Overcoming our initial misgivings about cheating on Ernest and Peter as our unofficially designated drivers, Mark and I decided to hop on the bus to Accra Friday evening to explore the city. With Ghanaian phones finally in our pockets we felt confident in our ability to navigate the new city without having to desperately swing from Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi. But as we sat down on the bus I noticed my phone wouldn’t connect to data and Mark’s phone may have come out before the internet even existed. Well, here we go again.
We took the bus to the Accra Mall which gave us mixed feelings. While we were ecstatic to get some burgers from The Counter in the food court, it was shocking to see the disparity between worlds inside and outside of the mall. After departing the bus we had to work our way through crowds of street hawkers and children begging for our money. Yet, as we stepped inside the mall, we felt entirely at home. Clean white floors, designer clothes, expensive phones, a movie theater, etc. The classes in Ghana are really polarized, even in the city. There are some people in what could be described as the middle class, but for the most part, there are the poor and there are the rich. After our burgers and a brief struggle with the coffee house’s Wi-Fi, we hailed our first Uber from the mall to our hostel, The Sleepy Hippo Hotel.
We checked in at the front desk with Richard, headed upstairs to drop off our stuff, and then dutifully headed to the bar around back. After grabbing a couple beers (charged to a tab whose total would dangerously remain a mystery until checkout on Sunday) and sat down with Mem, a guy from the UK and Tabea, a girl from Germany. We talked for a while about what we were doing in Ghana and how long we’d been there. After a bit, we popped open Mark’s fancy bottle of dirt cheap Chardonnay from the mall and proceeded to kill it quickly with several toasts to expedite the process. Afterward, our group, led by an increasingly inebriated Mem, took an eventful Uber to Osu to check out the nightlife. After getting out a bit too soon, we walked nearly the length of Oxford St. before settling on Kona Bar & Grill. Kona was great! It had outdoor seating, a second level, and, most importantly for Mark, Smirnoff Ices. We danced a while before heading back to the hostel for the night.
The next morning we headed to the main event for the weekend. On Saturday, Accra was hosting a quasi-TEDx conference called “Africa Dialogues 2017”. The conference hosted speakers from different aspects of Ghanaian industries, all of whom talked about what their visions for Ghana and Africa were for the future. The event even featured Sarkodie, our new favorite Ghanaian hip-hop artist! Mark and I gained some really good insights from the talks and now have some areas to look into where we might be able to find ideas for projects this summer.
After all of our attentive listening and another struggle with Wi-Fi, we headed to the beach. Early in the trip Mark had done some beach research and directed us to the Labadi Beach. We were a little surprised when the driver took us to the Labadi Beach Hotel rather than just to the beach. But, like all good ETHOS Immersion-ers, we decided to go with the flow. We grabbed a couple towels from poolside and headed to the hotel’s private beach for a quick dip and some rays. Unfortunately, the beach and ocean in front of the hotel were filled with trash. Apparently, this beach is near a river that is constantly dumped in, so that Ghanaians can get rid of their waste without paying for pickup. We learned all of this from Michael amidst his half hour long effort to sell us one of his paintings. Try as we might, we ended up giving in and buying a painting for 10 cedis just to get rid of him. Not wanting to deal with more traveling beach salesmen and not wanting to overstay our unknown welcome at the hotel we headed back to the hostel.
Having not eaten since our breakfast of eggs and the best toast in the world, we asked Patricia, Richard’s right-hand woman, where we should get lunch. She told us to go to Odo Rice, just down the street. We both ordered fufu, a dish we’d been trying to get a hold of since our second day. The fufu was alright, but not great and we still struggled to eat the soup with our hands as is custom. When we got the bill, however, the prices were way higher than the menu suggested. We asked our waiter what the deal was, he proceeded to tell us something about getting four scoops and getting a bigger portion than the menu offered. We figured he was lying to get more money from tourists, but we really couldn’t do much. Oh well, it’s all part of the experience. Dinner, on the other hand, was much better. After meeting Lea, Pia, and Mira, some more Germans who had been in Ghana for 9 months teaching in schools, we went out with them to get indomie. Indomie is basically ramen noodles with egg, onions, and peppers. It is delicious, but most important it was only 7 cedis, which was a great deal less than our less delicious lunch had been. The rest of the night was spent playing dice, card, and drinking games with the Germans laughing all the way.
Not having been to church yet in Ghana, we decided that Sunday was the perfect time for the first try. After another round of eggs and amazing toast, we ventured off to St. Kizito’s Catholic Church. St. Kizito has mass Sunday mornings at 7:30 and 9:30. Not wanting to be too eager, we opted for the later option, but due to some hesitation with directions, we arrived a few minutes late. The place was crowded, so we stood just outside the doors hoping to still hear the Mass. But what we heard was the Concluding Rite. Inconceivably, the Mass had gone on for over 2 hours! We made way for the parishioners exiting the church before making our way inside for the second Mass. Throughout the Mass, we were blown away by the passion of the choir, the congregation, and the pastor. The music was especially beautiful and we joined in clapping and dancing even though we didn’t know the words. After the Mass itself, there was a good deal of announcements. Most of these didn’t really apply to Mark and me but amidst the litany of announcements new members of the congregation were invited up to the altar to introduce themselves. We didn’t really hear that this was happening but urged by our friend in the row ahead of us, we marched up and introduced ourselves to thunderous applause and laughter from everyone.
It was pretty hot (I guess that’s why they call it SUN-day!) so we grabbed some coconuts for refreshment on our walk back to the Hippo. We settled our tab with Richard and called another Uber, this time to take us back home to Ashesi. Now, most of the Uber drivers in Accra will accept a pickup without really looking or knowing where they’re going to be heading. So, when our driver showed up, I asked him specifically if he could take us to Berekuso, the village right below Ashesi. He said sure, for 250 cedis. Hmm. Not a great price. So we asked him if he could take us to a tro-tro station that could get us to Berekuso. That was 30 cedis, much better. We headed to the station, which was really just a yard for tro-tros to swing through and pick up people. We waited for the tro-tro to fill up with people heading to Berekuso and off we went. The bumpy roads to Berekuso were felt even more in the ancient mini-bus. We made several stops before getting to Berekuso to let passengers off and each time the bus would refuse to start up again or get in gear until the driver popped under for a quick fix. After several stops, several “fixes”, and joking assertions that obrunis (white people) should go out and push, we made it back home to Ashesi for another 15 cedis.
The weekend in Accra gave us many new experiences and made us feel a bit more connected to Ghana beyond the walls of Ashesi. We’re feeling good, settling into a groove and we’re excited to explore and experience more and more of what Ghana and its people have to offer.
Thanks for reading!
The Ghana Guys