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 boat across the river. 30 minutes. Then taxi to hotel. He said, "Wrong bus, I pay $40." I told him we all pay 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 completely 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 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 right?

Then they glance at each other. You know the look, that telling glance. They know where this is going. 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 re think. "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 say Sierra Leone. There's normally 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 comes the reply. Why? Power, comes the reply. 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 governments 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 rich 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, but all'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 main oil hub outside of Nigeria. Plenty of employment, decent infra structure, good hotels, local companies supplying the oil sector, great port under expansion. All good. A boom town. There remain links to key 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. Her and Robert were both teachers. Amazing. 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 just had 8 straight days of zero new cases or deaths. A case 2 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.

Plenty of other good news too. Air Chance recommences flights to Paris 30th June. Kenya Airways, an extremely important carrier, resumes in 2 weeks time. This will help open up the region. Life is gradually returning to normal. Within 2 months the country should be celebrating, similar to the scenes we saw from 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? Plenty of others. Something uplifting to mark the end of a tumultuous 12 months.

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

Follow on Twitter for more stuff and photos: @roadrunnertns

Postscript. The early posts featured name checks. Let me get back to those. To 'Our Man in Port Loko', hang in there. To Johnny Admin - I need to visit you in Zurich...