Friday, May 11, 2018

Wake up at 7.30 am to two surprises. First, I slept like a rock. And from the sound—or lack of it—from the next hour or so, so did everybody else. Good. We need to be rested for the trip to Wa, since there’s a graduation ceremony after an all-night bus ride. I’ve told the team that I’m not going to force them to attend if we arrive exhausted, but I’d really like them to experience the event—which, my experience tells me, you need to be awake to do.

The second surprise is that last night’s thunderstorm has turned into a steady rain. I’ve never had it rain while I was in Accra; I know it does rain here, of course, but we’ve always had bright sun for our souvenir shopping and general exploring. Some weather sites show it turning scattered by midmorning, others by about the time we head for the bus station. We’ll see. Wouldn’t hurt the crew to just stay inside and recover from a night and day of travel. But I’m going to need to venture out to get some breakfast supplies and another infusion of cedis to cover our initial expenses here—taxis, lodging, food, bus ride. Good thing I brought an umbrella. My wife reminded me on the way out the door, and I was pleased to be able to tell her that I’d already thought of it.

The rain has lowered the temp significantly, a good thing. But that also means that the cold shower isn’t quite as refreshing as it would normally be. James told us last night that they have the water heater turned on, but because of the high price of electricity here, I’m encouraging the crew to use only what’s necessary, and anything that heats pulls a lot of wattage.

So, yeah, I’m really awake now, even though nobody else is.

Time to go get stuff for breakfast. I walk down Abebrese St. to Oxford, which is kind of the main drag here in Osu, and head north. There’s a whole string of ATMs here, and while the up-itude of any single one is iffy, there’s always one or two that will yield. I try the first one and it appears to be up but denies me. Hmmm. I wonder if this morning is too soon after the withdrawal at the airport last night. I can wait until later in the day, when the whole crew is back here; I have more than enough local currency to pick up breakfast. I head back in the direction of the house, which will take me past Lara Mart for breakfast supplies. I pass a Forex, and it’s open, so I decide to convert some dollars rather than wait for the ATM. Africa is all about flexibility, being ready for several eventualities, and working Plan B or C or whatever else will work.

Back to Lara Mart. Don’t see any finger bananas; that’s a shame, since I want to get the kids hooked on those as soon as possible. Once you’ve had African fruit, you’ll never be happy with American fruit again. Well, except for green grapes. But that’s all.

Anyway, I get a box of Fruit & Fibre cereal—that can’t hurt—and a box of shelf-stable milk, and a box of Digestive biscuits for the bus ride. They use British terminology here, and cookies are biscuits. Digestive is a well-known brand throughout the old Commonwealth. Not fresh baked snickerdoodles, but they’ll do.

Back at the house, several are up and already making coffee. I ask if they used tap water to make it, and they make my aging heart rejoice by saying “No.” Good for them. They’re thinking the way they need to.

By the time we finish our cereal, everybody’s up, so when we get the dishes done, we talk about the morning’s activity, shopping back down on Oxford Street. I tell them about the very aggressive hawkers and some of the tricks they use. Shortly after 11 we head out.

We retrace my steps from this morning, continuing down Oxford to where the shop stalls are. It’s slightly spitting rain now, not enough to need an umbrella, but apparently enough to keep the hawkers home. The stalls have a proprietor in each, but there’s none of the frenetic sidewalk harassment that usually characterizes the place. We look through the shops, filled with clothes, purses, jewelry, wood carvings, and a few other sorts of things. Everybody but me buys something, but I won’t spoil any surprises. The richness and color and variety of the African fabrics are highly distinctive. I saw a backpack that I nearly bought, but why would I need a second backpack?

About noon we head back and stop at Papaye Chicken for lunch. We sit upstairs in the nicely air-conditioned dining area, filled with padded plastic seats in yellow and red, very reminiscent of McDonald’s. Their specialty is roasted or fried chicken, and we all get variations thereupon. For beverages they have Alvaro, a fruit soda; and Malta, a malt soft drink that Americans typically either hate or love; to me it tastes like molasses soda. I get passion fruit Alvaro, and several follow my example, while a few get Malta. I suspect they won’t like it, but I understand and admire their desire to try something different.

The food is plentiful and delicious. At the end of the meal I poll the Malta drinkers. Like it? Well, um, not so much. Wouldn’t get it again. I thought so.

Back to the house at 1.20 pm for the 2 pm scheduled pickup. Paul, our driver, is already there, and he’d like to get going because of traffic. Probably a good idea, though we both know that the bus is often late leaving and you end up sitting around the station for pretty much ever. But that’s better than missing the bus.

So a round of bathroom stops, check that we have water, and down the stairs we go with the luggage. It’s stop and go pretty much all the way to the VIP terminal at Nkrumah Circle, but we get there in plenty of time. I find the right bus and pay to have our baggage loaded. Talk him down in price enough that we effectively get one bag free, and we still part friends. I feel pretty good about that.

Then into the terminal to wait until the bus is called. I expect that to take more than an hour. We find as many as three seats together, so we’re not all together but well within sight. The place is crowded with passengers and baggage and crying babies—I don’t blame them; I’d cry too—and there’s a TV on the wall blaring prosperity gospel, with lots of people pretending to be happy and excited and all that. PG is a significant problem across the continent. You’d think after a while that the locals would realize that they’re not getting any richer for all the giving and shouting and praying, but they keep trying. Like people everywhere.

Cam and Brigitta start entertaining a little boy about 2 or 3. He takes a great interest in Cam’s cap, and he seems delighted when Cam picks him up and tosses him in the air. Soon he’s Cam’s best friend, and he doesn’t want to go back to his mother. Hoo boy. This could turn into an international incident if we’re not careful. But eventually they call our bus to board, and we head out, leaving the little boy with his mother. And with Cam’s cap.

I suppose that in 5 years I’ll be taking a team into Ghana and I’ll see this 8-year-old boy wearing a well-worn (by then) Hampton Park cap. You never know.

We sit on the bus for quite a while, waiting for baggage loading to finish, and for the bus in front of us to move out. We finally get started about 4.30, heading north and west out of Accra. We have daylight for the first few hours, so the crew can get a sense of the countryside. But we’re closer to the equator than in Greenville, and it’s dark by 7.30. (The closer you get to the equator, the less the daylight changes from season to season. On the equator, days and nights are 12 hours all year long.)

They play a movie on a TV above the windshield. It’s in a Ghanaian language—there are 85 of them; I assume this is in Twi, which dominates around the capital—and the acting is, um, distracting—they seem to think that the best actors move their hands in rhythm with their speech—and it’s mostly people sitting and talking, and occasionally shouting, and the camera guys don’t seem to have much of a sense of composition, so watching it isn’t really what I’d call intense or aesthetically pleasing. Most of us doze until about 7.30, when we pull into a truck stop sort of place, called Linda Dor, with toilets, a hotel, and several restaurants. You have to pay about 10 cents to use the facilities—definitely worth it—so I shepherd everybody in there—ladies to left, gents to the right—and have Cam wait for the girls while I run up to a takeaway joint and get baked chicken and rice boxes, not that different from what we had at Papaye for  lunch. For 104 cedis, about $25, all 8 of us get a piece of chicken and all the vegetable fried rice we can eat. We eat it on the bus since the driver doesn’t want to wait, and I don’t blame them.

On into the night. It’s a coach bus, 2 seats on the left and 1 on the right. Brigitta and I have solo seats, and the other six are in pairs and in conversation—Audrey and Kaitlyn, Karen and Flavia, Cam and Lauren. By 8.15 3 or 4 of ‘em are fully reclined and asleep—the seats recline waaaay back, unlike those ridiculous airline seats. They usually play movies or music All. Night. Long, so we’ll see if we get any decent sleep.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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