2008-09-11 / Front Page

Blogging from Ghana, Part One

Two Jamestowners journey to West Africa
By Jeff & Kim McDonough

Blogging from Ghana
By Jeff & Kim McDonough

8:06 p.m. Monday, Sept. 15. Accra, Ghana.

There is a full moon over Ghana tonight. The air is full of acrid smoke and obscures the moon like a wispy fog. Somebody, somewhere is burning something. Somebody is always burning something here, we’ve learned. It seems air pollution is part of life here. You don’t need to smoke cigarettes. There’s plenty of smoke already in the air.
Today has been overwhelming. All of my senses are inundated, even the ones I didn’t know I had.
We started our day with a walk on the beach. We were amazed by the amount of garbage and waste washed ashore. A short ways from our hotel we found a fishing village. Boats lined the beach, pulled to and from the water by a team of workers who place the wooden

Fishing boats at Teshie. Photo by Kim McDonough
The Makola Market in Accra. Photo by Jeff McDonough
vessels on rollers. Fishing boats struggled to drive past the pounding surf as they started their day. The wind and waves are substantial, a reminder that the next land south is in Antarctica.
This morning we hired a driver and a car so we could explore Accra, the sprawling urban capital of Ghana. Hiring the driver was a good decision, even though Kim thought we could wing it on our own. The congested city traffic was chaos. It reminded me of bumper cars at the amusement park. Everyone here tries to get to the same place at the same time, racing ahead at full speed, wildly beeping their horns and waving their hands. It was frightening, even more so than riding with my teenage daughter. At one point the driver of our car seemed to floor the accelerator while in front of us all humanity was crossing the road on foot.
Accra is best described as a grimy crush of humanity. We went to Makola Market, an open air street market that serves the day to day needs of the locals. You can buy just about anything at the market, including much of the recycled clothing that we believe we have donated to good causes in the United States. Ghanaians are pure entrepreneurs at heart, to put it politely. All of the natives are working an angle. They specialize. Electronics, phone cards, socks, shirts, packaged foods, homemade banana and papaya chips. At the Makola Market we saw one woman selling brassiers. She was standing in the middle of the street, each arm laden with bras, some appearing used, of all colors and shapes. One customer was being fitted for a new (used?) bra over her street clothing. People peddle locally grown vegetables and apples imported from Italy. One man sold shoes from a blanket, another ties which were hanging on a wall. Another person sells, well . . . you name it and someone is selling it. The market is huge, encompassing many city blocks. Thousands of vendors sell their wares from blankets on sidewalks beneath a blistering sun, from the storefronts, and from the steps leading to the shops on the second floors.  Music pervades the atmosphere, blasted by loud speakers from electronic vendors. Meanwhile, the mid-day call to prayers at the local mosque, could be heard over the din in this largely Christian country.
The sidewalks and streets are crowded with shoppers and merchants and traffic. It is hot, muggy, dusty and noisy. One has to be careful when walking because the streets are lined with gutters that are several feet wide and deep. The Ghanaians have covered the gutters with an assortment of tiles, flat stones and boards, leaving gaping holes that will trap an unwary foot. I nearly broke my ankle before I learned to keep my eyes peeled on the chosen path ahead.
Every vendor you meet here has the best price and a better price. But with a bit of haggling, the price drops and goes somewhat lower when you walk away. The Coca-Cola-lization of the world is complete. Just about every brand name item we’ve have at home can be found in Ghana. Somebody is probably hawking it on a street corner in Accra.
After the market experience, we went to Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park, built to honor the man who led Ghana to independence from the British in 1957. Ghanaians are proud of their independent democracy and will quickly tell you that will be an election here this fall because the current president has reached the eight-year term limit. They are also very interested in the American elections and will quickly engage in a conversation about Barack Obama.  We are not sure they even know about John McCain.
Ghanaians as a lot are a friendly people. They are happy, but they want to leave Ghana. Most would like to come the United States, but they would settle for Australia or Great Britain. This is a country of contrasts. Poverty and wealth co-exist, often side by side. If someone makes good in life, they will often return to their poor village to build a mansion.
Tomorrow we leave at 6 a.m. for Cape Coast.

8:20 a.m. Monday, Sept. 15. Accra, Ghana.
(Note: There is a four-hour difference between Ghana and Jamestown.)

Well, we made it! What a long trip. Travel time was nearly 30 hours from the time we left our home in Jamestown until we arrived last night at our hotel (really more of a guesthouse) in Ghana.
It is still hard for us to accept that we are in Africa. My most vivid memory of the flight was

The courtyard at our seaside hotel. Photo by Kim McDonough
seeing the Sahara from 36,000 feet. The desert is beautiful with its hues of reds and browns. We flew over what appeared to be ancient abandoned cities and deserts trails that have probably been used for thousands of years.
The differences between home and Ghana are quickly apparent. We are not in Kansas, Toto. When our jetliner landed at the airport, there were no moveable walkways to whisk us into the terminal. We debarked the plane via stairways and walked across the tarmac to a waiting bus which then drove us about 100 yards to the airport terminal. We could have walked. I’m not sure why they put us on the bus.
I told Kim that I was reminded of the airport in the movie “Casablanca.”
The taxi ride from the airport to our hotel immersed us into a new world. The air is humid, like the muggy weather we had in Jamestown before the remains of the tropical storm Hanna blew through. Last night’s temperature after dark was about 77 degrees, so it wasn’t really all that hot. The variety of odors slammed into one’s olfactory senses immediately. At the airport there was a stench of jet fuel. Outside the airport the air was heavy with what resembled burning rubber. As we drove through the streets, we could smell people cooking, chicken maybe? You could smell charcoal, incense and something that resembled mesquite. There was a sour stench of rotting garbage and decaying vegetation. Even ocean side this morning in a breeze there is a whiff of something burning.
This morning we are sitting on the lawn at our hotel having breakfast. We are surrounded by African folk art. Ghana is known for its carved wooden stools, which resemble thrones for children. There are many here. We can see the ocean surf crashing a few hundred yards away. Breakfast was good — a light fare of scrambled eggs, rye bread, fresh pineapple and coffee in a French press.
Our room is simple and comfortable. Mosquito netting hangs over the bed. We are fortunate that we do have air conditioning in the room.
Today we are going to explore. We will report back this evening.

11:50 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 14.

Amsterdam Schipol Airport
I have a new appreciation for sardines. We spent seven some hours aboard a Northwest Airbus A330 — a fairly nice jet. We were lucky and had seats behind one of the bulkheads so we were able to stretch our legs during the flight. The food was so-so. The wine, a cabernet from Chile, was better than expected.
Most importantly, we managed to catch a few hours of sleep. Blankets and pillows were provided. We brought along neck pillows and black-out eye shields, which really help with the sleeping. Note for the next trip: bring along one of those Bose noise-canceling headsets.
The Amsterdam airport is quite impressive. Bright, open, colorful, modern. A little like being in an open-air market. Here cultures from around the world meet and part ways. Kim says she feels as if she has been transported to a massive IKEA store. She adds that the airport is spotless and very civilized. Our lattes were served in fine china with real silverwear.
In keeping with the tradition of Amsterdam as a city of excess, the airport bars and casino are open on Sunday morning.
Kim wants her Quononoquott Garden Club colleagues to know that the first shop she visited in the airport was one that specialized in Dutch tulip bulbs. The colorful shop greeted us as we exited the escalator and Kim made a beeline to the bulbs. Yes, they do have bulbs that one can take back to the United States. I believe we will be taking a box or two with us on our return trip.

7:40 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13.

Detroit International Airport

Hurry up and wait. That's the name of the game when one travels. We have a few moments of down time before our flight to Amsterdam. It has been a hectic 48 hours preparing for the trip. Now I'm ready for a nap.

For those who are reading about our journey to Africa for the first time, my wife Kim and I

Map of where we plan to travel in Ghana.

are flying to Ghana to visit a young man who has been a pen pal with our daughter for several years. The two teenagers have exchanged letters and packages, and in this modern Internet day started emailing each other. Now he has a cell phone and we receive a phone call from Africa every few weeks.

Safianu Sandah, 17, lives in western Ghana in a small village named Aboso. Unfortunately, Safianu’s mother and his grandfather died last year and life has been hard for him. But he has continued with his schooling and his teacher says that the young man is a good student. Safianu wants to attend college. We are going to see if we can make it possible.

When we made to decision to visit Safianu, we figured that we should travel with as little luggage as possible because we were unsure of our transportation in Ghana. So Kim and I are each taking along one backpack and a small rolling carry-on suitcase. We have packed enough clothes for two days, in addition to what we are wearing. We plan to recycle our clothes by washing them when needed. The equatorial weather will be hot and humid. Ghana is just at the end of its rainy season.

We also decided to take a single duffle bag filled with supplies for the village school. The school supplies were donated by employees of Advanced Pharmacy Concepts and individual Jamestowners. Packing the duffle bag has been a lesson in our culture’s packaging excesses. We removed the pens, pencils, crayons, calculators, chalks, and like from their respective wrappings so that we could fit all the stuff into the duffle. When we were done, we had a bigger pile of empty packages than we had items that were taking with us.

Besides the school supplies, we are taking an older Dell laptap which we are giving to Safianu. Bill Leonard of Jamestown helped out by installing a fresh operating system on the laptop. And we have an assortment of presents that we plan to give to Safianu’s family and friends in the village.

The clock is ticking and it is nearly time to board the plane for Amsterdam. I’ll post more as soon as possible.

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