Christmas with my host family

Christmas with my host family

  Happy New Year to all my family and friends back home and to everyone around the world!

          When I called up my host mother two weeks ago to ask if the invitation was still open for Christmas dinner, she said she’d be delighted for me to come over.  I was even happier when I heard that we would be having an American-style dinner.  Little did I know that on Christmas weekend, I’d be invited to a memorial/coming out of widowhood celebration, an engagement, and my host Rotary Club’s holiday party.  Here’s a look at my adventures during Christmas week.

Christmas tree decorated for the season, December 25, 2014
On Christmas Eve I met Ms. Joanne (my host mother) and Abraham (my host brother) at her church for service.  We arrived early enough to help decorate the church.  Once the service began, song after song we sang as a congregation, including some of my favorites such as Oh Holy Night, Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angel Sing, and Silent Night.  The pastor gave a 10 minute sermon, more songs were sang, little gift bags of fruit, candy, and cookies were passed out, and church was dismissed.  That night we sat around the kitchen table with my host father talking for hours.  After a while we all became pretty tired and headed to bed with thoughts of good eatin’ in our heads.  

          Christmas day was wonderfully low key, as we sat around the house and watched the news, read books, wrote in diaries (me), and prepared Christmas dinner (I just sat still and enjoyed the scents that came from the oven).  After taking a lovely mid afternoon nap, everyone woke up around 3:30pm and we were feasting by 4:00pm.  The menu included corn pudding, port with port gravy, baked chicken with chicken gravy, collard greens, cauliflower, stuffing, and rice pilaf with gravy.  For dessert, we had pound cake, bread pudding, and “Sweet potato something.”  My favorite, hands down, was the brandy-drenched bread pudding.  It was sweet, soft, warm, and delicious!  For the rest of the evening, we continued to just relax, which was right up my alley.  After a few hours we all turned in, and a good thing too, since the memorial/coming out of widowhood celebration began early the next day.

When Ms. Joanne told me the week before Christmas that we would be having dinner at either her home or her sister-in-laws home, I was secretly praying that Ms. Joanne would end up hosting.  After living in a foreign country for a while, you just want to taste your own food, something familiar, December 25, 2014
A festive centerpiece, December 25, 2014
American-style Christmas dinner, mmm mmm good!  December 25, 2014

Christmas gift from my host parents, December 25, 2014
Bread Pudding and “Sweet Potato Something” for dessert…delicious!  December 25, 2014
On Friday morning, My host parents and I left a sleepy Abraham home and headed to Accra Ridge Church for a celebration of life, love, and happiness.  Mr. Ako’s late friend’s wife had invited him to her coming out of widowhood celebration.  It was also a memorial service since that day would have made over 40 years that they the honoree and her husband would have been married.  Since I’ve been in Ghana I’ve been exploring different churches, so this was a great opportunity to get a feel of Accra Ridge’s service structure.  It’s a well attended church, with brick walls and a joint Anglican-Methodist-Prebyterian-congregation.  The widow looked very happy to celebrate the life of her husband while being surrounded by her family, neighbors, and friends.   The celebration officially marked her coming out of black attire as well (according to Ghanaian custom, women wear black for a year when they are widowed.  But interestingly enough, not the men).  

The service at Accra Ridge Church, December 26, 2014
          After the service, we went to the honoree’s home in East Legon for refreshments.  The backyard was beautifully decorated and lively, thanks to the Tema Youth Choir.  The meal was traditional—Groundnut soup, Palm nut soup, plus two other types of soup, noodles, baked chicken, and Wachee (sort of like Hoppin’ John, which is a Southern dish of black-eyed peas and rice), Fufu and Gigi, or Face the Wall (both bread-based foods).  Groundnut soup is quite tasty, but I usually steer clear of it because the spice makes me cough and choke and not feel so great.  Once I had some fresh salad, baked chicken, and a piece of Fufu on my plate, I was ready to eat.  However, the folks sitting at our table (my host father’s high school classmates) weren’t having any of it. The men at the table seemed to be amused that I was eating Fufu without soup, but the women at the table nearly passed out.  “What?  Fufu without soup?  Where’s your groundnut stew?”  They were as good as to ask me if I was confused, or did I need help with learning how to eat Fufu.  One woman reached over another woman at our table and pointed at my Fufu nearly yelling, “Where’s your soup?”  I politely said, “I know people eat it with soup, but I don’t want soup, thank you.”  Well, that explanation just wasn’t going to fly at our table.  For the next 15 minutes the whole table discussed me not eating soup and why didn’t I like spice and the soup wasn’t spicy at all (which to me it was spicy once I tried it) and so on.  At my host father’s insistence, I did try the soup.  “You can always eat baked chicken, Sierra,” he said, “but eating a little pepper bit by bit will help you tolerate and enjoy it.”  Sure enough, when I went back and tried some of the soup, it wasn’t too bad.  I got through about 10 spoonfuls while finishing off a whole bottle of water.  I was good entertainment for the whole table.  After finishing I looked at my host mother, patted my stomach, and said, “I’m too satisfied to be embarrassed.”  The whole table burst into laughter.

Decorated venue at the honoree’s family home, December 26, 2014
Tema Youth Choir singing on the portico, December 26, 2014
Plate of traditional food.  The server asked me if I wanted half of the Fufu and started cutting it before I had a chance to answer him.  “Give me all my Fufu!”  I told him.  

Fufu, Face the Wall, and beef in Groundnut soup.  My host mother told me in the olden days, Gigi was called Face the Wall because if you were so poor that all you could afford to eat was Gigi, you didn’t want anyone to see you eating it, so you turned your back to company and faced the wall.  She said she loved the way it tasted, regardless of it’s cultural stigma.  Sure enough when I tried it that day, it was pretty tasty.  Still like Fufu best, though.  December 25, 2014
Around 6:00pm that evening, Abraham and I sat around the kitchen table while Ms. Joanne and Mr. Ako told us stories of moving to Ghana with their small children years ago and making it work.  Some of the stories were a bit sad, but most were hilarious.  We were laughing so hard and having such a good time that 10:00pm had slipped by without us even realizing it!  Shortly afterwards we all turned in to be rested for Saturday’s engagement.
The Ghanaian engagement—similar to a Nigerian wedding—was a celebration of my host father’s newlywed niece and husband.  Although they are both living in the States, it didn’t stop the bride’s parents from throwing a party for all the family members and friends who were in Ghana.  The program was sort of like a play–there was a story in which one family member from each side took part in.  They role played, one asking about where the groom was, why he wanted the family’s daughter, would he take care of her, the other asking about the dowry, and so on.  All of it was in one of the local languages, Ga I believe, so Mr. Ako and Abraham translated for Ms. Joanne and me.  Afterwards, we enjoyed more traditional food.  I once again enjoyed some Groundnut soup and Fufu, along with a super tasty salad.  We also received gift bags filled with home items such as coffee mugs, towels, and food.  Our host, the father and mother of the bride, were very warm and made sure that everyone had a good time.  After we received our gift bags, the men received handkerchiefs and the women received hand towels.  As we were leaving, a table of guests were refilling their glasses and just getting started.

Family and friends bringing in gifts, December 27, 2014
Gifts wrapped in pretty packages for the newlyweds and their families, December 27, 2014
Tasty salad, December 27, 2014
Groundnut soup and Fufu, this time with a piece of fish, December 27, 2014
Earlier in the evening, when a server brought a whole bottle of wine to the table for me I asked her to take it away, a bit embarrassed that she didn’t just give me one single glass of wine instead of an entire bottle!  As we got up to leave, the host and father of the bride, Mr. Ako’s cousin, looked at us and said, “Please, sit back down, I have to bring something nice for this young lady.”  Although we politely declined, he persisted, and before long, we were all sipping this lovely champagne.  December 27, 2014                
That night, after Abraham and Mr. Ako turned in, Ms. Joanne and I watched a great movie I had never seen, “The Count of Monte Cristo.”  I don’t watch much television and rarely American movies since television here is predominantly Ghanaian, so I was thrilled to enjoy a show from home while eating warm popcorn and laughing with my host mother.  

On Sunday, after my host mother came back from church, everyone prepared for the Rotary Club of Tema holiday party.  The three of us headed out from Community 10 to make the short drive to Community 7 around 3:30pm.  Mr. Ako would join us after making a vote at his golf club.  Once again, everyone was friendly, the food was great, and the music was loud!  This time we enjoyed hi-life, a genre of Ghanaian music just like country is a genre of American music (hi-life is way better than country of course.  Makes you feel like just sitting in a hammock on the beach with a coconut in your hand and the sun on your face).  I saw some familiar faces at the party and a few new ones.  I even enjoyed a very rare thing in Ghana—dessert!  After dinner, the servers gave out fruit with a scoop of ice cream.  They weren’t stingy either—I had three helpings!  We went home ahead of Mr. Ako to avoid the mosquitoes that come out around 6:00pm.  Shortly after we got home though, he returned.  We sat around the table, discussing the weekend’s activities.  My parents also had a chance to speak with my host mother over the phone and wish each other happy holidays, which was also special.  

Here is trout, Garbanzo beans, beef stew, salad, red rice, fried plantains, and baked chicken.  It wasn’t spicy at all and took second place for my favorite dinners of the weekend.  The American-style Christmas dinner was first, of course.  December 28, 2014
Dessert, YES!  December 28, 2014
Rotarians and family dancing on the portico.  When Mr. Ako asked me if I dance, I told him yes, but I didn’t want to show anyone up.  December 28, 2014
My host family and I at the Tema holiday party, December 28, 2014
The next morning, as I packed Ms. Joanne’s SUV with my belongings and we headed back to my hostel in Accra, I was feeling relaxed and wonderful.  It was nice to spend some quality time with the Odoteis, the same folks who found me at the airport on my first bewildered night in Africa, gave me a place to stay, food to eat, company, and expert advice on surviving in Ghana.  The change of environment after a busy semester was much needed.  It’s funny; before leaving Charleston, SC, I told my parents that I would love to have the opportunity to live with a host family.  God answered that request and gave me a great Rotary host family.  Spending the Christmas holiday with them while away from home meant a lot to me and will certainly never be forgotten.

          Who could have asked for a better way to spend the holidays?  Yesterday, I found out that I have four more weeks instead of three before school begins—thank goodness!  There’s lots to do in only a short period of time.  Next week, I’ll discuss receiving a long awaited package from the States.  I’ll also begin a segment on a major part of Ghanaian culture—Ghanaian music as I understand it.  Stay tuned!


One thought on “Christmas with my host family

  1. This is a wonderful post, Sierra, great holiday fun and food. It's really great that you had the chance to spend the time with your Host family, that is a special treat that most Scholars don't get to enjoy. I am really looking forward to your next 6 months of adventures.

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