Everything is Irie and Fresh in Aburi

March 10, 2010

3-8-10

Today was a national holiday in Ghana as Independence Day fell on the weekend. This meant that we did not have to go to work (after quite a bit of persuading Hayford) and could use the time to travel. I decided last night to go to Aburi, the hilltop rasta village of Ghana, to see what it had to offer. Laralynn said that she would be interested in joining me, so we got up early and headed for Kwabenya and the usual route to the Eastern region. In Madina we had no trouble getting a trotro. There was one direct to Aburi, which greatly surprised me, and before I knew it we were ascending a mountain. The road curved round and round, climbing steadily above the clouds to a summit that seemed further than the moon. Eventually we came upon small towns perched precariously on the hillside, and finally, Aburi.

The trotro dropped us at a three way junction (along with two other obroni girls) and we bought a FanIce before trying to figure out where the botanical gardens could be. The two girls that got off as well said they had seen a sign that pointed further up the hill, so we began our walking ascent. Just before getting there we were befriended by two Ghanaian men. The talkative one was named Francis, and after joking about me paying for him we left them with the other girls at the gate. The gardens were beautiful (not really picturesque, however) and serene. It was wonderful to see many Ghanaian groups there, some with school and others on church retreats. As we walked around we heard different groups singing and saw much dancing, and eventually we stopped to listen. The group seemed to be a spontaneous collection of people, and just as spontaneously they stopped dancing and sat down to play board games.

Eventually I got a craving for kebobs so we went to the restaurant on site for a meal. I got two kebobs (they put a dry rub of paprika and other spices on alternating chicken or beef and onion slices, then grill it… so good) and red red with plantains. I was stuffed by the end, and the meal cost under 6 Cedi. Afterwards we left to investigate the craft market, but found ourselves wandering through the town searching for anything wooden. When we asked for directions people showed us to the food market, until we found a man who happened to work as a wood carver. He walked with us to the wood market, which was quite a way out of town, and then tried to pressure us into going into every stall. Laralynn went necklace crazy, and I bought a bracelet for my Dad and a small wooden sculpture for myself.

Next we took a taxi to Rita Marley’s studio with the hopes of touring it, but the gate was closed with no guard at the post. I was really sad, and I later found out that the phone number on the sign was out of service. The outside looked cool though… there were metal lion statues along the wall, and the entire front was painted in red, green, and gold. And so we went home and rested.

Laralynn is an interesting person so far. She is married to a Mexican man, and is currently living in central Mexico with his family. She is on sabbatical from teaching chemistry at an independent high school in San Francisco, which she’s been doing for the past twelve years. All in all she’s really chill and fun to travel with, except together we are really indecisive. What’s better is that after a Smirnoff Ice she stops being so shy and we generally have good conversation.

La Beach and the New Volunteer

March 9, 2010

3-7-10

La Beach and the New Volunteer

This morning I woke up early to accompany Hayford and the new volunteer, Laralynn, on the Accra city tour. I did so, not because I wanted to see the sights again, but because it was a free ride to Labadi Beach. After the tour, Laralynn came with me to the beach, which was relatively nice considering most beaches are used as toilets in the country. We sat under a large umbrella and watched the waves and the locals swim. What was interesting was that the beach was full of foreigners, but very few actually went into the water. Further down there was a large group of fishermen casting their nets and several soccer games being played. Every once in a while people would come by selling necklaces and paintings, but weren’t pushy. It was all in all a very enjoyable experience.

Afterwards, we decided to go to the Cultural Center (where Dawn bought her souvenirs the Monday before). Many of the artists recognized my face and asked me if I was back to buy whatever item I had expressed interest in when I went to their shop before. We looked around for a while without buying anything, and then left when the heat and solicitation got to be too much. This is when I introduced Laralynn to her first FanIce. She became obsessed… I’ve created a monster.

We then headed to Osu to see what it had to offer. I have never walked down Oxford Street (Ghana’s most famous, although I am not sure why) so it was nice to see all of the stores and people. It wasn’t all that impressive though, since most of the stores were banks or food chains. We had lunch at a place called Mamma Mia’s where they had pizza and pasta dishes. Unfortunately, their ravioli items (1/5 of the pasta menu) weren’t available, so we ended up with two pizzas. I finished mine, along with two Cokes (massive stomach ache after!) and Lralynn took her leftovers for morning cold pizza. We waddled to the main road, where we took a taxi to the National Theatre. We were lucky enough to arrive just before a performance was to start, but they refused to let me in wearing flip flops! I wouldn’t have minded if their logic was more sensible. It was acceptable for me to be in shorts and a t-shirt, but not sandals. Anyway, with my stomach churning I was okay with not staying. I am sure the performance was at least two hours long, and as with everything else in Ghana, I am sure it didn’t start on time. Behind the theatre, we met two comedians who tried to befriend us but we were set on getting home- it had been a long day.

We headed to Circle and got a trotro home. Later that evening both of us were feeling restless, so we went to the bar. The plan originally was for us to go with Hayford, but he was in a meeting that lasted until 1AM, so we left without him. We took a trotro to the next stop north (still in Pokuase, which brought many confused and irritated looks by other travelers) and went to the rooftop bar. We sat and watched people dancing and got to know each other. Eventually a man came over and introduced himself. He told me that he wanted to be my best friend and take me out, and I told him that maybe we would see each other at the bar again sometime. Then he said that he had seen me at the mechanic’s shop (which is actually located right next to Nuumo’s house) and this creeped me out a bit. I told him that I pass there sometimes, and that I would say hello next time I saw him. It was very tiring talking to him, and eventually Hayford showed up, which finally got rid of him. So the three of us sat for a while, but went home since it was late and we planned for an early start the next day.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #66: At the bar, the bill is calculated at the end of your stay. Also, it is acceptable and advisable to ask for the price of drinks since it will vary greatly depending on the establishment.

3-6-10 Independence Day

March 9, 2010

3-6-10

Independence Day

Last night after writing my blog I stayed up until 1:30AM cleaning and building a new wardrobe. I found out that I would indeed be sharing a room, so major improvements to its condition had to be accomplished. As a result, however, I missed the morning parade in Accra. I left the house at around 9AM and headed for the city, hoping that the National Museum would be open. On the trotro I sat next to a man holding a Bible. Wrong decision. He took the next thirty minutes to explain the benefits of accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior and told me that I would go to hell if I didn’t do so. Luckily, he got off the trotro only halfway through my journey. I got off at Circle and crossed the deadly roads all joining at the gigantic roundabout to find a shared taxi station. Using my logic I deduced that it had to be in the direction towards Accra Central, and sure enough it was. I asked to go to Ministries as Hayford had explained to me and was told to get into one car, but when I specified that I wanted to be dropped off in front of the National Museum the driver yelled at me and then we held eye contact for twenty awkward seconds. After this we both chuckled and I got into another taxi (it was such a strange experience).

I was, in fact, dropped off in front of the National Museum and found the entrance, which was placed in a very unassuming spot. The entrance fee for volunteers was 3GHC and there was a 2GHC fee for cameras. Usually I would have lied about taking pictures, but this time I decided to be honest. The museum is a rounded building, two stories high and housed many Ghanaian artifacts. If I were to critique it, it lacked detailed descriptions (most items weren’t even dated) and seemed like a very washed out account of Ghanaian history. Nonetheless, I walked through all of the exhibits and took in all that it had to offer. One really cool thing was that I saw an actual Chi-Wara. This is a mask worn during ceremonies and festivals to symbolize agriculture and farming. The nerd in me thought this was really cool. Unfortunately, however, the majority of artifacts aren’t very well preserved, so I suspect their conditions will deteriorate rapidly in the not air conditioned building.

After the museum I considered going to Independence Square, but hunger got the best of me. My decision was to head towards Circle and find something to eat there. I saw in the tourist guide that there was a restaurant called The Orangerie, but it seemed quite out of the way. I told the taxi driver to take me to Circle, and on the way I saw none other than The Orangerie. I took this as a sign and got out, paying the full fare, to investigate the place. It was quite classy. There was a simple menu with Ghanaian and western dishes, and although the red-red tempted me greatly, I decided to have a roast beef sandwich with a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade. What a great decision! The sandwich was amazing (I apologize to everyone for always obsessing over the food). It involved toasted bread with gerkins, lettuce, roasted beef, mayonnaise and mustard. So freaking good! Anyway, after indulging on this heavenly sandwich I made my way to Circle and got a trotro home (this trotro broke down and had its engine beaten by the driver with a wrench).

Later Laralynn came to VPWA. She seemed very tired, so after a Coke at the bar next door, we retired for the evening.

Ghanaian Random Fact #65: The Cedi was named so after the Twi word ‘cedee’ which means cowrie shells.

The Dirt

March 5, 2010

3-5-10

Dirt is everywhere and in everything. I have been doing laundry for the past three days (having water and sunshine is less reliable than you’d think) and I have been thinking a lot about dirt. When I wash my clothes, the first three washes involve black water. At first I thought it was the dyes running, but then I washed a bucket of all whites and realized that it was dirt. Dirt is in the food, when I eat I usually have at least one mouthful that involves a distinctive dirt crunch. Dirt is in my eyes, I frequently remove dirt rocks out of the corners. Dirt is in my nose and my ears, in my bellybutton, in my lungs, along the sides of my neck scar, covering my shoes, on every chair. Dirt is everywhere and in everything. One thing I won’t miss is the dirt.

Today Justine and I visited the newest group of Amasaman microfinance women and then headed to Fise. In Fise we calculated the total profits each week of the women who had completed payments and did their bookkeeping properly. This amounted to two women. Dorcas seemed irritated today, and yesterday for that matter, but I ignored this since I was sure she wouldn’t actually say what the problem was. I think it may be that she thinks Justine and I don’t like her or something. In truth, she is okay but I often get frustrated with her. Anyhow, we ended at Cynthia’s shop, as usual, and Justine and I sat for a while sipping on a Coke (Cynthia always gives us one and it makes my Friday everytime). Dorcas left to look at a house for her friend who is in the market, and when she left Cynthia asked us who we liked better. We were diplomatic in our answers. I spent the rest of our time there trying to butter up to Cynthia. Last Friday she was very upset with me because I did not stay for a fufu lunch, and even though I explained several times that there was a lot I needed to do before leaving for the weekend (I had to write profiles, catch up on the blog, shower, do laundry and pack in two hours) she still was upset. I hope things are good now because she is one of my favorite recipients.

When we got home I watched V for Vendetta (still so good even though I’ve seen it dozens of times) and made a lunch of pasta and tuna salad that my mom sent me. So good. I was going to complete a second bucket of laundry for the day when the air suddenly got cold. A storm blew in in the next few minutes, leaving my bucket of clothes still soaking until tomorrow (maybe, we also now have no water again). Later in the evening Justine made more pasta, this time with tomato sauce, since Lizzie the housekeeper didn’t make dinner for some reason.

I have sort of cleaned my room in preparation for the next volunteer to arrive. It has come to my attention that I didn’t mention that Dawn left, which she did on Tuesday, so it’s been just the two of us for a few days. Right now a man named Brian from Britain is here consulting with Hayford on an 8 million pound project. I met him briefly yesterday and he smells much like a thirty something British man. Apart from that I couldn’t tell you anything about him. He isn’t a volunteer though. The next volunteer arrives tomorrow. Her name is Laralynn (I know, very Midwestern and scary) and she hails from San Fransisco. Based on my brief Facebook stalking of her she seems interesting. She has blue streaks in her hair in the picture, and I know from Hayford that she teaches chemistry. Apart from that I don’t know. She will come to work in the Microfinance office (how three volunteers will divide no responsibility I am not sure) for three weeks, and I assume we will travel together again.

As for this weekend, tomorrow is Independence Day here, but I am not sure what activities will occur. There is to be a children’s parade in Accra at 8:30AM (I’d have to leave home at 6 for a chance at seeing it) which I probably won’t see, but I think I will meander down later in the morning and check out how people celebrate here. I assume there will be a lot of drinking, but I am not sure what else. I am supposed to meet up with Justine and Willan either for a parade or to hang out tomorrow so that should be fun. Independence Day falling on a weekend means that Monday is a national holiday here so I think I will travel on Sunday and/or Monday. I will consult the new volunteer, but I think I will go to Aburi, a nearby mountain village (the home of Rita Marley). It is supposed to be a Rasta colony and is known for good crafts. Perhaps on Monday I will go to the beach, although I really need a swimsuit before I do that.

I am getting stir crazy in Ghana now. I am not necessarily homesick today, or frustrated or even in a bad mood. I think I feel this way because I can taste the end and I am excited to move on to new experiences in Botswana. With roughly three weeks to go it is hard to be culturally sensitive. I find myself keeping quiet most days and each day that passes now makes shouts of ‘obruni’ more and more unbearable. Today after our routine passing of children who shout at us on our way to work she told me that her boyfriend explained this phenomenon. He says that it started during days of colonialism when natives were expected to greet the white men every time they saw them. This has just stuck in their subconscious and hence we get ‘Obruni!’ every day. I would believe this, but it is mostly children that yell at us. If it was an act of submission before, why would they 1. continue to teach children to do this, and 2. grow out of it in adulthood? It just seems strange.

Also, in my two months here I have witnessed economic inflation. It is amazing. First, the toll on the motorway from Accra to Tema raised its price from five pesewas to fifty. This means that a person who commutes to work each day went from paying two Cedis to twenty a month. The other thing that I have seen is that water sachets went from five pesewas to ten each. This lasted for only a few days after companies raised the wholesale prices, but after a plea from the government the prices went back down… for now. Unfortunately because the 1 pesewa coin isn’t used except for at Accra Mall (seriously, only there. I am stuck with eight of them), if the water price is raised it will have to be to ten pesewas. And the president says the strength of the Ghanaian Cedi is going up… right.

Random Ghanaian Fact #64: There are Mennonite churches here… except they are nothing like the Mennonites we know and love.

Of Course She Had a Baby at Twelve, She’s Muslim

March 4, 2010

3-4-10

This morning Justine and I woke up late… by an hour.  Willan came back to the house with us, and he was also late for his internship- usually he leaves before I wake up, and this morning he had breakfast with me.  After he left Justine and I lazed around, she cleaned her room and I washed my hair.  We finally decided to leave at 10AM, and headed happily towards the trotro station.

At the office we played a few hands of Rummy, and then I conducted an interview for another woman who had finished her loan.  We got FanIces (I don’t think I have mentioned that this is the best ice cream ever.  I will very much miss it back home) and relaxed for another few hours.  During this time Dorcas gave us a bit more insight about her opinions of Muslims.  She stated that one of our clients (the same one that looked old because of her head scarf and diet) could very possibly have had her first child at twelve because she is Muslim.  It was very frustrating trying to explain to her that not all Muslim women marry at 10 and have children in early adolescence.  Eventually I gave up and went back to looking at my computer screen.  What befuddles us is that Dorcas was schooled at Cape Coast University, one of the premiere West African schools.  On top of this, she studied Sociology and Economics (on a previous day she told us that if we tried to calculate the profit of each box of fried rice lunch we would get a wrong number, that we could only calculate it in bulk), which you would think should have a strong grounding in open-mindedness and cultural relativism (gasp).

Anyhow, I had a stomach ache in the afternoon so I left Justine and Dorcas to teach the English lessons and went home where there was a working toilet.  After flushing, I did a bit of laundry (I am so behind on it!) and watched Atonement (highly recommended, very depressing but I understand why it won so many awards).  When I next saw Justine she told me that Aisha had gone to her family land today, so the school was closed.  This meant going home early.

Unfortunately now Justine’s computer has a virus in a bad way.  Programs keep disappearing everyday (to the land of Beyond) and her computer curses at her with French messages and loud beeps.  It is quite frightening, and I feel bad for her because our computers are our lifelines here in Pokuase.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #63: Akpeteshie (pronounced aperteshy) is a distinctly Ghanaian spirit.  It is made from distilled palm wine, and is the strongest locally produced liquor in the country.  Also, it is only 10 pesewas for a shot.  If you think like I do this means a great night for under 1 Cedi.  Also, the smell is deceiving.  It smells like rubbing alcohol but has no taste on the way down.  Take this from the girl who can barely manage shots of vodka.  Beware however, Ghanaians will claim that it is 80% alcohol.  I would argue it is closer to 30%.

Alliance Française

March 4, 2010

3-3-10

I am exhausted, once again. I think this is the root of my homesickness and frustration. Ghana has worn me down, but tonight it was worth it. It is 1AM and I have just returned from Accra and eaten Ramen. The day started out as usual. Justine and I went to work and met Dorcas. Like yesterday, we had no power at home, but we did have it in Amasaman. Justine spent the morning updating the computer’s records with the intake from yesterday, and I wrote several of the profiles of women who have completed the repayment process. My biggest issue with Ghana is that everything takes so long to accomplish. The profiles shouldn’t have taken me as long as they did, but between the heat and minor malnutrition I am experiencing I couldn’t string two sentences together. It is not conducive to my productivity.

In the afternoon Dorcas surprised us by saying that Muslim women look old because they don’t work hard and wear scarves on their heads. Her argument was astonishing, and both Justine and I tried to talk sense into her but she wouldn’t have it. This is common in Ghana. I have heard prejudices against every kind of person except the Akan (I suppose since they are the majority). Ewes are daft, Brits are uptight, Nigerians are untrustworthy, and Francophones as well. It creates tensions between the ethnic groups that conglomerate in the country.

Later on I was invited into Accra to go to Alliance Française for a traditional dance performance. Alliance is an institution that teaches French and strives to preserve western African cultures and educate patrons about them. I was very tired, but after coming home to a house with no electricity or water, I decided that I would rather deal with Accra than sit at home in the heat and darkness. So we traveled into the city.

I very much enjoy Accra at night. Unfortunately it is also the most dangerous time there. The air is cool, people are in no hurry to get places, and there is often music playing from buildings near and far. Our first stop was Alajo, a district of Accra that is home to the majority of Francophones that have come to Ghana to learn. There we picked up Willan and his friend Aziz who was also from Burkina Faso, and then we made our way to the concert. Halfway there our taxi got a flat tire, but the driver was obviously experienced in these sorts of road emergencies and quickly fixed the flat. By the time we got to Alliance, however, it was an hour into the scheduled performance time. Lucky for us, the country runs on Ghana Man Time so we made it before the performers set foot on the stage.

The performance was okay. It was quite entertaining and involved a lot of acrobatics, but I was hoping for more of an authentic experience. The group was from Togo but performed dances from all over the continent, and in some cases it was obvious that they weren’t comfortable with the moves. I would like to go back next week, however, because the venue was spectacular. The concert was outdoors and there was a bar and kabob vendor next to the stage. Every Wednesday there are new performances, and admission is only one Cedi. Also, the ride there only cost me 1.5 Cedis.

Afterwards, Willan went to say hello to a few of his friends (you may remember I mentioned a Cuban man and his French wife at an Irish Pub two weeks ago), and I convinced he and Justine to stay for a while. There were about ten French speaking people surrounding me, and I only understood portions of the conversation (thank you Spanish class!), but I still had a great time. Everyone was very friendly and sometimes translated what was being said for me. They spoke about the plight of Francophones in Ghana, and also reminisced about Burkina Faso and Benin, where the majority of the group were from. The bartenders eventually kicked us out, so we made our way home to power and water!

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #61: Trotros do actually stop running late at night. Expect to spend a considerable amount of time waiting for one after a pub crawl, or consider a shared taxi to your destination.

Random Fact #62: Rita Marley lives in Aburi, only 1 hour away from Pokuase! When she is around, she gives tours of her recording studio. I am totally checking it out this weekend.

A Real Ghanaian

March 3, 2010

3-2-10

Today I actually worked hard. After waking up and having breakfast, the power went out so Justine and I willingly went to work. If there is no power in Pokuase, there is power in Amasaman and vice versa. We found no power at work. Justine, Dorcas, and I spent the entire day sweating cups of water and on top of that, five women came in to finish repaying. By the end of the day Dorcas and I were exhausted since I had to conduct five 45 minute interviews and she had to translate all of them. We now have 15 successful returns out of 28 recipients. I now have thirteen success stories to write about for the VPWA website…yeah. Amazingly, however, is that now I am mistaken for a Ghanaian on a daily basis. People often come up to me and start talking in Twi, and in the office the women who come to pay talk to me without any hesitation. I just wish I could understand them.

In the afternoon we went to teach English at the mosque school in Amasaman. We found Aisha having her hair braided, and she asked us to discuss how to do the bookkeeping since it would be a requirement for the second round of loans (her group had finished paying, along with several other Muslim women). We decided to start the English portion first, and then get into the bookkeeping, but when Aisha came to class she said that a few of the women were only there for the bookkeeping and had to go to cook so we should do the bookkeeping right away. Justine agreed and got up to begin teaching (she had created the bookkeeping templates so was most qualified to explain them) but was intercepted by Aisha. Aisha then spent the next half an hour teaching them the bookkeeping in a way that was more confusing and complicated, and not beneficial to VPWA in the least. All we could do was sit and watch because she wouldn’t allow us to help her explain it. So now we will have to explain it to them again which will confuse them even further.

In the evening Justine and I enjoyed the peace of Numo’s house and sat together sharing stories of our experiences in Ghana and the things we miss about home (cheese!). All in all not a bad day, much less hectic than yesterday.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #60: When exiting trotros be mindful of your ankles (particularly the left one) and shoulders. I have had a bruise on my ankle since two weeks in, and both of my shoulders are bruised with a gash on the right one!

Herbal Sanitary Pads Anyone?

March 3, 2010

3-1-10

I haven’t had a day like today since before I left the United States. I woke up and instantly knew I should just roll over, turn off the alarm, and go back to sleep. Instead, I got out of bed and wondered when I had until to pay for my ticket to Botswana. I called Air Namibia and Vera, the woman I had spent many a phone conversation with, told me that I had until… today to pay. I then asked if I could do it online, and she told me that I had to come into the office and pay cash because they couldn’t process Visa cards. Then I freaked out. To get into Accra is a day long venture, and a $952 flight converted into Cedis would equal over 1300GHC. Who wants to walk around Accra with this much money, and how would I even get my hands on that much cash in one day. It wouldn’t be a good day.

Dawn needed to go into Accra to buy souvenirs, so we agreed to split the fair, and I would help her navigate the crowded Makola market if she would protect me when I began withdrawing hundreds of dollars from several ATMs. We got a ride towards Accra with Hayford, but were dropped off on the side of the road eventually to get a trotro to the market since he wasn’t heading in that direction. We didn’t find a trotro. It seemed as though they were going everywhere except where I needed them to, and so eventually we shared a taxi with a nice professional man who paid our portion of the fair to a roundabout in the heart of Accra. There we got a trotro to Makola and got off at the last stop which was definitely close. Unfortunately high walls and wide highways were very disorienting, so neither of us had any idea where the market actually was. We got a taxi and went to the National Arts Center, where the quality of products was supposed to be good and haggling was expected.

At the market I bought a few things, even though I told myself I wouldn’t. I bartered for a good price (they still probably overcharged me), and I didn’t get sucked into every stall by the sellers. At one stall, however, we had a very interesting interaction. I went in before Dawn, and a few minutes later she asked me if I had seen the beautiful artwork on a shelf. I looked over to find a large replica of a penis. So we giggled, and the seller saw us. His response to this was ‘it’s also a bottle opener!’, and so we left the stall quickly laughing. Oh Ghana.

Next we went to the Air Namibia office. There the woman explained that I could actually book the tickets online (GRRRRRRR!) and that it would be cheaper (DOUBLE GRRR!). I left happy to not have to find the cash, but very angry that she cost me an entire day and 20 Cedis. So Dawn and I went to the Accra Mall to have lunch and sit in the air conditioning.

There I ate pizza, ice cream, a snickers bar, and popcorn. I had my fill of America in an hour, and sat wanting more. Now I know that the pizza there is amazing, and not expensive. I will probably go back…

In the end we made our way back to Pokuase after a brief encounter with the shadiest taxi ever. He asked us if we needed a taxi as soon as we exited the mall, and after we agreed on a price of 12GHC he took us to his car. His white sedan that had no taxi sign and no registration stickers. He told us that he worked for the mall and that another taxi driver could vouch for him. When we said we’d find another taxi he pulled out a sign that was supposed to prove his credentials. It was a laminated piece of paper that had ‘Moving Car’ scrawled onto it. When I told him I wasn’t getting into a car that didn’t have its stickers and walked off, he chased us down with a few crumpled up stickers that looked very expired. So we took a toy car home. It literally looked like a box on wheels, and barely made it up the hill to the house. But at least it was registered. On the way we saw a semi that was carrying Yazz feminine products. One of these products proudly displayed on its sides was the herbal sanitary pad variety. If you get it please explain it to me…

Trotro of the Day: Holy Spirit Fire

One month to go…

March 2, 2010

2-28-10

I am exhausted. I returned from my ‘relaxing’ weekend about an hour ago and I am more than ready for bed. Dawn and I had the most stressful and stress-relieving weekend one could possibly have in Ghana, and it all started with the bus to Hohoe (pronounced Huh-hoy, not ho-ho…) that would never come. We arrived at the Madina station at about 4pm after taking a taxi and a trotro from Pokuase. There we met an actual line of people all waiting for a bus to Hohoe, comprised of about 30 altogether. This was the first line in Ghana that I have experienced. It was shocking that for a moment I didn’t even know what to do. After finding the end of it, we stood for about an hour while two vans came and left with people. Unfortunately, as does always seem to happen to me, we ended up being just short of getting on the second van, so we had our pick of seats for the third. It took forever to come! In the time we waited, I bought cell credits and some snacks, and Dawn bought a pen. We also managed to have several conversations about a variety of topics including our expectations for the weekend. My goals were relaxation and good food. I am exhausted from the constant badgering that Ghana doles out, so I was more than willing to pay a bit extra to stay in a nice place and be pampered for a day.

And so we took the third trotro to Hohoe. The ride was bumpy and I was squished in with people. The road until Akosombo was well paved and lovely, but the second half of our journey was terrible. My head touched the top of the van on several occasions and I kept fearing a concussion. We didn’t arrive in Hohoe until 10PM. Yes, this was stupid and scary, and yes Dawn and I almost peed ourselves.

The only three pieces of information about Hohoe that we had were that 1. It was a dump, and not to go there, 2. It was a nice town with friendly people, and 3. Not to stay at Matvin Hotel. Needless to say it didn’t take us long to figure out who to believe. We had decided to stay in one of the two nicest hotels in the tourist book, but after getting a taxi to take us to both (down winding residential dirt roads and through weeds mind you) we learned that they were both full. So we moved down the list. We got the driver to go to another hotel and as we drove I called all of the ones on the list (even Matvin). They all were full. It turns out there were two important funerals in town that weekend (in Ghana the last weekend of the month is usually reserved for important members of the community). We eventually found a room at the Taste Lodge (this later became the Tasty Lounge whenever referred to by Dawn or myself because the name was so bizarre). The name says it all. Dawn and I once again shared a bed, managed to break the toilet after flushing it once (and refused to put our hands in the tank to fix it) and found no promised minibar or safe as promised. We needed a drink after seeing the room (it cost 30GHC (appx. 22USD)!) so we headed for the main street.

I hadn’t eaten since the morning and I was starving. Tasty Lounge had stopped serving dinner but I was very hesitant to eat at a chop bar in town. I decided to fill up with Smirnoff Ice instead (much safer). We found a pool bar that had good music and a couple of white people, as well as a pool table in front of it and decided to stop in. There we had a drink and talked grudgingly to the DJ, Dave, who gave me his phone number and expressed his great sadness for not being able to take us to the falls the next morning. Eventually he told us about the two robberies that happened two days before and warned us about being out at night. We took this as a sign to go back to our lodge where we slept on one pillow made of sand and one higher than an encyclopedia set.

The next morning we woke up at 7AM with the hopes of arriving at the falls early and our first interaction was Me: Good morning. Dawn: Let’s get out of here as soon as possible. And so we did. After a mediocre breakfast we made our way back to town and got a taxi to Wli Falls for an astronomical amount of money.

When we arrived in what was supposed to be a ‘charming’ village outside of the falls, we paid six Cedis to see the falls from the lower level, and was then told that we were not allowed to go without a guide (who we should tip upon completion). The man, Samuel, took us down an easy path where he first pointed out a papaya tree. After a few more minutes he pointed at a cocoa tree, waited a few seconds, then turned to us and said, “I go make pee pee now”. We took this to mean leave him alone for a bit, so we walked away giggling at the absurdity. Those were his last words to us. We followed him in silence down the path for an hour, crossing nine bridges along the way, and suddenly came upon a clearing next to the waterfall. It was absolutely beautiful. The falls are about 60m in height and fall into a shallow pool of water that is safe for swimming. Next to the water on the cliffs were large bat colonies (freaky, they looked like hoards of mushrooms from where I was) and moss. Both of us spent a considerable amount of time taking pictures, and then we told Samuel that we wanted to go back (he had previously tried to convince us to stay at the falls and swim and then pay him to go and come). When we finally got back to the entrance we each gave him one Cedi and hoped he wouldn’t be angry. He wasn’t.

To get back to Hohoe we commandeered a share taxi. It was the driver, two front seat passengers, four of us squeezed into the back seat, and then one man we picked up along the way who got into the trunk. We only paid two Cedis each, though, which beat the ten we had paid to go. We returned to the Tasty Lounge, got our stuff, and set off for Akosombo.

It was easy to get a trotro to Akosombo. We lucked out and got an air-conditioned ‘American Fort’ van, but the trick was surviving an hour in the hot sun in a van whose windows couldn’t open. Yes, one hour later the van filled and we set off. The ride was bumpy to say the least. Both Dawn and I hadn’t drunk much for fear of needing to pee, so we were lightheaded and thirsty. On top of that the air conditioning didn’t reach the back where we sat. I hit my head on the top of the van several times and I feared a concussion. By the time we arrived in Atimpoku I couldn’t walk in a straight line, so we got two waters and sat in the shade trying to figure out our next move (the trotro dropped us there because, as we found out, it didn’t go into Akosombo proper). Eventually we walked up the road to one of the hotels in our tourist book and looked about a room. It was expensive and smelled like roach spray, so we kept walking. Unfortunately the next hotel was lovely but full, so we decided to go to Afrikiko Hotel via taxi with the hopes that they would have room.

They did, but it cost more than we had in cash and they only took Mastercard. We pretended like this wasn’t a problem, and after eating a nice lunch (I had pork chops with sautéed cabbage!) a monsoon blew in, breaking glasses and tearing a portion of a hut roof off. We waited for the rain to stop, and then made our way to the only bank in town to hit up the ATM. It only took Mastercard, and was also broken. After a moment of panic we asked a man where the next closest cash machine was. He said Kpong, so we got a trotro there and got off on the road to Kpong because the mate said we should go to Juapong instead. It was dark, we couldn’t see which cars were taxis and trotros and which ones were private, and we kept getting strange looks from everyone who passed. Eventually we got a taxi which overcharged us (surprise!) and took us to Juapong. As we approached the bank the lights of the town went off and we both looked at each other with the same dumbfounded expression. So we made our way back to Akosombo to pack our things.

When we got back to Afrikiko we explained our situation to the clerk, and he told us that he would take the Visa card if we had no other option. A woman behind us overheard this and told us that there was an ATM at Volta Hotel, and that it may take Visa. She called a taxi driver, George, who picked us up and took us there. Finally our crisis had been solved!

That evening Dawn and I celebrated with gin and tonics and had a great conversation with our new friend, Elviar. She was born in Cameroon but moved to France at the age of two. She became a doctor, and then met an Italian man and fell in love. This resulted in her leaving her practice, selling her apartment, and moving to a small town in Italy onto her boyfriend’s grandfather’s land. After three months there, she came to Ghana to think about her life decisions, and at the time we met her, she had been here for a week with no clarity.

On Sunday morning I woke up at 6:30AM with a runny nose and never went back to sleep. At 7:30, we went down to the restaurant for a buffet-style breakfast that was supposed to be from 7 to 10AM, but it wasn’t ready yet. We had until 9:30 to leave for the river cruise we wanted to go on, so I sat with a cup of coffee next to the Volta River and relaxed. As with every body of water here, there were fishermen pulling in their nets that morning, so I took pictures and talked to one of them. As opposed to Lake Bosomtwi, the fishermen of Volta use canoes for their travels and often fish in pairs. Based on the foods around Akosombo I surmise that they catch perch, tilapia, oysters, and prawns. It was very relaxing.

After breakfast (which included baked beans… just another one of Ghana’s quirks) we called George, the taxi driver from the night before, and he came and took us to the marina where the Dodi Princess was waiting for its newest passengers. The boat ride was splendid. I drank several Smirnoff Ices and watched the islands and coastlines change. The boat sailed for two and a half hours and docked on Dodi Island, where strategically placed children sang songs and begged for money. I was in no mood to deal with this, and it bothered me that they were so aggressive about it, so after a brief tour of the island, I went back onto the boat.

The hours to return home were also wonderful. A live band had been playing for the entire journey, and I filled up on a distinctly Ghanaian lunch (grilled chicken with spaghetti and tomato sauce and hot pepper and a side of rice). When we neared shore I called George who picked us up and took us back to the hotel. We packed our things and headed for the road, trying to get out of town before the storm hit.

Our trotro back to Madina was comfortably crammed to the point where the mate had to stand for the entire journey. When we reached a check point, he ducked down and a woman covered him with her skirt and purse so that we wouldn’t get pulled over. It was really funny, and the entire cabin laughed for a long time. All in all it was a great weekend. I have many memories that will last past this trip, and I am happy that we made it back safely.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #58: CARRY ENOUGH CASH WITH YOU.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #59: Booking hotels in advance is often not necessary and not practical since it holds little weight in Ghana. However, if you are going to a touristy spot, it may be worthwhile to attempt a few reservations.

It is a He-Goat!

February 26, 2010

2-25-10

I am sorry that I haven’t written in a few days. Quite honestly, I have forgotten about the blog. I think my last entry was about Monday, so I will catch up on the things happening here.

First of all, I am incredibly homesick. I miss feeling clean and normal. I miss school and my life and my routine. And I suppose, most importantly, the reality of what I need to figure out when I return home has hit me upside the head. Therefore these past few days have been quite emotional for me, and I have as a result, been far less productive than I would have liked.

On Tuesday we started the English lessons for the recipients in Amasaman. Most of them are Muslim and speak only Arabic and Twi. Justine, Dawn, and I had a lesson plan in mind for the hour, but Madam Aisha, the schoolteacher helping us, took over the class. We ended up teaching only the first five letters of the alphabet. At the end of class, we felt that everything would need to speed up if we were going to keep the interest of the women and get through everything in under three months.

Wednesday was a normal day at the office. The most interesting thing that happened was on our trotro ride to work. We all boarded a van and settled in for the ride, but at the next stop a man got off the bus. As he passed us, an extremely loud sound came from close to him, and I thought it was a child. It took me a few moments to realize that it was a terrified goat making the noise. When the man left, a guy sitting behind us said, “that was a he-goat!”. I later found out that this was the most obvious statement of the year since both Justine and Dawn got a face full of goat crotch.

On Thursday we attempted the English lessons again. This time Dorcas accompanied us, and the male leader of the Muslim Association of Amasaman came to oversee as well. Needless to say, there were way too many chiefs in the classroom. I am in charge of overseeing the lessons and for teaching, mainly because Dawn leaves on Tuesday and Justine doesn’t feel comfortable teaching English. Madam Aisha still believes that it is her classroom, however, and contradicts everything I say. It is most frustrating because we would like to teach English to the women as a conversational skill for their businesses, and Aisha wants them to learn English as a five year-old would. Without offending her, we aren’t sure how to keep control of the classroom though. We did manage to begin teaching greetings along with the next five letters of the alphabet. My concern is that they are going to only associate each letter with one word since Aisha insists on teaching ‘A is for apple, B is for banku, C is for cake’, and so on. At this rate we will still be working on two letter words in two months.

In the evening, Justine, Dawn, Hayford and myself went to a bar in Pokuase. It was on the rooftop of a building and served basic alcohols and meat kabobs. We had a great time, although I have to get used to the bar scene in Ghana. I find that people generally only sit and talk for an hour or so, so most of the time we are home before 11PM. While we all wake up early in the morning, I sometimes find it pointless to go out since it costs so much to travel to the bar, buy a drink, and then sit in a sleepy silence before returning home. Perhaps I will have to teach them how it’s done in America…

Tomorrow Dawn and I will head for Lake Volta. I am not sure exactly what we will get done, but hopefully it will be fun. I plan to be back on Sunday evening, and next week I will be more consistent about my entries. I’ve been tired this week and slacking off both here and at work.

Random Ghanaian Fact #56: According to the current government, the Ghanaian Cedi is appreciating in value against most of the world’s major currencies.

Random Ghanaian Fact #57: Also according to the government, the recently found oil deposits will be the saviour of Ghana’s economy. I beg to differ.