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Camera Shy

The hot, HOT sticky air and brightly dressed women shock us, as the Odyssey World Trek lands in Accra, Ghana, West Africa. We're back in the North, but just barely. The midday sun is so hot, but only Kavitha and I seem to be moving more slowly because of it, as we walk the streets of this capital city looking for adventure.

Look out! Women here balance loads on their heads that I would be afraid to try to lift! Platters of bananas, glass cases full of snacks, and boxes of batteries, combs, and nail-clippers all float down the street balancing above dark faces, which in turn balance above beautiful dresses made of pretty cloth. Many women carry babies on their backs with another piece of beautiful material. Most men wear "jeans and T-shirts" or "business suits," but others are dressed in bright African shirts or small round hats and long robes. Cars, taxis, buses, and tro-tros fill the streets with fumes and lots of honking car horns.

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Shorts and socks for sale here!
Kavitha stops a woman carrying a tray of pineapples on her head and a small plastic bucket in her hand. Right there on the sidewalk, the woman sets down her bucket, puts the tray onto it, and cuts a whole pineapple into bite-size chunks with a knife. I hand her a 500 cedi coin (about twenty US cents) and she hands me a plastic bag of sweet, sticky, juicy snack! The platter returns to her head with a smile and Kavitha and I go on.

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Kavitha and some young residents of Accra.
The streets are full of women selling Ghanaian food. Women mash cassava to make balls called "fu-fu," while other women sell kenkey and banku, which are almost like tamales in Latin America! These foods are eaten with spicy soups and stews made with palm oil or peanut butter. The locals eat with their right hand, forming the mush into a ball and dipping out some soup with it.

The market is as colorful and loud as any I've seen yet. "Hey sister! Come buy!" is called from booths or people on the sidewalk selling anything from used clothes to tomatoes and onions. Dried and fresh fish are popular. This all happens along a busy street, with a half-open sewer running next to it. In this heat, I don't know how people can sit so close to the sewers! The smell makes it hard for Kavitha and me to breathe in some places, but they must be used to it.

Many of the women have small scars on their cheeks or beside their eyes. The scars make the women look even more interesting. I'm told they are tribal markings, and you can tell which tribe a woman is from by them. I notice a few men with them, too. I want to get a picture for you, but many women are shy about having their picture taken, and some don't speak much English.

Even though Ghana is an English-speaking country, the words I hear all around me are a language called "Ga," one of many languages spoken here in Ghana. We stand out so much men frequently come up to meet us. They want to know our names and where we're from. The local handshake is long and gentle, sometimes with a grasping of the thumb like in Zululand. The handshake always ends with a snap, using the other person's middle finger instead of your own. I'm not really good at it yet, but I'm getting lots of practice.

Transport in Accra is mostly on the tro-tro, which is about the same as a combi in Latin America and Southern Africa. Tro-tros are minivans with extra rows of seats added to squeeze in more people. The tro-tros follow regular routes all over the city. The main tro-tro stop is just north of Nkrumah Circle, a major intersection in town. Tro-tros are parked everywhere or are working their way through the major traffic jam to get in or out. A few men stand around trying to direct the crazy traffic, as vendors and other people walk through it all.

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There's never a dull moment at the tro-tro stand!
I paused to get this picture for you, and a policeman came running up. "Don't try that again, or I'll arrest you!" He shouted, pointing at my camera. I quickly put it away, apologized for whatever I had done wrong, and rushed off.

"What did you do?!" Kavitha asked, surprised.

"I just tried to take a picture of the tro-tros!" I shrugged.

Kavitha reminded me that there have been many attempts to overthrow the current ruler, Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings. The guidebook warns against taking pictures of anything that might seem helpful to do that. I'm not sure how a traffic jam of tro-tros could hurt the government, but I am sure that I'm not taking many pictures from here!

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Finally, some willing models discovered at the coconut shop.
On our way back to the hotel, I stopped for a coconut, which is great when you're hot and thirsty. The vendor chops off the top with his big knife and hands it to me to drink. Yum! Not as sweet as the San Blas Islands in Panama but it still hits the spot! I finish my drink and hand it back to the man to cut up so that I can eat the inside. Meanwhile, a group of children crowd around to stare at us. "May I take your picture?" I ask, motioning to the camera. Some kids get excited, while others run away shyly. But, finally, I have some pictures to go with this article -- without going to jail!

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The beach didn't mind having its picture taken!
We walk back as night falls. Along the way we pass several groups of men on the sidewalks or in open buildings, on their knees facing east. They are Muslims, praying towards Mecca as the sun sets. I'm sure to see more of that when we get to Mali, I think. I realize how different it is here than anywhere I've ever been before -- and we're just getting started! Western Africa has already captured my heart and my imagination!


Kavitha - Ask Dr. Ocloo: Women's Job Training 101
Making A Difference - Who Wants to Clean Out the Sewers?

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