We’re here! And reeling. First impressions of Ghana:
Stepping out of the airport into a wall of wet heat. People wanting to help with our bags. They smile and speak English but it is very hard to understand the Ghanaian accent. Later (once we get to the north of the country) I listen to Mike talking to people on his cell phone, articulating very carefully: ‘How many minutes will it take you to get here?’ They ARE speaking English but it doesn’t always sound that way.
Our hotel in Accra is spectacular by Ghanaian standards …we have air conditioning and hot water, a bedroom and sitting room and a deck that looks out over grass, then sand and the ocean. The lighting is exceedingly dim (low wattage harsh white LED light bulbs makes it almost impossible to read and casts a gloomy prison cell like gloom over the rooms, but hey. Even during the day it is very dim – probably in an effort to keep the heat out.) The hotel is supposedly modeled on an ‘African village” with separate little cabins and winding walkways. The open air restaurant has fans that the waiters direct at your table once you’re seated and they provide a candle for the table.
We drink beer out of big quart bottles, eat Joloff rice and feel we have arrived.
Next day I take a walk along the beach before Jay wakes and see small armies of people in yellow outfits cleaning the beach, a group of one-legged young men running with crutches, and lots of sand-coloured crabs scrabbling about. They dive deep into the sand whenever I get near. Of course virtually everyone is black and I feel horribly conspicuous. They are very friendly – though I still struggle to understand what they’re saying.
In the afternoon, after cooling down in the dim room, we take a taxi into Accra proper – to Oxford Street in Usu (the hub). I haggle with the taxi driver, carefully obeying the guidebook instruction to negotiate the fare before departure. He wants 7 cedis (about $5) I say firmly ‘5’. He says :’Get in.’ I’m very proud of myself.
The city is like one huge market-cum-shantytown. People hawking their wares EVERYWHERE, streets packed. Huge deep gutters (18 inches deep) which we assume are to catch the rainwater during the torrents of rainy season. We watch the ground carefully. As there are no sidewalks proper and the traffic is wild, it would be easy to break an ankle or a leg with a misstep. While people do try to sell us things (and we buy a mango and pineapple) they don’t harass us in the ay we’ve experienced in the Caribbean for instance.)
It is HOT. We feel a bit dizzy and breathless from the heat, duck into an Indian restaurant we read about in the guidebook. It has AC but still feels warm after the initial relief. The food is fabulous.
That night, our last in Accra, ee eat at the hotel restaurant again. I order a dish called Beans and fried yams and ask if it comes with rice (for some reason I seem very desirous of rice). The waiter nods and seems to say yes, but when the food arrives there is a dish of rather dull beans, a plate of french-fried yams (delicious) and a bowl of rice. Excessive starch. Jay gets excited to see wine on the menu (we’ve heard it is unavailable in Ghana) but when he orders, well, it is unavailable. Waiting for our meal we see a small rodent-like creature running up the wall by the window to the kitchen and wonder what exotic African species this might be. It’s a rat, soon joined in its frolics by another. The German couple at the table nearby joke ‘I wonder what was in my burger?’
The next morning we’re in a taxi at 5:45 heading to the bus station. We have our tickets for the 12 hour bus ride to Tamale (in the north, Mike’s home) courtesy of Robin, a lovely EWB colleague of Mike’s ho bought the tickets and met us at the airport on our arrival to deliver them (a drag for her as our plane was 3 hours late.) At the bus station we meet another EWBer, Lauren. She is the only other white person catching the bus, so it isn’t hard to identify each other.
The bus is air conditioned, seats comfortable. The first two hours we’re on a horrible unpaved road careening around other vehicles. Music BLARES – truly awful am radio, sometimes music, sometimes what sounds like a football game sportscaster. When the radio reception fades, on come Nollywood films on the screen at the front of the bus, blaring again. We bump., bounce, rattle over potholes , the huge bus careening into the oncoming lane while travelling uphill. Two hours in, a woman on the bus shouts ‘Driver, need a bathroom soon.’ I think this sounds good, but the bus just pulls over, a pile of people hustle out, squat or stand by the side of the road. There are a few bathroom stops, where you pay to use dubious facilities – the highlight being late afternoon in the middle of an unexpected downpour (its supposed to be the dry season) – when we have our last official bathroom break and alas I want one. Off I get in the pouring rain, gutters overflowing. I cross planks over the gutters and head off, on vague directions between shacks to an open air urinal – not a pretty picture!
Blown away by the garbage everywhere – plastic refuse lining the roads, piled everywhere. Also the endless shantytown, corrugated tin roofs – it ALL looks like Mumbai in Slumdog Millionaire. Women with HUGE baskets or bags balanced on their heads standing on the centre line of the highway, reaching up to sell things to the passengers at stoplights . As get further north the heavy jungle-like vegetation changes to grasslands, though still lots of tall trees. Goats and chickens and cows all over. Jay sees a truck with a whole herd of goats on top, held in place by netting. We also see a truck with people sitting all over the roof. People, poverty, and so much rubbish everywhere.
Amazingly (according to everyone) we arrive on time after 12 bone-rattling, deafening hours and finally meet up with Mike and Hannah. It is a joy to see their faces in the darkness of the wildly crowded Tamale street outside the bus station. Of course the power if off at our hotel, but the food (ordered several hours in advance) is ready and delicious – though with no fans – it’s HOT.
But we feel we’re really here now.