My Favorite Conversations with Ghanaians

As an obroni, we are often approached and asked all sorts of questions. Of those conversations that I have witnessed, I wanted to share a few of my favorites.

1. One day I was walking to class all by myself and someone approached me and asked me a few questions. Our conversation went a little like this:

Gentleman: Are you American?
Me: Yes.
Gentleman: I knew it. I could tell by the special color of your skin.
Me: (confused because I could easily be European based on the color of my skin)
Gentleman: I have always wondered why it is so difficult to become friends with Americans. I have friends that are German and Norwegian, but not American.
Me: Well, a lot of times Americans aren’t used to having people we don’t know approach us and ask us for our phone numbers. Its just not something we do in America, we’re a little more reserved in that respect.
Gentleman: Well, why not?
Me: We don’t always think that the friendship is genuine when you immediately ask for our number. A lot of people ask us to give them things [once they have our contact information] and so it makes us not want to give out our numbers to anyone.
Gentleman: Well, it is nice to give alms.
Me: (To myself: And that’s exactly why you don’t have American friends.)
I ignore this response and luckily he brings up something about American politics and President Obama. President Obama is very popular here in Ghana and so I say something that indicates that I like him.
Gentleman: Why wouldn’t you want to vote for your fellow American for president?
Me: (shocked) What do you mean?
Gentleman: Well, President Obama isn’t American.
Me: President Obama was born in America so he is an American.
Gentleman: But his father is African.
Me: But that’s what America is, people come from all over the world to live in America.
At this point, I continue to try to explain that America is a country of immigrants, but then he has reached his class, so we part. I think this conversation just really took me off guard, but that it was too interesting not to share.

2. In our adventure to try to find the Benin and Togo embassies and square away our visas for an upcoming trip, we met a couple of interesting characters.

On our way out to the embassies, one Ghanaian shouted to our guy friend who was accompanying us, “Why do you have three women? That is too many for you!”

Equally entertaining was the conversation between our guy friend and a gentleman with whom we shared a taxi:
Ghanaian: Why do you eat candy? Men don’t eat candy.
Friend: Maybe I don’t want to be a man then. Maybe I’ll just stay a boy.
Ghanaian: If you are a boy, the women (indicating to us who are sitting behind them) will beat you up.
Friend: They already do.

3. One night a girl in my group introduced me to one of her Ghanaian friends who took us to one of the dorm lounges on campus. There we shared a very interesting conversation, but I’ll just give some highlights:
A. When comparing accents, apparently one appears more intellectual if they have a British accent, but they are infinitely more cool if they have an American accent.
B. By sitting with him at this central spot on campus(2 obroni girls), we were making his dream come true. Apparently when he was a kid and would come to the university, he thought that it was the coolest thing for Ghanaian guys to be sitting at this cafe with obroni girls and always wanted to be like them.

4. During one of my study sessions, I was met by one of the Ghanaian gentleman that lives on my floor. Somehow we got into a conversation about dating and values. He had a couple of great one-liners:

Ghanaian: I can’t figure out if you are a good girl or someone who just appears to be good.
We chat and later on it comes out that I haven’t really dated anyone.
Ghanaian: (After a while) Do you repulse guys?
Me: (holding back laughter) Do I repulse you?
Ghanaian: No, I think you are nice.
Me: (Not even sure what to say at this point) Well, thank you. Yeah, I’m sure I repulse guys then.

5. Needing some obroni-ness in our lives we decide to go to the obroni hub located in Osu called Ryan’s Pub. While the night was full of many interesting moments, my favorite had to be when we met up with some interesting characters. I don’t know we got introduced to these guys, but somehow we had this conversation (One guy said the next day, “You mean this really happened? I thought I just dreamed that.”):

Characters: From now on, when we see you in Accra, we will call you Donkey Kong (indicating to our guy friend) and you Crispy Cockroach (indicating to my friend) and you Pregnant Fish (indicating to me).
Us: (My guy friend and I are laughing hysterically, but my other friend speaks) I don’t like my name, Crispy Cockroach. I think I should have a new name.
Characters: Fine, we will call you Ninja Lizard.
Me: (Still laughing) Why Pregnant Fish?
Characters: Don’t worry, its a good thing.

A Ghanaian Funeral

One of the weekends that I decided to stay home, we were invited by some of our friends at the school to attend a funeral with them (it was the parent of one of their/our colleagues at the school). Now, when we went through orientation the international programs office told us that if we were ever invited to a Ghanaian funeral, we shouldn’t think of it as weird and should absolutely accept the offer. As we drove with our teacher friends to the occasion, they explained to us that funerals are different in Ghana than what we are used to in America and that they vary by ethnic group.

On this day we were going to the second day of an Ewe funeral. Our friend explained to us that the first day is for crying, but the second day is for celebrating. As weird as this sounds, Ghanaians sure know how to throw a funeral party. Upon our arrival we were greeted by onlookers with the typical stares and cat calls, but being the only obronis there, it was probably a shock to see us. Our hosts then directed us to the main part of the celebration where we were introduced to the family of the deceased who welcomed us warmly. Shortly after, we were directed to the front row of a traditional dance performance where we were offered drinks and were greeted by those around us.

It didn’t take long before the dancers had the bright idea of inviting people from the audience to join them. So who do they pick? The people who know the dances, know the culture and probably knew the deceased? No, they pick the obronis in the crowd siting awkwardly in the front row. At first, they dragged all of us on to the stage area and had them mock their dance moves. I can’t imagine what we looked like, but the crowd thought it was simply the greatest thing and laughed hysterically watching us try to not make fools of ourselves (but totally failing). However, we felt that by doing this, we were at least contributing to the ceremony by being entertaining rather than just being more mouths to feed. Well, unfortunately, our group appearance wasn’t enough. After a short break, each one of us was taken individually on stage where we again had to mock the movement of our dance partner for the immense pleasure of the crowd. Now, I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t having fun. While I felt utterly ridiculous because my body did not move in a way remotely close to what my dance partner was doing and I was awkwardly dancing in front of a full crowd of people, I had thought, “When else in my lifetime will I be able to attempt a Ghanaian dance at a funeral?” While many people have had this little realization about how cool it is to be in Africa, that was definitely my moment.

After we had all fulfilled our duty of dancing, we were able to sit back and observe the rest of what was going on around us. For the most part, we spent a significant amount of time trying to talk to the kids. It was so cute, because most of them were scared to approach us and would dare each other or push each other in our direction and then run away giggling. Eventually a few of them became comfortable around us so we spent some time talking and taking pictures together.

Before we returned to the hostel, we were invited to eat a marvelous dinner of banku (pounded, fermented corn dough) and fresh tilapia. While many of us haven’t been a big fan of banku because it can have a very lingering taste of fermentation, as this was made fresh, it was simply amazing! The only problem was that for the first time in my life, I was going to have to eat a fish that was staring at me and still had most of his teeth intact. Refusing the food would be impolite, it was fresh fish and I was very hungry, so in spite of my reservations, I dove in. After finishing my fish, only the head remained. We asked our fellow teachers if they typically eat the head. They informed us that some of the best meat is in the head and that some people even eat the eyes. Well, I was feeling a little adventurous that night, so I decided to eat the eye. (For those who are curious, it really just tasted like fish. The only bad part was a very hard circle in the middle, that I chose to not risk trying to digest.) Overall though, it was probably one of the best, if not the best, traditional Ghanaian food that I have had in my time here.

Soon thereafter we returned to the hostel and to our great pleasure found the electricity to be back on. A great ending to a great day. 🙂

Back to Ada and On to Togo

Day 1: Traveling to Ada

We left on a Thursday afternoon although not after significant struggle. Trying to get everyone ready in an hour was a nightmare. Although I was packed, I needed to get money. Now, I haven’t talked yet about the money situation. So my parents sent me a new debit card about a month ago and as of this time it hadn’t arrived yet. Now, we knew that this might happen, but we didn’t expect it to be so long. However, I came prepared (or thought that I did) with a MasterCard Debt Card, just in case. Once one of the other girls who has a MasterCard was ready, we started walking to the only ATM we could use so that I could hopefully draw out money. I was already stressed out because I had 2 cedi to my name and knew that if it was out of order, there is no way that I could withdraw money period, or go to Togo for that matter. On our way there, a bird pooped on me. Yes, a bird really pooped on me, landing in a nice stripe on my shirt and on my shoulder strap for my backpack. So, I thought, well, the ATM has to work now right? Well, when we got there, I learned another lesson about how “the world just doesn’t work like that” as it rejected my card. So trying not to panic, I asked my companion what I should do. Since I didn’t have any way to contact my bank or whatever, and we were hoping to be leaving shortly, I wasn’t sure what to do. She said, not to worry, that between everyone, they could probably cover me and that I could pay them back later. After conversing (awkwardly, might I add) the rest of the group agreed. However, then one of the guys graciously offered to just pull out money for me—everything that I would need for the weekend. In order to do this, we split up. The group that was ready to leave right then was going to get one tro to Tema and then we were going to meet up with them there to all take a tro together.

This part was an utter mess. Meeting up with the other collaboration of people and then getting money went smoothly. Then some people went to get food and were going to eat it there, while the rest of us are thinking that the group is waiting for us at Tema station. So after we remind them that without the other group, it may be too late or very difficult to get a boat, they reluctantly come with us to find a tro. From there, the ride is relatively straight forward. While we thought that they were and had been waiting for us for a long time at the station, in reality they hadn’t left that much ahead of us. In fact, the tro that I saw them get into, ended up not even leaving campus because the driver got arrested right in front of their eyes. They didn’t realize what was going on until some woman yelled, just pay him the bribe and another person said, no, he’s getting arrested (so it must have been pretty serious). At that point, they all got off of the tro and had to wait for another one. Anyway, while we’re riding to Tema station, we receive a call from them saying that they had arrived, but that we would need to walk to a different station in order to get a tro to Adafo. So when we arrived, we asked around if they could direct us to the place where we could catch a tro to Adafo and no one seemed to know where to tell us to go. Walking through a market with people yelling everything from “where are you going?” to “watch your bag!”, we made it to a bus station. Asking again if we were in the right place, no one seemed to know where to direct us, so we continued walking. Crossing a street, we saw a tro station and assumed that this was the right place. We were greeted by someone who looked like they were waiting for us and told us to follow him to a tro (I think we even asked if he was tro-ing our other friends). Of course, he just wanted our business as we followed him to an empty tro. Then we asked if they had seen any obronis. We were directed to another tro—we didn’t know any of the obronis there either. At this point, I was frustrated and realized that we were probably in completely the wrong place. We had already made several phone calls trying to describe where we were, but both ways we were describing places that were entirely unfamiliar to the other. Finally, we asked another driver if he knew where this other station was and had him talk to Adrianne on the phone. In describing the place to him, he offered to take us there. Winding through another place, which sadly seemed to serve as everything from market to home to bathroom, we came out on the other side and began to walk down a street that was going to take us to the area where we could meet up with the rest of our friends. After wandering around the square amidst shouts of “obroni” and “where are you going” we eventually came full circle and finally met up with two of our group members at the corner to the entrance of the tro station. At this point, we had tried several times to give our guide a couple of cedi to thank him for his kindness, but he refused to take it in hopes of being able to provide a tro for our whole group to Ada. When the other group members said that they already had one, we tried to pay him yet again, but he refused to accept it. (Certainly a testament to Ghanaian kindness—would an American necessarily have done that?)

Okay, so finally reunited, with a tro, we were ready to head off to Ada as the sun began to set (but at this point there was nothing that we could really do about that). Paying for a ticket, we all quickly piled on to a bus. Although this was a relatively normal tro ride, I do want to mention something that happened before we left. Sitting in the tro, it is completely normal for people to approach the windows to sell you everything from plungers to chips. Here, there was a person selling FanYogo (frozen strawberry yogurt) and as usual, they give the buyer something to wrap around it because it is cold (I should note that the yogurt is in a plastic package, similar to a salad dressing packet). Most of the time, they are wrapped in newspaper clippings. However, as one of the guys pulled off the paper and started to look at it, he noticed that it was a questionnaire for planned parenthood clinic. As we sat there laughing, we all slowly realized how many germy hands that one simple piece of paper must have touched to get to his FanYogo—I think we started laughing even harder, thinking to ourselves, “Oh, Ghana”. So the rest of the ride was relatively uneventful—we made a few stops along the way, but our biggest concern was if there would be any type of boat for us to take us to the beach resort. As it turns out, thus the kindness of Ghanaians, the tro driver, knowing full well why a bunch of obronis would be going to Adafo, called the resort who sent us a boat.
Once the boat was ready, we set off with two interesting Rasta characters who took us across the Volta river to the beach resort. Probably the most entertaining part of this boat ride may have been Patrick. Due to our inability to accurately balance our weight, the boat wasn’t quite horizontal and so any strong wave tipped us back probably a little more than anyone of us would like, but Patrick was particularly worried about crocodiles in the river. Obviously, we made it, but it was funny to see his reaction to every little tip we took in the boat.

At the resort, we were warmly greeted by the patroness who quickly showed us to our rooms, which were, genuine grass huts, with sand floors and bamboo reed walls surrounded on one side by the Volta River and the other side by the Atlantic Ocean. Since none of us had eaten, the owner began cooking rice and stew for us to eat. While we were waiting, we took a little trek to the Atlantic Ocean, (until we saw a red light approaching and decided that we didn’t want to find out who that was) and then gazed at the most beautiful sky I have ever seen from the comfort of a hammock tied between two palm trees. A little bit later one of the other workers started a bonfire for us where we just relaxed, exchanged silly stories about a little bit of everything, looked for shooting stars and listened to our Rasta friend sing us songs.

I wish I could describe how beautiful the sky was, because it was nothing like I have ever seen, or frankly ever expect to see again. Even though there was some light pollution, one of the best things about the beaches I have been to here is that they seem so remote, detached from society (like they should be). Here, there were no mufflers in the background, no airplanes overhead, just the sound of the waves rushing up on the sand. Its detachment allows you to lay back and see a star devoured in stars, unable to distinguish where some stars begin and others end.
After dinner was served, we all, one by one, went to our rooms after a fully exhausting day of stress and travel.


Day 2: Ada Beach

Possibly the greatest way to wake up is by the waves crashing on shore, only to be topped by walking out of your grass hut to the most vibrant sunlight illuminating the palm trees and both shores. Staggered by the beauty (but also slightly blinded by the sunlight), I stopped for a moment just to appreciate my great fortune. I then walked over to the hammocks where I spent most of the morning lounging, playing Sudoku and napping here and there.

As we headed into the afternoon, we all ventured down to the beach of the Atlantic Ocean to brave the waves there. I stayed behind to take pictures and watched everyone being tossed around by the surf, enjoying every minute of it. Although we have many pro wave jumpers in our group, they all came to a consensus that the sea was on the rough side. It was entertaining to watch our group members, one in particular, be carried by a strong wave all the way from about waist-deep water to gliding by until she was sitting on dry sand. Others, however, experienced the dim consequences of water pollution. One group member described being “taken out” by a burlap sack that was being carried by the tide. Finally, as one of our group members felt difficulty in returning to shore, we became skeptical about swimming in the Atlantic any longer. (Although the alternative wasn’t very appealing, considering that you can get all kinds of parasites, including river blindness from even wading in the river, but our group members joked that it was better than being attacked by syringes or whatever else was floating in the Atlantic).

Until dark, we spent time enjoying one anothers’ company and simply lounging on the beach. That night, before dinner, we decided to walk with our local guide to go the exact place where the Atlantic Ocean is met by the Volta River (and where the fresh water mixes with the salt water). Now, in retrospect we probably should have gone during the day because it was very dark (no street lamps to guide our way), but one of the amazing perks of going during the night was having an open space to truly enjoy the stars. On this beautiful night, we were able to see the Milky Way. Racing across the sky, it was very easy to pick out, distinctly separate from the other sets of stars in the sky. Upon finally reaching the estuary, with the help of flashlights from our phones, we were able to briefly glance at the waves colliding, swirling, mixing and ultimately combining. We then turned around and began the trek back. This time, we walked along the beach and were met by several crabs. One of the girls even stepped on one! Traumatized, but unhurt, one of the guys offered to give her a piggy-back ride until she wasn’t afraid on stepping one anymore.

When we returned, our dinner was nearly ready. We spent some time enjoying the music they had set up for us, chatting in the hammocks and sipping on some coconuts until our Red Red and Yam Balls were ready. At dinner we were joined by a woman and her husband who were taking some time away (at the insistence of her co-workers) from running an orphanage not far from the University. Although they were taking a short vacation, they also had come to the area asking the local chief for some land to build another orphanage (I believe). This woman seemed pretty amazing. She takes care of a lot of children of all ages ensuring that they do their schoolwork and then also selling different kinds of patchwork items in order to provide for the school (even teaching volunteers from the University how to sew). After she described her line of work, we somehow moved on to the topic of love and marriage. She was very insightful and encouraging. Amongst our group members was someone whose long term relationship had just ended prior to coming here. Once we told her this, she was very encouraging saying that there is someone out there, that the person they’d dated just wasn’t the right one and that it would work out in the end. Although these are all things we tell ourselves or know already, the way she gave all of this advice had the eloquence and undertones of true wisdom based on experience. Ultimately, she said that the best thing that everyone must do in that situation is to forget about the person and move on. As difficult as it may be, it must be done. The sooner they are forgotten, the sooner the healing can begin.
At this point, it was pretty late, and some of us were planning to go to Togo in the morning, so I decided to go to bed early, with lullabies of hip hop music and ocean waves pulling me into sleep.

Day 3: Ada to Togo

The one problem with the huts (although it was also a blessing) is that they were always dark. Now we were given candles to help us during the waking and early evening hours as we would need to move about the hut, but for someone trying to wake up early, it was difficult to determine any sort of time. (Note: for those who woke up in the middle of the night, I heard it was almost scary how dark it was in the hut—many said that there was no difference between having open or closed eyes at the darkest times of night) However, I woke up well in time to pack my last few things and prepare for the boat to pick us up and take us on the next leg of our adventure.
We quickly packed and got on the boat to take us on to Aflao which is a place where you can cross the Ghana/Togo border. The boat ride ended quickly and the “driver” of the boat was kind enough to help us find a tro that would take us in the direction of Aflao. Paying very little for this tro, we thought that finally we weren’t being cheated and that we had gotten a great deal on a tro for a longer journey. This dream quickly ended as we were told to get off just outside of town and funneled into another tro. As it turned out, we had to transfer tros at least two more times before we reached Aflao. For the majority of the time, we four girls occupied the back seat with one poor girl sitting halfway off the seat balancing on a metal rod and with speed bumps literally every few miles making it the quintessential tro experience. One of our guy friends was separated from us sitting a couple seats in front of us. Halfway through the ride the guy next to him fell asleep resting his head on our friend’s shoulder. When he finally woke up a long time later, he lifted his head from our friend’s shoulder as if it was not a big deal at all falling asleep on a stranger. Another interesting aspect of the trip was the police stops. When traveling throughout Ghana, it isn’t uncommon to encounter police checkpoints. While most of the time we were simply waved through, on a couple of occasions the police walked around and inspected the tro tro, until they came across a backseat of obroni women. We would always try to be polite by waving and saying hello, which they usually thought was pretty funny. However, one time, an officer approached my friend nearest the window and began to stroke her arm. Surprised she just said hello and then he waved through our tro. Oh Ghana.

Finally after several tros and a long, hot ride, we finally arrived in Aflao. Exiting the tro, fellow riders directed us to the border and we began walking down the street to get there. Now, it was hot and we were tired, so I’ll admit that every person that shouted at me or tried to sell something bothered me uh, just a little bit. When we finally reached the border, we were very confused as to where we needed to go. Inevitably we ended up going to customs for people coming back to Ghana from Togo and were promptly directed to the correct office. Outside the office, a woman was arguing with one of the customs officers. As such we all thought he was the one we needed to talk to and that he was scary. Frustrated from talking to this other woman, he completely misunderstood our question and told us that we needed to go into Togo to get a visa and that we couldn’t get one here. Confused as to why we would illegally cross the border hoping to get a visa to come back here to Ghana (not to mention what we would do if it didn’t work and we were stuck in Togo illegally) just to get our passport stamped so that we could leave Ghana, we just figured that we were out of luck. Ready to turn back and just go back to Accra, we decided to go inside the building and ask if we could use their restroom. When we went inside, they understood exactly why we were here and began to help us go through customs so we could go to Togo. Apparently the person outside thought we had visas to be in Togo and wanted to visit Ghana. So we quickly filled out the paper work, got our passports stamped and were directed to the next leg of the journey. Breezing through the customs line, we crossed into Lome, the capital of Togo.
Once in Togo we needed to obtain visitors’ visas. Upon crossing the border, we were directed to another station where we would fill out the paperwork to obtain visas. While this part wasn’t too difficult, the whole time we were bombarded by people who wanted to exchange our currency from cedis to CFA. Flustered from the whole process, worried about the money being counterfeit (okay at least I was—I saw an episode of I Love Lucy where that happened in France, so I was a little apprehensive) or the rate being an “obroni” rate and not sure how secure my information would be if a heavy wind blew away my application that was secured to the table under a rock, it was a stressful period. After a call to our director, talking to several others being processed and just wanting to find a hotel and be done with all of this, we exchanged enough money for a visa and finished the application process.
With visas in hand, we crossed the next border taking us officially into Lome and began to walk down the street to find the hotel we intended to stay in. The street was lined with vendors and money exchangers all shouting at us. Knowing that we needed to pay for the hotel with CFA, we had to stop and exchange money again. After finishing that we continued down the street to find our intended hotel was right there.

Now, I guess we got exactly what we paid for, which wasn’t much. For our two rooms, we each had a small room that smelled slightly moldy, a rickety fan and a bathroom with questionable plumbing. The other room also had the privilege of a cockroach infestation and their water would mysteriously start running unprompted. Looking at our divine accommodations and knowing how little there was to do in Lome, we all agreed to leave the next day as opposed to staying two days like we originally planned. Hungry, we decided that it would be best to find somewhere to eat.
This in itself was quite the adventure. First, we walked to the restaurant next to our hotel. Quickly we were directed to a nice table which they wiped down for us. She asked us for drinks and we asked about food, but when she told us she only served drinks we thanked her and said that we needed to find food. She understood and we continued down the street. We tried the restaurant next door. After sitting down in a bar area, the regulars went to find the patron of the establishment. When they returned they told us that the person had left and that there wasn’t any food available. They tried several times to reach this person for us, but with no luck. We told them we would return later, but were going to search for food. Next, we saw a “chop bar” of sorts on the beach and decided to try there. We were immediately seated and the patroness came over to get our order, but spoke no English. Not having spoken any French in over a year, I was at a loss for words. After spewing out several different words for food, meals, etc. she said, “Oh, manger!” Thankful to find common ground, I said, “Yes, manger!” (which means “to eat” and is pronounced mahn-zjai). I was surprised at how quickly everything came back then. Although she had to repeat things a couple of times, we finally decided that we would order spaghetti. Perfect. Except she quickly returned saying that the person who made the food wasn’t here and there wasn’t any left, however, we could have meat. I couldn’t understand what kind of meat she was referring to, so she said that I should come with her so I could see it. I left the group and went over to the grill where they were roasting either bats or rats (I think), but either way, we weren’t going to be eating meat from this barbeque. I returned to the table, explained the situation and we decided to leave. I told the patroness that we didn’t eat meat, but were grateful for her help. From there, we just decided to continue down the street until we found an open restaurant. We walked by several closed restaurants very confused. Discovering a restaurant with hours of operation, it became clear what the problem was. I think it may be part of their French influence, but restaurants are open only during certain times on Saturday and not open on Sundays. Asking a nearby local, they confirmed it, no restaurants were open at this time. Defeated, we decided to return to the hotel to divide what little we had brought with us (feasting on a granola bar) hoping it would tide us over until tonight when a handful of the restaurants would reopen for dinner. Fortunately, we stumbled upon another type of chop shop that had the equivalent of one bowl of rice, some small bits of meat (lamb) and a little soup. Sharing what little they were able to sell us, we enjoyed a small meal together. There wasn’t enough rice and the soup was very spicy (and I frankly had already lost my appetite), so I didn’t really eat, I just drank water.

At this point, I was kind of given two choices, be on my own and go back to the hotel, or join my adventurous comrades who wanted to take a moto-taxi (a moped taxi) to the main market. The idea of riding on a moped through a foreign town where traffic laws didn’t exist and without a helmet, scared me. However, since I was the only one that spoke any French and I didn’t want to be left alone, I figured that it would probably be fine and that I’d better just go. Anyway, the women serving the food helped us hail five moto-taxis, agree on a price and we were off to a recommended market not far from our hotel. Since the Togolaise don’t even hold onto anything while they ride on these taxis, it wouldn’t have been appropriate to hold onto the driver (and I didn’t want him to get the wrong impression anyway), so I had a vice grip on the metal seat support. Sitting stiffly with white knuckles, we proceeded to weave in and out of traffic, disregard traffic laws and defy the speed of sound, or at least that’s what it felt like to me, but finally we were dropped off at the market.

We walked around the area for about 30 minutes or so just walking through the streets. Because it was so late on a Saturday, there really wasn’t a market, but we did enjoy just getting a new perspective of the city. As the sun began to set, we decided to hail taxis again that would take us back to the hotel. We crossed the street to hail a taxi, but before we did, we saw a driver kick a pedestrian (while driving) because they were in the way! Then we grabbed five more moto-taxis which took us around in the other direction towards our hotel, allowing us to see the other part of the main drag of Lome.

For a time back at our hotel, we just sat around and chatted. Once we thought that some of the restaurants would be open again, we ventured out of the hotel and down the street to a chic restaurant. With expensive food dishes, we decided it would be much more satisfying to share deserts and buy baguettes with avocado off of the street instead (a discovery of our guy friend while we were taking our break). Expecting the place to be hopping (Lome is supposed to have great nightlife), we were shocked to find the place empty. The patroness, a French ex-patriot, suggested that we eat on the roof since it is the most beautiful. She was absolutely right, with chic décor of Western designs integrated with African flavors, we enjoyed lounging on a couch while eating crème brule and a chocolate torte. Devouring the treats, we savored the view, but then went in search of baguettes and guacamole.
I’ll admit, I’m always the scardy-cat of the trip, so walking down streets with no lights, made me incredibly nervous. It certainly didn’t help that at some point a gentleman grabbed my wrist, I think with the intention of ripping off my watch and bracelet. I pulled away from his grip easily though, and luckily he moved on. I was happy that we soon found our baguettes, bought some drinks at a Shell Station and then headed back to our hotel where we watched soccer initially and then WWF wrestling in the lobby with some of our fellow guests until we went to bed.


Day 4: Togo to Accra

The rising of the sun was announced with what sounded like a revolution in the streets. Banging of pots and pans, bells and just general yelling was an even less appealing alarm than our demented rooster friends back at the hostel. Knowing that this day marked the end of Ramadan, we figured that it might just be the way that Lome celebrated the occasion (however, that didn’t eliminate the visions of chaos and rioting that I thought was happening just outside our door). Finally, those staying in the other room knocked on our door (mind you it was still before 7) and told us what was happening—apparently every Sunday in Lome, the whole city gets up with the sun and just runs through the streets making as much noise as humanly possible. They had even found the perfect spot, a balcony in our hotel, from which we could watch the scene unfold. I made just in time to see the tail end of the runners, but I wasn’t sad to see them go.

We stayed on the balcony for a while watching fisherman struggle to drag their boats to shore in the violent waves that brush up against Lome’s shore, an informal soccer match on the beach and an Islamic gathering/prayer service also beginning on the beach. Being obroni, we weren’t invisible and were approached several times. One group of guys even walked through the lobby of our hotel to the balcony to speak with us. When they arrived, they asked our guy friend if he could have one of our friends, pointing to the girl next to him. He said no and that she was his wife. He then pointed to me and asked if he could have me and my guy friend said that I was also his wife and that we were all his wives. All together, we agreed saying several times that we were all his wives. He laughed and congratulated our guy friend saying that he should bring him a woman from America. Knowing full well how this works, our guy friend shrugged and just said, “Sure”. We talked to them briefly and then they returned to their soccer game. Over the next 30 minutes or so, we were approached several more times sometimes with marriage proposals and just guys interested in talking to us. In order to shoo them away, we often used the language barrier to our advantage which typically frustrated the proposers who would then just leave. While some of the girls chatted with our suitors, I just decided to go back to bed (I mean, it was hardly 7 AM still at this point).

After a couple of hours, we decided that we wanted to try to find the fetish markets—places where they sell all of the necessary ingredients for voodoo. Upon leaving our hotel, we were greeted by some old friends who have proposed to us earlier. We decided to ask them for help and they directed us to food, which was great since we weren’t sure how else we were going to eat that day with everything being closed. While I personally wasn’t hungry (again the soup was a little spicy for my taste, and I’ll admit, I was a little concerned about the sanitary conditions of both the establishment and the food), so I tried a bite but didn’t eat. Others in our group enjoyed a mix of okra soup and another soup and I sipped on some water. At the end of the meal, the patroness invited us to enjoy a delicacy, intestines. Now normally, I’m pretty cool about trying new and weird foods. However, knowing exactly what that used to be and how it functioned in the body, I just couldn’t do it. A little coercion from my friends finally did the trick, I tried it, but was getting dry heaves the whole time (I’m truly thankful that I didn’t just vomit on the spot, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if I did).

Once they finished, we asked one of the guys how to get to the fetish markets. To help us, he called over 6 moto taxis for us (here we go again), gave them the instructions and then rode with us to the markets. He must not have quite understood because he took us to the normal markets. For a little bit, we looked around and endured the normal harassment and cheating from the shop owners, but quickly moved on. From there we thought we were going to the fetish markets, but instead we visited his buddies at another market. Again, we walked through and asked for a few prices, but the products were so much more expensive than what we could get in Ghana, so we didn’t buy anything. Finally, we made it very clear to our unofficial guide that we wanted to see the fetish markets and he arranged for the moto taxis to take us there.

By this point, we were tired and going to a market full of animal carcasses didn’t really perk us up. At first, they demanded that we pay a certain price in order to tour the market. Looking around at the stuff, we told them that we would just leave (even the glances of animal remains that we got to see at that point was sufficient for all of us). Our guide continued to argue with them saying that we didn’t need a tour, we couldn’t buy anything because there is no way a monkey skull would ever make it through American customs and that we shouldn’t have to pay to walk around the market. Knowing that we probably wouldn’t get to take pictures, our guy friend sneakily took a few snapshots of the area while they were arguing. Right when we were about ready to leave, they came to an agreement that we could walk around the market with no tour and for no charge as long as we didn’t take pictures. Agreed. Tired and sickened we took a quick stroll around the market (once you’ve seen one monkey skull, trust me you’ve seen them all), and were ready to leave in about 10 minutes or less. As we were about to leave, they offered to show us a voodoo ceremony, but wanted a “gift from our heart” (money) in order to do so and we had had enough of this place, so we declined and left.

Ready to go back to Accra, we told our guides (we somehow picked up another guide between the market and the fetish market) that we had a long journey and needed to leave immediately. After a short walk, we caught 7 moto taxis and headed straight for the border. Or so we thought. Rather than go to the border, one of the guides directed us to his house where we were introduced to his American sister-in-law who came to Togo to teach English. Invited inside, he showed us his family’s home. On the wall he explained that his grandmother was the wife of the former President and then introduced us to his grandfather who was sitting in the room (So did we just meet the former Togolaise President?). Telling him that we needed to leave, he told us that we were close to the border and that we could walk from their house.

The walk was short, but interesting nonetheless. The guides started hitting on us obroni girls with one them telling my friend how much he loved her, that their age difference wasn’t that great, you know, the usual. We were a little disoriented, so it really concerned us when they told us about a clandestine crossing where you can cross illegally without getting caught. We thought this is what they intended for us to do, so all at once we explained that we had visas, needed to get them stamped, had to get our other visas renewed, everything we could think of to say why we shouldn’t illegally cross the border. They saw our panic and laughed—it was never their intention that we’d cross here, they just wanted to tell us about it. In the end, they helped us at Togolaise customs, and walked right across the border with us. While it was pretty painless, I did have some guy grabbed my arm and said, “I want this one.” To this I just laughed because we were walking through customs and he wasn’t going to be able to cross the border, plus some locals adopted us for the day and I think they would have protected me (as well as my hubby with four wives). Our unofficial guides waited with us at Ghanaian customs for us to fill out our paperwork and were going to make sure that we made it on the right bus back to Accra. While this seemed very charitable, we also discovered two other reasons they stuck with us. First, one of the friends, someone who had approached us on the balcony earlier (and who was apparently a member of the Togolaise National Soccer team, however that is yet to be confirmed), had made some jewelry for one of our friends and wanted to give it to her before we left, so we had to wait for him. Also, one of the guys wanted us to have drinks and the other kept trying to convince one of the girls to marry him. Finally our friend the soccer player came with a necklace and a bracelet (which we hope meant no commitment to future prospects with him), we took a few pictures together and then a tro just happened to drive by saying that it was going to Accra so we hopped on and made our escape.

The tro ride back was uneventful. We did have to get off once at a customs checkpoint to prove that we had proper documentation, but that wasn’t a big deal. However, when we came back we were met with one of our favorite characters on campus—Louisa, an older women who makes little goodies to buy and knows the international students fairly well. We walked with her for a while because she was heading in the same direction and our guy friend offered to carry her basket (which she put on his head). For once, the tables turned and she asked if he was single. To this, he replied that he had four wives, indicating to all of us. She said, “Well, if you have four, than what’s one more?” And, “I want to have an obroni child” (meaning a white child). He agreed to be a good sport and then for the rest of the way back to the dorm, she was holding his hand, he had the basket on his head and she kept making jokes about tantalizing him and then asking if we understood (yes Louisa, we catch your drift and where did you get your vocabulary? Needless to say, this was a great ending to our trip.