Thursday, March 24, 2011

Takoradi, Ghana

As is often the case, in Ghana we docked in an industrial port. Once we left the ship we had to walk about 20 minutes to the port gate. We passed large warehouses that housed the cocoa processing plant. The most notable part was the smell. Cocoa stinks! It has a sickly sweet smell that reminded me of dumpsters.

Daniel and Julie walking out of the port

On our first day in port we walked to the gate with a group of other staff. During the walk our group seemed to grow to about 15 people including faculty, staff, and lifelong learners (older, non-student passengers). Once we passed through the security at the port’s gate we were surrounded by taxi drivers all haggling to get our business. It was a bit overwhelming, but we divided up into small groups, negotiated prices, and headed to the central market.

Julie and I ended up in a taxi with a professor and two lifelong learners. During the taxi ride, the comments from the other three were so embarrassing we both wanted to melt into our seats. They were speculating about the people in Ghana as if our driver wasn’t there. Hello! Ghanaians speak English! None of us in the cab had been to Ghana so it’s not as if they knew what they were talking about. Julie and I just looked at each other and decided we needed to head off with some other folks once we got to the market.

Semester at Sea is vigilant about encouraging people to travel in groups. However, sometimes it gets out of hand. By the time we gotten to the market our group had grown to about 15 people. This is not a good way to travel. It’s cumbersome to keep track of so many people and makes you more of a target too. Julie and I decided to split off with two other people, who were less inclined to speak down about the locals. The four of us wondered around the market for a while, which was fascinating.

Market in Takoradi

The market is where the farmers and others bring their goods to sell. Some have stalls they set them up on, but most just lay our a blanket or small crates and display there wares in there. On one side of the street was all the food – carrots, tomatoes, salted fish, peas, etc. The produce was gorgeous. I’ve never seen such red, bright tomatoes and enormous carrots. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really safe for us to eat, so we could just look.

On the other side of the street was everything else – flip flops, belts, plastic storage containers, clothes, kitchen utensils, towels, cell phones, etc. The market was crowded and busy with so many locals buying what they needed. Many people walked around with their goods on a large bowl on their head. First, they would roll up a small towel and shape it into a circle and place that on their head. Then, they would get help from someone else to lift the large bowl or crate onto their head. They’d walk around balancing that on their head and selling their goods. A common product sold this way were buckets of coal chunks, which I assume were used for their cooking stoves, because they certainly didn’t need any heat in their homes.

After wandering around the market a bit we went back to the ship for lunch. We asked our taxi driver which beach he would go to. He told us about Africa Beach. After lunch nine of us took a taxi to Africa Beach. It was beautiful and the water was so warm, like bath water.

L to R: Bianca, Mark, Faith, Julie, Annie, Wei-man, and Dustin

Julie at Africa Beach

Walking to dinner shortly before sunset

L to R: Me, Wei-man, Julie, Annie, and Faith

We played around on the beach for a couple of hours swimming, sitting in the sand, and talking to some locals. It was an enjoyable and relaxing afternoon. Then, we decided to go to dinner. We asked a local where he’d recommend and he suggested the African Beach Hotel. Our taxi driver had dropped us off there and it looked nice so we headed over. As we walked into the backyard restaurant everything looked quite normal. There were a couple dozen tables with umbrellas scattered around the grass, a soccer game was playing on a tv, and the place was about half full which seemed like a good sign. The swimming pool and the trampoline situated amongst the tables didn’t even seem that odd at first. The wait staff pulled two tables together for our group of nine and we settled in.

Then, things got weird. Since we had been swimming I went to the bathroom to change my clothes and our friend Bianca came in a few minutes after me. While I was in my stall I could hear Bianca talking to someone, but I couldn’t hear what the other person was saying. Bianca was answering questions about our trip, but something in her tone seemed a bit off, as if she were uncomfortable. By the time I finished Bianca had left and the other woman was in her own stall.

I returned to the table to hear Bianca tell the group that this lady came into the bathroom and was blocking the door and started asking her lots of questions. She had on large fake eyelashes and a tight, short skirt. My first thought was that she was just a little off and not really an issue. We dismissed it as an anomaly and returned to the menus. Our waitress came over and we ordered drinks. I asked her if we could jump on the trampoline and she said yes. That made my day! Dustin, Bianca and I kicked off our shoes and scrambled on.

Me, Bianca, and Dustin on the trampoline

After our bouncing we all returned to the table and the woman Bianca met in the bathroom approached our group and started talking to Bianca. She was very flirtatious and walked around our whole table introducing herself to each of us. Felicia was clearly high and we were getting uncomfortable. We asked her to leave and finally she did. We all kind of looked at each other like “what was that all about?!” Some of us wanted to leave and some of us figured things were fine now that she had left. We tried to relax and enjoy ourselves. But then, another woman came over and the process was repeated again. To make a long story short, we paid for our drinks, canceled our food order and left. We had somehow ended up in a brothel.

I am not sure if we were in the African Beach Hotel or not. But, we all felt a little squeamish and were glad to get back to the ship. Julie ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner explaining that she just needed some comfort food.

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