Fish, bling, and Be Serious.

I mentioned in my last post that we woke up on our second day at 4am because of the roosters. True story. Actually, we woke up before sunrise on almost every day we traveled, largely because of the roosters. During our time in Somanya, I started to recognize some of their voices. Or at least I could distinguish between the soft, almost musical trills of the roosters with healthy throats and the stunted croaky crows which ended so abruptly I wondered if the bird had been throttled.

So we were awake early, and so were the students. The teachers were not allowed to teach while on strike (though they could conduct review sessions), but certain routines were still in place: the kids cleaned the campus litter before the day started, and the morning assembly still happened.

The students singing in unison- while in uniform- about the school. I wonder if this is a British thing, because it’s very similar to what I saw in China, and those schools are also heavily influenced by the British.

The girls’ daily uniforms were even more fantastic than their Sunday ones. A green print with the school’s logo. Most are sleeveless with a sort of boat neck, fitted waist, and A-line skirt that stops at the knees. I. Love. Them.

These girls were incredibly chatty and smiley- one of them has a sister named Jennifer, and the other one is named Rebecca! Ah! My Ghanaian sisters!- and they were thrilled to pose for this picture. Obviously. Matt told me that Ghanaians often do not smile for pictures. But I swear to you, they were really happy I wanted to take one of them.

We spent our second morning in Somanya visiting around. First, the Kitchen and Canteen Ladies. From the Canteen Ladies we bought breakfast, wachee.

Auntie Emma is next to Matt in this picture. In his words, she “claimed” him when he was teaching at Yikrosec. Many hugs from her.
The kitchen.

Making porridge.

Auntie Emma and her friend are making kenkey. More on this later.
Wachee!

Wachee is made of rice, beans, some garlic and tomatoes, and a few other things. You eat it with spaghetti noodles and a hard-boiled egg and in our case, some spicy pepe sauce. Voila! Breakfast. Eat slowly though- the beans are sifted apart from gravel, so every once in a while you might find a little rock in your wachee.

After breakfast, we really had no plans. At home, I’m not very good at No Plans. During our first weekend back, we did so much that we had to put all of our events on our Google calendar. All really fun and good stuff, but- a lot of stuff. So, to have no plans in Somanya was a-mazing.

Gabby had mentioned taking us to buy tilapia on the shore of the Volta, so after a mid-morning nap, we met him in the courtyard. He told us he’d ordered a taxi because Jay and Enam were coming with us and, he laughed, “You see how the boy likes to be on my lap when I drive! But the police do not like that very much.” While we waited in the shade, another teacher spotted Matt. She walked over with open arms and embraced us both. “Brother Matthew! You have grown bigger!” And to me: “How many times every day do you feed him?” Four, maybe five, I told her, and she laughed. She- one of the aunties- was headed to buy fabric for the students’ ceremonial Friday uniforms, and she was taking the school tro-tro. Did we want to ride along? So the taxi came and went and the five of us got into the school bus.

The drive was interesting and scenic. We were much higher up than the folks on the street and in other cars- lots of waving at the obruni. The streets of the three or four towns consecutive to Somanya are quite narrow and break off at odd angles. As a pedestrian, you are caught between the traffic that rushes by, whisper-close, and the moat-like trenches that edge all streets and most buildings. Driving in the school tro reminded me of that scene in HP3 when Harry rides the Knight Bus and it jumps the curbs and squeezes through impossible spaces. There is a rhythm and pattern to the traffic, but not knowing it, I was just generally astonished to pass other cars unscathed.

After we left the cities behind, we were treated to views of mango plantations and Mount Krobo.

We also saw piles of burning garbage, and kids playing in heaps and heaps of trash.


There is litter almost everywhere in Ghana, although some places, like the Yikrosec campus, make a concerted effort to clean it up. With no public trash cans, it is habit- tradition- to toss garbage on the ground or out the window, wherever you are. I couldn’t quite get used to that. I sometimes (cringing) threw my empty water sachets on the ground and I sometimes folded them up and tucked them in my purse or pocket. Being a litterbug in the States is one of those traits that makes me instantly suspicious of someone, like not “believing” in climate change or voting for Michele Bachmann. Or disliking cheese.

When we got to the factory, guards had to open the locked gate to let us in. There was a bronze placard out front with Chinese characters on it. The factory makes huge bolts of fabric, and the stuff we were picking up was personalized with Yikrosec’s name. While Auntie checked the order, the rest of us headed to the Volta Dam. We weren’t able to get any closer than a roadside vista, but it was massively impressive. The dam was built shortly after independence, and, as you might remember from my previous post, it powers all of Ghana and parts of neighboring countries, too.

No water running through that day- something was wrong with the turbines, which contributed to the several nights of “lights out” we would experience later.

The dam was cool, but the real star of our short trip was Enam. He spent all of Sunday afraid of us, but by Monday, he was openly flirting with me. He was still quite afraid of Matt, but he smiled and laughed when I pulled my sunglasses down to peek at him and he gave me high fives. Gabby calls him a “troublesome boy,” but he is delighted by everything Enam does. Gabby also told us that he loves being a father, and it is so true.


We picked up the fabric- huge people-sized bundles that rode in seats at the front of the tro-tro.

 

 

On our way back to Somanya, we took a detour and wound down a dirt road lined by huts and the Volta River. It was around noon and the sun was ferocious. Women with big silver bowls full of three-pound tilapia surrounded us. One had a baby strapped to her back with a wide swath of colorful fabric.


 

This woman is using a “two-yard” to carry her baby. Everyone has a two-yard. You can use them for so many functions! They can be towels, sheets, blankets, or baby carriers, among other things. Matt and I bought some at a tro-tro station about halfway through our trip. I am thinking about having mine made into a dress.

 

Jay bartered with the women while Matt and I found sachets of water. She bought 6 big tilapia for 40 cedis.

Another woman picked up a pair of sturdy scissors and started hacking away at the fish- the tails, the fins. She swiped roughly two or three times at the body and suddenly the scales were gone.


 Our driver had a few stops to make in town before we returned to school, and Jay and Gabby took advantage of the many street vendors who swarmed the tro-tro to treat us to some snacks.

Little dried shrimp-like things. Salty!

 


My absolute favorite snack! It was the only thing that ever really tasted cold. It’s basically soft serve in a bag- see the lower left corner where I’ve bitten it open? Mmm. So. Good.
Sandal shop by the side of the road.
A palm nut. Jay bought some of these to make us dinner.

After a nap in our airy, comfortable, humid bungalow, we traversed campus to Gabby and Jay’s house. Jay made banku in ground nut stew and okra stew. The okra stew is made with palm nut oil- it is bizarrely slimy. The stew clings to your banku and your fingers, but it’s tart and savory. She also grilled tilapia. It was a feast!

We were well into Guinness #2 when a woman came to the door. “HellopleasecanIcomein,” she asked while coming in the door. She was wearing a bright yellow peplum suit with a loud African print. She had with her a black canvas tote. Gabby said, “She is our friend and jewelry maker. Try on her things! Pick some out!”

I rinsed my hand off in the bucket between Matt and me and Yellow Peplum plopped a heavy stash of necklaces onto my lap, bound together with string.

Jay explained that women in Ghana pick out new jewelry based on what they are currently wearing- African women, she said, really like to match.

I tried on a few- one that Matt really liked, one that Gabby really liked (“It’s the most African!”), and one that I really liked but which ultimately ended up with Enam. I went home with the first two, and two pairs of earrings, and a bracelet. Matt also went home adorned with two necklaces and a bracelet- “You are a chief now!”- all compliments of Jay and Gabby. Seriously, those two are the best.

After dinner, it wasn’t quite dark yet, so we walked the one kilometer into town. We took a shortcut through a field hosting a few soccer games. The teams stopped to let us pass through. “Good evening, how are you?” “Good evening, we are fine.”

In town, we stopped first at Matt’s old haunt, the Be Serious Nightclub.

This is my Be Serious face.

The outside had been painted a different color, but inside, the lady behind the bar (and the bars- she was inside of a caged ticket booth-like structure with all of the liquor) recognized Matt from the days when he came in for a Cast-uhl and good enough cell phone reception to text home. We both received hugs, but my favorite reaction to Matt’s homecoming was from this tiny, wiry, bald man wearing a long-sleeved red and white print shirt with an over-sized collar (very Travolta), Desmond. Desmond saw Matt and walked through us like he was a starter for some big game, slapped the top of his head with two open palms, disbelievingly, then turned to face us and with his arms spread wide, pro-NBA style, took both us into a hug.

Be Serious is a dark little corner with maybe three tables and mini-fridge-sized speakers blasting out auto-tuned Hiplife. The only lights I could find in the place were in the cage and rotating from the ceiling- a single, multi-colored bulb. We were the only patrons in the bar. Desmond joined us for a beer. Afterwards, Matt told me that for a long time he thought Desmond was part owner of Be Serious, but now he’s pretty sure he’s just a drunk man who hangs out there every night.

After Be Serious, we walked carefully along the main street to find another spot Matt remembered. We ended up somewhere else, but it was cool enough to sit outside. Everything looked so different at night.

Outdoor fridge store at night.

It gets so dark in Ghana, so quickly, that by the time we were looking for fried dough balls and hailing a cab, I thought it was certainly midnight. When we got back to our bungalow, it was 8:45. Close enough.

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