That’s a sigh of sadness from me, and a sigh of intense relief from ActionMan. He’s been ready to leave for several weeks, but I could happily stay for several more. Or could happily have stayed, for we are now at home. I’d drafted and hoped to post this before we left, but banks and technology, and then jetlag conspired against me, so at the time of writing, we’ve been back in Australia for a week.
On Saturday two weeks ago we farewelled the Kumasi family and boarded a bus for Accra, where we spent a couple of days waiting for a bank transfer to go through to my Visa card, and the connection to come back on at the local internet cafe, before paying off all financial obligations and boarding a flight back home.
It was a tearful farewell. I always cry at goodbyes and I think that separating from relatives who you may not see again for many years is a damn good reason to cry. Nana also cried a lot, while giving me her blessing and thanks. We had formed a strong bond, in spite of the language barrier, over the three months we had been there. Little Boahemma from across the road cried almost as much as we did. Serwaa looked very serious, Abrantie gave me a very looong hug, Treasure clung to me all morning and then waved cheerfully from the taxi that collected them all for church.
ActionMan said “it’s weird, I don’t feel sad at all”. He was a little bothered that he wasn’t sad about parting from his family. “That’s okay”, I said. “You don’t have to. Everyone feels differently about saying goodbye”. He felt no such guilt about saying goodbye to Ghana as a whole, however, and could barely disguise his glee as we passed each milestone leading to our final departure.
If he really loved soccer, or perhaps was a few years younger, he would probably have enjoyed the trip more, but after the excitement wore off and we settled into a routine, he thought it was too boring – just like being at home but without all the things that make Australia more fun. He missed high speed broadband, friends, Turkish kebabs, real showers and skateparks. If people want my recommendation, three months in a third world country is too long for a teenage boy, unless he likes soccer, is Christian, and it would help to have an interest in museums and arts and crafts. It would probably also help if your relatives lived near a beach that was clean enough to swim at; I’ve heard many of the beaches are very beautiful, but made the mistake of not going to any of them. It got to a point where neither of us could face another long bus or trotro journey, so we’ll have to save that for next time.
I have heard him admit to people that parts of the holiday were fun (like sitting on the crocodile, building the dog kennel, winning most of his arm-wrestling contests, playing with his bow and arrow, conducting experiments with water and boiling wax, winding people up), and he was really very patient in those final weeks when all he wanted was for me to re-book our tickets, and all I wanted was a bit more time.
I was rarely homesick, mostly enjoyed the food, and wanted to do more sightseeing, spend more time with new friends, learn tie and dye, perhaps even do some interviews with researchers I met at the Boabeng Monkey sanctuary, or the community activists at Our Media, or the Kuapa Kokoo fair trade cocoa farmers. But domestic commitments took over and left no time and we were, after all, in Ghana to build family relationships so I don’t regret that. It would have been nice to have more time for all those things … next time.
I do believe that ActionMan and I became closer as a result of going to Ghana. For four months we have been together almost all the time and we mostly got on well. The trip gave us some space to be together without the usual domestic tensions and stresses of work and school. I know I was his buffer against culture shock. Although it was a challenge at times, I’ve manged to listen to him fairly patiently about the things that bothered or upset him, let him try out new things, and spent a lot of money on the phone so he could keep in touch with friends back home. Having so much family around, and not having to cook or clean or work relieved a lot of the stress of single parenting, and I’ve returned to Oz feeling more relaxed, and even enthusiastic about the backlog of work that awaited me here.
I have pages of notes about things we did, saw, ate, laughed about, that I wasn’t able to blog about while in Ghana, and perhaps I will post those stories later on, or perhaps I will just have to tell stories at dinner parties. We are no longer in Ghana and life back in Australia is already moving at a fast pace, so it could be that I’ll want to blog about the present, not the past. But I did want to leave you with some last impressions.
There was the anarchic traffic jam we had to sit through on our seven hour bus trip (normally four-five hour) from Kumasi to Accra, where all the south-bound vehicles, including a semi-trailer decided to fill up the north bound lane.
There was my quest for ‘last tastes’ and final meals: RedRed (fried plantain and beans in palm oil), nkatiakwan (peanut soup), abenkwan (palm nut soup) made with abe (palm nuts) from Akosia’s farm in Mensakrom, boiled eggs with chilli, fried rice with boiled egg, salad and shitoh (chilli sambal), mangoes and sugar bananas.
There was our hurried last minute rush to Mensakrom to see the family. We stayed overnight in a hot little room, but I found Mensakrom much easier to handle in dry, sunny weather, and enjoyed it much more than our previous visit. I gave everyone the Kuapa Kokoo phone number (they’d already heard of them, apparently KK give out free exercise books and pens when they buy your cocoa). Akosia took me to her farm to fetch the abe that Nana had ordered, and carried it all back to the village on her heard – about 50 kilos worth! We took Yaa Ketewa and Martha for their first visit back in many years. Both were excited to go but glad to leave. Mensakrom had become small, dirty, boring and full of teenaged single mothers and bad people who wanted them to drink alcohol.
Menskrom staged a cooking competition for our visit. Perhaps that should be ‘obruni-feeding competition’. I ate three meals the night we arrived and three meals in five hours on the morning we left, and returned to Kumasi totally stuffed. At night I had ampesi (yams and stew) from Nana’s farm caretaker, abenkwan from Yaa Ketewaa’s mother, and rice and stew cooked by Martha and Yaa Ketewa, under instructions from DadaK who feared we’d find nothing to eat at Mensakrom because we visited without warning. Ha.
In the morning Nana’s caretaker provided banku (corn meal) and chilli, and Ohemaa’s daughters cooked both a fantastic Nkontommre (ground taro leaves) with palm oil and boiled plantains, and then beheaded a chicken for a delicious soup made with wrewre (something like pumpkin seeds). Akosia looked a bit put out that there was no chance of cooking for me because other people had taken over. ActionMan disdained all food except rice and stew (silly, silly boy!) but did get through almost three litres of palm wine (don’t worry, it’s not alcoholic when fresh from the palm) and filled up on bofrots on the return journey. He also renewed his acquaintance with the village monkey, and met an orphaned squirrel.
Our last days in Kumasi were consumed with finishing things and last minute shopping. ActionMan finally put a roof on the doghouse and cast the bronze works he’d made. He had to leave two behind because we thought Aussie customs would define them as lethal weapons. We said goodbye to our friends at the internet cafe. I raced around the cultural centre, Kejetia markets and Kumasi shops finding All Africa Cup souvenirs, Ghana fashion style posters, stock for my box of birthday/christmas gifts, a cable for the laptop, sparkling apple juice for G Ketewa’s birthday party, and a trashy bags laptop bag made out of recycled water sachets. The laboriously purchased laptop cable mysteriously vanished on our last day in Kumasi but the laptop, equally mysteriously, has been working okay since then. It must have been homesick too.
In our last days in Accra ActionMan spent a lot of time playing on the computer and I spent a lot of time in trotros – catching up with my counselling friends, trying to find a bank that would take Mastercard, and drinking in the mad sights and sounds of the city. Boys fishing with magnets in the clogged drains. A heavily pregnant goat, as wide as she was high, holding up traffic on a street in the busy suburb of Korle Bu. She waddled off the road looking like the kid might pop it’s head out at any moment. A man patting the nose of one of the doomed horses at the slaughterhouse yard at Korle Lagoon. Renewing my acquaintance with the forest of street signs and discovering a finalist for my forthcoming Ghana Awards.
I’d planned to go to Cape Coast and Elmina Castles just outside Accra – a history excursion for ActionMan, as these were slaving castles, but he totally jacked up about another outing and we ran out of time anyway, due to my banking dramas. I’ve been before, so I didn’t feel I’d missed out. And the beaches there, as I recall, are no better than Accra’s.
In South Africa we avoided all possibility of trouble in the fearsome city of Jo’berg by avoiding it altogether. A tour bus collected us at the airport, drove us to Kruger National Park, then drove us back again after two days of game drives in time for our flight home. At Kruger we saw lions mating, lions sleeping, hippos’ nostrils poking out of the water, gorgeous, colourful birds, a snake’s head poking out of a hole in a tree, lots of giraffes, assorted antelopes, and all sorts of animals crossing the road – zebras, buffalo, baboons, dozens of elephants, a leopard cub. We also spotted a mob of Aussie blokes on the same tour as us (G’day!) and a remarkable number of grey nomads on self-drive tours.
At our treehouse lodge we had a large but harmless spider in the bedroom, a frog in the bathroom, monkeys in the breakfast area and buffaloes drinking from the swimming pool. ActionMan rejoiced in the ‘European’ food but eating muffins for breakfast I felt almost unbearable cravings for yams and Serwaa’s eggplant stew. Sob.
So it’s over, for now. We are back in the land of long hot showers, high speed internet, pot roasts, very pale people with funny glasses and dark clothes huddled over frothy ‘real’ coffee in inner city cafes, and traffic laws which are obeyed. It doesn’t feel as weird as I expected it to. Or even as sad. Perhaps I grieved enough, while I was leaving. Perhaps not. Writing the following passage still moves me to tears.
Sitting in a taxi in the slow traffic on Sunyani Road, approaching Sofoline interchange, a stretch I’d traveled so many times these past few months, tears rolled down my cheeks and I held DadaK’s hand for comfort. Laid back, flowing Hi-Life played on the taxi’s abnormally clear sound system. It was the perfect soundtrack for our Ghana trip’s closing credits. With outside sounds muted, it seemed like everything slowed down, like I was indeed watching a movie.
Loaded trotros passed us in the opposite direction, packed full of faces that now seem so familiar. A trio of people in black funeral attire chatted on the lawn outside the prestigious Prempeh II High School. On the opposite side of the road, in front of the towering red mounds of earth and never-ending roadworks, hawkers proffered lemon drops and handkerchiefs, and women tended plantains roasting over charcoal, their fires evenly spaced a few metres apart. The sweet smell drifted through our window. Passers-by chatted while they waited for their purchases to be wrapped in scraps of newspaper. A teenage girl ran, laughing, past several trotros ahead of us until she reached the one where she needed to complete whatever sale had begun 30 metres further back. I saw hands reaching to and from the window, money and goods exchanged. It all seemed quintessentially Ghana. I’ll miss it. I fully intend to go back. But for now, it’s Good bye-O.