I have to admit that the first thought the sprung into my mind upon getting off the plane in the Accra airport was ‘man it is HOT!’ Which has continued to be the case. It is typically in the upper 80′s or in the 90′s, but in addition to the intense Ghana sun, the humidity tends to be pretty high as well. So suffice to say we are all drinking plenty of water and getting used to be sweaty
Well to give you an idea of what Accra is like…hmmmm, slightly more western than I thought, though this is perhaps to be somewhat expected as it is a big city (the biggest in Ghana) and also the capital. I suppose just the idea of Africa brings about very rural, indigenous images. Of course it is in no way as industrialized as America. People are mostly transported in stuffed Volkswagon vans (or an off-brand) or taxis. There are a lot of advertisements and billboards and they mostly advertise banks and cell phone companies, though there are a few advertising clothing and watches and such. Oh and the World Cup is advertised extensively as well, as it is being held in South Africa in June. But all of the ads are all far less promiscuous and don’t seem to have the same strategic planning in place that they do in America.
We have walked a lot of dirt streets and seen some of the scenery one typically sees on the news. Yesterday we went to Old Accra area (as opposed to the Greater Accra area that our hotel is in) and that’s exactly what it was–shack piled upon shack, children running around in t-shirts and no pants or shoes. Outside of that area, however, there are a lot of men and women in business clothes as well as many in traditional African clothing. One of the coolest things to see are all the women walking around with the baskets on their heads. You see it on tv or in pictures, but it is amazing to see all that they carry on their heads–huge boxes, cartons filled with 20-30 bottles of water, all sorts of fruits and building supplies–everything.
Yesterday we took a tour of Accra. We began at the Ghana National Museum. Which, if you compare to any of the museums in Chicago, looks like a tiny local museum. Took us about 30-40 minutes to get through the whole thing if that gives you any idea of its relative size. But it was very interesting–saw some traditional items and pottery and weaving and depictions of local dancing and tools and such. Then we moved on to the Kwame Nkruma National Memorial. He was the one who declared Ghana independent in 1957. He’s kinda a big deal here. That was cool to see… especially interesting that they still revere him so much because he was overthrown by a coup de etat by his own military in 1966 and a lot of the projects he initiated failed. But that was a small museum and then a huge walk-in monument that held his tomb (and the tomb of his Egyptian wife), and a walkway lined with fountains of Ghanian men with flutes with water spraying out the end. After that we we went to a market, which was quite the experience. So these people will do anything to sell their stuff to you–physically pull you in, hold your arm or hand while speaking to them, etc. We only had 15 minutes there and were advised to just look around this time and not bring money, so that theoretically would lead them off, but no, they were persistent. Some of them thought we were lying when we said we didn’t have money. We’re going back there on Friday so that will be fun.
Then, after a delicious lunch of pita and hummus, we went to an artisan center. It was more like a western art museum, but you could buy everything. There were some beautiful oil and acrylic paintings, as well as a variety of wood carvings and jewelry. Then we stopped at a casket shop–sounds strange, but it’s a 20 or so year old Ghana tradition to have their caskets made in the shape of their job or something they enjoyed. For instance if they were a shoemaker, in the shape of a shoe, or if they were a fisherman, in the shape of a fish.It was pretty neat to see. They believe one’s role on earth is to work, labor. And then when you die, that work follows you. As such, one’s casket represents that journey.
Overall, I think we all feel very welcomed here–the people of Ghana are extremely friendly and tell us each day how welcome we are in their country and how glad that we are here. We are smiled at, waved at, or even walked alongside and brought into a conversation with complete strangers–no mal-intentions, nothing out of the ordinary for them. Quite the shift from a walk down the street in America.
Well I think that’s all for now. Tonight we’re going to dinner at a restaurant that apparently has live music (jazz on Thursday nights!) and then perhaps to a traditional African music concert after that.
More to come–