All the debris from exhilarating travel is finally starting to settle, and the routine of school and real life is starting to begin. This semester, I am taking Community Psychology, Seminar (based on assistance in developing countries), Creative Writing and Documenting the African City. I also secured an internship at City of Refuge this past Monday, which I am very excited about.
City of Refuge is a grassroots organization in Ghana that rescues and houses victims of child trafficking and runs a school for them and other economically challenged children in the surrounding community. For Fall Break, I may actually get to travel to the Volta region in Northern Ghana, where the children are actually negotiated out of their labor services. In many cases, the children were not stolen; they were sold by their parents for indefinite periods of time to local fisherman and chiefs. We watched a documentary on the organization that was actually made by a previous intern who participated in the documentary class in which I am currently enrolled.
Beyond my scholastic/community service pursuits, I am also trying to personally expand my knowledge of Accra and the local industries. Now that I am settled, I feel that I may explore the city more confidently for both academic and leisurely purposes. Three yards of beautiful fabric have already been purchased from the market for a handmade dress by the seamstress. The price of her services? About 15-20 cedis, or $10-$14. Though my budget is dwindling, so is my wardrobe. And judging by the "Ghana Gut" I have grown, an umbrella term for both nausea and weight gain, looking pretty may be more important that food.
I travel to the Cape Coast this weekend again. However, this time, I go with NYU. We are visiting the slave castles, so the tone of this trip will be quite different than our little excursion to Turtle Lodge (though arguably more comfortable). I imagine it will have a similar emotional impact as when I visited the concentration camp outside Prague, but we shall see.
My weekend started off on Wednesday night at a Reggae party at Tawala Beach. Almost all the other NYU students came, so we arrived looking like an American stampede. A guy met us at the front door wearing a staff shirt and offered us a discount on our cover. With another man in a staff shirt confirming this and no other means of knowing, we gave the man our money. Within minutes, however, the bouncer rushed over shouting at the man in Twi. A student quickly grabbed the money out of the first guy's hand and proceeded toward the door where, apparently, we were actually supposed to pay.
After our wrists were stamped and we finally entered the beach club, everything went smoothly. We ran to the bonfire and danced, met girls over a game of pole and lost my first pair of flip-flops into the ocean, which has a riptide with the force of a bull and will literally rob you of your belongings with the pull of the tide. I also met William, who initially freaked out my friends and I by following us home as a practical joke.
Fortunately, this joke led to a friend and a motorcycle ride at 80 km/hr down a Ghanaian highway that overlooks the beach the night after. With his companionship and the force of my Thursday luck (the day I was born), I was introduced to various Ghanaian bars and clubs where the majority of attendees were locals and the dance moves were mind blowing. Guys would break with into duos where they would mirror each other's every movement. At the more formal clubs, mirrors clung to the walls, designed for people to dance at when learning, practicing or clubbing solo.
Finishing my night with some coffee that most likely caused my later illness, I headed home to the rooster's crow, jaywalking goats and packing obligations for a weekend trip to Turtle Beach, located somewhere near Takoradi/Cape Coast. Bags packed and half my lunch consumed, we hopped into a taxi to find the bus that would take us to Takoradi. From there, we were told we would supposedly find a van that would take us to Turtle Beach. This turned out be a novel-like adventure of transportation mayhem. With no access to my money or a Master-card ATM (they're almost nonexistent in Accra), we hopped into a taxi that got stuck in traffic and couldn't find our destination because of a misleading direction on the bus ticket. After shouting questions at other cars in the middle of a busy, sprawling marketplace, we found our way to the bus, which was supposed to cost 6.75 cedis for a round-trip ticket and instead cost 9 cedis one-way.
The bus ride, due to our lack of preparedness, took about two hours longer than we expected, and we arrived to a darkened city of Takoradi at about 9 pm, where we then learned that there were no vans--only taxis. The initial taxi was going to cost our split group 35 cedis each. However, this too went awry. We gave the wrong directions because of more misleading advice and ended up traveling down a scarily dark, jungle-like, dirt road into the middle of nowhere for about an hour--hungry and growingly hesitant about where we were being taken--to arrive at a destination an hour-and-a-half away from our actual resort. The taxi driver irritably stormed out of the car and asked a few locals where Turtle Beach was located. A tall man with dreads approached the car and advised us to stay at a resort closer because the taxi driver was getting fed up and might not drive us any further. But the taxi driver, despite our doubts, proved Heaven sent, and chose to drive us down a second, rocky, dirt road for another 40 cedis. With no phone service, no idea where the other half of the group had gone, and a growing fever that caused me to wrap myself in a friend's towel for warmth, our nerves were frazzled. Having likely broken the axle of car, we finally showed up to our pitch-black resort at 12 am. A kerosine lantern was perched near the porta potties, which allowed us to find our friends and our sand-filled, 5 cedi/per night tents. The owners were out of town for a funeral, so the bar was manned by a Scottish traveler named Dougie, who helped assist clinics in Northern Ghana, and a South African named Donavan, who owned a hunting range (where travelers hunted elephants and rhinoceroses for millions of dollars) and a pet lion. Shortly after my arrival and brief introductions, I excused myself and ran off into the sand to throw up. My roommate escorted me to my tent where I simultaneously sweat out a hallucinogenic fever and got over my fears of the dark and bugs.
The following day, I spent my last 10 cedis (excluding costs of tent/trip home) on breakfast, having not eaten since noon the day before. The day was rainy, but the ocean was beautiful. I was able to walk down the shore to a nearby village where they were celebrating a funeral. Towards the end of the night, a few others and I turned into the stray dogs that roamed the beach and began mooching scraps of pizza off of other travelers. After food, the beach turned into an all-night party, complete with a giant crab as the guest of honor and a bonfire, that ended in the ocean's theft of more of my flip-flops, a thirty-minute nap in the South African's bungalow with my roommate and the realization that our taxi home had arrived and two NYU students were missing. Because the taxis had to be split, three others and I hopped in the first available vehicle and rode back to Takoradi, stomachs churning with hunger. Our bus was hours delayed and our patience slim, so we jumped into a tro tro for what we thought was 1 cedi. Upon arrival in Accra after a swerving drive, we were told we owed 8 more cedis each and were forced to stop at an ATM to get out of the bus.
The good news is I'm home-sweet-home. I still have a fever and mild flu symptoms, but, at least, I'm pretty sure I don't have malaria. The beach was beautiful, but I don't think I'll be taking more trips too soon. I'm very happy to be back in Accra and super pleased that our Monday-Friday meal plan kicks in tomorrow.
About a week has passed since my arrival in Accra. Having arrived late to NYU's orientation, another NYU student and I dragged our belongings into a van where we were shuttled to meet the other students. We completed half a day of orientation before our bags ever saw our rooms.
We live in a giant commune where four houses surround a common outside area. Inside, the ceilings are high and plated with crown molding, and our rooms are more spacious than a dream apartment back in the city. Outside, we have marble balconies where we can perch and gaze over at the grove of tropical trees beyond our yard.
However, our shower, AC and toilet did not work for the first few days/still. Our commune is protected by barbwire and vigilant security. We were told that a University of Legon student was robbed around the corner midday for his laptop. And I've been having crazy dreams. This beautiful, tropical weather definitely doesn't exempt travelers from an adjusting period.
The animals are awesome though. The frogs are humongous and bellow throughout the night from the gutters, and the salamanders are as cute as they are freaky. The birds here are clearly descendants from the dinosaurs because they look like dino-pigeons. They don't chirp; they scream like hoarse beagles or monster ducks. Another kind of bird in the area looks a little like a narrow plank and whistles around making an like owl-like, swooping sound as it fights fellow plank-birds out of the trees. It's a highly entertaining means of distraction during a lecture.
So far, I have visited the market, Labadi beach and a few restaurants and learned a little Twi, but I'm still getting a barring on the general layout of the city. The locals are very helpful, however, and will immediately engage in conversation. The kids are super cute too and enjoy meeting tourists. A few small children near the slave castles on the coast, about 3-4 years old, couldn't speak English, so they instead ran around us, grabbing our hands and repeatedly shouting "How are you?" They're pretty hard not to love.