Takoradi Ghana: downtown in the market area; typical street scene.
Greetings from Takoradi
This is an English-speaking enclave in French West Africa.
The bus from Abidjan Cote d'Ivoire left late. When we arrived at the border, Ghana customs officers decided they must inspect every item of cargo that had been crammed on and in the bus. I don't know why as all we were carrying besides passengers were things like rusty used auto parts, bags of grain, live chickens, cartons of powdered milk and the like. My Yellow Fever inoculation records were checked, something rarely done at other borders.
While we waited the hour it took the police to convince themselves we had no contraband on board, hoards of hawkers tried to sell us things like bulging clear plastic bags of water, music CD's, roasted yams, boiled corn, etc. Eventually we were allowed to continue on our way. I will say that the bus driver demonstrated his safety consciousness and driving skills, especially considering what he had to drive.
When we got to the first large Ghana town the sun had long before winked into darkness. Takoradi turned out to be the dinner stop for passengers. Not anxious to travel in the dark I decided to abandon the bus and search for someplace to spend the night. Near the bus stop I found the Melody Motel with the help of a boy delighted to guide me for a few coins. The $26 lodge offered most of the essentials, but required cash in Cedis of which I had little. So, the next morning off I trotted looking for a new place to live for a few days, one that would accept credit cards for payment.
About 5-6km out of town on a hill overlooking the ocean I found the Valley Beach Hotel. The $46 room rate could be paid by credit card, they assured me. The rural setting made walking a delight and taxi rides to town only cost 71 cents for exclusive use of the cab (after extensive bargaining every-time) or a fixed 28 cents for shared rides. Feeling comfortable and enjoying the ability to use my own language again, I stayed a total of 7 nights in Takoradi and its twin city, Secundi.
I found it interesting that most mini-vans were decorated with Christian religious slogans like "The lord is my protector. In his arms I am safe." Many storefronts also carried such slogans. There are a few Muslims in Ghana, too. One of the Muslim stores carried the slogan "If Allah say no, nobody can say yes."
My biggest problem turned out to be cash. The ATM machines could only dispense 40 notes at a time and my bank charges me $5 for EACH cash advance transaction. The largest note in Ghana is the 5000 Cedis bill, worth about 71 cents. That meant the largest cash advance I could get from the machines would be about $28 resulting in my paying 18% commission each time! Eventually I learned the main branch of Barkley's Bank could do a manual credit card cash advance for larger amounts. Imagine my surprise when they handed me a half inch thick stack of 140 notes a for my $100 payment. Stuffed in my front pocket everyone could see the huge bulge, and on the street most people's eyes went right to that spot! Very few other people carried that much cash where others could see it.
Hardly anyone in Ghana smokes. This contrasts dramatically with all the surrounding French dominated countries in West Africa. Thoughtless smokers in this part of the world have been the bane of my existence. Ghana is a breath of fresh air... literally. I hope no tobacco company official learns about this. I'd hate to see Ghana identified as an untapped market for smoking products, ripe for exploitation.
Santa Barbara has gulls; Takoradi has vultures. They circle overhead all day long. On several occasions I searched for the dead meat I assumed they must have been stalking, but found none. I did see a garbage dump on the edge of the city where a bunch of them were having a picnic, and intimidating one another over particularly tasty morsels. The others just seemed to enjoy soaring as far as I could tell.
Restaurants have not learned how to cut bread as every slice had a crumbly surface, hard to butter. A bread knife merchant could make a fortune around here. Waiters take forever figuring the bill, puzzling over the arithmetic like they skipped that subject in school.
Generally speaking, I've been pretty lucky with health problems on this trip. It's a good thing too, as medical assistance misses first world standards by a wide margin. As luck would have it my old ear infection reasserted itself. Fortunately I remembered the treatment we had used back home and a q-tip with Goldbond antibiotic cream eventually did the trick, but not before I'd gotten a similar infection inside my left nostril and also began experiencing the symptoms of a full blown cold that kept me miserable for the next three weeks as it migrated from head to lungs.
There were several news stories about the use of Private Military Companies for "peace keeping" operations in some of the countries still experiencing insurgencies. I'd always thought that mercenary armies were a thing of the past. Not so, and some of the arguments I read actually make sense. Why not privatize parts of the national military activities. In any case, there already are plenty of private security agencies providing rent-a-cops for businesses and private individuals all over sub-Saharan Africa.
Television programs and several conversations with local residents made it clear that slavery is far from dead around here. It is an active issue at the moment in this part of the world. Parents sometimes "sell" their kids into indentured servitude. Large numbers of other kids are abducted and taken far from their homes where they are offered food, shelter and protection in exchange for their labor. Parents search in vain for their missing children. Still other kids without families are taken in by exploitive farmers and convinced they have no other options, but to work for their keep. Conditions usually are harsh.
The entire coast of Ghana is referred to as the Gold Coast. Large quantities of the metal in addition to slaves were traded for European manufactured goods in the early days. Takoradi was one of the main slave terminus points in West Africa during the years of slave trade. Ancient Fort Orange sits on the coast nearby as a grim reminder of man's inhumanity to man during those miserable years.
The fort sits on a hill near the fishermen's harbor and market that has been in continuous operation for hundreds of years. They still use the traditional dugout boats in their ocean fishing. Talking to one of the boatmen I learned a crew of men could make a new boat from a solid log with about two weeks of hard work. I got some interesting pictures the day I visited the place.
In town near the big two-block diameter circular market people greeted me with "Hello fadda," a term of respect as best I could determine. After taking a few pictures near the market a guy approached me to say if a policeman caught me taking pictures, he would arrest me. I never did figure out what that was all about, though I've heard many people expect to be paid when tourists take their picture.
Accra Ghana: I guess an African expedition
must be expected to have periods of discomfort and loneliness. I see I am
now three fourths of the way through my 12 month sojourn.
Greetings from Accra Gahna
Finally I headed on over to Accra where I spent 9 miserable days in a luxurious $60 suite at the Regency Hotel trying to shake a persistent cold that kept me feeling wiped out. My initial investigations of hotel possibilities in the center of town left me discouraged. Prices were high for anything that met first world standards and the affordable places offered enough color and squalor to worry the most seasoned traveler. The hotel I finally chose after a half day of searching sits several kilometers from the city center, but as I spent most of the time in bed it really didn't matter. The local television in English offered a steady diet of televangelists screaming at listeners day and night, so I got little solace from the tube. Whatever my health problem it kept producing nose bleeds and ugly green discharges from all the coughing demanded by my congested chest .
During the few days of feeling "good" I explored the downtown areas and the beach resorts. Accra is an expensive town for tourists. At one point I went searching for a pharmacy to buy some aspirin. Most Apothecaries dispensed the pills from a giant sized open bottle always sitting on dusty shelves. These I declined. The option seemed to be small sealed bottles of 25 at usury prices. Eventually I found a merchant with bubble packs for ordinary people: cheap and sanitary. Accra has nothing like a department store or shopping mall. When asked, everyone directed me to Makola, a four story building resembling a motel where each of the rooms along the outdoor walkway served as a store selling unimaginative staples in large containers; hardly a department store! Under construction in the heart of the city were clusters of new stores that might become something familiar to Americans... even a golden arch... just one for religious reasons one person said, but it looked like it might be years before the first cash register drawer would spring open. If you want modern shopping, go to some other country.
Internet access I found costs less than a dollar an hour with good connectivity, so I spent as much time in the cybercafé as I could trying to catch up on the big backlog of photos and postcards which had accumulated. Dumb me, every-time I'd awaken feeling much better I'd go back to working at a terminal during the day and end up feeling rotten again that night. By the end of my stay in Accra I thought I had shaken the bug... felt pretty good for several days as I headed on East into Togo.
Good-bye for now. Think peace. (cont.)