Saturday, July 6, 2013

Small Things

Layover in Amsterdam
 The first time I sat at a gate waiting to board my flight to Ghana, I was overwhelmed by the experience of being the only white person in a sea of dark faces for the first time. Now I realize that I’ve waited two years to be that strikingly out-of-place yevu again. Even sitting in the airport in Amsterdam, a little bubble of Ghanaian culture was already forming around me. As more people arrived for our flight, the chatter around me filled with snippets of Twi and Ewe and the little noises and expressions that set Ghanaian English apart from American. It’s a melody I’ve missed since the day I last heard it. One moment at a time, a sense of rightness and comfort has settled over me. This time, I didn’t feel like the awkward outcast. I wasn’t wide-eyed and nervous, just jittery with pent-up excitement. 

It took forever to get through customs and wait for the luggage- longer because my luggage never even showed. I was more than 24 hours without sleep and the two suitcases of things I brought for my host family and friends were already MIA, due to transferring flights last minute to avoid storms in Chicago. It was all worth it the moment I saw Karina and Worfa. Ghanaians are normally very stoic, but Worfa’s face broke into a huge grin. A tiny display of affection, but I know that it meant a lot.
Unfortunately, I only got to see him for about an hour. Karina’s friend Evans provided us with a car and a place to stay, and Worfa headed back to Aflao once we realized we had no idea when my bags would finally decide to show up. After a day in Accra with Evans, Karina and I headed off on our trip to northern Ghana.

First stop: Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city after the capital. It took us a LOT of searching, but we found an amazing hotel. AC, a huge clean bed, a functional bathroom, a pool, complimentary breakfast and a laundry service for 40 cedis, or just under $20. Traveling here makes you extremely appreciative of the small things, and we were ecstatic to find such a great place to stay. Shabby, perhaps, by typical American standards, but it was a palace to us.
I wanted to find a place to eat fufu, my favorite Ghanaian dish, but we had to find a place that also served rice because Karina is allergic to the pepper that is part of virtually every Ghanaian meal. A complete stranger walked us nearly a quarter of a mile just to show us a nice chop bar that fulfilled our requirements. It’s the rainy season, and started pouring just as we stepped inside. Since Ghanaians avoid going anywhere in the rain at all costs, he sat with us while we ate, expecting nothing for all his trouble (although we bought him a drink anyway). A woman heard us talking while we ate, and came up to talk to us because she’s a soccer player living in Italy and wanted to know if we were European. We had a great conversation and ended up with an invitation to her house to have an Italian meal with her. It was still raining decently hard when we left, but not five minutes into our walk a man in an SUV pulled over and offered us a ride. I’d never even consider getting into a car with a strange man at night in America, but here it’s natural. How can people not see the beauty of this place? In one evening, three complete strangers went out of their way to befriend and help us without any expectation of something in return. We’re traveling without a guide book this time, which has made things a little more difficult at times, but overall you hardly need one anyway. Practically every random person on the street is more than willing to play tour guide. The Ghanaians themselves are a richer source of information and advice than any guide book could ever hope to be.

The next day we toured the Kumasi zoo, which just recently relocated from Accra. It showcases entirely African animals, each one with a sign on the cage with information about their habitat, diet, etc. -- except for one single pen of geese with a sign that simply said “GEESE.” …Self-explanatory, I suppose. We also visited the Mansyiah Palace and the artisan market at the Culture Center, both of which I had been to with Julia previously. 

I enjoy seeing the tourist attractions, both old and new, but for me, this trip is about the small things. It’s about eating my favorite snacks, like FanYogo and bissop and fresh coconuts. Watching the baobabs pass by the window of the bus. Getting so dusty from traveling for hours down red dirt roads that Karina is literally drawing on me. Snapping at the end of handshakes and hissing to get someone’s attention.
These things may be small, but they’re anything but insignificant.

1 comment:

  1. I've been very busy the past couple of months, and so missed the start of your blog -- and travels-- again. After caring for her for 7 years, my mom died. God was with us through her funeral and burial, and now life goes on. And even in trials, as you know, there are so many blessings.

    I read your words here, how you describe your travels and trials of Africa, and it brings me to the words I recently posted on my blog. They were words used to describe love, by the Italian Luigi Guissani. He said: "You're worth the trouble." I like those words because they are from the heart; they're probably words Jesus felt from the cross. And it seems, in your heart, you are feeling them about the people and places of Africa.

    I'm happy for you that you're back.