Ghana was so incredible! I ended up traveling with 4 guys, which is what I prefer (no girls equals no complaining and stopping to shop/eat/pee every five minutes...) Anyway, we got off the ship in Takoradi, and took the SAS shuttle into town to go to an ATM... after we left the bank, there was this group of about 100 boys and girls in a marching band, and the smaller kids were dancing in the back... a woman and a kid grabbed my hands and pulled us into the dance, and next thing we knew we were in the middle of a Ghanian wedding! We didn't stay for the actual ceremony, but we got to talk with the kids... not bad for our first experience in Ghana! I gave one girl my "United Against Malaria" bracelet that I had bought in South Africa, and she acted as if I had handed her the most valuable object in the world We kept walking, and made it to a bus stop. Our plan was to just get on the first bus north, but the locals told us to go to the national park because it was cool and not very tourist-y, which is pretty much what we were looking for. So we crammed 5 people in a car meant for 4, with no AC on a 90 degree day for an hour-long journey to the national park... I'm surprised we weren't floating in the car by the time we got there Anyway, by the time we got to the national park, it was closed for the day. So we walked across the street where we had seen a restaurant, and asked them what to do because our taxi had already left. They recommended the "Monkey Forest", about 3 km down the road. The owner was a man from Holland and his wife, and they welcomed us with open arms. They were Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle Snackbar, and their home was literally swarming with animals of every kind. There were hundreds (maybe thousands!) of birds in the trees making those round cocoon-nests that you see on Animal Planet, kittens wandering and mewing, and Mrs. Snackbar herself was holding a little monkey as if he were her own child. It was getting close to six pm and we still had not eaten, so they told us to walk around for a bit while Mr. Snackbar went to go to the market for meat for kabobs. I heard he was going to get rice as well, and I figured that plus whatever veggies from the kabobs would make a good enough meal. Anyway, we walked further down the main road into the middle of a small village. Romain started playing futball (soccer) with the older kids while Rian and Kash and Michael went into a store to look for anything to supplement our meal. I played hide and go seek with the younger kids, who I'm pretty sure had never seen a white person other than their Dutch neighbors. It was getting dark, and we were invited in to someone's home for a drink that is traditionally used at funerals... not surprising, because this stuff was stronger [and fouler!] than moonshine. I didn't drink much because I wanted to be cautious, as it was already dark and we still had to remember how to navigate the uneven roads back to the monkey farm. We eventually made it back just as Mr. Snackbar finished preparing the kabobs for us to bring up the mountain to our campsite to cook. Yes - we carried food, drink, and five mats up a mountain to camp under the stars... so cool! We put our stuff down and the boys tried to make a fire but didn't know what the hell they were doing... I stepped in and made a beautiful fire, no lighter fluid required (thank you Daddy! :D ) Anyway, there was no rice but there was bread so I had a few pieces of toast and the veggies from some of their kabobs for dinner. We sat and drank around the fire after dinner, watching the stars and the heat-lightning flash in the distance. So amazing. There were bugs and lizards and God knows what else all around us, and I'd never felt more grounded with nature. I felt that mother nature had swallowed us, and we were in her stomach... a little bit gross, but very humbling at the same time. Anyway, I didn't sleep very well because I was hot half the night and cold the other half, and the religious convent down the road began their morning worship (broadcast on loudspeakers for anyone within a 10 km radius) at 0530... lovely.
Anyway, that was the first day... the next day we got up, packed up everything from the night before, and hiked down the mountain for breakfast: egg omelet with toast and tea. None of the food portions in Ghana were very large, but at least I wasn't hungry anymore. Anyway, we grabbed a tro tro (van-taxi meant for long distances) to take us to Cape Point, where we would grab a bus to Accra and meet the ship later. We tried to find an ATM in Cape Point, and while the boys were at the ATM I went to a restaurant next door to ask if they had a bathroom. I've learned that the word 'toilet' conveys the meaning of what I want to do best (better than bathroom or restroom), but its even stranger in Ghana... a toilet functions for both pee and poop, but some places only have a place for pee... its literally a hole in the ground that cannot accommodate solid waste. There were about 10 men in this restaurant, and I didn't know about the toilet situation, so some of them were telling me that there was a toilet, and some were saying that there was not... then they were asking me if I had to poop or pee, and the lady in me was still taken aback by such a personal question; even after visiting so many foreign countries where this subject is more openly discussed than in America, I'm still not comfortable discussing it with people, especially with strange men. Anyway, I was about to convey that I had to pee when one of the men asked if I was alone or if I was with someone, at which point my security went into overdrive. I immediately started looking for my guys, who I was grateful to see were gathered outside and were on their way into the restaurant. They saw me, and I felt better about going to the 'urinal' that was around the corner. [The whole point of that story was that we became good friends later with the guys in the restaurant - which was actually a bar owned by the uncle of one of the men- and we had a good laugh about where and how we met...] anyway, when I finished peeing I came out to see that everyone was talking and laughing, and I joined in a discussion with Romain and a Ghanian named 'Secretary', who was discussing his job as a social worker. His day job involves working with abused kids, but he also works with "Female Sex Workers" and "Men having Sex with Men" to educate them about HIV prevention, etc. I learned that Ghanians are very homophobic... more on how that affected me later. After talking for about half an hour, the guys invited us to a place called 'Banana House', which is where they run their organization for homeless people. We piled into their van, and drove for half an hour to the Banana house. The house was a collection of concrete walls held together by sheet metal roofing... definitely a cool place to hang out we were introduced to two German students who were crashing there, and then were given a tour of the rest of the house, including their chicken house with over 200 hens that lay eggs for the homeless. After that we were introduced to Johnny, the leader of the organization. He also happened to be a musician, and we had a jam session with him and the rest of the men for about an hour... There was Johnny and Secretary, plus Moonshine, Sunshine, President, and Papa... definitely the most interesting and friendly group of people I've met Moonshine taught me how to play a rhythm on the drums, and Kash was playing something that looked like a hard, hollow eggplant wrapped in beads (you slapped the beads against the 'eggplant' to make a sound); Michael was playing the xylophone (he goes to Cornell and plays a variety of obscure instruments), and Johnny was playing the guitar and singing about freedom... oh, did I mention that they were Rastafarians and were chain-smoking weed and tobacco like it /wasn't/ illegal?!?! I felt so out of place, yet so welcome at the same time... I loved it! After they realized that we were musically inclined, the music literally did not stop for the 48 hours that we hung out with these guys.... they even brought instruments in the van so we could play while traveling to the next place we would play music! Papa then invited us to go to his house to meet his wife and the six puppies that his dogs (named Peace and Love) had two weeks ago... we had our first Ghanian meal (a fish and tomato based soup with rice) and hopped in the van to Papa's house. Papa was about 35 years old, but his wife, a Norwegian woman named Grete, was closer to 60. She was so nice and welcoming to us - we dubbed her our "Ghanian Mom" We sat and talked on their porch for several hours, just enjoying the breeze and each others' company After that we hopped back in the van to go to a cocoa farm - cocoa is one of Ghana's main exports, and is a 'free trade product'... whatever that means. I think it has something to do with the workers, and how they are treated fairly and paid well or something. Anyway, we stop in the middle of some road and walk in between the houses of a village to the jungle behind it... we walked for about ten minutes, surrounded by cocoa trees and naked children swimming in a nearby river. After a while we came to an opening, where we were greeted by a very hostile but savagely attractive young man yelling at us in fante (the language of Cape Coast and Takoradi, whereas in Accra and Tema they speak Twi). Apparently, he thought that we were journalists that came to exploit or expose their ramshackle business of harvesting palm trees to make palm wine... yes, palm wine. Apparently, palm trees are like cacti in that they are hollow on the inside with liquid... these guys drain the liquid, ferment it, and distill the subsequent product into old gas cans... and it was delicious. It was very sweet and not very strong, which was very appealing to me. They also made palm whiskey, which I was told was only slightly stronger... it was only when I had tipped my head back to gulp down the whiskey did I smell the fumes and realized what a grave mistake I made. This inspired a new game between me, my friends, and our new Ghanian friends - take a shot of the whiskey while someone waits to take a picture of the face that you make. I'd have to say that Rian's was the best, which was a perfect mixture of surprise and horror. Again, we played music and danced in the middle of this cocoa farm/forest, and had a great time. Anyway, it was starting to get dark, so we stumbled back through the forest towards our van to go back home. We were playing music when all of a sudden the van veered to the side of the road and everyone jumped out... I thought that maybe we were stopping to eat, but I was told that someone had slapped the van as we were driving by, which is a riotous offense in Ghana. Of course, the four guys I was with thought it was absolutely necessary to join in the commotion, but I was perfectly happy to stay by the van, which was left alone with the key still in the ignition. Even Grete, the only other woman, joined in the dispute! Thankfully there was no actual fighting, and we climbed back in the car to get food. We went to a restaurant, but they only served fish, and I wanted rice so I went to walk with Papa to go get rice from a street vendor, then everyone wanted rice so we ended up leaving the restaurant to get rice... It was very odd, but delicious! It was like fried rice, but they put lettuce and ketchup and mayonnaise and this fish/chili sauce on it... pretty good Anyway, after that we went back to Grete and Papa's house, and by this time it was about 8:30 and we were all exhausted... Grete graciously offered me her shower [it was cold and the tub was disgusting, but I'd never been more grateful for a shower!] and we were all asleep by 9... it was a good long day
The next day I was the first to wake up at 8... I played cards with Papa's nephew Antony and his neighbor Sebastian until the others woke up. I made everyone scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast (there was not much to eat, and even if there was we didn't want to take too much from their house...). Papa had left for work and we knew Grete liked to sleep in late, so we went for a walk. There was a market down the street with snails - I'm honestly not kidding you - as big as your fist. So strange. We continued to walk through the market, and ended up near a school. We've all loved playing with the local kids, so we thought we could hang out there until lunchtime... We walked into their courtyard and they swarmed us as soon as they saw us! They all wanted to hold my hand, and I lost sight of the guys for a little bit because there were so many kids! They kept touching my skin and my arms and my hair and my butt; I'm pretty sure it was an equal mix of trying to get my attention, plus fascination with my skin. They kept telling me that my skin was very soft, and that I was very strong! Michael told me later that they were all very shocked by his arm hair... Things that we didn't think they would be shocked by! Anyway, I played with them for about an hour... we played their version of Down by the Banks, and when school started again they dragged me into their classroom and they all wanted to sit next to me... Each of the girls asked me if I would be their friend, and I said of course, which made them so happy! Eventually one of the girls told me that my brother was looking for me (everyone in Ghana referred to the boys either as my brothers or my husband...) and we all headed back to Papa and Grete's house. It was about 11 am, and Grete had just woken up. She has Type one Diabetes, which I thought was very interesting... I got to talk to her a bit about life as a diabetic in a country with scarce resources. Anyway, after she woke up we all made our way over to Secretary's office, where he works with "Female Sex Workers" and "Men who have Sex with Men". We had lunch there and he told us a bit about his work. The pamphlets were very graphic, but they got the point across... Then we went to visit Papa's dad's house, which was apparently over 100 years old! It was a beautiful house, made of clay or something and painted white. We talked to his dad and then went to the back of the house to talk to his sister, who was gutting a fish during the entire conversation... lovely. Her kids were around too, but they were some of the few kids we had met that didn't speak much English... I'm not sure why. After that we went back to the Banana House and hung out for a while, then decided we wanted to go to the beach. Grete and Papa had a beach in mind, and we drove for about an hour to find out that the beach was closed and that the owner of the resort near the beach didn't want any bonfires. There was some aggravation over this because in Ghana, there is no such thing as a private beach; everyone can do whatever they want on any beach, because the beach belongs to everyone. And this woman had the audacity to tell us that she didn't want us to have a bonfire because it might spread to her thatch roofs... I didn't think it was an unreasonable request, though I thought it was highly unlikely that our small bonfire would travel all the way up the hill to her resort... anyway, we traveled back to town to get food and go to a beach that was much closer. The bonfire was so cool! It was me and my four friends, plus 20 or so Ghanian men (and Grete) singing about freedom and playing various instruments around the fire. Some time later, Grete had gotten drunk off palm wine and asked the men what they wanted freedom from, which sparked a whole other debate. Meanwhile, my friends and I went to a deserted part of the beach to go swimming in the ocean, which was like bath water, even late at night! ... and by swimming, I mean skinny dipping! I went skinny dipping! In the Atlantic Ocean! In the middle of the night! In GHANA! So cool! We had such a great time, and I fell asleep by the fire until it was time for us to leave. We all piled back into the van, and the whole crew dropped us off at a bus station to take us to Tema, as we had plans for the next morning. After a very emotional goodbye, we got in our tro tro at around 12:30 AM for a 2 hour drive to Tema. I fell asleep, and we got to the ship around 3 am.... which is when I realized that I had gotten so comfortable at Grete and Papa's house that I had left my converse (my only pair of sneakers) and one of my favorite travel shirts (a long sleeve cotton button up shirt - both cool and modest) at their house. Bummer.
The next day we woke up at 8 to deliver soccer balls to underprivileged children. Rian's roommate, Tom, plays soccer and he got prominent soccer ball manufacturers to donate 500 balls to give to kids around the world. I had helped him in India, and so I knew the drill. This time, we were going to a tournament of about 7 schools to hand out soccer balls. Unfortunately, we were an hour late because we could not find the place we were supposed to meet at. Anyway, we arrived at this large field near the ocean and started hand pumping over 100 balls They guys went to go play soccer, but I didn't really want to play, plus I didn't' have appropriate footwear (my converse were at the house three hours away), so I hung back and played other games with the smaller children. At one point a man with an infant in his arms walks up to me and asks which one of the boys is my husband. I told him that they were all my brothers, and that I did not have a husband... I understand why he asked, because I have started wearing a ring on my left ring finger, just in case it may ward off harassment. Anyway, he then handed me the child and asked if I would take her back to California with me... I laughed, until I realized he was not joking. I told him I was not allowed, and wouldn't she rather stay with her mother anyway? He pointed out her mother, a young beautiful woman with the saddest eyes I've seen, and told me he was asking on her behalf. He then asked if I could breastfeed the child, and I again had to suppress the lady inside that was shocked by such a personal and inappropriate question... I told him I could not, and that seemed to settle it. She was one of the happiest, most smiley baby girl, and I knew I had to give her back to her mother before I started thinking of ways I could possibly take her with me. The boys then came and got me for a lunch break, but by the time we returned from lunch the rest of the tournament had to be cancelled because the high winds were kicking sand in everyone's eyes. Instead, we got a tour of one of the schools. Every time I am introduced to a new group of kids, the first several minutes are spent with them touching my arms and hair and legs... do not go to Africa if you don't like being touched! I found out later that these kids have come to know that most Europeans (white people) in Africa are volunteers, and therefore love to give affection, which they don't really get from their own parents (if they have any), so they are eager to touch and hold and will come sit on your lap with no invitation. I loved it We took several pictures, but eventually had to leave. We went to the headquarters of the organization that brought the seven schools together, but I couldn't really pay attention to what the leader had to say because I was so exhausted... we made our way back to Tema and walked around a bit (and stopped at a bar to watch an important soccer game between Turkey and Barcelona (I think...))before heading back home to the ship.
Our last day was pretty uneventful and was spent shopping, mostly. Kash wanted to get a drum, so we stopped in a shop and got to know the owner, who pretty much hung out with us for the rest of the day... He taught us how to play a Ghanian game that resembled backgammon, and showed Rian where to get his hair cut (he had shaved his hair on Neptune day as well, and now wanted to get cool designs buzzed into the sides, or something). Anyway, he took us to another market, where I attempted to buy a pair of shoes for Cameron... These are, without a doubt, the coolest pair of shoes that he will ever own, and I almost started a riot in procuring them... This was the one eventful thing during the course of the day! After bargaining for about half an hour over the price of the shoes (I got him to go down to half of what he originally offered :D) I handed him the money and we started walking out of the market to go home, as on-ship time was drawing near. As we were leaving, we heard shouting behind us... a man was arguing with the man I had bought the shoes from. As we wound our way through the market, we kept picking up more and more people who added to the squabble... by the time we were outside the market, there were about 20 people gathered to yell at each other in Twi. We had no idea what was happening, but our drum friend eventually told us that the man who sold me the shoes was not the actual owner of the shoes, and now the owner wanted his money. He told us not to be concerned, but I was still on edge. Meanwhile - You remember how I told you that Ghanians are very homophobic? - well, one man broke away from the argument to tell me that my money and my lesbianism is the root of all evil, blah blah blah... very strange. I called him out on it, and he immediately became very friendly... all peace and love and 'don't worry, everything will be fine...' yeah. It was time to leave, but our drum guy said just to give the shoes back and get the money back, so I did and we left... very odd. But he felt so bad that I didn't get the shoes that we spent the next hour trying to find another vendor to get me shoes for Cameron... and the ones we found ended up being the original pair that I gave back during the argument. Anyway, it was getting dark so we said our goodbyes and hurried to the SAS shuttle from Accra to Tema (where the ship was). Unfortunately, this is when homophobic incident number two took place... We met up with a group of SAS girls on the way to the shuttle, and one of them was being harassed by a vendor... I've gotten used to swooping in by putting my arm around her waist and playing the jealous girlfriend. I forgot that my friend Abe had told me that Ghanians are very touchy about this, so as I pried her away from her assailant, another man started yelling at us so we quickly climbed on the bus... next thing I knew, he was throwing trash at me through our bus window! So odd! I wasn't really insulted by it, but its just odd to think that people that sing about love and peace and freedom all day could be so harsh and judgmental... Oh well. Overall, I had a fantastic time in Ghana... haha I just prefer to stay away from the major cities, I think... people become more sinister when they are trying all day to sell you something... I think its just the rejection they get from other white people that makes them so hostile... you know? Like if you are walking down the street and one of them asks how you are... I recognize that that is a way for them to start a conversation so they may get you to buy something, but you should still have the common decency to respond and ask how their day is going in return... you don't need to stop, but at least acknowledge their presence and worth as a human being.
I attached three pictures: the first is of our first jam session at the Banana House, the second is with some kids at a fishing village near the beach, and the final one is with the kids from the soccer tournament thingy Enjoy!!!
P.S. Bug bite count is at 19... hopefully I don't have malaria :P