kumasi: bats, dimples, & fabric

There is just nothing like a tro ride to a new place in this country. Here’s the routine, dear reader. The group agrees to meet at a certain time (say, 7:45 a.m.) to start out for our weekend destination (say, Kumasi). We agree on 7:45 knowing we won’t actually leave until 8:30. We end up leaving at 9:00. (There are egg sandwiches to be bought, Catchphrases to remember, etc etc). We catch multiple shorter tros to one of Accra’s main stations, get shown where the tros heading to Kumasi are, pile into one, and sit and wait until it fills. We wait. And wait. Meanwhile, we stock up on any and all goodies we want for the ride: dough balls, frozen yogurt packs, water, take-away rice, superglue, world maps, razors. (Okay, we don’t usually buy those last few items, but the street vendors run up offering them to us like everything else, so we could if we wanted to). Personally, I like to start every long tro ride with a frozen strawberry FanYogo. Anyway. The tro is now filled up (thanks to Maggie and Rach getting out of the car and attempting to help the driver and “recruit” passengers – “Kumasi? Kumasi? I know you want to join this car and go to Kumasi with us…”) and we speed away. Maggie settles back with some music, I disappear into Freakonomics (for some unbeknownst reason I have become very interested in the social theories of economics – and have now registered myself for two econ classes next fall), and Joanna and Peter begin a heated discussion about male and women roles in the household. In the backseat, Rach remarks: “I’m starting to think like a crossword puzzle.” (She’s making a dent in my NYTimes crossword puzzle book.) Four hours to go. Road trips in Ghana are the most fun.

varun loves us and our books.

***

The touristy and important facts about Kumasi: it’s the second largest city in Ghana and is the modern capital of the Ashanti region. The not-so-touristy but arguably more interesting facts: it is the only place in Ghana where I have seen more than two street signs and a CROSSWALK signaling-machine-thingy (is there a name for those things?), and bats are cooked and sold on the side of the road.

peter actually bargained for this bat. he paid three cedis.

Our first day in Kumasi was, in fact, delightfully touristy. At the Ghanaian Armed Forces Museum, the gang and I enjoyed a long private tour and got to touch a lot of neat, historical things.

a very old and awesome map.

You know, I find one has to be in a certain mindset to visit museums. When I studied abroad in London, I went to bed feeling oddly unnerved if I hadn’t visited at least two museums during the day. Here, museums are few and far between and my friends and I have largely adopted the roles as “travelers” as opposed to “tourists” (I’ve found there is a subtle difference), which makes guided tours and lengthy historical plaque-reading a bit difficult to partake in. But, especially as a proud child of military parents and grandparents, I found this academic field trip quite interesting. Plus, on our way out, I spotted the best truck EVER, and made sure to let the nice driver know exactly why I loved it so much.

***

Onto the Kumasi Zoo, where I saw my first peacock!

The zoo was home to many monkeys, ostriches, even camels and a lion. After seeing many of these animals in the wild when I was in Kenya, I found myself dispirited at the sight of these animals in dirty cages. The lion was inanimate, and the camels cute – but those eyes, those big, woeful eyes! Maybe it was all in my head. But while my friends were being entertained by the monkeys doing tricks in their cages for bananas they’d pass to it through the bars of its cage, I found myself standing off to the side. Peter held out his water bottle to a baboon, and the baboon took it, drank out of it, and handed it back to Peter. It was incredible, yes, but somehow I felt like we were exploiting these monkeys (some of who were visibly sick and had large growths that looked like tumors all over their bodies). I wish they’d have a better reason than as a source of human entertainment to be locked up in those cages. I think it’s one thing to see an Asian tiger in a zoo in America – for many, it may be the only tiger they ever see. But here in Africa, it just doesn’t make sense/seem all that right to me to cage up animals like baboons and camels and even lions when one can, depending on the continental region, see them living free in their natural habitats. Even these guys, I’m sure – though I’ve forgotten what they’re called.

***

Kumasi is the place to go to shop. For inexpensive fabric, that is. Kejetia Market is the largest open-air market in West Africa and also one of the most intimidating and hectic environments I’d ever been in. We arrived at the market at the same time ominous black storm clouds rolling overhead did. After a lot of walking and a lot of being grabbed by male Ghanaian vendors, we found the fabric – beautiful, inexpensive, colorful Ghanaian fabric. The rain began falling and we scrambled to barter with and buy from the Ghanaian women who were scrambling, too, to pack up. Dedicated shoppers we are indeed: we won the race against the weather and were soon running in the rain and through the maze of the (West Africa’s LARGEST outdoor) market holding bags of fabric over our heads. As we hurried through stalls attempting to find our way back to the main street, we were endearingly laughed at by all the Ghanaians who had found shelter and were waiting out the storm. In typical Ghanaian style, we laughed at ourselves, too, and continued our journey, hugging our cell phones and cameras close to our chests and wiping warm rain out of our eyes.

Escaping the rain wasn’t as fun as running through it, but we settled down for dinner at Vic Baboo’s Café. I’ve forgotten what I had for dinner but I know all of our food was delicious, and not just because our trusty Bradt guide promised it would be. As an aside, I’d like to share that one of my favorite things in the world is diverse, eclectic, and wildly unique menus – especially when they butcher word spellings, have completely inconsistent prices, are in more than three languages and have hilarious comments like the following:

Vic Baboo’s Cocktail Bar

Open 11 a.m. – midnight

(unless the bartender is off duty or drunk)

***

The next morning, we all headed back to Accra on the earlier side. Peter and I had dinner that night at the house of my FSO friend, Jenny, along with another FSO couple. Peter and I were (naturally) full of questions about their work and their backgrounds, and a delightful conversation over delicious vegetarian tacos ensued. We heard some great stories and were able to gain an even better insight into the lives and thoughts of some brand new Foreign Service officers.

Over the next few days, the girls and I took Peter to do some of our favorite and typical weekly things in Accra: two-for-one pizza deal at Pizza Inn on Tuesday, Salsa Night at the Golden Tulip hotel on Wednesday, Kissimeh orphanage on Thursday. He loved all of it, and it was fun sharing the little activities in Ghana we’ve come to love with a good friend and Ghana-newbie. We also went to lunch at the French Cultural Center, where four of us sat outside and enjoyed a lazy afternoon eating, talking, and writing. (Because we definitely don’t get enough of any of those things here). 😉

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3 Responses

  1. Those deer looking creatures are called Duikers. They usually run wild everywhere, you can see a bunch in Mole. Also I’ve seen some at my site.

  2. And Peter’s hair is long! And where does he get such ideas about “roles” for men and women??!!

  3. Loved the picture with the dimples truck! And, you’ve NEVER seen a peacock? Hhhmmm, we must have missed an opportunity somewhere along the way while you were growing up. 🙂 Love, Mom

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