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End of the Blog

GHANA

Please note that this travel-blog has come to an end, please refer to our next blogs:

Ben & Emilie in New Zealand: http://Ben-and-Emilie-NZ.travellerspoint.com (New Zealand June 2011 – May 2012)

Ben and Emilie Down Under: http://Ben-Emilie-DownUnder.travellerspoint.com (Australia May 2012 – June 2013)

Ben and Emilie in Darwin: http://benandemilie-darwin.travellerspoint.com

Posted by Fat Face 21:04 Comments (0)

People in Ghana

Ghana is a beautiful country that has everything to offer in terms of beautiful scenery: lush green rain forests, golden sandy beaches filled with exotic palm- and coconut-trees, big modern cities with a strong traditional twist, etc. But what really makes Ghana beautiful are its people. So, here is a dedication to all the lovely and caring people we met and will never forget.

And when it comes to never forgetting that someone special you meet, we would surely have to start with the wonderful Simon a.k.a. The President, a.k.a. Adabato Ameyibo (Crazy Black Person).

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He was introduced to us as our coordinator, but it took only a few minutes for him to turn into a really good friend. Simon has the biggest character you will ever meet in one single person and because one adjective would not do him justice, we decided to come up with a whole alphabet of adjectives to best describe him:

A for African and therefore B for Black. C for Committed. D for Determined. E for Energetic. F for Fun. G for Ghanaian; despite living in South Africa with his family, he will always remain 100% Ghanaian. H for Humour/ Heart-warming. I for Inspiring. J for Jovial. K for Keen (to always strive for better). L for Loving. M for Mischievous. N for Nice. O for Outgoing. P for President/ Passionate. Q for Quirky. R for Raconteur/ Rare. S for Spirited. T for Touching/ Tenacious. U for Unique; there is no one like him. V for Vehement/ Vibrant. W for Worldly. X for XXL, the size of his personality. Y for Youthful. Z for Zealot, always ready to give.

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Next in line for some serious gratefulness is of course our Host Family. The last week of travelling would have been a dream for anyone wishing to experience more of what Ghana has to offer, but we felt something was missing for us to truly be able to enjoy it to the fullest: the welcoming and caring nature of the people of the Volta Region and in particular our Host Family. Ben calculated that without the weekly trips to Accra and the travelling, we only lived with them for 2 ½ weeks through out our stay in Ghana, but they touched us in so many ways that it was more than enough for us to feel home-sick during our last week. We still receive regular phone-calls from them, which never cease to make us happy.

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There's our African mother: Mme Celestine with her bigger than life personality. Whenever we would walk into the room we would be greeted with cuddles and excited “Auntie/ Sister Yawaa! Kwamé!” usually followed by “how are you?”, but also just like that, to show her happiness of us being there with her. She works as a nurse at Denu Hospital and one day after her work-shift we told her how beautiful the clothes were she wore that day. She laughed and said: “Ok, I make you one!”. We never could have imagined that she was serious and were therefore rather surprised when the local tailor, Mr. Ben, came to take our measurements. And even more surprised, when it turned out that the beautiful clothes he made us were on Celestine's cost, as a present. And what better souvenir can you possible ask for?

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Celestine's hospitality and generosity knows no limits. During the day she helps people for a living and in the evenings and weekends she helps people out of the kindness of her heart. The house and compound (that houses around 20 people!) belongs entirely to her and her husband, who works in Ho and whom we never had the chance to meet. In Ghana, people naturally care for one another and no family member will ever be left behind. It was therefore really nice for us to live with one big African family :)

Celestine seems to be everyone's (favourite) aunt at the compound, which means that everyone we met were almost always cousins and all of them just as loving and caring. These short entries do not do all of their wonderful characters justice, but they should nevertheless be mentioned as they all left a mark on our lives:

Bless (25), or Yayra in Ewe. She was the one who seemed to be in charge of us and whom we spent most of our time with. We'll always associate her with the now famous phrase: “Eat all!” whenever she served us her humongous quantities of food. And when we complained about it being too much, she always jokingly replied: “I want you to be lolo before you go back!”, which she almost achieved ;)

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Portia (18) or Ewoenom in Ewe. The day we met her, she came up to us and said: “I really want to know your name” and from that moment on, we became really close. She always took over whenever Bless was busy and as opposed to Bless, she took pride in doing everything herself without wanting to ask for any help.

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The one thing that characterised Portia was her ever present smile and laughter, which made her a very likeable person as well as someone who was easy to tease:
the day we helped out on the family's farm together, Emilie was joking that Portia was a lazy person and that instead of giggling all the time, she should work harder. She found it very amusing, so Bless decided to scare her into working more. We all knew that her mobile phone was a wreck that could only receive calls, though without knowing who the caller was as the screen was broken. We therefore decided to call her up behind her back and whisper the words 'lazy person' in Ewe into the speaker, before turning the phone off. From far we could see a rather shocked Portia looking confused across the farms for the mysterious caller. “I think someone from the village just called me and said I was lazy!” and she immediately worked harder! ;)

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Brothers Nathaniel ('Nat' or Atsu) and Courage ( ) as well as their cousin Innocencial, or Adjele (22) were always busy with all sorts of chores and jobs, so we saw less of them than we would of Bless and Portia. They were however really lovely and always happy to see us. Nathaniel was absolutely intrigued in all the pictures Emilie took with her digital camera and always transferred all of them onto his laptop. He was also the only one on the compound that could swim as he used to work as one of the younger fishermen, so he was always keen to join us for a swim whenever he had the time. Courage is more soft-spoken than his older brother, which made it harder to get to know him. Innocencial made us some lovely armbands to remember her and Ghana by, saing softly that we were "good people" and that we would be missed a lot.

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We met Sandra (26, Ewe name: Esi) from day one due to her approachable and slightly crazy nature. She would often come up to us and say something quite angrily in Ewe, knowing fair well that we did not understand a word and would feel worried about having done something wrong. She really loved seeing us compete with each other to speak and understand as much Ewe as possible, trying it out on her and she was also the person that seemed most interested about our life in Scotland, Belgium and Canada, even though she could not understand how Luxembourg could possibly be that small. Every evening she took Maths lessons on the porch in the garden, as she will be sitting exams in September. When she found out that Ben had quite a knack for everything number-related, she regularly asked him to take over and teach her. Sandra was the first to give us a lovely necklace with some beads in the Ghanaian colours red, yellow and green, so that we would never forget her and the beautiful country she came from. Ben has been wearing his very proudly every single day.

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Michael (13) and Shine (5) are Sandra's younger brother and Sandra's son. Michael has the exact same crazy and outgoing nature as his older sister, but somehow it entirely skipped Shine as the little boy is as shy as can possibly be, but he is also incredibly cute. They are both in a boarding-school, meaning that we did not meet them until they came home for the summer-holidays on our last day. This is a real shame as we were really bonding with them, and especially little Shine.

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Beatrice, Sandra and Michael's step-mother, is someone that we both really miss, despite the fact that she spoke no English and we never quite understood what she was telling us in Ewe. Always hard at work, she always paused whenever we entered the compound after a hard day's work at the construction site and greeted us with an excited: “Eh boa?”, meaning are you back? or a friendly: “Mia woeso”, meaning you are welcome; which without fail made us feel happy to be home again. And whenever there was a day we did not feel too well or were burnt, she would come towards us and say kind-sounding words. There was a clear communication-divide between us, but kindness needs no translation. On our last day she made us a self-made bead necklace each. Beads have always been a valued item in Ghana; a cultural heritage passed down from generation to generation, so through this gesture, we knew that we must have made an impact on her.

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There were many people living around the house in the compounds that we never got a chance to bond with. This was due to many different things. Most of the time, these people were too busy with every day chores to really properly meet us; some were not able to speak English properly and the children were usually at (boarding-) school every day. Had we stayed there longer, this would have surely been a different story.

We met many people in Ghana, but none effected us as much as Simon and the members of our African family and if we could change one thing about our adventure in Ghana, it would without a doubt be to make our stay a lot longer. We would have both liked to get to know everyone at the compound equally well as well as spending more time with the kind and welcoming villagers of Denu. It must be said that the people of the Volta Region were by far the friendliest and more welcoming. This was affirmed by all of the tourist-guides and we never realised how lucky we were to reside in Denu until we travelled. The reason given for this reputation is that the Volta Region and especially the coastal area was one of the least visited places by tourists in Ghana. They therefore really appreciated any visitor that was willing to come and experience their home-towns. We also realised that many of the people there had never been in contact with Yavoos (white people) before. Especially the very smallest children, who had no television at home, were absolutely astonished when they saw us. One day, a little boy walked past us and when he saw us, he was so gobsmacked that he stumbled over some loose sand and fell flat on his face - the poor thing! But no matter how strange a sight we were to everyone, we were always greeted with a loving "Yavoo! You are welcome" or the equivalent: "Mia woeso". It is a custom in Ghana to greet everyone thouroughly whenever you pass by them, and we found it very amusing that it became a very standard conversation that always went as followed:
- How are you?
- I'm fine, thank you. How are you?
- I'm fine.
Use the words "good" or "well" instead of the standard "fine" and they usually get confused ;) Many times we had to repeat the same thing 20 times in a row, when passing by a large crowd of people, all eager to be greeted. And when you were able to say the thing in Ewe, you of course scored bonus points. We did, however, realise that sometimes people assumed that if you could greet a person in Ewe, you could speak the jaw-breaking language fluently. We knew that Eh meant "yes"/ affirmative and that Yo was an agreement to something, so we decided to use these words after each conversation, much to the amusement of the locals. Emilie quickly learnt her lesson and had to stop using this tactic after she agreed at several occasions to marry a Ghanaian man though! ;)

Posted by Fat Face 14:14 Archived in Ghana Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Food in Ghana

One of the things we were particularly surprised with was the food in Ghana (so much even that Ben bought himself a Ghanaian recipe-book!), always served in humongous quantities. You can either eat at home, on the roadside, in a so-called chop bar ('chop' means 'eat' but it isn't necessarily in a bar) or at a restaurant. Eating on the roadside is a lovely experience if you really want to immerse yourself in the Ghanaian culture. Someone has a little stall with ingredients and a fire, on which they will prepare the food freshly in front of you. Usually, a large wooden bench is provided at the side of the stall, where you can sit and enjoy your food all whilst observing the hustle and bustle on the streets. It is also incredibly cheap and a meal of fried chicken and rice will approximately set you back GHc1.50 (£0.75 or €0.90)! We absolutely loved it! :) In general, there was nothing we detested, although there are of course some things we equally won't miss. We did also enjoy the experience of eating with our hands. The right hand only should be used, however. So when you eat, you usually receive a little bucket of water with washing-up liquid, which you use to wash your hand with before eating and then of course after having eaten as well. It was especially handy when eating fish as you could sense the bones with your fingers before you could choke on them! Always a good thing! :)

Water:

Drinking water comes in three forms: from the tap or well (not advisable), in sachets and in bottles. The water in sachets are known as Pure Water, because the water has been purified under high hygienic standards. Each sachet contains 500ml of water and you are meant to rip the side off with your teeth in order to drink it. It took us quite a while to master this and we regularly poured half of the content over us as opposed to in us ;) Pure Water can be sold individually at the fixed price of only 5 pesewas (GHc 0.05, which is about £0.025 or €0.035) a sachet! If you want to buy in bulk, 30 sachets can be sold for around GHc 1, depending on whether you buy it on the roadside, frozen or refrigerated. Bottled water is made by the brand Voltic and we were both very disappointed when we read it did not come from Lake Volta. It's more expensive than Pure Water because the water is fresh mineral water from creeks in the mountains. Add to this the expensive of bottling the water, and you can pay about 50 pesewas (GHc 0.5, about £0.25 or €0.35) for 250ml. Keeping in mind that most people don't have a lot of money to spare with large families that all need a lot of water during the scorching hot days, Voltic is expensive. Emilie found the Pure Water to taste a little more chemically, but Ben could not taste any difference between the two. And they are equally good.

Breakfast a.k.a. tea:

Breakfast (or “tea”) on the roadside is probably the culinary experience we most enjoyed and whenever we ended up in Accra we always looked forward to our morning delicacy of mixed eggs and vegetables scrambled on the spot into a scrumptious omelet. This is then put between two chunky slices of fresh bread, which is briefly crisped in the pan. With this you can either have your choice of Lipton tea or Milo (Nestle's African hot chocolate).

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In other stalls you will also have vendors prepare Koko (Ghanaian porridge), a thick brownish liquid made usually of millet and soghrum. This always comes with Koose, light pies apparently made of pounded beans. We only had this once and preferred the omelet-breakfast by far!

At home, we were given three other types of porridge, as opposed to the Koko. One of them was made out of maize, that was ground the day before on a special wooden sieve, to create minuscule balls. This was then boiled before it was served with sugar. We also one morning received porridge made out of boiled rice, to which they added thick concentrated milk (the one you would use as addition to your tea of coffee as opposed to the ordinary dairy milk, which is not available in Ghana). I think that it was their version of rice-pudding, though much lighter. The last version is what we call porridge at home, but which is referred to in Ghana as oats, but usually pronounced as 'ot. So, the first time we were served it, Ben asked Bless what she had made. “It is oats”, she said and walked back into the kitchen. To which Ben turned to me and said, “I know it is hot, but what is it?” ;)

Despite these being the things that are traditionally made for breakfast in Ghana, Bless always made a large culinary festivity of it and we often got, alongside the porridge, a big plate of cooked pasta and vegetables with fresh bread. At times, she even made us toasties in true Ben-style: the toasted bread was filled with spaghetti! Every person that remembers Ben's very colourful cooking skills during his first year of university will surely appreciate this ;) We were told that she made all this, because she expected that it would be something that Yavoos tended to have for breakfast. We never dared tell her that porridge on its own was more than enough, although we did appreciate how full we were left keeping, especially after a hard day at the construction site.

Staple foods:

The favourite type of food found in Ghana is a starchy staple food that looks like a ball of dough. We experienced this in three varieties, although we have been told there are a lot more than that. All of them are pretty much taste-less and therefore always accompanied by a stew, a soup or a heavy sauce for which you use the dough to scoop it out on.

The first one we had was called Banku, which we enjoyed least of all, due to the heaviness of it. It is made out of pounded and boiled maize (corn) with cassava.

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The second variation is particular to the Volta Region and therefore one we had (and made!) on various occasions at the host family: Akplé. This can be prepared in two ways to either make it heavy – the Ghanaians favourite – or light and its main ingredient is maize. We obviously always prepared the lighter version, which still managed to fill us up rapidly to the astonishments of the family.

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The last and lightest version is Fufu, made entirely from yam. This is boiled and then pounded in a small round wooden ball with a large wooden stick. This process is time-consuming and very hard manual labour. No wonder all of the women are so muscly! Fufu tastes a lot like mashed potatoes, although the texture is different.

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I think it would be honest to say that neither of us will miss any of these three foods. Not so much because of the taste, but more so because of how heavy the first two variants lie on your stomach. We always felt guilty when huge portions of them were prepared for us, as we struggled to eat even a few bites. Ghanaians will never have them during the day as they “make you lazy”, but they still cannot seem to comprehend why always had to hand back half of the portions they made for us. Besides this, we always did both enjoy helping the family cook these meals :)

Rice

Another supplement loved by Ghanaians is rice, which you will see prepared everywhere on the roadside stalls always accompanied by cooked or fried chicken, although it is also possible to have it with fresh fish (providing the stall is in close enough proximity of the ocean) or a boiled egg. The rice either comes plain with a dollop of extremely spicy sauce (because of which Emilie ended up in bed on our first day and in this way delay our trip to Denu) or it can be cooked in palm-oil and spicy peppers, which is then called Jollof rice. This usually receives another blob of even spicier sauce, which you are best to avoid if you have a weak stomach.

Fishie on a dishie

Not the greatest fans of fish in general, we both thoroughly enjoyed the fish we were served in Ghana. This was without a doubt due to the fact that fish comes fresh from the ocean. The fishermen go out in their carved wooden boats and unload their catch of the day straight onto the nearby beach, where it is immediately sold to the villagers, which will in turn either use it for their own meals, or bring it around to the nearby houses to sell. The freshly caught fish is then washed and cooked within the same day on a little outdoor fire, which is the best way to prepare it. No preservatives or additives, no special treatment, just straight from the ocean, run under the water and directly thrown on the fire.

The most common and favourite fish is Tilapia, which comes in different sizes. And it is worth mentioning that fish is eaten and served in its entirety in Ghana. So, the first time we had Tilapia in that restaurant in Ho, we were quite astonished to see the head staring right at us. We were about to remove it, when Simon informed us that the head is meant to be sucked to get all of the juices out. We can assure you that we were not very excited about the prospect. Because of the freshness of the fish, the juices are mixed with a high portion of extremely salty sea water, which isn't particularly nice. Beside this minor fact, the Tilapia itself is faultless and we have never appreciated fish as much in our lives!

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Before Emilie joined work at the construction site, Ben was offered a different variety of fish of which we do not know the name. We often saw them being sold on the roadside: very small and always crispy, they are eaten in one go. According to Ben it was rather nice.

Plantain

On the roadside you get offered many forms of dried fruits, baked in (can you guess?) palm-oil and packaged in different sized bags depending on how much you want to nibble on. One evening, as we were driving through Accra, Simon stuck his head out of the window and shouted: “Plantain!” to which a couple of hands reached inside the car with little bags of yellow long crispy things. And from the moment we tried these plantain chips we were sold! Delicious and the perfect snack when you are travelling. But plantain is prepared in several ways, every single form even nicer than the other. After we had been gone for a couple of days in Accra, we returned home to an excited Bless and Portia: “You are welcome! We really missed you, so we made you your favourite!” to which they revealed freshly baked plantain muffins! De-li-cious and perfect welcome-home gift! Simon had told us that something similar was sold on the roadside called Kaklo, but we only ever encountered one vendor selling it. It's mashed plantain fried into a tasty little ball. We thoroughly enjoyed it and even though we asked around every time we passed by the same spot, we never found it again... very sad times for our bellies! Usually, you will encounter fried plantain to accompany other dishes. One of them being Red Red:

Ben's most-liked dish was Red Red, as it combines two of his favourite ingredients: white beans cooked in a large serving of red palm-oil (as with most Ghanaian dishes) and fried plantain. This was best prepared at a road stall in Accra. During our last two days in the capital we tried on two occasions to have Red Red for lunch, but it must have been the vendor's days off as at both times they were shut.

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Something that we often got as an accompaniment with either rice or one of the starchy staple food-balls was Okro Stew or Okro Soup, Palmnut Soup and Groundnut Soup. All of which are rather self-explanatory.

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We do really miss the experience of eating on the roadside, or at home with the host-family. But to our delight, we found a shop a couple of streets from where we live that sells a variety of African – an to our surprise mostly Ghanaian – foods! We found both ripe and unripe plantain, packets of plantain crisps, a packet to make Fufu the easy way, Milo, groundnuts, Ghanaian palm-oil, dried Tilapia and much much more! We couldn't resist buying some ripe plantain, which we fried this evening. Oh nostalgia!

Posted by Fat Face 17:30 Archived in Ghana Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Transport in Ghana

We thought it would be nice to write some general entries about themes that we most related to our adventure in Ghana. This is a detailed entry about transport in all its glory with information as well as funny annecdotes of things we experienced ourselves.

Tro-tro – best described as a mini-van run by the people for the people, with as many seats as possible fitted in the back. And it is not unusual to have many people share seats no matter how broad they were and no matter how long the distance they would cover. Mothers with children often do not have the money to pay for extra seats for their children, so quite often you see a woman with a baby on her back and two or three children squeezed on her lap. Ghanaians are used to this and as long as they can get to their destination they are content. At one point, the tro-tro was so full that the mate had to sit on the roof! (The “mate” is the driver's assistant, who sits with the passengers at the back next to the door. He shouts the destination out of the window to attract further customers and he also collects the money through out the ride, carrying a thick wad of banknotes in his left hand at all times.) You often see passengers with the strangest possessions entering the tro-tro: bulky items such as TVs and fridges or even live chickens and other animals. One day we even saw people carrying five plastic chairs stacked on top of each other on the tro-tro by holding them out of the window! A very surreal experience!

http://www.cbc.ca/news/viewpoint/vp_ross/20050222.html
(a special site dedicated especially to tro-tro's in Ghana, including amazing pictures and funny annecdotes about everything related to getting a tro-tro)

The popularity of the tro-tro's is due to the tro-tro is the cheapest and best form of transport in all of West-Africa. If you want to travel somewhere, you just stand anywhere by the road and shout out your destination to any passing tro-tro's. Easy peasy! ;) Getting a tro-tro from an actual tro-tro station is a completely different and hectic experience. Drivers don't customarily leave the station until the tro-tro is entirely filled up, leaving many of the passengers waiting inside for over an hour, to hold on to their seats. Finding the last passengers so that the mini-van can at last leave is therefore a mighty quest that involves a lot of shouting and pulling. On top of that, the waiting tro-tro is surrounded by vendors at all time, carrying all kinds of refreshments as well as underwear, bibles, toothpaste, machetes, bread, windscreen-wipers, … anything you could possibly think of and more, on their heads. No need for shops, the goods get delivered to you in person! And whenever the tro-tro stands still through out the drive, a sea of hands will appear inside through the windows shoving their goods in your face, much to the annoyance of those who were just enjoying a nap. I have had several Ghanaians rest their heads on my shoulders, which did not add to the already rather uncomfortable ride. Luckily none of them drooled!
Tro-tro's may at times be extremely uncomfortable, but we loved them, because it brought you closer to the people and therefore to Ghana.

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Taxi – recognisable by the flashy orange colour that is painted on the wings of the car. Taxi's are privately owned and usually come with a variety of broken car parts. We drove in a taxi without any mirrors; with a shattered windshield; without a back windshield; without a key-hole and therefore without a car-key; without a fixed driver's seat, meaning he just wobbles about everywhere; without lights, etc. Any car that would have ended in a scrapyard in Europe, would lovingly be adopted as a taxi in Ghana ;)
There are two types: the 'dropping' taxi and the shared taxi. The dropping will get you from one specific destination to another, without picking anyone else up along the way. So, as we would find them in Europe. The shared taxi usually goes from one main point (junctions, car-parks) to another, picking up people along the way. And they will fit in as many people as is humanly possible: 4 in the front seats (yes, even sharing the driver's seat!) and about 5 or 6 people in the back seat. We always took the shared taxi as it was a lot cheaper, but when Yavoos are present, they tend not to overcrowd them as much, which we appreciated a lot ;) We did however see two very lolo (fat) people share the front seat, which was quite an entertaining view. They were strangers to each other, but did not object to the uncomfortable ride at any point, because, as Simon would say: “This is Africa!” :)

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STC Bus – (State Transportation Corporation) upmarket and therefore expensive inter-city busses, mainly created for tourists. They do long-distance journeys from one big city to another. They have all the mod-cons such as air-conditioning, TV blaring Nigerian movies to keep you entertained (or aggravated!), windows with curtains and... everything works! It may be the safest, most comfortable and most efficient way of travelling around Ghana, but we could not help but feel dis-attached from the real Ghana sitting there, amongst all the wealthier Ghanaians and whiteys.

Motorbikes – the old type of motorbikes. These were especially used in the smaller villages and when you walk past, the driver usually screams something in the trend of: “Yavoo! Where you go?” After we heard a story of one of the volunteers getting a nasty burn on her legs from the exhaust pipes, we were too much of a chicken to ever take a ride with them. But they are used as public transport, fitting up to four people on them! I once saw a guy carrying three rather hefty-looking women on the back, each of them lifting up their long dresses to their knees and holding on fiercely to each other. I'm not sure that must have been very comfortable. The best thing we saw being carried on a motorbike was a massive double mattress rested in between the driver and the passenger! Everything is possible in Africa!

And on Lake Volta and the many lagoons across the country there are of course a variety of carved out wooden boats and canoes that serve as transport. These are only used by the fishermen as they seem to be the only people in Ghana that know and dare to swim. The strong current that the waves of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea create are extremely dangerous, meaning that even those that wish to learn to swim generally don't get the chance to.

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One thing all modes of transport have in common is the many religious sayings stuck on them, such as “Nothing Pass God”, “No Food For Lazy Man”, “Jesus is Alive!”, “God is Great”, “Nobody Knows Tomorrow” etc. which are equally featured as names of enterprises to which I will return in another entry.

Driving in Ghana is quite a scary occurrence:

1) As you may have guessed, there seem to be no rules whatsoever: “this is Africa!”, says Simon, “and as long as your ping ping works, everything is fine!”, referring to the horn. This is indeed the most important aspect to keep in mind when driving in Ghana as it is used for everything: to tell other cars that you will be overtaking, to frighten animals off the street, to greet pedestrians or to let them know a car is coming up behind them, to show your anger, your happiness or excitement, or even as a back-up instrument to the song you are singing or listening to. Africans love noise as everybody will have experienced while watching the World Cup this summer. The main reason behind South-Africa wanting to host it was merely because they needed more noise, hence the beloved vuvuzelas!

2) Seatbelts are merely for decoration.

3) There is hardly any lighting, so it is not unusual to see drivers using their high-beams during the evening, blinding you dangerously. Or even worse: some cars don't have any working lights at all. On our way to the Wli Falls at 4am, judging by the nearing single light in the distance we expected a bicycle to come our way. It was in fact a gigantic truck with only one working light! We got the biggest shock and Simon and I jumped on our seats! ;)

4) Speed-cameras do not exist. It is therefore custom in Ghana to drive as fast as you can, usually doing about 160km an hour (which is extremely fast in a small shabby car!).

5) Footpaths do not exist. Pedestrians can just walk wherever they find some space. No need to make a fuss about it.

6) Insurance? What's that? If you happen to therefore get yourself in an collision or accident and your car is still working, your best bet is just to drive away as quickly as possible. If you however drive into a pedestrian, the surrounding people and cars will immediately take action and either beat you up or take you straight to the police. A Ghanaian, in presence of other Ghanaians will never get away with fraud, crime or murder!
We actually witnessed a driver running over a woman in Denu. She was not killed, but her organs were so badly hit that everyone knew she would pass away sooner or later. As soon as it happened, everyone hurried to the driver and shouted at him: “You killed a woman!”, “What were you thinking?”, “Who drives like this?” etc. The man in question could not care any less though, looked on his watch, mumbled something and drove away. I did not understand how someone could get away with such a crime, especially after what I had been told, and I turned to Simon. He explained that the driver was a former diplomat and that trying to bring him to justice would be doubtful and pointless. Luckily, the next day he went to the police-station with some of the locals and reported it. Now we can only hope for the best...

BUT it all works without too many incidents due to an overruling sense of community with everyone watching out over each other. Ben called this “organized chaos”.

And the things we were truly shocked about had nothing to do with any of this, but with the many police barriers and stations that are scattered by the roads in all of Ghana. Initially, we thought this was a really good initiative of the government: making sure that nobody smuggles weapons or illegal good across the country and insuring the safety of the citizens. At least that is what they are meant to do and some police officers do genuinely stop you to quickly look inside and check inside your boot. But it was soon clear that the intentions of most police-men were soon of a different nature. One day we got stopped and the police officer demanded 'coco-money' of Simon ('coco' being the name Ghanaians give to their local porridge). Ben and I did not understand why Simon had to pay him a couple of Cedis, but it did not take us long to notice that the police officer in question was bribing him. After mentioning this to other Ghanaians they tell us that it is the custom here and that there is nothing they can do to stop it. If you refuse to pay, the police officers can take you to court for whatever reason that suits them. If you just continue driving on, the police officer will advise the next police barrier of your number plate, so that you will get stopped there with all the consequences that go with it. And where do you complain about this? Exactly, at the police station! And there is no way a police officer will betray his fellow men, especially if it might stop him from putting some illegally received bank-notes in his own pocket. Because that's what it is: illegal. I could not understand how in a country, where every single person is religious, something like this could happened. Simon explained it as followed: “once the person puts on his police uniform, he takes off his Christian uniform”, giving way to corruption. He also added that we were his “guardian angels”, because police officers are generally afraid of Yavoos as there could always be a chance that they carry an official title and take them to court. We noticed however that their desire for money was at times greater than their fear to get caught. And it is a powerless feeling to see hard earned money go to corrupt officials.

Mind you, there are times you can get away from it all depending on how creative you are. One day, our car got stopped and the police official tried his luck on us, Yavoos. He demanded our passports and when we gave him our photocopied versions (the originals cleverly stored in a safe-box in the house), he asked us to follow him out of the car into his office. We were rather petrified about what would happen and about how much cash we were going to have to give him to let us go. Simon, however, knew exactly what to do and to our surprise he took out his mammoth of a camera out of the car. Was this really the moment to take pictures? But soon we realised his plan. When we followed him inside a little later, the police officer was singing a different tune, kindly gave us back our photocopies and asked us to please carry the originals on us next time around. Confused we looked at Simon, who told us, safely back inside the car, that he told the police officer that we were both very respected journalists for a famous newspaper in Europe and that we were documenting Ghana. And so, if he created problems, there would surely be trouble for him ;) Yes... creativity goes a long way! Thank you, Simon!

The only other time I heard of this kind of bribery is from Stefano, the school-headmaster's son. We shared University experiences one day during my long breaks and I was absolutely appalled when I heard him say that even though he received outstanding grades every year, this still did not ensure that he would pass the year. He had to first have a “meeting” with some of the teachers and pay them their “commission rates”. In other words: they bribed the students and if they refused, you would suddenly discover that your grades were in fact not that outstanding at all. Many students “miraculously” failed the year this way, he told me. He asked me how many times this had happened to me, but of course I had to tell them I had never heard of such bribery at the University of Glasgow before. He was happy for me, but I could tell it was something he was truly struggling with and that he wished he could also attend a more “honest” university. Since I do not know of many people having attended university in Ghana, I never had the story confirmed by anyone else. Regardless of this, it is a matter that needs to change, especially knowing how many years most people have to work before they can at last afford to study at a “higher education institute”.

However, as far as corruption goes, Ghana is in fact a wonderful country full of the most honest people we have ever met. We discovered this, for example, when we travelled by tro-tro and realised that the “mate” (driver's assistant) could have easily made us pay whatever price for the fare he fancied as we had no clue how much each individual journey cost. But as I said: in the presence of other Ghanaian passengers, he would never dare to rip us off. The dishonest people you do encounter are always the ones that are wealthier than their compatriots. They know the taste of getting what they want and constantly yearn for more, in whatever possible ways. We have therefore heard of stories of volunteers travelling every day by tro-tro without a single incident and then travelling by STC bus and have their iPod or wallet stolen while they nodded off. We never experienced anything like this and compared to living in Glasgow, we never felt unsafe at any point. Oh Ghana, you treated us so well! :)

Posted by Fat Face 17:02 Archived in Ghana Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Kakum National Park (by Ben)

sunny 30 °C

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Kakum National Park, before we went on the walk

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The Canopy in the rainforest. It is between 18-60m above the ground, between some very tall trees.
We were told that there were 7 bridges and 6 canopies. I was quite concerned that the last bridge would not lead to a canopy, and spent most of the time worrying how that worked... while Emilie wobbled the walkway from side to side laughing at me.

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The rainforest
I would probably been able to get a picture without the net in the way if Emilie had not been shaking the canopy. She loves wobbling from side to side trying to scare me. And it works. It is really hard to take photos when you are hanging on to the netting for your life.

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Emilie, in a very brief moment of not wobbling.

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On the canopy walkway

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The rainforest, as seen from the canopy.
Kakum National Park is huge! 350 square kilometres. When I took this I was wondering how close the nearest elephants were. Apparently there are small elephants in the park.
Most of the animals are nocturnal though, so you don't see much during the day, but you can stay overnight and go for a night walk. Considering that I spent most of the time looking behind, looking out for lions "just in case", I don't think that the night walk would be for me.

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on the walk back.

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This is the beach at Green Turtle Lodge.
Getting there took quite a while. It is in quite a remote area, quite far west in Ghana. There is not a paved road for the last 10 or so kilometres, and although we had been on unpaved roads a lot, this one was the most exciting, because there are many very small but steep hills, and the old tro-tro needed quite a run up before managing to get to the top. It was also the most painful road, because our backpack was shoved in the boot of the tro-tro, which never properly closes, so I was trying to hang onto that while going over some quite impressive potholes.

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Being at Green Turtle Lodge was paradise though.
The beach was beautiful, and there were some shaded places to lie down so that you do not burn (which we both did).
The bar was just off the beach and food was served on one of these benches. Just sitting there was so nice that I could have done it all day along.

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I win!
We were also told that there were many packs of cards, and games to play. But none of them were complete so we had to improvise. Emilie wins here with a 2, 4/5 (a very rare card) AND 2 strawberries. You cannot beat that hand.

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Back in Glasgow now :(
This is now our most prized possession. The 3 people are separate and wrap around each other, but there is no join mark. I could not understand how they did this, and they explained that it is because it is all made from 1 piece of wood. Even making a very small sculpture is more than a full days work.

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And this is our other sculpture, that we bought a Wli Falls, which you can see at:
http://fat-face.travellerspoint.com/23/
Something weird happened when I scanned it.

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And those are all of my pictures from Ghana. Now we are back home we have found a shop just round the corner from us that does all of the Ghanaian food that we could ever want, including Plantain chips!

Posted by Fat Face 16:22 Archived in Ghana Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

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