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Oh, So This Is Where The Adventure Begins?
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.
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.
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.
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!"
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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