Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Days 1266-1274: Ghana, Part 1!

Last Tuesday, Melissa and Ruth finally arrived in Ghana... whew!

I shirked my classes last week (with my head of department's approval, don't worry) so that I could help them settle in after the long trip, the culture shock, and the jetlag.  I'm glad I did.

Before everyone got here, I'd gone to Game (now owned by Walmart!) to get Ruth some art supplies to make her feel at home (and some wine, to make Melissa feel at home).  So, Tuesday morning I got picked up by Mr. Lartey and went over to the airport.  We arrived just as the plane was showing that it was landing, but I ended up waiting for a while for them to clear customs, etc.  I spent a while on tiptoes expecting them to walk through the doorway... until I realized that I was watching people deplane from the Air Emirates flight instead of the Delta flight.  What tipped me off was that Air Emirates dresses its stewardesses like this, while Delta crew looks like this.

In any event, they eventually came through, and though security glared at me for even leaning through the doorway to wave, Ruth ran into my arms.  Our only snag was that I ended up having to pay 10gc to the guys who "helped" Melissa with her bags by grabbing them out of her hands, mostly because Ruth was wiggling and I was tired of fighting about it.  But a short cab ride back to the Fulbright House and Ruth was contentedly painting with her water colors.

The first night was rough.  Ruth had slept on the plane, despite the turbulence (and after watching Ratatouille twice, which at least means she has good taste in movies).  But Melissa didn't get much sleep, and everyone was jetlagged.  Ruth couldn't sleep at the flat (being +4 hours from Baltimore means that we were asking her to go to sleep when her body thought it was 4PM), and since there's only one bedroom here, we're kind of on top of each other, so the tossing and turning kept Melissa awake.  In a desperate effort to get everyone at least a little sleep and start getting on the local time schedule, Ruth and I ended up camping out on a "cushion fort" in the living room.

(I don't recommend it).  Eventually, we all got some sleep, and I let everyone sleep in the next day while I worked.

Wednesday, Ruth and I spent wandering around while Melissa rested.  We went to the botanical gardens and ran around for a while (stopping at the university bookstore and reading a new book on the steps in front of the library first).  Ruth found a huge palm tree that we could go inside, and we pretended it was a house (but Wednesday, Ruth requested no pictures).  Then we walked down to the main tro-tro stop and bought coconuts to drink out of.  From thence, back to the flat to have a bit of a flop day.

Thursday, the three of us took a promised ride on tro-tros to the Shangri-La to check out their pool, which we'd heard was quite nice. Actually, on the way over, we ended up catching an MMT bus rather than a proper tro-tro, but Ruth still said, "this is so fun!"

(We took a proper tro-tro home, but it was way too crammed for pictures)

Ruth certainly approved of the pool.

We splashed and lounged for a long while, then came home.  We took Ruth to the Guest Center restaurant for dinner, because they had some home-y foods.  She ordered mac and cheese, but fell asleep before it came.  We had a nice surprise when we went to pay to take it home with us, though - we'd run into Helen, the head of my department, before dinner (she lives at the Guest Center), and she'd paid for our meal.

Friday... didn't work out so well.  The morning was fine - Ruth and I strolled over to Max Mart for provisions, where Ruth discovered her new favorite thing - La Vache Qui Rit.   In the afternoon, we tried to take Ruth to the Embassy for their weekly barbecue and maybe to use the playground that was supposed to be there.  But, by the time she woke up from her nap and we fought traffic, it was almost 4.  And we learned that, despite the fact that the BBQ starts at 1PM, the embassy officially closes at 12:30, and my badge doesn't get us in "after hours."  Sigh.

We headed back to salvage the end of the afternoon and the promised pool by going to the U Ghana pool - which actually was fairly nice.  Melissa lounged while Ruth and I splashed about a bit.  And on the way home, we got some chicken-on-a-stick that was pretty tasty.

But then... the HEALING JESUS CRUSADE began.  Oh, for the love, just click on that link and look at the size of the scaffolding for their speakers.  That was set up in the field right across from the flat, by which I mean those speakers were maybe 150 meters away.

I can't find a "contact us" link on their main website, but here's their Facebook page so you can post long, angry rants.  Seriously, fuck these guys.  As Melissa pointed out, if the thousand+ people who showed up spent time actually doing something besides listening to a huckster for five hours, they could maybe get the taps flowing in Accra.  I was just struck by how one of the sermons was all about how you don't know when you're going to die... and all I could think was, dang, the last thing I would do with that insight was spend a few hours out in a field listening to some dude tell me that Jesus was a'ight.

Oh, wait, did I mention that I could hear every word of the sermons? GO BACK AND LOOK AT THOSE SPEAKERS AGAIN.  Even with the windows closed and the fans on, it was so loud that you could literally feel things vibrate, and Ruth was complaining that her ears hurt.  Of course, it ran from 6PM-11PM, and so all of the work getting Ruth un-jetlagged and Melissa rested was shot.  Apparently, they were violating all sorts of noise ordinances, and it wasn't clear that the University had actually approved them setting up where they were (we're not the only residents near Mensah-Sarbah field; it's in the middle of a major university residential area, with at least two dorm blocks directly abutting the field, and the main uni hotel, the Guest Center)... not that any of that stopped the HEALING POWER OF JESUS ROCK.

Anyway, Saturday we went out to Madina.  One of my colleagues, Carl, and his partner, Anna-Marie, had finally gotten moved into their house, and so they held a housewarming.  I mostly wrangled Ruth, so Melissa could chat (and not being able to sit down to eat was a good excuse to eat only the donuts one of their new neighbors had bought).

One of the Guest Center (where Carl and Anna-Marie had been living while the house was being prepped) staff had moved into their new house's "boy's quarters," and two of his children were out in the driveway laying out corn kernels to dry (I think to be pounded to make flour for banku).  Ruth desperately wanted to play/help, but they were a bit older, and Cornelius' English is a bit shaky, so I suspect theirs may have been as well, so they mostly rebuffed her, unfortunately.

Fortunately, Ruth ended up striking up a bit of a love-hate relationship with Kay-Kay, the daughter (also about 3 1/2) of one of Carl's friends.

Then we came home to... NIGHT TWO OF THE HEALING JESUS CRUSADE.  Many attempts to find a hotel to stay at while Ruth napped had come to naught.  By the - I kid you not - seventh altar call, with Ruth massively overtired and losing it (and telling Melissa that she needed to call the police because people were being loud - when else would we be wistful for Baltimore police response?), Melissa and I were ready to get down there and point out that by the 8th hour of the crusade, anyone who had not responded to the previous six altar calls was probably JUST NOT FREAKING INTERESTED IN BEING REBORN AT THE MOMENT.

But Sunday, we went up to Aburi Botanical Gardens, in the Akuapem Hills north of Accra.  I'd been back in 2009, and I thought it'd make a nice, low-key day trip.  The gardens themselves were lovely, and even though everyone was a bit tired (and Ruth was a bit whiny about walking as a result), I think a good time was had.

(My unintentionally arty photo of a tree heavily growing with orchids)

(Yep, there's a downed helicopter in Aburi gardens.  I'm not sure what the deal with it is.  Since Ruth was a bit tired, we didn't bother hiring a guide which might have made lingering/resting more awkward.)

(Ruth finds imaginative play everywhere.  This is her using a tree stump as a stove to cook an elaborate meal for me on, while Melissa checked out the gardens.)

(Watching some butterflies)

(Wait, I thought you were too tired to walk?)

After the gardens, I'd promised Ruth we could stop at Hillburi to swim.  Ruth is all set to be a third culture kid - show her cultural stuff and she's marginally impressed, but she wants to check out all the pools and playgrounds.

Case in point.

Hillburi was nice, if a bit of a rip-off.  I won't belabor it here, but they really nickel-and-dimed us on fee after fee to use the facilities (our friends who'd recommended it had stayed there as guests, so not been subject to this) but the one thing that really irked me was the restaurant.  We'd stopped for lunch, even though it was a bit overpriced, and being polite had invited our driver to come in if he wanted something to eat.  He'd tried to order (I saw him point - this wasn't the driver screwing us) the side order portion of jollof rice, I think because he'd balked at the prices, but they made him decide between fish or chicken, and then brought him the grill version that was almost five times the price of what he'd tried to order.  We mostly stayed because we'd promised Ruth the pool and playground, and while we wouldn't go back due to the prices, I can't deny that the pool was nice and the views over the hills stunning.

(Ghana's best view.  The Akuapem Hills are nice too.)

(Apologies to those of you who already groaned at that joke on G+)

When we got home, we were fortunately able to assure a somewhat anxious Ruth that, see, the people playing the loud music were packing their stuff up and leaving.  I roasted what ended up being a tasty chicken (Ruth nicely said that my chicken was better than the meat on a stick guy's), and Melissa and I got beers to celebrate.

Monday, we had all originally been planning on heading down to Kaneshie market, where we'd heard there was a good bead section (I'm hoping to send Ruth home with a good number of inexpensive beads that she can bring to school to string with her friends... so far, I keep striking out).  But Ruth was a bit tired and didn't want to go, so Melissa ended up going with the wife of a prof from the History department, who is also visiting (though they are considering staying - he has a potentially permanent appointment).  I'll let her tell that story on her own, but she did come back with some nice bird-print fabric to have a dress made for Ruth.  Meanwhile, Ruth and I had a flop day - she had wanted to go back to the pool, but ended up falling asleep, so I got some reading done, and then she mostly wanted to hang around the flat.

At the very end of the day, she decided she wanted to go to the pool after all.  Even though I had a meeting at 4 further out of town, we rushed over... only to find out they were closed for cleaning.  So I unfortunately had to leave a very disappointed (but, for a three year old, pretty understanding) Ruth behind to hang out and have dinner with Melissa, while I swung out to Ashale Botwe to conduct an interview (confidentiality prevents me from saying much more - you can read the very cynical things I learned when this all becomes a paper).

Tuesdays are my big teaching days, so Melissa and Ruth hung out, mostly at the pool.  I mostly got to see them on their way out.

Afterwards, I met up with them and Ruth and I walked over to Night Market to get some chocolate and what turned out to be a very low-quality bottle of wine that was all they had.  But I cooked my standard comfort food - pasta with tomatoes and garlic in butter - and we hung out.  After Ruth was in bed, Melissa and I had a very nice evening listening to Wait Wait Don't Tell Me and spending some time with each other.

Which brings us to today!  In the morning, we did another Max Mart run and then took Ruth over to Bush Canteen to find a seamstress.  On the way, she watched part of a dance class at the dance department.  We then found a very kind woman - Miss Gloria - who is going to make a dress (for 4gc!  If anyone wants to send measurements and commission something, you totally should...) out of the bird fabric.  Then, on the way back, we stopped to watch dancing again for a bit.  The dancers were nice and a lot waved at Ruth or came out to say hello, but she was still pretty shy.  We'll go back.  Unfortunately, I had to run off to teach while Melissa and Ruth were still watching.

After I taught, we unsuccessfully tried to get Ruth to nap, and then she and I hung out.  Melissa had taken her to the bookstore again, so we've all been treated to multiple readings of a bootlegged Indian version of The Wizard of Oz with awkward grammar and anime-style illustrations.  It seriously reads as if it was written by someone who'd seen the movie once and related the plot in Hindi, then ran it through Google Translate.  I think I could have a hit Tumblr feed if I just scanned pages from the series - it will be called "Dorothy acted as advised."  But Ruth likes it.  And Theresa, from across the hall, has been very nicely bringing her lots of books from the Madina community library that she's helping set up.

After that, we just kind of hung out.  I made what I've been calling "rustic hummus" by smashing the chick peas (no blender here), and Ruth and I took a little walk.  We were going to go back to the dance dept. originally, but then she was upset and needed reassuring that she'd get to go home to sleep with her Dora blanket soon (it is with this conversation that I will guilt trip her when she's 20 - clearly Dora blanket > seeing Dad).  So after comforting her, we went to watch some people playing soccer on the field nearby, but not before stopping at her favorite giant termite mound.

And finding a stick that looked like goat horns.

Tomorrow the plan is Makola Market ("the big crazy market"), the National Museum, lunch, and the Osu Children's Library.  We'll see how it works out.  I should probably start doing some work again soon...

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