Goodbye Accra, hello Cape Coast

This post is a day late (I’m backdating it) since we didn’t have Internet access after we got to Cape Coast.  I still don’t have access to my card reader, so photos will have to come later.

We bought our STC bus ticket on the 13th and the morning of the 14th we got up, 5am, to head to the bus station.

Remarkably as soon as we emerged from our guesthouse compound there was a taxi on our street (which is a side street) and it immediately beeped at us.  I’m beginning to really like the taxi-beeping method.  In Ghana it seems basically everything is a buyer’s market; the sellers must come to you.  This can be a little annoying at times though, when you don’t want to be a buyer, and every vendor at every shop or cart, every groups of taxi drivers, does their best to divert you to give them your money.

We loaded the taxi and spent literally an hour driving across town to get to the STC station.  Traffic in Accra is at least as bad as anything in Seattle or LA.  How this can be the case, when so few people can afford cars, initially seems to be a mystery.  Except of course that they don’t have polished 8 lane freeways either, so I guess the infrastructure is commensurate with the number of drivers, and thus the traffic is commensurate with elsewhere.

Oh, and while stuck in traffic at an intersection a pushy guy selling gum or something like this tried to get my attention.  Most of the time they just wanted by, but some of the sellers like to put stuff in your face to make sure you REALLY know it’s for sale.  Anyway, I told him “Meh pah,” which is the Twi equivalent of “I don’t want any.”  And he not only complied but started cracking up.  Paradoxically, meh pah we is “I want this.”  I suspect it’s some sort of double negative “I want nothing but this,” or the equivalent.

Stuck in traffic in a more suburban area (by this I mean simply not in the city, but not necessarily wealthy — I have only seen maybe 1-2 “wealthy” areas) I also saw women in orange safety vests picking up trash.  The vests said Zoomlion, which I have noticed elsewhere since.  This was surprising to me because ghana is COVERED in trash, mostly plastic bags and broken other bits of plastic.  So to see anyone picking it up, especially a trash-type contractor, well, that was nice.  I have yet to see a single trash can since arriving here.  That is troubling.

Amazingly the STC bus was only 30 minutes late.  From what I’d read we could expect hours of wait, everything in Ghana supposedly happens on Ghana-time, and people here figure that “the bus will come when it comes, the bus will take us when it takes us,” and so on.  We left about 15 minutes after that, after paying a $5CEDI overage charge for having 100 kilos of bags to check (220lbs) on top of our carryons.  Within 45 more minutes we were in the “country,” and it was beginning to feel like we’d finally hit Africa.  I saw lots of red dirt, palm trees, all of the things I think of when I think “Africa,” rather than just dirty half-finished concrete buildings and corrugated shacks.
An hour outside of Accra (9:15am) we started seeing field workers; people with buckets on their heads and machetes or other implements walking throughout the fields doing their daily labors.

We were at the Cape Coast around noon and our friend sent a taxi to take us to the NGO he works at.  He, Dom, works at a vocational school for kids who otherwise wouldn’t have access to schooling (because of financial reasons) and it’s a possibility that we may work with the kids at this school.  We still have to talk to the founder of the NGO and work out the details, but we saw the school and it looks promising.

We hung around the school, which is about 3-5km from Cape Coast, for a few hours, meeting their two new German volunteer teachers who are here for a year (a college gap year for them) and some of the other teachers (who are all Ghanaians).

After that we headed to Cape Coast with Dom to get settled.  He took us to a homestay (like a mini motel or hostel type place) he knew that was $12CEDI a night (about $8USD).  — Sidenote, I know it may seem weird I keep updating the CEDI costs with USD when I have already given the exchange rate, but I am cognizant that some readers may not read all my posts, and also that when we were doing research I found many helpful blogs where people had discussed their experiences in Ghana, but none of the pricing information was helpful to us because the blogs were one or two or five years old and with inflation the costs had changed so dramatically that “five thousand Cedi for a loaf of bread” meant nothing to me.  So even though a load of bread is either $1CEDI or 50 Peshawas right now, if I don’t parenthetically mention occasionally that $1CEDI is $.67USD then that pricing gives no context to a reader in 2014 or 2018. — We sat for an hour or two in the bar of the homestay, talking about NGOs and UNICEF/WHO and trying to make the world a better place and how overwhelming all of the problems of the world can be.  As we sat we drank a beer or two, did our chatting, and took in the view; a breathtaking view of aquamarine water, “green as green milk,” as F Scott Fitzgerald might say, interrupted by Elmina castle (a Belgian slave trading port) and the hillside beneath us covered in the corrugated shacks of those living at or below Ghana’s $600/yr GNI.

As it would turn out, our homestay room would have virtually the same view, a view that I somewhat like, as it contains both the beauty and the heartbreak of Africa.  (note: image to the left here does not do it justice — I shot it wide angle on film and that image will be much better, it will come in a later post once i find a place to develop my film here) Dom admonished the owner not to mess with our water, as apparently he likes to turn the water off after the first night, to save money, figuring people will just think it broke.  Knowing this, we showered that night and filled our water bottles (something I am now constantly doing when we find fresh water, knowing that we might not find water for another day or half a day).  We bathed from a bucket of cold water while Miranda periodically hunted the random mosquitoes that had been in the bucket standing water in our bathroom.

Unfortunately in the rush to move to our room from Dom’s place we’d left a lot of our baggage there (since we’d had to walk from his place, which is maybe a 25 minute walk through the half-woods-half-jungle of Cape Coast).  Later I would discover I’d left my sleep sack, mosquito net, and various other “pretty useful” things at Dom’s.  Whoops.

Dom took us on a walking tour of Cape Coast, showed us the one or two streets not to venture down at night (lest we be barraging by begging children), and took us to a beach-side bar and restaurant he knows where I got to try my first Ghanaian food, red red.  It’s vegetarian (unlike so much here), and delicious.  It was quite expensive (at $4CEDI) for the plate, but tasted amazing after 4 days of nothing but protein bars and cashews.  It’s basically beans fried in palm oil and then served grilled plantaines.  On the street it can be bought from vendors for 70 Peshawas or maybe $1CEDI for me because they need the $.20 extra more than I do.

Dom was amazingly helpful, with tons of insight into Ghanaian and Western culture (and their confluence or lacking thereof) since he has now lived for extended periods in both places.

Cape Coast is much more touristy and “beach town” than Accra, and we like it infinitely better.  You can actually walk everywhere here, and people are not harrassing you quite as much.  We’ve also seen many more Obruni (which, realistically, means I see maybe 5-10 per day) since it does have resorts.  And I like that the abject poverty is pushed right up against the resorts; it makes those who would come here for an affluent vacation forced to confront the realities of how other people live.  They may not care, but at least they must confront it.  The photo at right is a “bank” of trash and sand conglomerate on the beach, within yards of resorts.  Naked children were sifting shells from beach sand nearby and loading the shell fragments into rice bags (presumably for someone to sell).

Ultimately we retired to our homestay and promptly fell asleep. We shared miranda’s sleep sack as a half-sheet and I woke up neither mosquito bitten nor covered in bedbug bites, so I was pretty happy.

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