Friday, April 12, 2013

It's Ghana Be Great!

Let me start off by saying you have not experienced extreme heat until you have experienced Ghana. From the moment we stepped off the ship until the night we left port, we did not stop sweating. We ported in Takoradi on day 1 and Cassie, Lisa, Ben and I decided to go into town and check it out. We had researched a little on WikiTravel, but were disappointed to see the only thing to really do in the city was the Circle Market. Everything else was at least a two hour taxi drive out of the city, and we did not really feel like paying a lot for a cab. We got into town which was automatically an eye-opening experience. It is hard to call Takoradi a city by our standards. There are no tall buildings, no real shops, and no real roads. The ones that were paved were covered with potholes, and the rest were dirt and gravel. 

We got to the Circle Market and were immediately disappointed. Unlike most markets we have seen so far, this was strictly a local market that sold food (mostly rotten fish and fruit) along with other household items. It was really neat to walk through, but I think we were all looking to see the markets we have become accustomed to. 

We walked around for a little over an hour before deciding we should head back to the ship for lunch since there didn’t seem to be any restaurants close by. As we were waiting for a cab, a local school was having a parade and we got to watch as they marched down the street. The kids were all so excited and waving to us. It was really cute. 

We made it back to the ship in time for lunch, and most other SASers had the same idea. We swapped stories and came to an overall consensus that there wasn’t much to do in the town. I decided to stay on the ship in the afternoon with Kayla and Amanda and I was able to get some work done (Yes, it’s crazy to believe I am actually here for school and I have classwork to do.) A lot of other kids had the same idea as we did. We were up on the pool deck and Kayla went to the snack bar to look into getting come cookies. At first she was told that they didn’t make popcorn or cookies while we were in port, but when she came back they had a fresh batch. When she asked why, they said “Well, Ghana doesn’t really seem to be happening for anyone, so we’ll try to make the ship fun.” Later in the afternoon, we decided to head into town and find an ATM so we could get some local currency. We walked from the port to the first ATM we saw and were back on the ship in a little under 2 hours. We immediately sat under the AC because it had gotten even hotter since we last ventured out. 
The next day, we had an early wake up because I (and 45 other SASers) had booked a trip through Can Do Land Tours which has been popular in past voyages. We left the ship at 7 and were picked up in port. We drove for 2 hours until we reached the Ivory Coast where the slave castles were. We toured one  castle for about 3 hours before hopping back on the bus and heading to lunch. After lunch, we drove another 3 hours to the capital city, Accra. We went to the #1 handicraft market in Ghana which turned into a nightmare. 

We were given 45 minutes to shop around and we were some of the last people left in the building. Since it was getting close to closing time, the sellers were really trying to get us into their shops. This was the first port where we were being physically pulled in different directions and bombarded by 6 or 7 people at once. Kayla and I made a successful purchase of some tribal print backpacks, but it was not before we put up a good fight. At first, bargaining was so much fun. It was such a game to see the lowest price you could negotiate and what the best deals were. However, at this point in our trip, we were all so tired of all the hassle that it was difficult to motivate yourself to get a good deal. When we finally got the backpacks down from 85 cedis to 25, we decided that was enough and gave in (I knew we could have gotten them cheaper and in fact, saw later on that I could have gone even lower). We walked around a little more and I made a friend named Joseph who was a drum maker. I liked him a lot because he wasn’t trying to sell us anything; he was just happy we were touring Ghana. We went into his shop and he and his friends played us a really cool song on their drums. It was then time to go, but not before Joseph taught me how to “properly greet my brothers and sisters.” It’s a handshake where you snap each other’s fingers at the end, and it took me a really long time to finally get it right. 

We then drove to our guide’s house for dinner. His mom had cooked us Red-Red, a traditional Ghanaian dish with fried plantains, red beans and peppers.  Had I been more of a banana person, I would have really enjoyed it, but since I’m not I was not a huge fan. It was a hit with everyone else though, and Kayla ended up having 8 of them!  After dinner, we drove to our hostel to check in. We stayed at the Salvation Army Hostel which was possibly the sketchiest place I’ve stayed so far (and that says a lot.) We had a room that was meant for 4 and shoved 5 more dirty lawn chair cushions on the floor to accommodate. The toilet didn’t work and the door did not fully close shut. We were lucky enough to have a fan, however, which meant we could at least sweat a little less than we had been.

We went out to get some Ghanaian ice cream which is famous for good reason. It was delicious! Then we came back to the hostel and got caught in a thunderstorm. (This was a blessing and actually turned into our shower -- I know, gross) The next morning, we woke up bright and early to drive 2 more hours to the largest man-made lake for brunch. Then we drove another 3 hours to the Will Waterfall, the tallest in West Africa. It was amazing and was actually the first time in Ghana I felt comfortable and was not unbelievably hot. In the waterfall, we actually did shower (yup, soap and all).

After the waterfall, we drove to the Tafi Village where we were introduced to our hosts. I was in a house with 9 other SASers, and we ended up being in the chief’s house.  By the time we arrived at the village, it was dark out and they had no electricity. We were led through the village by flashlights, and given a tour of our home. In my family, they had 7 children who were all very excited we were there. They had a separate room for us to stay in. We had the same equivalent to the dirty lawn chair cushion to sleep on, but we were one of the lucky groups who got a fan. After we settled in, we went to the main house where they cooked us dinner: rice, noodles and hard boiled eggs. After dinner, we went to a drumming circle where the eldest man in the village told us legends of the lion and the monkey. It was difficult to understand, but very cool nonetheless. After the story, they danced for us and invited us to join. I had made friends with a girl who was also named Sarah. She was 15 and clung to me as soon as she heard my name was the same as hers. At the end of the night, she told me not to move and she ran away. Seconds later, she came back with her rosary. She told me I was to wear it at night because it would protect me. In return, I gave her a bracelet I had gotten from Cambodia. 

The next morning, we woke up early to see the monkeys in the surrounding forest. We had a chance to feed them some bananas before coming back to the village for breakfast. After breakfast, we went to the village school and played with the children. A lot of people in the group had pencils, stickers, soccer balls, and other gifts for the children. After they were passed out, we were able to play with them. One thing that irritated me was these children had begun to associate white people with free gifts, so even after everything was passed out, I had children coming up to me asking if I had things for them. Nevertheless, it was an incredible morning playing with the kids who ranged from 2-16 years old.

 When it was time to finally go, we were all exhausted and ready for a 4 hour drive back to Tema where the ship was now docked (it changed ports while we were traveling overland) Tired and disgusting, we all stayed on the ship that night and watched Perks of Being a Wallflower

The last day in port, Kayla, Cassie and I took the free shuttle into Accra which was an hour away. We walked around the city a little before going to Global Mamas, an NPO that reminded me a lot of 10,000 Villages because the proceeds go right to the women who make the hand goods. After that, we went to a local African cuisine restaurant where I ended up getting some weird goat stew and spicy rice. Following lunch, we hopped on the shuttle and came back to the ship. In front of the ship, vendors had set up tents and were trying to sell things. Because we didn’t have any more local currency, we ran back on the ship and picked up some odds and ends we would try to trade with. I brought out some T-shirts, old sneakers, a pair of Toms and a deck of cards and was able to trade for a few random things. These were items I had planned on giving away at some point anyway, so this wasn’t a loss. 

I have mixed feelings about Ghana. On the one hand, I did not like the “city life” at all. The people were rude and pushy, and there really was not much to do. On the other hand, I loved the homestay and the people who lived outside of the village. I hope to come back one day and spend more time with the people and have more time to explore this awesome country. 


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