Going to Ghana, part 1

The Ramble Report

 


This tale took place during my Peace Corps service, when I took a two week trip to Ghana during my summer break from teaching at a school in Burkina Faso.

This adventure begins in the least likely of places: a beach resort. Now, don’t get me wrong, beach resorts are wonderful locales to read on the sand, coax out a tan or savor a complicated cocktail. I did all of these things at the Green Turtle Lodge” on the southern tip of Ghana, and I enjoyed them greatly. Nevertheless, for the salty, well-seasoned adventurer, there are few places in the world less-likely to produce a nice, old fashioned, cardiac-event-inducing, rip-roaringly unpredictable good time.

So on my fourth morning at the Green Turtle, I packed my knapsack and set off walking. Apparently, there was a lighthouse situated some vague distance off to the West – hikeable in a day, but not close enough to be visible from our section of coast. I intended to find it, and that’s about as close to having a plan as I got.


The first 2 kilometers of the journey was a sandy expanse I was already well-familiar with. The lodge lay about two kilometers east of a tiny fishing village called Akwidaa, and I had already walked there several times to eat cheap sea food in its market and explore the ruins of a 17th century British fort thereabouts.

Compared to my village in Burkina, Akwidaa itself was a rather jaded and opportunistic place. Although it lay 45 minutes down a treacherously hilly dirt road and was not yet connected to the electrical grid, Akwidaa was a tourist town at heart. Resorts (and the hollow shells of failed resorts) were scattered up and down the coast in either direction, and the town’s residents were clearly positioning themselves to siphon as much money as possible off of the area’s rich (almost entirely white) tourists.

I didn’t blame them a bit. Who am I to tell a bunch of poor folks to go risk their lives at sea, when there’s more (and easier) money to be made liposuctioning the wallets of foreigners?

I won’t say I wasn’t disheartened to have village kids come up to me and introduce themselves to me as “Frank” or “Joe,” though. These kids couldn’t have been much older than 10 or 11, but they had already learned that white tourists give less if they can’t pronounce your name. How humiliating. How sad.

Thus, while passing through the town that morning, I was aware of a generalized distaste for my presence among the populace, a weariness of Westerners inextricably entwined with a dependence on our money.

The village still had its own rhythms too, though, and these were fascinating for me to take in. As I entered the Eastern side of Akwidaa, I saw some men sitting in a loose circle, their calloused fingers deftly repairing a fishing net spread between them as the conversed in the local language. They barely looked down as they worked on the tough material and shared morning laughs.

In the “village proper” – a 150 meter long labyrinth of narrow passageways between pastel-colored cement homes – a ragtag group of children started following me.

They tried to get my attention with the familiar litany of “obruni!” (local language for foreigner) “ma fren!” (a Ghanaian take on “my friend”) and “Where are you going?” or “What are you doing?” Irksome as this refrain was, the kids were less persistent than the ones I was used to in Burkina. I guess down South, on the beach, a white man is a much less exotic specimen.

In any event, I quickly navigated my way through the warren of shops and homes to the small market area on the other side of town. This was where the shallow, sandy-bottomed river fed into Akwidaa’s miniature harbor.

There were a few food stands set up in the market, and I assembled myself a hearty brunch of red-red (beans and rice with fried plantains and zesty red sauce) freshly grilled fish (so tender!) and fire-blackened corn on the cob (garnished with a slice of coconut). It was a delicious meal, made more pleasant by Ghanaian pop music thumping out of a set of speakers sitting on the sand.

As I ate, fishermen in teams of eight to ten worked to launch their long wooden rowboats into the sea. Each boat was its own colorfully artistic creation, and all of them were festooned with a multitude of flags snapping in the stiff sea breeze.

I didn’t linger for long though. I knew I still had quite a distance to cover, and once I finished eating I set out across the two-meter wide wooden bridge traversing the river and leading out of town … to be continued.

 

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