Leaving Ghana was in many ways a relief – no more din, rubbish, red dirt, sweat or uncertainty about whether the water or electricity would work. Still the experience lingers and I find myself remembering:
Waking with first light at 6AM, finally cool after a night with AC blasting. Stepping outside and feeling the velvety warm air, not yet scorching but soft and heavy with the promise of heat. Cocks crowing, goats munching.
The roads: red dust rising, taxis & tro tros blaring horns, women walking, standing, crouching, cooking, selling, carrying massive loads effortlessly on their heads (glass boxes of pastries, snacks, drinks; huge bowls of mangoes, apples, bananas; piles of firewood; bolts of cloth – you name it.) Women in stunning dresses, with mermaid style skirts and ruffled necklines in brilliant colours and patterns, often with babies tied to their backs.
The stalls lining every road, selling everything you can imagine, with names that made us laugh: Messiah Phones, God Our Redeemer Store, By God’s Grace, Blood of Jesus Bicycle Workshop, God First Saloon (a hairdressing salon) , Abundant Grace, God is Present Retail & Wholesale, God’s Signature No Eraser Ent.
In the south tons and tons of churches, of every denomination, with prayer meetings held outdoors in tents & huge billboards advertising 3-day Celebration Explosions. Preachers jump on the tros and hold forth at length, irritating us, but not the other passengers who dash (tip) them. Even the awful films shown on the buses are religious in theme. In the north we see mosques, incongruous brightly coloured buildings (pink, blue, green or white) with minarets nestled among the round mud huts. Restless in the night we hear the call to prayer. Yet there doesn’t seem to be any conflict between Muslims and Christians. There are churches in the north and mosques in the south.
At Mole National Park, waiting for our walking safari to depart at 7AM, we are approached by a teacher, leading a school tour. The students want their pictures taken with us, he explains (we are, at this point, the only white people in view.) We pose with each student, while the teacher takes the pictures. Then we get a group shot. The girls are thrilled and start to quiz us about our lives. They throng around Jay, wanting to marry him. They ask me about my children. “How many?” “What are their names?” Then “I’ll take Mike!” “I’ll take Jamie!”
Life revolves around arranging transportation. It is too hot to walk anywhere and much thought goes into deciding whether to walk the relatively short distance to the road to get a shared taxi for 70 pesewas (50 cents) a person or to call a dropping taxi (which might cost 3 cedis – $2.) In Tamale we always call Azuma. His taxi is a piece of rattling junk, requires litres of water every day and at one point is at the mechanics, but when we call, he always comes – even if he has to borrow a car or get a friend to pick us up. He charges so little it is difficult to believe he can make a living. Mike and Hannah are amazed, but in Ghana if you get a deal and have a reliable taxi driver, you take advantage. When we go to Mole, Azuma sighs. “I would like to go with you, to see the elephants.” While we’re away he texts us, wishing us a safe journey. On our return we show him pictures of the elephants. When we’re in Aburi, he calls me, to see how we are doing.
The food! It never ceased to amaze me that portions in Ghana are so huge. Lots of stodge: fried rice, plain rice, Joloff rice, fried yam chips (like French Fries, but pale yellow yams) French fries, rice balls, banku, fufu,T-zed (these last all variations of mushy maize.) Grilled chicken and fish, shredded beef, curries, groundnut (peanut) soup – rich and spicy, red-red (fiery bean stew) with fried plantain. Surprisingly, quite good pasta. Everything comes in heaping servings. I could eat for an hour and the plate still looked full when I had to stop. Weird bread – always white, sometimes a bit sweet, utterly bland. Big avocadoes, mangos, pineapple, pawpaw (papaya). Cabbage and tomato salads. Lipton tea bags and instant nescafé and Milo (hot chocolate) packets as the only breakfast options. Big quart bottles of beer, made in Ghana: Club, Star, Castle and Guldner. Castlebridge gin satchets (small plastic bags holding a “tot” of gin each.) Pure water satchets, available every where.
Much hand washing – bit Lady Macbeth-like. We all carry hand sanitizer and rush to wash hands before eating. For many dishes, meant to be eaten with fingers (like Banku), waiters bring basins of water and soap to the table so we can wash prior to eating.
Endless sunscreen and bug spray. My skin still feels permeated. Ironically I got a sunburn after leaving Ghana – in England. While in Ghana we didn’t dare venture out without sunscreen, hats etc. Mosquito nets! Jay rigged them in every room, then we fought with them all night, wanting to be cocooned but not tangled in the bloody things. I did get a few bites, but I don’t think from mosquitoes. Still we were pretty paranoid about that.
The lilting English, difficult to understand at first, but soon addictive. With questions, the voice drops at the end rather than rising. “Are YOU fine?” “Yes, please.” Odd turns of phrase. “Are you having everything on the menu?” “I’ll take the chicken.” “May I snap you?” (take your picture) “Dash (tip) him.” Consonants carefully articulated. “How many minuTes will iT Take you to get here?” (to Azuma!) “They are greeTing you as well.”
Gorgeous sunsets by the ocean, lush green rainforests, mountains, savannah, fishing villages, hilltop gardens and spectacular views. Many many outdoor restaurants with overhead fans and long cool drinks.
Above all, absolutely magical times with Mike and Hannah. Such a treat to have so much time with them, wandering, figuring out the next taxi, meal, ATM, shopping spree, playing dice, collapsing in the hotel AC. They took such good care of us, making phone calls & reservations, negotiating with taxi and tro drivers, arranging airplane tickets, providing us with instructions about where & how to go, what to pay, eat & see. Spending time with them gave us a real glimpse into the culture. We were like the kids, blundering around in ignorance while they watched out for us, hauled us out of traffic, intervened if someone was being unfair. “Don’t speak to these guys, they’ll just continue to harass you,” says Mike as we approach Elmina Castle. I follow the instructions, but Jay doesn’t hear them and is friendly as usual. Sure enough when we emerge after our tour, his “friend” is there having created a souvenir for Jay – a shell with his name on it… He offers us tours, etc – they all do. Mike and Hannah steer us through these dangerous waters. I watch Mike simply ignore people who approach him. He chooses his moment or person, negotiates quietly, gets what he wants. He is also often very warm. “How are you, my friend? Are YOU fine?” “How much will you charge to go to…” “Ah no, that is too much. I will pay…” Then he slips into Dagbani and receives wide smiles in response.
I realize how rare it is to spend a chunk of time with one’s grown children, to go on adventures with them. When I dream these days, I am back in Ghana, sitting under the broad ceiling fans in Mike and Hannah’s big open main room, drinking water and giving careful consideration about whether to head out into the torrid heat to have lunch at Desert Rose, where we will be the only people and the food must be ordered two hours in advance. And we will laugh and the children will point and leap about shouting “Salaminga, Bye bye!”