Monthly Archives: November 2013

Global Citizens Initiative: Modern Day Slavery

Standard

During this week’s Global Citizen’s Initiative class, we discussed human rights, specifically focusing on slavery. Though slavery is illegal pretty much everywhere, it still is a major problem around the world. We watched this TED talk that showed specific examples of slavery around the world, including Ghana. Please take the time to watch:

 

I just went to Lake Volta a few weekends ago and I feel horrified that some of the people I saw fishing could have been slaves. Here’s a link to the website for the organization that is mentioned in the video: http://www.freetheslaves.net/

If you have the time, peruse the website to hear more about the organization’s work. Especially take a gander at the “Take Action” page!

Advertisements

Happy Thanksgiving!

Standard

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. This will be the third Thanksgiving that I’ve spent away from my family, but this is the first time I’ve truly felt alone. During the past two years, I was able to Skype with my family during dinner and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This year though, there’s no parades, no mashed potatoes, and no football (Not that I really care about dudes running around with a ball). It’s strange to be spending such an essential American holiday following my normal Ghanaian routine: breakfast, work, dinner, and bed.  Nevertheless, I find it important to express the many things that I am thankful for. So without further ado, here’s what I am thankful for:

1. Family

The more time that I spend away from my family for college or work, the more I realize how much I love and miss them. I know I’m often guilty of taking them for granted. My family has always been supportive of all of my decisions, even when they aren’t thrilled with them. For example, my parents were very nervous for me to come to Ghana. However, when the time came for me to leave, they made sure that I was prepared as possible. I definitely lucked out on the parental situation. They taught me to be independent, to value hard work, and to try new things. I also greatly admire my sister as she so many wonderful qualities that I lack. Overall, I feel very thankful to have such a wonderful family and can’t wait to see them when I return home.

2. Friends

Though I tend to be a bit of a lone wolf, I’m very grateful for my few, but mighty friends who put up with me on a regular basis. My friends challenge me to be a better person and I never fail to learn new things from them. I’m also thankful for the new friends that I’ve made here in Ghana. Without the support of my fellow obroni, I would have had a much rougher transition here.

3. Health

While I may struggle with some minor health issues, I am thankful that my loved ones and I are relatively healthy. I’m also grateful if I do happen to fail ill, I have insurance and will be able to pay for treatment. Also falling into the health category, I am thankful to live in a place with elaborate sanitation systems and to always have access to clean water.

4. Education

I am very luckily to have parents that value education and sent me to private schools throughout my life. After seeing the education system here in Ghana, I’ve come to realize how much I’ve taken my education for granted. Not only did I learn advanced mathematics and how to write properly, but my teachers also encouraged creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving. I got a lot of personal attention in my small classes, and I never had to worry about caning or any other corporal punishment. Even my ability to use technology is a blessing. So many of my coworkers are amazed at my ability to solve minor computer issues and at the speed I can complete my work on the computer. Lastly, I feel grateful for the opportunity to attend university. College is a privilege that many Americans don’t have, let alone those in less developed countries. Despite my original reluctance, I am very glad that I go to Drexel University. I feel that Drexel is really preparing me for the “real world” and is helping me to figure myself out as a person.

5. Pets

As stupid as it may sound, I’m very thankful to have healthy pets to snuggle with. Here in Ghana, pets are not as common and the ones wandering around tend to look like they’ve come out of the Sarah McLachlan animal abuse commercial. Honestly, one of the things that I’m most excited about returning home other than family and food is seeing my doggies.

6. Nationality

Many people return from traveling with very critical outlooks on their home countries. The thing is, I realize that the United States is far from perfect. The United States struggles with racism, homophobia, disdain for the poor, and many other social and economic problems. However, after living in a developing country for two months, I am extremely grateful for the liberties I enjoy simply because I happened to be born in a particular location. Despite political tension, the United States enjoys democratic elections and peaceful transfers of power. It is far less corrupt than many other countries. Unlike Ghana, I don’t have to bribe the postman for my package, and I don’t have to slip policemen money in order to drive a car between municipalities. Putting taxes aside, I can receive an education through high school for free and learn how to think independently, rather than being indoctrinated and taught to memorize. Lastly, my gender limits me far less in the United States than it would in other countries. I have more freedom to make lifestyle choices than my peers in other countries. Americans are incredibly privileged in ways that we don’t notice or take for grant. For these privileges, I am very grateful.

7. Financial Situation

Like my nationality, my family’s financial situation is simply a privilege that I was born into rather than earned. While my parents don’t have Warren Buffet’s bank account, I have never faced food insecurity or worried about shelter. Not only have my basic needs been met, but I’ve been luckily enough to experience luxuries such as being able to travel. While I pride myself on being fairly fiscally independent (Paying my rent, buying groceries, etc.), I know that my parents are a safety net and would give me money, no questions asked. I’ve worked since I was fifteen, but not entirely out of necessity. My parents encouraged me to work in order to learn the value of a dollar, how to spend money thoughtfully, and to let me buy unnecessary items like a new purse or DVD. I am privileged to be able to accept an unpaid internship. I realize many students cannot afford to forgo a paycheck just because they want to work for a particular organization. Overall, my financial situation provided me seemingly limitless choices for how I want to live and gave me opportunities that others with less money never considered.

8. Courage

This may seem cheesy or boastful, but I am thankful and proud of the courage that it took to come for Ghana. I haven’t done a lot of traveling, and most people who know me would agree that this trip is out of character for me. My boundaries have been pushed here more than I ever could have imagined. I’ve been homesick, physically sick, and generally uncomfortable several times during this trip. However, I’m proud of the experiences I’ve overcome and the strength that it took to do it. During my first two months, I’ve learned a lot about Ghana, but probably even more about myself.

 

There are countless other things that I’m thankful for and have failed to mention in this post. To me, these eight things seem the most important. I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving and remembers to acknowledge all the things that they are thankful for in their lives.

Photo on 2013-11-26 at 11.49

Breman Odwira Afahyea: It’s Festival Time!

Standard

This weekend I traveled to a remote community called Asikuma for a festival celebrating the Breman State. Asikuma is where my friend, Abby, lives and works during the week. We spent the weekend with her homestay family and attended the Grand Durbur, or the main festival program.

Mary, Sarah, and I left Cape Coast on Friday afternoon to make it to Asikuma in time for dinner. It took about two hours, a trotro ride, and a shared taxi tide to get there. Once we made it Asikuma, we wandered around Our Lady of Grace Hospital looking for Abby. Eventually we found her, and made the half an hour walk back to her house. We ran into a parade along the way, and I was escorted by two men dressed in monster masks and clown costumes. It was one my weirder moments in Ghana, which is really saying something. Once we made it to the house, we met the some members of Abby’s homestay family, Auntie Maggie, Sister Bebe, Grandma, and Petra. They showed true Ghanaian hospitality by supplying us with several beverages and giving us the best bedrooms to stay in. We ate a delicious supper of jollaf rice with chicken, pineapple, and watermelon. We all went to bed early in order to get a good night’s sleep before the festival.

We got up bright and early to fit in a brief tour of the town before the Durbur was scheduled to start. Of course being Ghana, the scheduled starting time and the actual starting time were quite different. The program was supposed to begin at 11AM, but when we arrived at the time, the grounds weren’t even set up yet. The program would eventually begin around 2:30PM. So, we did a bit of shopping and headed back to the house for lunch. Shawn, ProWorld’s country director, met us just in time for the festivities, as Sarah needed to return to Cape Coast that evening.

Festival grounds!

Festival grounds!

We went back to where the festival was being held (this time by taxi), and found the seats that Sister Bebe had saved us. We had a great view of the procession of regional chiefs, but were baking in the direct sunlight. I had forgotten to put sunscreen on the tops of my feet and they were on fire! Once all of the regional chiefs had greeted the Paramount chief and took their seats, a man in traditional clothing approached us. Apparently the chiefs had noticed that we were sitting in the sun and invited us to sit next to them under one of the tents. So we awkwardly paraded across the field in front of everyone and took our seats of honor. Since we four of us were the only foreigners to attend the festival, I suppose they wanted to make sure we were as comfortable as possible and could enjoy our visit. The festival proceedings were several hours long, so I was extremely grateful that we were invited into the shade. Also, Mary and I were given programs for free, even though they were charging everyone else one cedi. Since most of the festival was conducted in Twi, the program ensured that I could understand what was happening.

Procession of the regional chiefs

Procession of the regional chiefs

So the Afahye was being celebrated for several reasons. Most broadly, the festival celebrated the development of the Breman state in areas such as career training, environmental preservation, sanitation improvements, and improvement of infrastructure. The Durbur contained an “Appeal for Funds” portion, in which community members were encouraged to donate to the implementation of the Breman’s 5 Year Strategic Development Plan. The Breman Odwira Festival also was an integration of smaller cultural festivals such as Okyir, Bayerdi, Akwanbo, Abangye, and Essa. For example, Bayerdi marks the yam harvest and Akwanbo commemorates the annual ceremonial clearing of all weeds along the ancestral routes to Asikuma. So really, the Breman Odwira Festival is combination of cultural activities as well as a fundraiser for the community.

Traditional Dancing

Traditional Dancing

As a non-Twi speaker, the Durbur consisted of a procession of regional chiefs directly followed by a greeting and a prayer. Then the Paramount Chief, Odeef Amoakwa Buadu VII, gave a welcome address. We got to see some drumming and traditional dancing, and then a few more speeches. After that, there was the fundraising portion, another prayer, and the final procession.  I really enjoyed the final procession that winded through town, culminating at the royal palace. The Paramount Chief was carried in a throne and was followed by musicians. All of the regional chiefs fell into a line behind him. Everyone danced, clapped, and cheered the procession onwards.

Odeef Amoakwa Buadu VII

Odeef Amoakwa Buadu VII

After the procession, we again headed home for dinner. After a quick meal of spaghetti with hard-boiled eggs, we readied ourselves for a night out. Honestly, I wasn’t too excited about partying as my few experiences here in Ghana have left me somewhat uncomfortable. I’m not a fan of the incessant staring and frequent groping, or being made fun of for my lack of dancing skills. Shawn and Sister Bebe decided to come with us (for which I was very grateful) and we walked over to the taxi station, which had been transformed into an open square with a stage. In Ghana, if there is music playing, people will immediately start dancing. That’s why it was so strange that no one was dancing in the square despite the music playing and dance groups performing on stage. It started to rain, so we decided to go back to the “spot” by Abby’s house for a drink.

We all had a tepid beer and some tasty mystery meat before the rain started to pick up. We managed to make into the bar before it started pouring. At that point, the old lady in me just wanted a shower and bedtime. The bar quickly turned into a Ghanaian version of a frat party. I kept getting spilled on, groped, and was generally hot from the amount of people jammed into the area avoiding the rain. As soon as the rain slowed, Mary, Shawn and I grabbed a cab back to the house, leaving Abby and Sister Bebe to continue frolicking. I took my much need showered and conked out.

When I woke up on Sunday, the sky still looked ominous and it was sprinkling off and on.  We ate an early breakfast, and packed up our things. Apparently there was some sort of major Catholic celebration going on in Cape Coast, so Sister Bebe and Abby joined us for our trek home. I was so tired from my busy weekend that I spent the rest of the day reading and napping. Oh well.

I really enjoyed the Asikuma festival and am really glad that I was able to take part in such a rich cultural experience. Funny enough, I got hit on more during this weekend than I have during my entire stay in Ghana. I left about twenty-five boyfriends in Asikuma. So many choices! 😉

Here’s a video of questionable quality that I took of the festival. Ignore the cheesy IMovie transitions!

Basking in Busua

Standard

This past weekend, I went on another trip. Unlike my bustling journey to Volta, I had a super relaxing time  in the little beach town of Busua in the Western Region.

On Saturday morning, all of the ProWorld participants got together for our monthly Impact Project. This time we had to make cement bricks, which will be used for building a new clinic. It wasn’t fun, and I admit that I tried to “supervise” as much as possible to avoid doing actual labor. To make the bricks, you need to mix cement powder with sand and slowly add water. Then you shovel the cement mixture into the molds, making sure to pound it in there. Then you open the mold and plop the brick out to harden in the sun. I managed to avoid mixing the sand and cement and got the easy task of drizzling in the water. I then helped pound the molds and carry them over to where they were drying. The bricks were very heavy and we had to carry them in pairs. It was extremely hot that morning and we were all sweating. After making around forty bricks, we were very happy to be finished and get out of the sun.

After our brick-making experience, we got on a trotro to Takoradi. Along the way we bought Fan Ices, which are ice cream sachets, and bowlfruit, or doughnuts. Once we made it to Takoradi, we took another tro to a small town outside Busua and finally a taxi to Alaska Beach Resort. We dumped all our stuff in our little hut and immediately went to dinner. We feasted on mediocre burritos and margaritas. After that, we headed over to a rooftop bar where we danced with our Canadian-Ghanaian bartender, Sewaa, and met some fellow obrunis who work in Accra. After returning to our hut around midnight, we all agreed that we would sleep in late the next day.

Alaska Resort

Alaska Resort

Of course I was up and ready for breakfast around 6AM. We enjoyed delicious egg and cheese sandwiches and planned for a fun beach day. Busua is known for having some of the most beautiful beaches in Ghana and great surfing. While I decided to save surfing lessons for my next visit, I definitely wanted to take advantage of the warm water and soft sand. We swam for a few hours before warming ourselves under the brilliant sun. We had a brief lunch and then decided into looking into rent some sea kayaks. It turned out the kayaks were a steal at 10 cedi ($5USD) for an hour and decided to rent a couple. Max decided to surf instead, so the girls paired off for the kayaks.

IMG_0861

The problem was, none of us had ever been sea kayaking. The men who rented the kayaks merely gave us life jackets and told us, “Two to a kayak. Paddle together.” We also had terrific timing and decided to kayak during high tide. Using some common sense, we figured that you had to swim out the kayaks past the break waves and then climb on. Easier said than done. Abby and I battled the waves for a good twenty minutes, swimming out with the kayak only to be knocked back to shore by a large wave. Robin and Lexie were having even more difficulty, as they are quite a bit shorter and couldn’t touch the bottom. I got knocked around by the waves a lot and probably would have drowned without my life jacket. I miraculously managed to not lose my sunglasses. Eventually we were saved by this European man who grabbed our kayak after a particularly rough wave swept it away. He said he’d help us get on it and took control of swimming it past the waves. When we made it past most of the big waves, we still faced the struggle of actually climbing onto the kayak. The water was too deep to touch the bottom and I lack upper body strength, so I performed a body roll to heft myself up on it. It must have been a hilarious sight. After bidding our helpful European a fond adieu, we began to paddle towards this island. We neared the island and noticed the strong waves. We decided to turn around rather than risk getting stuck on the island with no one to help us get past the waves. With my arms burning, we managed to make it back to the beach where our European and his family congratulated us on surviving. Getting past the waves was terrifying, but once we were paddling, sea kayaking was an amazing experience. I’m so happy that I went!

IMG_0862

After kayaking, we were exhausted. We went back to our hut and laid on our beds for over an hour. Max returned from surfing and eventually we mustered up enough energy to go to dinner. After a disappointing dinner (the burritos were “finished”), we returned to our hut with intention of going back to visit Sewaa and the rooftop bar.  However, we got sidetracked by our beds and were asleep by 9PM.

IMG_0860

The next morning, we slept in before having breakfast and catching a taxi and two trotros back to Cape Coast. I was sad to leave Busua as I had a fun and relaxing weekend. Abby and I promised each other that we would make it back before I leave in January. Besides, I still have to take surfing lessons!

Busua tips:

Cheapest lodging: Alaska Resort (beware of cockroaches and communal baths).

Eating: Eat at the restaurant attached to Black Star Surf Shop. I particularly recommend their breakfasts. The banana cinnamon oatmeal and the egg and cheese sandwiches are delicious. The restaurant at Kangaroo Pouch Resort appears to have the best burritos, but avoid the rest of the food if they’ve run out of burrito ingredients.

To do: Take a surfing lesson for about 40 cedi ($20). Rent a sea kayak (Preferably during low tide!).  Go swimming or relax on the lovely beaches.

IMG_0866

Alaska Beach Resort

IMG_0867

Our little hut

IMG_0861

Cultural Differences

Standard

One of my coworkers, Victor, is very interesting in learning about the United States from me. His English is only somewhat better than my Fante, so we communicate using hand gestures and broken sentences. One day he asked me, “How is America’s culture different than Ghana’s?” I was stumped. How could I simply explain the vast differences between the countries? Besides, I know that my experience being raised in the Midwest is unique from someone located in the South or West Coast. Then there are the differences that arise strictly from the countries’ economies and differences in infrastructure. Technically those differences aren’t cultural, but they sure are significant. Lastly, I’ve only experienced the southern part of Ghana. I am aware that Ghanaian culture is not homogenous and differs by community and region.

Victor asks me about cultural differences at least once a week. I answer him with short examples of differences that I’ve noticed rather than sweeping generalizations. Here’s a list of some of the cultural differences that I came up with:

1.  Don’t Use Your Left Hand!

Traditionally the right hand was used for eating and the left hand was used for bathroom activities. Consequently, it is rude to use the left hand in interactions such as giving or receiving an item, or gesturing for directions. I am fairly ambidextrous and have a difficult time limiting the use of my left hand. Ghanaians visibly cringe when I slip up and hand them money with the wrong hand. Usually a quick “Sorry,” remedies the situation and lets them know you are aware of the cultural etiquette. I think that I’ve finally got the hang of handing money to a vendor while receiving my purchase only using my right hand. It’s trickier that you would expect!

2.  No Smelling Your Food

Another quirky etiquette rule is that it is considered rude to smell your food before you eat it. Once I was buying a pineapple and sniffed the bottom to check if it was ripe. The vendor yelled at me and I hastily bought the pineapple. I’m now more discreet with my fruit-sniffing.

3.  Importance of Greetings

For me, this is one of the biggest cultural differences between Ghana and the U.S. It is very important to greet people properly (Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening).This is starkly different from my train rides to work where I never talked to anyone despite seeing the same commuters everyday.  At first, it is tricky figuring out who you actually have to greet when you walk past and who you can ignore. There are certain people who live or work near my house that I greet every time and I pass, and the rest I just use the eye contact rule: if you make eye contact, say hello. Most of the time I really enjoy this custom as people sincerely care about your well being. However, some days I just want to walk to work without being asked for my phone number.

4.  Excuse Me? No, Hiss….

Back at home if I wanted to catch a stranger’s attention, I would politely say, “Excuse me.” That doesn’t work so well here. Ghanaians hiss at people who they don’t know to gain their attention. At first, this seemed very rude. Now the hissing doesn’t faze me, and is actually quite useful in trotros or markets.

5.  Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, Except in Public Spaces

Ghanaians like to keep their personal spaces very neat. My homestay mother, for example, sweeps and mops the floor every day around 5AM.  She then spends most of the evening picking up after her son, doing laundry, and cleaning the kitchen. After my cleaning proved not to be up to her standards, Auntie Alice even offered to clean my room. I’ve talked to my coworkers and other ProWorld participants and the general consensus is that it is important to Ghanaians to have a clean home. However, this cleanliness does not carry over to public areas. Unlike the U.S., municipalities are not responsible for trash collection. Instead, Ghana has one waste management company, Zoomlion, to manage trash. Zoomlion is known to be ineffective and has recently been accused of fraud and bribery. Because of the lack of public garbage cans, Ghanaians throw their trash anywhere and everywhere. Streets are littered with garbage and the open sewers often get clogged with waste. Also open defecation is still prevalent, especially in rural areas. This is leading to the contamination of water sources and the spreading illnesses. I believe that a combination of education and improvement in sanitation infrastructure is necessary to limit diseases and ensure water is clean.

6.  Speaking of God…

After attending Catholic school for twelve years, I thought I would be prepared for working and living in a religious environment. I was wrong. I am overwhelmed daily by the fervor in which Ghanaians worship. Though I realize some areas in the U.S. are more religious than others, I doubt that any U.S. community has a liquor store called “Blood of Christ Spirits.” It seems to me that almost every business is named using a biblical reference, which can create some hilarious results. You can hear religious services on the radio and watch them at all hours. The most interesting is this Nigerian broadcast on Sundays that shows exorcisms. My Auntie Alice laughed at my reaction when we watched it together. Religion permeates every aspect of Ghanaians’ lives. For example, when inquiring about someone’s well being, a common response is, “By God’s grace.” At my work, we pray everyday and even fast on the second Tuesday of the month. As someone who is unreligious, this is probably the most difficult cultural difference to adjust to. Though dealing with the prevalence of religion here has increased my patience, understanding, and tolerance.

7. Bargaining to Avoid the “Obruni Levy”

In Ghana, very few things have set prices, especially if you are white. It is very common for vendors and taxi drivers to steeply increase their prices for an obruni because they assume that white people don’t know the fair price. Besides, Ghanaians think that all white people, especially Americans, are rich. Thus, I’ve learned that it is very important to know the estimated price of an item before you go buy it. I’ve really relied on the other ProWorld participants to figure out prices for everything. I’ve learned that the trick to bargaining is to appear as though you don’t care for the item in question. Usually if you mention that you will come back later or go somewhere else, the vendor will lower the price in order to make a sale. At first I felt guilty over haggling over a few cedi. However, it isn’t fair for me to keep paying extra just because I look like an easy target. Besides, vendors know the cost of their wares and will not sell anything at a loss.

8. Gender Dynamics

This is by far the most difficult topic to write about as the issue is so complex. It seems to me that there are very different expectations for men and women. Women are absolutely expected to cook, clean, and take care of the children. On top of this, more and more women are getting jobs outside the home, increasing their workload. Women are encouraged to be modest and are thought to be “fast” if they happen to go out at night. Men, on the other hand, are expected to provide for their families fiscally. Outside of work, men can go out drinking with their friends or can relax at home. There are even unequal expectations in marriages. If the man is unfaithful in a marriage, the wife is just needs to accept it. However if the roles are reversed, the husband should divorce his wife.

The difference in gender roles can be seen even in early childhood. Young girls are responsible for helping their mothers cook, do laundry and take care of their younger siblings. Little boys seem to be babied here and allowed to spend all their free time playing. My homestay brother, Papi Kofi, is eight years old and still doesn’t get dressed by himself. Auntie Alice has to dress him, brush his hair, etc before school.

Here’s another anecdote: my friend Mary goes to small villages to host outreaches about health issues. She was giving a discussion on the importance of washing your hands before you eat, as most Ghanaians eat with their hands. A man asked her, “Sometimes my wife doesn’t give me soap and water to wash my hands. What should I do then?” Mary was baffled by the question and had her male Ghanaian coworker answer. John pretty much told him to grow up and get his own soap and water.

An issue I’ve had here is that men won’t even listen to women. When we were on our trip to Volta, Abby and I notice that we took the wrong turn to go to the monkey sanctuary. We told the trotro driver and his two friend and they just blew us off. A few minutes later, they realize we were indeed going the wrong direction and turned around. When we relayed the story to a ProWorld staff, she confirmed that they didn’t listen to us because we are females. We should have had Max or Jason tell them.

I am often disturbed by the gender dynamics in Ghana. While I realize that complete equality has yet to be reached in the U.S, I am grateful to live in a culture where such extreme double standards and expectations don’t dictate my behavior. Part of CRAN’s mission is to encourage women’s empowerment. I hope that I can get involved in this aspect of work while I’m in Ghana.

Guide to Transportation in Ghana

Standard

Despite the terrible conditions of the roads, there are several options to getting around Ghana. Here’s a bit of info on the ones I’m familiar with:

Walking

Due to my lack of regular exercise, walking is my mode of choice. You get to interact with locals, browse stalls, and get a bit of sun. It’s also brutally hot to walk anywhere and I always get to my destination drenched in sweat. It is very important to pay attention while walking. No rocking out to your iPod! Drivers don’t look out for pedestrians and there are very few stop signs/lights. There appear to be no road rules and people drive all over the place.  Not to mention, the roads are bumpy and have “obruni traps” or open sewers that you can fall in. When it rains, there are huge puddles and it gets muddy and slippery. From personal experience, avoid wearing sandals after a heavy rain. Despite being very vigilant while walking, I was already hit by a car. I was at Sunday Market and was stuck in a huge crowd of people with nowhere to move. A taxi also decided that it wanted to go through the crowd and started edging through. I got hit at like 2MPHs in the back of the legs as the driver tried to push his way through the crowd. Obviously I flipped out at him. This is a lesson that drivers here do not care for safety, so you really need to pay attention.

Shared Taxis

Shared taxis are often the transportation of choice by Ghanaians. Pretty much they are taxis that have a set destination and will let you out anywhere along that route. The “shared” aspect comes from the fact that you will share the taxi with three other people (Or more if they pack in people illegally). Shared taxis have set prices along their routes are inexpensive. You can pick up a shared taxi at the side of the road by pointing in your desired direction, or if you don’t know, shouting it at the drivers. Drivers will honk if they have open seats in the taxi. You can also go to a taxi stand and look for the car that is going to your destination (They use portable signs). You might have to wait at the station until the car fills up completely. Note: if you are a foreigner and no one else is getting in the car, it is important to tell the driver that you wanted a “share.” Otherwise you will be charged for a drop taxi (see below).

Drop Taxis

Drop taxis are just like regular taxis back in the United States. They take you from Point A to Point B. Unlike western taxis, it is important to decide on a price with the taxi driver before getting into the car. Depending on the time of day, the amount of passengers, and the distance, drop taxis can be expensive. If you stay out late at night, they can often be your only option of getting home. I usually try to avoid taking drop taxis because of the inflated price. Because I don’t live too far away from the main road, I usually try and find a shared taxi and walk the rest of the way. This isn’t a problem as I don’t usually stay out very late. You can take drop taxis long distances, but because of the price I don’t recommend it. Like shared taxis, you can either pick up a drop taxi on the side of the road or at a stand.

Trotros

I have a love-hate relationship with trotros. A trotro is a large van that holds about fifteen to twenty people and goes to a set destination. However, you can get off anywhere along the way to the final destination. Inside the tro is the driver and his mate. The mate is in charge of taking the money, telling the driver when to pull over, and opening the sliding door for passengers to get in and out.  The pros of taking trotros are that they are extremely cheap and go pretty much everywhere in Ghana. Not to mention, you get to meet a diverse amount of Ghanaians. However, you are usually crammed in with a bunch of sweating people and having to keep getting in and out when someone behind you or next you reaches their destination. Plus trotro drivers seem to be the most reckless. They speed uncontrollably, pass cars around curves, and are generally unsafe. Like taxis, you can either pick up tros on the side of the road or at a trotro station. If you go to the station, you will have to wait until the van fills up, which can take a while depending on the destination. If you are on the road, simply point in your desired direction. Tros will honk if they have open seats.

This particular trotro is referred to as an "Obama." I have no idea why.

This particular trotro is referred to as an “Obama.” I have no idea why.

Buses

Buses go to most major cities in Ghana. They are more comfortable than trotros and are a bit more expensive. Depending on the bus, it might be air-conditioned or have a TV. There are technically set schedules of when each bus departs, but it is hard to find out the schedule, and can depend on how full the bus is. While buses will let you off along their set route, you can only pick one up at a bus station. Buses are a good option if you have a lot of luggage, but don’t want to hire a private car. I’ve take the Mass Metro bus, aka Ghana’s answer to Megabus,  to Accra. Warning: Mass Metro can take a long time. Accra is only two hours away, but it took me seven hours using Mass Metro. Worst Ride Ever.

Ever seen plantains on your bus ride?

Ever seen plantains on your bus ride?

Trains

Apparently there used to be trains that took you to several of Ghana’s main cities. However, this service shut down and I’m not sure if it will resume. This is sad because I really like trains!

Planes

Many large cities in Ghana have small airports in them (Though Cape Coast is airport-less). Apparently you can get fairly inexpensive tickets to travel in country. While I haven’t tried it, using these airports is by far the quickest way to get around Ghana. It might be worth it if you want to travel to the northern regions.

 

A weird quirk about trotros and busses are that women are not usually allowed to sit in the front seat near the drivers. Apparently the male drivers are a superstitious lot and believe it is bad luck for a female to be up front. After some negative experiences with this, I find it ridiculous and annoying.

Volta Region Day 3: Monkeys and Kente

Standard

Irritated by the previous night’s food service, we decide to skip breakfast at Mount Paradise and find something off the road to eat. Because it was Sunday and most people were in church, the options were limited. I ended up eating an entire loaf of plain white bread. Yay carbs! We then headed over to Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary.

After buying some bananas for the monkeys off the street, we paid our admittance fee and started our trek into the forest. Unlike many other sanctuaries, the monkeys at Tafi Atome are wild and roam the forest freely. Our guide led us down a muddy path, making a strange lip smacking sound to attract the monkeys. We thought we had gotten there at 8AM, thinking that was plenty early. Unfortunately several tourist groups had already past through and fed the monkeys, leaving them fairly satisfied. We were able to see two families of Mona monkeys. Max and I had the best luck at feeding them. I got to hold a banana while a little monkey peeled it and ate it out of my hand! Because they weren’t very hungry, none of them climbed on us. Despite this, I really enjoyed visiting Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary and would love to go back.

IMG_0823

Mona Monkey

We then got back into our trotro to head to our last destination in Volta, the Kente Village. Kente is a traditional woven fabric that was originally worn by kings for important occasions. As our guide told us, the people of the village were inspired by spiders building their webs. Thus in that village, it is taboo to kill spiders. We were taken to the “factory,” which was just a large room with a series of looms. Each loom belonged to a specific family. I found it interesting that both men and women weave kente as egalitarianism can be lacking here. After watching a demonstration, we were then given the opportunity to try weaving a bit. Weaving kente is difficult as it involves both your hands and your feet. It takes a lot of coordination which I lack. We then were showed some finished kente to buy. Apparently you were supposed to buy from the family of the person who showed how to weave. Abby and I missed that memo and we bought from someone else who had cheaper and prettier patterns. Our teacher proceeded to yell at us and convince us to buy some more from him. I firmly declined and once again thanked him for helping us. He was not happy.

Kente Cloth

Kente Cloth

Once we all bought some kente, we headed back to the trotro to begin our long trip home. We were starving, as we had eaten very little in the past two days. Thus we decided to stop in Accra to get some tasty vittles. We stopped at the Accra Mall, or the only mall in Ghana, to stretch our legs and get some pizza. The pizza was the best that I’ve had in Ghana (which in American standard isn’t saying much) and I inhaled four slices, some French fries, and an ice cream. It was the first time all weekend that I was actually full. We stopped at the grocery store and I pick up some cheese and chocolate—two staples sorely missed in my current diet. We then got into the tro for the last time and headed home. We arrived back in Cape Coast around 8:30PM and I promptly went to bed.

YAY CHEESE!!

YAY CHEESE!!

Despite a few negative experiences (lack of food, hellish hike, etc), I adored the Volta region. I would definitely add it to any must-see list for anyone traveling to Ghana!