Greetings from Ghana

Whu hu ti seng… that means how are you in one of Ghana’s many languages, known as Twi.

“Never look back, always head forward” – That is a quote from Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, he was the first president and was president when Ghana gained their independence and is looked upon as a Martin Luther King Jr of sorts. Well it feels like I have been here longer than 5 days but in that time I have done my fair share of site seeing. The fact that you guys will be reading this email soon means I forced myself back on the boat and convinced myself I should leave Ghana. I pretty much fell in love the moment I stepped foot off the gangway.

Let my journey begin there because it is quite eventful.  Sunday, February 6, 2011 I had my name blasted on the ship’s speakers saying “Kristal from Dominican University please report to the executive dean’s office”, as I made my way past all my friends who were “ooooing”, slightly nervous I gave my name and asked what it concerned. Turns out it was the Ghanaian police were waiting for me to verify my ride. They did not want me to get off the boat and put in a dangerous situation. My dad’s friend Kwesi (who I later found out was a presidential candidate for the independent party in the 2008 elections  and owner of one of the biggest cell phone distribution companies in Accra, Ghana) had sent his driver, assistant (Jocelyn) and his police escort to come pick me up. His police escort (Isaac) forgot to bring his badge and I.D. and therefore the Ghanaian police at the port were skeptical of his motives and legitimacy; he got arrested haha and it wasn’t until Kwesi spoke to them and they verified all his information that they let him go. I then got escorted by the police chief off the gangway and to my ride where they asked me many questions and took down everyone’s name and said they would be waiting for me on Thursday to see if I arrived back safely, if not they would send their squad out to get me. HAHA! I guess it’s good that they are so cautious.

We drove away; I encountered their market circle which is a big circular market that sells everything, food, shoes, clothes, cds… anything you can imagine. I had my first encounter with a person carrying a basket on top of their head. I guess the culture shock came when I realized that I knew those were used but I suppose I thought that they were a thing of the past. This, however, is very much a part of their culture and is used by pretty much everyone.

I saw villages along the way and then headed to Cape Coast Castle, one of the castles where slaves were kept and traded. This was an eye-opening experience that I would recommend to anyone. Our tour guide helped us visualize the torture these poor people endured and the conditions they were put in. Truly life changing… I was made aware of how people were put in stone rooms with one hole not even six inches wide for air and light. This room, the size of one dorm bedroom, was filled with about 200 men. They were left to fester in their own feces and those who died were left there until everyone was either dead or removed from the room to be put onto the boats to head for Europe. In the room they were chained to the wall; the boat however, did not offer better conditions. They were laid down head to toe and toe to head, stacked on top of each other. They were hardly fed and water was extremely scarce. After experiencing the dark rooms and narrow tunnels I was humbled and in awe of what the African people went through.

After that heart-wrenching experience I left the castle and saw a beautiful view of the water and beach front and was bombarded by a group of kids selling small snacks. They, too, were carrying stuff on top of their heads and they let me put it on top of mine. Needless to say there was no way I could recreate the balancing act but I definitely got to see how heavy their baskets are and kids and adults alike, of every age, carry them around.

After that, I bought a coconut on the side of the road, which they clean and cut the top off so you can drink the water inside and then you give it back to them and they will cut the coconut so you can eat the inside. It was quite delicious and better than any coconut water in the states. We ate at a local restaurant and I ordered their most common fish which is Tilapia with banku, it is wheat, corn and flour mashed up which is given to you and you are expected to eat it with your hands. I realized all meals eaten with your hands come with a washbowl, soap and water. The fish was delicious and the banku didn’t have much taste and was a little dry for my liking but I tried to eat most of it. I ordered juice as well and was given the whole carton of juice and a cup (I was told they often give you the whole thing). We then got back in the car and headed for Kakum National Park. I did the famous canopy walk which was built by the Chinese and Ghanaians and is suspended hundreds of feet in the air. We took a thirty minute hike through the forest which they are heavily conserving now and saw many medicinal plants as well as a tree where they derive lavender perfume from, branches that are pounded and used for sponges and a tree whose bark can be pressed to get what is used to make carpenters glue.  We then got to the canopies which are seven that go in a circle and lead you back down the hiking trail. Although sturdy, some were downward sloping and shaky… it was a fun experience!

After that we left Takoradi and headed for Accra which is where I was going to stay until Thursday, February 10. The drive was about four hours long, I realized that people roam the streets late, we were on the road at about 9 pm and people were still selling things, enjoying nightlife and just hanging around on the streets. We arrived to Kwesi’s house and I was greeted by Kwesi, his wife, her mom, their housekeeper and another man. We talked for a bit, got acquainted and then she made me Jollof rice, it was delicious!

The next morning I was given fruit for breakfast which was delicious; their mangoes are amazing and the pineapple is very sweet! This was the day they would show me life as a local; I walked to the bus stop (about a ten minute walk), got on a bus (they call it a tro tro) which is a big van packed with seats and people, got off and onto a taxi that took us to the arts and crafts center which is a big outdoor selling point where they sell African dresses and paintings, house stuff and other clothes. We found some cute stuff, bargained with the guy and were on our way. We walked to the memorial site for Kwame Nkrumah and visited the museum; this was extremely educational and very interesting. We left, saw their Supreme Court building and bought roasted bananas on the street, they were very good. We then took a taxi to a chop bar which is what they call a restaurant that only sells local food. We sat in a traditional African table, low to the ground with short stools and I ordered rice with their hot sauce, plantains and chicken. From there we took another taxi to independence square, where the first president announced their independence (March 6th), it is custom to light a fire and have a runner from a village run to the independence square and light it up. I saw their freedom and justice monument as well which is right next to the independence square and thought of as a part of it.

The sound of drums caught our attention while we were snapping pictures at the square so we followed the noise and found out there was a soccer game going on and a dance rehearsal as well. Well we got quite entertained by the dance rehearsal and they even let me film them as well as take part in their dances. It is a school that doesn’t charge the students and is looking for funding to get some costumes; we donated a little towards the cause and then were on our way. From this point you can see the president’s house, it was very intricate and looked like a castle! We walked some more and then caught a taxi to oxford street which has a lot of street vendors. We found many people pushing you until you bought something.

Although the people were pushy everybody was very nice and welcoming. I noticed that the United States portrays people in the different African countries and sad and impoverished, starving and helpless. The truth, however, is that they are happier than anyone in the United States, they are content and all they need is food and family. They are so happy with their bare minimum and just seeing their lifestyle taught me how much we don’t need and how the roots of life are what life is worth living for, the simple pleasures! So we bought some stuff and returned home. Dinner that night was rice with some mixed greens and fish in a sauce, it was very good.

Tuesday w headed to the Voltar region where we got a tour of the largest man made lake. This is also where Ghana gets all of its energy for electricity. The lady gave us a great tour and the views were amazing! The drive to the village areas were quite far so we decided to eat at a hotel there and then head back to Kwesi’s house. By the way, in all this driving I got to witness the poverty of the remote villages and realized that making money is what the police do best! They stop you at various checkpoints, find something wrong or just keep talking away and not letting you go until you give them some money, it is quite a fee considering we passed 4 toll booths and about 6 police checkpoints.

Wednesday I got to wake up a bit later, got ready, had oatmeal and fruit and went to the local mall. Everything is sooo expensive I don’t understand how people live! We went and visited, well we saw the United States embassy from the outside. ITS HUGE! I don’t know what we are plotting in there or doing but it is way bigger than it needs to be. The local joke here is that even if they don’t grant you a visa it’s okay because going to that embassy is like visiting the United States itself haha. We visited some outside shops and then returned home for lunch. We left again to find Ghanain chocolate which I purchased to bring some home because I think it is great! It is sweet but not too sweet and its real chocolate, no addatives or fillers, it actually has cocoa you can taste! Then we went to their super market did some shopping, she showed me some of the price differences. I got to rest a bit, ate dinner when Kwesi got home and then we headed to a night club, Citizen Kofi night club.

My last day (so sad!), I woke up early, packed my bags, had oatmeal and fruit and waited for Kwesi’s nephew to arrive so we could leave. We got on our way, stopped at the village that Kwesi grew up in which is about 1 hour and a half from the port. It was beautiful, right by the water, no mosquitoes, and great weather! I had a great last meal, drove to the port, said bye and was on my way! Taking in the last views of the pushy sales man, the port, the culture and the views…