Travel, Progress, and Many More Lessons

I went to bed last night preparing myself for a big day today. But as I get up something feels very different. Uh oh maybe I’m not awake and this is some kind of inception type of a dream within a dream. I’m curious as to why this Larium thing hasn’t caught on in the drug scene. Just then I realize what is different. There is no ranting or singing blaring over the town’s loud speakers. Maybe someone else felt the same way and cursed him at the river Gods of Antoa. Okay, if I haven’t talked about that I will soon because it could possibly be the coolest thing you’ve ever heard. I must admit I miss being eased into the day with his sultry voice.

 Before I get into what’s going on today. A man from a neighboring village taught me about the Antoa. I have heard this story from other people, but not in so much detail. Apparently Antoa is known all across Ghana for it’s river near town. In this river you can use to cast blessing or curses on people. The blessings are boring, so I’ll just skip ahead to the cool part, the curses. I’ve only been in town for less than a week and I’ve already witnessed, a few different times, full-grown people being carried on someone else’s shoulders. Those two are generally followed by two or three old ladies dressed in what looks like traditional funeral robes. I guess that means they are being taken to the river to cast the curse. Okay back to this man who told me more details. He said that I should expect to see people walking around town to rid their curse. Apparently they also have a huge ritual to do. It starts with something like cutting the head of a chicken off in the river, or maybe they just say a prayer, I was spacing out a bit at that part. Then I focused in on what he was saying when he told me that those people then have to walk around town naked balancing a large pot on their head until the curse is banished. I think I just remembered telling this story already, oops. Well, I made sure to warn everyone that I repeat things often.

 On the agenda today is to meet with the public JHS Headmaster, meet with Wonoo staff, and travel with Spencer to Kumasi and then back to the home base in Kentinkrono.

 I made it out of the house today at 08:30. Since I have a lot to do today I want to avoid the hour walk across town to the school. I took a side path behind my place. It led through a bunch of houses and what you might call as the residential section. It seemed like this is where the real locals hang out. I like it already. However, this path was barely any faster than the main road because there is a whole new group of people that have to start over with my life story. The best part of the walk is that I am noticing that I can understand much more Twi, even compared to yesterday. I probably can’t repeat what they’re saying, but I can certainly understand it enough to give an appropriate response.

 Unfortunately I won’t have time for Twi lessons today with Genevive. I hope she doesn’t think I’m a slacker. She gave me homework last time to memorize the Twi names for the different body parts. I will make sure to have them down next time we meet.

 Instead I was lead to the staff office where I waited for the Headmaster to finish his meeting. I was lead there by Genevive and Tio. On the way to the office, Genevive reminded me to greet everyone we passed. It is customary to greet everyone older than you that you pass. You must also tell them farewell when you are leaving, something I am still very bad at remembering to do. Tio, was a good friend of Adam and seems like he’s way ahead of his time. There is just something different about the way he goes about things. I’m definitely going to find out more about his story. I’m sure there’s a rich history there. The staff room was filled with mostly women. They took turns laughing at my broken Twi. One of the women seemed very interested in why I was there and asked a lot of questions I haven’t heard before. I gave the best answers I could, but she had piercing eye contact that I think I turned into a no-blinking contest. It didn’t help that she was very attractive. Tio came around the corner and said the Headmaster was ready to talk to us. After I was done fumbling and bumbling I tried to blink some moisture back into my eyes that were now the consistency of raisins. The meeting was short and sweet. There were only questions of clarification and everything else was an agreement with our program. We settled that they would announce our program during the opening ceremony of the school. The students will be asked to submit their names and we will hopefully end up with that sweet population of students who need the help and want it as well. After the meeting I actually was present enough to remember to say goodbye to everyone in the staff room. I leaned in and yelled me ko! Which directly translates to I go! Then in unison they all yelled yo! Wait I must have messed that up. Why are they greeting me again? Oh right, yo in Twi means okay. That’s not going to be confusing when I get back to the states. But of course, as I get too far away I realize that I forgot to say goodbye to Genevive.

 I plan on waiting on the edge of town to pick up the tro tro headed for Wonoo. That way I can avoid the extra time it will take to walk through town and then possibly miss the tro tro at the stop if there are too many people waiting. Not that I don’t enjoy talking to the locals, but I need to get a few towns over before ten and there is a great possibility that I will be walking. The tro tro only come about once every hour, so waiting could take just as long as walking there. My stomach is starting to act up so I take this as another reason not to wait for the tro tro. I take the express way back to the place. My stomach is only getting worse as I walk. These pains generally just mean I have to poop. It has always felt 100% better after I do. I think the pains are coming from all the spice in my diet. I got back to the house and grabbed a water sachet and since I was now on the correct side of town I left to begin my journey. I greeted the few vendors scattered along the way toward the edge of town. Then I reached the SHS and American Man’s house. That marks the edge of town, where everything except for farming stops until the next town. Right as I am crossing into no-mans land, I hear a large truck coming up behind me. I could tell it was one of the big earth movers by the way the road shook as it approached. Great, this is also the part where the road narrows. I was basically walking in the road at this part, so I walked through the bushes on the side to let the truck pass. I use ‘let’ loosely. I don’t think he will be waiting for my cue to blast by me. The sound keeps getting closer, but I think it should have passed me by now. I take one-more large step out of the road and turn around to wave him by. Right as I turn around the truck is coming to a stop a few feet away from me. Oh great, what is going to happen now? I start imagining that they guy is going to get out of his truck to yell at me for walking so far in the road. Yeah, but there isn’t… Right in the middle of my daydream, a young man jumps out of the passenger seat and waves me in. He has a big smile on his face and says to hop in, in English. I walk over to the truck and there is literally a latter to get up to the cab. It must be 10 feet tall. I’ve never seen a truck so tall. It is so tall that they installed a spiral staircase so people don’t fall out half way up. After about two steps up I grab onto a plastic handle at the foot of the cab. Then I hold onto that as I boulder the rest of the way up. Good thing this isn’t a long drive, I didn’t allow myself enough time to acclimatize on the way up. I sat down in the seat and thanked the driver. The young man come up and sat next to me. He was about my age, but built like a horse. I could tell he worked very hard for his living. We start driving and I feel like we were the kings of the road. I peak outside the passenger window and the people on the side of the road look like ants… Oh wait those are ants. The young man asked me a few questions, with genuine interest. I told them my name is Akwesi Mattew. I pretty much gave up on the th part of my name because no one has been able to pronounce that part. So, I adapted and went with the way I heard it pronounced. I know most people in Ghana have heard the name because of the biblical references. Anyway Akwesi is a Ghanaian name given to me for being born on Sunday. I don’t think it has any religious connotations, but the young man, with a huge smile on his face, said “oh, that’s nice, I’m Muslim.” I told them my mission in Ghana and asked where they are from. They moved from the Northern region of Ghana to make money. That seems to be fairly common. The young man next to me had a beaming smile the entire time. He honestly might be one of the happiest people I’ve ever seen. We got to the next road and I was going a separate way so he stopped the truck to let me out. I am so caught up in the situation; I forget that I still need to descend from the summit of their truck. I look over the edge and I think the truck actually got taller. I think I could see clouds forming below the door. I’m not sure why I decide this is a good idea, but I grab the handle and lean over the edge like I’m going to rappel down the truck, except I’m facing the ground. The young man nearly jumps out of his skin, thinking I’m going to fall and he runs underneath me to catch me. I’m glad I did that laundry session because it strengthened my grip strength enough not to fall. It’s okay though I had my reserve shoot packed in case I did. I make it to the bottom, without falling, thank you very much. I thank both of them again for about the 100th time and we went our separate ways.

 I start walking down the road toward my destination in Wonoo. Wonoo is what I’ve heard to as “off in the bush,” so each town I pass from here on will progressively get smaller. This first town is fairly large compared to Antoa and Wonoo. It is a junction town that a lot of transportation passes through. As I get to the edge of the town, the road continues on a narrow dirt path. Certainly not what most of you might consider a road. There are grasses on either side of the road that go up taller than I am. I could only see over the side of the road in the distance. The area past the grass barrier looks like a tropical forest. It was stunningly beautiful. There were palm trees, fruit trees, and all kinds of bushes everywhere. There are even small mountains off in the far distance. Right here, right now, I feel like I’m in paradise. Right then I remember where I am. I’m walking alone, in sandals, on a beautiful path, through a lush tropical forest, to educate children in the middle of West Africa. I feel now more than I have this whole trip that I am on the adventure I have longed to be on for so long.

 As I walk around the bend I pass a few people walking in the opposite direction. Everyone was ecstatic to see me and I greeted each one. The next town coming into view doesn’t look like Wonoo. I don’t remember from the drive seeing any other towns before Wonoo, but this is the magic of walking. I’m definitely going to make this my regular routine to Wonoo. As I get to the end of this first town, a woman calls out to me. She was a large woman sitting down doing chores, surrounded by about 5 younger people. She was speaking only in Twi. I was able to hang for a little bit, but I lost her after the familiar introductions. Then I got the “I’m a man and I’m lost in this department store” look on my face. The young man next to her translated for me. Apparently she was asking me if I would marry her. I sort of just laugh and refrain from joking back with her, in case she was dead serious. I waved and kept walking to the next path that leads between towns. This path was more interesting somehow. I could see through the less dense grass at some parts. There were many different kinds of crops a few feet from the road. I saw an outcropping where someone has a tombstone. A group of men pass me and ask why I’m walking barefooted, which basically just means on foot, I have shoes on. I tell them because it is too expensive to take a taxi. It is about 6 or 10 times the price of the Tro Tro. They really try to take advantage of the fact that the Tro Tro only comes once an hour or so. I also tell them that I’m still hoping that the Tro Tro passes me, so I can hitch a ride the rest of the way. I continue to walk, trying to soak up all the sights and sounds around me. Then, I can hear some yelling from the bushy area to my left. I ignore it, thinking it is just some farmers yelling to each other. Then I hear “wo ho te s3n?” which means, how are you? I say 3y3, I’m fine. A man emerges from the bush to tell me that I am welcome to Wonoo. That must mean I’m close. I start to climb the last hill toward the town when I hear a vehicle behind me that sounds about the size of a Tro Tro. I turn around, and sure enough there is a Tro Tro heading down the road in my direction. At this point, I’m enjoying the walk so much, that I don’t want one anymore. I make sure not to look back again, so it doesn’t think I want a ride. As it is passing me I hear “Obroni!” I turn to look and as I’m waving them off, I realize Spencer is in the front passenger seat. I hope into the seat and we ride for a few minutes into town. When we stop I get out, ready to pay the mate. Then I realize that this wasn’t a Tro Tro at all. That was the second ride I had received while on this walk.

 Spencer and I walk across the beautiful town and JHS campus to meet with the staff. The walk feels like some kind of Disney Land ride with the tall grass, diverse groups of flora and fauna, children laughing in the distance, and a rabbit singing zippidedooda. Okay maybe the rabbit isn’t there, I blame the larium.

 The meeting was very productive and we set a time on Tuesday to start the program. I will bring the pre-tests for the JHS and he qualifying tests for the SHS students. Now that our business is done in Wonoo, we are leaving to head back to Kumasi.

 My errands in Kumasi are to get extra key copies made for Daniel’s compound and get a new phone because mine is very buggy. We got in a taxi to get back to Antoa in a good amount of time. We got off early to go behind the compound and take the secret path. One man stopped us and asked me a few questions in Twi. Spencer said he was noticing my improvement. We got across town and caught the Tro Tro into Kumasi. It actually has to pass back through Antoa and then turn around before we head in the right direction. Great now everyone would know that we were trying to dodge the main road. The Tro Tro stopped in Antoa and people swarmed the car. I guess it’s a god idea to pick it up right outside of town. It seriously looked like there was a group of people rioting and trying to attack our vehicle. One guy was climbing the side of the car on the opposite side of the door. Spencer though he was climbing through the window, but it turned out he was putting something on top. Spencer recalled a time when this happened and he actually saw people so desperate to get on the Tro Tro that they actually were climbing through the windows. Much different culture than I’m used to. As we drove into Kumasi we were passing through suburbs that got progressively bigger until it reaches the big city. We made a stop to drop off some people before the city and the woman next to me bought something from a vendor who was walking by. I had seen that food from a distance before, but never up close. I try to peak over at what she’s eating without turning me head. I just shift my eyes to look out of the corners. Good thing I’m not a spy because she caught me on the second try. I felt a bit embarrassed and tried to act like I was itching my eyelid. She nudged me and asked if I wanted some of her food. I said daabi…medaase. Which means no, thank you. She laughed at my Twi and said yo. Remember that means okay. I hope who ever follows this blog will have some basic Twi down as well. If I could accomplish that, my new friends would be proud. It really blew me away that this woman would offer me some of her food. This is really different than other offerings. Imagine heading home after a long day on a bus crammed with a bunch of smelly people. Believe me, there is nothing clean about a Tro Tro and people who don’t want to get dirty take taxis. She was basically in that situation, but more extreme and still offered to let me touch her food with my dirty hands, just because I was looking at what she had. Maybe she made an exception for the Obroni, but I like to think she is just a very nice person. When we all alighted the Tro Tro in Kumasi, I told her nante yie. Directly translated, it means walk well. It is basically used when you want to tell some one good bye and to have a safe journey. She jumped off and after she walked a few steps she yelled, “yo!”

 Spencer and I walk across the city to the phone place. It’s funny when I’m walking around Kumasi with spencer because he takes the local ways around. I look for big land marks and then walk down the sidewalks or occasionally the streets. I will be following him and then we will take a sharp right toward what looks like a dead end, no pun intended. Instead it is a narrow passageway that leads through buildings. We get to the phone shop in no time and I have no recollection of how we got there. Long story short this guy sold me a cheap knockoff copy of the cheapest phone you can get. I planned on getting a cheap phone in case I did something stupid with it and so it doesn’t make me look like a rich American. Well I learned an important thing from this experience. Don’t ever buy name brand stuff from any place, except for the official store. Even then you have a chance of being ripped off. After being there for too long, we went and dropped my keys off with a guy to copy them and went and got a much-needed beer. We had a great discussion about fundraising and about our journeys to Ghana. Spencer is a great boss, I’m glad we are able to be so professional and still connect so well as friends.

 After we finished relaxing we went to get the key and head home. The key place is in a back alley and looks quite odd. As we are walking up I hear a loud sawing noise. There were two men standing inside their make shift shop and looking at a big wooden box. I guess that was the machine where the keys were made. Spencer peaked around the corner and looked like he was going to start laughing. After we walked away he told me that there was a man sitting in that wooden box with a file. Apparently it wasn’t a machine at all. Hahaha I guess that’s Ghana for you. I held up the keys to match them and make sure they look close enough before we got too far away from the shop. The keys actually look better than the copies I have been using. Apparently I was given a copy made in a similar way.

 We went back to Kentinkrono and ended the night hanging with Spencer’s Peace Corps friend and some Chop. Wow, that was a great day.

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2 thoughts on “Travel, Progress, and Many More Lessons

  1. Amazing…as always! Thank you for writing all of these adventures down for all of us to read! I am enjoying your stories very much 🙂

  2. Always buy the second cheapest thing, not the cheapest. The cheapest never works properly, but I have always had good luck with the second cheapest thing. No matter what it is. Hope you got a phone that works finally.

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