WAWA – West Africa Wins Again*

Road Accra

I’m having one of those days, actually no, one of those weeks. A Ghana week.

Now for most Ghanaians, a Ghana week, is just that, a week in Ghana. But in our family a Ghana day (or week!) is synonymous with frustrations up to your eyeballs. All the shine has gone off, it’s not exotic, or adventurous, or fun. It’s routine, it’s hot, it’s boring. You just feel worn down, pissed off, too tired for anger, and frustration simmers constantly.

It starts simply enough, one or two little problems. But then maybe these problems don’t go away. You make phone calls, again and again, but nothing happens. And then maybe the fridge breaks, and you watch it, sitting innocently outside your front door, waiting, waiting…waiting for it to be picked up. In the meantime, the washing machine decides it’s lonely, and joins the fridge. And then something you were promised weeks ago finally arrives, bearing no resemblance to what you were promised. And then something else arrives, and it bears no resemblance to what you were promised. And there are more phone calls, the usual excuses (phone problems, traffic problems, problems, problems, problems) all couched in polite voices.

And I sit in the traffic seething. I shuttle the kids backwards and forwards, watching sport and or some other activity, and my mind is elsewhere. Quite often it’s in Greece, but more often, it’s just absent. MIA.

And then something happens at home. The home that you are 15,000kms away from. And all the frustrations you are pushing down with a barge pole boil over, and you feel not only frustrated but pretty helpless as well. There are Skype calls and emails. But all this amazing technology makes you feel more helpless, more frustrated, and you (secretly, foolishly) wish for simpler days. Days before the internet, when months after the fact you would have found out the news. Deep in your heart, you know this isn’t really what you wish for, but you also know even if you were there, there is actually very little you could do.

Do you know the expression ‘The lights are on but no one is home”? Well, today, the generator is on, but there is no power at home. It seems the generator has gone out in sympathy with the fridge and the washing machine. I’m sitting on the verandah trying to catch a few breaths of equatorial breeze. Just sitting and sweating. No power means no water, no water means no shower. I can’t open the fridge (small, bar sized replacement), for fear of letting any of the precious cold air out. I squint into the midday glare and watch the traffic inch past, counting down the minutes till I join them. I just saw the Emirates jet take off, and was filled with childish longing.

toilet paper delivery

Years ago a particularly melancholic friend told me: “Depression is anger without enthusiasm”. And maybe these Ghana days are like that too…frustration, without enthusiasm. But I also know its about expectations. I’m suffering from a big, bad case of First World Problems. We have more than enough food, enough money, good health; we are living extraordinarily privileged lives. I need to get out, do some exercise, see some new sights, break out of the bubble we live in and remind myself why we came here (why was that again?).

roadside house

I need to lift the veil and look again with fresh eyes. I need to be thankful for all that we have, and forget what we don’t. To snap out of this funk I went for a walk. This walk wasn’t about reconnecting with nature, it was about reconnecting with my life. I walked up one of the main roads of Accra, past the streams of traffic, through the heat and the noise. I watched the toilet paper get delivered to the roadside vendors. I saw tiny shanty houses one block from our home. I saw beautiful young girls selling sachet water on the side of the road, their education finished at 13.

I know it is just the dumb luck of life that they are not my girls.

It’s time to quit sulking.

It’s time to be grateful.

*WAWA – one of my readers wrote me a great email about growing up in Ghana. She said that when her family left they missed almost everything about living here. She also said Ghana taught her that sometimes the only response is to laugh, and their family’s response to a ‘Ghana Day’ was WAWA – West Africa Wins Again! I love how it sounds like a toddler sulking and we have adopted it into our family’s vernacular. If the author of that email is are reading this, thank you!!

22 responses to “WAWA – West Africa Wins Again*

  1. Brilliant Chris!!

    Makes me feel better too….and also guilty, because my generator is running (for now)

    Good luck,
    Karin

    Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Vodafone

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  2. Oh my goodness. Beautifully written. We lived for three years in Malaysia and I had many of those days you describe. We coined the phrase, “Welcome to Malaysia!” wTM. I have so many same feelings from my time away, about missing family matters, setting expectations too high, being spoilt from growing up in Australia, and having to make new friends to stay sane when I’d rather be with myself.
    Thank you for showing me I wasn’t alone.

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    • Thanks for your comment Sally. I so agree “setting expectations too high…and having to make new friends to stay sane when I’d rather be by myself”, man I am guilty of those emotions too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Looks like we traded places. You describe so eloquently my reality back home in Nigeria just a few months ago. The heat, the never ending cacophony of my generator competing with that of my neighbors.
    Now I am feeling Nostalgic :-(
    Thanks for a great post and i hope you get your generator and fridge fixed soonest.

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    • Hey thanks! Nigeria and Ghana sound very similar, actually there is a lot of competition between the two (here at least). Did you experience any of it in Nigeria? Good news is power came back on, fridge is due ‘today’….we’ll see!!

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      • Yes! Nigeria and Ghana are very similar in a lot of respects and there is definitely a great deal of competition between both countries…I guess because we are so similar, each party wants to outshine the other with regards to sports, politics, entertainment, infrastructure…and everything in between :-)
        I am glad to hear the power is back on. Fingers crossed on your behalf that the fridge follows suit!

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  4. Chris, if you ever get the chance check this video out. It is about Ghanaian returnees and life in Accra.

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    • Hi Kwasi, Thanks so much for sending me the link. I saw a link to it on the BBC World Service facebook page, but only watched it after you recommended it. It was ‘criticised’ on the BBC page as African Sex and the City (which it certainly did remind me of). How do you feel about it? Do you think it should reflect a more African style, rather than a classic ‘Western’ society? I thought it was good, the women are obviously very well travelled and sophisticated (and I’m pleased they get frustrated with lights off too!!). Have you read ‘Ghana must go’ by Taiye Selasi? It’s one of the best books I have read in years, and explained a lot about repatriating Ghanaians. I’d love to know your thoughts if you’ve read it.

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  5. Hi Chris,
    I just read your blog article and it touches me. I arrived here one week ago. I’m suffering from culture shock. It’s like I’m a little kid again learning everything afresh here. Generators, water pumps and so on.
    I love your writing style!
    Kind regards from East Legon,
    Mirjam

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    • Hi Mirjam, just be patient with yourself, and how much you can get done each day. Culture shock is just that…a shock, and once the honeymoon period wears off (which it sounds like it has), it can be a challenging time. But just be gentle with yourself, try and meet some people, have a pleasant place to retreat to, and enjoy your new life. All the best, Chrissie

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  6. Beautiful! Strangely, this post makes me almost miss Ghana and its incredible frustrations. Missing isn’t the right word. Bringing a memory back to life is more like it.

    My 17 months in Ghana often doesn’t seem real from where I sit, way up here on the top of the heap nearly numb with comfort. It feels like something I made up and then you put out a piece of writing like this which brings it all back. Thank you and sorry-o!

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    • Thanks Camille, lovely to hear from you. I get that from where you sit your time in Ghana must feel like a far away dream. Think about the pineapples…and it’s nearly mango season too! Love to you both. C xx

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  7. Hi Chrissy, very sorry to hear about your WAWA (lol..sorry, Ghana) week… I really feel for you and the frustrations that I remember so well….. thanks though for reminding me that the closest I will get to West Africa for awhile will be at 35,000 feet travelling at 850km per hour… lol.. my best to you, Bill and the kids xx

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  8. We are an Australian family living in Senegal and we use WAWA too! Also TIS – This is Africa! I’m sure there are other great ones! Let me know if you hear of any! Hope that the next week gives you some of those unexpected gems that make it all worthwhile :)

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  9. Yes, all sounding very familiar, from my own much shorter time in Ghana. glad you are able to keep perspective on it.

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  10. That description of depression is so spot on. Thank you, and to your friend who said it too. I hope your generator is fixed soon and your week improves.

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  11. Hi Chris. I found your article on InterNations quite well-written and in ‘surfing’ to your website, particularly enjoyed this article on the WAWA culture. I’m in my first 3 months in Mozambique as an expat and while I haven’t dealt with a non-working fridge, I’m certainly sure that day will be coming soon. As it is, the main problems we have here are related to the network working at a snail’s pace, the power shutting off 3 -5 times a day and the generator powering back up (sometimes in 15 minutes, sometimes an hour). Oh lucky us! It is easy to get caught up in the frustration period after the ‘honeymoon,’ isn’t it? On the other hand, I find that living in Southern African countries like Mozambique (which I am sure has some similarities to West Africa although quite unique in its own way) you get other unexpected things like: someone to wash all your clothes, deliver toilet paper to you every day, clean your house …Truly for me, as an American, I find that it spoiling me. The juxtaposition is jarring. I would love to know your position on this as an Australian.

    In any case, I will follow your journey and perhaps you might like to follow my accounts of what is like in Nacala, where I am based:

    http://academiaenafriqueadventures.wordpress.com

    Thanks for sharing a great post! Thoroughly enjoyed it!

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  12. Pingback: Last Minute Travel Deals 24/7 | On the realities of expat life in Ghana·

  13. Here in Bamako, Mali, my colleagues and I have a similar phrase: Mali Always Wins (we don’t suffer the acronym, though, it’s not as fun as yours). Your post resonates, probably more than I’d like it to-ha! Beautiful blog, thanks!

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