The hot, HOT humid air and brightly dressed women shock our winterized senses, as the Odyssey World Trek lands in Accra, Ghana, West Africa. We're back in the Northern Hemisphere, but just barely. The midday sun is sweltering, but only Kavitha and I seem to be moving more slowly because of it, as we walk the streets of this capital city in search of adventure.
Look out! Women here balance loads of wares on their heads that I would be afraid to try to lift! Platters of bananas, glass display cases full of fresh pastries, and boxes exploding with random dime-store goods like batteries, combs, and nail-clippers, all float down the street balancing above dark faces, which in turn balance above beautiful dresses made of festive cloth. Many women carry babies strapped to their backs with another swath of beautiful material. Most men wear the typical "jeans and T-shirt" or "business suit" attire, but others are dressed in bright African shirts or in small round hats and long robes. Cars, taxis, buses, and tro-tros fill the streets with exhaust and persistent honking.
The streets are lined with women selling traditional Ghanaian food. Women mash cassava in huge vats to make balls called "fu-fu," while other women grill plantains or sell kenkey and banku, which are fermented maize wrapped in plantain leaves and boiled, almost like tamales in Latin America! These starchy foods are eaten with spicy soups and stews made with a base of palm oil or peanut butter. The locals eat with their right hand, forming the starch into a ball and dipping out some soup with it.
The market is as vibrant and hectic as any I've seen yet. "Hey sister! Come buy!" is called from booths or people sitting on the sidewalk, hawking anything from used clothes in one section to tomatoes and onions somewhere else. Dried and fresh fish abound. All this happens alongside a busy street, with a half-open sewer system running alongside the street. In this heat, I don't know how people can sit so close to the sewers, because the smell makes it hard for Kavitha and me to breathe in some places, but they must be used to it.
Many of the women have small scars on their cheeks or beside their eyes. The scars aren't random, and they actually seem to accentuate the women's bold, beautiful features. I'm told they are tribal markings, and you can tell which tribe a woman is from by them. I notice a few men with them, too. I want to get a picture for you, but many women are shy about having their picture taken, and some don't speak much English.
Even though Ghana is an English-speaking country, the words I hear all around me are a native language called "Ga," one of many languages spoken here in Ghana. Because we stand out so much, men frequently come up to us and introduce themselves. They want to know our names and where we're from. The local handshake is long and gentle, sometimes with a grasping of the thumb like in Zululand, but always ending with a snap, using the other person's middle finger instead of your own. I'm not really good at it yet, but I'm getting lots of practice.
Transport in Accra is dominated by the tro-tro, which is basically equivalent to what is called a combi in Latin America and Southern Africa. They are minivans with extra rows of seats added to squeeze in more people, which follow regular routes all over the city. The main tro-tro stop is just north of Nkrumah circle, a major intersection in town. Tro-tros are parked everywhere, or are working their way through the major traffic jam to get in or out. A few men stand around attempting to direct the chaos, as vendors and pedestrians weave through it all.
"What did you do?!" Kavitha asked, surprised.
"I just tried to take a picture of the tro-tros!" I shrugged.
Kavitha reminded me that there have been many attempts to overthrow the current ruler, Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings, and that the guidebook warns against taking pictures of anything that may seem strategic in a coup. I'm not sure how a traffic jam of tro-tros could be strategic, but I am sure that I'm not taking many pictures for this dispatch!
Kevin - One Wild Ride: Breaking Traffic Laws in Burkina Faso
Abeja - Comprende?
Making A Difference - Who Wants to Clean Out the Sewers?
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