Hearth and Home

Hearth and Home

There is such a tremendous variety in how people live in my area of Ghana. Since I am only familiar with the specific areas of Kumasi and Ejisu, I can only speak to those. And also please be aware that I am talking only about the newer areas of development in the Ashanti region; there will be another blog devoted to regular housing, which deserves its own space and time. In the older (and poorer) areas, housing is also made of stone, but building structure has deteriorated to a tremendous extent, and homes often are clumped together like townhouses, but with none of the accompanying glamour. 75% of the housing here is very bad; I am fortunate to have been located in one of the areas of newer construction.

First of all, what impresses me the most is the “compounds” that are all around, both new and old. I call them that because they are actually walled living quarters, with a big metal gate for car entry, a smaller door for people entry, and a cement wall at least 8 feet tall encircling the whole structure. You cannot see in, except perhaps the top floor of the structure, if there is one.

And the building itself is huge, as wide as a half-block on a common street in a regular city. In any other place they would be called mansions because they contain so much square footage.

AptComp2Inside the walls, there is often a street-level courtyard area, sometimes only in the front, sometimes extending along the sides and through the rear of the main building. Sometimes there is a large outdoor patio for parties, often covered, and there may be other buildings within the walls that house rental areas and areas for extended family.

Owning property and building homes in Ghana is completely different from the U.S. In the first place, you must buy your land, which can be bought very cheaply here. Then you must claim your land, i.e., put some sort of structure on it (a 1-2 room temporary building will do) to stake claim that you mean to build on and occupy your property. If you do not, then someone else can eventually build on it!

Then next is the construction of your home. Unlike the U.S., you do not have a building company come in and put your home up in 3-5 days, or 3-5 months if more complicated. And the bank does not own your home, with you making payments on a monthly “mortgage” until the entire thing is paid off. You are the owner of everything from the very beginning, and you are responsible for all phases of the construction of your home, even when other people are working for you to accomplish that purpose. So when your home is complete, you, in effect are finished with any payments on it! You own it, and your land, free and clear.

20131226_160640_resized0There are many unfinished buildings throughout Ghana. That could be for several reasons: 1) you as owner plan to build on it for several years until it is done; 2) you as owner have run out of money and will continue construction when you get money; or 3) you as owner will not be able to complete the building for quite some time because of money problems.

I myself live in a family “compound” where the owner, a sister who runs her own business in Kumasi, also houses her extended family: her own five children, three of whom are in boarding school, which is a common practice here; her sister and children, some of whom are still in school and some who work for her in her business; and several students who attend college in the area. The “rent” is very inexpensive, but is paid on a yearly basis, the common method here in Ghana, so careful planning and budgeting is necessary before moving in.

20131221_145327_resized0Many of the compounds are old; many buildings are unfinished, as you can look around and see second stories with just bamboo posts in place. It is very odd and very disconcerting. In addition, with the older compound structures, it is sometimes hard to tell if anyone is really living  there, because they do not look lived in. The thing that always gives it away is the clothes hanging outside. (As a funny aside, there are few Ghanians who have clothes dryers in their homes — why would they need them? Just hang everything outside in this 80-95 degree heat, and it will be dry in a couple of hours!)

 I was very fortunate to obtain the living space that I have, thanks to my US and Ghana sponsors. They have made the transition very easy for me. Everything was ready when I stepped off the plane, and I was taken totally by surprise. Below are pictures of my wonderful “apartment.”

2013-11-20 13.47.11    20131104_070049    AptComp1