Kumasi, Take Two

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.

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3 Responses to “Kumasi, Take Two”

  1. Dad Says:

    Hi Christina

    I am tired just reading this, I can’t imagine living the experience.

    You are on such an awesome adventure, enjoy the time left and come home safe.

    It looks like Obama’s healthcare plan will pass tonight.

    Love
    Dad

  2. Mom Says:

    WOW!

    You called Laralyn, Dawn.

  3. Auntie P Says:

    Thanks Christina. Now I can breathe again.
    I really enjoyed it.

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