Even though it had little of its normal feel or run up I was looking forward to Christmas very much and as I finished my last session of training in a village on December 23rd it had the feeling of finishing my last exam in school. My arrival back in Tamale marked the beginning of the Christmas Season for me and it included all the hectic run up as back home. We were once again celebrating with a big dinner, but thankfully this time the dishes had been split up with each person or country cooking something. This would be taking place on Christmas Eve and I was in charge of the meat. I had located another expensive turkey and had also bought a giant rack of beef ribs in the market. This was done with the help of Garry, and Irish volunteer who had worked as a butcher back home—I never know what I’m going to get when I venture into the “meat market” and search among the piles of raw beef being hacked at by men with machetes; bone fragments flying. Other items on my list were to buy my remaining cooking supplies, check on the progress of my Secret Santa Gift and write the poem that went along with it—an idea insisted upon by one of the Dutch volunteers which while initially was not met with much enthusiasm did turn out to be really fun. This doesn’t seem like a large list but nothing is ever easy in Ghana.
The first thing I needed to tackle was my Secret Santa Gift, which I had been working on for the previous week. Just after Thanksgiving we had drawn names for the game and I had drawn Sabrina from Belgium who was very proud of being Belgium and had the reputation of cheating at everything—just a running joke. For her gift I had decided to commission a traditional smock done in the colors of the Belgium flag with the words “Cheat To Win Ghana 2010” stitched onto the back. This process involved three different people and I was severely concerned about the fast approaching deadline, as it would require several Ghanaians being on time. Luckily after several extra cidis my gift was completed well ahead of schedule on Thursday morning. Some gifts were picked up between dinner and the opening of the gifts.
Thursday night we were also going to try cooking some Christmas cookies. As the dough was being prepared it was discovered that there was no vanilla. This prompted a search of all five small stores in Tamale plus asking at several restaurants which prompted no results. When you are searching for an item in Tamale it is infinitely frustrating because you always have the feeling that you have seen it but you can never remember where you saw; this is especially true if you are in the central market but here even if you remember where you saw it it will be unlikely that you will ever find it again in its maze of tiny alleys. The cooking of cookies not needing vanilla was also thwarted by the gas for the stove running out. This also prevented the other desserts from being made. The two Belgium girls were planning to make chocolate mousse plus two other desserts. So the kitchen would just be a little more crowded the next day.
Friday morning I went to the market to buy the supplies that I would need to cook the meat with. I had decided to go for a tropical flare and bought a pineapple, lots of pineapple juice, and had found a Jamaican Jerk recipe for the ribs. In my long search through the market looking for spices I also discovered vanilla. Fresh vegetables and meat is very cheap in the market—my rack of ribs costing about fifteen dollars—but packaged items are very expensive with a small block of butter costing three dollars; there was also a plan to make macaroni and cheese but this was thwarted when the cost of cheese hit fifty cidi.
Following my shopping spree I had to complete my poem which was all about cheating and was done in the form of a riddle and clues. During this time I also received a call from Katie informing me that there was no gas in Tamale for the stove but that her host mother had an extra tank, she just needed a way to get it to the house. So I went and picked her up and we set off for Christmas on an extremely overloaded and explosive motorcycle; a propane tank strapped to the back with old bicycle tubes, Katie holding one of the giant metal basins the women carry on their heads which I was using to marinate the ribs in, and me wearing Katie’s backpack on my front—we just needed a small child or two and a goat and we would have truly been Ghanaian.
Cooking went smoothly throughout the day but the kitchen was extremely crowded, luckily I was able to do most of my work outside. This included marinating the ribs, preparing a dry rub and glaze, cutting a pineapple, gutting another turkey, and grilling it all. And by six o’clock we were sitting down to eat the first course which was a delicious soup prepared by Luuc and his visiting girlfriend from Netherlands. Following this the main course was prepared with the turkey just making it off the grill in time. The main meal included the turkey and the ribs, croquets, green bean and mushroom casserole, glazed carrots and garlic bread. Everything was delicious but the turkey might have been a little old because parts of it were rather tough. Everyone was completely stuffed so we decided to open gifts before dessert.
During the intervening time the kitchen was cleaned up and some last minute gifts were picked up and I also played Santa for the neighbor kids who were from South Africa. Their father had come over and asked if anyone could play Santa because he had a suit and the American volunteer he had hired earlier in the day had called and said he was going to go to the bar instead. That was kind of fun but they recognized who I was.
Following this we opened the presents. Before you could open your presents you had to read your poem. They were all very well done and always funny. I had Sabrina as my Secret Santa, so we had each other, and I got a very nice poem that was written in the same form as my first aid handout—Sabrina was one of the girls who came out to a village with me and took part in my training—and every product that could be purchased in Tamale that was made in Ghana including a can of peas, a bottle of non-alcoholic sparkling cocktail, and a jar of hazelnut chocolate spread plus a black yellow and red shirt with I Love Belgium on the back; this was locally made and fits extremely awkwardly. Following this dessert and drinks were served and it was once again a very enjoyable evening following a delicious meal.
The next morning we set about putting the house back into shape and tackling a mountain of dirty dishes and pots and pans. Luuc has a housekeeper but I am sure she dreads the sight of us arriving with cooking ingredients and crates of beer and I know her best Christmas gift was not having to come back Christmas morning. After this I returned home and ate lunch with Walisu and gave him my gift. Following this we met back up at Luuc’s to prepare to go to the orphanage which several people work at. They had bought gifts for all the kids and wearing the suit from the previous night I was once again to play Santa. The orphanage is close by but still required a short ride there on the motorcycle. We made quite a sight driving down the road with a Santa and two white girls holding large bags of gifts. At the orphanage the children sang songs for me and I gave out individual bags of small gifts along with some larger gifts. I think a few of the older boys knew who I was but the majority of them had a genuine visit from Santa, a very sweaty Santa. This was very fun and will defiantly be the highlight of my Christmas in Ghana.
I am taking a short break from the villages and am spending most of my time working on things here in Tamale. The new year will see me finish up the first aid training in the communities, I will continue to fix bicycles and also start on some new projects including doing an in depth education assessment of the communities with the aim of getting more children into secondary and high school or a vocational school.
Happy Holidays and thank you for all the support which you have been giving me.