A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.


"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Kokrobite Beach, Ghana

In more ways than one, our trip just started. Less than 24 hours ago I was proud of how we were roughing it, how cheap we got by each day, how we deftly navigated our way through our travel days. Everything, more or less, was under control or at least a controlled amount of chaos. Now that we are in Africa, everything we know or have known has been turned on its head. I feel very lost, very unsure, and very very white. People see us coming a mile away. The children point and cry “obruni” which means white people. I’ve never felt like such a minority, feeling the burn of people watching my every gesture. It is a humbling experience. But somehow I also “get it’, something has clicked. Everyone should come to Africa, the birthplace of civilization, at least once in their lives.

Akwaaba is the most common greeting you will hear. In Twi (pronounced tree), the local language in the south, it means you are welcome. And you do feel welcome in Ghana, most people are extraordinarily friendly and can‘t wait to greet you. It always starts with an exchange of names and a hand shake, in fact there is a lot of hand shaking going on all the time - when you arrive, depart, agree enthusiastically over some conversational topic, and sometimes just for the hell of it. After a quick shake of the hand you have to coordinate pulling your middle finger against theirs, making an audible snap. It takes some practice, but once you get the hang of it you are definitely in the club. Another common greeting is the fist bump then hand to the heart simultaneoulsy saying “respect”. But I find that more LA than Africa.

Our private hut at Big Milly’s Backyard is 26 cedi/night (about $18) but even with a thatched roof it feels like we are camping. Everything is slightly sandy and we (or more accurately Ron) sweeps the floor every morning to keep a modicum of cleanliness but within hours the sand has been tracked back in. The high humidity leaves our bed and recently washed laundry perpetually damp.

We shower everyday from a cold water spigot over a bucket in our “private” bathroom that is roofless and technically outside. I have to say, it was a bit of welcome novelty to look up into the palm trees above, listen to the chatty birds, and pray for no rain as you do your morning business. It’s funny how fast you can adapt. At first what seemed a little dirty or a little scary, is now as normal as a Happy Days rerun.

Big Milly’s has an idyllic sandy floored dining room in a raised hut overlooking the beach, that we ate many a wonderful meal in. For breakfast we would have coffee, omelettes, and the best fresh baked bread and watch the villagers on the beach below.

Women selling pineapples (that make the sweetest juice I have ever tasted in my life, blacklisting del monte for good). Men pulling their brightly painted boats in from the morning catch. Boys helping sort out the net while girls sort out the fish. This is a real bonafide fishing village and each role is vital and practiced.

We took long walks along the beach, learning how to play the aslatua shakers (swawa gourds attached by a thick string) to tricky polyrhythms. Your left hand always frustratingly uncooperative. Surprisingly I was much better than Ron at this. Little kids, far too young to be alone, wandered in gangs and held our hands up and down the beach. Generally the country is quite safe for tourists, but we were urged to take nothing valuable to the beach, as theft in these parts is a frequent occurrence. There were a few warm sunny days during our visit but for some reason we didn’t ever swim in the ocean. Maybe someone had mentioned the treacherous undercurrent once, and neither of us were clamoring for a near-drowning.

On Friday nights, they would have a killer barbeque for about 8 cedi ($6) a plate, and we had spicy indian kofta and tender beef skewers with salad, rice, and some tasty coconut concoction that they oddly called pizza. All the tables and chairs were pulled down to the beach and we began the great culinary experiment of eating without light, that we would get to try again and again. At least this meal was recognizable and from a reputable restaurant, later we would eat questionable items that may have only have been consumable in complete darkness.

The bar at night is lively and the center of everyone’s attention, as the guests and local residents alike flock to it like mosquito’s to Ron’s exposed feet. They serve up every conceivable cocktail but we stuck to the local libations of Star beer (the Budweiser of Ghana) that is served in 32 ounce bottles for 2 cedi ($1.5) and Kasapreko brand gin that is an alcoholics bargain for 20 cents a shot. We also tried the famous foreign extra Guiness at 7.5% alcohol content but I found the taste too strong for my liking. Apparently there was a big revolt at the Guiness factory when they tried to change it to the standard formula the rest of the world drinks, and they relented to leave it be. Don’t mess with a mans beer.

We met a lot of locals, striking up easy conversations and cultural exchange about life, music, and politics. Everyone here loves Obama, especially since his recent visit, and we are so happy to be proud of our President finally, since as travelers you are also representatives of your country. The only problem with the bar was that it didn’t shut down when we left as if there could be no party without us. Despairingly, our hut was so close we might as well have climbed up and tried to take a snooze on the bar itself. The loud music and bass vibrated the walls of our room as we huddled under our mosquito net, itchy and irritable, for hours into the night. The worst part was when someone heard a song they liked and then played it 3-4 times in a row. This was almost tolerable with Bob Marley but was absolutely inexcusable with Celine Dion. I guess it’s a small price to pay for otherwise beachside bliss.

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