Let’s talk about electricity. You probably don’t think about it a whole lot (at least, I didn’t); something that’s easy to take for granted. A quick flip of a switch and voila, a luminescence appears without the slightest effort. But let’s suppose that is not the case. Perhaps 10:00am rolls around and BAM, the socket is dead, your computer has maybe an hour or two of life left, there is that important Skype call at noon, and the power could be out for an hour or ten. At least it’s a nice day, so take a break and go for a walk.
But let’s say it’s 6:30pm, you’ve just begun to put dinner on the stove, and suddenly you are left with little more than the glow of the gas burner. Now that’s a different story, but one that has become all too common here in Ghana. In the States, electric companies are responsible for ensuring adequate power to cover both base loads and peak usage. I can just imagine the outrage, the demands for compensation, the hours upon hours of customer service calls, if regular power outages occurred.
Here, the absence of electricity during certain days or times of day seems almostmandatory, and is very much expected. As many people cook with charcoal, or gas if they have the money, they don’t run into the same problems of non-functional microwaves, electric ovens, or burner coils (though refrigeration can be a problem in some circumstances).
Life without light – without the blaring TV, the ever-present computer – just goes on. It’s kind of nice though; you can sit, writing, listening to the sounds of all life around – the strange chirps and buzzes that only come with the night. Reading, talking, playing games, or actually getting that much-needed sleep rather than spending an extra hour or two on Facebook. There are also downsides to the unpredictability: work can come to a grinding halt (like my literature review progress, yesterday); food that was refrigerated or frozen could spoil; and the streets of the city become a little more hazardous for pedestrians.
Yet, power out or not, we still have access to it regularly; many communities are left without it entirely. In fact, in Ghana 28% of the population (about 7 million people) still has no electricity, and in the whole of Africa 550 million people (that's just under 50%) are without reliable electricity. While I fully believe that in the US model, we rely too heavily on a constant supply of electricity for devices and other stimuli, there are also serious barriers to development that coincide with its complete absence. Think about hospitals. Think about schools. Think about air control towers.
All that said, I quite enjoyed my torch-lit (yes, electric powered by rechargeable batteries…) dinner. It is by far my favourite combination of Ghanaian foods, and really the only dishes I can competently make myself.
6 small spicy peppers
5 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
3 onions, sliced thin
1 cm3 ginger, minced very finely
2.5 cups black-eyed peas, cooked
6-8 small tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 tbs tomato paste
2 small eggplants, seeded and finely diced
3 cups/6-8 leaves cocoyam leaves or collard greens, shredded
2 tbs vegetable oil + 3-4 tbs red palm oil
Salt to taste
Water as needed
1. Place peppers, onions, and garlic in a bowl of water. Prepare the eggplant, and do the same but salted. Ever 10 minutes, drain the eggplant and refill with water
2. With a mortar and pestle, begin to grind the peppers until the seeds are no longer identifiable. Add half the onions and all the garlic, and continue to grind to a uniform pulp.
3. We’re making two dishes simultaneously, so in two saucepans, heat 1 tbs of vegetable oil and 1 tbs red palm oil over a medium flame. Add half of the pulp to each pan, stir, and then cover. Allow to cook only for 2-3 minutes, and then add half each of the rest of the onions (and maybe a splash of water, if it’s sticking). Now cook for about 5 minutes.
4. To one pot, add the tomatoes and ginger. Cover and let stew for about 10 minutes to break down the tomatoes. Drain the eggplant one final time, and pour it into the other pot. Stir, add water if needed, and cover, allowing to stew for 10-15 minutes.
5. Thin tomato paste in ¼ cup of water. Add, along with beans, to the tomato pot. Reduce to a simmer and let the flavours meld for a nice 20 minutes. In the other pot, add the greens. You may have to do this in stages, as it will cook down considerably. Also reduce heat and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the eggplant is basically falling apart and the greens are very soft. Salt both stews to taste.
6. Fry up some plantain (1 per person is probably fine) and enjoy! Remember, in true form, only eat with your right hand. :)