Sunday, March 13, 2011

from Ghana

(Saturday) Arriving in Hohoe

Hey, that was no small feat! Running to catch various flight connections, then sitting for hours on the Ghana bound plane when it became clear that a passenger needed urgent medical attention, and then of course waiting for a few more hours as the airline tried to locate the proper suitcases that had to be removed with him. Then came the ten hours of bouncing around in the air, and finally we land in Accra. There is only one other commercial airplane here, a Virgin Atlantic, standing off to the side.

We crowd into the small airport, go through one set of formalities, then another, and yet another, and now we’re done and ready to go.

There’s a handful of us traveling to Hohoe to take part in the volunteer efforts here (as I said, nearly all much younger than me) and we are picked up by a van, driven by a local man who lives in the village next to ours.

There are several notable things about the drive from Accra to Hohoe. Three immediately stand out: first, at any point along the road where the driver is forced to slow down (say because we’re passing through a village, or because there are random bumps, or there is a police blockade), a swarm of sellers congregates at our side, hoping to entice with anything from grilled foods to shoes, socks and toilet paper.

Our driver cannot resist a stick of grilled...something.


These mobile venders are there, in addition to the village stands, so often selling mangoes, pineapple and banana, but really almost anything you could think of. One boy is trying to sell a dead animal which he dangles by the tail – looks like a rat, but I think there is another name for it here and yes, apparently some like it for dinner. There isn’t much traffic once you are out of Accra, and there isn’t a lot of buying either. But there is a lot of selling.

And as perhaps you would have guessed, most transport of goods -- purchased or sold – is not by cart, car nor bike – it’s on foot, carried on the head.

DSC06354 - Version 2

So far, I’m only snapping photos from the veering, rocking, bumping van, so please forgive the limited nature of what I have to offer.


It was a fascinating ride! And – my second point – it was a long ride. Some four hours. On – my third point – a pavement that is so potholed that really you must understand exactly how to weave around them or you risk losing some portion of your car to the road irregularities.


And finally I’m in Hohoe – our home base. In the Upper Volta region of Ghana. They say in this region you’ll find the highest concentration of Peace Corps volunteers, but we are not that, we’re here for short spells, filling in a need here, providing a small service there, teaching and learning, too, about a culture that is as foreign to us as ours is to them. It's not much, but you get the feeling that here, not much is very much indeed.

Home base: we sleep in rooms with bunk beds and mosquito netting. And fans, when the electricity is working. And sometimes there’s a trickle of cold running water and sometimes there is not.

Did I mention how hot it is? Temperature-wise, we’re only in the low nineties, but it is beastly humid. And so the first thing we do is strip down to acceptable levels of disattire. And within a short time, I set out for the village center, in search of an Internet café.

(Saturday) First evening in Hohoe

Well, the search for Internet fails. I have a few hours before the 6 o’clock dinner, and I do try, even though in the surrounding hills there is the rumble of thunder and they say surely it will rain. I set out on my own, computer in sack, taking my fist poke around the village.

DSC06374 - Version 2


But the thunder in the hills means that the electricity in the township is taking a pause (surely that is to be expected?). And even though I find a little hut with four computers in it and the shopkeeper is thrilled to have me sit down and try to hook up, he admits that he now has power, but the Internet is down. How long? Shrug.

Dinner at the home base. There are two cooks from the village who take turns preparing meals for the volunteers. They are careful about matters of hygiene, which is good because no one wants to get sick, and especially not right away, And the food is delicious! Pan fried potatoes, beans, lettuce and tomatoes and pieces of chicken. And the ubiquitous here, the hands down most delicious you have ever tasted mango. (Step aside pineapple, the mango wins!) We have a large supply of bottled water and some people throw sweetened flavors into it, but for me, this is just so perfect with the sweetness of mango still in my mouth, that I am completely satisfied with the first solid meal here.

I tell my fellow volunteers that I would like to try the Internet café again. One volunteer who has worked here for a week already, tells us there is actually a second place as well, on the other side of town and even though it’s dark and we are all so tired after the night and day of travel, we set out, flashlights pointing to the ruts and ditches, until we are on the main road again and we can see by the lights coming from the huts and passing cars.

The village road is not at all empty. And there are children everywhere! Young infants wrapped around a mother’s back, toddlers trailing after an older brother or sister. Children who look at us and smile and shout to their grownups in Ewe – yevu! Yevu! white person! White person! And they run up and touch me, take my hand for a second and smile and smile. Yevu! Yevu! The grownups smile and greet too, but they are more worldly than their babies. They have seen, thorough travels to Accra and yes, television, far beyond the village of Hohoe.

It’s a long walk and we do reach both shops with the computers, but the Internet (dialup, I am told) remains unavailable.

It’s 8:30 when we come back the home base again. I try to run some water in the tub, but it is a mere trickle now. Still, I am so sticky from the heat and the bug creams and days of travel, that I persevere. I fill a small bucket with the trickle and when I finally get enough to allow for a good rinse, I let the cool water run down my face and then down my scalp and back and you’d be surprised how much cleaning even a small amount of water will accomplish.

And now I really have to sleep. The young volunteers all slept far better than I did on the plane and I am so tired that I wonder if this itself will keep me from sleeping well.

It does. I’m under the nets and there is a fan blowing straight at the bunk bed so that I can feel the movement of air. I doze off for an hour and wake up confused and hot. I will myself to continue, knowing that it is going to be a project. Another hour of drifting through the surreal land of half sleep and now I am really awake and I wonder if it’s because there is enough air moving beneath those nets. Of course, there is plenty of air, but the minute you wonder, you soon conclude that there is not. I think – is it possible that I will be here a week and not sleep at all? Or only in spurts, when I drift off, only to waken again?

I am not a person who hates hot still air and here I have a fan not too far, and still, the net is the final clamp against the free circulation of oxygen that one takes for granted on the hottest days back home.

But I think about the street village walk and I think about the beautiful fabrics that women here use for dresses – long dresses wrapped around their proud and tall bodies (straight from years of carrying things on their heads) and those thoughts about the dresses and fabrics make me forget about the nets and thick hot air and I’m off to sleep. A good and fitful sleep at last.