ghana: part 2

Our hut
After arriving at Big Milly's, Joey and I were escorted to our room hut.  Now I should say this hut only cost of 34 Ghanaian cedis a night.  That is the equivalent of $25.  So for value for the money, we certainly got more than for which we paid.  Our little hut consisted of two single, vinyl mattresses covered by a flat sheet, each framed on all four sides by two inches of wood, pushed together under a mosquito net built for one.  The ceiling fan hung under the light fixture which created a lovely strobe effect when both were on at the same time.  Also by the grace of God, I had not peed my pants (actually since I was wearing a skirt that would have been an even bigger mess) on the long, bumpy and terrifying journey from Accra.  I scanned our hut for the private bathroom I requested. 

The hut only had two doors, so I opened the only other door which, indeed, led to our bathroom.  Which consisted of a toilet.  And a shower head.  Under a banana tree.  Under the stars.  It did have four walls, but it was conspicuously missing a sink and a light, and oh, a roof.  I sat and prayed that nothing would slither down from the banana tree while I quickly attended to my business.  Then I found the bar of soap in the hut and held the rest of my body as far away from the cold shower in which I washed my hands.  This certainly was going to be an adventure.

Joey and I decided that even though it was past midnight and we were both physically and emotionally exhausted, a night cap was in order.  Cold drinks in hand, we climbed the stairs to the beach overlook under the moonlight and listened to the ocean. 

Friday morning we slept in as late as the morning heat allowed.  Once our hut started baking we donned our swimsuits and headed down the palm tree-lined path for breakfast.  A thatched roof shielded the picnic tables from the sun; the open-air restaurant provided the perfect spot from which to observe the activity along the shore.  While we enjoyed a scrumptious vegetable omelet and some truly amazing fresh-baked bread, we watched the fisherman untangle their webs of nets and marveled at the rickety, wooden boats bouncing in the waves.

View from breakfast

After breakfast we deposited everything in our hut to walk along the beach.  In addition to the brightly colored sign painted on the tall concrete wall around Big Milly’s Backyard, I’d read on many different websites that while the beach was generally safe,  robbery was not uncommon, and I wasn’t willing to risk my good camera beyond the confines of Big Milly’s property.  So empty-handed we turned left down the beach and into a different world.   

Every few yards a line of workers pulled a thick rope to hold a bobbing boat full of muscular men and fish, while women adorned in brightly colored African fabrics carried away huge bowls full of thousands of tiny, gleaming silver fish and half-naked children chased soccer balls on the sand and into the surf.   All set against a backdrop of blue skies, white sands, crystal waters and the tallest coconut trees I’ve ever seen.  Each person had a role: young boys untangled the fishing nets while stronger, older boys held the rope, and the young men formed an assembly line to transport the freshly caught fish to from the boat to shore.  Old women cleaned and scaled the fish while the men sailed the wooden dhow back out to sea.  Never before have I truly understood the phrase, “it takes a village.”  And while I longed to take pictures of the flurry surrounding us, there’s no way my camera could have captured the hustle and bustle of an entire African fishing village at work.  

The best picture I could get from the safety of Big Milly's property

Sometimes I’m completely awed by the incredible experiences I’ve been so fortunate to have that I never could have even remotely imagined.  This was one of those times.  Is it worth living so far away from my family and friends and putting up with everything we do on a daily basis (not to mention cold showers and vinyl mattresses)?  I’m not sure, but it certainly makes me think.  It also makes me so thankful for not only those opportunities to travel, but for all the opportunities afforded me as an American.  

We turned around and walked the other way down the beach, past Big Milly's, all the way to the other end of the beach and turned around again.  We spent the rest of the day getting to know the locals around Big Milly's and the other expats on holiday, reading, swimming, eating fresh seafood and drinking tropical beverages (which cost $2 each).  That night Big Milly's held its Friday "Culture Night" show, complete with three hours of drumming and dancing.

ghana: part 1

This post is out of order, but I felt like blogging about our trip to Ghana while it was still fresh in my mind.

Two weeks ago Joey and I boarded an Arik flight to Accra.  Never mind that the flight scheduled at 5 pm, for which we departed for the airport at 2 pm, left at 7:30 pm and no one from the airline ever bothered to inform any of the passengers what time the plane would actually be leaving; I was just happy that the plane didn’t crash.   Seriously.

Immediately we were astounded by the differences between Accra and Abuja.  The airport had air conditioning.   A sign welcomed passengers to Ghana.  The immigration agent didn’t hassle us.  (Never mind the very prominent sign behind immigration stating sexual deviancy of any kind would not be tolerated in Ghana…)  The airport even had a currency exchange with stated rates and tour company booths.

We’d booked a hotel, Big Milly’s Backyard, about 25 km outside Accra, in a tiny fishing village called Kokrobite (pronounced “Coke-Row-Bee-Tee”).  Big Milly arranged a taxi to pick us up at the airport, so we scanned the taxi drivers who were standing quietly behind the designated rope.  Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!

Upon uniting with the taxi driver holding the sign, “Melissa – Big Milly’s,” we followed him out of the airport where we saw a bar with a patio!  And most of the cars driving through the parking lot weren’t honking!  While our driver paid for his parking we watched everyone else wait patiently in line – it was surreal.

Even two weeks later I still cannot comprehend how two countries that are so similar can be so different.  As we drove through the capital of Ghana we saw no litter and no one peeing or pooping on the side of the road.  The roads were well-lit and the power never even flickered.  The drivers were courteous, stayed in their lanes and actually stopped when the light turned red.  The cacophony of car horns to which we are accustomed was replaced by the soft breeze from the open window.  Not to mention the fact that Ghana is safe enough to ride in a taxi in the first place; in Nigeria we are never allowed to even think about using public transportation.  And driving with your windows down?  At night?  Forget it. 

We were certainly still in Africa and especially once we left Accra and entered the countryside I was struck by how much Ghana resembles Nigeria.  Vendors and their wares balanced squarely on their heads weaved in and out of traffic, selling everything from sticks of meat and gum to shoe racks, Tupperware, and brightly colored accordions of pre-paid phone cards that look like scratch-off lotto tickets.  Indiscriminate brown dogs and crowing roosters wandered  along the small one-story buildings made from concrete blocks built one on top of another with rusty tin roofs and stains from the perpetual dust and sand in the air that line the road.  The only thing missing was the piles of litter.  Gone were the discarded plastic bags, used water bottles and anything else no longer wanted or needed. 

I forgot to mention a very important detail.  When I climbed in the back seat of the 1980ish hatch-back taxi and reached over my shoulder for the seat belt, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a large tank directly behind my seat.  I fumbled with the broken seat belt for a while until Joey noticed the tank too and mumbled under his breath, “That seat belt isn’t going to do anything for you in an accident.”  To clarify, he struck up a conversation with the driver.

Joey: “Does this car run on gas?”

Driver: “Gas and kerosene.”

Joey: “Did it come that way or did you fix it to run on kerosene?”

Driver (proudly): “I fixed it!”

So for the next three hours (and only 25 km), every time a car brushed by ours, traffic quickly halted or we hit a huge bump in the road, I held my breath and braced myself to become a human RPG.

By the grace of God, despite the horrendous traffic; despite the rain, in the car, since it was too hot to roll up the windows without A/C (the driver used a chamois to clear the fog from the front window), and mosquito infestation that followed; despite traveling for at least half an hour along the darkest, bumpiest and most deserted dirt road I have ever seen in my life when the driver stopped the car to chamois the front window from the outside (at which point we were convinced we were going to be sold for our organs), Joey and I arrived at our destination relatively unscathed.  Some inner-thigh sweat and a few mosquito bites were a small price to pay for our safety.

The blue gates opened and we drove into a grove of coconut trees.  The car parked and when we opened our doors we heard the surf crashing into the sand.  Now we could finally relax.