Travel in Ghana

Monday, May 29, 2006

Welcome Message

Welcome to the Travel in Ghana blog!

This is the travel journal of Jefferson Shirley and Lauren Hall-Lew for the Summer of 2005. It chronicles our 9 weeks traveling through Ghana. We returned to the U.S. in September 2005, and we are no longer updating this blog. But please feel free to read our posts, and to leave us comments, or to send us email ( We'd appreciate getting in touch with you.


Monday, September 12, 2005

Leaving Accra, Stumbling through Ireland, & Going Home

Our last two days in Accra were spent with family. The images in my head are of packing and unpacking and packing again, of sitting in Jefferson’s uncle’s living room watching TV and listening to his sister and their younger female cousins laughing about everything, and of driving around town on various errands with Jefferson’s cousin, K, at the wheel. I took note of one particularly clever sign that we passed by at some point; it was a mobile phone store by the name of “Frank-‘O’-Phone.” Cute.

The 8 days that followed were like one long journey home, decorated strangely with a colorful youth hostel in Dublin and a double-decker bus tour in Belfast, among other Irish things. Mostly, I remember being tired, being at lots of airports and lots of planes, and wanting to go home. It’s confusing to re-enter Western culture in a country where everyone drives on the wrong side of the road. But at least Irish folks have really cool accents.

My coming home welcome was a head-cold. This was not surprising, but it undermined all my “as-soon-as-I-get-home-I’ll…” plans. The good news was that Geordi remembered us, and has even matured over the summer, now (almost) letting us sleep through the night (jet-lag is a different story). And I see my town, my apartment, and my life with new eyes. Which, I suppose, is the point of travel.

The streets seem unnecessarily wide. The sidewalks seem empty. Everyone’s clothing seems flat and inexpressive. I don’t know how to describe it, but people’s eyes seem to look inward, like their vision stops about two feet in front of their noses (e.g., at their laptops). I’m not saying that Ghanaians are always staring off into the distance, but that there’s a sense that their regular field of vision covers a wider space. A space beyond themselves; a more communal space. Or, maybe I’m just surprised that people don’t stare at me all the time anymore.

As I type this I’m at the local café that we always go to, drinking the coffee I always get, sitting at the table we always sit at. Doing the things I missed about home. At the same time, I already miss Ghana, and I’m looking forward to going back. Travel reminds us of life’s balance, enjoying where you’re at, dreaming of where you could be.

Twins, Ofori, and Pictures

We are back home in Mountain View, California; jet-lagged, but preparing to get back into the swing of life here.

I want to touch on some wrapping up issues, that resulted from comments made on the blog and email i received over the past couple of months.

The Twins Post

First, the twins post. For those of you who asked, I am both people in the picture (if you notice, both of me is wearing the same pair of shorts). It came about on an evening when Lauren was doing work, and out of boredom, I started playing with my camera. We thought it was so cool, that a few days later this picture was taken:

Ofori Amponsah

A couple people asked me what this song was that was so popular in Ghana over the summer. In our last few days in Accra, I spoke to a few CD vendors and learned that the singer was Ofori Amponsah and the song was Otoolege. No one seemed to have the CD for sale, so I ended up getting it online.

If you want to see the music video, go here. (The connection may not be the best).

Finally, our pictures

We spent much of this past weekend posting pictures from our trip (we have about 150 of our over 400 Ghana photos posted). Here are the Ghana pictures and here are the Ireland pictures. If you have any problems viewing these, email me at

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Leaving Ghana

I would like to begin by thanking all of you for reading what we have had to say. It means a lot to me to know that people out there have taken time of their day to read our (sometimes rambling) thoughts on Ghana.

I want my last post to be about my Africaness, and not necessarily about anything from this trip. My blood, my face, and my name are part African, and I've always (even when I've heard degrading comments about the continent) been very proud of that.

My Blood

I have more family in Ghana than anywhere in the world. I probably have more family in Koforidua than anywhere in the world. I met relatives on this trip who I didn't know I had, and whose names I won't remember. In Ghana, every relative becomes your brother, or sister. It's kind of cool (except when they remember me, but I have no idea who they are).

I also recently learned that I probably have "brothers" and "sisters" in Winneba and Anomabu (although I didn't meet any of them). Having blood-roots is a cool thing; having blood roots all over southern Ghana is even cooler.

My Face

I've always thought I looked more like my mother than my father, so it surprised me the number of times people said I looked like my father (someone even mentioned how my toes look like my father's, because they point up). I found myself looking at a picture of myself and saying "I kind of look like my dad in this picture".

It has been hard to convince people here that I am African. I've had people tell me I was lying, after I told them I was born in Nigeria (why would anyone lie about being born in Nigeria - some Nigerians don't admit to being Nigerian).

I still think I look more like my mother than my father, and I know I have Africa in my face.

My Name

"Kodwo-Kodwo". This is a common greeting from my older sister. Growing up in Nigeria, everyone called me by my middle name, Kodwo (pronounced sort of like kuudjo). On my very first day of school, we were asked to write our names, and I wrote "Kodwo". The teacher got mad at me for not writing Jefferson (which I don't think I even knew how to spell at the time).

I still feel more like a Kodwo than a Jefferson (or a Jeff). Jefferson has always felt like a title to me, more than a name. I use Kodwo in everything (several email addresses and my license plate come to mind). I would go by Kodwo more, but I find that almost no one I've met in the U.S. can pronounce it to my satisfaction.

I've enjoyed going through this trip, responding to the question "what is your name?" with the answer "Kodwo".

Final Thoughts

I realize this is the 11th time I have "left" Africa. We came to the U.S. every other year in my childhood, and I've been back to Africa several times since moving out of Nigeria.

Leaving Africa is difficult, because on one hand I feel like this is home, but on the other, I feel like this is not where I belong anymore. Even though I leave Africa, I never really leave Africa.

I would like to end my post with a quote by Ken Wiwa. The quote is from a wonderful book, In the Shadow of a Saint (it's on our bookshelf, if anyone wants to read it) about his father, Ken-Saro Wiwa, who was a Nigerian political dissident, executed in 1995. I think this quote helps describes how I feel about leaving, and how I feel about my Africaness.

"I can never leave Africa. It is in my blood, in my face, in my name."

Monday, August 29, 2005

Accra, Take II

Tomorrow morning we're meeting Affie and going to Mr. Ayisi (Jefferson's uncle)'s house, to get our things together and get ready for the trip to Ireland (and home). So, although we don't leave until Wednesday evening, today was effectively our last day on our own in Ghana.

We've had a busy time since arriving in Accra, which you might have guessed from the lack of blogposts (despite the extraordinarily good internet access). On Wednesday we arrived in the afternoon and checked into what our guidebook said was a "clean, little guesthouse" but what turned out to be a dark, dingy, sketchy place with a toilet tank that leaked and flooded the floor (what little floor there was). There were also more mosquitoes than we've yet encountered in Ghana. Wednesday was therefore spent trying to find another hotel, which we went to first thing Thursday morning. This one cost us more than twice as much as the first, but was only marginally better (the toilet didn't leak). We stayed there until Sunday, when we moved to our present location - a wonderful, spacious hotel room (clean!) with A/C and a TV, costing less than the previous place! This one's not in the guidebook, so we're going to write the author. And that's been the tiresome adventure of hunting for affordable hotels in Accra.

Accra is not pretty. The buildings, the streets, the trees and plants... they all seem to be hiding behind a layer of smog and dirt and blinding sun (the air turned a subtle grey/beige). It was a rude awakening from our quaint and quiet Winneba. But Accra has some charm, and I'm starting to see it and even enjoy it. One thing is taking the public transportation. I remember thinking when I first arrived that Accra should have a subway system, but that was because we were only taking expensive taxis and we hadn't really learned the tro-tro system. I actually think it's fun to go to the tro-tro stops (and to know where they are!) and to listen to the tro-tro's destinations as they're yelled out by the 'conductor' (and to recognize what they're saying!) and to squeeze in with all the other people and to arrive at our destination having paid only 1,000 cedis each (11.5 US cents). It's fun in that satisfying way that solving a tricky math puzzle is fun, except you end up breathing a little more engine exhaust.

Some other things we've done this week: gone back to Legon and done more research, had lunch with the well-known Professor Kwesi Yankah (top specialist in Fante ethnography), and gone shopping and shopping and shopping (and walking and walking to get there). The highlight - who'd have guessed?? - was getting a full-body massage at the local "Beijing Clinic" (just me, not Jefferson). The masseuse wasn't Chinese but a hefty Ghanaian woman. It was by far a better massage than the one I got in Lijiang, China (my friends who were there remember my tears from that one)! And the masseuse did most of the massage with only one hand, sometimes while the other hand held her active cell phone. I swear the massage wasn't compromised one bit.

Finally, The Story of the T-shirt (it's kinda long and self-indulgent, really).

I have this plain-looking T-shirt that I bought a couple of years ago in San Francisco Chinatown. I had two of these shirts (they were pretty cheap, so I bought one as a future gift for someone). I never knew who to give it to, so I brought both of them to Ghana, planning to give both. I gave one to this guy who's staying at Affie's house in Koforidua, to thank him for fixing the zipper on Jefferson's old backpack and for fixing the zipper on my pair of jeans. So then I was left with the second, identical, shirt. I kept thinking that I'd meet someone along the way who I'd end up being friends with or who I'd end up working on my linguistics project with, and that I'd give them the shirt. But it never really happened, for one reason or another (I brought lots of other gifts, which I think are nicer or smaller, and so I gave all of those away first). So we came to Accra and I thought I'd just give the shirt to someone who looked like they really needed it. But there's something odd about just walking up to someone you don't know at all and giving them a shirt, right?

So. Today being our last day in Accra I took the shirt in my backpack when we went out. We'd been out most of the day and it was about 4:30pm and we were heading back to the hotel. We were walking through a busy intersection where yesterday two young 'white' boys (Iranian? Iraqi?) had followed us, begging and taking me by the elbow in such a way that they felt more like little nephews than kids who were begging. We didn't give them anything, though. Today as we were approaching the intersection I saw a taller, skinny girl, older than the boys (probably their sister), standing and begging. She didn't speak any English or Twi (and my Arabic is limited to three or four phrases), so I took out the shirt and pointed and it and pointed at her and gestured in a "What-do-you-think?" kind of way. Now you may have your own judgments about what and how to give and not to give to people who beg on street corners, but I have to tell you that this girl's smile completely lit up my little part of Accra and utterly made my day.

Time to leave on Ghana. Jefferson's blog does a much better job of wrapping up our trip than I could. It's been fun, yet frustrating; an escape, yet a constant challenge; and lengthy, yet over too soon. I think I'm a bit too absorbed in packing, etc., to really reflect. You can also expect at least one post after we get back to the US, as well as an announcement of our online Ghana photos page. So, stay tuned!


So the trip is coming to an end (at least the Ghana portion of the trip).

This is the longest amount of time that I have spent in Ghana, as far as I can remember, and I think I have learned a lot. I also have things to look forward to in future trips.

What have I learned? I've learned the touristy things, like taking pictures without looking in the direction of the subject of the photo. I've learned that if people act like they are an authority figure (by saying things like pictures are not allowed in very public places), they probably have no authority whatsoever.

I've also learned some things about myself. My ability to understand Twi (and to an extent Fante) is greater than I thought. I found myself overhearing conversations in taxis and tro-tros all the time. My ability to speak the language is also greater than I thought (although I still find myself not speaking as much as I could). I was proud of myself for going through two sales transactions, in Winneba, without using any English, except the word "juice". That was pretty cool.

I could also say I've learned that people everywhere are similar, and all that cheesy stuff, but no one cares about that.

Being that I have more family in Ghana than any other place in the world, I will be back again (I'm hoping for a summer 2007 trip). When I do come back I want to do things slightly differently.

I don't want to spend much time in Accra in the future. Accra is a good tourist's city, not because there is a lot to see, but because most people speak English, and you see non-Ghanaians everywhere. Accra is "safe". By "safe", I mean that you can get by being just a regular American. I don't like that; there is something to be said about being the only foreigner around, and having to struggle through language barriers to do something as simple as buy juice.

Another thing I want to do is go North. On this trip, we spent all of our time in the southern third of Ghana. As someone who spent his first 12 years of life in Northern Nigeria, I would like to see what Northern Ghana is like. Bolgatanga is a city so far North, it's almost in Burkina Faso. I like to call Bolgatanga, Ghanatopia, my mythical fantasy that will bring me back to Ghana (that, and of course, my family). I have no idea what's in Bolgatanga (if anything), but I just like saying it; Bolgatanga, Bolgatanga, Bolgatanga!!!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Accra and the Handsnapshake

Accra doesn't seem so great this second time around. It just seems like a big city with not a lot of character. I don't feel like it's defined the way Winneba (the fishing city), or Cape Coast (the fishing and slave castle city), or even Kumasi (the cosmopolitan city) are. It's just this big, exhaust filled, city. It's funny, because I didn't feel that way when we were here 7-8 weeks ago. After seeing the other cities of Southern Ghana, Accra is somewhat of a letdown.

So we were walking tonight, and there was a guy dancing in the street. Really dancing. His whole body was moving, and everyone was watching him. He wasn't crazy (he looked like a clean cut guy, in a shirt and tie, on his way home from work). He was dancing to a song that I think I've heard at least once a day on this trip (some days, it's 3-4 times). I really want to find the CD this song is on, because this song, to me, is Ghana in the summer of 2005. Not because the lyrics are meaningful (they probably have about as much meaning as I Want it That Way by the Backstreet Boys - if anyone can explain to me what that song is about, I'd love to know), but it's just everywhere. It's Ghana in the summer of 2005.

I remember being in Ghana in 1997. There was this handshake that I got for the first time, in Ghana, and I thought it was odd. At the very end of the handshake, as your palms are sliding apart, you squeeze each other's middle finger with your thumb, and the handshake ends with a snap of your (and their) fingers.

Until this trip, I thought people were shaking hands that way to be cool. That's not the case (or maybe everyone in Ghana is trying to be cool). Today, I met a professor at The University of Ghana, Legon, and he did the shake. It struck me as odd that a distinguished professor would do a "cool hipster" kind of handshake. It's interesting that something I find odd is so commonplace in all of Ghana. That's what's so great about culture.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Our Posts from Winneba

What follows are a series of blogs that we wrote while in Winneba. Our email service was, as predicted, pretty atrocious, and so we blogged on Jefferson's computer and are posting these blogs now, in Accra, back-dated and time stamped to when we wrote them. Nerdy, yes, but it's better than one big blog post! Now we're in Accra, and once you get through reading a week's worth of two people's blogposts, stay tuned for more exciting adventures!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

G'bye, Winneba!

Our last day in Winneba was a pretty productive one! Among other things I decided to visit the Phonetics Lab anyway, without the Professor, and I ended up meeting three phonetics graduate students who were all working on vowel analyses of their own languages (Ewe and two others I'm not familiar with). There's something very cool about being able to meet people and instantly 'talk shop' with them. It seems that no matter where I go, phonetics grad students will always be my kin! When I left we all exchanged email addresses. By far, the biggest perk about studying Akan in Ghana rather than in the U.S. is my happily expanding number of personal/professional connections.

So today I said goodbye to the few 'friends' I've made here, or at least the people that we see regularly and exchange greetings with. We took a long walk around town and I took a bunch of new pictures of quiet fishing boats and boys playing soccer at the beach. Today's Tuesday, so (as you know if you've been reading this blog) the boats were quietly anchored today, giving the town a different feel seaside.

Tomorrow we go to Accra, which will be a really short trip, if all goes well. I'm hoping to even visit the University at Legon tomorrow, if we have time, to try to get in contact with another two phonology professors before we leave Ghana (in one week)! I'm also seriously looking forward to going to the used bookstore where I know they sell The Cider House Rules, so I can finally finish the last 100+ pages of that novel (it's such an awesome book, the one month hiatus is driving me crazy... see my earlier Koforidua blogs if you don't know what I'm talking about). And finally, it's time to do some serious gift shopping! I've been waiting until Accra to buy most things, unless they were at a great price or seemed unique to the area, just to keep our luggage light. But the coming week is going to be all about Kaneshie Market. This is your last chance to put in gift requests. :-)

By the way, if you've just read Jefferson's post from today, he makes reference to liking Ghanaian TV commercials. My favorite so far is the one for "Angel's Herbal Mixture" which in the Ghanaian accent sounds to my American ear like "Angel's Hairball Mixture". Yum!

The Gecko, the Spartan, and the TV watchman

We have had a gecko in our shower for the past few days (and no, it does not work for Geico). We think it's stuck, and can't figure out how to get out. I gave it some bread today (I don't want it to die of starvation), but a crumb hit it, and it scampered off into another corner of the shower.

I ran into a guy wearing a Michigan State T-shirt yesterday (for those of you who don't know, I went to MSU). I had mentioned earlier in the trip that if I saw someone wearing a MSU shirt, I would take a picture with them. I was so thrown by seeing the shirt that I forgot about the picture. I don't think he really got that I went to Michigan State (I don't even know if he figured out that Michigan State is a university), because he just seemed so happy to interact with the foreigner with the "rasta" hair. We ran into him again today and he said "Rasta, I love you". I don't really know what to say to that - "thanks?"

I got caught up in a Ghanaian TV movie (Divine Love) the other night. Ghanaian TV production has a long way to go. The sound was awful (you could hear almost nothing that was said when people were outside), and the acting was not definitely not Oscar-worthy. The story was nothing spectacular either, as things happened way too quickly, and what we thought was a big turning point in the movie was never even seen by the audience. There were two characters that were supposed to be American. Both of them were about my skin tone, and neither had an American sounding accent, but some kind of mixture of West African English and some non-West African kind of English. I told Lauren that I should get a job as an actor on Ghanaian productions, and could be trotted out anytime they want an American. Even though I bashed the movie, I was still suckered into watching it for 2 hours on a Sunday evening. I also have grown to like some of the commercials, singing the jingles as we walk around town. Yes, that is what I have come to - watching Ghanaian TV, and loving it!