Day of Errands, the Beach, and Many Lessons

I got up a little late today because I was writing my blog late last night. When I got up Koteay was watching TV and Jennifer was already gone. After a few minutes Anita, the kitchen assistant, made us breakfast. Jennifer came home and we all started getting ready so that we could make it to the Embassy to register before it closes. There was not much traffic on the way, other than the usual broken down tro tro (van taxi) and the insanely confident pedestrians. I went through security and walked through a few buildings before I got to the waiting area behind a large queue. They use British terminology here because of the early influence when the Europeans (pronounced Uropean say the first U and ro separately and then the pean like it’s one letter) came over in the early 1900’s. After about an hour of waiting, I got called up to the front where they told me that I register with the Embassy online and they can’t do anything for me there in person. Well, I learned that lesson. If you are ever traveling to another country, register and do it online before you leave. From the people we met after, apparently it didn’t surprise them that none of the people I spoke to on the way in or the people checking the list off told me that I couldn’t solve my problem there. I went back outside and I had gotten so used to the cold air conditioning inside, the outside air shocked me at how hot and humid it felt. I felt bad for Jennifer and Koteay waiting in the car, so I picked up my pace.

Next stop was to discuss Koteay’s school situation with that excellent English teacher, I had mentioned in the story from yesterday. I didn’t realize how large this woman was the first time we visited. I don’t mean that in a negative way. She was about an inch taller than me and had a lot of healthy meat on her still from having her baby. Her face, tone of voice, her laugh, and caring attitude made her very feminine. She was the kind of woman who would make you feel comfortable immediately after meeting her. She is very stern, but soft like a good mother. I liked her hair too because she tied most of it back into a bun and left small locks of hair droop over the front of her forehead and they kind of looked like little spider legs. After a hard-thought conversation and some action plans for Koteay, we left to continue errands.

We drove to the city of La. It is not pronounced the same at LA. Its like one of the words to describe singing, la la la la. This was basically the historical section of Accra. Some of the buildings were built out of mud in the late 1800’s and still in great condition. These streets were very small and narrow, surrounded by small and quaint buildings. They clearly didn’t have much money, but it was nothing like the slum in Nema, where I got my money exchanged the first day. This place had a feeling of wonderful beauty about it. There were colors everywhere and people, old and young, sitting around and eating or laughing together. We passed the house that Joe’s mom grew up in and it looked like it held a lot of history. Please excuse my reference because I have not been to Italy and only one very small part of Africa, but it felt like what I imagined Italian village would be like, but his was in Africa. Jennifer said that she had to deal with a few logistics for a funeral, so she left us to explore the beach. Wait, the beach? That’s the last place I imagined I would be.

I was a little nervous, but mostly excited to compare this to the beaches I’ve seen before. We paid admission and there were already two Obroni’s in line in front of us. I’m sure these people saw a lot of tourists. I brought a Frisbee to play with and Kofeay handed me the Frisbee and asked me to carry it for him. I said of course and asked him why. He said it was embarrassing for a Ghanaian, or really anyone in Ghana, to be carrying a Frisbee. There were probably 17 other things that classified me as an embarrassment, so I figured why not add an 18th. Immediately as we got to the edge of the sand people were approaching me from every angle and asking me to go to their shop or sit in their area for “free”. I only brought 10 Ghana Cedis, so that I wouldn’t have much money on me in case something bad did happen. About 10 feet into the sand and a man walked up to us with a horse trying to give us a ride. Koteay seemed very interested so I used the 10 Cedis to buy him a ride up and down the beach. I took off my shoes and walked down to get away from the chairs so that I could sit down and enjoy my lunch. I went to sit in the sand and a man called me over from an empty group of chairs. He asked me to please sit in his chairs. I said thank you, but I have no Cedis to give him. He said he insisted I sit there and didn’t owe him anything. Great, now I can’t refuse this free offer and I just opened up a guilt trip for them to try to sell me stuff. I’m a real optimist aren’t I? I sat down and watched as Koteay went up and down the beach on the horse. Then somehow, as if I looked different from everyone else, the man with the horse found where I was instantly and brought Koteay back. I realized I was sitting next to this other man that I told I had no Cedis and forgot I didn’t pay the 10 Cedis yet for the horse ride. Now I felt like this guy would think I was lying. As if I need to give him more of a reason to sell me something. I sat back down and finished eating as Koteay went to play in the water. I got up to join him. I went over to thank the man who let me sit on his chairs and realized he never even said a word to me the whole time. He was genuinely offering me his chairs at no charge. There is that Ghanaian kindness again. We walked down the beach and played Frisbee a little bit before we both went in the water. There was a little trash and probably more pollution than I could see. I only went up to my shins. I realized I hadn’t been looking out at the surf yet. The waves started very far out, maybe about 100 yards and were very large. If I knew the water wasn’t bad and had a surfboard I would enjoy the waves. I looked back toward the sand and saw more Obronis than I had seen since I left JFK. There were people all over the beach lying down and tanning. Tanning! I just couldn’t understand that people would travel to Ghana and do something they could have done back home. Even if they lived in the middle of the country they could have saved a lot of money and flown to the coast there. After this, I started to feel a bit guilty about being on the beach. I couldn’t separate myself from the tourists on the beach and that was not the reason I came here. I calmed down and reminded myself that I was having this feeling because I hadn’t started working yet and I still felt like I was on a blissful vacation, which was really true. The Janney family made me feel like I was royalty. Jennifer called and said she was waiting for us out front. As we walked back, Koteay was having the time of his life picking up shells. He was hysterically laughing the whole time. I don’t think he gets to go to the beach very often. After turning down another thousand offers, we reached the parking lot. We got back in the car and drove up the coast.

We then reached the town of Obu. I’m probably spelling it and saying it wrong. This was one of the most wealthy areas of Accra. This was even more historic than the other Italian/African village we were in before. Obu, was the town where the president used to live. There were castles, fishing businesses, governmental buildings, and the Futbol stadium. As we drove up the coast she told me about people from Kumasi, which was not even the most inland region of Ghana, would come to the beach and start screaming. They had never seen the ocean again and the sight had defied their perceptions. She said a lot of them would not go in the water because they thought the waves were from the water boiling. This reminds me of the time I was in Nicaragua when one of the other volunteer took a picture of a child and showed it to them. They said that it was their sister in the picture because they didn’t know what they looked like. Apparently the child had never seen their reflection and couldn’t comprehend what that meant. We drove to an old caste on the coast and Jennifer told me this was the first place that Missionaries colonized in Ghana. She said this was also where the slave trade in Ghana started becoming very commercial. She told me that when African Americans went on the tour of the castle, most would break down crying after hearing the terrible things that went on. I had no historical connection, but I was getting a bit choked up hearing the stories. Jennifer told me that there were many fair skinned Ghanaians that lived here, some even with lighter hair and blue or green eyes. Even though they didn’t speak a word of English and had lived in this village their whole lives, they couldn’t escape their genetics. A lot of the Uropian settlers would impregnate the women and leave the bastard children and mothers to fend for themselves. Jennifer then told me about her Scottish genes and how she knew some of her family would have much fairer skin. She said she didn’t mind though because they understood and loved their heritage, no matter how it developed. Little did I know that I would share so much ethnicity with a Ghanaian woman, who looks nothing like I do. It just proves how connected we are as humans, no matter how different we might appear on the surface.

As we drove back we stopped at the Oracle’s house to drop a few things off. Koteay went inside as Jennifer and I waited in the car. Koteay came out and said she wanted us to come in. Maybe I was the one! I don’t know though, I hadn’t even stretched yet and it looked like it hurt when Neo was dodging those bullets. We got inside and sat down in the usual spot in the living room. “Big Momma” was paying a lot of attention to me this visit, telling me many stories. Jennifer told her that I was learning Twi before I left and had impressed her with what I knew so far. Then they started speaking Twi to me and I was trying to hold my own. She told me a story about a young girl who’s mother had died and father abandoned her. She told me that she was too beautiful to end up on the streets. She told me that many women end up in this situation and take to the street to sell things to passing cars and end up being impregnated by the men who are in the same situation. I suddenly felt a deep connection the people we had passed on the street, with out even giving them as much as a hello. We couldn’t, there were too many. It was hard to hear more of these stories, I’m not sure I’m tough enough to hold myself together. Then she said she took in that girl she started telling the story about because she was too beautiful to end up on the streets like so many other women her age. I know realized that most of the people I had seen helping with housework and in the kitchen were probably in the same situation. That also changed my perception about having these people serve them at their house. They were given this work, not always because the house person was lazy or wanted someone lower to serve, but because they were provided a job as a substitute to living on the street. She then wanted me to see this girl that she had taken in, to show me her beauty. The girl walked in ready to take orders and realized why she was called in. She got very embarrassed, as I would expect. As we were leaving the house there were two small children out front. One of the little girls looked at me and immediately started crying. Big Momma told me that she was scared of white people. I was nervously laughing and backing up to not bother the child anymore. Then Jennifer told me to go up and touch the child to see if she cried. What!? Haha, I don’t want to do that! But, of course I listened to Jennifer and went up and touched her arm as gently as I could. She didn’t cry, like I expected. As we walked out Big Momma explained to me that the young girl was probably scared of me because the only white person she had seen was her doctor. I wonder if it had been different if I had been standing there with a lolly pop.

            We got back in the car and headed home. We stopped by a corn vendor. Koteay told me he wanted to walk the rest of the way and show me the back path to his house. I gladly accepted and jumped out of the car. I started to see the beauty in this place amongst the bumpy dirt roads, quaint houses, and trash strewn around. We walked down the path and hoped over a creek. As we were approaching some houses Koteay turned to me and said “Race ya back!” Without even saying anything we got took off running. As we ran some kids came running from our left yelling “Obroni Obroni Obroni!” I don’t think they had seen many white people in their young lives. We were laughing so hard at the children that we couldn’t make it the whole way back. Charles got home from work soon after we got back. Koteay told me that he gave those shells he collected to Anita. She had never been to the beach before. Koteay is only nine and makes decisions like this, that are immensely filled with wisdom. I was touched at his selflessness. Earlier that day his mom was asking him about what he wanted to do for his school situation. He said whatever his parents wanted to do was what he wanted. He said they knew best and he would comply. Wow.

            The night winded down with a nice dinner of rice, meat, and salad. We all sat around the table and ate together. It was the first time we had all been sitting down eating at the same time, like a family. I’m definitely getting used to being here now. We had great conversation and I am MUCH better at understanding the English with the Ghanaian accent. I only had to ask what about every third word instead of every other one. I’ll keep improving. 

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3 thoughts on “Day of Errands, the Beach, and Many Lessons

  1. Oh my god, Matt, I love your stories. I know you can’t keep this kind of detail going for the entire 6 months, but while you do, we all are enraptured. I start my day reading your stories while I drink my coffee, and it makes my whole day happier. Thank you.

  2. So looking forward to reading this blog! Keep up the good work and enjoy your time! Can’t wait to vicariously live through you while you are on this adventure!!!!

  3. Koteay seems like a really great person. You are a really great person, too, for giving him that ride on the horse. Had he ever ridden a horse before that day on the beach? I love how he handed you the frisbee because he didn’t want to look silly, but he was ok that you looked silly. Haha. I guess he thought you were already as silly as you can get what with being an Obroni. 😛

    Thank you for giving us so much detail! I love the story about the people seeing the beach for the first time and thinking the waves were from the water boiling. Very interesting! I love people’s imaginations…especially in dreams :). I also love your detailed descriptions of the places you go to and the things you see. Very nice writing!

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