When I asked my friends in
Ethiopia what kind of folks Ghanaian
were, they answered “They are soft-spoken, like us. They don’t shout like the
Nigerians”. Coming from some of the gentlest people on Earth this was indeed
high praise. However, my sources forgot to mention that the people of Ghana like
group songs, and that they like to congregate to sing late at night, and that
they like to play songs very early in the morning, at full volume so all can
Now, I had woken at 2 am in the morning, at the insistent ringing of my brand new cell phone. My parents had just read yesterday’s blog, and they were calling to congratulate me on my good fortune for having landed in paradise. I was very happy to hear their voices!
My first disappointment happened when I was going to plug my electric kettle to fix an early morning cup of coffee. Of course the plug was different than what the fixture in the wall could accommodate. Rats! So I added to the list of things to do the note “Buy adapter in town”, and went out to seek a cup of coffee. Nothing! In spite of the loud music there was no person stirring, not even a mouse. Maybe it is because today is Saturday? Saturday! Oh, today is the day the students arrived, so I better get to the USAC office and join the welcoming party. It gave me a good excuse to go for a morning walk and further admire my new university. When I got to the International House, one of the prettiest buildings in campus, I found the porter, who assured me that no one was coming to work on Saturday. I felt I needed to give it a second chance, and went for further exploration until I came to a Shell gas station with a mini-mart, where I bought a yoghurt and a pastry for breakfast (no coffee, though).
By 9 am I was back at the International House, where it was clear the porter was right. Fortunately I now have a phone, so I called Abigail, the Program Director, who after a few words of welcome told me that they would be going to receive the first batch of students at 7 pm, and yes they would be glad to come pick me up at Volta Hall on their way to the airport.
OK, that means I have the full day to myself, so I will go explore
on my own. I went back to Volta Hall to drop off my backpack, and armed only
with my map and some water headed out. At the desk of Volta Hall I was
regretfully informed that there was no adapter for my electric kettle, and that
I could take a mini-bus (here called a trotro) to downtown right outside of the
entrance to the university. Piece of cake, and for just two cedis (US$ 0.50) I
had a front seat ride down the handsome Liberation Rd. to downtown (about 15 km).
clearly prosperous and growing vertically almost as fast as Addis (soon all
African cities will look alike), but the mini-bus terminal is in the backdrop
of town, right in the midst of the open market. You know I am not faint of
heart, but I am not a fool either. I had the feeling that this was an unsafe
environment, so I walked rapidly, with my hands in my pockets, until I got to
High Street. Right away I knew two factoids: One, the British had at some point
been the masters in Ghana,
and two that this was where I could expect most of the government offices and
old businesses to be located.
I followed the road to the east, and right away came to the
to Kwame Nkrumah, the recognized Founding Father of modern Ghana. I will
probably expand on my knowledge of Ghanaian history, but what I learned from my
visit is that Ghana
had been invaded by the Portuguese, then the Danish, and finally the British.
All of them exploited the region as a source of slaves, but also as a source of
gold (Archean lode mineralization and secondary beach placers?). The British
thus referred to this portion of their empire as The Gold Coast. As the British
empire fell apart after World War II, native thinkers like Ghandi in India and Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana strongly argued for native rule, and in
1957 The Gold Coast became emancipated as the country of Ghana, and after the interim
transition period Kwame Nkrumah became its first president (1960-1966).
President Nkrumah was as influential as Nelson Mandela was in South Africa,
and greatly increased the standing of the country in international circles, but
he was ousted by a military/police coup and eventually died in 1970. More Ghanaian
history will follow as the days go by.
On my way down
Rd. I had seen an ad for an electric supplies store
that promised to solve all your needs. I forget what the store was called, but
I noticed it was in Opera Square,
and when I saw a sign with that name I dove in and joined the shopping crowd.
Pretty soon I was surrounded by all sorts of street stalls selling anything
electric your heart might desire, so I promptly became the proud owner of an
adapter that will make my mornings oh so much happier.
I followed High Street to the east all the way to The Lighthouse, but by then I was pretty sure I was in the bad part of town. A smiling young man approached me and offered to guide me through the fort, the lighthouse, and the fishing village (which was as if someone would offer to guide me through the alleys of Old Peralvillo in
Mexico City). I jokingly declined, walked a
few hundred feet farther, and with relief jumped into a mini-bus. I am
beginning to enjoy the reliability of mini-buses, where you can always find a
friendly person that will take you under his or her wing. In this case was an older
man (he looked like Morgan Freeman), who told me where to get down, and gave me
further instructions to West High Street, which is where I should have headed
to begin with. Bless his soul.
Today is Saturday, which means it is funeral day here in
Accra. As I was walking
near Independence Square
I saw at least three funeral processions heading for the cemetery. At first
sight it looks more like soccer fans celebrating the win of the their team,
with honks honking and people waving, even as the Hearst goes by (invariably
followed by a car with a man hanging precariously out the window and recording
the whole way). They are full black attire affairs, though, so the impression
of joviality is short-lived. Claudia later confirmed my observations, adding
that funerals are commonly held on weekends that fall or follow the first of
the month, when people are paid and have money to pay for the costly ceremony
By then I was hungry. I had been scouting for a small, quiet restaurant, but I found none. There are plenty of street vendors, but I needed something a bit more formal so I could make my baby steps over a printed menu. I think I am living on an alternate reality, however, because as hard as I looked I couldn’t find one. Then I spotted a crowd at the
so I headed there to find a full exposition on bridal gear, including makeup,
dresses, wedding cakes, and wedding caterers. Most important, however, was a
big food court where I was sure to find something good to eat. I approached the
barbecue area, where broiled chicken seemed like a good bet. I ordered a
serving of chicken, but somehow managed to order a full chicken. Normally that
would have been too much, but it was a scrawny chicken, roasted to death, so it
shrunk to a manageable amount of chicken jerky. It tasted great, however, and
the adjacent stall of Pepsi provided me with plenty of drink at just 1 cedi (a
quarter) a bottle. Conventions Center
This business of being a pedestrian is wearing thin, so I am going to have to get me some wheels, at least for the weekend. In the meantime I was ready to head home, so I walked to
Liberation Rd., asked a young woman what
was the right mini-bus to take. She took me under her wing, told me to take the
one advertised as going to Madina (you need to listen carefully at what the
ticket-man sing songs as the mini-bus approaches the stop), and shoved me into
the right ahead of herself. Then I had a magic moment. I was transported to Botswana,
sandwiched between a traditionally-built lady on the left, and a young
no-nonsense modern lady on the right. I was surrounded by Africa,
and I loved every moment of it.
When I got back home I was hot, sweaty, and ready to take a cold shower. I am going to use the time to write this blog, watch TV, and relax. Goodness gracious! I was channel-scanning when I stumbled on a Mexican telenovela, El Cuerpo del Deseo, dubbed in Twi! No wonder everyone smiles broadly when I tell them I am from
Note: Twi (pronounced chewy) is the most common language spoken in southern
Ghana. It is a highly tonal
language, in which all vowels have short and long sounds, and three levels of
intonation, low, intermediate, and high (something like papa, Papa, and papá in
Spanish). To the untrained ear it sounds distinctly African but with a hint of