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It's a Hard Day's Night

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Oh, So This Is Where The Adventure Begins?
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The road to Mali!
It's been a hard day's night!

After landing on the African continent for the first time I felt as though I was suddenly in a different world, a dramatic change from the European flavor or the Latin feel of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Little did I realize that by flying from Harare, Zimbabwe to Accra, the capital of Ghana, I would feel as though I was entering yet another world again, that of West Africa.

Traveling through Ghana has been the most difficult travel for me of the entire World Trek so far. Perhaps I was just beginning to relax a bit while remaining mostly in modern Harare for the duration of the Zimbabwe stage. But not for long! The minute I stepped off the plane in Accra I was immediately hit by the dense humidity and warm temperature of the city's summer morning at the 5-degree latitude.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of traveling through Ghana has been the transportation. Monica and I have been traveling North through the entire country to get to Burkina Faso. We've been crammed into small vans without much room to breathe for consecutive trips lasting several hours. Many of the roads are unpaved and the rides are bumpy. But even worse are the hard roads that were once paved but now suffer from countless holes in them. Sometimes I feel as though the vans are simply going to fall apart. The worse part of the journey was the trip from Kumasi to Yeji. I sat sharing the front passenger seat with a guy who stuffed his suitcase, and other bulky items in the space where my legs would've been during this 8-hour journey. Every time the driver changed into high gear his hand would grip the stick shift and he'd jam it into my left leg.
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Waiting for the bus, yet again

We finally arrived in Yeji at 3AM and they didn't bother to bring down our backpacks from the top of the van. Monica and I slept outside on the concrete pavement in only our T-shirts while the mosquitoes continued to feast on us until sunrise.

At first I was very impressed at how friendly the local people seemed. The Hotel de California where we stayed was run by one big extended family and everyone seemed eager to meet us and to learn that we're actually from California ourselves. One of the family members named Enok personally walked us for nearly an hour to the Malian Embassy so that we wouldn't get lost on our first day. Another local named Neboy showed us his colorful artwork and even took Kavitha and me out for a night on the town.

However, Ghana is a very poor country and the unfortunate truth is that many people in Accra did a good job of pretending to be my "friend" when they were really much more interested in my money. We Trekkers love to meet locals on our trip and many of our greatest experiences have been making friends and learning about different cultures "from the inside," whether hanging out with students, staying in people's homes, or simply conversing in restaurants or even in the streets. So when a local, especially a friendly person around my own age invites me out for the evening, I'm usually very enthusiastic and grateful for the offering.

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Hangin' with some of the locals

Yeji is a very small port town on the southern bank of Lake Volta. Yeji was a surprisingly pleasant part of our journey through Ghana for a few reasons. First it was the end of the terrible bus ride from the night before. Secondly, after washing up we had a great breakfast of bread, coffee, and egg omelets which, given our circumstances, we thoroughly enjoyed. But most interestingly, Yeji was also my introduction to a whole new animal I've never seen before. Quite frankly I'm not even sure what to call them. Monica thought that they were some sort of goat, especially because of their horns, but we've since learned that they're actually a type of sheep. From afar they resemble anything from a medium-sized dog to a small cow. They're roughly the same size as dogs and are skinny like many dogs as opposed to fat and furry like the sheep we count to fall asleep. They come in all sorts of mixed colors like white, black, gray, brown, etc. The little ones are still babies and their only job is to jump around and look charming. Many of the adults have long tails, which they let hang and even tuck under their bodies much like dogs do. They make the "BAAAAAAAHHHH" sound exactly like sheep and I've since discovered that I too can make that same sound in my attempts to fit in with their group. That causes the locals to stare at me with the same curious look that I myself am busy giving the sheep. Their most distinguishing feature is their ears. They've got the biggest, dopiest looking ears I've ever seen on an animal. They just droop down the sides of their faces and add to their already pitiful looking facial expressions. They resemble lazy dogs as they plop themselves down in the grass to rest. While riding in the vans, I've often seen numerous groups of them lying (sometimes asleep) in the middle of the road and somehow they always manage to pick themselves up at the very last second to avoid getting run over. It turns out that they're pretty shy and usually run away when I approach them or try to pet them. They are definitely too goofy to be useful for any sort of work so I suppose they must be used as a primary source of food for the locals. When all is said and done, these mysterious creatures are simply so pathetic looking that they're actually too cute for me to want to eat them!

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While going out on the town with my new "friends," I felt like a walking wallet with a shaved head, for the most part. It was definitely tricky business having to dodge the traps that were being set for me. It all began when a man named Nana offered to accompany me on my 2nd visit to the Malian Embassy, which seemed harmless enough considering Enok's kindness earlier that day. I decided to go to the beach for the rest of the afternoon in Nana's company, but somehow I got stuck paying for the taxi both there and back. Big deal! I thought. The beach was about five miles from the center of town and that's just a short walk for the locals, so perhaps I was just being extravagant by wanting to take a taxi in the 90 degree weather, it serves me right. Then at the beach, Nana introduced me to his two beautiful nieces, Sekina and Hawa, who were also my age. They invited me to sit down and asked me if I wanted a drink. They ordered a couple of large bottles of beer for us all to share, but apparently because I was the catalyst for ordering that [3rd? 4th?] round of drinks, I was expected to pay for all of it. I realized what was going on once Hawa asked to "borrow" money from me to buy a pack of cigarettes because the two had no money on them. Then Sekina asked me to buy her a dress from a street vendor that she's been wanting for quite some time. They offered to take me out to show me Accra that evening, which seemed like a fun outing at the time. But just to be on the safe side, I gently explained that I work as a volunteer for a non-profit organization and that I need to spend as little money as possible. "Of course, Ghana is a cheap country!" they assured me.

When I returned to the hotel, one of Enok's friends invited me to sit and have a drink with him. When I declined, he asked me to tell the waitress to bring him and Enok a beer on my way back to the room. An hour later the waitress came after me to pay for those beers and Enok's friend actually had the nerve to tell me in his own garbled Ghanaian accent, "I told you to get us two beers, don't you understand English well?"

That evening Nana and his nieces met me at the hotel and I dragged Kavitha along just so I wouldn't be the only "rich foreigner" in the group. We went to dinner at a local joint but the others weren't very hungry, so Kavitha and I were the only ones in the restaurant eating bantu(fermented corn pounded into a paste) dipped into an okra soup. We decided to go to a dance club but the thought of staying out late dancing was a bit overwhelming for Kavitha, who hadn't slept for a couple of days. So she went back to the hotel.

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The girls of Yeji

Suddenly it all started up again but this time it was really out of control! We went to a club that had dancing outdoors. When the drink ordering began I specifically ordered NOTHING so as not to be confused with any alcoholic consumption and payment thereof at the table. I was mostly interested in dancing whereas Sekina seemed more interested in getting drunk and throwing generous compliments at me. Then Nana leaned over and said, "We're going to another club now, let's just pay and get outta here." I smiled in agreement but nobody seemed to make a move. Nana repeated himself several times until I played so dumb that the girls actually had to look me in the eye and blatantly request that I settle the bill that I had no part in running up. When I flatly refused, the girls and the waiter got really pissed off.

My only hope was that I could enter the next club and dance away the tension that had developed by this time. But alas, this club had a cover charge and once again everyone looked to me to pay it. Then they offered me a deal. "If we each paid our own way into the club, will you buy the beer once we're inside?" Sekina, out of frustration with me, even asked, "What's going on with you Kevin? We're trying to 'take you out' so that you can have a good time here!" Nana tried to smooth-talk his way past the bouncer at the door, but following his absence of luck, he announced that he was going to bed, but not without hitting me up for some cab fare to get him back to the hotel. "That won't be necessary," I answered, "I'm walking back with you!"


The Team - Let's go to Cameroon, NOT!
Abeja - Next Stop Slavery - A Visit to an African Holding Pen
Jasmine - A San Francisco Treat
Kavitha - Accra . . . or Brooklyn? The African Diaspora
Monica - The People On the Bus Go Up and Down. . .To Ghana and Burkina Faso

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