Our last day in Ghana was quite uneventful but interesting nonetheless. It consisted primarily of a drive to Accra, an overnight stay at an hotel of incredible luxe and was capped off with dinner at a local spot. On our flight into the country, I struck up a conversation with a Ghanaian woman whose position was Director of External Economic Relations with the Ministry of Finance & Economic Planning. Aside from being a delightful conversationalist, Mary-Anne provided an informed and comprehensive outlook as to the challenges that Ghana is facing politically and economically.As a Poli-Sci guy, I can’t help but assess and opine on what I see. Ghana has just completed an election. The party that was returned to power has been accused of vote rigging and the results are being challenged in their Supreme Court. The losing party, that had done wonders for education and infrastructure development lost narrowly. My own personal straw poll taken over the past three weeks bears out the sentiment that the election was a cooked deal. Of the 50 or so individuals I asked, zero had voted for the winner. There is a lot on the line as the recently discovered oil field will produce a major injection of foreign capital. Whoever runs the show for the next while will certainly benefit big time.
The repercussions of party change was evident. Driving earlier in the day from Kumasi to Accra we travelled on a highway that was either perfectly paved or unfinished, rutted and inches thick in the ubiquitous red dust of Ghana. At one point we happened upon a half completed flyover that would have been appropriate for any modern road ever travelled. The project was committed to and started by the previous government. When, 6 years ago, they were turfed out by the presently re-elected party all work immediately stopped. The project has been in a state of semi-completion since then.
Our dinner guest Mary-Anne, who happened to be an estranged cousin of the losing candidate, was frustrated and filled with a sense that Ghana was doomed to a state of entropy unless the court throws out the election. Cronyism, corruption and favouritism is endemic to Ghana as it is throughout the continent. We all have issues with graft on a world wide level, but these creeps take it to a different dimension. I am coming home with the same sense of hopelessness for Africa that I experienced during our last visit seven years ago.
Our trusty driver Samuel picked us up the next morning and three hours later we crossed the border into Togo. If you’ve ever watched a movie or TV show that had a scene involving third world border and customs customs, we can assure you that whatever has been conveyed is completely accurate. I thought that having a platinum Am Ex card allowed front of the line access. In Central West Africa, all you need is white skin. We were able to avoid all lines and sat in the office of the local military man in charge of border crossing. Like any petty bureaucrat, he relished his major domo role and loved going stamp crazy in our passports. Outside, we had to wend our way through a series of bribe taking weasels who 1) looked after our car while we were inside, 2) opened the gate between the two countries, and 3) led our car through the maze of people and vehicles. Total cost of the payoffs – around $3.00.
Our new guide, Alex, met us as soon as we crossed. He was a jolly and genteel fellow, fluent in English and french. French, being the dominant language of the country, allowed us to communicate directly with all of the folks. Did you know that the language has a really pretty and refined sound outside of La Belle Province? Speaking of which, Alex informed us that Lome, Togo’s capital, is one of the only cities in the world that is situated on the national border. Should Quebec ever get its ass out of Canada, Ottawa could share the same distinction.
I was a bit concerned about the hotel that we chose on line. I feared a repeat of the Lake Bosomtwi fiasco. The place is located well away from the action but is a new structure, beautifully finished, run by an American of Togolese descent married to a local gal. Other than being miles from nowhere (except the airport, which we will not be using), it is a delightful place. Completely unfettered by other guests,we have the run of the place. King size suite, top floor terrace, its no YMCA.
We toured Lome over two days. Yesterday we spent too many hours driving north for a one hour tour of a small waterfall and nature reserve.
The most interesting find was Chez Fanny – a delicious French restaurant in the middle of nowhere. The villages on the way were incredible in their primitive architecture. No electricity, no water. We also finally got to stop by the structure below. Can you guess what it is? (Hint : perhaps you can’t make a mountain out of a mole hill, but the same restriction does not apply to termites).
Yes folks, what you see is the Empire State Building equivalent of a termite nest.
Dinner at a restaurant in town, recommended by none other than Fanny herself proved to be excellent. The lone fish birthday meal that Lori endured the previous night was replaced with a sumptuous dinner of escargots, aubergine au gratin and tarte tatin. Birthday dinner one day late.
The reason that there are starving children in Africa is more a question of distribution that a lack of food. All of us adults receive huge portions at every meal. Not enough to feed the children afterward.
Today we did the city tour. We visited the cultural museum of Togo and had a great guided tour of the anthropology, history, ethnicity and spirituality of a country that was colonized by Germany in the late 1800’s but lost it after the war. Britain and France divided the country formerly known as Togoland in to modern Togo, with the Brits annexing its half to Ghana. Part of the British acquisition included the Volta River (they didn’t get the boatman, though) which was dammed up and now provides power to the region. The Togolese are none too pleased paying Ghana for electricity from what was once theirs.
In the museum, amongst the pots, lances, and clothing, was an instrument similar to a marimba. I treated the audience (Lori, museum guide and tour guide) to a rusty version of Doe a Deer and was roundly applauded for my efforts. In one of the display cases was a set of stools (see previous blog post). One in particular, Lori found very practical. It was a low slung three legged stool with two legs at the back one at the front. This was a multi-purpose piece of furniture. The owner would sit face to face with an individual and hold forth a conversation. If things got ugly, he’d pick up the stool, by the front leg, turn it over and brain his conversationalist with the two rear legs. This configuration probably kept social discourse very civil.
We visited Independence Square, which contained a monument to the women whose actions led to national freedom.
In an act of desperation they marched naked in a demonstration against the colonizing country of France. What would you do if a bunch of naked women were coming at you? Well, if you’re a French soldier, you’d open fire. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back and Ghana became a nation in 1960.
Next stop was the fetish market. I was expecting to pick up a set of fishnet stockings with a back seam, a pair of handcuffs and patent leather stiletto heels. Apparently I was mistaken. Nonetheless, we had quite an adventure. Voodoo is a religion in this part of the world. Not the pin-in-the-doll version. It is a series of complex interrelationships with man, nature and the spiritual world. When a person is facing problems or life questions; when a child is sick; when crops fail, various potions, spells and totems are dispensed by the shaman to rid the spirit causing the situation. I have never seen a display such as this. Among the products on show were: monkey heads, dead birds, dog heads, hippopotamus skulls, elephant femurs, porcupine quills, dried chameleons, shells, metal carvings, herbs, snakes, snake skins, etc. etc. There were some gross things, too. The coterie put Billy S’s wing of bat and eye of newt to shame.
Part of the deal included a visit to one of the local shamans who had set up shop there.
I walked in and offered what I thought was the appropriate greeting. “ooh eeh ooh ah ah”. No response. Lori and I sat down and were given a brief course as to the powers of the various items on the table. I kept hearing Love Potion #9 in my head. The shaman gave us each a blessing and showed us various amulets and products for everything to secure a happy marriage to safe travels and a herbal version of Viagra. There was also a little egg shaped god guaranteed to protect home and hearth. All that was required was a lit cigarette placed in its mouth once a year. Done properly, any intruder looking for a quick B and E will find himself lost in a trance, unable to get out. The spell can only be broken when the owner returns home and grabs the zombified thief by the wrist. For $20 I was ready to buy it and cancel our home insurance policy.
So we selected a few items and the time came to negotiate/pay. The shaman called out a price that immediately transformed me into a zombie, myself. He had these 4 shells that were used for currency in the old days. You’ve seen them sewn on breastplates of every African warrior in every Zulu vs the white guys movie you’ve ever seen. They looked like mini conch shells. Anyways, he rolled them three times. The final roll came up and two landed face down in the sand; two face up. Apparently in witchdoctorese this means final price. I would have none of that and explained through his interpreter that I, too, have some serious power imbued in me. I wanted to take a shot at those shells. There is an old and valuable adage in gambler’s parlance. “Never use your opponent’s dice”. I’m here to validate that platitude. After taking the 4 shells in my hand, offering them up to the two idols in the corner, I flung the shells backhand. They hit the dirt in a perfect vertical line – all four face down – the voodoo equivalent of snake eyes. I paid the man and walked away skinned.
A quick trip to yet another market, a farewell dinner with our guide and driver; some last minute drama with a lost cell phone; Benin awaits us tomorrow.