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!


Karen said...

Oh, Justine, your blogs are so long, I don't bother to read it all... Haha, just kidding! Love your blog cause then I don't need to write my own journal! now i'm going to the water conference to see if the mouse from yesterday has left the conferance room. Hope your ADD is getting better ;)

Anna said...

Hi Justine,
That was fun reading and the pics are great!

How can you say you don't like writing when you write so well and have such long blogs? Political journalism would surely be right up your alley.

I really enjoy the blogs no matter the length or the content...keep'em coming.