Dumelang from Botswana

April 8, 2010

4-5-10

It is Monday evening in Gaborone, Botswana and I am exhausted. So much has happened since I last wrote, most of which involved me reminiscing about my time in Ghana and how it will be to return home. I had a feeling of being ready to leave, but also nowhere near ready to go back to my life and its relatively fast pace. I am used to the food, customs, people, weather, and challenges of Ghana, and it will take some time to get reacquainted with my homeland.

Coming to Botswana didn’t help these sentiments. I arrived early in the morning on the 1st of April to cold weather and open flat terrain. From the air the land looked beautiful, and it was even more profound on foot. Becky picked me up from the airport and we made our way to the University of Botswana (UB) to put down my things and rest for a bit. The first difference I noticed was that the taxi was in great condition. There was no rust, no bits of metal falling off, the speedometer worked, and…they drive on the left! How disorienting! This on top of being tired was way too much for me.

That evening I went to a mall close to the university to get dinner. It has been pouring and cold every afternoon since I came and that day was no exception. By the time we got to the mall (Becky thought it was a great idea to walk and save the cab money) I was drenched and muddy. We ended up eating at a restaurant with pitas and hamburgers (the pitas were amazing! One thing Botswana has on Ghana is food) and were enjoying the meal when a boy came up to us and told us to give him food in Setswana. I only knew that this was what he said because he repeated it in English. We told him no, so he just sat there staring at us. Eventually I lost my patience with him and asked him who he was with. He told me he was with his grandmother but that she was at a funeral. I told him to go and get her and bring her to us, then I would give him food (he didn’t look like he was starving or else I wouldn’t have been so hard on him) but he kept saying she’s at a funeral and that he was hungry. After I wouldn’t budge he got the hint and left, but Becky felt bad and wondered if he actually was hungry. After the restaurant we browsed the mall and I got a few groceries so that I wouldn’t have to eat out every day. When we were leaving the store we found the boy buying a gumball from a machine! It made Becky feel better and me feel even angrier.

On Friday morning we woke up early to get to the bus rank (a trotro station in Ghana). Since it was Easter the university was closing from Friday through Monday so we wanted to travel during this time. The plan was to go with another international student, Hannah (from Netherlands), and her boyfriend Kago (‘g’s are pronounced like ‘h’s, except a bit more guttural like German in Botswana) to a small village named Pikwe where there was an old mine and community charm to be seen. At the bus rank, however, things were nothing like Ghana. First, it was all paved. Second, everyone was in line waiting patiently for buses to come. We joined the Pikwe line, which wrapped around two other lines and prepared for a long wait. Apparently buses (their coach buses, not vans) come every hour, so it seemed as though we’d be there for at least three hours. Four hours later we were only halfway up the line, so Kago and Hannah decided they wanted to go to South Africa instead (there was no line). I didn’t feel comfortable crossing the border into South Africa since I didn’t know what I needed to do so and since I wanted to see Botswana, not SA. Along with this it was a way for us to not spend the weekend with Kago- he had just quit smoking the day before and was being the most miserable person ever. Becky and I decided to go to Serowe instead, a town with a rhino sanctuary. A bunch of international students had gone there so we thought we might meet up with them. Since it was late in the day I decided to reserve a hotel room and found one for only 300 Pula (appx. $50USD, 1USD= appx. 6.5 Pula; pula means rain in setswana). We joined the Serowe line and left within the hour. The bus ride took four hours so I got to see a lot of landscape. I saw hundreds of cows and sheep and goats, burnt brush, and blue skies. We arrived just before dusk. At the bus rank we asked a taxi driver where the hotel was and he had no idea. Two women milling around did, though, and pointed to a nearby hill telling us it was a five minute walk. And it was. The hotel was situated on the side of a mountain and was amazing considering the price. Breakfast was included the next morning, there was a restaurant and bar, and most importantly, there was a comfortable bed. I slept well and the next morning was ready to see the town- which had nothing in it. Neither of us wanted to spend the money to go to the rhino sanctuary and there was nothing else open since it was Easter weekend. So we moved on to Francistown, the country’s second largest city. This was more challenging than you’d think. We sat at the bus rank in Serowe for three and a half hours waiting for a bus (the people also waiting assured us that it would come eventually) until eventually we decided to backtrack to a larger town, Palapye, and get a bus to Francistown from there. This plan worked and all of the people waiting at Serowe joined us.

We got into Francistown on Saturday evening. We once again lucked out with a hotel, staying at a four-star hotel for only 400 Pula due to an ‘Easter Special’ which I think really meant that they had no patrons that weekend. I had braai for the first time there which was so good. Braai is a distinctly Motswana dish, similar to barbecue but even better. That evening I watched TV for the first time in a very long time and drifted into a sleep that only comes from a full belly, a hot shower, and a comfy bed.

We got up at 6AM this morning hoping to have enough time to explore Francistown before starting our 6 hour bus ride back to Gaborone. We had breakfast and went into town looking for adventure. We found nothing! We walked around for an hour or so and the most interesting thing we saw was a view of the Tati river (it was a stream) from an overpass. So we joined the long line for Gabs and prepared for a long ride. Amazingly they were organized with police making sure no one cut the line or blocked traffic, and buses came in regular intervals so that the line moved steadily. It only took us an hour to move through the line and board the bus. We were off by 11AM and began making plans to see a movie with a friend in the evening. Halfway there, however, we were pulled over at a disease control road block and told to walk through the barrier. We had to show ID and they checked my passport to make sure I am legally here (and I am!) before we got to get back on the bus. I have no idea what the point of it was.

Anyhow, that evening we got dinner at a Portuguese restaurant that had great food as well and met up with several of Becky’s international friends to go see the movie Nine. All I can say about it is don’t pay money to see it if you haven’t already. With a good quality TV you can get just as much of it as I did…lots of attractive people showing skin and not really having to act. And here we reach the end. I am slowly getting used to a new culture and I hope that this is a good middle point between Ghanaian and American culture. Botswana is a strange mixture of the West and African tradition. It’s hard to get a sense for the people since they keep to themselves and strive for the same things we want in the U.S. For example, Becky’s roommate shops for clothes at Woolworths and is saving for an Audi. So bizarre.

Botswana Practical Travel Tip #1: Botswana is the country, Motswana refers to someone from Botswana, and Batswana refers to all Motswana as a people.

Botswana Practical Travel Tip #2: Transportation is something of a hassle. Always plan for a decent wait to get anywhere, and take the number of good taxi drivers you meet so that you can make an appointment for a pick up time.

Biggie’s Love Triangle

March 29, 2010

3-24-10

Wednesday brought several surprises. The first was that we were giving out a second loan to another group of women even though the microfinance bank account had a total of zero Cedis and the cashbox only had a hundred or so. At any rate, Hayford called me and said to prepare the documents necessary for the group so I did. We gave three of the women loans of 150 GHC and the fourth 100GHC because it was her first.

In the evening Meggin, Laralyn and myself went to the salsa club and this time we brought along the entire African dance troupe that Laralyn has been studying with. It was insanely awkward to say the least. The night started poorly because Laralyn got suckered into paying the trotro fare for everyone to go and get back home. We made our way to the hotel, going through all of the back roads of Accra because the driver didn’t have the right stickers to pass the police barriers without being stopped, and sometime after the sun had set and the night sellers had come out we finally made it to the Coconut Grove Hotel (where salsa is). When we piled out of the trotro the driver asked what time he should pick us back up. Richard, the head dancer, asked Laralyn what time and she explained that it ended at 11pm but the three of us would be continuing on to LaBadi Beach for a reggae concert. He told the driver to pick us up at 11PM and the driver insisted on being paid more because he usually stops running at 9:30PM. Laralyn stood her ground (she was paying him 40 Cedi which is more than he would have made for that trip already) and told him no, so he left angrily and we went inside.

We were early so it was easy to get seats for the troupe. After sitting everyone looked at each other awkwardly and eventually I got up to get a drink and some kebobs (mmm… they were so tasty again that night). When I returned to the table everyone was still sitting there twiddling their thumbs so I pulled Laralyn aside to assess the situation. The group had little money but when Laralyn invited them she made it clear that she couldn’t pay for everyone’s food and drinks. I broke down and bought four large bottles of water for the tables and this seemed to perk everyone up. Soon the salsa lessons started and we all went to the dance floor to learn a few basic moves. Richard the Dancer chose me as his partner, Laralyn got Moses, and Meggin got Esa (pronounced Eesah) who had been sitting next to her. As can be expected I was terrible at moving my hips but I got the steps down well enough, so when the real salsa dancing began I politely moved around a bit with Richard the Dancer before excusing myself to sit back down. I wasn’t the only one- almost all of the dancers returned to their seats once the lesson ended.

I sat down next to Richard, the head drummer (yes there are two Richards), and we spoke for a bit about his career and his ambitions to work for the University of Legon someday. He also told me that he is bringing me a gift on Tuesday. I can’t wait to see what he thinks is appropriate to give someone he only new for two hours. Anyhow, the night went on with much sitting and a bit of dancing until the music changed to hiplife. The group got excited and everyone piled onto the dance floor. They did some traditional dancing and mixed it with current moves and they all seemed much happier. At some point someone bought more water (I later found out that it was Laralyn) and before I knew it it was 11PM and the hotel was shutting down. We all stumbled out of the hotel and the group loaded into the trotro (oh, Richard invited himself along to LaBadi Beach with us) and left the four of us to find our way to the beach.

To wrap up the night we paid the 5 Cedi cover to get into the beach (Laralyn paid for Richard) and sat listening to live reggae music for a while. Richard told a waiter that I was buying him a Fanta (this is after I complained about how expensive everything was at the beach and decided to get apeteshi, the cheap Ghanaian gin spirit and split a water with Laralyn; water is not an advisable chaser for apeteshi) and I told him no I wasn’t (because I am not a sucker like Laralyn, whose mood steadily declined as the night progressed). He bought it for himself. We left him at the table and went to dance, where we met up with Justine and Willan, finally back from their trip to the north and I got to see Aziz as well. Eventually we left the beach and paid for a taxi to Circle. On the trotro home Richard let us know that he would pay for his fare (I wanted to punch him in the face) and on our walk up the hill to the house Meggin, Laralyn and I discussed how ridiculous the evening had been. We found out that Laralyn had also given them money to buy kenkey after leaving the hotel.

As for Biggie, she really has gotten herself into a love triangle. She spent the evening talking and dancing with Esa, which made Richard jealous since he has a crush on her. She also works with Esa at the orphanage/school so they spend a lot of time together. I think she likes him, but they will have to contend with a jealous Richard for a while. If I haven’t explained this yet, she got her nickname one evening while walking back to Amasaman with the dancec troupe. Moses turned to Laralyn and said “Biggie’s not happy today is she?” and so the nickname began.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #73: Locals are the best way to find out what is happening in Accra on any given night. Although the guidebook gives the names of a few places to find fun, there are many great hideouts that will give you a great sense of a Ghanaian night versus one spent with tourists and scammers.

Second Loans and the Ominous Feeling of the End

March 25, 2010

3-23-10

Second Loans and the Ominous Feeling of the End

I have a week left in Ghana and I am not sure how so much time has passed. I keep considering how much I will miss the people here. I have grown very attached to several of the women from the Microfinance program. It is starting to sink in that I may never see them again. Hopefully I will remember to take lots of pictures of them and get everyone’s contact information. I have also started to realize that my way of life is about to abruptly change. First in Botswana where I am told the pace is much faster and people are less friendly, and then when I return to the States I am sure there will be reverse culture shock to contend with.

Anyhow, at the office another group of women came into the office to receive their second loans. This meant that I had to learn on the fly everything that Justine had set up before she traveled and make some new documents to indicate the change in interest rate and length of repayment (the second loans are 100 to 200 GHC for 6 months at a rate of 20%; the only exception is Madam Aisha’s group who will repay in 5 months so that they are finished before school fees are due). It took at least two hours to get all of the documents and forms made, printed, filled out, and thumb printed by the women, and by the end of the day I was exhausted.

In the evening our original plan was to go to the University of Ghana’s botanical garden but we realized that by the time we got there it would almost be time to get back. Not to mention we were both tired. So Meggin, Laralyn, and I watched a movie in our apartment which had no electricity. Then the battery died so we made food by headlamp and talked for a bit before heading to bed.

By the way, a fetish ceremony is one in which shrines are worshipped and rituals practiced… not a kinky sexual encounter.

Ghanaian Travel Tip #72: I have found that Ghanaians are intimidated by foreigners. If you take the time to say hello and ask them their name or where they are from, you will begin to form a friendship with them.

“This yoghurt tastes like wild cow udder!”

March 24, 2010

3-21-10

Today I went with Laralyn and Meggin to explore the hills an hour away from Pokuase. First, we did the usual transport to Kwabenya and then Madina, and then boarded a trotro to Akuse junction, which was about 30km from Shai Hills Wildlife Reserve. On the way there we decided to stop in at Mount Krobo Community Reserve because it was supposed to have abandoned huts and wild animals. When we got there we walked for about twenty minutes discussing the fact that we had not brought enough water to be hiking in the hot sun, and we saw a river of ants crossing the path, a large lime green cricket, and bright red ticks that looked like they would kill if they bit us. Eventually we got to a gate that had no one there, so we kept walking. We saw more deadly insects and some cows on our walk and eventually came to a clearing with buildings but no people. Just as we were about to leave a giant rabbit ran across the clearing followed by a jumping dog. We saw a man in the distance herding cattle and hiding from us, so we decided to leave. Unfortunately, the herd (which was mostly comprised of bulls) was in front of us grazing. We stopped for a while wondering if since they were with a man they would be tame, and eventually Meggin made a move towards them. The obviously alpha bull started stomping the ground (the herder was just watching all of this) so we quickly made our way up a hill and away from the angry bulls.

When we got back to the roadside we jumped onto a trotro and went to Shai Hills. There we paid a large entrance fee and guide fee before being led around a small part of the reserve. The cool part was when we saw a troupe of olive baboons including ugly babies and bright red butted females. They were used to people, so we got as close as two yards away from them while they ate nuts from a tree. The park has a rule that guides and the people who live there aren’t allowed to feed the animals, but they allow visitors to feed them bananas for close up photos. We didn’t participate in that since it’s bad to feed them. After an hour we left the park because it was getting late and we all were tired. Apparently the antelope were on the other side of the reserve so we would have had to rent a 4×4 to find them.

We got a trotro from Shai Hills to Accra Mall so that Laralyn could see the rich folk of Ghana, and there we bought some fruit juice, a bottle of Schnapps for tomorrow’s fetish ceremony, a bottle of cocoa liqueur and fresh milk (it was 1.55 GHC for about half a cup) to try tonight. When rushed home to see the news report at 7, but found out that it had aired at 5pm, so everyone (except Hayford) missed it. So we decided to try our cocoa liqueur and milk sans Meggin since she didn’t want to try it. After dinner Laralyn had Greek yoghurt (her response inspired the blog title…it was very natural) and then we made our concoction. The milk smelled like sour yoghurt, and apparently tasted even worse (Laralyn was brave enough to try it). We mixed the cocoa with boxed milk but that was no good either and curdled withing seconds. So we went to the bar across the street and bought Smirnoff Ices, and watched the Royal Tanenbaums, trying to forget our major failure. I am not sure what we’ll do with the rest of the cocoa liqueur (oh, it was only 2.50 GHC… should have been a hint I suppose).

Ghanaian Practical Travel Tip #70: Be aware of how much things should cost. Ghanaians find very sneaky ways to scam foreigners, usually by inflating the price of something by a small amount so that you don’t notice. If you put up a fight, however, they will usually give in and charge the right amount.

Makola Market and How Time Flies

March 24, 2010

3-20-10

Today Laralyn, Meggin and I went on a road trip to Accra. I was supposed to sleep and relax all day, but I woke up needing to get out of the house and find adventure. The plan was for us to go to The Loom, an upscale art gallery near Circle, and then to split up at the National Museum. I would walk down the street to the Museum of Science since I had already been to the National Museum. Afterwards, we’d meet up to go to Makola together in search of souvenirs. When we got to The Loom we realized that none of us could afford any of the paintings. Most of the work was abstract and seemed to come from classically trained artists so it wasn’t very appealing to me. The woman who owned the place was nice, though. She went to school in Britain and had a no nonsense attitude. We talked to her about the challenges Ghana faces and her experiences abroad for some time.

Afterwards we went to The Orangerie for lunch (I went there the day I went to the National Museum as well but Laralyn found it in the guidebook and wanted to try it). Service was slow, like usual, but the food was once again excellent. We talked while we waited for the food and Meggin sat mostly silent. I had a roast chicken sandwich (amazing), Meggin had a roast beef sandwich (she didn’t like it, of course), and Laralyn had eggplant squash and sweet pepper on toast. Afterwards we realized it was already getting late and Laralyn had to be back by 1pm for her dance lessons, so we went straight to the market.

At Makola our main priority was finding fabric. We found some early on and bought a shopping bag full of rolled prints and then moved onto finding beads. That was more challenging. We had to go to the Makola Shopping Mall (really not a mall but a two story building with vendors and people sleeping in the stairwells) to find some, but they didn’t look all that great and they were overpriced. At the end of that adventure it was time to go home so we got a trotro to Circle, then one to Pokuase. About halfway through that leg the air suddenly got cold and within five minutes we were in middle of torrential rains. The dirt road was washed out, people were digging trenches to try to drain the water off of their property and all of the sellers were nowhere to be seen. Laralyn called Richard and confirmed that class was cancelled since it was outdoors and we thought about walking up the hill to the house in pouring rain with all of our purchases.

A Summary of Last Week and the Fetish Con

March 23, 2010

3-22-10

Last week was a blur of fun and adventure, mostly unrelated to my internship. On Tuesday women came to the office to apply for a loan, making the total number of applicants too many to know. In the evening, we decided to make pasta with tomato sauce, so Laralyn and I went on a small quest while Justine took a nap. We walked all the way down the hill with no luck and stopped at a shop with a flame to see if they knew where to find some. The woman there, named Florence and from Togo originally, told us to follow her. We walked back up the hill down a path and through an alley, eventually getting to a woman’s backyard. She had tomatoes and onions, so we bought some, thanked her, and made our way back to the main road with Florence. The tomato sauce I made with a headlamp on (the lights went out in the middle of my cooking session) was quite nice, and well worth the random trip to suburban Pokuase.

On Wednesday we gave second loans to a group of Amasaman women and a group of Fise women. It was quite an exciting day and many photos and videos were taken of the moment. Madam Aisha’s group came dressed in their finest wax prints and all of them looked quite elegant. The Fise women came in regular clothes, but dressing up wouldn’t have suited their personalities. It was quite an exhilarating day at the office.

That evening, Laralyn, Justine and I went to salsa night again and met Willan and a group of his friends. I wasn’t in a dancing mood, but it was fun to sit and talk with everyone and take in the merriment. Omar, one of Willan’s friends, was from Chad studying computer programming in Ghana. He and I talked about politics and he tried to teach me some French for most of the night, and eventually we got up and awkwardly danced. He has to be at least 6’6” so it was challenging doing a partner dance (especially so since neither of us understand the concept of moving together). Before we left Laralyn said goodbye to some men she had met the previous week and one of the guys gave me a crushing handshake which put me in a bad mood for the rest of the night. Laralyn blamed alcohol but I didn’t care…one shouldn’t drink enough to not realize one’s cause of pain. When we got home the new volunteer, Meggin, had arrived, but she just went to bed so we sat around and talked with Hayford for a while before calling it a night.

On Thursday nothing happened in the office since no loans were given out and no one needed to repay. That afternoon we gave English lessons but I barely participated because I was quite tired and in no mood to deal with Madam Aisha. On top of it I was sick from inhaling all of the dirt and grime. In the evening, however, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to return to Bywell, the nightclub with live highlife music and prostitutes. It lived up to my expectations as we were seated between two prostitutes and their Johns (thanks Mom!). The music was good and we sat around eating and talking, watching all of the old men and their prostitutes dancing and getting drunk. Meggin was once again quiet, which was starting to get annoying, especially since she seemed to have a snooty attitude attached to her quietness.

Now let’s skip ahead to Monday. Work was entertaining because two new groups of women came in to apply for loans and we interviewed for a new office worker (Dorcas got a better paying job and stopped coming after she told Hayford). Comfort, the girl interviewing, translated for me halfway through her interview while Hayford tended to something else, and I gave her kudos for doing a great job while at a work interview (She started the next day).

That afternoon Laralyn and I were supposed to go to a fetish ceremony, but found out it was cancelled. Instead, Moses, one of her African dance partners, told us that he would take us to meet the fetish priest’s mother (also his grandmother, conveniently). The old woman poured (or rather, spit) libations on several shrines around the house, and then we moved to the neighbor’s (Moses’ aunt) and finally to the late fetish priest (Moses’ great grandfather) before returning to her home. After Moses took our cameras the first time and made us pose for pictures in the first shrine I realized it was a scam. Sure enough, at the end of all of this (even though we brought the Schnapps for the libations and didn’t actually ask for the shrine spit tour) Moses told us to make a ‘big value’ contribution to his grandmother, which we did since he was so bold about it, and then he led us to his aunt’s house to ‘say goodbye’ which never happened since I refused to give more to her and she walked off in a huff (I have gotten quite bold with Ghanaians, I must say). Laralyn and I laughed all the way home, and she told me how on Saturday one of the dancers said that “Biggie wasn’t happy” about Meggin.

It sums her up pretty well. She’s overweight (presumably from drinking two Cokes a day) and she never seems happy or interested. She hates onions, tomatoes, too many vegetables, and pepper, all of which are in every Ghanaian dish, and she dislikes ‘too many textures’, which I am not sure what this means. Really, Laralyn and I have made bets about how long she will last in Ghana. She’s supposed to be here for 3 months, but I give her two weeks before she calls home demanding to leave. Her mom will come to VPWA in May for two weeks and I can’t imagine how she will be then. Seriously, I’m happy that I will only have a short while with her.

Ghanaian Travel Tip #71: Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. You will find that you meet awesome people and have awesome experiences if you do (such as buying tomatoes from someone in their back yard late at night).

Building Name of the Week: Amen Scientific Herbal Hospital

The Monday Blues

March 22, 2010

3-15-10

The Monday Blues

I was cranky after not getting much sleep the entire weekend. On top of all of that I had to travel into Accra to Air Namibia to try to get my ticket. I set off with Hayford since I was carrying a large amount of money, and he dropped me off at the building. I made my way up to the third floor and into the Air Namibia office (the doorman told me I look like a Namibian…) and sat at Vera’s desk. I explained the whole situation to her and we worked together to find the best solution. In half an hour I left the office with a ticket to Botswana and a bounce in my step. I made my way to Amasaman to finish out the day at the office. That day another woman finished repaying her loan so I conducted her interview and wrote an updated profile for her. By the time the evening rolled around I was exhausted so I rested for the evening, not interested in any sort of nightlife adventures. All in all it was a great day. My goal of getting my ticket was achieved, and it started to hit me that I would be leaving soon, on the 31st to be exact.

Ghanaian Practical Travel Tip #69: If traveling to another country after your stay in Ghana, either book your ticket before leaving your place of origin or allow for at least one month prior to departure to get your ticket. They surely don’t make it easy here.

Kumasi, Take Two

March 21, 2010

3-12-10

On Friday we visited the women of Fise early in the morning because we thought the television interview was to take place later. It turns out they called and postponed again, but Hayford didn’t tell us. So, in the early afternoon we left the office and went home to prepare for our journey. Justine went to the extreme western coast so she left as soon as she was packed, but Laralyn and I decided to stay and rest for a little while before starting our journey. At around 2PM we left, but as we exited the gate Hayford was returning home. He had deposited money into his personal account to see if I could use his credit card to purchase the plane ticket. After three tries the company locked his computer and I was back to square one. Laralyn offered to try her credit card afterwards, but it didn’t work either. So I decided to adopt my typical ‘que sera sera’ attitude and we left the compound destined for new phones and an adventure in Kumasi.

When we arrived at Circle I got a phone first. I didn’t want to go to the same store that Laralyn bought hers from originally, so I stopped in the third of the string of cell phone shops and bought the same phone she had (it is currently the cheapest in Ghana) and a Tigo SIM card for only 41 Cedi (about $30). Next we found her shop so that she could complain (the legitimate stores give a receipt and a 7 day warranty) and get a new battery, which they gave her willingly. This all took maybe 45 minutes only because we had to cross Circle traffic, which nearly ended in my death for the first time this weekend. A trotro decided that moving up two feet was more important than my face. The only reason I wasn’t hit was because Laralyn pulled me back (I was on the curb…). Anyway, our next task was to find New Plan Station (or Neoplan, I’m really not sure). We asked several people where it was and they pointed to a bridge that crossed over the road. We took this bridge, and found one trotro station, but it wasn’t the right one. There an old man selling men’s shirts sent a boy to help us find the right station, and he very courteously led us through alleys and over a makeshift bridge that crossed a river of green sewage, and before we knew it we were there. We asked for an air-conditioned bus to Kumasi, and then two van drivers began to fight over our business. Laralyn said that one of the buses looked more likely to have air conditioning, so we ended up on that one (wrong choice!). We were the last two passengers, so we left soon after boarding, but just before putting the gear into first, two more men jumped on and stood on the entrance stairs

I thought nothing of this except that it would be an uncomfortable four hours for them, until one pulled out a Bible. He then started to preach. Loudly. Right in front of me. I was so close that I felt (and in some cases, saw) the droplets of spit on my arms. He did this for about an hour, before selling two DVDs about the coming apocalypse and the criteria with which Jesus will choose the saved. About half the bus bought this (I’m pretty sure it was the half that kept screaming ‘Hallelujah!’ during his sermon) and the man standing next to him, who I thought was with him, asked the driver to play one of the DVDs. After collecting his money, the preacher got off the bus, leaving us with a bad 90s cast and dramatizations that contained every fallacy one could imagine (you could say that I am a cynic). During the film the bus was quiet so I only made it to chapter four, on false Jesus’s, before dozing off. I woke up when the little girl (yes, I am always stuck next to a screaming kid) started kicking me. Her mother solved all misbehavior with breastfeeding, to the point where I started timing the intervals between… the longest was one hour. Eventually it grew dark and the girl fell asleep (against her mother’s chest) and I had moments of peace. In some town, however, I almost died for the second time.

We were driving merrily when suddenly the driver slammed on the brakes and swerved into oncoming traffic. I looked out the window and saw a car about to hit us, and the driver swung to the right, creating a third lane in the middle of the road. At about this point the woman with the girl next to me grabbed my thigh and yelled ‘Jesus!’ and the rest of the bus cried out as well. It turns out a car had suddenly pulled out in front of us (I reiterate that Ghana should really test potential drivers before handing over licenses). That is the closest I’ve come to a car accident here. I guesstimate that at least the six passengers ahead of me would have gone through the windshield, and possibly more since there are no seatbelts. The bus was set up to hold two rows of seats where the guardrail and blockade to where the driver normally would have been.

By the time we arrived in Kumasi it was late and we were exhausted. We had called ahead to check what rooms were available (no need for another Hohoe experience) and went to the Nurom Annex Inn to get a ‘simple but clean’ room according to the guide book. The taxi driver dropped us off and ripped us off (we got ripped off a lot, too many times to mention them all) and we made our way up a narrow set of stairs to find reception. There was no one there. It was strange because we had called only a few minutes ago to say we were on our way. After waiting for some time a man came up the stairs (we spoke to a woman) and said they were full. We explained that we had just called and they said there were rooms, and he informed us that that was the ‘other’ Nurom. Apparently there is the Nurom Inn Annex in Kumasi, and the Nurom Hotel in New Suame, just north of the city. Who knew? Certainly not us. He pointed to a tower and said there was a new hotel there that we could stay at, so we made our way over, and up four flights of stairs before finding reception. There were rooms. And only 27 Cedi! This price included hot water, a refrigerator, air conditioning, and television. We were ecstatic and exhausted, but we still had to find something to eat. We passed by a night club that had a casino and very swank people, but learned that to get in it was four cedis if you didn’t follow the dress code. So we ended up at a Chinese restaurant that had great food and even better service.

The next day we planned our trip while waiting for an hour and a half for a Spanish omlette and coffee (the Spanish omlette was only onions, which actually didn’t even come so it was a flat scrambled egg folded over onto itself). We would go to the museum first, then see the famous sword, then go to the central market, then the Ashanti king’s palace, and finally make our way to an acclaimed hat museum.

The museum was interesting. There were artifacts from the various Ashanti kings’ reigns and scenes of everyday life for the king. My favorite artifact was called the lion drum in which the drummer rubs a special stick against the surface of the drum and it sounds like a lion roaring. Next we explored the grounds of the museum where local artists were carving drums and selling their goods. I also saw a calabash tree for the first time. It was intertwined with a cocoa tree. Afterwards we navigated the hectic traffic to get to the sword. This sword is a vital part of Ashanti folklore. The Ashantis believe that it was buried by the originator of the Ashantis (his name escapes me) and that the day it is pulled out of the ground the Ashanti kingdom will fall. Interestingly, a hospital was built around it, so we made our way through the hospital to a small building in a garden, paid the entrance fee, and got a very brief history of the sword. When we went to take pictures, we noticed a lizard sitting under the sword which we thought was dead. It turns out he was only playing dead, and had fallen behind the concrete barrier earlier in the day. The sword was nothing like Excalibur, but it was very cool nonetheless.

The central market was the most claustrophobic and exhilarating experience I’ve had in a long time. We entered along railroad tracks, and once we left them, left all our bearings. There were shops within shops, on top of shops, next to shops, everywhere you looked there was something to buy. The aisles were only about a foot across and had traffic going both ways, including women with large metal bowls with goods on their heads. I had trouble not falling into someone’s shop and at the same time not hitting a bowl off of someone’s head. Laralyn and I walked through the clothing section and the spice section (heaven for a nose) before we hit the cloth. There I bought to my hearts content as long as I could get three yards for under six Cedis. Laralyn bought more expensive fabric as well, but I figured I could get better deals if kept shopping around (and I did). After we were thoroughly satisfied and dehydrated we headed out, passing through the meats and a fifty yard thick band of hawkers before reaching ‘fresh’ air.

We decided that we needed food. I had been looking forward to Vic Baboo’s, a well-known jack-of-all-trades restaurant, since arriving in Ghana, so we went there. I got chicken tikka, which was okay, and Dawn got a cheese and tomato sandwich, which was excellent according to her. Afterwards, we took a taxi to the King’s palace, which is where our luck turned. The palace was closed, but someone told us that it was open to get us out of the taxi. After taking a picture of a random (but gorgeous) peacock we were accosted by two Ghanaian men trying to sell us bracelets. They followed us out of the palace, and to the street corner, forcing us to wait while they made bracelets for us. It turns out that we could get the bracelets for free if we promised to solicit sales in the United States. I got a business card from one of the guys with every kind of contact method listed on it, along with two bracelets. Laralyn got this plus the admiration of one of the men.

Since it was beginning to get late we decided to head to Lake Bosomtwi after the palace failure. We went to the main trotro station and were told to go to another one just across the road. We looked but saw none, so a man led us towards the correct place. It turns out we couldn’t see the station because we had to go through a narrow dark doorway, down a flight of pitch black stairs (we used our cell phone flashlights (yes, our cell phones have actual flashlights in the top)) before emerging into a huge trotro station. We got on a trotro towards Adanwomase and sat back for an hour long drive. About 45 minutes later I saw a sign for Mampong and freaked out. We were heading east from Kumasi when we should have been heading south. It was after dark and we were in a tiny mud hut village when I realized my mistake… we were to go to Kuntanase but I had Adanwomase in my head since we planned on going there the next day.

When we reached Adanwomase we managed to stay calm and get ourselves out of a large predicament. First, we hired a share taxi to Bonwire (yes, we were still keeping it as cheap as possible) then got another share to Ejisu, then from there continued with the driver as a drop-in taxi to Lake Point Hotel. To finish the day we snuck onto the beach and listened to the ocean before crawling into our mosquito net shrouded bunk bed.

The next morning we woke up early with the intentions of enjoying the lake before heading off to Adanwomase and Bonwire. We rented a peddleboat after discussing our swimming abilities and set off for a fun two hours on the lake. Beforehand we asked a worker if there was anywhere we weren’t supposed to go and he said that everywhere was okay. He even pointed us towards a small fishing community. As we peddled we talked and enjoyed the sunshine. Eventually I got tired of steering so Laralyn took over, and a few minutes later…there was a fishing line snagged on the boat paddles. We reversed hoping to undo whatever had been done but this only made it worse, and eventually we were completely stuck. In the middle of the world’s youngest crater lake.

I wouldn’t be able to save my life if I had to swimming, but I got into the water to assess the damage (my thinking was that I can float well so as long as I held onto the boat I would be okay…unless I couldn’t pull myself back in). The rope was wrapped around the paddles at least 30 times. How we managed to do this I have no idea. Luckily Laralyn had her Swiss Army knife with her so after attempting to just untangle the rope we had to cut ourselves free. The whole ordeal lasted over an hour, and by the end of it dozens of pictures had been taken and we were in stitches laughing. As an attempt to make up for destroying someone’s rope Laralyn got in the water and brought the other end to the boat. I tied it back together and we promised to not mention anything to the hotel staff.

After this ‘incident’ we decided to just stay on the beach and relax. Both of us wanted to go to Adanwomase to see how kente is made, but neither of us had he energy for it. We snoozed in hammocks and had a wonderful lunch before heading home (but wait, there’s more!)

Our planned route back to Pokuase would have taken us to Kuntanase (the town we should have gone to to get to the lake) then to Ejisu where we would have gotten a trotro home. Of course, nothing goes as planned in Ghana. A taxi picked us up and took us to Kuntanase where we joined a long line of people waiting for trotros to Accra. We were told that they would pass through Ejisu so we could just get off there. After standing in line and almost getting to the front a man came up to us and to prove that he was trustworthy told us he was with a white lady and pointed to her. He asked if we wanted to share a taxi with them to Kumasi and we agreed since no trotro was in sight. We got out of the line and waited while he negotiated a price. We were lucky to have because the trotro wasn’t actually going to the road that Ejisu is on. On our car ride in we learned that the man was actually dating the old German woman and that they were vacationing in Ghana for her to see his home. From Kumasi we finally got a bus home (with preacher…video to come) and sat back for the long journey home.

R.I.P. MTN

March 16, 2010

3-11-10

Today we filled out applications for a potential group of recipients. The women came in yesterday wanting a loan, and we told them what they needed to provide us, not thinking they would come back so soon. So today we were caught off guard. After calling Hayford to find out what we were supposed to do, we pretended that we knew what we were doing and collected their information. I also conducted two more exit interviews of women that had finished. Laralyn took pity on me and helped to write their profiles. She got most of the details down, now it is up to me to polish it into something that will get people to donate money to VPWA.

In the afternoon Hayford went to talk to Madam Aisha which didn’t go very well. He told us that she was quite upset that one of our interviews had been misinterpreted. Apparently Lela (one of her group members) did indeed make a weekly profit, but Dorcas told me that she didn’t. Also, he spoke with her about our complaints in the classroom, which worried me about our next lesson.

In the evening we went to Coconut Grove Hotel for salsa dancing. Laralyn is a competitive salsa dancer, so it was her time away from Ghana and I went along for the ride. First, however, we navigated Circle at night (dangerous! Don’t do it unless you have to) to go to the bank (stupid, right?) and the store she bought her cell phone from (she bought a faulty phone with a 7 day warranty; the shop was closed) before making our way to the station towards the hotel. There we got a share taxi to the hotel, but in my haste to find money for the driver, I put my cell on the seat and got out, remembering it as he left yelling range. I loved that phone, and I really don’t want to spend another 30-40 GHC on one, but such is life I suppose (I tried calling, but he had switched it off… not a good sign). Needless to say, when we got to the hotel I was very angry, but my anger momentarily subsided because the kebobs there were AMAZING. I ate four over the course of the night with no shame. After a second Smirnoff, Laralyn became brave and went to an adjacent table to ask where the people there were from (they were speaking Spanish with an interesting accent) and found out they were from Cuba. Before I knew it we were pulling tables together and I was offered another kebob (yay!). In an hour or so I spotted Justine and Willan who were coming from his apartment with their friend, Alim, who was from Chad. The rest of the night we danced (my first time in Ghana) and ate and drank, and didn’t get home until 1AM.

Yeah…so tired.

Ghanaian Practical Travel Tip #68: If you purchase a cell phone abroad, be sure to lock the phone. This way if anyone tries to put their SIM card into it, it will not work without the lock code. I only found this out after losing my unlocked one…

“Let’s Find Mischief and Merryment!”

March 10, 2010

3-9-10

Today we went to the office before 9:30AM for the first time in many weeks. The reason? The eager new volunteer (whose name is spelled Laralyn, not Laralynn). Tuesday is now our busiest day as most of the recipients have finished repaying, so we had many people coming in and out of the office. In the morning a man from KNUST, the major university in Kumasi, came to interview VPWA and its recipients. I was quite lost in translation, so after sending him away I called him to come back to speak with the women. Dorcas had waited to tell me that he had spoken to Hayford and gotten approval (I found out later in the night that he didn’t actually get approval). The rest of the day went by smoothly, however.

That afternoon we went to teach English at Madam Aisha’s school and sat for half of the class period while Aisha took control again. By the time we left I decided that I wasn’t teaching on Thursday since I was incapable of doing anything right. Ahmed, a leader in the Muslim community walked us through a shortcut to the trotro station, and along the way we met the Chief of the Muslims of Amasaman. After saying hello he turned to me and asked in Twi if I loved him. I laughed and then left…I was definitely not expecting that. Further along the path we came across a woman pounding fufu and stayed for a meal of fufu with pepper soup (so good! The beef was the tastiest I have had here). Laralyn had trouble managing the fufu which was funny while Justine ate like a pro.

When we went home I had a refreshing shower (no electricity all day made for one smelly Christina) and rested for a while. Eventually Laralyn and I decided that we wanted to do something, so we decided to find merriment and mischief. We decided to head towards Accra to see what we could, so we got ready and were just about to leave when the hibernating bear called Justine came out of her room. The water had run out by this point, so we convinced her to come with us instead of staying alone in the house. And she agreed.

When we left the compound, however, we felt raindrops. We decided to stay in Pokuase and see what we could since home wouldn’t involve a dirt (mud) road at the end of the night. We went to one bar which didn’t have any cold drinks, and then made our way to the rooftop bar. There we relaxed watching African music videos. Justine kept yawning so after the storm passed (temporarily) we returned home. Laralyn and I regretted taking her along for the ride since neither of us were actually tired (it was only 10:30PM). So we stayed up and talked to Hayford for a while, and then fell unconscious in our room.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #67 (For Women): Skirts are amazing things. Not only are they cool, they are much more socially acceptable in Ghana than shorts.


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