Monday, May 21, 2007

Appreciating and Acclimatising to Ghana

Accra, a Capital City of contrasts
We are still in Accra but due to leave for Lawra tomorrow – sometime. How quickly one slips into the Ghanaian attitude to time. At present we are in the middle of a most refreshing rain storm. For the past hour and a half the heavens have opened and rain lashed down, settling the dust and clearing the air. It is blessedly cool and refreshing after our first week of high temperatures and even higher humidity and gives us a little time to reflect on our past week’s activities and experiences –and boy have they been varied!!

Our first week with VSO in Ghana has concentrated around meeting the VSO staff, local volunteers and gaining first- hand experience of shopping in the local area and markets, trying to find many of the things that we will need for our house in Lawra.
A visit to Makola market by ‘tro-tro’ is an experience that you never forget. It is a huge labyrinth of passages between open and covered stalls selling just about everything you could think of - beans and pulses, dried fish, pigs trotters , garden eggs!, plantain bananas, pot and pans, electrical goods, materials and second-hand clothes But to name a few. Sometimes it is best not to look down to the floor at what you are walking on or stepping over! Hygiene and sanitation are not at their best in the marketplaces. At the opposite end of the scale is Koala supermarket, just round the corner from our hotel on ‘Oxford Street’. There you can get just about anything European – We have succumbed and bought a box of Scots Porage Oats, and stocked up on spices to take with us to Lawra hopefully to enhance our cooking.
Cooking Ghanaian style
We had a very interesting cookery session with Comfort in the VSO office on Saturday morning. She introduced us to preparing and cooking yams, plantain bananas, bean stew and egg stew – all staples of the Ghanaian diet. Fried plantain banana is a particular favourite. The locals call it ‘red-red’ and it is delicious eaten with a black-eyed bean stew. Most of their cooking is done in loads of red palm oil. We will not go hungry. Needless to say regaining a waistline might be more difficult than we anticipated.
Travel by tro-tro is something that we will have to get used to. These are minibuses that travel around the cities and between villages and you get on and off wherever you can! The fares are set and once you know the cost they are a cheap and ‘interesting’ way of getting about. We have made one foray into the town this way. The driver’s assistant continually shouts out something vaguely resembling the destination you want and makes an appropriate gesture with his hand, like ‘circle’ and circles his hand in the air.
The FA Cup-Final with atmosphere!
On Saturday afternoon after our cookery session, we went off to Frankies, a local restaurant/bar on the busy high street, and watched the second half of the Man U -v- Chelsea match on their big screen. Ghanaians are mad about football, the place was packed and with a 50/50 mix of supporters there was a great atmosphere.
Our last bit of luxury
Yesterday, Sunday, along with Marieke, a Dutch volunteer, we decided to go in for a bit of luxury and took a taxi to the Labadi Beach Hotel, just east of Accra – to see how the other half live. It was really good to go for a cooling swim. The local beaches are quite polluted, especially those near to Accra and there is a very strong undertow which makes swimming locally pretty dangerous. We will have to explore further down the coast, near to Cape Coast when we next have some leave.
Sundays are special!
It was bliss to find that on Sundays the traffic is 75% less and travelling much easier. Taxis are still available and toot their horns all the time to attract customers or to tell other drivers to beware. They also drive fast when they manage to find a bit of open road – bit like Romans!! The majority of people go to church and all the ladies get dressed up in their finery - beautiful elegant Ghanaian clothes with headdresses and jewellery. It has made me determined to buy some local materials and have them made up for me, especially when we get to Lawra.
That’s all for now, we now await our 6.30 am start on Tuesday to commence our 14 hour drive north to Lawra, hopefully with an overnight stop, possibly at Wa.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

First Steps in Ghana

In the Heat of the Night
Kotoka Airport, Accra, Ghana - as the aeroplane doors opened a blast of hot humid air and heavy rain greeted us. We had at last arrived in Ghana in the rainy season. It felt as if we had had a bucket of hot water thrown over us. 8pm and it was hotter than any day in the UK. Bags were unloaded pretty quickly and we were soon outside the building searching for that comforting sign - VSO. Patience was there to collect us and take us to our accommodation for the next week, Comfort Villa Lodge, a reasonable downtown guest house in the OSU district of Accra. A good night's sleep was required and thankfully our rooms had both ceiling fans and airconditioning. What a luxury - as we were to find out the next day. Power cuts have been frequent over the last three days and without air con the full blast of the heat and humidity - 30 degrees C at 10 o'clock at night!! is pretty sweaty. Under the circumstances we have slept pretty well, with the ceiling fan whirring its way through the night.

All in all we are coping well and enjoying our first few days; we know a little more about our future home in Lawra which we understand to be a quite reasonable house, with some electricity and borehole supplied water - should keep Jenny fit fetching and carrying! (No chance). We also learnt our first few basic greetings in Dagaare, our local language when we get to Lawra.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

D-Day minus One

This is the final blog to be sent from home ground.
What a fortnight this has been. I must have climbed the height of Snowdon just going up and down the ladder to the loft, putting things away. Worse than moving house. You have actually got to find a secure home for all the possessions you have amassed over the years. But we did it and on Thursday finally moved out of our house and in with our long-suffering friends Trin and Cemlyn for the remaining few days. We seem to have packed and re-packed our bags on a daily basis finding things to remove and be replaced by fresh ones we want to take. We have now decided "enough is enough"!! both in terms of re-packing and baggage.

Tough times and a little TLC
Strange emotions have been occurring over the past week or so, probably because I have been getting so tired with everything that has had to be done. On Tuesday night, if asked, I would have declared that I wasn't going through with it, that I couldn't leave my family and friends. However, after a good night's sleep and a bit of Trin's (and Nigel's) TLC I was ready once more to face the challenge. There are still very mixed emotions within me. At the same time I am both excited and nervous about the unknown situations soon to face us and the million and one questions yet to be answered.

Penultimate Goodbye
Last night (Friday) we gathered with a few friends for a meal at the local pub, 'The Three Pigeons'.
The evening ended up with a farewell musical rendering to the Horrockses, words kindly penned by Hilary Clare - a four part harmony to the tune of G & S's "Hail Poetry" from 'The Pirates of Penzance'. We apologise to David and Beth for embarrasing them but you can't get a group of Amateur Operatics folk together and not sing at least one song (often out of tune due to the effects of alcohol!!)
We know that we have been fortunate to experience the company and camaraderie of a truly diverse group of friends who have sufficiently enjoyed, endured! and respected each other's whims and idiosynchrosies to enable us to have had some great times together; we hope to rendezvous with as many of you as possible in the non too distant future, in Ghana, or somewhere in Africa!

Final Check-out and Check-in
Most of our goodbyes have now been said. We have checked in with British Airways online and booked our seats to save time and hassle at the airport tomorrow morning. A 'Last Supper' at Judy & John's house tonight before departure day arrives. We fly out from Manchester to Heathrow at 10.00am, then on to Accra at 2.15pm, arriving in Ghana at around 8pm.

I do hope I shall be able to sleep tonight!!!