Jacqueline Murray's Ghana blog

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Updated: 6 years 11 months ago

Introductory shopping, of course ...

July 18th, 2010 11:25 AM
Saturday was a crash course on how to live in Ghana. I was kindly introduced to two styles of shopping by Judi, another Guelph volunteer. Alas we barely overlapped for 24 hours and as I write she almost landing back in Canada. It was great to have a day with an old hand who knows the ropes. So, many things accomplished including finding the WUSC office, walking along the highway noting which little booths sell milk or phone cards or reliable water. Every step of the way, taxis honk and wave hoping to pick up a fare. People offer rides and wares but there is not stress or pressure. Everyone has a greeting and, as is customary in Ghana, spends a minute or two exchanging pleasantries. I’ve fumbled a few times in the matter of not using my left hand when handing people money or doing pretty much anything Although I am profoundly right dominant apparently I take money out of my wallet with my left hand. That is one to work on! I’m working on trying to switch which side I carry my bag on to see if I can counteract that evil left hand grubbing for money.

The booths that line the roads, staffed by people selling whatever one likes, are a puzzle to me. I use the term booth to harken back to the medieval world which was familiar with such structures at their fairs. These, however, are permanent, at least as permanent as rickety structures can be. They seem to be placed on boulevards in front of the walls that hide lavish houses or church compounds or other things that I can’t imagine because these walled and gated fortresses – missing only moats and moat monsters – are also anonymous, unsigned and in stark contrast to all that clusters outside their gates. One does not enter the booth but asks one of the various women and children and occasionally men sitting in front. Peering in, though, there is a great disparity, some booths well and neatly stocked, others sparse and haphazard. It is clear some have sleeping quarters attached to the back, others do not. I have no idea whether these shop keepers are hardy entrepreneurs or squatters or whether at some point some one (police, Better Business Bureau, the people behind the walls?) will make them move on. For now, they are my stores and my shopkeepers.

And then, for abject culture shock, we went to Accra Mall, the western-style shopping mall a reasonably short but completely chaotic drive away. Getting the taxi is easy. Negotiating the price isn’t too bad but we did have to walk away from one gaggle of drivers at the mall who wanted more than twice the appropriate fare to bring us back – and tried to convince us it was a set rate. Ha! The trick is confidence based on knowing what the fare should be and knowing where you are going, not always easy in a city that basically doesn’t bother with street names and numbers. I simply need to know that I am staying past Atomic Junction and then past Video Junction and then past the last brickmaker turn left. As for the mall? It was a mall, leaning towards glitzy North American, but having the decided advantage of being where you can get things like milk and jam and internet cards and, not to disappoint those still fascinated by the flip flop saga, $250 Birkenstocks. Ha! The mall is heavily patronized by ex-pats: accents of the UK, Australia, USA and Canada all heard in the grocery store. This is where one comes for comfort food and familiar surroundings. I expect I’ll need another hit in a couple of weeks.

Arrival in Accra

July 17th, 2010 1:04 PM
Our plane approached Accra in the same kind of clear dark sky that I left in Toronto. I had been particularly enthralled by the interplay of lights; white lights and yellow lights forming an intricate abstract design. The view of Accra first appears to be same incandescent kaleidoscope until we are directly overhead. Then the infrequency of the lights becomes apparent and the gleaming snaking highway below proves to be four lanes compared to the twelve and sixteen lanes that surround Pearson.

Customs, immigration, baggage are sheer delight: smooth, fast, efficient and all personnel, civilian and military, warm and happy to see you. “You’re volunteering? Well go right on through,” with no awkward questions about just how much luggage one woman needs for three weeks.

WUSC’s driver met me and then we joined what appeared to be a weekend, going-to-the-village, traffic jam. Then suddenly we pulled off the highway and started taking semi-paved roads through the darkened campus of the University of Ghana: the famed Legon. When we left the campus and drove along with local traffic through who knows where: most certainly places I’ll never find again. Quickly, something of the nature of Ghana becomes apparent. Dynamic, entrepreneurial and globalized Ghana with ads for Vodaphone on every single lamp standard for miles incongruously juxtaposed with street vendors, walking through the traffic hawking toilet paper, yogurt drinks and BIC razors.. The other side of Ghana is revivalist: we followed a van with “Sing to the Lord” emblazoned on the back, and a particularly fearsome non-indigenous (American) eagle lending emphasis. The compound of the Love God ministry is topped by rolls of razor wire: is that to keep out sinners or prevent the saved from escaping?

Hotel Suma is an oasis of calm from the chaos of Accra’s streets. Owners Eric and Juliana and their astonishingly precocious two-year-old son Nelson have created a cozy haven that is something of a mainstay for WUSC volunteers. This is the home away from home, the place where new arrivals land and the last stop for departing veterans. It will be my base for the next three weeks. The common area is lovely, with couches and ceiling fans and Ghanian music videos on the TV/sound system. Sitting and letting the fatigue of travel drain out, Patience, the shy kitchen worker, asked if I were hungry. Excellent chicken and fried plantains appear almost magically, and an icy cold beer added to the refreshment.

Thus were my first three hours in Ghana. Oh, and I found the flip flops!

Half way - Amsterdam

July 16th, 2010 6:23 AM
What is it about July that I find myself traipsing back and forth to the bus station with large pieces of luggage and then weighing improbable things like socks on my kitchen scale? Getting two pieces of luggage under 23 kg each was as challenging as packing an 11 kg backpack. last year. Maybe more. But, kitchen scales aside, my bags were accepted in without embarrassing repacking at check-in or groveling for special consideration.

The Amsterdam Airport is a nice shiny place to transfer planes. My stay this morning is brief: only one hour. Just enough time to load up on latte before I spend three weeks in a country that apparently does not have a Starbucks on every corner. Perhaps this belies global corporatism.

I shall soon find out. 7 hours and counting......

Two Days and Counting

July 13th, 2010 10:15 PM
Forty-eight hours from now I will be on the plane and preparing for take-off. Meanwhile the pace is quickening, the lists are getting longer, there's still some research to finish and I never did find the flip flops.

What I have found, however, is how wonderfully generous people are. I have broken down and got an extra duffle bag to hold all the "swag" that people have contributed. Lanyards, whistles, pins, pens and pencils. Even beach balls and most remarkable of all, backpacks. This is incredible and I am in awe of the kindness I see everywhere.

Pre-departure Prep:

July 12th, 2010 9:20 PM
Three days until I leave for Ghana. The preparations are a funny mixture of my usual methodical organization broken by occasional flurries of last minute craziness. And whatever happened to those flipflops I got on the weekend.

I’ve learned a little bit more about the partner organization that I will be working with in Accra. It is Child’s Rights International. In 2007 oil was discovered in Ghana and CRI is concerned that oil companies develop child-centred sustainable Corporate Social Responsibility programs. This could address issues as disparate as building schools and establishing scholarships to developing appropriate regulations regarding child labour and other ways that children are exploited. So I am going to help CRI to develop recommendations to the Ghanian government. I am thrilled to be involved with such a terrific project. I spent today searching for and downloading relevant policy documents and academic analyses of similar policies in other African countries.

And then I spent the other part of my day assembling some necessities like packages of instant coffee. Apparently, drinking coffee is not central to Ghanian culture and while I’m all for adapting, I can’t quite imagine 24 days without a sip of java. The other thing I’ve been warned about is the longish nights/days. Accra is almost on the equator with 12-hour days and 12-hour nights...... and one needs some distractions for those nights when endless hours on Facebook are curtailed by intermittent access to the internet.

So, more preparations await, ........ including figuring out how much more I can stuff into my half-packed suitcase........ when in doubt, overpack has long been my motto. That, and a feeling of excited well-being as this new adventure begins..... Hope you’ll stay with me.........