Sunday, April 7, 2013

10 Ghanaian nights

D and I just took a vacation to Ghana.  These are some of my thoughts about it.  Describing my trip day by day would be boring for both you and me.  Especially since some days all we did was lay in air conditioned hotel rooms while we played around on fast Wi-Fi and debated which restaurants we were going to try next. 
We spent a couple nights in Kumasi, the former capitol of the Asante kingdom, many more nights in Cape Coast, former trading town and seat of the British Gold Coast administration, and a couple in Accra.  I went to a movie in a real movie theater for the first time in like 3 years.  And we ate real mexican food.  These were both amazing.

How to compare Ghana to Togo?  Or rather Lome to Accra?  In Lome there are sandy roads.  In Accra there are billboards advertising, and stores selling, iphone 5s and those new laptops that are half tablet.  And no sandy roads that I saw. 

Over the course of my Peace Corps service I have, on occasion, found myself thinking about slavery, and the slave trade, that used to be endemic to this area.  My area in Togo is on the border of what used to be the Asante kingdom and was probably once rife with slave raiders. This might actually be why the Konkumba developed a reputation as being really good with bows, but that’s beside the point.  Anyway, when we went to Ghana we went to the Cape Coast and Elamina castles—two prominent slave trading fortresses on the coast where the British, Portuguese, Swedes, and Dutch discovered that there was more wealth to be found in humans on the Gold Coast than from minerals.  The dank dungeons under Cape Coast castle are one of the creepiest places I have ever been in my life.  Something like 2 million africans are estimated to have passed through, either living or dead, the castle, including Michele Obama’s ancestors.  Slightly less dark, but even more soul-chilling are the “condemned” cells, where rebellious slaves were chained up in the dark, without food or water, until they died as a warning to others.   

It was interesting going to Kumasi and seeing the seat of the Asante kingdom, which, at during its heyday, had a population comparable to that of the US at the same time.  Togo doesn’t have history like that.  But the juxtaposition between Kumasi and Cape Coast is cool.   

The power goes out in Ghana too, just like in Togo.  This similarity could be due to the fact that Togo buys a lot of its power from Ghana.

The food in Ghana is awesome. We ate a lot of good vegetarian food, as well as the odd cheeseburger, well at least I did.  The food in Cape Coast was great.  There is this string of little vegetarian Rasta eateries there. Awesome food.  We also got some seafood pizzas to satisfy D’s lobster craving. 

I think I have mentioned before about hanging out with lots of Volunteers eventually stresses me out.  Ghana, at least where we were, is crawling with tourists and expats.  This took me awhile to adjust to.  I found myself wanting to whisper when we went to restaurants with bunches of loud british tourists near us. 

Ghana where you can walk down nice roads but you gotta watch out to keep from falling into the stinking gutter along those roads.

This being said, one of the coolest things that happened to us involved an expat.  We were eating out our final night in Accra at a pizza place. We’d gotten a bottle of a nice shiraz with our seafood pizza.  There was this expat guy sitting facing us.  I’d noticed him when we sat down, but I didn’t think anything about it.  Anyway, we were engaged in an animated discussion about Shakespeare when this expat dropped a card on our table on his way out.  Basically, the card said “enjoy the wine.” Our waitress came over looking bemused and said that he’d paid for our wine—it actually cost as much as our pizza.  She was really bemused when we told her we had no idea who he was.  Finally she decided “oh, he must know your father.”  Sure.  But, it was really cool. 

Another cool thing we did was to visit this national park near Cape Coast.  This park's claim to fame is an suspended walkway above the forest canopy.  This walkway is 30-40 meters above the ground is suspended between trees.  The trees much taller. Once I got over the swaying walkway--it is basically aluminum planks suspended in netting-- I was amazed.  Being 100+ feet in the air didnt really bother me too much because you cant really see the ground through the canopy.  That park is one of the few remaining bit of old growth forest in Ghana.  The place must have been incredible before before it was logged off.

I never thought that I would miss bad roads until I went to Ghana.  Ghanaians drive like accidents are something that happen to other people.  Always.  Despite evidence to the contrary.  West Africans generally view the future as something that may or may not happen later, as opposed to something that could be a certainty.   Accidents on Togolese roads are usually turned over/burned out vans and trucks, or old cars.  Ghanaian accidents involve newer cars in head on collisions.  On one curve I counted 3 wrecked cars in as many kilometers.  We went by signs saying “slow down! 4 people died here!” In Togo, speed limit postings are something to aspire to.  In Ghana they are like crappy Christmas tree ornaments that you hang up out of sentimental value and pretend like they don’t exist.  Passing is considered to be a civic duty.  Tailgating is patriotic. Crumpled wrecks along the road are the remains of drivers who did not pass enough.  Lanes are something you share, grudgingly.  Ghanaian drivers wear seat belts.  But these not viewed as restraining devices.  Rather they are a divine commandment from God Herself saying that He will not allow harm to befall the wearer.  Every little town on a main road deploys a legion of car-sized speed bumps to arrest the progress of blistering traffic.  The only other thing drivers stop for are police check points. Of which there is a surfeit.  One driver we had yelled at other drivers for not going through roundabouts right—then he tailgated people at 130 kph before he passed them and then cut them off.   

The vacation was really fun, but I am glad to be home again.  Here, I have my secret language, I know how much stuff is supposed to cost, and people treat me as an oddity, not as a tourist.

But, go to Ghana some day. Seriously.

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