Category Archives: travel

On Being Vegan in Ghana and Nigeria

I landed in Accra on January 7, 2007. I’ve been a vegan since I was 15, starting back in 1999. My trip was a rare opportunity to use my grad school fellowship money to get out of New York City and its winter, as well as the winter of the anemic and ideologically whack Africana studies department at my university. As a person steadily rising in Pan-Afrikan consciousness over the previous year-and-a-half, my journey was a chance to express and cement my commitment to Pan-Afrikanism and my love and solidarity for Afrikan people. It was a chance to directly study the conditions of Afrikan peoples on the continent. As an Afrikan of Nigerian descent, it was a chance to visit family last seen over ten years ago and barely remembered. As a profoundly alienated Afrikan youth in urban Amerikkka, it was a chance to connect with my own people more deeply and perhaps find more community. It was a chance to be totally immersed in societies where everyone looked like me.

On landing, a friend of my uncle retrieved me from the airport and delivered me to a very loose contact of his, a family of a mother, her three young children, and their grandmother at a house in East Legon. The first thing I ate in Ghana (I was a vegan, not a raw vegan while I was in Afrika, because had not yet even considered raw veganism) was some organic oatmeal I brought with me. I had fasted for a long time between taking off at JFK and landing in Accra (on a long but descent non-stop flight via North American Airlines). The family’s attitudes were accepting of my veganism and there was no drama about it. I stayed with this family for the first two-and-a-half weeks, until I got a place in a hostel right up the road, a hostel full of Ghanaian students, not an international hostel.

My initial experience being a vegan in Ghana was an overall nice one. I had to buy a gas canister, gas stove, and some pots and utensils for storage in the outdoor kitchen area of the hostel, with which I cooked meals all the time. I regularly ate the locally grown brown rice (which had to be thoroughly washed as it was maad soily), as well as local gari (cooked cassava meal), with vegetable and bean stews I made. I also regularly steamed plantain very frequently. I introduced some very expensive cereal-and-soy-milk eating (sourced out of the downtown foreigner-oriented, Arab-owned grocery stores like Koala Market and Max Mart). I didn’t do this long, though. But mid-way through my five-month semester in Ghana I began to get lazy, even perhaps somewhat exhausted, with cooking all the time, so me eating cereal and even peanut-butter and jelly very late in my stay happened more frequently.

Also towards the end I identified two vegan restaurants in Accra. One was called just “Vegetarian Restaurant” or something. It was very close to the Airport and “37” bus depot. And I think they may no longer be there because they posted notices that they would be leaving at the end of May, around which time I was either in Nigeria or returning to Amerikkka. The other restaurant has a name I forget. It was near Nkrumah Circle and across from one of the biggest and most prestigious internet cafe’s in town, whose name I also presently forget. This restaurant is run by Hebrew-Israelites from Amerikkka. Any Rasta or serious vegetarian in Accra knows what I’m talking about. When I’m reminded of the names of these establishments I will correct this post.

Towards the end, especially the last month or so, of my stay in Ghana, I became much more heavily reliant on these establishments for my food. For even a very poor traveler from Amerikkka like me, all the food was really cheap. The “Vegetarian Restaurant” near “37” was the better of the two restaurants, with much lower prices and much tastier, and completely traditional, Ghanaian vegetarian meals. The restaurant near Nkrumah circle served a lot of rice dishes, veggie burgers, and so on. Their food was rather salty and sometimes oily, while the food at the “Vegetarian Restaurant” was very starchy and fatty. I would eat my favorite, fufu with groundnut or palm-nut soup, all the time and voraciously. I think that sort of eating was part of why my immune system began to weaken by the last month of the Ghana tour, and I was getting sick, feeling flu-like for some time.

I never took any malaria meds or what not while in Ghana. All that stuff is overratted and toxic, especially if one is already an Afrikan and one keeps the immune system strong. And I was stung by every mosquito in West Afrika. No problem. Before heading to Ghana, I looked into natural preventatives of malaria, like garlic and lemon oil. I didn’t deal much with lemon oil. I had some oregeno oil and I think echinacea something with me. Didn’t use them much. And I was supplementing with vegetarian multivitamins and multiminerals throughout my stay.

In the second week of April, I went to Nigeria. I flew the 45 minute flight from Accra to Lagos, was picked up by my father from the airport, spent the night at a Lagos hotel, and flew the hour flight from Lagos to Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where I spent the week. This was during the chaotic and corrupt gubernatorial elections Nigeria was trying to hold, though things never went as bad as they got in Kenya this past month. My cousins on my father’s side, who are some of the coolest Afrikans around, were all cool with and intrigued by my veganism. They considered it progressive and intuitively understood it as a way of obtaining the best health. I ate lots of fruit while there. I made, and was made, vegetable stews, served with Nigerian-style fufu, a Kalabari yam/plantain dish, and rice. I had salads. I did alright overall in Nigeria and ate better than I had in Ghana, where at the time I was beginning to get lazy, eat cereal, and go to restaurants.

Going back to Ghana to finish out the semester, I ate the roadside baked yam and plantain pieces, with dry-roasted salted groundnuts, for lunch often. I had bananas on my way back home. I had my brown-rice-stew-and-plantain meals mornings and evenings. The grandmother in my initial host family sometimes made me copious groundnut stew which I would freeze for days and eat with brown rice. And so on.

I got my produce primarily from Medina Market, the big open-air market north of Legon. I got some of what I used for my sauces at the downtown supermarkets, including Indian-style sauce bases, occasionally.

After exams were over, I flew again to Nigeria, this time to spend a week in Lagos with my cousins on my mother’s side. My aunt is a caterer, so she made a lot of rice-and-bean meals which I could eat. I didn’t cook at all while in Lagos because of this. I didn’t eat too many fruits either.

By the time I returned to Amerikkka from Nigeria at the end of May 2007, I think my immune system was exhausted from eating so much cooked food, ultimately more cooked food than I had been eating in Amerikkka before I left for Ghana. I wish I had considered raw veganism for my whole stay in West Afrika, which would have made everything more convenient and simple, and left me much healthier. Which I will expand on in my next post.

But I thought it was important to share my experience being vegan in West Afrika, which was not without its challenges, but was for the most part pretty easy. The bulk of the challenge came in doing it alone, and trying to cook every single time I went to eat, which I eventually got lazy and exhausted about. The only person who challenged me for being vegan was this stupid, stuck-up, narrow-minded jerk from the geography department at University of Ghana.

While in West Afrika, fitness-wise I did lots of calisthenics and walked as much as I could in the nice hot sun, which some Ghanaians thought ridiculous, but kept me very fit and ready to jump right into Kung Fu not long after I returned to New York.

There needs to be more resources for vegans and raw vegans in Afrika, so I hope this little contribution helps.

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