Monday, September 12, 2011

Ghana, Togo, Benin

Every day is market day

Ghana gave us a different impression. Maybe it was wishful thinking, maybe we enjoyed hearing English. We drove until late, stopped at a village to ask the local Chief if we could camp, and made the best of a quarry before the rains came down. The next day brought us, again, down not so good roads to Kumasi, where the GPS led us twice through the market, fortunately just as the rains came down, so the crowds were leaving. Then we found ourselves stuck in a gigantic Eid celebration, and sat for a couple of hours trying to get out of a crowd that wanted to dance, sing, and have fun.
Accra traffic
Eventually we found the Presbyterian Guest House, took a room, and crashed out. The next morning our friends left, while we lazed about, got a telephone chip (Merlinda's had expired) and had it activated for 3G. Then we headed for the coast where we spent a few days just lazing at a few places we had heard of.
Beach scene near Accra

I wanted to change the air springs and restore the car to the original configuration, and so ventured into the Abossey Sokai market, where we spent two hours in various scrap dealers' shops, only to conclude that the part we need, or its equivalent, did not exist in Ghana. Another hour in a traffic jam trying to get to Shoprite, then an hour trying to get to the Art Centre left me a little drained, to say the least. From there it took os close on four hours to get back to Big Millies, where we camped, a distance of maybe twenty kilometers. Rome, move over! There is a bigger Eternal Traffic Jam!

What to say of Ghana? It took a lot of digesting, and we realise that we have barely scratched the surface. From the chaos of Accra to the self-sufficient villages in the hinterland there is a wide gulf, a difference that we find hard to grasp. And from people grasping to get some money from us, to some really nice, warm welcoming friends, we met a whole range of Ghanaians.
Reed rat anyone?
We were worried at the repeated requests, from policemen, for something, some bread, some water, a salary top-up, to outright demands for money. We found the acceptance of utterly chaotic traffic conditions strange. Ugandans would have reacted to the two- and three hour traffic jams by taking over the oncoming lanes, but in Ghana they sit and swelter, buy trinkets from ambulant sellers, call friends, and wait.

The diversity of cultures was also to us, as visitors, baffling. There are clear cultural divides, but we lacked the time to begin to understand them. And we lacked the time to begin to explore the history and the nature of this enigmatic country.
Fishing boats on the beach

Elmina castle, from where golkd, and later slaves were exported
Yet we came away with a sense of concern. Ghana seems to be bustling with energy, enterprise and potential. The education system leaves serious gaps: few shop assistants could work out our change without a calculator, almost nobody could give clear directions or estimate distances, and officials seem to have difficulty in copying details from a passport onto a form. Beautiful roads are being built, but the work seems to be done piecemeal, without planning. And many Ghanaians asked, very seriously, if they could join us to go to South Africa. Why would they want to leave this beautiful country?

We went north, past Lake Volta, and into the mountains. Magnificent scenery coupled with agricultural potential attracted us, and the idea of setting up a papaya farm here kept some of us thinking. Apparently foreign farmers are welcomed, even encouraged. Something to take further.
Benin village

From here we crossed into Togo, and through the back country roads to Benin. Here too agricultural potential and lack of development tickled our interest. We were told that foreigners could, with the agreement of the local 'collectivity' purchase land, and that agricultural development is actively supported by Government. Cotton facilities were to be seen, victims of American subsidies.

Fitting the 'bumpy rubbers'
And then we descended to the sea, to get ready for Nigeria. One of the jobs I had to do was to replace the rubber bumpers that were removed to fit the air springs, which are now on the roof. A Ghana modification of the springs, in effect a Dyna truck overload spring under the normal spring took its place, and we were finally able to get some 'bumpy rubbers' that would fit. However, I first had to drill out a bolt that had broken off inside the chassis, tap the hole again to repair the thread, and then mount the rubbers. At the same time I could inspect the chassis, and check on the front wheel bearings. All seemed Ok, except that the right rear brake was unscrewing the automatic adjusting mechanism again.
Togo, walking to market

Benin deserves much more attention than we gave it. It seemed to be thriving, bustling, busy. Soldiers and police waved us on, toll booth operators asked about our trip and wished us “bon voyage” and we were sorry that we would spend only a few nights, in transit to the border. We passed through rural villages, towns where there seemed to be a perpetual market, and cities that would rival any in Africa. The place seemed to be neat, relatively clean, and orderly, and the children we met were well behaved.

British soldiers, perhaps at the time of the slave trade, sang:

“Beware, beware the Bight of Benin!
Four comes out for every ten that go in!”

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