Sunday, 17 May 2015

A Postcard From Ghana

"This bus go," said the Chinese fellow, "to Bintumani Hotel?" Presumably his first time in Sierra Leone. Perhaps his first time out of China. He looked worried. I said, "Bus take us to boat." He said, "This wrong bus, I go hotel. No boat." I explained we have to take a boat across the estuary. 30 minutes. Then taxi to the hotel. He said, "Wrong bus, I pay $40." I tell him we all paid the same. Thankfully an Indian fellow in a rather grand purple turban stepped in. "When I arrived in 1995 there was a war on, we had to be carried out to the boats on shoulders." Helpful? The Chinaman was utterly bemused. He sat with his bag tightly clenched between his raised knees and his folded arms. I tried to visualise this strange place through his eyes. Difficult. Freetown is complete madness... right up there on the barmy-ometer.

The crossing... entrance into Freetown.

Last Tuesday I arrived back to 'Dodge' from a terrific week in Ghana. The divas by now are fully prepared for me waxing lyrical about any other African country I've recently returned from. I normally race through a list of wondrous things I've witnessed. Traffic lights, power, buses, bus stops, power, pavements, pizza ovens, street lights, smooth roads, power... Actually, Senior Diva had to handle me by herself this time. Baby Diva has taken an extended vacation to visit family in the US. Baby D, we miss you. And to show just how much, this from a beach bar in Takoradi... made me think... Senior D on the right?

Then they glance at each other. You know the look the telling glance. The divas both see where this is heading. Yep, I continue; Accra, I could live there. Bingo. Previously. Dakar - I could live there. Abidjan - I could live there. Monrovia - I could live there. Conakry (Guinea) - I could, never in a million years. Wouldn't wish on my Mother-in-Law. Another glass of wine as I'm editing this and I may rethink. "Gertrude, how about a holiday in Conakry, it's and Harold would love it..."

Ghanaians are open and friendly. They want to know what you think of their country and where you're from. I don't say England. For conversational purposes, I tell Sierra Leone. There's usually a pause. A taxi driver the other day made the ghost sound from Scooby Doo. Whoooo.... Freetown. Ebola. I quickly changed tack and ask how things were in Ghana. Bad was the reply. Why? Power comes the response. Now when it comes to whinging and whining Ghana is right up there. Not quite in Guinea's league, but up there all the same.

They explain to me just how 'bad' things are. In some areas of Accra there's currently light for only 12 hours a day then nothing for 24 hours, and so on. All the government's fault, they say. They are useless, they say. The President will have it fixed by the end of the year, they say. You're lucky, I say. Come and live in Freetown for a week, I say. Then you'll have something to complain about. In fact, try Conakry for a long weekend. Oh, and my Mother-in-Law's in a home there, could you possibly visit...

I like Ghana a great deal. The country that's geographically the closest to the centre of the world (the notional centre, 0°, 0° is located nearby in the Atlantic Ocean). The powerhouse sub-regionally. A relatively wealthy country, certainly by African standards. Hence the current problems are hitting hard. They have high expectations and a burgeoning educated middle class. Some countries in the region can only dream of Ghana's success. No country is a land of milk and honey. Ghana is no exception, everything's relative. Most West African countries are similar in their reliance on natural resources.

'The Gold Coast' achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1957, becoming the first sub-Saharan African nation to do so from European Colonialism. It became Ghana...

However, like many others, it's susceptible to commodity prices. Prices are down across several sectors. Gold is one example. Oh, and Ghana is the second largest cocoa producer in the world. Come on, let's fly south to Takoradi...

Short flight on 'White Knuckle Airways'. 25 minutes. We're now on the south coast of Ghana. Takoradi is one of the two major ports in the country. Timber, manganese, bauxite in the past, shipped out by train. The mothballed train station appears to have been suspended in time. Fascinating.

Now it's all about black gold. Oil. Ghana discovered oil in 2007 and is currently producing over 110,000 barrels a day. This is set to increase. The windfall for the government is significant.

I'm delighted to report Takoradi is a boom town. So it should be. Takoradi is the regions leading oil hub outside of Nigeria. Plenty of employment, proper infrastructure, good hotels, local companies supplying the oil sector, a significant port under expansion. All good. A boom town. There remain links to traditional industries, fishing... (need something like this in Basingstoke to provide some character).

An old Slave fort, of Dutch origin (1640)...

Finally, the last post I told you of Sally Hayfron Mugabe. Sally died in Harare 1992, aged 60. She came from Takoradi. She and Robert were both teachers. They were married 31 years. A son also died of malaria here, aged 3. As told to me, Mugabe last visited 2007, with his current wife, Grace. The story goes that she wasn't allowed over the thresh-hold when he called on his former family to pay his respects. Apparently quite a rumpus at the time. She sat in the car...

I've thoroughly enjoyed Ghana again. In the back catalogue, you'll find previous posts, featuring Accra and Tesano.

Back here in Freetown, the Ebola crisis is nearly done, only a matter of time. We've had eight straight days of zero new cases or deaths. A case two days ago broke the run. To be declared Ebola-free we need 42 consecutive days with zero new cases. As I say, only a matter of time.

Other good news as well. Air Chance recommences flights to Paris 30th June. Kenya Scareways, a crucial regional carrier, resumes in two weeks time. This will help open up the region. Life is gradually returning to normal. Within two months the country should be celebrating, similar to the scenes we witnessed in Liberia last weekend.

The 'Food Basket Appeal' has funds remaining. I plan to wrap it up with one further donation. Something involving children. I'd like to write a special post, just about the appeal. If possible featuring some of the folks and updating on what's happened to them since. Remember Yayah? Emmanuel Cummings? Nurse Isha? Many others. Something uplifting to mark the end of a tumultuous 12 months.

Where next? Hopefully back to the UK sometime next month. Senegal also a possibility for June. Dakar, I could live there. Senior Diva - just for you.

Follow on Twitter for more stuff and photos: @roadrunnertns