Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Acra: Reunions

Tuesday morning was the official start of our trip, but six of us had come early to go to the village. The rest of our group had arrived in Ghana and picked us up in the morning. Our trip is arranged through Land Tours. For a package fee you get a bus and driver, hotel accomodations, most meals, and a tour to many of the interesting locations in the southern half of Ghana.
We drove to the Coconut Grove Regency Hotel in Accra to drop off our luggage and then jumped on the bus for a guided tour of Accra. We inched through traffic as the tour guide explained the history of Accra, pointed out the old British colonial buildings, the homes raised off the ground by pilings, built by the early missionaries; we saw the government buildings, the streetside markets, the teeming masses at Osu, along with the lighthouse, fort, and beach. Everywhere we looked people were milling about with wares for sale carried on their heads. One man had a huge raft of foam (6 feet square) with hundreds of sunglasses stuck in it.
We stopped at the Kwame Nkrumah memorial park, a beautiful, imposing marble monument to the first president of Ghana, who was quickly deposed in a coup and imprisoned shortly after his election. The monument houses his burial place, and resembles a tree cut down at the trunk. I don't know how we timed things so perfectly, but they were celebrating the centennial of his birth. All of the trees were wrapped in green, red, and gold ribbons. Brightly-dressed people--politicians, the press, and Ghanaian celebrities, were seated under pavilions lining the water in front of the monument. On a raised pavilion in the center, the Vice President and other heads of state watched as singers, performers, and speakers conducted the program from an opposite stage. Hordes of performers in traditional Ghanaian costumes were grouped together on the lawn, waiting their turn to take the stage. Men with news cameras trolled the grounds, frequently stopping to pan across our group--practically the only obrunis at the event. I'm sure if you were watching the national tv channel at the right time, you would have seen our two-minute claim to fame.

We watched the event for about half an hour and left for the bus. Just a block away is the arts and crafts market, a popular place for tourists to view and purchase traditional kente cloth, batiks, artwork, drums, and other things. The instant we left the bus we were thronged by men trying to push their wares on us. They were extremely pushy: "hello my friend" (sticks out hand for you to shake, and then holds on to it for five minutes.) "What is your name? Where are you from?" They all smiled with frenetically forced friendliness that was more than a little creepy. One man asked me to write my name on his notebook, which I foolishly did. A few minutes later he hunted me down in the market to show me a bracelet he had made with my name on it. He asked for three cedi's, but after awhile I was able to talk him down to one cedi.
Once you enter the market you are assaulted by people trying to sell you things. They push things into your hands and tell you to hold on to them for awhile. They'll grab you by the arm and pull you into their little booths to show you stacks of kente cloth, or piles of little canvases with painted African scenes, or little dresses made of batik fabric; then they stand in your way and hand you pile after pile of things, hoping something finally sticks. After running the gauntlet for thirty minutes I had bought two strips of kente for 20 cedis--a rip off at that price, but still only $13.80 USD.
We slogged back to the bus, trailing lines of new "friends". It was like walking through mud. Even on the bus they would knock on the windows and hold up things, talking to us incessantly. All in all we have a smart group: everyone had bought one or two things, and the contents of our wallets were mostly intact.

We stopped at a restaurant for a delicious lunch. Most of our arranged meals consist of a traditional Ghanaian buffet: spicy jollof rice, baked chicken and fish with hot cilantro or pepper sauce (called Shito), fried plantains, potato fries, and various dishes that look semi-indian: curried black eye peas, baked beans, something that looked like spinach saag, and a peanut gumbo. It was delicious.
After lunch we visited the WEB Dubois museum. Dubois was the first black college graduate in the states. He moved back to Ghana and did good things for them.
After the bus tour we hung out at the hotel. It's a nice collection of four-story brick buildings with arched windows, built by . A bunch of politicians were staying there for a policy summit in Accra. We heard snippets of talk in French, Twi, and a distinct English accent that sounds different from the standard Ghanaian English. I was delighted to have my laptop back. I spent most of the afternoon attempting to upload pictures from the trip and writing blog articles. The wifi was extremely slow--it would take five minutes to upload a single picture. I cried as I looked over the children's pictures, especially one of this beautiful little girl in a blue head scarf. Alisha and I want to adopt a Ghanaian baby, and we're just praying that some opportunity opens up in the next year or two.
We ate an excellent buffet dinner with the politicians and hung out for awhile at the hotel. We started to get a little stir-crazy, so someone suggested we go out looking for mangoes. I had just learned how to eat a mango: you squeeze it for a few minutes until the inside is soft, and then you bite a little hole where the stem used to be and suck the juice out. Eventually your mango will be deflated, so you suck out the seed, chew on it for awhile, and throw it away.
We walked along the dark streets of Accra, dodging the open sewers and keeping an eye out for traffic. A mile or so down the road we came to the edge of Osu. We found a lady selling mangoes and water. We bought the rest of her inventory and headed back to the hotel with mango juice running down our chins.

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