The Road to Kumasi

The road to Kumasi runs through green, hilly country. From the road you can see grasslands, with plantains (they look like banana trees, but they grow single, not in clumps) and cassava popping up everywhere. To the east, a line of hills follows the road, sometimes very close, as at Koforidua, sometimes distant and hazy.

It’s probably the best surfaced road in Ghana, but it’s only two lanes. I estimate around 70% of traffic in Ghana is public transport: government buses, mini-buses (tro-tros) and taxis, so once you are out of the city, there’s not really enough traffic to merit wider roads. The cites, however, get very congested. Of the other 30%, I’d guess 20% is trucks and company cars, and the remaining 10% are private vehicles. I’ve figured this out by random counting in a few different spots, and it always comes out much the same. And Ghana is one place where the US and Australian fashion for 4WDs would actually make sense, given the state of most roads. But they’re not common.

The trip was smooth, even in a tro-tro, and while ActionMan buried himself in a book, to emerge occasionally with requests for food and water, I relax and watched the familiar road unroll. After ten years it seemed much the same. The road, as usual, was lined with rickety wooden produce stalls. Often there’s no-one in sight, but a table apparently in the middle of nowhere is piled with fruit, or chillis and tomatoes, or yams. For a long stretch about two thirds of the way along, the main products were pottery grinding pots and plastic bags of gari, which is dried and ground cassava. The shallow grinding pots have a metallic dark chocolate glaze, and are stacked up invitingly, shining in the sun. I wanted a photo but I didn’t have the window seat. Next time.

We had a pit stop half way. Literally, we stopped at the side of the road and whoever needed to hopped out to wee on the verge. Not much modesty here about body functions. I learned last time not to drink too much on long journeys, so I didn’t need to go but I got out to stretch my body, feeling very cramped and with a numb bum from the hard seat.

When we drove into Kumasi, I also missed a photo of an Irish pub. Big green shamrocks on white walls. Guinness is a popular drink here, they’ve even gone so far as to make a non-alcoholic version, (Malt), to be found wherever Ghanaians gather. ActionMan loves it; I think it’s disgusting.

We piled out of the tro-tro somewhere that I vaguely recognised in the middle of the city, and transferred to a taxi for the last leg, with the help of some teenage girls who hang around that area in the hope of a few pesewas in exchange for their assistance with carrying baggage or shopping. I still wasn’t entirely sure of the currency, but I think the tips were about 30p each.

We arrived in Asuo Yeboa around 1.00pm, to AM’s disappointment, because his brothers weren’t due home from school until 4.00pm. But it was another emotional reunion with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law and the rest of the household, and of course with Treasure, AM’s sister. We were assured that Treasure “wo nti brofo” (doesn’t understand English) anymore, and she didn’t speak much to begin with, but there was no doubt she recognised us, and she didn’t hold back for long. We were surprised by the fact, when the brothers got home, that the oldest had acquired a strong Ghanaian accent to his English. It’s worn off a bit now, but he’ll still throw it on every now and then when he wants to make a point about something. It’s a very expressive accent.

Asuo Yeboa is a suburb that’s a relatively new development. There are a lot of half-built houses and the roads are very rough. Although it feels a bit like the middle of nowhere (think one of the newer western suburbs of Sydney), DadaK reckons property prices will go up quickly, because the widening of the highway that passes through the suburb will improve city access. So it feels like Eagle Vale, but really it’s Marrickville. Hmm. I had a few seconds of considering land investment, until I realised we’re not talking big bikkies here: spend 2,000, sell in 5 years for 6,000.

Our home in Asuo YeboaNana, DadaK’s mother, chose well when she bought this land around 15 years ago. It’s on top of a hill so it gets whatever cool breeze is blowing. Believe me, that’s important. You can also see plenty of sky, which I like, and watch the storm clouds roll in. The house is two self-contained flats, and DadaK booted out the tenants in one half when he came over from Australia (they did have fair warning apparently, as it was in their lease from the beginning that they would have to move when he came. Many Ghana leases offer permanent tenancy.) Altogether there are three bathrooms, a big lounge and dining area, an indoor and an outdoor kitchen, eight bedrooms and a big verandah. Most of the rooms have ceramic tiles, although the tilers seem to have lost track of the pattern sometimes, and there’s electricity that works most of the time. The water situation will get a post all of its own soon.

On one side there’s a vacant block filled with corn, cassava, plantains, rubbish, and possibly snakes. It looks good from a distance. The yard is dirt, but DadaK has plans to level and cement it. It all takes money. There’s a coconut palm, an avocado tree, several small orange trees and there was a pawpaw until last week, when the section of wall it was growing in got washed away by heavy rain.

The nearest shops are less than five minutes walk. There’s a cluster just up the road, including AM’s auntie’s general store, where we catch taxis into town. A woman at a small desk under a beach umbrella sells mobile phone recharges. The general stores sell small essentials such as a few teaspoons of sugar tied up in little plastic bags, tiny tins of fish and tomato paste, stock cubes, drinks, lollies, toilet rolls and filtered water. Others have a range of more perishable items – dried or fresh fish, shrivelled orange chillies, tomatoes, onions, garden eggs (a small pale gold or orange egg-shaped eggplant). Nothing can be cooked without these basics. In the morning one of the stores sells bofrots, large donut holes sweetened with honey, and in the early afternoon a lady sets up to sell corn roasted on a grill over a basin of charcoal. This is one of AM’s standby snacks.

We can catch a taxi or walk to the bigger shopping area, which is the centre of Asuo Yeboa. We are not allowed to walk the shortcut without a chaperone, because apparently the little swampy valley we walk through has – or had – ruffians lurking in it who wouldn’t hesitate to cosh an obruni for her money, with a cement building block. It’s a pity, because it’s the most direct and prettiest way to get to the main shops. The road goes back and forth through a maze of deserted streets – well-maintained tarred roads that pass grassy, uninhabited blocks that belong to the government.

The Asuo Yeboa shopping centre, if you can call it that, has more to offer. I say, if you can call it that because in Ghana major roads are perpetually lined with small businesses and it’s hard to tell where one suburb ends and the next begins. This is where we catch taxis or tro-tros into the city or elsewhere, and so there are many more hawkers beside the road, mostly selling water or newspapers. We also shop here at roadside stalls for bread, pineapples, mangoes, oranges and bananas, and there’s a couple of pharmacies, a lot of street food, shoe stalls, clothing shops, and some light industry. Carpenters display enormous beds and bedroom furniture out the front of their workshops, metalworkers display fancy security grilles and gates, and crowds of uniformed apprentices overflow from hair salons or dressmaking shops.

This is also where I saw Osama bin Laden and George bush staring at each other from portraits outside a graphic artist’s studio. The next day, Osama was grinning at a semi naked woman pulling a top off over her head, below text along the lines of Stop AIDS Now. Was it an attempt at reverse psychology?

ActionMan has also discovered cheap DVDs: 20 films on one disk for GHC3 ($3). He’s stocking up on action, thrillers and Kung Fu, plus Mr Bean and some Disney cartoons for the little ones. One of the Internet cafes I use is on this stretch of road. It’s the closest, if I use the swamp shortcut, but it’s also the least reliable, with a very slow and patchy wireless connection. I am allowed to walk alone to the other cafe, that has cable access and air con, using another road that’s considered safer. It’s not far either, except it feels like it is a long way in the heat of the day.

If we want anything more, like birthday cakes, as we did for ActionMan’s birthday two weeks ago, we need to go into the krom, or city itself. This should be about a 10 minute drive, but traffic jams can turn it into more like half an hour. AM, who ventured into the city on another day in search of slingshots, had more success than I did in finding what he wanted. He came home with several slingshots and a totally lethal butchers blade, which he was very taken with because, as well as having a serrated edge, it had a tooled red and black leather sheath, typical of northern Ghana leatherwork. He won’t be bringing that home to Oz, I assure you.

The birthday cake was harder to find, partly because cake shops of any kind are thin on the ground, and partly because most Ghanaians’ idea of a cake is far, far removed from your standard European idea of cake. Before I went on this excursion, ActionMan twisted my arm, looked me in the eye and in his best cold hard bad guy voice said, “You will get cheesecake or pavlova. Understood?” Yes, understood. But impossible to deliver. I think both of these are alien concepts in Ghana, unless, just possibly, you can get them at one of the big hotels. I haven’t found a big hotel in Kumasi as yet, because it’s not the kind of thing my chaperones know about, because I haven’t had enough internet access to look online, and because we’ve both been sick too often to spend much time shopping in the krom. Maybe this week.

However, everyone seemed reasonably happy with the cake I eventually found. I cannot believe that I paid GHC15 for a very solid plain cake that was the size of approximately three Newtown cafe slices. Hmm. Make that two. But it did have icing, and I felt that it was worth paying a little bit more for a cake that looked festive. I got another cake without icing for GHC5, to stretch it.

Ghanaians are very good at making do with a very small amount of treat. I’ve seen children in the village bite a lolly in half to share it. ActionMan cut the cake himself and was able to divide it into enough pieces that everyone – about 25 of us, including the neighbours, got a mouthful sized slice. Alright, half a mouthful. We partied in Grandma’s (Nana’s) room with sparkling grape juice, malt, lemonade, plantain chips and some of the chocolates I’d bought duty-free in Germany. So even though people laughed at the cake, it was a fun occasion. And AM is now officially 14.

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2 thoughts on “The Road to Kumasi

  1. Wow, this has been a fascinating read. Indians also tend to share a dessert among large numbers – I’ve seen an entire family happily enjoy a (Western) single serving of cake, before.

    Keep us updated on all your adventures!

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