THE KAERU KID: Go, going, Ghana

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series.

Where? The lure of a fantastic low airfare offer and a chance to stay with couch surfers to save on accommodation costs hooked me, a sucker to travel anywhere I have not been before. A relatively expensive visa was required, as well as a yellow fever vaccination and a highly recommended malaria prophylaxis regimen.

Airlines such as United and Delta are now flying to this country. This must be an indication that financial conditions are improving, since there must be enough traffic to warrant the decision.

It should not be surprising to learn that a huge offshore oilfield was discovered there in 2007. The country was known as the Gold Coast in the past, and it remains one of the major producers of this metal. The name was changed to Ghana, meaning Warrior King, an honorary title given in the past to many tribal leaders. English is the official language, although locals commonly speak a local tongue.

There are more than 24 million people living in a country slightly less than the size of Oregon (it is estimated that Oregon’s population is less than four million) and located on the west coast of Africa just north of the equator. The religion breakdown is roughly 70 percent Christian, 15 percent Muslim and 10 percent traditional African religions. Evidence of active proselytizing by the various American Christian groups can be seen by the construction of their churches everywhere.

Some may be shocked to learn that the CIA was involved in a military coup that occurred in 1966.

My couch surfing host sent his friend to meet me at the airport. He was a welcome sight, since airports are always a bedlam stocked with many who are on the prowl for unwary travelers to fleece. His friend drove me to a clean but barebones place. It usually rented out rooms for $15, but was free for a couch surfer.

My couch surfer host said he arranged this place because he had relatives that arrived suddenly at his home. I contributed that low amount to the family that owned the place. Two other occupants were American medical students volunteering their services at a local clinic. I discovered there was no hot water.

My host joined us and we went on a tour of Accra, the capital of Ghana. We took a Tro-Tro, a Volkswagen minibus. During Ghana’s colonial days, the word tro referred to three pence. Prices haven’t changed much, and refer to the cost, which in our case was less than 20 cents. This type of transportation is very common in emerging countries where many types of vehicles are used to transport people.

In Ghana, there are no signs to indicate their destination, but many sport Christian religious slogans. Fortunately, my friends seemed to know the system. A detailed description of the tro-tros with photos can be seen at: http://bit.ly/9hN2tp.

I was startled to see young drivers with fancy cars. My host laughed and told me how teenagers are using the Internet as part of a dating scam, and are able to extract money from middle-aged foreigners. American men and women see beautiful women or handsome men advertising online and begin a correspondence. If the Americans want a Webcam to see an actual person, they are asked to send money so the scammer can buy one. The young men hire someone as they type away off camera. They induce the Americans to send money so they can come to visit. There even have been cases when Americans have actually come to Ghana to meet in person. Occasionally, the women learn enough to conduct the scams themselves, but most are done by the men, who use women surrogates. There are so many scams that a Webpage was established as a warning: http://ghana.usembassy.gov/romance_scam.html.

We continued to the beach, where one would expect to see prime real estate, but instead it was filthy, strewn with trash and slums lining the area. We stopped for drinks at a roadside stand, and attracted a drummer who performed for a tip. We strolled through the slums where Senegalese and Nigerian refugees lived. There was no sense of danger. We saw women cooking stew in huge pots and children running around playing in muddy streets. A handicraft market displayed goods nearby.

The majority of Ghanaians do not expect much benefit from the money being generated by the offshore oil discovery, as the large corporations and well-positioned politicians make the money. Education at the primary level is free, but higher education becomes too expensive for the majority.

The government provides health care and private insurance at a relatively low cost, but there are long waits and other problems accessing care. There are many traditional healers and their prescribed herbal remedies can be obtained at herb shops selling the bark of certain trees.

HOW DO THEY DO THAT? — The women balance large loads of goods on their heads. photo by the Kaeru Kid

I was amazed by the many women carrying large, heavy loads on their heads. They must have perfect posture, or their loads would not balance.

The many Chinese restaurants are indicative of the Chinese diaspora. There are a handful of Korean missionary churches, but not many Asians are seen on the streets.

I treated our group to a restaurant of their choice, a placed called Frankie’s, in the Osu area. The restaurant served chicken and Lebanese dishes. There were few customers and the food was of below average taste. My host complained that the quality had deteriorated and told me not to leave a tip.

The next day, the host’s friend offered to be my guide and we went by taxi to the National Museum of Ghana. It was very small, but had interesting exhibits.

Local stew called fufu. photo by the Kaeru Kid

We went to a typical Ghanaian “chop house,” and had fufu, a spicy soup containing a patty of starch made from pounded yam or cassava mixed with plantain.

Its look and consistency were much like a large mochi in a tomato soup with fish or a large crab. No utensils were provided, but a finger bowl was provided to keep fingers clean. It was tasty and very filling, but one experience was enough for me.

The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at KaeruKid@yahoo.com. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.


 Las Vegas Tidbits

Most Nikkei visitors to Las Vegas are familiar with the California Hotel and the Aloha Specialties Restaurant on the second floor, where tasty food is served for a bargain price. The same owner opened Ross J’s Aloha Grill, located at 4650 East Sunset Road, Suite A, Henderson, Nev., (702) 435-5600. The menu is similar to Aloha Specialties, with reasonable prices. Hawai‘i locals rave about the place.

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