When in Accra, Don’t Drink Lukewarm Milo from a Street Vendor

Passport Perspectives, Travel Column with Jazzmine Raine

My best friend Charlotte was living in Accra, Ghana during her third year of university – a year abroad to complete her International Development degree. She had taken up a bachelor apartment in the upper class Dzorwulu district. This gave us quite the selection of luxury meals, from the burger joint on the main road to Choco’Pain, a Lebanese owned cafe serving croissants and cappuccinos (although it really was the air con that pulled us in). I always preferred the roadside stall run by Vera. She’d cook up Chinese-style Indomi noodles while hot oil splattered on the ground around her. It was a memory making corner, like that time I made a baby boy laugh so hard, he peed all over himself.

Char’s apartment was on the second floor of her landlord’s house, a gated property with a giant padlock and chain. When I remember it, a human-size key comes to mind. On the right-side of the house, up sharply angled stairs, you’d find yourself on a large patio overlooking the residential community. The two apartments it housed belonged to a rather large and jobless Moroccan lady named Marika – who frequented the downtown clubs in search of a rich husband – and Charlotte, the tall, blonde Canadian that I’m sure had been the talk of the local boys since she arrived. Her apartment was small but welcoming.

Her furniture collection featured a hard bed and a small wardrobe stuffed with books. Her toaster, kettle and hot plate rested on the floor. The terrace really was the selling point. The tiles sparkled in the sunlight, decorated with clothing lines and a small table and chairs that rested below Char’s kitchen window. Another memory making corner where we’d spend mornings drinking Nescafé, smoking cigarettes, and listening to Jian Ghomeshi podcasts (pre-court case).

One evening, as the sun set over the low skyline, we walked down the steep steps, out the metal gate, and ordered two plates of Indomi from Vera. We followed our greasy meal with an evening cup of Milo on the main road. It was quite a noisy spot. Just a few meters from the vendors, the road veered off to join the highway, taking cars into downtown Accra. 

We walked the busy road listening to the distant grind of generators violently humming to life. The solar street lights silently joined. I curved left and right behind Charlotte as she effortlessly dodged the obruni traps – wide, deep gutters on the side of the street, sandwiched between patches of sidewalk, which seemed to second as garbage bins, urinals, and occasionally a trap for careless foreigners. An obruni is a Ghanaian word for someone with light skin, or more specifically in this context, a dumb white tourist not paying attention as they walk the streets of the city.

As the road beneath us shifted from pavement to gravel, we shuffled into the bench of a picnic table as Charlotte yelled out our order to the nearest vendor. The woman nodded her head and briskly brought over two mugs of Milo. Deep in conversation, I raised the mug to my mouth without noticing the lake of steam. Lukewarm Milo. If you’ve had Milo before (chocolate malt), you know it ain’t good, hence drinking it cold ain’t fun. I shrugged it off and continued sipping, imagining a steamy Ethiopian brew.

As we started our walk back, the sky had begun to fill with stars. I looked up to take in the view only to instantly shrink forward as my stomach screamed for my attention. I clutched at my sides. My intestines became so tight, the pain made me shriek. 

Uh oh.

 I looked up at Charlotte in pure terror. It was happening. 

Charlotte saw the horror on my face and could immediately predict my future. Having lived there for almost a year, Char’s stomach was capable of breaking down almost anything. She could probably drink a liter from an obruni trap and still go about her day without even a burp. I on the other hand, walking quickly with my legs pressed together, was slowly shitting my pants. In the street. In Accra. Beside my best friend.

I spent the next two days between the toilet and the closest side of the bed. 48 hours of lying beneath the ceiling fan in a sports bra and underwear, counting the minutes to my next toilet run.

Still quite new to travel and full of 20-something-year-old pride, I somehow let Char convince me to start the 30 hour adventure to Mole National Park in the north of Ghana only three or four days after the explosion began. As a result, I shit in every toilet across the country and ruined six pairs of underwear. 

I remained quite ill for almost two weeks following the incident. My health didn’t quite fully recover until my final week in Ghana. As a result, I’m sure you can imagine how much convincing it took to try my first chai from a street vendor in Jaipur the following year.

About Jazzmine Raine

Jazzmine leads from a background of over 10 years in project management, social impact, and experiential education. She is the proud founder of Hara House, India’s first zero waste guesthouse and tourism organization, and has been recognized globally for her work in the sustainable tourism sector.

Her diverse career has spanned across multiple countries with a strategic focus on providing young people the tools and knowledge needed to solve global challenges. With a love for storytelling and leading social impact, she thrives when coaching students and young professionals in leading new, innovative ideas.

Jazzmine has been a key leader in many unique social projects such as Causeartist, Sustainable Travel Network, Studio.89, CanGap and Hara World. In her spare time, you will find her writing short stories and drinking chai on her balcony at 8000ft in the Himalayas.

You can read all stories under the ‘Passport Perspectives’ Travel Column here.


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