3G and slackline

The icon on this post (if you came to it from the blog entry page) is from some Obama water we found today.  Obama is on everything here, including packets of drinking water, heh.

I’m going to write some stuff below that might seem kind of negative.  I want to make it clear that we are pretty happy so far in Ghana and that overall Ghanaians are very accommodating and helpful.  My comments below could apply to anywhere, really, there are greedy people and hustlers anywhere you go, from NYC to Iowa to Greenland, so don’t think I am blaming Africa or Ghana or Cape Coast for what we are encountering.  However, the specific paradigm we’ve encountered here is still both interesting and frustrating to us and that is why I want to share it.

I was walking home last night from the Internet cafe I’d posted from, it was 9:30pm, and as I was walking along this small art-shop strip that leads to our hotel, I came across four or five of the Rasta boys who hangout near our hotel trying to sweettalk girls and older ladies.

One or two called out to me, “hey Obruni! Obruni!” (something we’ve been getting a lot more in Cape Coast than in Accra), and almost simultaneously a guy on the closer side of the street asked me how I was.  I replied, “Fine, and you?” as I was walking and immediately he asked where I was from.  In Cape Coast this is the beginning of a sales pitch.  They ask your name, then where you are from.  These are like lines from a telemarketing manual.  Your response is irrelevant, they are simply trying to build some sort of very superficial rapport with you before inviting you to see their shop, or hitting you up for money for their [insert thing], or asking if you want to buy some [whatever], or maybe “running into you” two hours later with a handmade bracelet that has your name on it that they made especially for you (hoping to guilt you into buying it).  This last one is especially clever.  Some of the more aggressive guys also grab Miranda’s arm as they walk by, but she knows how to handle herself and slaps their hands away.  This is a profoundly straightlaced country as far as public affection (men do not touch women in public), so I take the arm touch thing to be pretty titillating for them (although to insert Dom’s perspective, he believes these guys don’t see tourist/ngo-worker Obruni women in the same light they see Ghanaian women).

Anyway, about thirty seconds after this, as I was nearing my hotel a group of kids called out to me.  “Hey!! Hi!! Hey hey!! Hi!”  What sucks is that I am intensely interested in helping people, of interacting with them and learning from them.  And basically to operate in a touristy part Ghana as an Obruni, at least anywhere that is not a rural village, you must learn to ignore some people.  I am getting better at judging where I am and using that as an indicator as to whether the person will be trying to get me to buy something from them (that I don’t want and have no use for).  Kids outside my hotel who try to talk to me I now basically ignore (the next words from them will be asking me for money).  Kids in a random alley where we are surrounded by 100sq ft corrugated shacks devoid of plumbing and electricity, I will talk to — these kids generally just want to say something to me in English and maybe do a high five.  (Update from late October: I am now much, much better at knowing who to talk to and I would say I reply to 95% of Ghanaians that speak to me, and actually converse with about 70-80% of these)

In general though, if you are white in Cape Coast, people will call out to you.  They will ask your name.  Where you are going.  Where you are from.  And so on.  And you will buy yourself trouble much of the time if you give any acknowledgment.  It’s basically the same strategy as for dealing with aggressive homeless.  And it’s really frustrating to me, because a percentage of these people are probably actually interested in who I am, and why I am here, and what America is like, and so on.  And instead of being able to stop and spend five minutes learning about them, and they learning about me, I must ignore them — ignore them and perpetuate the stereotype that Obrunis are rich and “above you” and so forth.  Very frustrating.  I know I will have many chances to interact with people in a specific setting, when we are working with a school, or a clinic, etc … but it is frustrating to have to ignore people for now.

It is also frustrating that I cannot probably slackline much in public here, due to the lack of parks and other suitable places. Cape Coast has been so deforested in many parts here, from people using trees for wood fuel or what have you, or just from over development, such that it is not as easy as you might think to set up a slackline.  The topography is either barren, or jungle.  I had figured that if I can setup lines on the beach in LA (one of the most urban cities anywhere) i could do it anywhere, but Cape Coast is proving harder than normal to find a good spot.

I tried to confirm with people ahead of time about tree access, but alas none of my anthropologists were also slackliners, hehe, and also none were stations in cities as large as Cape Coast.  On the beach here the only trees I have found so far are within the resort seating area itself.  Any trees on public land are pretty much gone, or in a gutter full of sewage and trash.  Dom pointed me to a more westerly part of beach that may work, so today we headed there to check it out before sunset.

We walked maybe a mile or two west from our resort, into a very non-resorty part of town.  We eventually cut over onto the beach and saw one-hundred or so people pulling a huge fishing net (like thousands of square feet) out of the water, alongside traditional fishing boats.  That was an amazing sight, and hopefully when I am better acquainted here it will be more appropriate to photograph things like this.

We kept walking and sure enough we eventually cape to a rough patch of trees, along a path on the beach that was exclusively being used by fisherman and locals-with-stuff-blanaced-on-their-heads.  We setup in two trees with a group of kids about 100 ft away.  They said hi to us and we acknowledged them.

Long story short, I got in a small amount of slacking and thankfully because of our distance from the touristy part of town we weren’t mobbed with kids begging for anything.  At most they were curious in the same way American kids are, but actually more respectful and distant from the line — American kids, who often lack discipline, will walk up and grab your line and hang on it (while you’re walking on it!).  When I was done with my short experiment and ready to go we decided to see if they wanted to try and what would ensue.  It actually took a minute of gesturing to get the kid nearest me to understand I was offering him a chance, and within a few minutes all of the kids were taking turn slacklining.

Today so far has been a good day, and I am sure in a specific setting where I can work with kids multiple times I can teach them to slackline no problem, most of the kids today were getting several steps within just a few tries.
We also took a taxi to Abura to a small MTN store Dom knew about and managed to obtain an HSDPA mobile broadband USB stick, which should give me 3G ‘net access.  So far it seems about as fast as quick dialup, but that is much faster than the Internet cafes here, and orders of magnitude faster than Dom’s VodaPhone GPRS stick (which took more than 10 minutes to load google).  I had to show my passport to register the stick, so it’s possible I am no longer an American Samoan in the eyes of the Ghanaian government.  Drat.

Lastly, here are a few more slackline photos and just some general beauty shots of the water from our walk back to our guesthouse from our new “slackline spot.”  The beauty of the water juxtaposed with the neglected buildings is really breathtaking.

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