Ghana

Gareth

So on arrival in Accra, I have to join a queue at the office
marked “Visa on Arrival”. This is, so far as I can determine, for people like
me whose travel has been authorized, but by some logic, do not quite have a
visa. There are a number of us, but there are 4 or 5 people behind the counter,
we’ve all been authorized to enter, and I think, well, this won’t take very
long. Oh how wrong I was.

I don’t know what they actually do with the papers, but it
involves a lot of looking at them, at a computer screen, at each other, writing
down of things by one person and then the entering of that into the computer by
another person, printing of yet another piece of paper which is handed to someone
else, a glacially slow rubber-stamping of the passport, the whole thing then
being put in a pile to be further organized, a quick game of tennis and a two-hour
lunch break, and four verses of the Hokey-Cokey (with all the actions – oh, and
it’s called the “Hokey-Pokey” in the US for some reason, which probably caused
further confusion), before the papers are finally handed to you so that you can
go and give them to someone else who may then deign to let you into the
country.

All right, I did make up some of the above. But not much. It
does take an awful long time, especially if you are (and indeed I was) the last
one they manage to process.

I’ve read some of the local papers since I’ve been here, and
it seems that the new government is anxious to increase the volume of tourism
and make it a big part of the economy. Here’s a clue, Ghana: at least cut the
Hokey-Cokey out of the visa process and see if you can’t speed it up a bit
more. Act like you actually want visitors from moment one.

Anyhow, eventually I make my way out of the airport (nobody incidentally
looked at my Yellow-Fever vaccination certificate, which I’d gone to
considerable trouble to get a duplicate of, the original having disappeared
sometime in the confusion of the last several addresses). I had been assured
that there was no way I’d get in without showing it. Maybe I was given a pass
because of my impressive putting in and taking out of the left leg.

There waits Liz Jones, wife and beloved companion of many
years, a wonderful sight. Also a driver, and soon we’re on our way to the
apartment. It’s a bit dark at this point for me to get a vivid first impression
of Accra, and I mainly pick up on the fact that there are a huge number of
small, fragile-looking shacks put together from lumber, corrugated Iron, and
other stuff that looks like “found“ materials on either side of the road,
which are commercial enterprises of various sorts – hairdressers and beauty
salons are present in vast numbers, each about big enough to hold two clients
at a time, and that only if they know each other well. Barbers, too. Little-
sell-everything places, lottery ticket booths, street food, and a bunch of
other things. Many are closed, it’s getting late. I see many more places the
next day. There are car showrooms by the dozen, and lots of ads for mobile phones
and various money things you can do on them. Almost all the writing is in
English, but not all.

Everywhere there are unfinished buildings, and piles of
builders’ rubble. More about this later.

We turn off the main road, and are soon on an unmade
surface. Apparently, many promises have been made by previous governments that
these will be fixed, but nothing has happened so far. I am amused to note that
the one thing they have managed to do on these unmade, uneven, hazardous tracks
where a speed of more than about 6 miles per hour would be suicidal is… to add
speed bumps.

We get to the apartment, and I take a look around. It’s a
fine, big place, very new and quite modern. There’s a security gate, though it’s
not locked. The gate man apparently lives in the gate house, which is extremely
small.

There are a couple of anomalies in the apartment, some of
the construction and/or finishing touches appear to have been at the least
rather badly planned. In the kitchen, for example, there is a rather lovely
plaster ceiling rose, much like one we had back in Southampton in a house from
the early 1900’s. However, it’s been installed before the wiring for the
lighting and fan have been added, so there’s a large gash though the rose,
rather spoiling the effect. Luxuriously for Accra, there are two shower rooms.
Unfortunately, in one of them the drainage hole is on the uphill side of the
flooring…

These are minor complaints, though – it’s a fine apartment.
Liz’s main complaint is that there’s no hot water. It’s not that it doesn’t
work, the entire complex has been built without a hot water facility. I don’t
think it’s a terrible thing, it’s hot here and the shower is refreshing – and since
the water tanks are outside ad exposed, the “cold” water is warmer than some “hot”
showers I’ve had at various swimming pools, etc.

Liz introduces me to the delights of Ghanaian TV. We turn it
off. We chat over a glass of wine, planning the next day, until it’s time to
sleep.

END OF DAY ONE


agbarganza

Looking forward to the next installment!


Diane

Fascinating, I am looking forward to the next installment too!


Linda

I'm enjoying this, too - love learning about other countries and cultures!


agbarganza

We lived in India from '77 to '83 [from age 8-13]. A couple quick recollections:

  • Manual bowling alley - The apartment complex we lived in previously housed the American aid mission to India and it was outfitted with the only bowling alley in the country....When Indira Gandhi took office she basically tossed out most of the Americans including the aid mission - her foreign policy was pretty left-leaning and fairly isolationist.....India-for-India with a dollop of socialism/communism tossed in...there were a lot more Russian than American ex-pats....Anyhow by the time we lived there, the automatic features of the bowling alley no longer worked, so after each ball a guy jumped down from the ceiling to roll back the ball and collect and reset the pins!
  • A carnival/fair came to our school once a year....There were camel and elephant rides - not terribly surprising considering....But, the human-powered Ferris wheel took the cake....The people had to be distributed just so, because there were 2-3 guys leaping from rung to rung inside to make it go!

Funny thing is, living there as a kid not knowing any different or better, you really didn't think twice about any of it.


agbarganza

I love these stories / observations


Terry

Yes very good -- excellent details on mundane stuff that you won't find in a travel guide!

What's the weather like?


Gareth


Smedley said:

Yes very good -- excellent details on mundane stuff that you won't find in a travel guide!

What's the weather like?

Hot, very hot. It's dusty too.

I'm trying to upload pics from my phone, but failing atm.


spontaneous


agbarganza said:

  • But, the human-powered Ferris wheel took the cake....The people had to be distributed just so, because there were 2-3 guys leaping from rung to rung inside to make it go!

Like this?



Eliz

Dust. Yes. It's so dusty in most parts of Africa you literally see a dirt lining when you take off your contact lenses.

jonesey said:



Smedley said:

Yes very good -- excellent details on mundane stuff that you won't find in a travel guide!

What's the weather like?

Hot, very hot. It's dusty too.

I'm trying to upload pics from my phone, but failing atm.



Gareth

Accra day two.

It’s a Sunday, and I’ve travelled from California via London, so a late rise is allowed. Liz, who has been reliant on her own cooking here for several months, poor lamb, has made sure there’s stuff ready for me to make a decent breakfast. Among other pleasant surprises, the local bacon is a lot more like the British bacon I love than the fatty pork-belly which is the US style. Not that surprising really when you remember that Ghana was a British colony until people around the world decided they wanted to decide their own fates and manage their own resources.

Later I discover two more heart-warmingly Brit food items in the supermarket: Pickled Onions (possibly the thing I miss most in the US: I’m already about halfway through the jar two days later); and authentic Hot Cross Buns.

Ghana, and Accra especially, is overwhelmingly Christian, not just in numbers but in sincerity. Everyone goes to church on Sunday, and even the poorest of the locals manage to dress up for the occasion. Church is it seems the centre of the social life of most of the locals.

The driver (a different guy this time) comes about 1.30 to take us out for the day. Driving through the town to get to our chosen lunch spot, I get to see the place by daylight. Liz has been here for months, and points things out, but truly wherever you look it’s obvious you’re not in Kansas anymore. (Not that I want to be in Kansas – I drove through there with son Glenn once, and it’s so flat and the road so straight you think you could be standing still. Mile after mile of nothing between here and the horizon…)

The streets near the apartment are gravel, if you want to be kind. Dirt tracks if you don’t. There’s an amazing range of places, from beautiful houses with lovely tiled walls to families living in half-finished shells where the breeze blocks (cinder blocks to US types) are not even painted.

Half-completed building projects of all kinds abound, whether because they are still being worked on or (as it seems in many cases) because the owners just ran out of cash before the project was finished. Few people are out and about here. Free-roaming goats and chickens are everywhere. There are not many of the ubiquitous commercial huts, but they are still present.

Once the houses and apartments are completed and the roads finished (and the rubble and rubbish cleared) I think this will be quite a posh area.

A couple of blocks from our apartment are some shops in actual buildings too. Only small ones – a pharmacy, a dress shop, etc. I wonder where their custom comes from? There are few pedestrians here and fewer cars. Everywhere is dusty, dusty, and builders’ rubbish is strewn everywhere – together with a noticeable amount of, well, just rubbish. This is odd, because the locals appear to be very house-proud – their own property is clean and well-kept, but immediately beyond the bit that’s yours, it seems perfectly fine to just dump stuff.

Here, we are most certainly not in Tourist Central or ex-pat-urbia. So far, once we left the airport, I have seen a few people from the middle east and the Indian subcontinent, but people are overwhelmingly Africans. My eye is not sharp enough to distinguish one tribe from another, though it probably is obvious to themselves.

As we come back onto the main street, everywhere is suddenly way more crowded. The little shop-huts are everywhere. Some of them turn out to be churches, but not as many as I think at first, because “Jesus Saves” is as likely to be the name of a place selling the stodgy local dough balls as it is to be a church. One place called “Redemption through Suffering” turns out to be a food stall. I think I’ll give that one a miss.

There are familiar-looking shopping malls too, along with the ubiquitous beauty parlours, phone shops, churches, water sellers , bars, takeaways, and so forth. Along the main road there are some impressive European style hotels, offices and shops that could be from any European or US town. There’s even a KFC and a Pizza Hut.

People everywhere, chatting, walking, laughing, dancing, peeiing, eating, selling. More churches, chapels, temples, and any other name you can imagine for a church than you can shake a stick at. I know, I’ve already worn out two sticks, and my stick-waving arm is tired.

We head for the coast, a mile or so away, to our chosen lunch spot. The tide of litter which surges around the residential bits only becomes worse as we move away from them. Here, people are going somewhere, not living here. So, by the logic above, it’s even more permissible to just drop any sort of litter you want to. Stream beds are choked with boxes and plastic bags.

We arrive at “Next Door”, right on the beach. I see nothing to be Next Door to, so I guess it’s Next Door to the beach. For the first time since the airport, we see a number of white people, prosperous ones. The view is gorgeous, palm trees, a rocky shore, breaking waves, one fishing boat some way out.

A sign says “warning! Stop dumping your rubbish and defecating here!” At the time I find this amusing, but Liz tells me taking a dump of both sorts in inappropriate places is a big problem – around half of the dwellings have no sanitation, so what are they supposed to do? You have to go somewhere. This is something else the new government have promised to tackle.

The food is great, though Liz knowingly tells me “Don’t look at the menu – they won’t have most of it. We’ll ask what they actually have today.” She’s absolutely right. I get the fried goat (I love goat, those little chaps wandering around by the apartment make my mouth water ) and Liz has Tilapia. This is the first time I’ve seen tilapia as a whole fish rather than as a fillet, it looks like a sort of flat carp. I try my first local beer, a lager style called “Star”. It’s passable, though not spectacular.

From here we ask to go look at the lagoon, which I believe is some sort of wildlife sanctuary. It’s not spectacular, and the waters leading into it are again choked with rubbish.

Quite why there are so many plastic carrier bags around is a mystery – most things are carried on the head here, no matter how heavy, unbalanced or awkwardly-shaped. I have seen people carrying the most enormous loads. They must have a better sense of balance than me. And a sturdier back – just giving shoulder rides to an 18-month-old was an effort for me – or maybe I’m just getting old.

The most interesting thing I’ve seen carried on someone’s head was two big cardboard trays of eggs, one balanced on the other and carried hands-free as the lady navigated her way through the crowds, turning to greet people and swerving to avoid collisions. An amazing feat – I’m not sure I could even stack the two trays without breaking some of them.

We move on to the fishing harbor, where once again we are the only non-locals. The hand-built fishing boats are all sporting flags of different nations. It’s not that they are from there, these are the football (soccer) teams they support.

(We see a few boats under construction: the base is carved from a single tree, then the sides are constructed. We also see some that for whatever reason have outlived their sell-by date. These are broken up for use in the fish-smoking exercise)

Football is huge here. Later in the supermarket I see a section marked “Manchester Goods”. What the hell are they, I wonder? It turns out to be Man United paraphernalia.

Fish is drying and being smoked on the beach, and people are again laughing, dancing (even the boys playing kick-about are dancing when they don’t have the ball), smiling, selling each other things. Chickens and goats wander freely. It is smelly, chaotic, exhilarating, noisy, unhygienic, different to anything I’ve seen before. I don’t feel tempted to buy any food, though some of it looks tasty. I’m just not sure of the provenance of the provender. Or as my Mum used to say, "Don't eat that, ou don't know where it's been". If you were buying fresh fish though, you couldn't get it fresher than straight off the boats.

Time to go home. We stop at the supermarket on the way, which is much like a supermarket anywhere, apart from a few small differences, some of which I’ve mentioned. I won’t bore you with that bit.

Last stop on the way home is the coffin-makers. That may sound like an odd tourist destination, but it’s something I’d wanted to see since I first looked up “Accra” on the internet. The coffins are individually made, and customized to the, um, passenger. A fisherman might be buried in a giant tuna or hammerhead shark. A newspaperman in in a special edition of their newspaper. A bus driver in a bus. I think that Ghana Airways might be a bit worried about the airplane one… Nobody wants to imagine they’re in a flying coffin…

The owner shows us a book of photos much like a baker might show you when you want to order a special birthday cake. I think my favourite is the giant chili someone went to meet their maker in. He offers to let us choose one for ourselves in advance, but we decline – tempting as the offer is. I did pause to wonder, “What one thing would typify me? Or Liz?” It’s a bit of a sick question, but suggestions will be appreciated, And ignored. Also resented, if they’re insulting.

Back at the apartment I try to find something watchable on the TV. One channel has a dubbed movie on, with various people engaged in unconvincing martial arts. There are many other channels, but they appear to be divided into: Football (soccer), which I am not (yes, I know I’m British, bite me) at all interested in, other sports (like American Wrestling, in which I have less interest than I do in 22 men kicking a bag of wind about), and evangelical channels. There are a lot of those, all looking exactly the same except the ones which seem to be panel discussions about the recent meeting, just as sports channels have panels about the match just ended.

I wonder if they have Fantasy Gospel Leagues?

END OF DAY TWO


Miriam

Fascinating, and wonderfully written -- thanks for sharing this!



Diane

I am so enjoying your adventure, thanks for sharing.


Gareth

Accra day 3

I wake as soon as it begins to get light, my internal clock still confused.

Here, because we are so close to the equator, the length of the day varies little from season to season. I reflect how different this is to my trip to Iceland a couple of years ago, just after midsummer, where I sat outdoors at midnight reading by sunlight. I grew up in the south of England, and one of the things I still notice most back in California (and New Jersey before that) is that the winter days never get so miserably short as they did
back in the UK.

It’s Monday, and I know Liz has to get to work today, and leave early, so eventually I become that annoying person that asks you if you have to get up yet, five damn minutes before you actually do. I get up and make tea to apologise. I see very little of Accra today, I spend most of the day catching up on various computer things,
and attempting projects which I promised I’d have a go at while I’m here, only to find that most of the stuff can’t be accessed from outside the USA. I do manage to expunge several hundred irrelevant emails and unsubscribe from several people who are sending me theatre stuff from NYC which is no longer relevant to me.

I spend some while examining the local papers and slowly getting insights into the local scene – it is made difficult by all the confusing quadruple-barrelled local names.

I decide to take a stroll, but am defeated by the front gate. Sephus the gatekeeper is off somewhere doing one of his other chores, and it looks like I need another key to exit. Later I learn that that lock isn’t used, and all I had to do was to draw back the bolt.

Never mind, I’ll do that another day.

Liz returns from work to be greeted for the first time ever in Accra by the smell of cooking. She is very pleased, and I’ve made enough of the curried meat and Bombay Aloo to freeze a third portion so that she can still eat more than grilled chicken at least once after I leave.

We update each other with various pieces of news in the evening, and break out the Jekyll and Hyde Murder Rummy game.

End of Day Three


Ridley

One of the things I discovered later from my observations about Tunisia is that when you see an uncompleted building, this is one with walls and maybe two floors but no roof, it's usually so that the family can build a new floor for their daughter when she takes a husband (or vice versa). So the new couple doesn't have to spend dowry on new property, just an extra floor in the house the family already has. It's actually a pretty cool system. Unless it rains, of course.

Anyhoo! Glad to see you're enjoying yourself in Accra while Liz is on her crazy adventure! We raised a glass to you guys at the afterparty this year and we're always thinking about you and your family. I hope everyone's well.


Gareth


ridski said:

One of the things I discovered later from my observations about Tunisia is that when you see an uncompleted building, this is one with walls and maybe two floors but no roof, it's usually so that the family can build a new floor for their daughter when she takes a husband (or vice versa). So the new couple doesn't have to spend dowry on new property, just an extra floor in the house the family already has. It's actually a pretty cool system. Unless it rains, of course.

Anyhoo! Glad to see you're enjoying yourself in Accra while Liz is on her crazy adventure! We raised a glass to you guys at the afterparty this year and we're always thinking about you and your family. I hope everyone's well.

Yes, I've not seen this on houses, but I've seen shops with an uncompleted top floor, where the lower ones are I full use. Lots of building projects here though seem to have been abandoned before anything useful is in place.


agbarganza

That feels very close to what it was....In my memory- hazy after nearly 40 years [yikes!] - the people were on the inside jumping from rung to rung [picture hamsters on an exercise wheel] and the Ferris wheel was bigger [probably just a function of my age at the time].

spontaneous said:



agbarganza said:


  • But, the human-powered Ferris wheel took the cake....The people had to be distributed just so, because there were 2-3 guys leaping from rung to rung inside to make it go!

Like this?



Gareth

Accra days 4-6

I’m going to lump these together because, although each day tasted different to me, the pattern of each was essentially the same and it doesn’t matter to you what order things happened in or which day I discovered what. Besides which, I’m falling behind.

Each day I awoke a little earlier than I wanted to, which meant I could make tea (and hot-cross bun!) for the worker and then see her off. After that, a possible brief sneak back to bed then some time doing computer stuff and some writing which I’ve been meaning to get to for around to, and which various house moves and crises have gotten in the way of. Then out into the city just nosing about without any great plan except to become more familiar with it, and then home to welcome Liz with that rarity, home-made food.

One day I went to visit her in her office, which is several stories up. From that vantage point I was able to appreciate for the first time just how flat the city of Accra is. From the ground level you only notice that the bit near you is flat, the view is broken up by people, buildings (finished or not) and an occasional tree. I can see how flooding here could be disastrous (as it did indeed turn out to be last year) – there’s nowhere for the water to drain off to, and the deep drains which border most of the roads would soon clog up especially where there is a lot of rubbish.

My initial forays are fairly timid, given that many of the streets have no street signs (cue U2 song?) and I can’t afford to get lost. Asking for directions to the apartments where Sephus is the gatekeeper, you know, where the goat and chickens are, and one of the houses has a flag outside? would be unlikely to produce good results. But after a while I begin to know where I am and get bolder.

The day that I visited the office, a driver picked me up to take me there. Actually, I’d walked right by it about 90 minutes earlier and could simply have asked to be let in, but believe me a long walk in Accra’s temperature had left me looking like an entrant in a wet t-shirt competition (I wouldn’t have won) and I had to go and change.

The weather, incidentally, has been uniformly HOT and dusty, but for the most part the sky has been overcast – a blue sky, or even a bit of blue in the sky, is rare. After all, most of this area was originally rainforest.

The carrying-things-on-heads saga continues – the two most astonishing I’ve seen are a small boy carrying a cardboard tray of eggs, which he is selling individually. We’ve seen eggs balanced already, right? So no surprise there… well, the thing is, all the eggs that have gone have gone from one side – the right side is empty and the left full. The damn thing should just fall off his head right away. How does he keep it balanced up there? The second is a woman carrying, I kid you not, a vacuum cleaner on her head. There has to be a punchline to that.

I’ve come to notice that many people actually put a cloth on their head to cushion the weight, or a little pill-box hat to provide a flat surface to make the balancing easier. By this time, I begin to feel this is cheating. “Why can’t you be more like egg boy?” I want to ask, “Why can’t you be more like vacuum woman?”.

I’m beginning to recognize the individual chickens near the apartment by now, which I guess answers my puzzlement about how you can just let them roam free. They seem to be rather territorial, so you can always find your own chickens. I guess you’d know their habits enough to know where to find the eggs too. They look smaller than the chickens I’ve seen I the UK and Europe – I guess that’s the result of deliberate breeding at home to change the body type to match modern tastes – at one point, everyone thought the chicken leg was the choice part, now they want the (no skin please! No bone! No taste!) white chicken breast and nothing else, unless it’s been reshaped into a dinosaur or something. Sorry, rant over.

I don’t have the same recognition factor with the goats, but they tend to move away when they see you coming.

I’m finding it a little difficult to decide when some of the shops etc are open. As I said, they range from a few sticks thrown together to purpose-built malls. In the mid-range, the first priority seems to be to claim that you’re open. I’m considering sitting and doing some sketching of the people and places around me, something I’ve not done in a long time, but I know that I stand out quite enough as it is, and I’d like to find a shady corner somewhere where I can observe without being seen, maybe purchasing an occasional tea or beer. This is proving difficult. I start with a hotel a couple of blocks away. At least, it says it’s a hotel – a sign points to it from several adjacent streets, claiming that it’s a Hotel, Restaurant, and Bar. When I find it, it wouldn’t be suitable anyway, it’s a very quiet street it’s set in. Nevertheless, it’s near the apartment and if good would be a place we could nip out to in the evening. So I attempt to check it out. It doesn’t look very open, but I walk up to the door and try it. Encouragingly there is a chalkboard outside with “Today’s specials” chalked up – there’s tilapia. There’s various meaty things, there’s some of the local specialities. I try the door, it’s not open, but a guy who was hidden on the porch wakes up and greets me in a friendly fashion.

I should point out at this point that communication can be difficult – yes, everyone does speak English, but they all also have a tribal language which they speak better. I find the accents a little difficult, and they do mine, too. SO I try to get across that I’d be interested in tea, juice, or beer. He nods encouragingly and disappears. He comes back and points to the now-open door. A young lady appears around the edge of the door and lifts an eyebrow inquisitively. I once again try to say tea, juice, beer?, attempting to mime. All the mimes look a bit similar. I’m crap at mimes… Eventually she decides my mumbling and finger-waving is getting us nowhere, and she says “Fruit and Veg-et-ables”, very slowly. “No thanks, I’ve eaten. Just a drink of some sort?” “No, fruit and veg-et-ables.” I concede defeat and move on, exiting past the menu “Today’s Specials” which incidentally doesn’t mention fruit and veg-et-ables.

Another place looks pretty closed, but has invested in a large neon sign proclaiming the restaurant/café “Open!” which seems to be the important thing as I said. Closer inspection leads to a note which says “please use stairwell”. I walk up the stairwell, to an unfinished upper floor deep in cement bags and dust, where a guy is asleep in his chair behind a table. There are no other tables, or chairs, or food, or drink, or indeed anything but a radio and some building materials. I conclude that the neon sign was a vain boast.

Sometimes a place will be “open”, the door (if any) will not be locked, and there simply won’t be anybody there. Which makes it hard to get served…

One day, after the longest walk so far I find a place that’s actually open. I do enjoy just wandering about here, there’s always something new to be seen. But by now, after about two and a half hours in the oppressive heat I’m as hot as a very hot thing indeed. Beer is required. I try my second Ghanaian beer, called “Club”. It’s pretty decent. The other one tasted like they tried really, really hard to make something as tasteless as Budweiser but have not quite succeeded. This one actually has a taste. Not that I notice all that much with beer 1, it hardly touches the sides, evaporating on the way down. Unfortunately, “Charlie’s” doesn’t have any suitable spots for observing the street life, so it doesn’t help with the sketching quest.

One thing I’m discovering is how important funerals are here. I already talked about the personalized coffins, but that’s just one aspect.

When you leaf through the local papers, there are many announcements that some beloved relative has been “Called to Glory”, or inviting us to “Celebrate the life”, or using one of several other stock phrases, all of which are basically optimistic in nature. There’s always a photo too, often of the deceased in traditional clothing. The advert will give details of the funeral arrangements – the whole affair lasts up to a week, with a lying in state, a family vigil, pre-burial service, burial service, thanksgiving service, and wake. Depending on various factors (mainly, I think, family finances), these announcements can be any size up to a whole page of the paper. They may list all the relatives (which can be a tidy few if the deceased was 100 or so, as is sometimes the case) including siblings, children and grandchildren (and great- etc), cousins, nephews and nieces. Then there are listed the chief mourners, up to about 50 people. Not only is this announced in the papers, but posters and banners will be put up in the streets, sometimes just the one or two, but sometimes dozens, up to 20 feet high.

For particularly important or wealthy people, new announcements will be placed in the papers on the anniversary of the death for one or more years.

Despite the poverty of some of the people of Accra, there are very few beggars. In fact, only once have I been approached, and that was by three small kids, who were very charming about it and not at all pushy. At the time I had no appropriate money (I had a 20 cedi note, but that would have been too much), or else I might have been tempted to part with some.

And, although there are plenty of people trying to sell you things, they don’t wave them in your face, or follow you while telling you all their merits, as happens some places. For the most part, everyone is exceedingly polite.

Most of our evenings are spent in the apartment. As mentioned, Liz is finding that having me cook once again is a very welcome change. But one night we go out to a restaurant nearby which offers an eclectic mix of African, Chinese, Italian and burgers. Again, much of the menu is unavailable (even though this is a seriously business hotel). I order what I think is going to be a steak Diane from the description, but what turns up is a decent piece of steak somewhat overcooked, and swimming in a brown gravy which is more than passable. The mushrooms in the sauce are, I’m pretty sure, out of a can, which is a disappointment, as is the fact that the dessert menu seems to be completely unavailable.

We don’t however find this out all at once. The menu boasts cake, ice cream, and, um, cake AND ice cream. Liz orders cake. “Sorry, madam, no cake today.” Ice cream then. “What flavour madam?” Chocolate. “Sorry, madam, no chocolate ice cream today”. Berry, then? “I will ask if we have any”. (the waitress leaves, to return with the news that no, there is no berry ice-cream). Very well, then, vanilla. “Very good, madam,”. There is a short wait before the waitress returns with the news that, you guessed it, there’s no vanilla ice cream…

END OF days 4-6.

For a change of pace, I’m gonna post something in a minute which is one of the long-put-off projects I’ve been working on.


Gareth

So one of the things I worked on is this: some years ago, my Dad wrote some notes for one of the kids about one of his war stories - I believe there was some school project involved. I've been meaning to edit it and tidy it up ever since rediscovering it sometime relatively recently while packing for one or another house move. I finally managed to do so here in Accra. The words are all Dad's, (well, I did add ONE), but tidied up rearranged and with redundancies cut out, and with some details which he told me at other points added in.




An Incident at Sea by John Hall Jones

After I joined the army, we trained for several months, in what had been in peacetime a “holiday camp” in North Wales. Our specialization was Field Communications. That winter (1940-41) was extremely cold, which meant that staying in unheated chalets (they were previously only in use in the summer) made our training twice as hard. Flu was rampant, and those who suffered from it were not helped by the repeated directive “Just get on with it!”. It was truly said that “there’s no room in the British Army for softness or sentiment”. Hopefully this attitude has mellowed at least a little these days.

At last the training came to an end and we were moved to Colwyn Bay, a pleasant seaside resort. Not so pleasant a time for us, as the Army decided in July of ‘41 that we need to undergo a “toughening up” process. Long marches into the Welsh mountains, repulsing an invading force (actually Local Defence Volunteers, later to be known as the Home Guard).

We were on good terms with the townspeople, and we remembered our time there fondly when the time came to move on. When we left to be posted overseas, the streets were lined with cheering crowds, waving the traditional flags and emblems. As we proudly marched, in full tropical kit, to the train station, we were not really considering the fact that many of us would not see “Blighty” again for five years – and of course, many would never return.

On the train, as we left the town behind, most of us engaged in the traditional soldier’s pastime of catching up on sleep. The saying went “Don’t stand when you can sit, don’t sit when you can lie down. If lying down, go to sleep.”

After three hours we were shocked to see the extent of the devastation as we pulled into Liverpool. Three nights of heavy bombardment had left debris everywhere, and warehouses flattened. Smoke was still issuing from many a building.

We were marched to a giant troopship, which was a hive of activity as war materials were transported to its cavernous holds. We had no time to gape, as the order was “Gildy, Gildy” – army slang for “Hurry up”. More raids were expected that night and we’d be the prime target if we were still around.

Once aboard and having been allotted a berth, we all went to the ship’s rail to watch the stevedores working at an amazing pace. We slipped our mooring within the hour and silently began our journey. I have an abiding memory of a hail of envelopes being thrown to the dock with a last (and uncensored) message for families and loved one. Most had no postage on, and some fell into the murky waters below, but all of those that reached shore safely were picked up and sent on to their destinations.

On rising the next day we rushed to the rail to see where we were. The sea around us was as calm as can be imagined, and remained so for the rest of the journey, something which we did not know at the time would be our salvation.

There were 30 or so other vessels, forming a convoy. Our only protection salvation was a single Naval Corvette, circling the convoy like an eager Collie dog herding sheep in the Welsh mountains.

We sailed for several placid days in beautiful weather, attending lectures, map reading, and of course doing Physical Training.

The sixth day was much like the previous ones, and as we were ordered to our bunks a loud THUMP sounded from somewhere below. I will always remember the exact time, 9.55 pm. The ship shuddered, and we momentarily lost our balance.

The sergeant bellowed “IT’S PROBABLY NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT! GET INTO BED!”

We were about to do so when we were flung across the room to the accompaniment of the loudest bang I ever heard, followed immediately by an ear-splitting shriek that seemed to go on forever.

Total silence followed, to be broken by a voice saying simply “I think we’ve been hit, chaps..”

“GET DRESSED! BOAT STATIONS!” was the bellowed order. We rushed to obey, but as we go to the cabin door an officer blocked our way.

He calmly informed us “Step through that door and you’ll fall straight into the drink.”

And so we learned what had happened. The initial “THUMP” was a torpedo hitting us, but luckily it had not exploded. But we were knocked off course and had wandered into the path of another troopship, which hit us at an angle of 30 degrees on the starboard side, ripping a great hole (the demonic screeching). The lifeboats and rafts were all destroyed, and our bow had sheared off.

All engines stopped, and it was only the complete calm of the water that saved us from sinking.

I could see the outline of the other vessel through the dark, and heard the peculiar “Hoot, hoot” of its Klaxon horn. Over a megaphone, this message was delivered: “Your position has been notified, God Bless you all!”

The ‘hoot,hoot” sounded once again as they departed as swiftly as they could. Then, silence.

Orders were to proceed as far to the stern as possible. Throughout the night loud banging sounds gave evidence that carpenters were doing what they could to replace or restore the damaged bow.

Hour later, we heard the engines start back up, and we proceeded at between 4 and 8 knots, now heading westward. For around a week the elements were extraordinarily kind, a blessing since if there had been any swell at all, we’d have foundered.

Eventually we reached Halifax in Nova Scotia, where we stayed for about six weeks awaiting the arrival of further transport. Our stay in Canada is another tale.


Diane

Jonesey, your blog is the best thing that has been on MOL in months, fascinating stuff! I am so enjoying the adventures you are sharing!


Sweetsnuggles

I wholeheartedly agree. Thank you for sharing with us!

emmie said:

Jonesey, your blog is the best thing that has been on MOL in months, fascinating stuff! I am so enjoying the adventures you are sharing!



galileo

Enjoying reading about your Ghana adventure. Also your father's story is an exciting one. Would love to know about his stay in Canada.Somehow I thought the ship was heading in a different direction.


Gareth


galileo said:

Enjoying reading about your Ghana adventure. Also your father's story is an exciting one. Would love to know about his stay in Canada.Somehow I thought the ship was heading in a different direction.

They were headed for the North African campaign - though they had to go the long way round, all the way around Africa in the end.


Gareth

Accra: the weekend odyssey begins.

So, Liz has got a couple of days off, her boss has lent her the car, and we have our driver.

I see I haven’t mentioned the drivers’ names so far. The guy who picked me up from the airport at the beginning was Michael, but the next day he had to depart for his Mother’s funeral – which as we have seen absents him for some time. Since then, (and for this weekend) we have Yelbert. The drivers don’t belong to Liz, no more do the cars. These guys have a number of duties to perform , driving and otherwise. We can borrow them if they aren’t otherwise engaged.

The day starts with a major hassle – Wells Fargo online page has decided to not recognize our sign-in. This happened a couple of days ago too, and then got better. Now we can’t get through at all, so we head into Liz’s office instead of beginning our journey, to see if the computer in the office will work any better. It does not. A long, expensive, and frustrating phone call follows, the gist of which is that this is an intermittent fault with customers outside the US. WF tell us “It’s not your problem, it’s ours.” We politely point out that the fault may be at their end, but the problem most certainly IS ours. We find a convoluted way around the money stuff we want to arrange and we are finally off.

Our first call is several hours drive away, on the Cape Coast, at Cape Coast castle.

The drive is very interesting, and along about 50% very good roads. One interesting aspect is that whenever traffic is held up for any reason (congestion, traffic lights, toll booth, police control point), a stream of people will pass by offering to sell you stuff. It can be anything – chewing gum, footballs, lottery tickets, steering wheel covers, mango, table-cloths, shampoo, pottery, bread, you name it. It is interesting to see that when the queue moves forward, the vendor (if in the middle of a sale) will run after a customer to complete the transaction. Running while balancing half a shop on your head is an interesting sight. Toll booths especially attract these vendors, and there is a notice just before the point at which the toll is collected on the George W Bush Highway reading “No Hawking Beyond This Point”. Poor Stephen, I think, as if he hasn’t enough problems without a travel ban to add to them…

There are many posters along the road – some relating to the recent elections, some for funerals. Some commercial ads. At the bottom of some of the hoardings are inspirational phrases, suitable for a fridge magnet or a facebook meme, exhorting behavior and attitudes of various sorts. Most are fairly vapid, or tend toward the religious. One that I DO like says “Dreams won’t work unless you do”.

After a while, we come to the first hills I’ve seen in Ghana – called Mcarthy Hills. From this point on, although we see no real heights today, the flatness of the Accra area is broken up but a certain amount of up-and-down.

These advertising/admonitory hoarding thin out in rural areas, where the quality of the roads also drops off. Instead, every few hundred yards we are greeted with “Overspeeding is dangerous”. Below this is a tally, “4 deaths have occurred here”, or “10 deaths have occurred here”, or “More than 12 deaths have occurred here”. They seem to stop counting at 12. These statistics are easy to believe. Over the course of the weekend we pass three overturned lorries – and on seeing the many which haven’t overturned, I suspect this is because they load them too high and then try to go too fast on unsuitable roads. None of them seem to have involved any other vehicle. Once we also pass an overturned car, which had obviously happened very recently because a lot of people are milling about. It doesn’t seem that adding three more people to the crowd would help, so we pass by, hoping that nobody is badly hurt and that more practical help will arrive soon. The car is upside down, but otherwise seems relatively unscathed.

Another thing which I notice beside the road as we travel is the termite mounds. These are amazing structures,, often taller than I am sometimes by a considerable amount. I had a mental image of these occurring in groups, probably gleaned from some old wildlife documentaries - but so far as I can see, each one tends to be at least a few yards from any others,. I usually further. Later I learn that the material of these mounds is immensely strong (they’re formed from the local red earth, bound with termite spit and poop) and are often ground up to strengthen pottery and building materials.

We pass through a large number of towns, villages and townships on our way. They are of varying size and prosperity. In some of the smaller places, everything seems to be constructed from bamboo packed with a clay mixture (no doubt including some of the termite mound material). This doesn’t look very sturdy, but some of the buildings look like they’ve been standing up to the climate for some time. I guess the other advantage of earth as a building material is that, if it falls apart, you’re surrounded by plenty more of it. All of the settlements have at least one church, often many more. These can be anything from a mud shack to an impressive large building. Several times we see enormous gathering places being built, seemingly for one or more of the enthusiastic evangelists which seem to thrive here. Did I mention that around half of the TV channels have names like “Praise TV”? Apart from the evangelists, we see (as well as the standard Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Jehovah’s Witness, Presbyterian, Baptist, Mormon, a7th-Day adventists) Church of God, Church of Christ, Holy Church of Christ, Lighthouse Chapel, Apostolic Church, NEW Apostolic Church, Church of the Apostles, Christ Apostolic, Assemblies of God, Victory Bible Church, and more.

We also see mosques of various sizes in some of the settlements, all of which seem to be built to a standard model. I don’t know what flavor of Islam they represent, or whether they are all the same, because I don’t read Arabic.

Everywhere is lightly covered with red dust.

All the settlements have their own stores of various sorts, many along the roadside to attract any passing trade. On the way in and out of each village there are usually a few people, either with stuff just piled up for sale, or with a table set out – sometimes a grass canopy held up by bamboo will give the vendors some shade. Many of them are selling food of various sorts – smoked fish, fresh coconut, grilled bananas, sliced mango, or the stodgy local specialities. Now and again, someone will be standing by the roadside holding up some sort of bushmeat for sale.

All but the smallest and meanest towns boast some sort of eatery/drinking place (not all sell alcohol though). They have various names: a “chop bar” will sell local foods plus perhaps more (not chops… I think that “chop” is a word for “eat”). A “Spot” I think is a bar, possibly with food. Then there are the places that call themselves “pubs”. These seem to sell alcohol to drink there and to take home too. Most seem to also do food. A “bar” can mean just about anything. From what I can see, all these places are pretty exclusively male hangouts.

After a few hours drive, we arrive at our first stop - Cape Coast castle. This was the administrative centre for the succession of European countries that set up trade in the area. Many things were traded, but the most memorable, and shameful, was slaves. I have read much of the slave trade in the past, when studying history. But never before have I seen the conditions under which these poor souls were kept.

We take a tour. The most memorable part is where we go down into the male slave pens. Dark, cramped, and immediately getting uncomfortably hot from the body heat of even a handful of tourists. In one room less than twenty feet by twenty, over a hundred captives would be kept, chained, filthy and in the dark, with totally inadequate sanitation, eating with only their hands once a day. Those that died (and disease caused by the appalling conditions took many) would just be dumped at sea. The slaves would be taken, after waiting perhaps several months, to their final destination, often America or the Caribbean. The conditions in the ships were even more appalling, and huge numbers never made it.

Ghana was one of the main centres for the slave trade.Sweden, Demark, Britain, Portugal, the Dutch and others were all a part of this disgusting trade at various times. The shame does not fall only on Europeans, though. The castle (and others like it) were built with the permission and support of the local peoples, and rents paid. Many of the slaves were sold to the Europeans by the locals, mainly prisoners of war. And those wars were often fought between various of the Akan tribes specifically to have access to the coast so as to benefit from the slave and other trades.

A couple of hours at this site is a sobering experience.

Before we moved on, we drove a mile or so down the coast to take a walk on the beautiful beach. In most parts of the world, this setting would be lined with tourist hotels. Maybe it will be yet.

From here we drove north to our overnight stop, the Rain Forest Lodge. There is no evidence of rainforest in its immediate vicinity, although this whole area was such a few hundred years ago. The Lodge is a fine place, and although the menu is not hugely varied (and not everything is available), my Thai Chicken Salad is a delight.

A party of young teen schoolchildren are also staying here that night, no doubt on their way to the same destination as us the next day. They are having a fine time. By coincidence they turn out to be from the school in Accra which is near the supermarket where we did our shopping.

But the finest thing about the Lodge is the outdoor pool. After a long hot day, it is the most refreshing thing ever. It’s not just a token pool like many hotels have, either. There’s a kiddie bit, a mini waterfall from the bridge which arches over the middle, and at its deepest I can’t touch the floor with my feet. We send a blissful half an hour in the pool, getting out the kinks from the long car journey.

In the reception is an attempt at an international air – three clocks give the time in New York, London and Tokyo (London is on the same time zone in any case). However, with the lack of follow-through which I have often noticed here, all have stopped, and at completely different times.

And so to sleep, ready for day two of our odyssey.


Gareth

The weekend odyssey continues.

Overnight there is torrential rain, but it has stopped by the morning and the paths at least have dried out.

So we rise on Saturday morning, and breakfast. The extensive breakfast menu which we saw last night seems to have gone missing, and all we are asked is “How would you like your eggs?” The eggs are however delicious, and that’s from someone who doesn’t often eat them. Talk about free range, we can see the hens wandering about in the hotel grounds.

On, via somewhat scrappy roads, to the rain forest reserve at Kakum. We pass the monkey sanctuary which is I read mainly stocked by locals who have hunted the various primates for food, but bring the young ones to the monkey village. They do the same with crocodiles, apparently.

We are headed for the aerial walkway which, so we hear, goes through the canopy, the main level of the trees. Above this level, I read is the Emergent trees. The ones which break cover and grow even taller.

A visitor centre gives a lot of interesting information about the rainforest, and at 9am we set off for the canopy walk. First there is quite a challenging trek up a rough stone trail, leaving many of us pretty breathless and some older knees twinging. Then we are onto the walkways. Now the reserve is a vastly worthwhile project – we need to preserve what’s left of the rainforests, desperately. I salute the entire enterprise. You should give them money.

But it is at this point that we are informed we are unlikely to see any animals, they tend only to come out at night. The chimps, bonobos, elephants, grasscutters, etc etc will very likely not be in evidence. As it turns out there is more than one reason for this – the walk doesn’t go through the canopy at all, but is high above the tops of all but the trees on which the walkway is secured. You’d not spot anything much smaller than an elephant anyway. Our guide, having warned us of the lack of wildlife, imparts no further information.

So the main purpose of the aerial walkway is just to "do it". Basically it’s a rope bridge, with a plank at the bottom and netting on the side. There are seven or so sections, each 100-200 metres long. Or about a mile each if you’re nervous of heights. Here is my advice for an height-averse individuals taking this trip:

1. Don’t look down. Unfortunately this means that you won’t see anything at all as there’s nothing to either side.

2. Try to follow the off-steps of the person in front of you. i.e. if they put their right foot down you put your left foot down, and vice versa. This helps prevent the alarming swaying which otherwise sets in.

3. If the person behind you is not following the same protocol, and you swing wildly from side to side, throw them off.

4. If you see a twig lying on the plank, do NOT step on it. The resulting loud “CRACK” will have everyone else thinking the plank has snapped and you’re all about to plunge to a horrible death, (although you might actually see some sleeping wildlife just before you hit the ground, I guess).

5. Go to the monkey forest instead

Seriously, there are better things to do here. You can I believe camp overnight, and you can also sleep in the tree house. Either of these will mean you actually encounter some of the charming wildlife. Or do the hike on the ground.

If like me, you have been wondering for the last few paragraphs “What IS a grasscutter?” I did ask Yelbert the driver. His answer was that it’s about “so big” (indicating something around eighteen inches long), and “it’s good meat”.

We later see some being bred for the table, and they are a large rodent, somewhat ratlike in appearance. Indeed their other name is the “cane rat”, because they eat crops including especially sugar cane.

Before we leave, we stop for some fresh coconut. These are straight from the trees, and a cheerful guy slashes them open with an alarmingly big machete. They don’t look like the image you probably have of a coconut – these are still encased in a green outer skin, the hairy surface which we are all used to is inside that. First, you drink the coconut water, which is cool and beautiful, and the best part of a pint of it too. Then our friend makes a spoon out of a bit of the shell with more delicate machete work, and breaks the whole thing open – we scoop the flesh out with the "spoon"' Again, it’s not like you’d expect, that fibrous white, brittle stuff- this is a thin coating of a gelatinous substance. Quite pleasing. I suspect that the insides harden and grow after harvesting, also absorbing much of the coconut water. As I enjoy this, I can’t help but have flashbacks to “Coral Island” which I read, enthralled, when I was a pre-teen.

Now we decide to head for Kumasi, main town of the Asante region (it used to be spelled “Ashanti”, but they changed it). There are a few things we’d like to see there, and it’s some distance away. We are NOT going to see the zoo, something I would normally like to do, because all the reviews say that it’s a dreadful, old-fashioned affair, with dispirited animals in tiny confined spaces, that will make you feel depressed. I had my share of depressed with the slave castle yesterday.

A couple of hours of more towns follows, much the same as before (I’m sure there are regional differences, but it’s too new for me to sort out my impressions). In this region, the locals make a lot of pottery, which is set out beside the road on tables, stall, or in posher actual shops.

Along the way we see several of the famous funerals – apparently Saturday is a big day for this. I’m not sure which part of the long process this is. Dozens of, and in one case over a hundred, people, dressed in red and black for the most part, ride in lorries or just walk to a public space where rows of seats are set up, obviously to hear inspirational talks praising the departed, imparting spiritual comfort, and reminding the audience of their own mortality and the need to live a moral life. Sometimes there is music – especially drums, calling one and all to the event. Many of the attendees wear the traditional clothes – a long cloth wound around the body in the manner of a toga, or the older type of kilt (not the modern one that hangs from the waist like a skirt). We have seen a few of these already, in various colours, but the funeral attendees’ garment is pure black, although often patterned.

We follow the directions to our first stop, the Manhiya Palce museum of the Asante. Unfortunately this takes us right through the central market of Kumasi. This is the most chaotic thing I have ever seen. Vendors have plots of between two and twenty feet wide, from which they sell an amazing variety of things. The goods are piled right to the edge of the pavement (“sidewalk” for US readers) and sometimes beyond. The milling crowds (yes, it’s a cliché but by God they are crowds and by God they are milling) are forced to walk in the road. The roads however are already gridlocked with cars, carts, buses, motor bikes, and other conveyances. People walk around and between the vehicles, apparently certain that they’re not moving any time soon and they’re safe from being run over. Most of the pedestrians are of course carrying things on their heads, many have loads wider than they are themselves. They are squeezing through spaces just inches wide, and it ought to be impossible for two load-bearers to pass each other without a collision. Disaster seems about to strike every few milliseconds. But somehow nobody ever drops anything, whether it be a basket of fruit or an eight-foot long piece of foam rubber.

We move at rate of inches per hour for a considerable time. Eventually we emerge from the other side and proceed to the palace. This still takes some time, for the traffic is heavy in Kumasi. Eventually we arrive about 20 minutes before the place is due to close.

Nevertheless, although we are the only people there, we are welcomed. They sit us down in front of the introductory video, and when that’s finished we have out own personal guide to the whole thing. We see royal paraphernalia, we see effigies of various previous kings and their wives (all are dressed in funeral black robes, because the Queen Mother died a few months ago. Royal descent is matrilineal, with the new king often being the nephew of the old one. The Queen Mother holds a very important place). We are shown maps, personal belongings, told stories, and all-in-all have a very interesting tour for a half-hour or so. Even after this, they are not anxious to get rid of us, and are happy for us to tour the gift shop, where I buy a little something for my (embarrassingly large) collection of folk tales from around the world. This little booklet deals with the adventures of Anansi the spider.

Of course, the consequence of all the delays is that we aren’t going to get to see anything else of Kumasi on this trip. A pity. So we head to the next destination, the one that I have been the most interested to see ever since the idea of my visiting Ghana was proposed. Lake Bosomtwe.

This an almost-circular lake which fills the impact site of an ancient meteor, which hit about a million and three quarter years ago. It’s around five miles across, and is surrounded by hills which are at least partly splash from the original impact. This idea fascinates me, and when Liz first said “what would you like to see while you’re in Ghana", this was item no 1.

The plan was to arrive a little before sunset which is renowned as being a very fine thing. Unfortunately, the traffic in Kumasi (and several instances of congestion between there and Bosomtwe) have scuppered that plan. The roads again are of varying quality, and get progressively worse as we near our destination. The last couple of miles are increasingly rough and in the now-complete dark, the last few hundred yards feel like a goat track. We arrive finally in the middle of an electric storm, The power is out, and the only lights are some battery-powered affairs in the reception/restaurant. This is open to the elements, with no door and no glass in the windows. The local mosquito population head for the only light to be seen. We are swarmed by the little blighters. Luckily we’ve all been taking our malaria tablets, but the bites quickly add up. Later I will take an anti-allergen to calm the reaction to the bites. I always carry such due to decades of hay fever, but I’ve avoided them since taking various jabs and pills against the local nastinesses since I already feel a bit weird. But extreme measures are required. Power is soon restored and the mozzies wander off, thankfully. We have a passable dinner, and a few drinks.

We have a lovely room, literally a grass hut (but with all mod cons), and after a much-needed shower, we are soon fast asleep.

END OF SATURDAY


krnl

Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to future reports!



Diane

Yes, loving this and looking forward to next installment!



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