Up north I go

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April 25th 2011
Published: April 25th 2011
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Hey, sorry it has been a while I've been off traveling up north, and haven't had any access to the internet for some time thus this will be a long one! Sorry!

I think, for the first time, I'm not going to be chronological and start off with the north. On Wednesday me, Louise and Bret all went up to the Northern region to see an orphanage in a place called Yendi, look around Tamale (3rd largest city) and of course go to the Mole National Park - the largest National Park in Ghana. We quite optimistically got up at 5am to try and catch the 8am bus. Fatal error. Despite getting to the bus station at 7am (after waiting quite a long time for a tro from Achiase), we didn't manage to get on a bus until 10am. However, the process of trying to get a bus ticket is something in itself. The bus company don't sell the tickets until the bus turns up and then as far as I can tell, the Ghanaians don't like to queue on the basis that as soon as the tickets went on sale it was a complete free-for-all. Luckily we seemed to be fairly near the front of the throng and so got our tickets without too much hassle apart from having to hold our elbows out a little. It seems that being white had an advantage, as people didn't seem to push as about quite as much.

So, 7 hours of crazy driving later we turned up in Tamale and got straight on the bus to Yendi. A relatively short wait later (only about 2 hours) we got on the bus (which was standing room only) and started the 3 hour journey to Yendi. This can only be described as hell. The bus was constantly stopping for no real reason, the road was terrible so we were being thrown about everywhere and, frankly, there was a ridiculous number of people on the bus. I guess the only good thing about it was that a local kept telling other people off for stepping on my toes in their local language (not Twi, but I don't know what it was) - I guess another benefit to being white. We were dumped in Yendi and a guy called Osmond from the orphanage turned up on a moped to take us back with him - I think he realised this was a stupid idea when he realised there were 3 of us and went off to find a car. The car, like every car I have been in in Ghana had a cracked windscreen. However, this windscreen looked like it had been hit by something and it was quite surprising that the driver could see out at all, but we got to the orphanage unscathed despite all the odds.

The orphanage was quite an experience. No electricity, no running water and lots and lots of children. The first 2 I could cope with, but the children were quite challenging. They were fascinated by the fact we were white and wanted to touch us constantly - as if to see if we weren't just wearing paint. The biggest challenge was trying to work out what to do with them as none of them spoke any English (all being around 5). The one thing I did manage to do though was to get them all skipping following me so I felt like the Pied Piper.

We only spent a day at the orphanage before going back to Tamale. Now the north is very very different, and although Tamale is a major city, it is nothing like either Accra or Kumasi. The north has a different feel completely, starting mainly with the aesthetics. It has the feel of a savannah rather than the forest-y feel of the south. Furthermore there seem to be mud-hut villages everywhere, none of which have electricity or piped water, which there aren't at all down south (that I have seen). It is also predominantly Muslim rather than Christian, and the main way you can tell this is with the call-to-prayer waking you up at 4am every morning! Tamale itself seems to have a very village-y feel as well, particularly as if you walk just 5 minutes from the centre there are mud huts and there are very few multi-story buildings.

The next morning (after taking advice from a local, which again was a fatal error) we decided to try and get to Mole by getting a tro to Damongo and then going from Damongo to Mole (mainly because we didn't want to get up at half 3 to get the main direct bus). We got to the Tro-Tro station at 6am and waited 4 hours before the tro filled up and we could leave. Now, I don't quite get why we had to wait so long as along the way we kept picking people up to make another unpleasantly full vehicle, and there were so many people there were people sitting on the roof. Also, after eventually getting to Damongo we realised that we had to get a taxi to Mole, making the trip far more expensive than just getting the direct bus. We also stopped at Larabanga to see the oldest Mosque in Ghana which was a little underwhelming, truth be told.

Mole was stunning. 4000 sq km of trees. With some animals in of course. We spent 2 nights there and did 2 walking safaris, seeing wart hogs, various monkeys (including baboons), various types of antelope and elephants! There are also hyena, lions and leopards in the park but because it is so big and without borders it is very rare that you see them.

We then spent the next day in Tamale (which hasn't really got anything in it) after getting up at half 3 to get the 4am bus out of Mole. However, getting back to Kumasi was frustrating! We bought advanced tickets for the first bus back which was at 5am (you can only advance book the first bus) - second bus at 6am and then the next buses 'come when they come - but we had to report to the bus station for 4am (for some unknown reason). Another half 3 start! And then, of course, the bus didn't turn up until 7am. I think in time I will learn not to trust the bus times at all.

Now, back to the start of the week. On Sunday we went to church with our host family. It was conducted entirely in Twi so I had no clue what was going on, just every now and then there was some rather spontaneous singing and dancing, which was quite cool. On Monday I had my first day at the project, and Bret just took me and Louise through everything really. The main part of the project is talking in schools, but they are on holiday at the moment, and from what I can gather there is a lot of time where not much goes on (but from what Bret and Helen have said, this is the case on just about all HIV/AIDS projects). So I won't have anything particularly exciting to tell you about that for a few weeks, although we are going to try and set up a stall in local villages and see if those are a success.

Monday also brought the rain. I have never seen such a storm. The sky literally went black and it tipped it down like I have never seen before, and this went on for about 6 hours. I get the feeling I am going to get used to this.

Right, that brings you up to date really apart from saying that on Tuesday we just did a little research which isn't hugely exciting. Sorry this has been so long and I will try to make it shorter next time!

Sam(uel) x


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