Bus Drivers, Water Holes, and Warthogs

11 Jun

I have been internet-less for the past five days…but here is an update on life in Ghana.

6/6/12

I’m currently sitting at the Ashanti Gold Hotel in Kumasi, and I must say, it’s been a very interesting past two days. Yesterday morning, Sydney and I went for a great 6:00 am run before our long journey, and then we headed off to Yamadam to catch a Tro Tro. After waiting for quite some time, a Tro Tro finally arrived, and we were off to Cape Coast. The bus station was bustling as usual, but we found a bus headed for Kumasi and hopped on. As usual, things were running on Ghanaian time, so it took two hours before we actually left…but we bought some bread, eggs, and snacks from the vendors who were circling outside the bus. The ride was long and rocky, but I got quite a bit of reading done, as well as some studying for the GRE. The arrival in Kumasi was definitely a bit of a culture shock. The streets were full of burning trash, countless vendors, and clouds of exhaust. Children followed us with open hands, tugging on our clothing and looking up with desperate eyes.

When we finally arrived at our hotel, we discovered that the price had “suddenly” shot up, from what we were quoted, and they also no longer had five rooms. Eight of us set out to explore the city and search for more hotels, while Megan and Lorenzo stayed to try to bargain the price down. We ended up finding a small, cheap hotel, but just as they told us that they had power, everything went dark…so we made our way back to the first hotel several hours later, exhausted and out of luck. It ended up being pretty awesome though…we went out on the town, sampled some Ghanaian brandy, and then piled into the “family suite.” This morning we explored the cultural center, and we’re currently waiting for lunch (which is always a long process) before we head off to Tamale!

 

6/11/12

Well all I can say after our five day adventure to Northern Ghana is… life just keeps getting crazier by the day. It’s been a fantastic past few days though. Our original bus driver in Kumasi decided to up the price at the last minute (surprise surprise), so we ended up leaving several hours later than intended. Our new bus driver, however, was totally awesome and definitely worth the wait. He didn’t speak very much English, but he was incredibly nice and seemed quite amused by our conversations and antics. It was a six hour bus ride to Tamale, which was fine until it got dark and sketchy. We were driving down a rather deserted road when suddenly lights hit our bus from all angles. It turned out to be a police checkpoint, which was all well and good…that is, until we found out that the police were on the lookout for bus robbers. Apparently it was fairly common in that area for 10 or 12 men with guns to blockade the road with boulders and jump on the bus. Needless to say, the rest of the drive was a bit tense. We arrived safely in Tamale though, and as soon as we stepped out the bus; it felt like yet another different world. The sky was lit up with stars, and everything was peaceful and quite. We were greeted by Ilbrahim, the owner of the Greenhouse, and he welcomed us graciously into his eco-village, which consisted of a humble circle of yurts. It was 11:00 pm, but he had a delicious hot dinner waiting for us, and he had set up mattresses on the roof of one of the yurts so that we could sleep under the stars.

The next day, we each cooked our own guinea fowl egg for breakfast and then headed out to assist the community with their latest project – building a dam. There was a group of men shoveling, a group planting grass, and a continuous train of women carrying buckets of mud on their heads. It looked incredibly intimidating, but I jumped into the line and spent two hours balancing several pounds of mud on a small cloth on my head. It was definitely an experience, but I think these women are onto something with the head thing because this mud was WAY too heavy to carry by hand.

That night, we sat around a gigantic fire and listened to the village storyteller until late into the night. After another peaceful night under the stars, I randomly woke up super early and went for an amazing run around the village. Following a rejuvenating bucket shower and breakfast, we headed out with Ilbrihim for a tour of the village. He took us to the local school, the library, and then to meet the chief. We brought him an offering of shea nuts and approached on our knees while clapping to a rhythm that Ilbrihim dictated. It was definitely a strange experience to say the least, and we all agreed that the chief was a bit self-centered and egotistic for our liking. After saying our goodbyes to the Greenhouse, we piled back into the bus, and we were off to Mole National Park. The last several hours of the drive took us on a road that could hardly be considered a road, and the jostling easily beat out any roller coaster I’ve ever been on. Upon arriving, however, we immediately saw antelope in front of our hotel, and I knew it was going to be a great weekend. We woke up super early the next morning and headed out on our walking safari through the park. We were soon greeted by a beautiful herd of elephants, who did not seem bothered in the least by our presence. I cannot even begin to describe the feeling of standing ten feet away from a wild African elephant. The vet school motivation definitely hit harder than ever. We saw warthogs snorting through the brush, baboons carrying their young, herds of antelopes leaping through trees, and bright blue soaring above us. The highlight by far, however, was the watering hole. When we arrived at the edge, an entire family of elephants was bathing and playing in the water. It was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen, and we all sat, mesmerized, until our guide led us on.

We spent the rest of the day in the pool, which felt ridiculously amazing after two weeks of bucket showers. In the late afternoon, most of our group (ie. the boring people :-P) decided to take a nap, but Sydney, Colin, and I went canoeing instead. The “river” was a brown, murky, barely-moving body of water, but we saw crocodile tracks, which was pretty exciting! Our guides were awesome, and after the canoe ride, they took us into town to buy some bread and snacks for the car ride the next day. We also located a secret stash of bagged gin and rum shots, which is a fairly rare rind in Muslim regions of Africa. We had a great night of music, talking, and sampling our various town findings (The coconut rum with pineapple juice was by far the best). The next morning arrived way too soon, and we piled on the bus once again for our 12 hour drive back to Asuansi. We stopped in Kumasi so that we could pay our driver, but we soon discovered that we had been screwed over once again. Despite a written contract, our driver’s boss insisted that we pay him 10 times the amount that we had originally agreed to. Yeah right. So we squeezed into a crowded public pus and continued on our way. The drive back home was riddled with calamities, including an awful truck accident and later a man lying face-down in the middle of the road. We almost ran over him, and I was appalled that the driver didn’t stop! If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, it’s to throw my expectations and ideas societal conventions OUT THE WINDOW.

We finally arrived back at Asuansi, and Joyce arrived shortly after with a pot of Red Red and plantains on her head. YUM. We also discovered, however, that all our windows had been slashed in attempt to steal items off the windowsill. We think it was a group of mischievous elementary school boys, but it was incredibly disheartening all the same. After a thorough house cleaning session, we headed to bed, ready to wake up and get back to research.

Today was a fantastic day on the research front! When we went hiking in Kumasi last week, I randomly happened to meet the president of the nutrition association at the University of Cape Coast. I gave him a call when I arrived in Cape Coast this morning, expecting to make an appointment for later this week, and he told me to head over as soon as I could. Just when I though I was lost, he appeared out of nowhere, and spent two and half hours taking me around the campus and introducing me to everyone in the nutrition department. I interviewed several fascinating professors, and I’m currently working on a new angle for my research. More on that soon. After saying my goodbyes to Jacob, I met a few other fellows for lunch at the Baobab House, where I tried tofu and veggies with boiled yam – so delicious. We did some grocery shopping, and by that time it was getting late, so we set off to catch a Tro Tro back to Yamadam. Tonight Joyce made us Fufu, a traditional Ghanaian dish of boiled dough balls with soup, and I must say I was not a fan. It tasted a bit like an oversized wad of flavorless gum…but, by all means, don’t let me give you bad impression. The rest of tonight has been filled with massive amounts of laundry, bucket showers, random power outages, and of course, working on our papers. I’m so excited for new research possibilities! I hope everyone has a fantastic week 🙂

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