Aug
20
2014

Ghana: Seen, Heard and Thought

Streets of Ghana

Akwaaba. (Twi for welcome.)

DISCLAIMER: Ghana made me realize that though I consider myself an African—as opposed to any one nationality—Sierra Leone and Guinea constituted my entire African experience. Somewhere driving on six lane highways, below glass towers and high rise condominiums, strolling around the almost-too-cold air conditioned Accra Mall with it’s expensive boutiques and fast food court… it hit me: this is an Africa I was certain existed but had never experienced before!

Ghanaian tailors are the bomb! But they don’t meet deadlines. Try as you may, you can’t help but go goo goo gaa gaa over the fabrics at Woodin. $200 for a small skirt at Vlisco is blasphemy. But damn, it looked beautiful on that mannequin!

I got a little carried away!

Beads, beads, beads, beads, nice beads everywhere; big beads, small beads, Black beads, take your pick. Like a kid in a candy store!

Ghana is under construction! I have never seen so many houses at various stages of completion. Who is building all these houses?! I wondered out loud few times. Which led me to suspect there was money in the country. But they kept telling me the cedi was in a free fall. Which was very good for the dollars in my pocket! Anyway, on the other hand, I have hardly seen so many houses with moldy bricks and rotting lumber seemingly abandoned before completion. Chale wa de happen, money de run lef you? :)

Banking must be a very profitable industry. Or something foul is afoot in the sector. There are banks and similar financial institutions virtually on every corner. With normal interest rate—I heard—easily above 30%, it must be. But the simple fact that credit is available to the ordinary citizen is something I was not aware of in Sierra Leone or Guinea. And in all my visits to Conakry and Kankan, I think I saw only two ATMs—safely tucked away in banks. ATMs are not quite everywhere in Accra (or in Kumasi or Cape Coast) but I saw quite a few of them—outside of banks, at the market place and other open locations.

Common

I forgot to take a picture of one of the signs with Ludacris on it, but found this funny as well

Ludacris is a superstar barber shop model! He was featured on so many signs for “barbering” shops, it became an inside joke later on as I would shout “Luda!” every time I saw his face on a signage—no matter who I was with. Bow Wow and Will Smith were distant runner ups.

I got a bit of that celebrity experience in the car with M.anifest as we nearly got mobbed by fans at a red light between Madina and Lagoon.

Ghana is for sale! It’s like some sort of hyper capitalism is going on in the country. There are billboards—small and gigantic—on every street corner, circled around every roundabout, selling everything from soft drinks to luxury apartments.

VIP buses are the most comfortable rides I have taken around Africa! Or America for that matter. But my family and I were not big fans of the Nigerian movies they showed.

In the James Bond movie, “Quantum of Solace”, a company tries to dam the Bolivian water supply so it could profit from the sale of water to the population. Well no need for such nefarious maneuvers these days. At least not in Ghana. In Ghana nobody drinks water from the faucet (or the well like we did in Koindu, Sierra Leone). Instead they buy it! Cold purified water in small plastic bags are sold in every corner—from the head of young hawkers weaving between cars at every stop sign and out of street level store fronts of 3 and 5-story buildings. I’m afraid the plastic bags, littered everywhere, is tomorrow’s environmental disaster. But it’s by far worse in Conakry.

In East Lagoon, they have mansions that would be awe inspiring even on that Island in Miami where Opra owns a house.

Gated communities with ghostly quiet streets and manicured lawns hide behind fifteen-foot walls away from hawkers sweating under the sun for what I doubt is much more than $5 a day.

There is something about turning on the television and seeing nothing but beautiful Black people (indeed African black people) featured in every commercial—from beauty products to expensive cars. The news anchor lady is Black, the analyst is Black, the actors are Black, the celebrities are Black, and though I can’t see them, I know there are nothing but Black faces behind the cameras!

Did you see Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare at the Commonwealth games!? A new star is born!

Yam, corn, plantains, tilapia and coconut! Chez Afrique, +233 Jazz Bar and Grill and the restaurant and bar at Sir Max Hotel in Kumasi! — Good food, live places!!

I used to think buffets would never work in Africa. I guess that was just the Africa I knew. There are buffets–fancy buffets, top notch buffets, where chefs prepare fresh food and serve it on your plate buffets–tucked in hotel restaurants and many other places. In general there are eateries EVERYWHERE! My brother in law tells me it’s because women don’t cook any more. That is sad… but I would take that tilapia with some jollof rice please. Ginger beer too, but of course!

In general, Ghanaian women are some of the most beautiful I have seen in all my travels. But I knew this already :)

Akan is the group, Asante is just one of the sub-groups, Twi is the language. Get it? Got it! Ewes are different, so are the Gas. The Hausas are mostly in the north, are almost Muslims and are either not well regarded or feared for their violent tendencies. In Accra they are concentrated in Nima. I was warned against going to Nima. But I so wanted to.

Ghanaians have found value in their culture, and they preserve and sell it. Every region has its own cultural center focused on preserving and promoting the history and culture of the people of that area. I visited the Asante Cultural Center in Kumasi and learned about the rich history of the great Asante people; how they outsmarted the British governor who thought he deserved the sacred Golden Stool for welcome. Imagine the audacity! And the great woman who stood up when many men cowered, and generalled a war that nearly ended the British control of Gold Coast. But alas the Asantes were defeated and Yaa Asantewaa was arrested and imprisoned in a small dark cell where Africans were jailed until their death (of exhaustion and starvation). But she survived. Eventually she was exiled to the current island nation of Seychelles.

I wish I was a movie writer or producer. I would make an epic movie about one or all of Africa’s great civilizations. The above mentioned story, that of Mansa Kankan Musa, or Sundiata Keita are all great stories that could be made into blockbuster movies—if the world was interested in Africa beyond the black sheep role we are made to play.

A kid wearing his hair in dreads gets stared at. A lot!

Elmina Castle

It’s one thing to learn about slavery in text books; it’s a whole other thing to stand in the dungeons (in Elmina and Cape Coast castles) where stolen Africans were kept—the dead with the living, over 200 in a dungeon not much bigger than 20 square feet—to see the exact spot where young and old African women were paraded naked for a so-called governor to choose who he was going to rape that evening, and if she was really unlucky, every day for the rest of her sad life; to walk the last walk to the last exit many Africans took out of Africa, out of the land their ancestors gave them, the only world that ever loved them…to an eternity of a wicked practice of enslavement, the legacy of which still questions their humanity.

I didn’t think the Canopy Walk could scare me. It did! But they should warn people about the hike up to it.

Ghana has a LOT of prophets! And somewhere in the world a white actor is the face of God (ok ok, I meant Jesus). The image of this white skin, blue eye, blonde guy is on way too many cars and buildings.

Ghanaians found Jesus and the Bible and are tireless in their devotion. There are churches in every block. And they are building more, huge mega churches, devotees cannot wait to be completed before they start worshiping in them. And speaking of worship, it is done through loud outdoor facing speakers for maximum reach. (God help you if you need to sleep and your windows are not sound proof).

“God Knows Best Shoe Repair”, “God’s Time is the Best Time Cold Store” (“cold store” are shops that sell frozen meat and water), “Jesus is the Light Bar and Restaurant”….you get the point.

So many traffic lights. Way too much traffic. But don’t try to avoid it on one road for another. You WILL just run into it again. Happened to us both in Accra and Kumasi. It’s unavoidable! And rush hour is every hour, except perhaps midnight.

$10 for a hamburger and fries is crazy in the US…it made me straight mad at Frankie’s On Oxford Road in Osu. So did the food price at Hillburi in Aburi, but the spectacular hilltop view from that location must be included in the food price.

Ghanians love themselves some Jamaican flag! I wonder if it has always been so or if Usain Bolt is somewhat responsible for this.

I sense two drastically different worlds growing in Ghana. The rich that can afford $240 a night hotel (we were going to spend a night at Royal Senchi, but realizing the cost for a night stay—the same amount I paid at a Fairfield Inn in NYC the week before—I changed my mind. Remember there are prices I may accept in the US but find utterly ridiculous in a place like Ghana where I’m pretty sure the workers don’t make NYC minimum wage). Then again, I heard they have $3000 a night resort somewhere outside of Accra. Anyway my point is, I asked my brother-in-law how much the average Ghanaian made and he told me about $450 a month. Later a friend told me even that was high, that perhaps that is only true for professionals with good paying jobs. If this is true, I can’t imagine any but a handful of local Ghanaians being able to afford a sliver of many of the things and places we encountered. If half of the population struggles to make 50 cedis ($15) a day, and the other half can afford to spend over 300 cedis (nearly $100) on a single lunch (as we did at Marqui Tante Marie at Accra Mall)…there are some scary times ahead.

I ate on an island surrounded by crocodiles, held my babies few feet away from two 15 feet crocodiles…and I wasn’t even scared. (Hans Botel on the way to the Canopy Walk.)

Try to go to Akosombo, get completely lost, end up at the Holy Trinity Spa Annex restaurant. Best meal of our trip! But the Banku with goat/crab/—- soup at Trafix (at the National Theater) was hands down the best dish.

I don’t have patience for haggling.
Check prices at Makola market before going to the Art Center in Accra.

If President John Mahama gets reelected then I would know better than to ever assume anything about an entire country based on the sentiment of the few people I encounter.

I married into a wonderful family.

Medasey! (Twi for thank you.)

Hillburi Club

Written by IBé in: Reflections | Tags: , ,

1 Comment »

  • They absolutely should warn people about the hike from the forest floor to the canopy lol! I really enjoyed your article and perspective on GH. Peace!

    Comment | 09/17/2014

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