Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Autumn in Ghana: Tales from the North

Saturday the 18th of November: We arrive at the STC bus station a little before 8 for the bus to Tamale that is supposed to depart at 9. Of course, we don’t leave until 1pm. It was the “ordinary” bus, which means no A/C, no loud Nigerian movies (more on this later), and the dreaded middle seats. These are seats rigged in the aisle that have backs that are permanently reclining and are mighty uncomfortable for a 12 hour bus ride. And lucky us, two of our four seats were middle seats. We tried to rotate, but someone always got screwed with the middle seats. I was really uncomfortable because I was having some sort of allergy/sinus attack and was sneezing/blowing my nose the entire trip. We stopped four times: once about 2 hours outside of Kumasi at a very nice rest stop with a restaurant and nice clean toilets, once in Kumasi with okay toilets, once in Sunyani (I didn’t get off the bus, but it looked nice), and one last stop in Techiman. The toilets in Tamale were the worst I have yet to see in Ghana, and that’s saying a lot, I think.
First and foremost, it was Freezing on the bus once the sun went down. I tried my best to bundle up, but its hard to do when all you have is t-shirts and a skirt. We arrived in Tamale at 2am. It was too late to get a hotel room, since the bus to Mole left at 4, but too early for the bus. So, we found some nice benches and slept until the bus arrived.
Sunday the 19th of November: It was a bumpy ride to Mole, but we were so exhausted we didn’t care. It was a long dirt road that ran through the savannah. Actually, I felt like I was in East Africa or some other country other than Ghana, haha. It just felt so different! We stopped in Larabanga, which is where the oldest Mosque in Ghana is located. Twin brothers run this hotel in town and they gave us a tour of the village and mosque and took us to a place where we could eat some rice and eggs. We also met the chief of the village which was cool. From here we took a taxi (which was a big hassle; the brothers wanted us to take bicycles or motobikes with them, but there was discrepancies about prices and whether or not we were getting ripped off or not) to the actual park. We sat out on the look out which is right above the two main watering holes in the park and saw elephants bathing and a ton of deer like animals as well. It was really relaxing. The hotel was nice, 70,000 per person per night, which is the most I have paid for a hotel here, but it was nice with our own bathroom and a fan and a pool. Unfortunately, I learned that the age old rhyme “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” was something you should actually wish for. Our beds for filled with bed bugs so we were all covered with tiny red bumps that itched like no other for a few days after the stay. At least the beds were comfortable, right? What was weird was the temperature change. It was extremely hot during the day, yes, but at night it got really cold. There were a ton of warthogs that wondered around over the park and many times they would appear out of nowhere in front of our room in the dark and scare the crap out of me.
Monday the 20th of November: We got up at 6:00am for the guided tour of the park. We hiked down the hill to the water hole, didn’t see any elephants, hiked some more, saw some monkeys and antelope type animals, no elephants, saw a ton of army ants making a highway of sorts, but still no elephants. We hiked for two hours and the guide was disappointed about elephants. As we started to climb back up, we saw two elephants in the bush. We rushed down to take pictures of them, so we were really close, which was cool (of course, my batteries picked this time to die, and I stupidly didn’t bring any extras). We went back to the room and slept, during the hot middle of the day hours, then chilled that evening.
Tuesday the 21st of November: Woke up at 3:30am to catch the 4am bus out of Mole back to Tamale. Tamale was a very dusty town, but it wasn’t too bad. I did notice a lot of beggars, but that is probably just a trait of big cities anyway. From Tamale we took a metro bus to Bolgatanga (four hours) which is in the Upper East Region. Bolga, as it is fondly called, was different from Tamale. It was drier, number one, and I could feel my skin dry up and my throat and nose become parched. That is a big change from the extreme humidity that plagues us here in Accra. Second, it wasn’t as hot and it actually felt a little bit like fall. Leaves were even falling from the trees, so it felt only appropriate we were celebrating Thanksgiving up north.
From Bolga we took a metro bus to Zebilla (one hour, stood up the entire time). When we got to Zebilla it was market day, so we went in search of fresh bread, vegetables, and other necessities for the next three days (market is every three days up there). Unfortunately, we couldn’t get any eggs (apparently in the dry season guinea fowl and chickens don’t lay eggs…what kind of crap is that??) They speak Kusal in Zebilla, so we picked up a couple of words, such as hello (tima tima). Maura, who is the reason we went to Zebilla, is doing research on well water and ground water and soil (she is doing geology research on a Fulbright). We stayed in the former MPs house with his neice, Emilia who is a seamstress, and another graduate who is working on a clinic in Zebilla, Katie. The former MP wasn’t there, of course. It was a really nice house with running water, electricity, an oven, and a t.v.
One way I could tell we were not in a large city was the reaction villagers had towards me. First, they asked me where I was from. When I said the US they asked why I wasn’t white, or how I was black. In fact, they were really confused most of the time (“So…she is African?” “No, American, African American.” “But she’s black?” or “If you are American, why are you black?”). Then they asked me why I was fat. I am not sure how to answer that one. I have started taking it as a compliment…haha.
Of course, because I am a dork, I talked politics with the people in the house. Haruna, who helps Maura out by giving her rides to her wells on the motorbike, believes that NDC will win the presidential election in 2008 and change the constitution so that Rawlings will be president for life. He contends that President Kufour has done nothing for the North; only helping out the rich south. ( I am not going to bore you with my extreme interest in Ghanaian politics, but I just want to note here that the North and the Volta region vote as a block for NDC, Rawlings’ party. It is really interesting, because the parties have no platform difference; they are just divided along ethnic lines. AND if you didn’t know, Rawlings was a military dictator for 18 years who killed a lot of people, but was charismatic, held democratic elections in 1992 and stepped down after serving two terms which is admirable, I guess, and he also did a number of good things for the country…its one of those, which is worse type questions.) Also, to keep along the politics line, I went to Parliament the week that we left to go up north, which was really cool, especially because we got to see the budget for 2007 (as in the budget for the entire country) as proposed by the party in power. NPP, the majority, were all shouting and excited whereas the minority, NDC, was sitting quietly on the other side of the room. The minority leader called the budget a “monotonous soliloquy.”
Back to Zebilla.
Wednesday the 22nd of November: We got up and headed to Tongo, one of the villages where Maura is monitoring wells. It is interesting…there is a reservoir, where a dam stopped a small stream to make a small pond that people use for washing. The reservoir affects the ground water which is used to provide water in wells. During the wet season, the wells are full, but soon the wells will dry up. Maura is trying to look at whether the wells near reservoirs have water longer and also looking at the type of soil that is around the wells. Water access is really politicized; chiefs will request a borehole (a covered well with a pump, which is more hygienic and safer than an open well) in their village, but will want it built right by their house. A mechanic in town has been monopolizing the equipment to fix wells and has charged ridiculous prices to fix it with old equipment. He actually accused Maura of tampering the boreholes and she had to go in front of the district assembly to tell them she is not there to do harm.
The best part of Tongo was the four hour donkey cart ride. All of us, four, couldn’t fit on motorbikes, so we hired a donkey cart, which traveled at the same pace as us walking, but was fun nonetheless. The funniest part was the stares we got from the villagers (imagine, a bunch of obrunis on the back of a donkey cart which is supposed to not have human cargo…).
Thursday the 23rd of November: we bought two guinea fowl…which one of the guys in the house had to kill and pluck (yuck). We roasted them in the oven, mashed potatoes (they were purple and really sweet), roasted some vegetables, and had fanta for Thanksgiving dinner. We had no bake cheesecake for dinner. It was cool. The people in the house called it the “food holiday.”
Friday the 24th of November: Karen and I headed back to Bolga around 12:00pm. We boarded the OA bus, which was much nicer than STC, right on time at 2:00 and left around 3pm. When we got to Tamale, we switched buses, and this is when the Nigerian movies started. The first movie was about a woman who was in a love affair with what appeared to be an 8 year old boy. The Ghanaians loved it; it was a comedy that kind of made fun of African American “thugs”, but really made the little boy the hero. After this came one about a girl who treats her mother and sister as a slave (I fell asleep during this one). Around 2am we started watching Terminator. The bus was, no joke, 30 degrees. The A/C was on full blast. My teeth were chattering. We were wrapped up in sheets, it was so cold. We got to Accra at 6, took a tro-tro to campus, I went to sleep for a few hours, and then started studying for my finals.
Finals: As of now I have completed two out of three “papers.” The first one, conflicts in Africa, wasn’t bad at all, just a lot if writing and a lot of information. I was a little worried about the second one, African Literature, but it wasn’t too bad. Two and a half hours to answer 2 or 3 questions that are extremely broad and I hate to write so it was not fun. I am glad they are over with, though.
Sorry about the length of this blog, I tried to keep it short. I have three weeks left in Ghana…and a ton of stuff to do!

Monday, November 13, 2006

What's in the News?

I thought I would inform you about some things that have been going on in Ghana since my arrival in August.
P.S. New pictures are up on the Ghana webshots link to the right.

Graduate Teacher’s Strike
In September, the graduate teacher’s of Ghana went on strike. Graduate teacher applies to those who graduated from university, not a teaching college. These teachers teach Senior Secondary School (High School). The strike is an appeal for higher wages (they make less than $200 a month). Last year the nurses and doctors went on strike, but the strike didn’t last long because people are dying. The government quickly complied with the doctors (bought them some cars, too) but the compliance is much slower with the teachers. Its really only hurting the students, who are in public school and missing classes but will still have to take the entry exams for university at the end of the year whether they had class or not. Classes are still held at public schools and some teachers are having private night classes for a hefty sum. Those who can’t afford either of these options are not going to school at all. It’s a sad story.

The Cocaine Scandal
This particular story has dominated the front page every day since August. It all begins with a ship that came into port with 17 kilos of cocaine. When they inspected the ship, all the cocaine was gone. People who have been accused/suspected range from the police and security guards at the port, sailors and even the Asantehene’s name has come up.
Rawlings’ Attempted Coup
President Kufour accused former president/military dictator JJ Rawlings of attempting to stage a coup against the current government. He said that Rawlings was in cohorts with an un-named oil rich country to get funding to stage the coup. Rawlings called Kufour an idiot for thinking that he would do something like that. They don’t like each other. Hopefully Rawlings doesn't stage a coup...although he is really liked in certain regions of the country, despite is human rights violations when he was in power and his lack of democratic rule until 1992.

China’s New Imperialism
If you have been following international news, you would note that last week China had a series of meetings with African leaders about absolving debts, investments, and development endeavors. Ghana was one of these countries, where China has promised to participate in a number of development projects and invest in technology development. Hopefully, this isn’t a one-sided exchange, where Ghana gets nothing and China gets everything.

Tofu, a minority again?, No turtles, the harmattan, the police

Thursday night, we went out to a vegan restaurant near circle. It was delicious; primarily because of the lack of oil and fried food. I had tofu kebabs on a pita (essentially pieces of tofu with seasoning on brown bread) and half of a garden salad, with real vegetables and three different kinds of peppers. It was like heaven. And I am not even vegan. Haha. A creepy man painted from head to toe to look like a white person wearing a t-shirt which said “telecom phones Osu and Adenta,” came up to us and stood at our table and stared. It was awkward and slightly frightening. Afterwards we went to Champ’s, this American owned sports bar, for quiz night. It was an interesting experience…I walked in…I was the only black person other than the employees. I felt like I was back in the states. The menu at champs even had Mexican food and buffalo wings. It was a strange sensation. The place is a popular hang out for the marines that protect the embassy, the people who work at the embassies, and volunteers and NGO employees. I could see how if you went there every night you could easily forget you were in Ghana. We also went Friday night, for a friend’s birthday celebration. It was karaoke night and Laura and I sang “Wannabe” by Spice Girls haha. It was really fun; there were some talented people and some good sing-alongs. Saturday morning (after two hours of sleep) we headed to Ada, where the Volta meets the Ocean. We took a tro-tro to Ada Foah, then we took an hour long boat ride down the river to the estuary. We got to the hotel, or camp or whatever you want to call it, at around 12. We sat around for a bit, lazed on the hammock, walked the beach. That night we ordered dinner and enjoyed a “cultural night” which was clearly just for the obrunis entertainment. Then we attempted to find some sea turtles, but it was too cloudy for the moonlight so there weren’t any. There were some NYU kids there who told us a little about their program: they live in a compound with a/c, hot water, cooks etc. and take only a few classes at the university. Sometimes I worry about the kids in the programs and whether or not they are having the best experiences while they are here (not to mention, in Senegal I am in a program and I hope that it isn't so sheltered as most of the programs here are...)
The next morning we got up had pancakes that were fluffy ( I swear they were made with bisquick) and Laura and I headed to Togo. We got to Togo at 2ish, found a restaurant that served couscous and spaghetti, which was delicious. Then we rode motos (they are so sweet!) to the crossainterie where we had pain au chocolat. Then we took motos back to the border, crossed and got our stamp and jumped on a tro tro by 5. unfortunately, traveling by tro-tro at night is not the best idea. There are a ton of police check points on the way. We stopped at at least five, two of which we had to disembark the tro-tro. Its annoying…the police are essentially just looking for some way to tax the drivers and get some money. But at the same time I feel bad for the police…I learned that they make less than $100 a month, get a 200 cedi (about 2 cents) budget for uniform, and they work ridiculous hours. Its corruption, unjustifiable, but it’s a shame that they have to resort to it in the first place.

It is getting hot hot hot. And the days are no longer beautiful, as the Harmattan has settled in to stay until January. The Harmattan is a wind that brings sand from the Sahara every November. It makes the days extremely hazy and sometimes even blots out the sun and the moon. The sky is now a nice tan color, instead of blue, and I have heard rumors that it gets so bad that you can’t breathe.

Monday, November 06, 2006

three months, monkey paws, Where do all the tro-tros go?, Eba and Bitterleaf stew

Thursday night we went to aphrodisiac for ladies night. It was a really crowded club with tons of scantily clad females and sketchy men. It was a good time, i guess, because it was free but the music wasn't that great.
Today it has been three months since I left home; I have 6.5 weeks til I return home. Its kinda scary...I mean I am excited about coming home, but I don't want to leave because I really like it here.
Saturday we went to a fetish market in Jamestown. We drove past gorgeous buildings like the supreme court building, the barclays bank and even a woolworths with a parking deck ( I felt, for a fleeting moment, like I was back in a US city) and then we hit Jamestown. It is more or less a slum town of Accra and it was run down and decrepit and slightly depressing, especially after seeing those buildings. We found the fetish market, located in the lumber yard, where they sold anything from monkey paws to dog heads to thunder rocks (rocks that come from the sky when it thunders?) to fertility dolls to dried chameleons. It was interesting to say the least. from here we headed to the Arts Center, which was a big mistake. At the Arts center all they do is harass you..." my sistah, please come look at what I have. What are you looking for? I have paintings, mud cloth, ghana shirts. Please just for a second, no pressure. How much would you want this painting for? How much do you have? Its very nice!" etc. every stall you walked past, and there were a lot of stalls. Not to mention the stuff there was overly expensive. I bought some fabric and some bracelets and then my money was spent, so we headed back to campus.
That night we got dressed up to go out and eat Nigerian food at a restaurant (Uchi's place) in east legon. I was a cultural experience...the food was...TOO SPICY. I ordered Eba, which is a big lump of doughy something but it tasted a lot better than fufu. With the eba I got bitterleaf stew, but it wasn't a stew, it was full of dried fish (which I must admit I can't stand) and probably three pounds of pepe (no joke). The good thing about the stew was the goat meat.Image hosted by
by justinesghana

It was pricey for something I didn't want to eat (50,000 cedis) but CJ, the birthday boy, was really happy we all came to eat his native food. We watched some Nigerian music videos, drank some home-made gin (5,000 cedis for a shot), and had a good time until midnight when some went out dancing and the rest returned home to sleep.
Yesterday, Karen and I decided to jump on a random tro-tro and see where we ended up. Stupidly, we got on a tro-tro to Adenta which wasn't far from campus at all. But we walked around the town, which was a pretty nice development area, and drank some fanta at a relaxation spot in a garden owned by a former botany professor at Legon. It wasn't anything too exciting, but it was a change from campus.
Last night we went to see a play about Yaa Asantewaa and the golden stool. the story is as such: the golden stool is very important to the Ashanti people. It unifies them and if someone else were to possess the stool, they would go into turmoil. Well, when the brits came in, they wanted the golden stool and wanted to rule Ashanti because of the gold that was under the earth. So, the british arrested the Asantehene (chief) Prempeh and took him to Cape Coast. They were also given a fake golden stool to take home to the King (the real one was dug up accidently when they were building around Kumasi and it now is in the palace there). Yaa Asantewaa, the queen mother, rallied the people to fight the British in a long resistance. The play was amazing...there was more than 100 people in the cast and at least 50 people on the stage at all times, so it was far from boring. Half of the play was in Twi, but you could understand what was going on without knowing the language. The play was narrated by a story teller, had real obrunis playing the british, and had really great dancing, singing and drumming. I was really glad I went.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

“An African in Africa,” kissed, luxurious life, and a very happy Halloween

On Friday night I went to this African-American owned restaurant/bar called Jazz Tones with two South African gentleman. One of the South Africans had been living in Ghana for three years, but said that he was initially shocked. He said that he would title his autobiography, an African in Africa. He said he was frustrated with the laxidasical lifestyle of Ghana, the lack of attention to times for meetings, and most interestingly, the way that Ghanaians interacted with people of a different class. For example, he said that the “upper class” Ghanaians would never interact with the lowly street worker. He said that in South Africa, things were totally different, everyone interacted with everyone despite their race, creed, income. Things down there were also a lot more fast paced and timely. He also said it was extremely difficult to date Ghanaian females because they were shy, or never invited you anywhere.
Saturday we took a day trip to Boti Falls, in the Eastern Region. We rode to Koforidua (affectionately, K’Duah) which is the capital of Eastern Region in a tro-tro which took about 3 hours. Then we waited for the metro bus to take us to Agogo, the town right outside the falls. When we arrived at the falls, we paid an entrance fee of 15,000 cedis, then we began our three hour hike. It was a nice hike through the woods to a rock called the umbrella rock. Basically it is two enormous rocks on top of each other. We climbed to the top on a rickety, slighty sketchy bamboo ladder (it wasn’t attached to the rock and it was held together by string). It was nice and relaxing on top. However, our relaxation and attempt to enjoy the climate, clean air and quiet was interrupted by a group of Muslim Drama students (therefore, its not just annoying Christians here…). When we reached the cave, the Muslim boys wanted to take our picture. It was like we were park mascots or something…they all crowded around us in a huge group. Every minute someone new would show up with a camera and get his friends to hug us or put their arms around us to take a picture. One boy even had the audacity to kiss me on the cheek and practically climb on top of me in one of the pictures (actually the picture probably ended up being me pushing the guy away from me with an extreme look of disgust). We avoided them at all costs for the rest of the trip, bypassing the areas they were visiting with our tour guide leading the way. We also saw a cool looking three headed palm tree. Then we headed to the falls, which was down a walkway with 250 steps (we tried to count but it was too much effort). The falls were really nice…there were two, a man and a woman. Legend has it that an Ashanti man came to the river and saw a woman who could braid his hair. While doing so, they fell into the river (Boti means braid in Twi, I think). The male fall was of course larger and more abundant than the woman falls. I watched as my friends frolicked in the water for a bit, then we decided to start heading back to Accra around 4.
We asked someone if the bus would be coming soon, and they said yes, so to be proactive we started walking down the empty road towards K’Duah. We walked, and walked and walked, but still no tro-tro or bus. Then, it starts thundering and the Ghanaians on the road started running down the street, right before it started to pour. We hide under a tree in front of this house, and the people in the house told us to come sit with them under the porch. They were really nice and “invited” us to their yams. They didn’t speak much English, which is a first encounter for me. So we sat and waited for the rain to let up and still no bus/tro-tro. At 5:30 we headed back down the road, and at this point it started getting dark so we found a cab who took us to the tro-tro station where we hopped on a tro-tro to Achimoto, where we had to get a cab because it was too late for tro-tros going to campus. It was a nice trip, but we did almost get stranded, haha.
Sunday was a day of luxury. It was really hot, so we headed to Shangri-La ( a hotel) to lounge by the pool. It cost 45,000 cedis to get into the pool and we stayed there from 12 until 6. We ordered a delicious pizza with mushrooms and ham (85,000 for a medium) and then decided to go to Maxmart for coffee (cappuchino 15,000) and croissants (8,000 chocolate filled). So, despite its expense, it was a good relaxing day.
Monday night we bought a watermelon (40,000 cedis, it was HUGE) and carved it. We had to eat all the watermelon inside, so not to waste, of course, so I don’t think I will want to eat watermelon ever again. Tuesday night we dressed up (I was a gangsta, Maura was a pirate, Laura was a fairy, Karen was a witch/dead/scary person, Siri was little red riding hood, Kayla was a gipsy, Ryan was Indiana Jones/murderer with two machetes, Charles was Arthur, Arthur was Arthur, Weston was a red neck, Joel was a roman/people thought he was jesus ( I am not sure why), Melinda was a bat, Ryan was a Viking woman?) and headed down to night market to liven up the spirits there. We marched around, a bunch of white people, me and a couple of Asians dressed strangely, shouting happy Halloween and passing out candy to the ladies that worked at night market. Mavis, a teenage girl who supplies us with our sweets addiction, thought I was being a “nigga” and marched around with us yelling happy Halloween. We probably freaked out a lot of people, but that was our intention I think. Then we had a bonfire in a field behind ISH and told ghost stories, or something, before heading back. There were two carved watermelon and one cocoa fruit jack-o-lanterns, which looked very nice. Karen and Siri experienced their first Halloween here in Ghana and we Americans upheld our centuries old tradition of trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat. :)
Saturday night is C.J.’s (one of our Nigerian friends) birthday, so we might be doing something fun for that. Tonight we are going to Jazz Tones for cheesecake (hopefully) and then to Aphrodiasiac (a club) for ladies night. I have two more weeks left of class, then I am heading to the North for the week of Thanksgiving, then I have exams, then I head to the Western Region, Ashanti Region and maybe Brong-Ahafo region for what has been deemed the “Whirlwind Tour.” Then it will be time to leave. Essentially, I have three weekends left in Accra, and next Saturday I am going back to Togo. Time is going by TOO quickly!