I’ve heard from my colleagues about a place called Hideout. Apparently it’s near the coast and is a common Peace Corps Volunteer vacation spot. As a welcome to Ghana, a break from the village, and a planning meeting Spencer and I decided to take a trip there. It takes about 6 or 7 hours to get there, so we plan leave at about 06:30 to make sure we get to Hideout before it gets dark. We get into Kumasi by 07:30 and get to the bus station at 08:00. This is the VIP bus station, so they are huge buses that have air-conditioning, comfy seats, and Ghanaian movies. This was the same type of bus that I took from Accra to Kumasi on September 2nd. We bought our ticket and boarded the bus. The bus is parked in a station, where it waits to get a certain amount of customers before it leaves. Well, we are pretty much the first people on the bus. That means we need to wait for more people so that the company can make a profit. Spencer told me a horror story about one time he waited for three hours for the bus to fill before he left. Great, now that is pretty much the only thing running through my head at this point. Well, we’ve paid the ticket and were here, so why not get some things done while we wait. I left the bus to get some koko and kosi for breakfast. As I walked through the parking lot the other bus employees harassed me trying to get me to get on their ride. I told them in Twi that I want to buy koko. One man told me to follow him. Oh good, he is going to take me to find the seller, I thought. We walk a few feet before he opens the passenger seat of his Tro Tro and gestures for me to get in. I tell him I don’t want a ride and then gesture to eating as I repeat that I want koko. He says ooh you want koko! I think there are still some subtleties of this language that I’m not getting. I just walk past him and look on my own for the seller. I’m getting close to the end of the street and I can’t find the seller anywhere. I don’t want to get too far in case I get lost or the bus leaves earlier than I thought. Just as I approach the end of the next street another of the drivers comes up from behind me and tells me he will show me where to go. He leads me between some houses and back in an open area, away from the hustle and bustle of the street. He points to the seller and asks if I would buy him some food. I tell him in Twi that I’m sorry but my money is small small. There’s some good Ghanaian English for you. In Twi, that is kafra, me sika kakera kakera. As I’m being served some old women behind me are speaking rapid Twi and the word Obroni keeps coming up. It’s pretty obvious they are talking about me. I turn around and the young man with them tells me that they are saying that an Obroni shouldn’t be buying food like koko. Well I think it’s good and it’s cheap, so that has been breakfast staple for a while now. I make my way back to the bus.
I eat my food on the bus and relax for a bit, but there are very few people are boarding. I decide to take this time to grade the JHS tests. It feels like a few hours go by and I have completely graded the JHS and SHS tests. I check the time and it is 11:00. Great, so much for us getting on the road early. The worst part is that there are no refunds in Ghana, so were stuck until the bus fills. I start to people watch out the window and enjoy the day. By 11:30 people are starting to file on at a regular rate. Now it’s 12:00 and the bus looks full, yet we are not moving. The bus engine is on, so that’s at least a good sign. People behind me start yelling and a woman at the front gets up and is violently gesturing toward the mate. Yes, there is even a mate on the VIP bus. Apparently ever one was angry because there was one seat left and they still wouldn’t leave. We finally left between 12:30 and 13:00. I think we broke Spencers record of time waiting for the bus to fill.
We are now leaving Kumasi and I’m feeling very excited to see the different parts of Ghana on the drive and reach this famous slice of paradise, called hideout. The ride is very beautiful, but in this part of Ghana the scenery doesn’t change much. It just goes from village to village through the forest. The Ghanaian movies are on again, but these are much better than the ones I saw on my way up from Accra. This time instead of the constant fighting there seems to be constant crying. I think these directors take one emotion and make that the main theme of their movies. Either way they’re awful, so I just watch the passing landscape. The man next to me asks me about where I’m from and what I’m doing here in Ghana. That’s funny, I wonder how he knows I’m not from here. He tells me that he has an important question that he’s been trying to figure out. Oh great, here we go with the surfing to school or how many celebrities I know questions. Actually he asks me why the iPhone is so popular. Wow, what a great question. I seriously get better questions about my culture from Ghanaian then the ones I’ve gotten from the people in rural East Tennessee. Those people, with a straight face, would ask me if I got to surf to school. I answer his question and tell him it’s because the iPhone give you access to the Internet and is basically a small computer in your pocket. After my answer, I realize how poorly I addressed his question. He’s asking why they are so popular now, not when they first came out. The market has adjusted and come out with competitor phone that do as many or more functions as the iPhone. Then I started to reform my answer in my head. Well, it’s really about branding and the attractive typography used on the apple products. It’s also because of their famous CEO that was thought by many to be a marketing and technical development genius. I realize how deep his question was and how the only way to answer it properly was to give him a course in marketing. I forgot my easel and markets at home so I decided just to leave the answer as it was. I love it when these people ask me about my culture or language because I get to reflect on things I have gotten to know growing up in the American culture my whole life. I often discover more about subjects I thought I was a native expert.
As we drive past Cape Coast, I know that we are getting close to Takarati, our destination. Good thing because my but and legs are starting to reject the 7 hour sit. It takes us another hour from Cape Coast and that completes 8 total hours on the bus. That’s almost the time it took me to fly over here. We get off the bus and head over to catch a Tro Tro to a town called, something that starts with an a. I’m pretty sure the majority of places I’ve been start with an a. We arrive in the town and wait until the driver takes us to the station. Where we have to take another Tro Tro to Hideout. The roads in this town are so bad that the Tro Tro literally can’t go five miles an hour. The ground looks like a small meteor shower preceded our arrival by a few minutes. Some of the holes are a few feet deep and most filled with gross standing water. We could probably walk faster than the Tro Tro at this point, but I don’t really want to walk through any of that water.
We get to the station and a nice man greets us and shows us where to pick the Tro Tro. He tells us that we will have no chance of catching the first one because there are so many people waiting. As he says that, he points to a large group of about 20 people. Spencer tells him that we will have no problem catching the first ride. I really hope he’s right because if not then we might have to wait an hour for the next one. By that time there might be another 20 people that join the line. As we’re talking to him I see a Tro Tro driving in our direction with the door open. The man we are talking to immediately takes off in its direction and it passes him and literally pulls up right in front of me. I put my arms on either side of the door and can feel people pushing me from behind to get in. As I’m about to climb in Spencer calls for me as he is trying to open the front door. I’m trying to figure out what he is saying so I just stand there and hold the crowd behind me as only a few of the smaller ones leak through. The men in the front aren’t getting out so I tell spencer to come over to the back. I lift my right hand off the door and grab him as he moves in front of me and into the Tro Tro. I release the sides and poor into the vehicle with all the people squeeze in behind me. I’m in the car, but my backpack is stuck on the outside with the people. I have a grip on the strap, so I just give it a good tug. My bag is pretty heavy too. I must have raked a few people over the head, but my backpack made it so I’m happy. We get seats in the far back and see our friend that greeted us I the beginning sitting by the window. He must have been the first one in the vehicle. He laughs and shares his surprise that the Obronis made it onto the Tro Tro. Honestly, I’m also quite surprised we made it. Either way, we are now in a race to Hideout with the setting sun.
After about 30 minutes of driving we get on a two-lane road in the middle of what looks like the backcountry in the US. I see a sign that says Hideout, with an arrow pointing from the road to the left. The road looks like it was cleared with a machete. It is only wide enough for a Tro Tro and a half, so it’s basically a one-lane road. As we start down the road I notice that we lost the race and it’s now dark. The Tro Tro has it’s headlights on and we have to drive slowly because the road is very uneven and looks like it just took a beating from the rain. I’m in the very back of the Tro Tro, so my view out the front is the back of a bunch of heads. That means I have a perfect view out the large window right behind me. The surrounding grass and bush has grown up taller than the vehicle, so I can only see for a short distance down the path behind us. We drive along this path for another 10 minutes before we reach a clearing with some small huts. It’s very hard to see any details, but it looks like we’re close to the ocean. At this point I’ve lost track of time as we drive through a few more small villages. Then we get to a point where the Tro Tro starts to turn around and stops half way through. The mate opens the door and tells us it’s the last stop. We hop out and are standing in the middle of a circular formation of huts. It’s dark and I have no idea where to go, so I’m letting Spencer take the lead here. Not only that, but we’ve also are now around a new culture. These people on the coast are called Afanti and they speak Fanti. Apparently it is a derivative of Twi, so they will understand everything I say in Twi, but I will understand nothing they say in Fanti. We walk up to the first shop and ask the man to buy a bag of water sachets. Then we ask him for the other sachets. Like everything else in Ghana their shots are contained in a plastic bag and called sachets. Each sachet of liquor contains about a shot and costs 30 Peswas or about 15 cents. We get a few of those to make our tropical drinks a little cheaper. As you might guess they hike the prices up when you buy things at the beach side resorts.
We get over to a river, with what looked like a bridge that went across. Spencer told me that that’s how they used to cross to get to the other side. There is a group of young boys running around the beach naked. Some of them run up to us and say they will take us across the small river in their canoe. The one clothed one in the boat paddles over to us and we step in. The boat has about a foot of water at the bottom. I’m not much of a Seaman, but I don’t think boats are supposed to have so much water at the bottom. We get across and I hop out of the boat as fast as possible to avoid finding out the depth of the river. We get across and walk through the sand in the dark until we reach a lit up group of huts. There are a few other Obronis already here sitting by the water. We check into our rooms and go back out to get some food and a tropical drink. We order the food and ask him for the pina coladas. He tells us to pick something else because it’s too dark to climb the tree and get the coconut. Wow, that’s a fresh pina colada! Instead I get one with fruit that grows closer to the ground. I get my order of fish pita and fries with my drink. We cheers to making it and dig in. The drink is amazing and literally tastes like I’m biting into a pineapple. The pita bread was fresh, the fish was still flopping a little bit, and the fries or chips as they’re called were crispy and amazing. I don’t know if I’m just hungry or it’s the scenery, but this food is some of the best food I’ve had since being in Ghana. We went to sleep at 20:30 and Spencer apologized for it being so early. Funny, I was thinking it was 30 minutes too late.
We get up early the next morning and enjoy the beach as we read and talk about our plans for the weekend. Spencer told me that some of the local fishermen pull in their catch and when Adam did it they offered him some of the fish in their catch. Today is Sunday so we’re sure that they are resting today. The bar opens and we get the menus to order some food. I put in an order of banana pancakes. Since we’re on vacation and I didn’t get one last night, I also order a pina colada. They bring out the drink, literally in a coconut. They took a machete and cut the bottom off to make it sturdy and cut a hole in the top where they poured the pinapple juice and other stuff. They toped it all off with a straw and umbrella. This was easily the best pina colada I’ve ever had. I’m not sure if it was because of the fresh fruit or just because it was served in a coconut with an umbrella. Then they came out with the banana pancakes. Every bite I take is better than the one before. Seriously one of the best meals I’ve ever had in or before coming Ghana. The craziest part of this all is that the drinks are 6.50 GHC (Ghana Cedis), which means you can get an alcoholic drink mixed with fruit that just fell from the tree for about $3.00. In Ghanaian terms that’s pretty expensive, but to travel here as a vacation, you’re getting a bargain. Oh an all the food is around 14 GHC. You can’t even get a Quiznos sub for that cheap and I know Quiznos isn’t as good and certainly won’t be served fresh on the beach. We decide to take a walk down the beach and explore a bit. As we get down to the next village we pass by a bunch of men pulling along rope that is coming from the ocean. Okay, maybe they don’t take a break on Sunday. It’s a weird feeling when we are on vacation in the middle of an area of people working everyday to feed their families. Many of these people have lived here their whole lives and probably don’t view this place as a vacation spot. As I’m looking out at their lines in the ocean I realize that no one is out swimming around in the water. I’m not sure that’s because it’s polluted, everyone is too busy with their daily chores, or they just don’t value the beach like Americans do.
In the late afternoon Spencer and I get some work done for Expo. Before the trip he told me to write down where I saw the organization heading and to act like I was the director in charge. Act like I am? Wait, I’m not running this thing!? I grab my notes and we have a good discussion for over an hour. I think we really made some progress and came up with some decent ideas. He gave me some stuff to think about and apply to my situation. To celebrate we ordered some coconut drinks.
Later that evening, Spencer and I strategically order our dinners. I get a pineapple curry pizza and he gets a coconut curry pizza. Then we split each in half. It wasn’t exactly as good as New York or Chicago pizza, but it was Ghana good. The bread was thin and the toppings were large and fresh. Ugh it was amazing and the melted cheese was a nice treat. One thing I’ve really noticed is Ghana’s lack of cheese. I realized when eating this pizza how much I had missed it.
The next morning I got up early again and headed to the beach to read. When I visit a place with good food I normally avoid getting the same thing more than once. Well this morning I couldn’t order anything other than the banana pancakes. There might be a better breakfast, but I wasn’t about to take the risk of not tasting these cakes again. After breakfast we headed over to the fishermen to help them pull in the catch. We passed the first line of people and went to the ones who were pulling their line in right in front of the village huts. I wanted to help the group that looked like they lived in the village. The other group looked like they were going to pull their catch up in the middle of nowhere. The men were very happy to have us join. I used my sandals to protect my fingers from the rope. The men who do this everyday even used old rags to protect their hands. After about 10 minutes of pulling they told us that we set the line. Apparently we wait for a few hours before they actually pull in the catch. One of the men told us to follow him. As we walked with him he told us that he was the future chief and he wanted to show us around the village. He described the different parts and even told us about some parts for sale that we could buy. He lead us onto his property. It was pretty big, but packed with plants and other random things. I could tell that no one here was six feet tall either because I was permanently hunched over. He asked us to sit down and he brought us over a small goblet. He picked it up again, before inspecting it closely and then cleaning it. He set it down as a man walked in the front gate. He the future chief a small bag filled with clear liquid. He poured the liquid into the cup and drank from it, as if to show us that it’s not poisoned. At this point I’m just hoping that he hasn’t spent the last 10 years building immunity to the Iocane powder. After all, I wouldn’t be able to smell or taste any if it were in there. After all he wants to sell us some land so poisoning us would be, inconceivable! Spencer pours some in the glass and drinks it. I take the bag and pour a small mouth full in the glass and shoot it down. It is extremely strong, but I use all of my ‘hard studying’ in college to not make a face. We get up and head back to the line.
When we get back the men had already started pulling in the catch. I guess they got a bit impatient. Great, now my stomach is still warm from the shot and now I have to help pull in this giant rope for a few hours. Before I started pulling again the men threw me an old shirt to rap around the rope to protect my hands. The rope comes out of the ocean and goes over some sticks placed in the sand. This helps lift the rope so we can pull it from our hips and not our ankles. Okay, so they can pull it from their hips and I still had to pull it from my ankles. No, it wasn’t that bad, but I did have to lean back pretty far to get the rope at my hip. Then, there are two groups of about 5 men. One group is in the front by the sticks and the other is in the back. I joined the group in the middle. I’m a lot of help aren’t I? I would probably have been more help if I were pulling the rope back into the ocean. I finally got the rhythm and joined the group in the back. As they pulled their section it got nearer to the anchor. The anchor was a small boy who was continuously loosening and tightening the rope onto a stick in the sand. Then the group in the back would run up and become the one in the front. This went on for some time and then the anchor detached and we moved to the right where we connected to a new anchor. This part got pretty hard because I was getting tired, but I was definitely not going to give up… or at least make it obvious. I developed a nice strategy of leaning back and just hanging on the rope and making straining faces and a few grunts. Then we detached again and moved back to the left half way between where we started. Now I could see some netting wrapped around the rope we were pulling. I didn’t need the wrap anymore because the netting was soft. Then the first group of men, who were pulling the line that we passed to the left of the village, came really close to us. Right then I realized that both groups of men were pulling the same net in and just started far apart in the beginning. Soon after the men started yelling. They had been chanting this whole time pulling the rope, but it was generally just a few men in the back. Now, all the men were chanting together. You could really feel everyone’s energy increasing. Then everyone let go of their rope and ran up to the water. We all continued to pull from there and now some of the men were screaming and everyone was running from back to front. I’ve never done this before and I could feel how close we were to pulling the fish onto the shore.
A few minutes later and some men jumped into the water. They were all around a big net with a bunch of splashing. I couldn’t see the net, but I assumed those were the fish smacking around. Then we starting pulling this rope and I was up to my waste in water. Good thing I wore my bathing suit. I’ve been analyzing language so much lately, most things that I say sound weird, like bathing suit. I’ve never bathed in a suit, so I’m not sure why that name is used. Anyway now we are back up onto the sand a bit and everyone is pulling both of the sides of the rope. We are now a few inches away from the other line. As we get the big heaping pod of fish out of the sand, one man yells and everyone pulls and grunts hooah! We do that a few more times to get the fish away from the water. At this time all the women and children from the village have come down with their bowls to collect the fish. We’re done with the catch, so naturally I walk up to see what we got. The fish are in a huge pile at the end of this net. There must be three or four hundred pounds of fish. All the fish are still flopping around as they slowly suffocate to death. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many animals die at once before. I’m feeling a bit torn because all these fish are dying, but then all these people are being fed or making money off of the catch. As I get closer to the pile I notice there are mostly small fish in the pile. There are a few bigger fish and some sea snakes. The snakes are going the craziest because they can still maneuver around the pile.
As I’m relaxing and enjoying the sight of the catch I realize all the men around me are gone. I look around and see them back in the water. It sounds like the flapping of another net full of fish. I run back in the water and help them pull a second group, just as big or bigger than the first we pulled in. This one had a giant fish that must have been 30 pounds. I wish I knew how to speak Fanti, knew kilograms, or had a scale to actually see the size of the fish. This time I was quicker when the men ran down to the water to pull in a third net full of fish. We were finally done and probably pulled in close to 1000 pounds of fish. We watched as they went through the first big pile of fish. They threw all the snakes back into the water. Apparently there weren’t any good to eat. That surprises me knowing that this culture eats the bones after they’re done eating their chicken. The smaller fish all went in the same bucket and the medium to large sized fish went into their own bucket. The buckets were then loaded onto the women’s heads to be taken down the beach. I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to be the one pulling the rope. Carrying those bowls seems really difficult. As I’m spacing out about carrying things on my head, a man throws a big squid at my feet. I nearly scream as I jump back so it doesn’t hit my legs. He didn’t say anything and just turned around to keep sorting the fish. I acted like nothing happened and went back to looking at the fish they are pulling out. As they threw the snakes back into the waves, some of the boys ran over and were stomping on the poor snakes. This might not be true, but I’ve heard that sea snakes can be much more poisonous than those on the land. One boy picks up a snake and starting chasing the little girls around. They clearly don’t respect living animals in this culture. All the women have now gathered around this pile and were all waiting their turn to fill up their bowl. These people see many more Obronis than most Ghanaians do, so they weren’t staring at Spencer and me. Actually, they seemed quite distracted by the job at hand. I took this opportunity to really look around at the details of the people standing around us. I focused mostly on their faces. Each one looked completely different from the last. Some had big features on their face and some had very small features. Even their skin colors varied from extremely dark to quite light, for Ghanaian standards. It’s funny to me when people make generalizations about African people, saying that they have big lips, big nostrils, or some other kind of generalization. There were people in this fishing village that had big lips and big noses, but there were certainly people with small noses and small lips. Looking at these people around me has been one of the most interesting cultural lessons since I’ve been here. This place is truly special because there are people from different areas and cultures from all over Ghana.
After a few more minutes of reveling at this experience, a boy comes by and picks up the squid at my feet. He takes it a few feet away and starts to shove sand into the hole at the bottom. This was the same boy stomping on the snakes, so I my first thought is that he got bored torturing the snakes and now he is moving on to the squid. Then he pulls the protective plate out of the skin of the squid. He finished gutting the fish and then pulled out the ink sack. I took a few steps back as he threw it into the water. It really looked like a petroleum spill. I walked back over to the group of people collecting the fish and the boy walked up next to me and gestured for me to take the squid. I couldn’t understand him and certainly didn’t want to hold the squid, so I just ignored him and looked back at the people. Then Spencer grabbed the squid. I came around and asked him if I could hold it on the walk back. I’ve never held a squid before and would like this experience. I held it in my arms and started to inspect the carcass. Its eyes were still in the head, making the experience that much creepier. The tentacles were still really sticky. They are like the suction cups that stick to the wall, except you don’t have to push the air out of the cup for it to stick. They were almost magnetic to my skin. They didn’t hurt to pull off, but the power of the suction of just a few cups was alarming. I couldn’t imagine being grabbed by all the suction cups on its arms at once. I started to squeeze the different parts to see if it is squishy. To my surprise every park I touched was slimy and certainly not squishy. It was solid, like it had no room for anything other than muscle and cartilage. Spencer asked for a few fish and they handed us three long fish with big teeth in their mouth. I’m not sure if it was an eel or a barracuda, but now I have a better idea of why no one is in the water. We walk back to the Hideout, which is the name of the hotel, and we give the fish to the cook. He tells us that he will cook all of it with some rice and mashed potatoes for 10 Cedis. Ugh, yeah I’ll pay this guy 5 bucks to gut and cook this fish for me with some sides. Needless to say, we got some coconuts drinks to celebrate. About 40 minutes later the cook came out with a huge platter of all the fish cooked up. He made us heaping plates of rice and mashed potatoes. Now this is the life! We feasted and didn’t finish until all but a few pieces of the squid was gone. We could barely get out of our chairs we were so full.
After we digested the food a little bit, we went back and met with the future chief of the village. He wanted to show Spencer and me more about his village and make a pitch to us to buy some of the land. As we were heading back from the village we saw another crew of men pulling the line for another catch. It seems like they just do this all day since there’s not much else work to do. We made our way back to Hideout to relax for the rest of our last night. Some Peace Corps volunteers Spencer knew showed up. At night we went and hung out with them. I sat back and enjoyed their stories of Ghana during their first year of service. Some volunteers were my age and some seemed much older. Spencer and I forgot that we had ordered dinner and the Hideout staff came and tracked us down. You have to order what you want for dinner here early in the afternoon so they have time to fetch the ingredients. The last thing I had been thinking about since lunch was more food, so it was easily forgotten. I sat down to enjoy coconut curry rice stew. It was pretty good, but nowhere near the banana pancakes or curry pizza. After reaching my level of full from lunch I didn’t make it much longer before I went and passed out in my bed. We have to get up early to travel back to Kumasi anyway. That was a very relaxing weekend filled with good food, some fishing, and more cultural lessons. I will definitely be back here soon.