We’ve all made it back to Cambridge safely and are trying to readjust to life here in the States. The weather alone makes this challenging; yesterday’s temperature was -8 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind chill. One unexpected joy was taking a shower. Not having running water for the past week and no hot water for the entire month made the experience of a good hot shower seem truly amazing. It’s surprising how we take little things like that for granted.
I’ve actually gone back and sprinkled some additional pictures and video links in some past posts. For videos, look under the headings “Happy New Year”, “Goal!”, “Mole National Park”, “It’s a Tough Job”, “We’re Officially Tourists”, and “Where We’re Going”. The same videos are also easily accessible on my youtube account here. If this still isn’t enough to satisfy your African experience, a lot of my other pictures have been posted here.
I also wanted to take this chance to say thank you for sharing this incredible experience with me. We obviously had an amazing time, and I hope it has been just as fun to read as it’s been to write. I should also thank my adviser, Susan Murcott, for all her hard work and for handling the overwhelming logistics of coordinating so many students in Ghana. Also lots of thanks are in order to Carl, Kim, Mike, and the rest of the Peace Corps group whose help was absolutely invaluable. And certainly much credit is given to Dave B., as well as the two Peters and Shock from the Pure Home Water staff. I can’t even imagine how different this would all have been without your help.
The last stop we made before flying out was a place in the southeastern part of the country called Ada. It’s special because Volta, the largest Ghanaian river running north-south through the country, runs into the Atlantic ocean at Ada.
Getting there was interesting. Since it’s not one of the more popular tourist spots, it’s impossible to get there by any of the major methods of transportation. Instead, we had to get there by tro-tro, which is a communal vehicle transport with a reputation for being dirty, unreliable, and uncomfortable. The combination of leaving the windows down and driving over dirt roads meant we were covered in dust by the end of the day.
The vehicle itself is essentially a very large van that has been converted to cram in as many people as possible. When I say cram, I mean it. On the way there, we had 30 adults in this thing, plus a half-dozen children and infants. They even weld extra seats into the aisle to get more bang for their cedi. And of course most aren’t going directly where you want to go, so you find yourself constantly having to switch vehicles. And they don’t have set schedules per se, they just leave when the van gets full.
It was almost dusk when we arrived in Ada, which meant we had about an hour of daylight left. There is apparently no road to the place we wanted to stay, so our options were to either hike across sand dunes for about a mile or take a canoe down the Volta. We decided the latter to avoid the experience of finding a place to stay in the dark.
Our guide spoke no English, and after a few minutes we decided it would likely go faster if we helped him paddle. He did not seem comfortable with this idea, but he eventually stopped trying to tell us to stop. Along the way we passed fishing villages with many small ships and lots of people bathing in the river. Here’s a shot taken during the canoe trip.
And another one which shows the ships and fishing villages.
We were unsuccessful in finding housing before sunset, but I think it turned out okay considering the following picture. And here’s a video link of us during the voyage.
We weren’t that crazy about the first place we stopped because it seemed overpriced and everything looked ugly, which was impressive considering everything was dark. We continued on and liked the second place better, which is good because I think we were out of land at that point.
The “accomodations” were basically small huts made out of thatch. There was only one very large Ghanaian woman who was apparently the cook, caretaker, and owner. We were also her only occupants that night. The room cost about $6 for the night, which was pretty cheap considering the area. Of course the floor was sand and the room itself was a 10-foot diameter space with nothing but a bed in the middle, but at least it had a mosquito net! All the rooms have a name; ours was Bob Marley.
The huts had pretty good placement. Right outside our door and about 50 yards ahead was the Volta, and about 200 yards behind us was the Atlantic. Unfortunately the ocean side was fairly dirty from trash washing up, but the Volta side was comparatively clean, as long as we chose not to remember all those people bathing right upstream. Here’s a view from right outside our hut looking at the river. This also became our only means of a shower because there was no running water, which might not have seemed so bad except for the fact that it was our last for 48 hours of traveling back to the states.
The next place we visited near the end of our journey was Cape Coast, which is also located near Takoradi on the south coast. It is easily a day trip’s distance away from The Green Turtle Lodge. The town itself was much more congested and modern than the cities up north, but we didn’t have the best experiences with some of the locals. Many places were very dirty, and we continuously felt like people were trying to rip us off or sell us drugs. Despite these setbacks, the city itself looked pretty cool in some parts.
Probably the most popular tourist spot is the Slave Castle. Located right on the Atlantic, it was built in the 1600s as part of the “slave triangle.” The castle doubled as an outpost fort and a holding area for captured slaves to be held until transport merchant ships came to pick them up.
The original structure has been preserved for visitors to see and walk through. We took a tour that showed the dungeons and the living quarters for the soldiers, which was very interesting. The dungeons are essentially cramped stone rooms, and the amount of people they supposedly fit into them is unfathomable. It was way too dark to take pictures, so all the ones I have are from the outside.
Here’s a picture taken standing with my back to the Atlantic and looking in. The governor’s quarters and the chapel are visible on the second floor, and the slave quarters are on either side on the bottom.
This was taken from one of the raised corners of the castle looking down upon their defenses to the ocean. They must not have been entirely successful, as the fort changed nationalities several times throughout its history!
And here’s a shot of the city of Cape Coast from the governor’s balcony. It wasn’t on the tour, but we kind of sneaked up there after our guide left us.
To see a more panoramic view of the city from this same spot, check out this video link.
Later on that day, we took a taxi to visit Kakum National Park. They have many walking tours available, but we were short on time so we only did the canopy walk. This consists of about half a dozen suspended bridges which were originally built for bird watching, about 100 feet off the ground. The guide warned us that we weren’t going to see any animals because they had moved to another part of the park because of frequent visitors, and boy was he right. The experience was still worth the small fee and time investment because of the good views. But I wouldn’t recommend traveling to this part of Ghana specifically to visit the park.
This is what it looks like from the middle of a bridge and looking straight ahead. The mix of downward view with the swaying and creaking would definitely make this a frightening experience for anyone afraid of heights.
And here’s a side-view shot of people walking it. The guide specifically told us not to bunch together like they’re doing, but I guess some people prefer to live dangerously.
And a picture of yours truly with the horizon in the background. Go ahead and look…there’s not an animal in sight!
As I kind of expected, I had virtually no access to Internet for the last few days of the trip and am now writing this in the U.S. While it’s good to be back, I had some good stories that I thought would be worth sharing.
After returning from Mole, a small group of us caught a 4 a.m. bus to Kumasi and then another few transports to continue south near a city on the Atlantic coast named Takoradi. From there we got a taxi driver to take us to the Green Turtle Lodge, a beachfront hotel that is only accessible on a very bumpy unpaved dirt road about 45 minutes away from town. We arrived late into the night and could not see the ocean (or anything else for that matter), so we went to sleep. We awoke to the morning tide and walked outside to find a very beautiful beach with almost no one on it. Here’s a picture I took that morning.
One really neat aspect of the hotel is its small size. According to the staff, they only have capacity for about 20 people. We also quickly discovered that hammocks were spread along their beach front. Of course, we had to spend ample time in them to ensure they were all safe for others.
Here’s the view from the “driver’s seat”.
We continued these experiments into the evening, stopping only for our daily physical exercise of ocean swimming and beach volleyball. It was strenuous work indeed. Unfortunately, after only two games we managed to destroy the net, so we were forced to return to our hammocks. Here’s a photo taken right the net broke, and clearly you can see the despair in our expressions.
We then found ourselves at the hotel bar, which by happenstance was also during Happy Hour. Time did not allow us to try everything on their menu because we had to walk down to the next hotel over named Oasis; two from our group were staying there and had invited us over for dinner. Fortunately it wasn’t far (~15 minutes there around sunset and roughly 25 back in the dark after a few shared bottles of wine).
One of the best parts about all of this was the price. Three of us shared a room, which brought the cost to about $5 per person. Meals were also served throughout the day and cost anywhere from $2-5. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and we maybe saw five other visitors the entire day. Here’s a video link of the beach I took in the morning; you can see why it was definitely my favorite place in Ghana.
I’m currently in an Internet cafe in Cape Coast, Ghana. This is located in the southern part on the west side. It’s amazing how much more developed the southern part of the country is compared to the north.
As expected, my Internet capabilities cannot possibly keep up with the rate of cool stories I’m accumulating. We all seem a bit tired of traveling around; it’s entailed two early morning bus rides (one at 4 & 6 a.m.), and there’s another at 4 a.m. tomorrow. The places we’ve been are absolutely beautiful so it’s worth it. We started in Mole (pronounced Moe-lay), which is a national park. While we were there we saw Cob (which looks like deer), Waterbuck (also “deerish”), Warthog, Baboon, Gazelle, Crocodile, and of course Elephants. We actually had bad luck finding the elephants up close, and it took us three tries of doing a walking tour to be successful. This is actually stretching the truth because the last time we cheated by just spotting them from afar and walking down to see them.
It’s pretty hot here right now, and the animals feel it too. To cool off, the elephants come to drink and swim in a large watering hole conveniently located down a hill from the park hotel. I admit that having a drink and watching the wildlife was an agreeable way to spend the day.
Here’s a picture of the wild cob we encountered on a walk. Most were pretty shy but a few let us get close.
The Warthogs came right up to the hotel and even walked right through, which seems odd the first time one passes you as you sit by the pool. They eat just about anything and are scrounging for food, and they seem totally oblivious to people.
Here’s a picture of myself with the elephants in the background. Two are swimming on the left and one is drinking on the right. There were also at least 20+ crocodiles in this lake, but surprisingly, they were all extremely shy.
A Mole sunset overlooking the park. The large body of water on the left is where the previous picture was taken and where the animals come to drink.
A better shot of the sunset.
A few hours before we left, some elephants hiked up the hill near some of the bungalows to eat. They weren’t looking for “people” food like the warthogs, and seemed quite content eating the vegetation. There weren’t any tour guides, so some people just walked over and started taking pictures. We gradually got closer and closer, and in hindsight I’m surprised the elephants didn’t get jittery. At one point we were about 25 meters away and they started walking towards us. We immediately froze, but luckily they didn’t show any signs of aggression. I included this picture to show just how close we were.
Then more came.
And for the finale – here’s the “close up” picture I took. At this point I was within 10-15 meters.
Here’s a video of the same experience. Pretty exciting stuff!
Now that work is officially done, we have a week to play around. A group of us plans to leave early tomorrow (4 a.m.!) to catch a bus to Mole, a natural wildlife preserve in the northwest. I’m not sure exactly which animals we can expect to see this time of year, but I do know that elephants are among them. I’ll try my best to avoid animal attacks (not sure if they have cougars, but I’ll be keeping my eyes open).
We then return to Tamale for another night before we head down south. Our first destination I cannot pronounce or even spell, but it’s located on the western coast. We’re staying at a place called The Green Turtle Lodge, which gets it’s name because sea turtles come up to the local beaches to lay their eggs. There’s a possibility this could happen while we’re there, which would be amazing.
Two to three days later we head east to a place called Ada, which also has beaches and is supposed to be quite beautiful. It’s located right where the Volta River (the largest in Ghana) hits the ocean. We then get a ride to Accra to fly out. I’m told all of these places are quite photogenic, so expect some good posts soon. I have no way to predict the Internet situation so things may be quiet for a few days every now and then. But I’ll be sure to write when I can!
My apologies for not posting anything in the past few days, but our Internet has been down. A lot of great things have happened and I could not possibly write about it all. Today is our last day of work, so we’re packing up the lab in preparation to leave. It’s been sad to say goodbye to so many wonderful people that we’ve become friends with.
We went to a football (aka soccer) game on Wednesday night. Ghana is hosting the African Cup this year, which is a huge deal. They just built three 25,000-people stadiums spread throughout the country, including one in Tamale where we’re staying. We managed to get tickets for the opening games! It was a double header with the first game being Tunisia vs Senegal, and the latter was South Africa vs Angola. The second match was especially intense. One team made it into the World Cup last year, and the other usually does as well. While I haven’t had much exposure to the sport living in the States, after seeing a few good matches I can see why people love it. Unfortunately Ghana is only playing in the capital, Accra, but I’ve seen both matches on television. Ghana won them both, and even up here in the North everyone went crazy. People run out of their homes and into the street cheering every time we score; it’s a lot of fun to participate in!
The crowds outside were really impressive. Here’s a picture of the new Tamale stadium from the outside.
Here’s a shot taken on our way into the stadium.
And here’s a shot of the South Africa v Angola game; this is S. Africa taking a corner kick.
And here’s a pretty good shot of the spectators.
Here’s a cool video of an “almost goal” in the South Africa v Angola game. This partly captures that intensity I mentioned before.
Our group has officially figured out that our enjoyment of the beneficial exchange rate extends to clothing. Within the town market there are numerous booths that sell fabric, and on our way home one night we stopped by and each picked out a few we liked. Typical prices ranged from 1.5 to 3 cedi’s per yard (remember that a cedi is roughly equal to a dollar). A tailor had also been recommended to us from several of the Peace Corps volunteers we’ve been spending time with, so we took them up on their suggestion. Surprisingly, having the clothes made cost even less than the fabric, so the whole deal turned out pretty cheap. While I had a few shirts made, some of the girls went all out and got skirts, pants, tops and dresses. We just picked up our clothes yesterday, and we’re all very pleased with our “Ghanaian Garb”! The bright colors are very much in style here.
Yesterday I tagged along with another student to help him in one of the rural areas in the surrounding areas. We had to get around on motorbike, which wasn’t my favorite idea but I couldn’t really object since it’s the only form of transportation that can reach some villages. Cars don’t hold up so well on the rural roads. Here’s a picture of my guide and his bike I rode around on all day. He’s a funny guy with a great sense of humor, and he also happens to speak at least 8 languages (it’s hard to tell exactly because he’s kind of modest about it), which comes in handy. The dialects can change completely from village to village, even when they’re separated by only a few miles.
Of course lots of kids were following us around while we were working, and one grabbed my hand a few times when I let it hang at my side. They were all constantly smiling and loved yelling “hello” even after several hours into our time together. Here is a picture of a fraction of our entourage.
Another few interesting pictures that I forgot to post are included below. The first is taken in Kpanvo on the morning before the Fire Festival (see the prior posting). This is right after we drank pito and shots of gin. Notice how only the visitors are smiling; that happens a lot here!
And this picture shows what we were served for lunch. The white stuff is called Tizet, and it’s a staple food that doesn’t really taste like anything. The green stuff are vegetables mixed with groundnut stew, which kind of tastes like unsweetened peanut butter.
There were a large group of us who had never had it, and we unanimously loved it. So despite it’s appearance, it’s pretty good.
Sunday night was the most memorable experience thus far. I went out with Izumi, Tamar, Susan, Sophie, and a handful of the Peace Corps volunteers to a local village named Kpanvo about 15 minutes away from the where I work to participate in “The Fire Festival”. We had visited there earlier in the day to go through the formal ceremony of meeting the chief (who was away in Germany working as a doctor) and the elders. After drinking Pito (fermented millet) and shots of gin, we walked to the other side of the village to have lunch with our host, Joseph. He works as a school teacher in the village, and is also the only Christian among all Muslims. We contacted him because the village already had a slow-sand filter for each household (roughly 190) plus some Kosim filters. Izumi and Sophie were very eager to take water samples from them.
We taxied over at when it was completely dark. The festival itself has two purposes: it’s the start of their calendar year, and it’s also a tradition based on a Dagomba legend. The story goes that a chief’s son was lost one night so all the villagers formed a search party, made torches and hiked all the surrounding trails chanting loudly to find him. One version also has the son “kidnapped” by a tree, and they had to throw their torches to make it release him.
This has become the foundation for the celebrated holiday. We kicked off the night by drinking some Pito and another alcohol called Apeteshie, which I swear must be a local version of moonshine made from distilled palm wine. It smelled and tasted disgusting; I would equivocate to having the bite of both Tequila and Whiskey. All the villagers (roughly 2,000) and us then gathered on the main path and navigated by moonlight to the head warrior’s house to “request” that we go on the journey. He then led the way with the chief on a trail far away (roughly 20-30 minute walk) to a tree while people chanted something in the local dialect called Dagboney and then threw torches at it. We then hike back for moonlight dancing.
Here’s a picture of myself and Izumi beforehand when we were having Apeteshie. Clearly it’s safer to have everyone playing with fire after a few drinks!
The most interesting stuff lies in the details. Many people paint their faces white (either completely or some sort of design), and while the children only carry torches, the adults carry machetes, cutlasses, and rifles.
They also pack pipe-bombs which they detonate off the trail while everyone is yelling to heighten the effect. Everyone is screaming and running around with torches, and I admit to feeling more than a little uneasy when I was separated from the group and found myself among the village warriors, who were all armed and yelling. I didn’t really have anywhere to go either because there were large fires on either side. All the heat and smoke made it pretty hard to see, and I had to keep a close eye on my torch because it burned fast. A lot of men were pretending to slash each other with the cutlasses or shoot at one another with guns.
Unfortunately my pictures didn’t turn out so well, but my videos are amazing. Some of the other students had much better luck with taking photos but it’s unlikely I’ll be able to procure them before I return to Cambridge. Here’s a few good ones though.
I’ve also posted a link to one of the videos I took during the ceremony. See it here.
Today has been comparatively normal, except I just got back from lunch and a local woman grabbed my behind with both hands (my first time from a stranger). Her answer to my puzzled inquiry was simply, “I like your butt.” Most Ghanaian women have not been this aggressive, so this caught me off guard. I just realized that I should have gotten her picture, because she was pretty cute. Maybe it will happen again tomorrow.
I’ve also realized that I haven’t said anything on how much things cost here. The currency exchanges almost exactly to the American dollar (about 96 cents actually), and the equivalent of the dollar is called the “cedi.” Cents are called “pesewas.” To add a bit of confusion, the Ghana cedi recently underwent a re-evaluation where they changed the currency to be exactly 10,000X less than it previously was. Most people have not mentally made the change, so buying a meal still costs 15,000, which is 1.5 cedis. Remembering that cedis and dollars are equivalent, $1.5 for a big meal is pretty cheap. A five minute cab ride is about 35 pesewas, and the beers here cost around 1 cedi for a 24oz bottle.
One of my favorite things here is this ice-creamish substance sold by bicycle vendors throughout Tamale. It’s called Fanice and it comes in four different flavors: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and tampico. The vanilla is amazing; the closest thing I can compare it to is cake frosting. It comes in a little frozen bag; you bite off an end and squeeze it into your mouth. At a reasonable 30 pesewas, it’s a pretty good way to brighten a long day.
My days here are starting to get more routine, although I did have a funny story yesterday. I was tagging along with some other students taking water samples in a nearby rural village, and our local guide stopped by his house to serve us lunch. We ate tiezet, which is the basic staple of the poor villagers. It doesn’t really taste like anything, but it has the consistency of fufu (see previous post for a description and picture). It turns out that it tastes pretty good if the stew is right, and his wife had prepared groundnut soup that was really good. It was very thick and had the flavor of unsweetened peanut butter, but lots of spices had been added. Throw on top some local guinea fowl, and you’ve got yourself a meal! Everyone in our group loved it.
Back to the story. While I was sitting and eating, my red nalgene bottle was clipped to my belt. There were several children following us around as always (anywhere from ages ), and while they usually keep their distance, one crept up behind me and briefly touched my bottle, only to recoil quickly. At this point I took notice, and he looked at me and slowly placed his hand on the bottle and kept it there with this look of amazement. The other children who were watching intently then made their way over and took turns touching the bottle, slowly at first and then for longer periods of time. I eventually figured out what they were doing; they saw the clear red and assumed it was flaming hot, and one brave soul touched it to see. They found this highly entertaining.
My research is going well, although I’m not getting the results I was hoping for. I guess that’s just part of the game, but I’m hoping to solve the problems before I leave Tamale on the 25th. We’re working out where we’re planning to go and it sounds very exciting, but I’ll save that for another post. A few of us will be traveling around Ghana together as a vacation before returning to Boston.
Below are some pictures of Tamale. The first one is on the main drag through town.
Here is a picture of the marketplace. It’s pretty tight quarters as you can see, but mostly the vendors are selling all kinds of food or fabric. I’ve already bought three designs of fabric which I’m having made into shirts. It was 6 cedis for each fabric (2 yards needed for a shirt), and another 4 cedis for the tailor. The girls in our group are having dresses, skirts and pants made.
And here is a picture of Andy and me acquiring water for the house when we moved in. This coincides with the house mentioned at one of the first posts. Also visible is the infamous red nalgene bottle I mentioned.
And the last one is a sunrise taken on my first morning here in the north. I find it quite beautiful, and the sunsets are equally impressive.