things here. Wholewheat flour and bags of brown & wild rice made trips back with us this time too.

Maybe this sounds rather strange but Accra is a rather funny place to find things at times. My friends living here can relate to the ingredient search that is often required for a meal you have in mind – a plan B recipe is of utmost importance unless you want to be visiting four different stores for the items required. The advice you receive when you get here is that if you see something you like you better grab it and take a few more while you at it, as you don’t know when the next shipment will come in! I’m currently waiting (somewhat impatiently) for the shipment of soda water to reach Ghana and have given up on the affordable puff pastry that used to be readily available at Shoprite but hasn’t been seen in over a year.

Regularly a grocery run involves visiting all four shops anyway as certain items are so ridiculously overpriced at certain places, you just refuse to pay what they are asking and then need to seek the same product out elsewhere where it is more affordable. Like the Jalepeno peppers that I saw last weekend at Maxmart, lying there in all their red and green glory for 200 cedies for a kg, that’s R600!! However shiny and fresh they are, that is absolutely Insane!

The vegetable corner will leave you baffled at the sheer absurdity of how a whole butternut at Koala is the equivalent of 150 South African Rands ($10) but R22 ($1,50) in its chopped form a few kilometres up the road at Shoprite. But at Shoprite you again encounter insanity with a kilogram of leeks or celery costing R150, a small punnet of button mushrooms at R90 and the little box of local cherry tomatoes going for R99. A trio of peppers is R110 and don’t even get me started on the cost of cheese, but I’ll briefly mention that a standard small block of cheddar costs R150 so I’m very glad that we’ve always brought in a few kilograms of frozen cheese. In a country so poor where the daily minimum wage is a shocking meagre R30, and where you are always so aware of the poverty everywhere, these prices are even more ridiculous. I’m also sure that regularly this fresh produce slowly shrivels up or rots and ends up being thrown away when no one is willing to part with so many pennies for a small broccoli and cauliflower combo that costs the equivalent of a lunch at a fancy restaurant.

For local produce here I do always choose to support the Ghanian ladies who sit on the pavements with their beautiful pyramids of fruit and vegetables, mindful of the fact that they don’t have fridges and the further pressure they must feel to sell their produce quickly! ‘My vegetable lady’ is something you hear a lot here and Jeanette who sets up her table nearby our home is that lady to me. The constant supply of delicious bananas, mangoes and paw paws in our house are all thanks to her and she regularly shows extra kindness and ‘dashes’ me a free fruit!   

Local vegetables for sale at Makola Market

I’ve never felt so in awe and appreciative walking into Food Lovers in Durban and seeing rows and rows of heaps of fresh produce and I’ve been known to marvel at and fondly touch the plump, shiny yellow lemons that don’t cost R100 per kg!

Living here you also become an expert on where to shop for certain items and usually you forfeit the convenience of being able to get everything you need at one place, or you end up feeling horrible ripped off! Having said this, the variety of imported products is generally impressive as there are loads of products coming in from the UK, USA and South Africa, so it’s an exciting product array to peruse, but it is the cost of these that becomes the bugbear. You also become better at making a plan when you can’t get or afford products here, like when I learnt that castor sugar for baking (which I couldn’t find at 5 different shops last week), can be made by running granulated sugar through a food processor for a very short while just before it turns to powdered/icing sugar.

A few weeks ago I entered Shop Number 2 searching for a chicken to roast. I was greeted by a wall of rather kitschy looking enormous luminous teddy bears that were out in the hope that an admirer would want to buy their sweetheart one for Valentines!. They had the SA price tag of R199 attached like a cows tag through their ears, but the Ghana price of 160 cedies! Almost the same number on the tag despite the fact that to convert back to Rands we generally multiply the price by 3 ….. !!

Valentines teddy bears

So now maybe it makes more sense why we tend to load our suitcases as we do. For us, taking advantage of the generous SAA 46kg baggage allowance per person, and bringing stuff into Ghana that is not easily available or crazily priced has made life smoother when we are here and prevents annoying trips in slow moving traffic to find what I’m looking for, but admittedly it does take up time on our trips home.

Back to December in South Africa, in amongst a lovely festive mix of activities, catching up and celebrating with loved ones, and the admin we wished we didn’t have to attend to like the passport renewal that took two days, I frequented the likes of Dischem and Checkers and slowly ticked off the items on my ‘shopping list for the future’ in my phone notes.  With all we tried to achieve on our Christmas trip back home which also included a few doctors appointments, needing to help to put our beloved old dogs to sleep and trying to visit family and friends as much as possible, suffice it to say that we arrived back in Accra on that Tuesday evening filled with lots of good festive cheer from being home, and also feeling like our heads were spinning from the constant running that the previous three weeks entailed!

The first few days back in Accra after a trip home are always spent unpacking all of the above-mentioned goodies that have so recently been meticulously packed and chaos reigns in our lounge for a while, as this is also a process in itself. A task that can bring about great procrastination in me and one that finds me looking for any excuse to not have to tackle. So when that Friday came around I was very happy to ignore this responsibility for a while, to escape the house and to have booked a visit to the huge Accra Central Mosque for Lynn and I.

You may find my other blog posts on the following pages useful:

4 thoughts on “A new family member lying in the suitcase and the stupid price of that red pepper – Accra expat musings

  1. Had a few giggles while reading this, it’s all crazily true…. Love the plan you made for castor sugar…. Haha!! Might have to make your own plan for soda water soon…


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