Wednesday, July 23, 2008

welcome to ghana

Right now I'm in an internet cafe, resolved to write at least some kind of entry, but being pretty distracted by the sing-along English version of Jacques Brel's Le Moribond. It's a morbid choice for a kid's sing-along. (Actually, to think of it, lots of kid's rhymes are eery: Rock a Bye Baby is straight scary.) But in Ghana, lots of choices make you double-take.

The shop names make every walk down the street a little comedy. Most are poorly-infused religious themes, like "Clap for Jesus Butik" [beautique] and "God Loves Calling Center," and a handful are just, just... I don't know. At the corner by my hostel is White Cock Catering. I'm writing from G-Spot Internet Cafe. Seriously. I don't think it's supposed to be sexual, but, I just don't know.

G-Spot is the only internet cafe around, and it's slow like turtles. Photos are totally out of the question. But, yikes!, to think of it, in 3 days here I've taken zero pictures! I gotta get my camera out!

So... what.

I left off heading to Luxor. I'm going to be brief.

My aircon room at El Gezira hotel ran me $12 a night. I was the hotel's only guest. Most folks visit Luxor on package Nile cruises, and I have a few nice photos of a site parking lot, with ~80 tour buses and a lone bicycle. It was dry, but 108 degrees is hot no matter how you slice it. Folks wave at you as you bike past: they don't see a lot of that in July.

Luxor is the heart of what most people associate with Ancient Egypt: it is the site of Thebes, an important city during the Middle Kingdom and Egypt's capital during the New Kingdom's 18th Dynasty (1400-ish BC), and remained paramount during the entire New Kingdom. The New Kingdom (18th-20th dynasties) is the quintessential Ramses, Nefertiti, King Tut time.

To note, I've been trying to load Wikipedia's Luxor page for the past 9 minutes. It's still not even close.

Anyway, Luxor is a who's-who of Egypt sites, with Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, the Ramesseum, Hatshupset's Temple, Tombs of the Nobles, the Colossi of Memnon, and all sorts of smaller and less-restored temples and tombs and structures. But, like I think I wrote before, it was just too much a production. Sound and light shows?! This is too tacky for words! Huge parking lots, tour buses rolling up like a rock concert, lines and flash photos and concession stands. I just couldn't get into Ancient Egypt mode. If I biked out early morning, the first site of the day would be wonderful, but around 10AM the tour buses would rumble on the road in the distance, and the day's magic fooosh, out like a match stomped underfoot.

I wish I could put up photos. Sorry. The Luxor page still hasn't loaded.

Without photos, let's move on to Ghana.

The Ghana visa issue was a bit of an experience. I was escorted to Room 2 on arrival, where I sit across from a uniformed sergeant at a big wooden desk in a poorly-lit carpet-free office with a dusty fan. The sergeant's assistant has his own, smaller desk, mashed up against the sergeant's. This room was clearly made for one, and it's a little, uh, cozy. Getting grilled by a guy that, to me, looks and dresses like an African general making a speech on BBC News (I'm seriously Africa ignorant), well, it would be a million times more intimidating if he hadn't already taken my hundred dollar visa fee. As soon as the other party has a load of your money in their pocket, that transaction is closing.

At the airport, there's a guy holding up a sheet of paper that says "Jacob Cooper." What a fantastic feeling! You know my dad's a regular contributor to the Chicago Tribune's "I Love / I Hate" column (he's kinda a big deal), and that was an I Love of his that made it to press. Oooh, and the last time he got an I Love in the Trib, it was particular terrific! I'd put a link here, but the Luxor page still isn't up; I'm not opening a new window. If you want, Google: Chicago Tribune I Love I Hate. My dad's pretty great.

The driver took me to Crystal Hostel, where I'm staying with a gaggle of international volunteers. It's a great vibe, and they're some really cool kids. Taught me how to catch a tro-tro (the decrepit vans that act as share-taxis slash buses), where to buy water, how much things should cost. One is a vegetarian, but her "you're going to have to eat a lot of plain white rice" wasn't too encouraging. 3 days in, and I'd kill for some deep dish pizza. 3 weeks to home!

Uncle, the hostel owner (every male older than you is "Uncle") has a voice like a BBC narrator for a nature documentary. I've never had such voice envy. Every time he says "good morning!" in his rumbling deep, smiling, African-accented timbre, I see gazelles nervously approaching a watering hole while a huge, hidden crocodile waits in the shallows. It's unbelievable. "How are you this morning, Jake?" I'm the best I've ever been, Uncle!

Ghanaians are friendly. There's so little hassle. Little kids will point to you and yell "Abruni! Abruni!" (white person), but it's just so giggly and friendly. Ghanaians have the biggest smiles.

Dara and Sam and I went out to the market, and sure, there's a lot of "come look in my shop," but it's not a hard sell. It's fine. One guy has a really wonderful looking shop. "Hello!" he says, with the biggest smile. We need to learn how to smile like Ghanaians. Where are you from? "Chicago, the Windy City! Chicago is in Illinois," he tells me, "but it's not the capital! The capital of Illinois is Springfield!" I wish we had punctuation for how Ghanaians speak when they're smiling. An exclamation point works. I'm impressed, how do you know about Illinois? He just loves geography, so I quiz him. "Alaska is the Frontier State, and it's capital is Juneau! Did you know, you cannot drive into Juneau? You must fly or take a ferry!" He knew EVERYTHING! And he had a pair of statues that I LOVE, and I'm going to buy them later. When I mention that I like the statues, he tells me all about them and, in a light-hearted, totally friendly manner, tells me he'll give me the Peoria price. What?! He laughs at my surprise: he knows Chicago is expensive, but he'll give me the Aurora price. This dude has his geography DOWN. Even if it were just a stellar sales technique, it works! And I don't think it is: he knew the capital of Mongolia, and I doubt that's a lucrative piece of knowledge here. But anyway, the statues are just too wonderful, and I'm very much not a shopper, but if you see something that you can afford (his starting price was $60 for the pair), and it's interesting and you like it immediately... all things should be such obvious buys.

In 4 days here I've done very little. I walk down the street and buy FanIce (ice cream in a packet, 30 cents) and... geez, what do I do? Yesterday we got out buckets and soap and did our laundry, and I'm telling you, I've never had such a good time doing laundry. We just do nothing and it's a blast.

You know where Ghanaians carry things? No backpacks, no handbags: all balanced on their heads. Wrap a towel into a ring, put it on your head like a peasant tiara, and put whatever perched atop. They just walk down the street like that. I'm self-conscious of how this comment sounds, but: it's just so, so African! I love it.

So I'm sorry I can't get any photos up (I need to take some!), and I know this isn't too fleshed-out, but I'm safe, I'm in Ghana, and I love this place. I already want to come back.

But that deep dish is calling...


Anonymous said...

Can't wait to see the statues!! And YOU!!


Anonymous said...

Forget to let you know: I go to the library to read about wherever it is you are. Yesterday read about Ghana, the Gold Coast, Kwame Nkruma, and the parks with wild animals up north. Are you going to have time to visit the game parks in Ghana? Is it even the right time of year? When we were in Ivory Coast, I think it was in the fall, the game parks were CLOSED because of the rainy season. Can't imagine where the animals went!
Love you much,

Anonymous said...

Hurray! I'm so glad you made it to Ghana! I'm looking forward to seeing some pics. I was amused by the names of the shops you mentioned... how funny!

We miss you and are super excited to see you in a few weeks, though we will definitely miss your stellar updates from around the world! Take care, Jake!

-Leah and Cam (though Cam hasn't seen this yet, I think he would agree)

Betty said...

Hi, Jake!

We received your recent postcard. And glad you are now continuing your adventures in friendly Ghana. I've never been there, but I have spent time in Morocco which I believe is next on your itinerary. Take care.


daddy said...

1-VERY glad all is well

2-do you think the guy pocketed all or part of the $100?

3-so how much did you finally pay for the 2 statues?

Betty said...

Hi, Jake -

Just received another postcard from you. Thanks very much!

Since there aren't a whole lot of open shifts next month, I've pencilled you in for Sat Aug 16 PM & Fri Aug 29 PM. I'll keep an eye out for any other shifts that become available.


Jake Cooper said...

My Ghana trip will, I think, be basically based in Accra, with this current 5-day excursion to Cape Coast and Kumasi being the only intracountry travely. So no, no game parks. It's raining a lot, so, as we learned from Uncle Harold's comically mistimed safari, animals don't come to the watering holes anyway. It rained 3 distinct times while I was at Kakum national park, probably 3 hours altogether. Just like Hawai'i. Of course, you can't go to a rain forest and complain about the rain.

I thought the same thing, but I looked online, and it looks like "emergency on arrival" visas actually cost $100. And I forgot, I had bargained DOWN to $60 for the pair of statues, from $80. I went back to buy them with Sophie and Carl and Sam, and the three of them spent about $220. Was Colin happy! When I was saying goodbye, I mentioned that I brought him lots of business, and he said something I didn't hear well, but it makes me think the story's not finished. So I'm going back.

On this computer I can't load up my calendar to put in the dive dates, but I bet it'll be grrrrrrr-eat! I might have to postpone confirmation 'til Morocco, but that's only a week away. Not even! Wowza, I'll be home in a blink! That was so fast!

I hope you're ready to see me, 'cause I think I'm just gonna come over as soon as I get home (after I see my folks, of course).

Anonymous said...

Thanks alot for the great post
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