Hi dears! The MV Explorer has officially left Takoradi to begin our 6-day stretch to Cape Town, South Africa. Ghana was amazing. I had no idea what to expect when I disembarked but the city really does look like what you think about when you think about Africa. The dirt is dusty and red, it is consistently over 95 degrees, women do carry around enormous packages on their heads, and children really do follow your taxis around because they’ve never seen a white person before. It is really kind of a culture shock. The landscapes are really beautiful though, and the people are very friendly and kind.
Day 1: A friend from the ship, Cali, and I decided to head out pretty early and it was suggested that we go to the market in the center of the city. We hopped into a taxi and after about five minutes ended up in the middle of Takoradi. The market was packed full of people shopping, hustling their goods, herding chickens, balancing all sorts of things on their heads, and staring at us. It was intense. People were lined up on the sides of the roads selling everything from strange produce to mountains of shoes. The market was seemingly endless and we panicked for a while because we couldn’t find our way out. Though English is the official language, there are over 60 different dialects in Ghana and not many people are English-fluent. After being thoroughly overwhelmed, we grabbed a taxi to check out the beach. The guidebooks were not kidding when they said Ghana had beautiful beaches. The beach was like nothing you could find in the states. Deserted and completely natural. The tide was out and there were tons of rocks that we climbed and explored. The water filled nooks and crannies in the rocks were teeming with fish, little crabs, and monster sea urchins. We headed up the beach to a hotel restaurant and ate some spicy beef kabobs while getting to know a group of Scottish men who work in Ghana. They told us the best spots in the city to hang out and on their advice we headed to a “pub” which turned out to be a crazy nightclub. Fun was had by all. Skipper had to get up early the next morning so we headed back to the ship around 1 am. I almost even forgot I was in Africa until some goats came over and hung out with us on our walk back.
Day 2: I didn’t have anything planned for the day so I woke up super late and wandered off the ship. I met some locals who spoke English and they took me to lunch. I got to eat some authentic Ghanaian food which consisted of a lot of rice, yams, and plantains. It was really good and I’m wondering if there are any Ghanaian restaurants in DC? Anyways, after that they took me to a great shopping spot where I was able to get some awesome stuff for all you lucky duckies J I spotted an internet café and, after learning that it was only 2 American dollars for two hours, I settled in and was able to skype with the wombear and chat with the big sis and some strange people who seem to think they are my cousins. I also got to upload my pictures from Dominica, so check them out on my fb. I would have uploaded my pictures from Brazil too but my computer died right in the middle of the upload. It was getting a bit late at this point so I headed back to the ship to grab dinner with my girls. They went out and I was sorely temped to go, but knew that I had to wake up at 5 AM the next day to do a service project building homes in rural Ghana. So, I stayed in and was lame.
Day 3: I had to be on the bus for the home building project at 6 AM sharp, and by some weird mistake on my part my alarm didn’t go off until 5:50. I scrambled to get ready and ran out to the bus only to realize that I had left behind my sun screen, bug spray, hat, hand sanitizer, money, and WATER. The bus drive was about two hours long and took us to a very rural part of Ghana where low income housing is being constructed for families who have to live in inadequate homes because its all they can afford. Once there, someone who was smart enough to bring two huge bottles of water was also nice enough to give me one. Without it, I think I would have died. We were split into teams. One team was to work digging ditches, one to mold blocks out of wet cement, one would plaster a room, and the last team was to lug 50 lb cinder blocks all over the village. The whole time they were assigning teams I silently begged not to be in team cinder block. But lo and behold, the fates were against me and I set out attempting to carry the enormous things. After only a few minutes my team was soaked in sweat, scorched by the sun, eaten up by mosquitoes, and aching. The blocks were super hard to hold and if you slipped a bit, the block scraped down your arm leaving bloody cuts and weird rashes. Some others and I found it easier to balance the blocks on our hips. Now, I am sporting a bruise that runs from my upper thigh to my belly button. We worked like this from 8 AM to 3 PM. By the time we all piled onto the bus to go home, we were totally beat. Instantly, I passed out and woke up back at the ship with no recollection of the drive. While the work itself was way more intense than I could have expected, I feel like we made a pretty big difference. The thirty of us dug three sewage ditches, plastered the interiors of three homes, and lugged over 100 cinder blocks. This is labor that the new owners of the home would have had to pay for, making many low income families ineligible for even this basic housing. Even so, I’m glad its over. I am not cut out for hard labor.
Day 4: I was up and back on a tour bus at 8 AM to travel about an hour outside of Takoradi to Ankasa National Park. The park consists of miles of untouched rainforest and beautiful waterfalls and rivers. After sleeping away the bus ride, we arrived at the park and were given a short orientation before beginning our three-hour hike. The rainforest was very different from the Amazon. It was less dense and lighter, with much more shrubbery and undergrowth. Butterflies flitted around the gorgeous blooms that blossomed in the river that we walked alongside. Our guide stopped us periodically to talk about certain medicinal plants and ancient species. He explained that the word “Ankasa” means “keep quiet” because in the old days the tribes believed that the forest was haunted by trolls that would kill you if you disturbed them. This legend was how the indigenous people explained the many deaths associated with the flooding of the river, diseases, ect. I did not really keep quiet though, and managed to survive. At one point, we came to a place in the river full of moss-covered stones and we were able to climb out into the middle of mini waterfalls and play in the water. We crossed tons of log bridges spanning the river and even balanced on an old wooden bridge that snaked through the muddy marshland. All in all, it was a really great experience, and the forest really reminded me of that part in Lion King where Timon and Pumba and Simba all live together in the jungle. Remember? When they sing Hakuna Matata. It looked a lot like that. I kind of wished we could just wander around and explore on our own, but I guess then the trolls would have eaten us. After our hike we went to an absolutely gorgeous beach resort where we were served a traditional Ghanaian meal and got to explore the beach.
Day 5: Again, it was a very early morning and I was on the bus at 7 AM. We shipped out a few hours outside of the city where we boarded small wooden canoes that held about four people each. It was pouring rain and thundering, but it was also warm and beautiful. Each canoe had a tour guide in it who steered the little vessel using a long pole, kind of like a gondola. First we weaved through a tiny river, big enough only for the canoes to go one at a time. The landscape around us was that of a massive marsh with neck high grass as far as the eye could see. The river was full of blooming lilies under which, the guide explained, fish would lay their eggs. Because of this, he said, the marsh was an excellent fishing ground and on weekends was crowded with little fishing boats. We snaked through the marshland and came into a rainforest where we passed towering trees and heard the chatter of monkeys and birds scavenging for fruit. After a short time here, we passed into a massive lake wherein the canoes could spread out. The water was solid black, a coloring that the guide told us came from the roots of the trees that grew in it. It was known as “good water” and was used as drinking water for all of the surrounding villages. The canoes docked next to a wooden structure built on stilts in the middle of the lake. We climbed up a wooden ladder and were directed to explore the floating village. It consisted of tons of tiny wooden huts balanced precariously on wooden stilts. All of the home were connected through networks of wooden pathways, most of which wobbled and creaked intimidatingly and I walked very slowly, afraid of plunging right through to the river below. The kids of the village, however, sprinted around on the tiny walkways, playing and chasing eachother as if they were running on land. About 400 people lived in the village, and they all stood in their doorways, watching us pass by. Many of them were cooking lunch, huge pots of rice and bubbling stews that smelled amazing. The children flocked to us and held our hands, following us in a large crowd. They were so cute! They were chubby and little, teetering around with their big curious eyes. Most of them were too shy to talk to us though, and would duck away if we tried to speak to them. The guide explained to us that this was one of the last remaining water villages in all of Africa. After we had seen the village we boarded the canoes and headed back. By then, the rain had stopped and it was getting very hot. We could see the edges of the lake looked foggy and the guide told us that the water was evaporating at such a fast rate, that you could see it turn into vapor before your eyes. After we returned, we ate lunch and headed back to the ship to make our on-ship time of 6 PM.
Okay, how to sum all of this up? Ghana was probably the biggest culture shock I’ve had yet. It was easy to see that women were treated as lower class citizens. Moriah even talked back to a local and got yelled at because women are not allowed to raise their voices to men. Also, it was the greatest scale of poverty I have ever seen in my life. I know people in the states who complain that America has a lot of poverty too and that our government should spend more time helping Americans than with foreign aide. Well, you wouldn’t be saying that if you saw how people here lived. Families of ten live in little hovels the half the size of my kitchen with a roof made out of a tin slat. Children walk around the city barefoot, trodding through ankle deep excrement to get to school. I saw little boys with tumors the size of baseballs sticking out of their little bellies whose mothers were too scared of modern medicine to bring them to a doctor. At the schools, three or four children have to share one pencil because they can’t afford school supplies. Instead of begging us for money or toys, they begged for pens. Children are consistently abducted from their homes to be subjected to lives of hard labor harvesting cocoa beans for the chocolate we enjoy in the States. They are never paid, and work until they escape or die from exhaustion. There is nothing in America even close to it.
Wow, that got really negative really quick. It’s not all bad, I saw a lot of positive things too. The locals are kind and sociable. They enjoy talking politics and freely discussed with me the problems they see with their country and how they plan to solve them. They tell me that many now know the importance of education and strive to send all of their children to school. I saw huge billboards for local colleges offering scholarships, and saw tons of kids in school uniforms lining up at their school houses every morning, The government is peaceful, and there has not been any political dispute in Ghana in over 30 years (an eternity for an African country). The people are proud of their country and are very optimistic for the future.