Saturday, November 29, 2014

AFRICA: DRIVING BACK TO ACCRA, FLYING HOME, AND A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS

After our four days of exploring the slave forts and castles on Ghana's coast, we reluctantly made our way back to Accra. We had found Ghana to be an energetic, bustling, and very stimulating place, but Russ and Shelley needed to get back to missionary work, and after almost three weeks in Africa, we had to go home. 

Our drive back to the capital city was every bit as fun as the rest of our time in Ghana. There was always something to see. For example, over 71% of Ghana's citizens are Christians, but theirs is a much livelier form of Christianity than I'm used to, evidenced by the names of the businesses. Here is a sampling that I wrote down in my journal:
       God's Power Motors
       Blessed Home Catering
       The Battle is the Lord's Men & Women's Wear
       By Grace Furniture and Coffin Workshop
       Blessed School
       God First Enterprises Wood and Cement
       Father's Legacy International School
       Motorway Mothercare
       River of Peace Beauty Salon
Note the juxtaposition of this billboard that promises "Life Transformation and Miracle Services"
and the Chevy van that appears to be miraculously balancing on its rear wheels.
Can you see the "Jesus Palace"? Not exactly my idea of what a place with that name would look like.
Ghana also has a growing Muslim population: 15.9% of their total population in 2000 and 17.6% in 2010. We saw this Muslim family walking along the side of the highway as we approached Accra:

Some other names and signs we saw along the way included:
       "Rumble strips" (speed "humps" in East Africa and speed "bumps" in the US)
       Obama College
       George Walker Bush Motorway (a six-lane, 8.7 mile-long highway in Accra
               that opened in 2012)
       Several signs reading "This property is NOT for sale"  (Apparently they have a 
              problem with scam realtors selling property willy-nilly as they wish)
       Black and White Food Joint (not sure if that refers to the decor, the food, or the 
              diners)
       Signs that read: "Overspeeding kills! Over 5 [or 10 or 32] persons died here!"

We were just starting to get used to the unique Ghanaian pronunciations, like "coo-COOM-ber" for cucumber and "mel-AHN-coh-lee" for melancholy. Russ and Shelley were especially good at interpreting these for us. It's like speaking another language.

The exuberance of the Ghanaian people often spills over into their man-made environment. These brightly-painted buildings, for example, reflect the African love for color and pattern (and they also remind me of my friend Elizabeth's artistic quilts):
Of course, World Cup/soccer fever was apparent everywhere, as was the Ghanaian love for Coca-Cola, two things I will see in the United States, but it's just not the same here at home as it was in Africa, where soccer is a universal passion:

As we made our approach to Accra, we noticed quite a few makeshift barbecues at the side of the road selling some kind of meat known as "grasscutter." Bob has a penchant for roadside barbecues (see his experience with a pig on a spit in Bosnia here), and he was begging Russ to stop, but thankfully Russ resisted Bob's pleas.

Since coming home, I've done a little research on grasscutters, a local delicacy more officially known as "cane rats." Now I ask you, does that sound like something you'd buy for dinner from a vendor at the side of the road in Ghana? Yeah, me neither. Because we didn't stop, I had to borrow my photos from various sources, so if you want to know more about this popular dish, click on the links:
What's for dinner, honey? Cane rat? Oh goody! Photo from here
We saw many of these interesting barbecue structures
as we sped by on the highway. Photo from here
Cooked and ready to eat. Photo from here
I've read that grasscutter is a lot like cuy (guinea pig), which we ate in Peru, but the difference is that our cuy didn't come to the table looking like a rodent that had been run over by a semi, and our cuy was cooked in an oven in an expensive restaurant rather than on an outdoor barbecue at the side of the highway.

Thank you, Russ. You knew Bob would have bought and chewed on one of these. Ick.

On the other hand, we were very impressed by the industry of the Ghanaians, evidenced by these roadside barbecues and many other efforts. There was some kind of commerce going on everywhere we looked. In the US, we would call this "micro-business," but I think in Ghana it is "staying alive."
Note the business name painted on the side of the building above: "Pharmatrust Pharmacy."
I wonder what this load of grass was going to be used for? A thatched roof? Feeding stock?

The deeper we drove into Accra, the more intense the traffic became. As we crawled along at a snail's pace, hawkers walked in between the rows of cars. I can't imagine what it would be like to live like this, inhaling the exhaust from the idling vehicles all day long, carrying such a load on my head, and making very little money. 

These women all look pretty detached, don't they? No smiles, blank faces.

Pardon the graininess of the photo, taken through the car window and cropped, but note
the Lakers shirt. Wilt Chaimberlain wore #13, and the number has been retired.
I wonder if this man knows who Wilt is? I'd bet he does.
There were hundreds of these vendors, mostly women but also men and children, selling every kind of product, 
. . . which is what made this sign downright hilarious:
A.M.A. = Accra Metropolitan Assembly
We got back to Russ and Shelley's apartment in time to have one last delicious meal courtesy of Shelley before Russ took us to the airport to meet our 10:10 p.m. flight. We allotted three hours just in case there was traffic or problems with check-in, but everything went smoothly.

The airport is named for Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka, a member of the coup that overthrew the first president of Ghana in February 1966. He himself was killed in a coup attempt a year later. That's an interesting choice for the name of Ghana's main airport, isn't it? I kept finding myself thinking, Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore.
Photo from here
Kotoka Airport is pretty small for being the busiest airport in the country. By way of comparison, in 2013, Kotoka International Airport had 2,684,000 million passengers and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the airport we were flying to, had 66,667,619 passengers. Even our little local airport in Ontario had 3,969,974 passengers in 2013. Kotoka's numbers are a reflection of the country's size (92,486 sq. miles to California's 163,695 sq. miles) population (25.9 million to California's 38.3 million), the economy of West Africa in general, and the amount of tourism Ghana gets.

There was very light security for our suitcases. Basically, they just checked them in. We were intrigued by a service they had that would wrap your suitcase in layers and layers of saran wrap. Was that to keep people from getting into the suitcase, or was it to keep an old, worn out suitcase from falling apart? We still don't know.

We went through two personal checkpoints that made up for the light security on the suitcases. I was thoroughly frisked by a female guard both times. The second time the guard went through every pocket of my backpack, both inside and out.

The Accra airport is probably the dumpiest international airport we have ever been in. The shopping was limited to two substandard stores (one looked like a Goodwill), a Duty Free store, and a bar/restaurant. If you are looking for some final souvenirs, the airport is probably not the place. Besides that, it is expensive. The merchandise was either very low quality or extremely over-priced (e.g., $2.00 for a can of soda or $100 for a bead necklace that would be $20 or less somewhere else).

On the other hand, our flight home on a new Delta Airbus was divine.  It had a 2-3-2 configuration with ample leg room for our coach seats. We had a ten-hour flight to New York City, and we slept through most of it. There was a four-hour time difference, so it was 4:00 a.m. on our arrival, which was terrific as JFK was nearly empty at that time and so we sped through customs and immigration. We ended with a six-hour flight to California, arriving at 9:50 a.m. California time. Not bad at all.

And so ended our trip to Africa, a most incredible experience. In my wildest dreams, this is not a trip I had envisioned taking. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. I can't claim to "know" Africa based on three weeks of travel, but I understand a lot more about its geography, its history, and some aspects of life there than I did before this trip. Maybe more important than knowledge is interest and curiosity. Now, when I hear Kenya, Tanzania, or Ghana mentioned in the news, I stop and listen. I'm drawn to books about Africa and by African writers. I pay more attention to Africa's place in the world.

And that's exactly what travel is all about, isn't it?




6 comments:

  1. Love the names of the businesses and the pictures of people carrying goods on their heads. I will have to try cane rat some other time - it actually looks quite good. I would have no problem eating it. Loved, loved, loved Africa. Want to go back.

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  2. I have loved these posts about Africa. When you and Bob return, we want to go with you!

    I'm just shocked you didn't sample that tasty looking cane rat. No I'm not.

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    1. South Africa and Botswana are definitely on our list. We'll keep you posted!

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  3. What a great adventure! Thanks for taking the time to write about your trip to Africa. I have enjoyed the armchair safaris and have shared your blogs about Ghana with my siblings and kids to help them get a feel for what life is like here in Ghana. I have had many of them comment on your pictures and wonderful observations about the Ghanaian people. This blog will be one I will also use when we return home and want to remember our experiences shared with you and Bob. Thanks for adding Ghana to your African adventure.

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    1. You and Shelley made it all possible. What an experience! I think it really opened up a new world, especially for me. Life changing. Thank you, thank you!

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  4. Loved the final posts about your epic trip to Africa (and really glad you didn't eat the strange cane rat!). Most travel proves to be an enriching experience and this was no exception. I'm glad you arrived home safely, and look forward to reading about your recent Southern States swing!

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