Adventures in Parent-sitting
Trip Start Sep 22, 2005
41Trip End Dec 19, 2007
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This update is an account of the nine-day adventure Sayward's parents, Stan and Denise, had when they came to visit us in Ghana.
We had to hand it them for coming. Especially Denise, who, when one year ago learned that our Peace Corps assignment was to Ghana, said that she would never go to a country where "she could get malaria". It was fun to tease her about saying that as she was dousing herself with bug spray, yet refusing to take her malaria prophylaxis because it was making her feel dizzy in the mornings... And as for Stan, he simply had a heyday with his new digital camera and sticking out like a tourist in his straw Panama Jack-esque hat, dark shades and SHORTS! I shouldn't be so hard on them; they actually impressed us with their willingness to try new foods, struggle with the language and brave public transportation, all while maintaining a fairly positive attitude throughout most of the trip! After all, it took us months to get the hang of how things work around here!
The very first night they arrived, Stan and Denise, were so kind to treat us to a night's stay at the Shangri-La, one of the more up-scale hotels in Accra. Although, they didn't have much choice in the matter, we had made the reservations there because of the free shuttle service to and from the airport. It was also a nice transition from America to Ghana, but by far the nicest hotel we've ever stayed at on a family vacation! Surprisingly, jet lag hadn't set in yet and they were wide-awake (maybe with excitement for seeing us!). We spent most of the evening of their arrival trying to catch up on the past year of our lives, commenting on how quickly it went by.
I should also mention here that I told them to pack light, meaning one small suitcase or duffle bag or better yet just a backpack. It's easier to carry, hold on your lap in a car, and we can always wash the dirty clothes. But do you know what I saw coming out of the airport with my parents? Not one, but two dollies rolling four large 50 pound rubbermaid containers all neatly duct taped and re-taped with the airline tape PLUS their own personal luggage! I know they meant well; supplies for the clinics in Damanko and Sibi, slates and chalk for schoolchildren, Bibles for the local churches, and Gatorade and citronella candles for us at site, among other things. But this was not going to fit on any public transportation easily. First thing the next morning after checking out of the hotel, we drove straight to the Peace Corps office and went through each of the four boxes. We decide what we should take and what could stay in storage until we make another trip down to Accra. Miraculously, we were able to fit everything that we wanted to take into one of the boxes. Then they had to repack their own bags to make room for the loaf of bread, peanut butter and energy drinks Denise insisted on bringing (which, I'll admit, came in handy later on).
We eventually made it out of Accra later that evening, after a three-hour delay at the STC, or State Transport Company, station. Then another set back, a two-hour detour to another town before reaching our destination that night in Hohoe. When we finally arrived at the Hohoe STC station at 11pm, the lights in town were out, due to load-shedding (scheduled power outages throughout the entire country). Once we got a taxi we were taken to a small guesthouse located close to town. At first the guard didn't want to let us in, maybe because it was so late and we must have startled him from sleeping on the job. But then the owners came out and welcomed the weary travelers. After a light supper of peanut butter and honey on white bread (see it came in handy) we all crashed for the night.
Well, so far so good. They survived the beginning of their travels on an STC bus. Now let's see if they can handle a tro-tro. About half way between Hohoe and Nkwanta the pavement turns into dirt, which during the rainy season turns into a pothole riddled, rutted and muddy road that makes for excruciatingly slow going. The three and a half hour journey to Nkwanta was quicker than usual, or so it seemed while we passed the time debating with Stan about politics and environmental issues. At Nkwanta we bargained with a couple of taxi drivers to take us on to Sibi Hilltop, our final destination for the day. When we agreed on a decent price with one driver, we settled into his rusted old clunker for the last dusty leg of the trip. Stan sat in the front armed with hat, shades, and camera while the rest of us squeezed in the back for group shots. Speedy, as Stan came to nickname our driver, was more than happy to take us the 40 miles to Sibi Hilltop. I think mainly because Stan was more than happy to take pictures of Speedy draped across his car, driving his car and even when we had to stop a couple of times to fix the car!
Friends and neighbors warmly greeted us at Sibi and children who wanted to carry our bags. Although we are used to this and trust that the children won't take anything from our bags, Denise shuffled after the children who had taken her bag with her passport and energy drinks! After cold, refreshing bucket baths, we all went to greet the chief. My parents came bearing gifts of bright orange Tennessee Volunteer t-shirts and David's sunflower seeds (one of chief's favorite American snacks, the other one is Altoids). One t-shirt went to chief, one went to his brother Kingsley and the other went to our counterpart Abraham. I don't think the three of them have taken their bright orange UT shirts off yet! As it was getting dusky we "begged permission" to take leave and went back to our house to eat their first Ghanaian meal of fufu and light soup. Later that night, some of the Red Cross Mother's gathered under the mango trees near our house and performed some local drumming and dancing for us to enjoy. To drum the women tap a wooden calabash bowl over the mouth of a large clay pot. They chanted some traditional songs and danced to the beat of the drums. This type of dancing is only for women to perform. The women shuffle/stomp their feet very quickly and wave one arm in the air as they travel in a circle. Only one or two women are in the center of the circle at a time. When one woman is tired and wants someone else to dance, she will dance in front of the woman she has chosen to dance next. It's very difficult to mimic this dancing, so when it was my turn to dance I know I looked ridiculous, but everyone cheered anyway. One of the women even stopped in front of Denise. I was so impressed that my mother was trying the local dance; she lasted longer than me and the women cheered even louder for her! Every few minutes a bright light flashed as Stan captured each moment of the evening.
Afterward, the four of us sat outside gazing at the starry sky and watching a thunderhead blow over us. I think my father was most amazed by how many stars he could see under a sky unpolluted with artificial light.
In the morning, so many people came by to greet the "strangers" in Sibi Hilltop. It stormed and rained for hours in the afternoon, sending many of the greeters home. By evening we scored a free ride with the Damanko clinic truck to take us to our other site at Damanko. I promised my parents no fufu for dinner, but instead made them a good old fashion southern meal, with Ghanaian ingredients (fried okra, beans, and mashed yams). Later after dinner, we joined three of the health workers from the clinic for a calabash of the local millet beer, called pitoh. Sayward and Denise shared the "soft one", doku-doku that had not yet fermented, while the men drank a mix of pitoh and Guinness, a popular drink with the locals. Later we learned why it's not advised to let your visitors drink the local beer.
The next day was Damanko market day. We went to greet chief of Damanko along with his powerful brother, the landowner and gave away two more bright orange Tennessee t-shirts. Then our counterpart of Damanko, Ali Champua Adams accompanied us on a walk around the town and up to see the clinic. Even more people came by to greet us at Damanko. One man from a neighboring village brought his young daughter, maybe 6 or 8 years old, who had been badly burned when she was a baby. Fire had consumed her feet and legs up to her shins. She never learned how to walk and can only get around by crawling on her hands and knees or when someone carries her. The father brought her to see if we could do anything to help. All my parents knew to do was take pictures of her legs to show doctors and medical missionaries back home.
That night was the worst night of the entire trip. The fetish priest who lives behind our house was having his yam festival. Blaring music from a stereo alternated with traditional drumming throughout the night, while people talked in the alleyway between our houses. Combined with the noise, was Denise's discovery that doku-doku doesn't agree with her. So she didn't get any sleep that night. We were all pretty drained the next morning and were anxious to leave Damanko. We chartered a taxi all the way back to Nkwanta, then from Nkwanta chartered another taxi to Hohoe. By late afternoon we were relaxing in the presence of one of Ghana's tallest waterfalls, Wli waterfalls, near Hohoe. It was the perfect remedy for our exhaustion and Denise's ailing stomach. We stayed at a quaint guesthouse ran by a German ex-pat couple with a perfect view of the falls cascading down the mountainside. The next morning Stan, Sayward and Chris hiked up to the falls with a guide while Denise relaxed at the lodge.
Other highlights of the trip were:
The 45th Anniversary of Peace Corps in Ghana called for a celebration at the U.S. Ambassador's mansion in Accra. All Peace Corps Volunteers, staff and their guests were invited to spend a few hours nibbling on appetizers and sipping cheap wine while basking in the presence of foreign dignitaries and the President of Ghana, John Kufor himself. It was a pretty big deal with Ghana Television and the Daily Graphic covering the event. Speeches were made in honor of JFK and his vision for Peace Corps, a birthday cake was cut by one of the PCVs with President Kufor, and drumming and dancing Ghanaian style was enjoyed by all. I think Stan and Denise were impressed with the recognition that Peace Corps received that night.
Finally, at the end of their trip we allowed them to do some touristy things. We took a couple days to explore the slave castles at Cape Coast and Elmina, relax at a guesthouse on the beach and take a canopy walk in Kakum National Park.
By now, I think that Stan and Denise have recovered from their adventures in Ghana. At least they got some great pictures that we're going to really appreciate when we come home!
Peace and Blessings,
Chris and Sayward
p.s. Thanks so much for the packages from: Sally (x2), Cy & Karen, and Stan & Denise!
p.p.s Next update: Vacation in Mali