Fufu, coffins and the High Life

Trip Start Jun 02, 2003
Trip End Dec 31, 2006

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Flag of Ghana  ,
Sunday, September 12, 2004

Today is Sunday, and everything is closed except for Busy Internet, the greatest internet place in West Africa, I am sure. I have been in this incredible country for one week, but good things must come to an end. Alas, I must return tomorrow. I am afraid I am going to go through culture shock all over again! Don't get me wrong. Benin is wonderful! But, Accra (except for the open sewers) is a little bit like going home.

Kelley and I traveled through pouring rain from Lokossa to the Togo-Ghana border last Monday, getting drenched as we walked across the borders. Finally, the rain stopped when we arrived in Ghana. A good sign, no?

ATTENTION: The following information may freak some of you out, but don't worry. Things are different here. Okay, warning out of the way...

So Kelley and I, poor Peace Corps volunteers that we are, decided to try to hitchhike to Accra from the border. Volunteers regularly do this in Benin with no problem. In fact, I once got a ride in one of the Minister of Justice's SUVs. Hitchhiking in West Africa is very different because you can truly be selective about the cars you get into (ie. choose NGO SUVs (they all have logos on their cars) with TRAINED and SAFE drivers and air conditioning). Plus, getting in a bush taxi is practically the same thing as hitchhiking, and we have to do that all the time. Why not try to get a free ride in a car with AC and your own seat. Note also that Kelley had pepper spray with her, so had some fluke thing happened, we would have been able to use that. Neither one of us would EVER hitchhike anywhere else in the world!!!

Anyway, Kelley and I managed to get a ride with a really nice and very Christian Nigerian man named Fred who drove a red volvo. We got there just fine, but soon after we checked into the Salvation Army, Kelley realized that she had left her passport in the car. (We sometimes had to take them out at police checkpoints.) This would have completely ruined our vacation, and we had to figure out a way to get it back. Several trips to various police headquarters later, we created our plan of action. We knew that Fred would be going back to Nigeria the next day, so we decided that the best way to get it back would be to wait at the first police checkpoint just outside of Accra and hope that he would indeed be passing by sometime that day.

We woke up at what we already thought of as before the crack of dawn - 5:00 a.m. Later, we realized that we had forgotten about the time change. We really got up at 4:00 a.m.! We found a taxi that drove us out to the first police checkpoint (quite far out of Accra), and there we sat. We passed the time by playing cards and chatting with the rifle-toting policemen and women. The sun was starting to change directions, and our patience began wearing thin, our panic slowly mounting. Then, at around 10:30 a.m., off in the distance, we see a familiar-looking red volvo pulling over to talk to the policewoman. We run up to the car with huge smiles on our faces and began to thank Fred profusely. He said that he had been all over Accra looking for us. He had gone to several tro-tro stations hoping to find us, and if you have ever been to Accra before, you can truly understand what kind of sacrifice this is! Tro-tro parks are absolutely hellish! Fred had stopped at the checkpoint thinking he would leave the passport and ID there with the police in hopes that we would come by. We couldn't believe our luck! We got his address so we could send him a thank you note, and then we, with the help of the policeofficers, hitched a ride back into Accra. Kelley kept a closer watch on her documents from then on.

We had a fabulous time enjoying the "good life" in Accra. We ate good food (have you ever had Ethiopian? Try it!). We bought cool jewelry. We wandered the streets and markets. Then, we decided to head on to Kumasi.

No hitchhiking this time, as getting a ride out of Accra would be too difficult do to the traffic. We stuffed ourselves into a tro-tro and tried to enjoy the ride. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking: forested green hills and rocky cliffs sprinkled with tall trees. We got out of the taxi on the outskirts of Kumasi and headed to the Peace Corps hostel where we would spend the night. It was incredible! A house worthy of a mention in Architectural Digest! We wondered what happened when Benin selected their hostels! After a good meal, we hit the sack in order to have energy for the next day.

Kumasi is one of the larger cities in Ghana, and it boasts what is supposedly the largest outdoor market in all of West Africa. Kelley and I certainly agree that it was enormous! We gazed out at the large expanse of ten roofs and decided to explore its depths a little later. First, to the artisanal center which was surprisingly calm and peaceful in comparison to the one in Cotonou. It is situated on beautiful grounds with green grass and several buildings. It feels like a small college campus. The center is not just for tourists. It also has a library and a theatre. In addition to browsing in various shops, some quite chi-chi, we watched as weavers passed the shuttle through the threads of giant looms and created Ghana's famous kente cloth. We saw sculpters chip away at enormous blocks of wood as they created gigantesque drums and statues. We learned about making bronze statues and saw the different molds used in the elaborate process. We debated over whether or not to buy drums unique to Ghana and spend the afternoon taking a drumming lesson. We decided against it but thought about coming back to do it during the Christmas break.

After a relaxing lunch of Ghana's incredible street food - fried rice, we headed down the hill to brave the market. We got lost in its depths quite quickly. The market really wasn't much different from any other market we had seen in West Africa except in the scale. Kelley had bought a Jesus picture earlier in the day as a gift for her host family, and it was quite a hit in the market. We found ourselves being called over to chat with several marche mamas who wanted to take a picture with the Jesus. We "bonded" with them over Jesus and then moved on. We were ready to go home. To the tro-tro station, one of the worst I have been to! We waited for hours, and at one point, Kelley, to the horror of the Ghanaians standing around us, couldn't take it anymore and sat down on the dirty ground. I wanted to do the same but was worried about messing up my new sarong. Kelley offered Jesus as my savior, so I set it on the ground and gingerly plopped my butt on top of it (forgive me, Lord). This, I think, literally brought gasps from our onlookers, especially when we heard a resounding crack. I wonder how many of the Ghanaians surrounding us prayed for my salvation for breaking Jesus's frame. Of course, not much later, the tro-tro showed up. By this time, it was night. We got on, drove around a few blocks, and then, the tro-tro decided to stop for some repairs. Kelley and I had had enough by this point, and we weren't the only ones! We flagged down a taxi with a nice young man who had been sort of taking care of us up till then by making sure we got in the right tro-tro, etc. He stayed with us in taxi all the way to the hostel to make sure that we found it alright! Ghanaians surely do go out of their way to help people!

The hostel has a one night only policy, so we had to gather our stuff and trek to a nearby cheap hotel where we spent the night on a mattress we had pulled onto the floor because the bed frame was so awful. The floor wasn't much better! It slanted so much that my stomach muscles were bordering on being sore the next morning from trying not to fall off all night!

The next day, at the advice of the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader in Kumasi, we decide to try our luck with hitching again. And what luck we had! We got in an air-conditioned SUV driven by Jacob, an incredibly wonderful Ghanaian. Jacob, Kelley, and I talked the entire way to Accra, solving the world's problems, West Africa's problems in particular. He invited us to meet his wife and children, and we made plans to go to his house for lunch a couple of days later. He took us out to lunch and then dropped us off at our hotel.

Over the weekend, we explored a bit more of Accra. We went to the wacky coffin place! Here, sculpters create coffins to order, but they are not ordinary coffins. Oh, no! They are works of art! They shape the coffins to fit the customer's personality or profession. For example, a fisherman might be buried in a coffin shaped like a giant fish. A pilot might have a plane. A drunk (or a bartender), a bottle of beer. Kelley and I selected a couple of coffins and posed inside of them for some pictures. That night, we headed to a hip bar/restaurant on the beach called Next Door and listened and danced to Ghanaian High Life music with some friends we had met the night before.

The following day, Jacob picked us up and took us to his house, but first, we stopped by to see his new house that wasn't quite yet finished. It was gorgeous, and he showed us the guest room we could stay in if we decided to come back for Christmas. When we arrived, his wife Hilda and his baby girl were there to greet us. Hilda had made us a traditional Ghanaian dish that is sort of like pounded yams called Fufu. It is pounded plaintains and cassava. She had made us vegetarian groundnut sauce, too! It was delicious! Afterwards, we went to pick up the 7-year-old Jacobelle from a birthday party. It was so strange to see little kids playing and singing Happy Birthday like in the States! Jacobelle is just like an American child who grows up in a middle to upper class household. She has tons of toys (she's spoiled), and she is very bright. Her parents encourage her to read. So rare to see all this in an African girl. Of course, she has spent quite a bit of time in England as well. Jacob and his family are VERY well-off, though, especially by African standards. Jacobelle speaks with a British accent when she speaks to white people, and then she will lapse back into a Ghanaian accent when speaking to her friends. That night before leaving, a man and his wife came by. Jacob told us that the man was the brother (or some sort of close relative) of the President of Ghana! The man told Jacob to call us if we came back so he could invite us over. Who knows?! I might meet the President of Ghana next time!

Jacobelle didn't want us to leave and begged us to stay for a couple more weeks. She cried when we left. We have been invited back for Christmas, and I think we might go. All good things must come to an end, though, and the next day, Kelley and I had one last cappucino, bought a few more souvenirs, and then climbed into another tro-tro and made our way back to Benin.

We had something good to look forward to, though.... Niger was waiting.
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