Oohh, Ghana

I’ll start this story from this past weekend briefly on Friday. Daniel was home and had someone over making Banku to go with the Okru stew he made. I got back from my program a little later than expected and as I was heading out the door to leave for Kentinkrono, he asked if I wanted to eat. Without hesitation I pulled up a chair and two big dough-looking balls of Banku and a bowl of the stew. Everything was great except for the meat in the stew. It was beef, I think. The smell reminded me of the one that comes from the big bucket of cow legs I’ve walked by in the Kumasi market. No, that’s not a compliment. I nearly gaged. It wasn’t quite a rotten meat smell, but it was definitely not fresh. Well I can’t waste food, especially since they prepared food for me this night. Each bite of meat I ate a lot of stew and Banku at the same time. I really need to find a different strategy when I’m eating food that I don’t like. Stuffing more in my mouth each bite is a horrible one because it makes it hard to chew and get rid of the bad taste. The rest of the meal was great and I managed to get down the meat and was off to Kentinkrono.

 On Saturday, I went to a few high schools and recruited students to attend our SAT and college prep program. It was a bit hectic at times, but I sign up a lot of people and I think my trip was a success. When I started walking to the second school I felt some weird feeling in my stomach. I immediately thought of the meat and knew I was a ticking time bomb. I tried to hold it together and didn’t tell Spencer so that I could finish my tasks at the schools. Spencer left me at the second school so he could go back to our office for some SAT tutoring. This is when things started to go badly. I started to sweat even though I wasn’t hot. That’s generally a sign that throw up is soon to come and that’s also how my stomach was feeling. I sucked it up and met with the students. They must have thought I was crazy because here we were sitting in a cool classroom and I’m pouring sweat. I finish the session and go outside of the school to find a taxi straight to Dr. Mensa station to catch the tro tro home to Antoa. That’s very strange for me because every other time heading home I preferred to walk through Kumasi to get to the station. Right by the station we get caught in a traffic jam and everyone is out of their cars yelling at each other. The sight was pretty amazing, so the feeling was less poignant. I finally just got out of the car and walked the rest of the way to Dr. Mensa station. As I’m walking down the street I’m trying to take in the sights to avoid thinking about the awful feeling in my stomach. Right then, I notice someone walking directly toward me on my narrow path on the side of the street. I can’t help but burst out into laughter when I see the person is carrying four huge empty crates on his head. It didn’t look heavy, but the crates must have been about 20 feet tall. Okay I’ve seen some pretty amazing things balanced on people’s heads, but this is by far the best one. Then, my curiosity started to kick in. How did they get the last crate on the stack? How will they get them down when they reach their destination? Have they dropped any that were stacked that high and did it explode into a million pieces when it hit the ground? Well distracted, I pass through my little alleyway passage to the Antoa cars. I make sure to sit in the front of the car that I found. The road is so bumpy in the back and I don’t want that to invigorate anything with my stomach.

 An hour later, we arrive in Antoa and I didn’t embarrass myself on the Tro Tro ride. I hope out and take the express route home to avoid talking with anyone. Some people are doing some early celebrations for Momma Fausti’s one-week funeral tomorrow. I keep my head down and make it back pretty fast. Sure enough, I have diarrhea. This time is similar to when I took Cipro because I got no stomach pain relief after the diarrhea. I finally just accepted defeat and fell asleep at 19:00.

 Trying to sleep my sickness off, I slept until 08:00. Well, that only slightly worked. I didn’t have constant stomach pains, but I also didn’t have any solidity in my poop. Hey, I warned you before that poop talk in Ghana is like talking about the weather back in the US. I basically stayed in my room all day to avoid soiling myself in public and because I didn’t wanted to be seen around town if I wasn’t going to go to Momma Fausti’s one-week rites.

 That leads me to Monday morning. I wake up and feel much better. I’m a little hesitant to eat still, so I avoid the usual koko and kosi for breakfast. Instead, I try to get an early start for Kumasi. Today, I need to travel to the immigration office on the Tech campus and then travel back to Antoa to test a tutor to replace Logical for the Wonoo program.

 I go to the roadside at 07:00 to catch a car and get back to Antoa in time for the test at 15:00. I’m still not feeling 100%, so I skip breakfast and a chance at upsetting my stomach again. As I’m waiting I see many school buses pass, but few vacant Tro Tros. There is a woman waiting next to me with a bowl of snacks to sell in Town. She is doing some really weird dance, so I’m trying not to stare, or laugh. Finally, at 08:00 a Tro Tro comes and that lady, her friend, and I board the car. As I’m about to get into the back the mate turns to the lady’s friend before he gets into the front seat. He spoke some rapid fire Twi and all I caught was Obroni, which means it was something about me. Then the friend takes his hand off of the handle to the front and gets into the back of the car. I guess I’m supposed to sit up front on this one. It seems like everyone is also trying to get to Kumasi this morning. I guess this is the Ghanaian rush hour. It takes a few hours to get into Kumasi, or “Town” as people will say. After getting to the station I leave for the Tro Tros across town that go to Tech. I walked to the end of the line that is always basically empty in hopes that I would find one away from the crowd. Luckily, one that is practically empty pulls up. I hop in the back and wait for the car to fill. The drive and mate are talking and then as two women come to the car, they tell me to move to the front. Okay that’s strange, now two different cars in the same day have told me to move up to the front. I wonder why they would do that. It could be something as silly as they think they will get more business if people see an Obroni in the front seat or that they just don’t want me to be too close to their customers in the back.

 I get off at Tech and start to look for the Immigration office. I walk in and sit down with the officer in charge of the office. He tells me that I need to have a letter to override not having a return ticket and I need a passport size picture to attach to the form. Not a big deal, I walk across the hall and they type up a letter for me and I make sure they add that I’m a volunteer teaching at a school, so I look like a better candidate to keep in the country. After some searching, I find the photo place down by the roadside. The employee isn’t there, but there are a few people waiting. They are speaking Twi to each other and I can’t help but listen. I can catch a few words here or there, but not enough to be able to keep up with the conversation, so I decide not to speak up and slow them down. The young man sitting with us in line calls the employee a few times and tells everyone that he is coming shortly. He even breaks to tell me in slow English. Someone passes behind me and says, “Hey, Akwesi Matew!” I recognize them, but I have no idea from where. They are only speaking Twi to me, but it’s all the basic questions so I’m able to respond to them. Finally they leave and the people around me are sitting there with their mouths agape. The young man comments on how I’m trying to learn the language. I say “ahh, me te nkakera kakera.” Well, that just started them off with asking me questions in Twi. It seems like all Ghanaians ask the same few questions when the meet you because I’ve done this dance so many times now that I’m able to fly through their questions with out hesitation. Finally, the picture guy comes and we are all laughing. He joins in on the amazement of the Obroni speaking Twi. I tell them I’ve been here for two months and one woman nearly falls out of her chair, she can’t believe I haven’t been learning for longer. I get the picture done and the women tell me to get the young man’s number. He’s an incoming student at Tech University. I tell them “Onyame adom, y3b3 hyia.” That means, by God’s grace we will meet again. They let out a little yelp that not only did I use Twi, but I worked God into my sentence somehow. As I finish my sentence I’m already turning around to walk back to the immigration office. I’ve already been here for a while and I’m ready to head back.

 I get back to the office and he reads the letter written by the people across the hall. He tells me that since I’m a volunteer teacher at Antoa that I will need to go back and get a letter from the JHS and then come back to submit the forms. Well, my visa runs out on Friday, so that’s a bit of a problem. I don’t want there to be any other problems and then get charged the late fee. As I’m walking away from the office I call Spencer to see if he can write me a letter to say they I’m being hosted in Kentinkrono. The letter is mainly so they have a contact in case of emergency situations and Spencer will be much more responsive than anyone in Antoa. Luckily Kentinkrono is only a short ride down the road from Tech. I get the letter from Spencer and go back to the immigration office. He looks at the letter and immediately tells me it’s no good. He tells me that because there is no letter head that he can’t accept it. I point to the letterhead and ask him why that one doesn’t count. He literally tells me that the letterhead on the sheet can be made by anyone because it doesn’t have a logo or colors. I argue with him that they can just visit the website or call the number on the logo and validate more accurately than using colors or pictures. He tells me that the boss doesn’t have time to call each applicant and he will just reject it without hesitation if there is no letterhead. At this point I feel like yelling at this guy for wasting my time so that way his boss doesn’t have to take two minutes to pull up a website. I take a couple of breaths and calm myself down. I take the form and thank him before leaving his office. Now I need to head back to Kentinkrono to get a colored letterhead. I realize at this point I’m not going to make my appointment at 15:00, so I call him and push it back to 17:00. As I’m on my way back to Kentinkrono I realize that officer was actually helping me. I started to feel very lucky that he took the time to tell me how to make my application passable. He could have easily just taken the form knowing, and not caring, that it was wrong and would soon be rejected. I get the pen drive from Spencer with the new colorful letterhead and go to the same print spot in Kentinkrono. Well, they don’t do color printing. Now I need to head to Tech, except Spencer needs his pen drive back after I’m done. I call him and he is happy to meet me in Tech so I don’t have to travel back again after I’m done. I walk around the taxi station across from campus and ask around at the electronic shops where there is a color printer. Everyone I ask seems to either not know what color printing is or they hesitantly tell me to go to some other location. After being pinballed around for awhile I realize that my best bet is to go onto campus.

 Spencer is here now in Tech station and meets me to help me find the color-printing place on campus. We ask some people and most of them make some hand waving gestures that it’s somewhere by the immigration office. Spencer thinks there is some in the bookstore, which is conveniently a 30 second walk from the immigration office. It’s now approaching 15:00 and I tell Spencer that I won’t be surprised if as I’m walking up to the immigration office they will be locking the door to close for the day. We find out that the bookstore doesn’t have a color printer. We ask someone outside the store and they tell us to go down to the cross street and ask someone there. We walk down there and find what looks like the college printing place. They must have color printing here. They say they don’t have color printing, but the place two doors down has one. We get into the office and I cheer a bit inside as they tell us they can do color printing. He prints out the page in a few seconds. Okay, that was too easy for all this trouble. Right then I realize I’m right when I see part of the logo that didn’t get any color. Avoiding another rejection I tell the man to print another one. He tries to, but for some reason he can’t. He restarts the application a few times and has no luck. In the meantime other people are coming in and in their usual Ashanti aggressiveness ask the man to help them even though he’s clearly trying to print something for Spencer and me. I’m not sure why, but he continues to help the people that are coming in behind us. I don’t know, maybe this is an American thing, but I want him to finish with us before he moves on to dedicate his time to the next person. I can even tell that he isn’t thinking very hard about our issue because he is dealing with the other customers. Finally, he gets the document to work and prints an intact logo.

 Spencer leaves to get some work done and I head back to the immigration office for one last time today. At least I hope it’s one last time. I walk in the office and the three ladies that have been in there the whole time, but haven’t said anything to me tell me that they were waiting for me to come back before they closed. They tell me that I now owe them 10,000. I laugh that off praying that was a joke and they really aren’t going to try to get a bribe for this process. After all, they will have my passport and know the kind of power that holds. I give all the information to the man and he tells me that everything is set. As the women are filling out the receipt one of them asks me if I would be willing to marry on of the other ones. I go through my routine and tell them I’m a small boy, my money is small, and my Twi is small. These women being a little quicker than the market ladies I’m used to conversing with refute all of my points. Then one of them hands me my slip and tells me that I will have to come back in two weeks to get my passport. Two weeks! That’s half the time I have for the extension. Thinking quickly, I tell them that I will consider marrying the woman if she has my passport back by the end of the week. They all chuckle and follow with seriously saying that I can pay three times the amount of the extension to get it back this week. They tell me that I need to come back in two weeks just to check if it is ready. I tell them I live far away and would prefer to call before I come in person. I have to plead for a few minutes before I finally get the bosses number.

 I head back to Kumasi like normal to get the car back to Antoa. Oh and in Ghana people call everything a car, whether it’s a taxi, Tro Tro, or 18-wheeler. In this case, and in most others, I’m catching a  Tro Tro. I get to Dr. Mensa station and see another huge line for the Tro Tro heading to Antoa. This is different from last time because the line is three times as long and there is no policeman to escort me to the front. After about 45 minutes of waiting in line and some good people watching I start to get close. Then, the same policeman comes out of nowhere to help control the line. I stand tall to make sure he sees me… Wait it’s always easy to see me because I’m the only white guy in sight. He points to me and asks me where I’m headed. I respond and he tells me to wait small. Then as I’m about 15 people away he comes over to me and points to the car. I hesitate because I really don’t want to cut in front of this line again, but he walks over and physically pulls me to the car. I get up on the elevated car and sit right next to the open door. Now I’m sitting down and I’m about a foot above all the people that used to be in front of me in line. I notice the same woman who was dancing strangely at the station in Antoa. She’s making a commotion that the Obroni got onto the car before everyone else. I look at her and say “kafra, why.” That means I’m sorry. The Akan people add a word that sounds exactly like why onto their sentences. In English it is similar to saying, “ya hear?” That starts a whole other commotion because the Obroni just spoke Twi to the group of people.

 As we start driving away for Antoa I realize that we are heading back in rush hour also. That makes sense why the line was so long for the Tro Tro. I sit back, relax, and enjoy the long ride back. I think most Ghanaians expect to spend a full day on a simple errand like filling out a form for a visa extension. The frustratingly slow infrastructure in place now is probably a big barrier in the way of faster progress. Either way, it’s the way Ghana is and I’m still not entirely used to it, but I’m learning and having a great time along the journey.

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