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Published: November 24th 2010
(If your money's small, your say is small.)
To begin, I’d like to apologize for the long delay in posting. It’s been a busy month, but not THAT busy. I’m happy to report that my health is good, I’ve managed to avoid getting malaria so far, and there’ve been a few days of rain breaking up the “dry season”, so the heat isn’t too bad. And now to recap five weeks’ worth of happenings.
Back in mid-October, the week after Kirk left, our CIEE group went to Kumasi, capital of the Ashanti Region and arguably the biggest cultural hub in all of Ghana. My Twi professor, Prof. Kofi Agyekum, swears that one cannot truly say s/he has been to Ghana without first paying a visit to Kumasi. Of course, he’s from Kumasi, so he may be a bit biased.
We left at 6:30 a.m. and drove for four hours on a road which started out great and got progressively worse, the closer we got to Kumasi. There were potholes that ate the whole road, and we saw several cars that had been stranded by the roadside. Finally, we entered the city limits and the road immediately became nice again. Kumasi is located in the heart of Ghana, built in beautiful, forested hilly country. Even with the atrocious roads, the drive there was thrilling just because of the view. The city itself is a bit smaller than Accra but much more well-designed, perhaps because it is ruled by a chief so a few of the bureaucratic middle men have been eliminated and things get done more quickly and efficiently. For instance, a few decades back, the previous Ashanti chief made a declaration that anyone wishing to build in the prime business district of Kumasi was required to build a structure at least three stories tall, to decrease urban sprawl and maximize usage of space. So now, Kumasi has picturesque city streets, tall, brightly colored buildings, and many fewer “shanty shops” than Accra.
Our group went to Menhyia Palace (pronounced “MEN-shia”), the former palace of the chief of the Ashanti Region. It had been converted into a museum several years previously, and there were lots of relics dating from the colonial period all the way back to the formation of the Ashanti tribe in the 17th century by the first Ashanti chief, Osei Tutu. They use plenty of gold in their decorations, and have peacocks traipsing through the front lawn. It was very opulent.
After the museum visit concluded, we took a trip to the open-air market of Kumasi, apparently the biggest in all of West Africa (although I’ve heard that about several of the open-air markets here, so I’m reserving judgment). I didn’t get a chance to measure it, because while the other students were shopping, I walked up to the Central Business District of Kumasi to mail Kirk’s wallet back to him. I was looking for FedEx and decided to try the post office first. I was assisted in finding the (well-marked) post office by an eager young man who was apparently a struggling artist looking for a benefactor. When I got to the post office, I was directed first to one queue, then to another, where the man behind the glass pretended not to understand me when I told him I wanted the FedEx Bureau. He tried to get me to ship it through public mail and finally said he had never heard of a FedEx Bureau in Kumasi, so I should just pay him the money and have the Ghana post office handle the transaction. The woman behind me quickly assured me that the FedEx Bureau DID exist, and was just one block over, next to Barclay’s Bank.
Relieved and a little bit irked, I went out, wished the struggling artist the best of luck, and half walked, half sprinted away before he could try further to sell me one of his (quite over-priced) paintings. I got to the FedEx Bureau successfully (it was right where the lady said it would be!) and mailed the wallet back to the States. When I got back to the CIEE bus, the drivers were frantic to leave because we were parked illegally and they were afraid the police would come and make the bus-full of Obrunis (pronounced "white people") pay a hefty fine. We headed back to the hotel, relaxed for a bit, and then headed out on the town for dinner.
We split up into the “Chinese” group and the “Fufu” group. The “Chinese” group went to an over-priced Chinese restaurant that took forever to make and serve the food. The “Fufu” group went to a charming open-air restaurant which served Ghanaian dishes. Their specialty was the famous Kumasi fufu, a food made by pounding starchy vegetables such as cassava into a glutinous, quivering round mass, which is then eaten by hand with goat and veggie soup. Guess which group I joined? I’ve acquired a taste for goat since my arrival in Ghana. After dinner, we went to an enormous bar/night club with really, REALLY loud music and outdoor seating. That was not my best night life experience in Ghana, but at least there were plenty of places to sit.
The next day, Sunday, we were set loose after breakfast. Some friends of mine and I decided to go to the Kumasi Culture and Art Center. We were directed there by Mickey, one of the CIEE “U-Pals”, who is from Kumasi originally. Most of the shops were closed, but we found a few that sold very pretty metal and wooden jewelry, and there was a neat art gallery too. It was technically closed, but we convinced the janitor to let us in to look at the art work. After that, we saw our first calabash tree. It looked like it had watermelons growing from the branches. Pretty trippy. We were ridiculously late getting back to the hotel, because, surprisingly enough, Sunday afternoon traffic was horrendous.
A friend of mine, Kara, and I picked a taxi because the other girls wanted to shop some more. We didn’t know how to give directions back to the hotel, the road we were on didn’t have a name, and the landmarks we got from one of the U-Pals, an Ewe from the Volta Region who wasn’t very familiar with the area, were wrong. And then, the taxi driver took the wrong turn and got us completely stuck in traffic. I was so mad by this time, I paid the taxi driver and we got out and walked. Of course, within five minutes the traffic jam had finished. Figures. At least the ride home was pretty uneventful. We saw some meat shops selling fresh bat meat. Just enormous dead bats, hanging upside down from strings tied to the rafters of the building. That was interesting. I wonder what bat soup tastes like?
The next weekend, there were no trips planned. I stayed at home and read a book on Saturday afternoon. That was nice. A girl in the CIEE group, Kareen, invited a big group of us to a club whose owners she had befriended. We were provided with free transportation, got in for free, got our own table, and got free drinks. The music wasn’t too loud, and there was plenty of dancing. One of the members of our group, Atsu, is completing his Masters in dance, so he was tearing up the dance floor. There were also drummers and other musicians wandering around kind of like minstrels, serenading tables and performing traditional dance moves for tips. It was fun.
Interesting note: There were several extremely well-dressed, well-built young women hanging around the bar in uncomfortable-looking shoes. They didn’t seem to be there for the dancing. Apparently, they’re a feature of most well-to-do clubs in Accra. I went outside a few times to get a break from the noise, and to buy water from across the street, where it was much more reasonably priced than inside. The “free drinks” we were promised did not include water. Once, I spoke to one of the girls who’d come outside to smoke. She was from Kumasi. The road was gravel, and her shoes were very uncomfortable-looking. What a job that must be.
I was getting ready to leave and went to the bathroom first. When I came out, every member of our group except for Atsu and another guy, Jamaal, had ditched, without even thanking Kareen. She was not happy. We did our best to smooth things over, and quickly hailed a cab back to campus. The weekend after that was Halloween.
I was invited by Kareen to come back to the club again, but I’d already exceeded my threshold of fun to be had by clubbing, so I stayed home on Saturday evening. Sunday evening, I met up with a homestay friend, Sophie, and we headed to campus for a Halloween get-together hosted by a few international students. We thought, eh, dorm party, maybe some friends and wacky costumes (Sophie and I had not prepared costumes, so we went as Canadians). However, I had forgotten how much Ghanaians (and international students who come to Ghana) like to party. We got to the room early, when there were just four or five people sitting around talking and joking. Within half an hour, there were four rooms opened up with music and decorations, and students spilling out onto the open-air hallway from all four. I left early on and as I was going down the stairs, I saw about ten more people heading up. They just follow the sounds of merry-making and join in.
Our CIEE group arranged a trip to Akosombo Dam (pronounced “a-KO-sum-bo”) on the first weekend in November. The dam was almost overflowing, and the water level was the highest it had ever been since the dam’s inception in the 1960s. So that was exciting. It is an earthenworks dam, constructed from rocks and tightly packed dirt, and it looked very sturdy. It provides electricity to about 65% of Ghana, as well as parts of Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, and Cote d’Ivoire. Its construction created Lake Volta, the largest manmade lake in the entire world, according to our guide. I swam in it later after lunch (which, I later discovered, was a rather bad idea). We ate at a beautiful garden restaurant with tables on platforms that stretched out over the water and lush vegetation with lots of flowers. Lake Volta and Akosombo Dam are on the border between the Volta Region and the Akuapim Hills (pronounced “a-KWA-pim”) of the Eastern Region, a very pretty part of Ghana with a much more bearable climate than that of Accra.
The next day, our group had the CIEE Olympics, which was a lot of fun. We held the Olympics at Bojo Beach, about an hour’s drive west of Accra. The beach and water there are very clean, and it wasn’t too crowded. We divided up into four teams and held tournaments in everything from Scrabble and mancala to beach volleyball and soccer. I was on the green team, and we did very well.
Mom arrived on Wednesday, November 10th at 7:45 p.m. I got out of class and met her at the airport, and we took a taxi home. She stayed with me at the Asantes’ home in their guestroom, which was air-conditioned with a bathtub and a flushing toilet. I was very envious. I took her to Police Hospital to see where I volunteer on Thursday and we had lunch in Osu. On Friday after class, we went for a walk in the Botanical Gardens behind the University of Ghana. My friend Mickey hooked us up with a friend of his who drives a car, and we arranged for him to drive us to the Volta Region over the weekend. That was the least stressful traveling I’ve done without being on a CIEE bus, although I did have to tell Bismarck (that was the driver’s name) to slow down several times.
We made reservations at the Galaxy Hotel in Hohoe (pronounced “HO-hoi”), and went to Wli Falls (good luck trying to say that one) on Saturday afternoon. After braving a VERY bad road for several miles, we finally arrived, and were immediately made to pay a very high price for the crime of being foreigners who wanted to see the waterfall. All of that money goes straight to the government, who keep it for themselves or invest it in the urban areas. Meanwhile, the road to Wli Falls has fallen apart. On the bright side, Wli was beautiful, and would have been even more enjoyable if there hadn’t been a big bank party going on with huge generators, loud music, and people dropping trash everywhere but the trashcan. There were also several Rastafarians and other young people (and, hilariously, one really old guy) smoking pot as they walked up the trail to the falls. Apparently, parks are the best place to do it because police can’t be bothered to walk all the way up the trail to bust the evil-doers. Clever, clever Rastas. The walk up was very pretty. We followed the river winding down from the falls, and saw lots of tropical fruit trees and other interesting plants on our way.
On Sunday, we had a leisurely breakfast and then decided to climb Mount Afadjato (a-FA-juh-toe), the highest climbable mountain in Ghana. It was only about 800 meters tall so we figured it would be easy-going. What we failed to realize was that it was basically an 800 meter vertical climb. It was grueling, not least because of the heat, and we did not bring nearly enough water to be comfortable. Going down was even harder, because there was nothing to grab onto. But we did it. Never were we so happy to see a banana vendor as when we reached the bottom. We bought four delicious bananas for 20 pesawas (about 15 cents), rehydrated ourselves, and collapsed in the back seat of Bismarck’s car for the long ride back home.
Monday, Mom and I went to the Art Center in downtown Accra. The vendors there are more aggressive than any others I’ve seen in Ghana (although the Togolese vendors could give them a run for their money). They asked exorbitant prices for all of their goods and even after 15 minutes of hard haggling, I had trouble talking them down to a more reasonable total. We got sick of the madness after a while and went to a cantina across the street for a drink but, wouldn’t you know it, one of the vendors actually FOLLOWED us and tried to get us to buy his bracelets. I yelled, he left, and we breathed collective sighs of relief. Then I went back, argued until they gave me what I wanted for the price I was willing to pay, and we walked over to Liberation Square and saw where Kwame Nkrumah gave his great speech on the day of Ghana’s independence.
On Tuesday, we went to Aburi Gardens, Tetteh Quarshie’s cocoa farm (the first cocoa farm in all of Ghana), and Akropong to visit Grandpa Asante’s family home. Grandpa drove us there and back, and also showed us the house he is currently constructing for himself. It will be grand once it’s finished, and overlooks a scenic valley. I’m definitely going to have to come back and visit.
Wednesday we went hunting for a dress for Emma. We walked around for quite a while but didn’t find anything we thought Emma would like, so we went to campus and had lunch. I had class, so I gave Mom directions back to the house and she took a taxi home. After my evening class, we relaxed and enjoyed Mom’s last night in Ghana. Thursday, we left in the morning, finally found a dress we thought Emma would like, had a drink at Jerry’s, ran into Grandpa and his friends there, had a light lunch at home, and packed. I took Mom to the airport around 6:30 p.m. and went home alone, feeling rather lonely.
This weekend, I had lunch at a friend’s house. Her name’s Elizabeth and she lives way out in Dansoman-Oriscu (wherever that is), so I followed her instructions and got there by tro-tro in one piece. She showed me how to make groundnut soup and rice balls. It was delicious. Afterwards, we went to the internet café and I showed her how to hunt for scholarships, loans, and schools in the U.S. that she might be interested in applying to. She wants to go to school in the U.S. A. to study film-making. I wish her the best of luck, and have contacted several of my Ghanaian friends who are either currently studying in the U. S. or are in the process of applying, to see if they have any suggestions for her. If anyone reading this blog has any advice, I’d be happy to pass it along to her.
On Sunday I relaxed. It was lovely. Monday I volunteered at the hospital. Tuesday I had class, and had the most frustrating experience on the computer of my entire stay in Ghana. Firefox kept shutting down. It did this at least ten times while I was trying to write a message to Kirk. It did it so often, and took so long to come back, that despite having purchased two hours of internet time, I had to go back and buy 30 minutes more just to finish. Fortunately, I saved my draft every minute or so, so it wasn’t quite as big a loss each time Firefox crashed.
Today I just have class, but tomorrow I’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving at the homestay of one of the other CIEE girls, and during the afternoon I’ll be participating in a “reorientation” program, whatever that entails.
I miss everyone at home, and can’t wait to be back. I’m entering my final month in Ghana, so I’m on the home stretch. I hope everyone is doing well, and enjoying the holiday season. Have a happy, safe Thanksgiving, all my friends and family.
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