Travel in Ghana

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!

Monday, August 22, 2005

A trip to Agona-Swedru

Well, the downside to having the head of the Phonetics Lab double as the Pro Vice-Chancellor of the entire University is that sometimes things come up which are more important than the Phonetics Lab; especially on the first day of school! Alas, I didn't get my tour of the lab (nor did I get to meet any grad students) because of some problems organizing their freshman orientation (Fun Fact: here, "Freshmen" are called "Freshers"). But on the upside, I had a long meeting this afternoon with the Fante phonologist Dr. Emmanuel Abakah, who if I haven't mentioned before has been a great help even before we came to Ghana. He even gave me a copy of his dissertation! Another loosely related fun fact is that a lot of men here seem to have the Christian names "Emmanuel" or "Ebenezer."

Yesterday we went to Agona-Swedru, for something new to see. There weren't any tourists there, and it seems that there wouldn't be anything to attract them; we walked around awhile and bought some food but there wasn't a whole lot that made Swedru stand out as a unique Ghanaian city. To me, it seemed like a cross between Koforidua (in size and bustle) and Winneba (it's only about half an hour inland from Winneba). I'd thought about collecting data there since the Agona area is known for its interesting dialect features, but a professor here at Winneba told me that Swedru is so cosmopolitan that everyone speaks Fante, and to my novice ear, that did seem true. More than that, though, is that I find it much harder to approach people in towns where I haven't spent any time (like Anomabo) than towns where I see the same people day after day (like Winneba). Winneba is nice that way, but it's a pretty small place. We're definitely ready to get to Accra!

Saturday, August 20, 2005


Most mornings in Winneba we wake to the distant sounds of the local police academy having their target practice. It seems that they start around 7am and go a couple hours. The first time we heard them we thought that we were hearing firecrackers, but today we took a walk along a dirt road that follows the coastline, and it brought us to the "Police Clinic" and the target practice in action. Luckily, the gunshots aren't so loud as to wake us up in the morning.

So today I collected speech data from my 23rd informant, a 14-year-old girl who first talked to me by asking: "Please, I want to be your friend." This seems to be a common phrase that people in Winneba use with Obronis, although we hadn't gotten much of it in other parts of Ghana. Interestingly, this was the most common phrase that students at Yunnan Normal University (in Kunming, China, where I spent a semester) would use with foreigners. Unfortunately, actually becoming friends with the person is a different matter. I think this same girl thought that I was a new student at the university here, and seemed disappointed to hear that I was leaving on Wednesday. On the other hand, we sat with her at a Spot for about half an hour, and conversation wasn't exactly easy. I guess I'm just not 14 anymore!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Celine Dion and Bread

What's the deal with Celine Dion?

I have heard more Celine Dion than any person needs to listen to in one lifetime, on this trip. I'm not just talking about Titanic "near far, wherever you are" stuff. I'm talking about the entire Celine Dion catalogue. She is played on ads on TV, and at the bar that is attached to our hotel. The other day she was being played at a "spot" (a place that serves drinks and small food), and the kid working there was singing along (he was an adolescent boy), to every song. We also ran into a guy who said he was a boxer, who wanted to box in Miami, Michigan, or Arizona (don't ask me why he chose those locations). After telling me this, he asked me if I knew who Celine Dion was. I said I did, and he seemed pleased to hear that.

Ghanaian Bread is the Bestest

The white bread in Ghana is far superior to any white bread I've had in the United States. It's almost always locally produced (my aunt runs a bakery out of my mom's house in Koforidua), and tastes awesome. The only bread I can think of that even comes remotely close to Ghanaian bread is Shepard's Bread, from Trader Joe's (yes, I'm plugging Trader Joe's on this blog).

Ghanaian white bread comes in two varieties: sweet bread and tea bread (not-so-sweet bread). I've always been a sweet bread man, myself. Anyone who knows of my baking, knows I have a sweet tooth (if you don't know this, you have never tasted my banana, pumpkin, strawberry, or banana chocolate breads). Today, however, I tasted the best tea bread I've ever tasted (sorry, Aunt Esther, but this stuff is better than yours). It might be the best thing about Winneba!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Am I a tourist or not?

I don't feel like a tourist, but I also don't feel like I live here. We're in that in between.

If we had stayed 9 weeks in one place, I would feel like I was a part of the community, but with a week here, a couple of weeks there, I don't feel that. I also don't feel like a tourist, and get tired of people telling me how to get a taxi, that Ghana has mosquitoes, and have I tried fufu (the next time someone younger than me asks if I've tried fufu, I'm going to ask them how old they are and respond by saying I've been eating fufu longer than they have been alive). I realize that people who tell us these things are just trying to be nice, but it does get tiring. The longer the trip goes, the more I wish I looked more Ghanaian, because then I might not get as much of this sort of thing.

There are things in Ghana I like doing, that I don't like doing at home. I've grown to really like taking bucket baths. We have a working shower in this hotel, but I find myself not using it. Bucket baths remind me of my childhood in Nigeria. I don't remember taking showers in Nigeria.

I also (unbelievably) like washing my clothes by hand. I wash every other evening (Lauren washes her stuff on my off days). I wouldn't want to wash a week's worth of laundry every seven days, but washing two days worth of stuff is (almost) a relaxing end-of-the-day activity. I had to break out my "third shirt" today. For the past several weeks, I've been able to get by with just two shirts. Due to my every-other-evening washings, and because things dried so fast in Cape Coast, I was able to wash two shirts in the evening, and wear one of them the next morning. Alas, that is not the case in Winneba, and today I had to wear something different (I should mention that I do have more than three shirts on this trip), but these three were pegged as shirts I didn't want anymore (although I've grown to really like one of them) and could give away to someone needy, when we left Ghana.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Linguistic things and Boat-watching

(Linguists: read Jefferson's blog first.) So how do these kids get "kaawuu" from "How are you?" That's a fun one for y'all linguisticky types. In addition to the /ka:wu:/ or /ka:lu:/ pronunciation, keep in mind that the final /u:/ is nasalized. (This could be a fun job, finding the explanation for certain English L2 pronunciations by young Fante L1 speakers whose only overt competence in English consists of the sentences (1) How are you, (2) I'm fine, (3) What is your name, and (4) My name is so-and-so.) In any case, the amplitude of the children's vocalizations is so extremely loud and overlapping that collecting good acoustic data is out of the question!

There's another little linguistic thing that I've been meaning to write about: in Ghanaian English, the verb "to back" comes from the noun that refers to that part of the human body... and the only object that this verb takes is "a baby." So the sentence "Ama is backing Kofi" means that Kofi is a baby or toddler and Ama is a person old enough to carry him on her back, which she's doing. It seems that anyone can back a baby as long as they themselves are proficient at walking; we've seen kids as young as 6 or 7 backing their little siblings. The cutest thing EVER is to see a little toddler backing his or her teddy bear.

Today was a neat day! Despite the craziness of the fishing/market area, we were able to step a little bit off the road and hang out near the beach, watching the boats coming in and going out to sea. We haven't before seen so many of them in action at one time, up close. I didn't realize until today that these magnificently rustic wooden boats, which are carved mainly out of one huge tree trunk, are powered by your everyday boat motor. This makes a lot of sense; those Gulf of Guinea waves are something else! We also saw sailboats in the distance, but we haven't yet seen any up close. They look really small, so if they're for fishing then they're probably independent ventures, whereas these big tree trunk boats hold 5 or 6 fishermen comfortably. Apparently watching the fishermen do there thing is a tourist activity that's not limited to foreigners; the whole time we were there we were near a small group of Ghanaian men wearing dress shirts and slacks and carrying plastic expandable folders, pointing at the various boats doing various things and having an animated conversation. Inlanders, I suppose!

In Winneba

We are in Winneba. This is our 2nd to last stop in Ghana (we have to go back to Accra to fly out of the country). Apparently, my grandfather was from Winneba - I found that out on Sunday, from my mother. I feel like I know very little about my Ghanaian roots.

We went to the fishing harbor today. There were pigs on the beach (but they were not in blankets - bad joke, I know, but my dad will appreciate it, if no one else does). Seeing pigs on a beach is just odd. The harbor area was so packed. People everywhere, and kids screaming "obroni, kaawuu?" This is some mangled version of "Obroni, how are you?" It just goes to show how few tourists come here - the kids don't even know the right way to harass us!

We have not been harassed by adults much, since we got to Winneba. I don't know if this means they don't know what to say to tourists (because they never see them), or they just don't care. I hope they just don't care. This is very different from Cape Coast, where I could not get through a meal at a particular restaurant without someone coming up and wanting to give me a "brother"-ly hand shake. Mind you, these same people did not bother any other people, no matter their race, just the guy with the dreadlocks.

When we were in Akropong, a woman thought we were brother and sister. Today, a woman saw us and said "Twins?" Twins?!?!?! Twins?!?!?! Now I know that there are people out there who say that anybody who is of a different ethnicity looks alike, but twins? Give me a break. I've already covered the subject of twins on this blog - it's here.

We're in Winneba

We got to Winneba a couple of days ago. We are here until the 24th of August.

It's a little rough to get to, as the town is off of the main road between Cape Coast and Accra. We had to tell the driver to drop us off a particular junction, and then take a taxi into town.

Winneba seems more "real". There are less tourists here, and not as many people seem to speak English. There are good and bad points about that, as you can probably imagine.

Lauren has had more success here in meeting with Professors than she did at Legon and Cape Coast. Yay!!!

We may not blog too much while we are here. The internet connection is not always reliable, and we haven't figured out if we can use our flash drive (which is where we write most of our blogs and save our pictures) in the lab here. We plan on saving our thoughts, and posting a number of blogs when we get to Accra.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Welcome to Winneba

Here we are at Winneba! We're staying at a lovely hotel at the quiet south-end of the campus of the University of Education. Actually almost all of town is quiet, so that's not saying much. But compared to every other place we've stayed in Ghana, it's extremely quiet -- only the ridiculously loud frogs croak about at night, and there are some roosters too, but it's not loud enough to keep us awake.

I like Winneba a lot, probably because it's a smaller town than Cape Coast (the smallest town we've stayed in, so far). The traffic isn't bad at all, the weather is cooler and breezier, and food is much less expensive than anywhere else we've stayed. For some reason I've found it easier to talk to (some of the) people here, partially because the town seems less tourist-weary than Cape Coast, and partially because I'm getting more comfortable at it, myself.

So who would've guessed that the Pro Vice-Cancellor here is a phonetician?! A phonetician who got his Ph.D from UCLA?! I would have never discovered this, except by accident this morning. I'd gone to see a professor in the Ghanaian Languages department, but he wasn't in. I was just going to leave him a note, but his secretary offered to show me to his office just so I'd know where to meet him, later. We were walking to his office and passed by a door that said "Phonetics Lab." I was surprised, because Winneba doesn't have a department of linguistics, and because the phonologist I've been in contact with never mentioned a phonetics lab (although all your linguists may chuckle at that -- no real surprise there!). So I asked the secretary who was in charge of the lab, and she mentioned a man's name and asked if I'd like to meet him, so I said yes. A minute later we were climbing 4 flights of stairs to the top floor of the administration building, and a few more minutes later I was meeting Professor Jonas N. Akpanglo-Nartey, who studied under Peter Ladefoged a couple of decades ago and who jointly opened the Winneba lab with him in 1986 (I think). He seemed just as excited to meet me as I was to meet him, and promised to show me the lab and introduce me to the graduate students who use it, including three who just finished their theses! Our appointment is for Monday, and I'm really excited for it.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Little Stuff

Correspondence with my dear friend Sarah, who has just returned from a summer of language study in Cairo, has reminded me what it's like to hear about a far-away place second-hand, and it's prompted me to blog. The little things of daily life so quickly become commonplace that you forget that someone, back home, might find them interesting! In addition, this might be our last chance for a couple of weeks to post, since we don't know what the internet situation is like in Winneba (the phonology professor there, who I've been in contact with, says "the email facility here is unreliable beyond belief").

For one, there's the street food. Food is perhaps my favorite part of international travel, and street food always tops it. Here in Cape Coast we have our usual things; boiled & salted peanuts (which Jefferson is eating right at this moment, incidentally), thin & salted plantain chips, or roasted plantain with dried peanuts. The first two items are always bought from a woman with a huge metal mixing bowl on her head, carrying the items as she walks down the street (sometimes it's a child with a smaller bowl, and sometimes the seller will be sitting by the side of the road). Roasted plantain is bought off the grill (it's so hot!). In addition, I've basically given up vegetarianism for the trip (someone who adores trying new international food has to do this, I think!) and I often get a "meat pie" while we're out, which is something shaped like an apple turnover with a thick buttery crust and some ground meat (I have no idea what animal!) inside. Along with meat pies are "rock buns," which are oddly named because they're basically soft, sweet muffins. I often get apples, too, small sweet green ones, and Jefferson often gets oranges. Oranges in Ghana are mostly green on the outside, orange or yellow on the inside. They're purchased skinned so that just the white part contains the flesh, and the default way you'll be given it is with the top quarter cut off, so you sit right there and suck all the juice out the top. Finally, everywhere you can find young men ready to open a fresh coconut for you to drink the milk and eat the flesh, although I've learning that I (sadly!) prefer processed coconut milk and flesh to the real thing!

Second, there's the taxi system. You can either catch a taxi for "dropping," where the taxi takes you exactly where you want to go and you pay a ridiculous amount, or you can catch a shared taxi, where you just hop in if there's room and get off somewhere along the driver's route. The latter costs about 1/10 of what "dropping" costs. We've been taking shared taxis almost exclusively in Cape Coast since we've arrived; learning the routes and prices is one big advantage to staying in one place for awhile. And it's perfectly comfortable, most of the time. Usually there's three people in the backseat and one person in the bucket seat, but occasionally the driver will try to squeeze out an extra 1,000 cedis (about 11 cents) and put two people in the front bucket seat! Usually you're only going a kilometer or two so it's not too bad, but I did it once and (after basically squishing the little old woman I was next to) don't ever want to do that again.

If you go longer distances than taxi routes, or when a certain route is really popular, the best mode of transport is a tro-tro, or mini-bus (we've mentioned these earlier without description, I think). When we go to the University of Cape Coast campus we take one of these to get from the administration building (nearish to our guesthouse) to the Colleges of Arts and Sciences (a few kilometers away). It's basically a boxy bus that holds 11 passengers: 2 in the front seat, 2 in each of the two middle seats, and 3 in the back, plus one each on the fold-out seats at the end of the two middle seats. The guy who collects the money either sits in the fold-out chair next to the first middle row, or he half-stands with his bad to the front seat. (It can get over-crowded sometimes, so that the money-collector is just squished in a standing/crouching position.) The main thing about a tro-tro is that it never leaves until it is completely filled. At UCC this isn't a problem, we always leave right away, but when we were going to Kakum National Park we had to wait about 45 minutes before enough people wanted to go in the direction of our route. Once you get going, there's a nice breeze through the windows and it's a pretty pleasant trip, although the seats are sometimes pretty thin and you have a metal bar as your cushion the whole way. The main plus of tro-tros is that the fare is comparable and usually cheaper than a shared taxi.

This is getting lengthy, so I'll stop for now. Today's an interesting day because it just so happens that we're in town when the President is here, today, visiting and making a speech in a public venue! (A little comment on it is here: We also might go to a live football game, if we're not too tired by the late afternoon. Anyway, the trip is going well, although we're both ready to leave Cape Coast and see what Winneba is all about!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Leaving Cape Coast and Health

Last few days in Cape Coast

We are wrapping up our last few days in Cape Coast. As much as I like the city, it's time to go. As a visitor here, there is only so much you can do here before you feel the need to leave.

We are going to be heading to Winneba on Monday. It's a small city (I hope they have at least one decent internet connection) on the coast between Cape Coast and Accra. I have boxed it in on the map below.

I've been to Winneba two times before (I think). I have two memories of the town. We were there because my father was doing some work with the University in the town. The first is the goat they prepared for us (I think this was in 1997 - before I was a vegetarian). They gave us a big lunch and I refused to eat the meat, because I thought it was goat. Everyone said it wasn't, but I didn't buy it. I had goat as a kid once, and hated it. I haven't eaten goat since that one time.

My other memory was my sister, uncle, and I, going to the ocean. Emily wanted to get in the water, but my uncle (at least I think it was my uncle with us) begged her not to go in the water, because it was a Tuesday. I thought "huh? because it's Tuesday???" Fishermen are superstitious, and for some reason, they do not go into the ocean on Tuesdays. It's bad luck. You will die if you go in on Tuesday, just like you will die if you swim less than an hour after eating (that's not true by the way, I saw a thing of TV - and I believe everything I see on TV). It's also kind of cool, because this past Tuesday we went to Elmina Castle, and you could see all the boats (there must have been at least 100) on the beach, or docked up. You don't see customs/traditions like that in the U.S. anymore. It's too bad.

My body on this trip.

I wonder if this trip is good, or bad, for me, physically.

I've had a problem with my right ear on this trip. I've never had ear problems before, so I'm not sure what is wrong with my ear. I may have damaged the cartilage, by using earplugs. It's odd to think that earplugs would damage cartilage, being that I have been hit in the ears by soccer balls going at high speeds many times, without injury. The problem might not be from earplugs, but something else. I don't know. It's just on the inside of my ear, and feels like a physical injury, more than anything else.

The other day, my left knee was slightly out of line. I don't know how that happened (probably from the bed we have in this hotel - it's one of the hardest beds I've ever slept on, so much so that any time any part of my body is under any other part of my body, I cut off circulation, and end up with numb arms and legs).

Other than that, I've been pretty healthy. I've had only one migraine so far (less often than I get them at home). I'm also probably developing back muscle, by carrying my backpack everywhere we go. I know I'm working my legs, as we must walk a minimum of 2 miles everyday. There were a couple of days, when we first got to Cape Coast, where I think we may have walked 10 miles! (We now take the taxi into Cape Coast, instead of walking the 2-3 mile trip each way.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Slave Castles & other thoughts

The more dogs and goats I see, the more I wonder if it's possible for them to crossbreed. Really, the more I see of these creatures the more it seems that the only difference between one and the other is that one has paws and the other has hooves and horns! If anyone knows if crossbreeding is possible, please let me know!

On a more serious topic, we've seen two slave castles this week: Cape Coast Castle on Sunday and Elmina Castle on Tuesday. The tour at the latter was much better, but it's sobering to see either one, and they're different in structure and size and up-keep, so I'm glad we went to both (Jefferson had been to Elmina twice before, but never to the Cape Coast castle). Visiting each was a very emotional experience, one that's hard to really confront as you're quickly being led from one room to another by a chatty tour guide. What got to me the most were the descriptions of the women's dungeons, and the graphic reasons why so many more women than men died before making it onto the transatlantic ships. The tour guide at Elmina was shockingly clear about these details, and I left feeling like there's no amount of modern-day grieving that could possibly match the suffering of those millions of women. Interestingly, the only life that lives in the Elmina castle today is of a very awesome sort: Bats! One of the former female dungeons is now home to a colony of bats. (See photo, below.)

My work progresses slowly and steadily. Learning Fante well is not going to happen on this trip, that's clear. But getting the data for a phonology paper, well, I hope so! For one, I bought a cheap ($3.33!) portable radio to record call-in talk shows, which are fun to listen to and potential data. And for the most part, the people I approach on the street have been very helpful, when I'm brave enough to actually approach them. The professors at the University of Cape Coast, on the other hand, have been sadly absent (I had two appointments this week that were both no-shows). Another problem is that a couple people have gotten a little too excited about teaching me Fante (which is how my questions are always interpreted, regardless of how much detail I go into about my research). By "too" excited I mean that they either want to follow us around for half the day and establish a friendship strong enough to that we'll send money from the U.S., or worse, want to just sit and talk for hours on end and practice using Fante in little elementary "scenarios" that I actually already know well (e.g., at the store, getting a taxi, meeting someone, etc.). I'm getting quite tired of practicing this basic "How are you?" again and again.

Taking the tedious situation further, a man who was engaged in this language-learning role-play with me yesterday somehow brought up the topic of politics, and as soon as I said one critical word about how the U.S. doesn't give enough money to African nations, he shut me up. Like a few other middle-aged Ghanaian men I've met, he apparently adores George W. Bush. Adamantly! Another fellow I met showed me his pirated CD: "The World According to George Bush" which he said he loved to listen to, because he so much enjoyed "listening to that man talk." Okay, so there are a few things about Ghanaian culture that I find hard to swallow.

To end on a positive note, there are many things about Ghana that are absolutely beautiful. Here is one of my favorite pictures so far (besides the one from Akaa river). I took it on Tuesday as we were walking around the Elmina streets. In front of this vibrant pink house you'll see a little bundle on the ground; it's a baby, taking a nap underneath a small kente cloth. To the left is a tiny baby goat (or goat-dog!) which was circling the baby and sniffing it gently as we watched. No shouting children, no hissing salespeople - these street moments are the best.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The "After Hi" and some pictures

I have not felt much need to blog as of late. I guess I'm just getting used to having internet access on a more regular basis. When I buy an hour of time, I run out of stuff to do after 26-37 minutes (and do things like look at the Michigan State University football schedule). I rarely blog back at home, mainly because I could blog anytime. Also, I want to thank those of you who have commented on our musings of Ghana (both on the blog and via email). It's nice to know that people are reading what we say (an occasionally enjoying it).

I really like Cape Coast. I don't really know why, I just like it. The hissing and callings from people on the street doesn't seem to bother me much anymore (I think it still bugs Lauren sometimes). I just kind of filter it out, and only talk to who I want to talk to. The other night, we were walking through the street, and a kid came up to me, flailing his arms and saying "Obroni". I returned the arm flailing, along with a boogy man sort of face and said "arrrgh" really loudly. It threw him off. He made the noise back to me a few seconds later, and now we both have a story to tell. Everybody's happy.

Speaking of talking to people on the street, Lauren has come up with a name for a phenomenon that has happened a lot to us in Ghana. She calls it the "After Hi". This is when people walking toward you say hi to you after they have walked by you. It happens all the time. It's odd to hear someone say hi to you when they are behind you, or right as they are passing you. There is also the "After Obroni" and the "After How are you?", which you can't even respond to, unless you turn completely around.

Since this post is so random, here are three random pictures, all taken while we were in Koforidua.

The first is kids goofing off. You pull out a camera and this is what you get. We have quite a few pictures that look similar to this one.

The second is of Akaa river. My niece is carrying her younger brother. I love this picture. It looks like something you would see in Lord of the Rings or something.

The third picture is kind of funny. There are two businesses next to each other in Koforidua. One of them is called Koforidua Association for Women Empowerment", and the one right next to it is Play Boy. What is even more funny is, the Women Empowerment business is nothing more than a store that sells wigs and hair extensions. I didn't realize that until I looked at the picture closely. The woman on the left side of the picture is carrying tomatoes on her head. Many women (and a few men) are traveling sales people of sorts. They carry their goods on their heads.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Cape Coast things

The kids in Cape Coast often sing a song when we walk by that I haven't heard in other parts of Ghana. It's either funny or annoying, depending on my mood. It goes to a chanting rhythm that reminds me of the songs kids sing during hand-clapping games:

how are you?
I'm fine!
Thank you!
And you?"

There's a woman who owns a grocery kiosk down the street from our guesthouse. I don't know her name, but every time we go there to buy things she says "welcome, my friend!" to me and chats with me a bit. The first time this happened we had a perplexing, unsuccessful conversation all in Fante (this was the day before I blogged about how hard Fante is). The second time was all in English. Yesterday was in both Fante and English, and it was definitely the most successful conversation yet, although it mostly consisted of her explaining things to me. As we walked back to the hotel, two of the many neighborhood kids walked along with us. Like all kids in Cape Coast, one of the boys asked us "How are you?" and I replied "I'm fine. Ete sen?" (which is "How are you" in both Twi and Fante). The boy replied "bawkaaw" (which literally means "soft" and is used kind of like "cool" in English; the spelling is actually off because of the English alphabet). He then whispered to his friend "Aw ka Fante!" which means "She speaks Fante!" That was a great moment!

Today I met with a professor of Fante at the University of Cape Coast. When I first saw him, yesterday, to make the appointment, he was rather frightening -- I was waiting in the hallway, and he was arguing with someone on the phone. The person had never heard of his last name and had asked him to spell it, and he got mad and criticized them for not knowing the famous Ghanaian who shared his name and who had done this and that and the other, saying "Well, you should go back and read your history!" But he turned out to be a very kind, interesting, and helpful man. We met for about 2 hours, and once he understood better what I was interested in (this took about an hour, unfortunately), I learned a lot of interesting things about Fante culture (the details of phonology will have to wait until my meetings at Winneba, in a week and a half).

So, on a different note, I have a new favorite AIDS-awareness slogan, which I've seen on bumperstickers on many taxis in Cape Coast. The slogan is "Drive Protected: If it's not on, it's not in!" with a simple outline of a car inside a condom. The analogy of driving and sex is a bit of a strange stretch, but I like the phrase! There's also a billboard on the outskirts of town, with a painting of a (white!) policeman holding a huge shield in his left hand an a ridiculously large condom in his right hand, with the slogan: "Prevent AIDS: Protect yourself and your community!"

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Kakum and Public Transportation

We went to Kakum National Park yesterday. It is a rain forest that has the only canopy walk in all of Africa. This is a picture of me on the walk. This is the second time I have been to Kakum (I was there in December 2002). It was fun to do it again, and it doesn't take to long, so there is not that feeling of being worn out. We took a mini-bus up there, and were lucky enough to get a ride part way back, from a tour group who were on the walk with us.

I find using public transportation in Ghana frustrating, and it makes me anxious, and puts me in a bad mood. Of all the interactions I've had with people, and the situations we've been in, dealing with public transportation has been the most trying for me.

I think this is due to my lack of experience with public transportation. While we were in Koforidua, my mother mentioned that I only rode in a taxi once, and never rode on any kind of public transportation, in the 12 years I lived in Nigeria as a kid. I had forgotten about this, but I realize that is probably why I have issues with public transportation now. I have no experience. I have dealt with Ghanians my whole life, I can handle most issues that non-Ghanians might have with food, culture, or climate. I know how to bargain, I know how to argue, I even can make fried plantain better than most I've had on this trip. But I can't deal with public transportation.

It's so vague how to get places sometimes. Where do you go to get a bus to take you to a certain place? Yesterday, we were told to go to Kakum station to get a mini-bus to Kakum National Park. I remember thinking, "why would there be a whole station for Kakum?"; there isn't. It's just that any mini-bus heading in the direction of Kakum leaves from this station (I think the actual name of the station was Kotoka station). It's like saying you are going to Paris Airport, when you are actually going to an airport that has flights to Paris. I should note that stations are usually just a piece of land about half the size of a football field (if that) with about 30 mini-buses on them. We asked around, until we found a bus that would take us to Kakum (buses leave for a variety of places from this station).

Also, there is the issue of when to pay. Sometimes you pay as you get on the bus, sometimes as you get off, and sometimes at some point along the journey. I never know when.

Taxis are another issue. I find it hard to deal with taxi drivers. I constantly feel like I'm getting ripped off (not just with taxis, but with everything); at times, I start bargaining/arguing with the driver over the price, not having any idea of how much we really should be paying. I don't enjoy this, because I don't know what a reasonable payment is.

The question I find asking myself is why? Why was I not exposed to this one (very important) part of life in West Africa. Everyone took taxis in Nigeria, but I cried like crazy the one time I was in one. Why? Today, on the way to Kakum (on the mini-bus that left from Kakum station), it hit me.

When I was 3 or 4, I was going to a friend's birthday party. My friend's mother was driving, and we got into a car accident. We hit a guy (I think he was on a motorcycle). I can still see him now, his face bloody from a bad cut over his eyes (I thought his eye had come out at the time). From then on, while in Nigeria, I would never want to be in a car with anyone except my father (and the occasional relative). I think this is why I have no experience watching people deal with public transportation, and why I find public transportation frustrating today.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Turns out my twin is in Cape Coast. Can you tell which I am??

Monday, August 01, 2005

Understanding Mfantse

Technically, the only differences between Fante (Mfantse) and Twi are a few regular phonological alternations and a few lexical differences, both of which are theoretically easy to keep in mind (especially since it's sort of my job to do so). In reality, ohmygosh! It's SO hard to understand people's speech here in Cape Coast. Yesterday I was trying to guy some food stuffs from a kiosk near our guesthouse, and I honestly couldn't understand what the woman was saying at all! (It reminds me of the feeling of studying German in Germany and then taking a trip to Holland, although linguistically speaking, I don't think that's a fair comparison.) It seems that some of the more important words are included in that set of "lexical differences," for example, "yes" in Twi is "aane" and in Fante it's "nyew", and "no" in Twi is "daabi" and in Fante is "oho". On the other hand, "please" and "thank you" are basically the same, so at least I know I won't be offending anyone too badly!

More pictures

I've been playing with the panoramic software that came with my camera, here are a couple of pictures.

The first one is of Kumasi. It's the busy part of the city where there is a big lorry park and market nearby.

The second picture is of the beach in Cape Coast. I've been to Cape Coast three times in the past 8 years and beaches have always been completely deserted. Lauren is alone out there in this shot. It's a little odd to see beaches this empty. Also, the beach is not curving in, it's just what you get when you use a not so awesome camera to take panoramic shot.