Monday, May 21, 2012

Ghana one year later

Some people have asked me for a conclusion, a proper ending, a goodbye of sorts to my many posts about my adventures abroad. For a long time, literally one year to the day, I had little idea as to what to write. Fortunately, that has changed and instead of Sorkin-esque prose, I think I will retreat to a more matter of fact presentation of experiences and general thoughts.

My original rationale for studying abroad stemmed from my career choice. I harbor ambitions to join the Foreign Service and as it requires extensive time abroad, I naturally wanted to see how well equipped I was and how well I could cope. While I had thoroughly enjoyed my time in Paris and London, I knew that those plush locales were few and far between. Therefore, I wanted to test my skills in a country that was well off the beaten path.

Why Ghana?

My first search was not confined by continent but by status of developing or developed country. I decided to stick within the SUNY system for convenience and its costs are among the lowest of any study abroad program. India and Vietnam made the list only to be kicked off due to program limitations. Singapore was too developed. Then, I read an article in Foreign Affairs about Chinese foreign aid in Africa. The topic quickly became the focus of my honors thesis. Interning at SUNY/Center for International Development (CID) which has several programs in Africa also pushed my interest towards the “dark continent,” as CID sparked my interest in development and democracy in the region. As SUNY has only a handful of programs in Africa, I was able to narrow it down to Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco and South Africa. Much to my dismay, Kenya was off-limits thanks to the Department of State. Egypt fell off the list next due to high costs and the fact that the university was recently relocated to the middle of nowhere. Deciding against Egypt in the spring of 2011 turned out to be good luck. I decided against Morocco and South Africa for reasons similar to Singapore. I was also looking to escape what was shaped up to be a brutal winter. Ghana it twas!

Impressions of studying abroad

First and foremost, despite being locked away and ill, and possibly other complaints, I did on a whole enjoy my time there. I would almost certainly go back and may have the opportunity to next summer through Syracuse. I more than satisfied my rationale for going abroad. Granted, conditions in Accra were quite luxurious compared to less developed countries including neighboring Abuja, Nigeria, nearby Togo and Benin. While I did mingle with Ghanaians, I have but one Ghanaian Facebook friend and no long term friends. I found myself hanging out with my fellow obruni’s more than the obibini’s, which is not uncommon but something I wished I had been more aware of at the time.

A note on those obruni’s, it takes a special sort of person to want to study in a developing country and I was nothing but impressed by my colleagues from America, Australia, Sweden, California and elsewhere.

Below are a few laments: 
  1. Mingling more closely and meaningfully with locals would be one thing I wish I could have done more of.
  2. Working at a meaningful internship would have been very helpful and I wish I could have done this. I was a bit overwhelmed when I arrived so would suggest to arrange this well before arrival. This also would have better answered the question, “what are you doing here?”
  3. There was one place in Ghana I wish I could have gone, Mole National Park, located in the far north of the country, to see some wild animals. The weekend some friends of mine were going was the weekend my dad was coming.
  4. In addition to enjoying Ghanaian culture, I wish I could have spent more time in Ghana’s neighbors. I did visit Togo twice and Benin once but more time there would have been nice. I wanted to visit Burkina Faso but it was too far and had a very fragile political scene, so much so that I advised some friends against going. I tried to go to Mali but was unable to secure a place to stay with someone there and it would have involved two days of traveling. Cote d’Ivoire was in the midst of a mini-civil war over election results and was off-limits, effectively blocking off Liberia and other countries to the west.
  5. I would have liked to travel more but it was stressful and costly. Although a ride to the Togo-Ghana border was just four dollars, the entrance visa was about ten times that. While a room in Togo cost only $15 per night, dinner alone cost about that much. It did not help that I did not know any French which brings me to my next point.
  6. I would have liked to study in a country whose language is not English. In Africa, this would have meant French, Portuguese, Swahili or Arabic although my poor language background would have prohibited this or made it even more difficult. 
  7. I would have dearly loved a car as it would have made traveling for less stressful and faster, and would have allowed me to explore far more. I made up for this somewhat with a bike. While enticing, a motorcycle was probably a fairly dangerous option given that I had no prior experience.
  8. Perhaps in retrospect, I would have studied abroad my last semester although class requirements for my final fall required I go in the spring. My situation was compounded by the fact that I had enough credits from high school to graduate in only two and a half years. My first year was my only full year. Then, I had one fall semester, Ghana and then the last fall semester. It made language study difficult and I was not able to row nearly as much as I would have liked.
  9. I wished I had brought some Ghanaian music. It was something I planned to do but never did. 
A few things I am particularly glad I did:
  1. I developed a taste for dark beer, mainly stouts, porters and dark ales, by drinking almost entirely Guinness Foreign Extra, brewed right in Ghana.
  2. I was fortunate to not be significantly impacted by culture shock except for the hospital.
  3. I visited the US embassy and met an amazing diplomat. 
  4. I traveled to two other countries and had the good fortune to compare them to Ghana.
  5. I saw firsthand the African end of the slave trade, something that is not taught in the US much.
  6. I spent a night in a jungle, something I had long wanted to do, and with my dad.

Ghana would not leave my system easily either. My journey home began with a dilapidated cab ride to the airport at 6p Thursday and ended in the wee hours of Saturday morning. While Amsterdam was great, I fell terribly ill from a bad case of jet lag at of course my favorite Indian restaurant, long before food would arrive. I literally could not stop shaking despite putting the heat on full blast, literally unable to adjust to the climate of May in western New York. I collapsed on my way to the bathroom, deja vue, of another episode. While Lockport hospital was better equipped, getting care was an equally slow and difficult process. I discovered I was a bit malnourished, having lost almost twenty pounds.

Final thoughts

Studying abroad has been a perfect resource to draw upon in terms of justifying myself as a serious student of international relations. I applied the experience my internships, my graduate school and endless tales to people I barely know. It was the best of times, the worst of times and I would absolutely do it all again.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Zack in Amsterdam

10 degrees Celsius is 50 degrees Fahrenheit, a fact lost entirely upon me when I picked out my clothing to wear last night. Five months of a fairly standard 80 degrees has distorted my sense of temperature. I assumed Europe would be enjoying summer when late spring is more like it. I surely stick out like a sore thumb much more than usual with hiking boots, tan shorts and a worn tropical, button-up shirt.

First impressions, more English translations would help but people are friendly enough. I was quickly redirected to another platform by a kindly trash collector, barely catching the train to Amsterdam Centraal. For breakfast, I order something vaguely similar to a favorite of Coffee Cue, a chocolate waffle with banana, corresponding roughly to pancakes with Nutella, of which I am reminded of as it sits just behind the counter. With the exception of Hotel Le Galion in Lome, Togo, I had not had a really breakfast in months so it was rather top notch.

Also interesting, the area I am in just off Centraal station does not seem terribly busy for being in the middle of the morning commute although the train in was relatively empty as well. Of course, there are people on bicycle, plenty of them compared to what I am accustomed too. I would guess that this particular district has turned itself into a Disneyland of sorts, catering to tourists as I walked by a deserted casino and several shops selling unmentionables. It may be an indication of the tourist economy there or the Dutch work ethic.

Wandering further in the neighborhood, HotelScooter offered three hour bicycle rentals for 8.50€ so I explored the city that way. I rode up and down endless kilometers of canalside streets, past the Anne Frank House, and up still more narrow streets. Amsterdam has got to be one of the most friendly bicycle cities in the world as new streets are without dedicated bicycle lanes and drivers are rather kind to bikers. Pedestrians also provide a grudging respect. At some of the traffic lights, there are even lights similar to walk/don’t walk signs but with outlines of bicycles. Plus, I was in the company of a great many other cyclists which is a refreshing change from both Ghana and the US where that is rarer. While I was helmetless, no one really speeds as most of the bikes are not really made for it, leisurely paced rides are the name of the game. There were even specially built bikes with from compartments which can be used to house kids, dogs or both. I wonder if the occasional significant other must ride there too.

By the time I got to Dam Square, the rear tire gave out on me, giving me my 11th flat tire in as many months. Luckily, wheeling my bike back to the shop was not far as I had been much further than that. He gave me a new one and extra time if I so desired. I decided that my last stop on the new bike was Vondel Park, the Central Park or Boston Commons of Amsterdam. As Amsterdam is a rather elderly city, it was small but a refreshing change of pace compared to Amsterdam.

I had lox over sliced bread and a blueberry smoothie just across from Amsterdam Centraal Station. I wandered historical neighborhood and the Chinatown just nearby before climbing back on the train Schiphol airport. Unlike the US, the Dutch installed a train station below the floor of their terminal so it was easy to do. If anyone hopes that I smoked unmentionables or saw the unmentionables district, they will be sorely disappointed as neither terribly appealed. There were very few people smoking unmentionables and the unmentionables district had little appeal as well.

Going Home

At times, I never thought this day would arrive (or by now it has fallen behind). It was surreal, flagging a cab and driving to the airport, taking the route I have done countless times on my bike, in a tro-tro or in another taxi. It seems I was teased as it took a full 45 minutes instead of what should have taken a mere quarter hour. My arrival at Kotoka Airport, named for a certain general of the same name who was shot there in the 70’s, was to a quiet place with the other BA passengers on a half full flight looking for their bags. Leaving tonight, not only was my flight full but there were half a dozen other widebody planes filling up to. Thus, chaos reigned although security was quick and boarding was relatively easy to.

And where I am headed? Amsterdam of course which I sure was the first place that popped into your head. Of course, it is only for a mere 11 hours or less if my debit card fails to perform. In order to come home as early as I did, I had to use Delta miles which got me on KLM which has been rather top notch so far. I have a suggestion or two in my pocket for to do in Amsterdam although it will revolve around a café with a decent breakfast, non-instant coffee, and a free walking tour. Of course, all of that will be in Euro prices but still, a nice change from too salty egg sandwiches and instant Nescafé. I may even get in a little more blogging. And I have never set foot on Netherlandish soil so for me, this is a real treat, right down to added to my passport’s stamp collection.

Originally , I was supposed to meander on home early. However, I got lucky with the exam schedule and unlucky with bad chicken so I decided that getting into Western New York ten days early would be better than sticking around. Sure, I could have gone up to Mole National Park or one of the great national parks in Benin but after my last hurrah to Benin, my funds petered out. Coming home early also allows me to get a week extra of work in for the summer.

More importantly than any of those reasons, I have to see dear Ruth whom I have not laid eyes on since January. While she said distance makes the heart grow fonder, my heart said that shrinking that distance earlier is a great thing indeed. On the home front, we added a new member of the family. No, we did not upgrade one of my sisters but simply added a cat to what had been a two dog mix. The last cat we had made a one-way trip to the farm due to a coping with death mechanism that failed to involve the litter box. Apparently, Zoe can deal with Ginny without a problem which should not be too difficult a task given that Ginny is afraid of little kids. I wonder if they all sleep on my parent’s bed.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Talking about the Foreign Service

Those of you who know me well know that I harbor diplomatic ambitions. My dream career at present is to become a Foreign Service Officer (FSO), political cone, at the Department of State. I have been exceedingly lucky to meet people who can help me achieve this. My mentor served with a political officer who currently works at Embassy Accra and was kind enough to introduce me for a meeting. After meeting a fellow FSO wannabe while signing up for classes, I invited her along after confirming a meeting. Wannabes should stick together after all.

He began with talking about his position. One of the best aspects of his job is to simply provide results. That is what Main State (State Department headquarters in Washington) and Washington (Capitol Hill and the White House) care most about, and not so much about how those results were achieved as long as the Embassy remains productive and efficient. The “unless otherwise directed” phrase best describes this as often times, a mission will simply tell Washington that this is what they are going to do unless otherwise directed and if no one responds, it is off to the races. In the course of his job, he has dealt with explaining why the US is invading Iraq and why the host government should be supportive of this, assisted American businesses such as Kosmos and Exxon Mobil navigate the burgeoning Ghanaian oil bureaucracy, and at mission higher-ups discretion, represented the U.S. at a women’s trade fair along with the diplomats of a few other countries, and a host of other duties. He told us that there is not a moment he has ever regretted joining the Foreign Service (FS).

He talked about lifestyle of an FSO, saying to my colleague and I that one must embrace the lifestyle or else you’ll never be happy. What is the lifestyle? Moving is important. Most FS jobs last about three years, transitioning to another post mainly during the summer. Most of the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan jobs are about one year and junior officers spend their first two two-year posts processing visas. Over a 26 year career, this diplomat lived in nine different countries including Washington D.C. That appeals greatly to me as I think that that transition to a new job with new people will break up things perfectly for me. I think that doing that is a great idea and is one of the main reasons why the FS carries so much weight in my mind.

When asked about his favorite post, he said that every post had its ups and downs. While he enjoyed most aspects of Kenya, thirty-five of his friends were killed in the 1998 Embassy bombings. A close friend was violently murdered. Nairobi is significantly more dangerous than Accra as violent crime is very rare here while it is more commonplace there. While serving in Suriname under an Ambassador that he did not get along with at all made him dread going to work, he learned to fly-fish there through some native guides, learning on waters that had seen few white faces and with some of the best fishing worldwide. When one remarked that a road would eventually be constructed through his homeland and that he was told that it would bring jobs, schools and tourists, he dismissed the development as ultimately not being good for his people. When serving at a hardship, unaccompanied post in the horn of Africa, he said that his colleagues were life-long friends. Apparently getting shot at can do that to a group of people. In conclusion, he noted that if we were happy with Ghana on balance, we would probably be cut out for the Foreign Service.

Why must one embrace the lifestyle? FSOs must spend a significant chunk of time overseas. Breaking down the diplomatic corps, two-thirds of the jobs are located overseas and about one third in Washington, reporting to Main State. Therefore, he told us to expect to spend about two thirds of our career abroad. While there are some 5,000 FSOs, recall that there are five cones or jobs, political, public diplomacy, management, economic, and consular. Then, there are various grades or rankings. Language training requirements, medical clearances, hardship posts, and unaccompanied posts all bring that 5,000 job number to about 50 that one would be immediate eligible for. Out of that 50, you are tasked to list six on your bid list as jobs that you immediately qualify for.

On the bid list, he suggested that as a political officer, one should seek to build a relationship with a bureau as he has done with the Africa Bureau. If they know your work and you put decent job in Nairobi at the top of your list, your chances at getting that position, fighting out three or four others while everyone else quarrels over the cushy posts in the European Union are significantly better. While bid lists seem a faraway dream right now, I am sure I will be contending with them before long. This diplomat will certainly be getting a call from me as his mastery of them along with their attached jobs propelled him to the top of his career.

He also discussed the job of political officer as I was most curious about this. A dearth of specific day to day job information stems from the unprofessionalness of blogging about a job that has classified material and State’s monitoring of blogs prevents this. However, he provided as much light as he could. Fundamentally, political officers are reporters, sending back those now famous (and eloquently written) diplomatic cables to Washington describing situations with plenty of details. He provided an excellent theoretical example. While Washington can discover on the internet that Ghana’s official HIV rate could be 1.7%, it may not be a true reflection of the actual number. A political officer would dig deeper, calling his contact who runs the main hospital to inquire his opinion on the rate, talking to friends at the Ministry of Health, those who provided that number in addition to sex workers, homosexuals, and other high risk groups that may have been excluded from that 1.7% as those groups are not well regarded by broader Ghanaian society. That is a political officer’s fundamental position, reporting on events such as elections, protests, and running down intelligence, sending to Washington what he or she thinks Main State needs to know.

Political officers also serve as sort of catch all operatives. If a job needs doing and no one else it on it, it may fall into the lap of an unsuspecting political officer. If the post lacks a military liaison, the political officer may liaison with the military to oversee a military training program as USG (U.S. Government) does a lot of that sort of work. Political officers might clear their plates to assist a Co-Del (Congressional Delegation) or to prepare for a President visit as these are often communicated in the manner of the White House telling the Embassy that the President is coming to town in July. That wide, always changing portfolio appeals to me greatly. Parts of the job such as writing and networking have come more easily than anticipated. Ultimately, it comes down to being a job in which dull moments are rare, a perfect career path for me.

Internships were another topic. He reminded me that an FS job offer is ultimately a measure of how well one does in the Foreign Service written test and oral examination, and while previous experience is important, passing the test outweighs most everything else. In his own experience, State told him that he was unqualified for an internship due to the GPA requirement at the time but made him an FSO a year later. After reading my last internship rejection email earlier that morning, I felt a lot better about that.

Speaking of the test, he shared with us the best strategy for passing. After seeing the Yahoo group dedicated to passing the FSOT, he said that most of what they discuss is nitty-gritty and largely unimportant. While I was not a passionate member of the group to begin with, it was certainly good to hear that from someone of his experience and rank. He told us that State fundamentally wants to know that you can write well, analyze and report on information, and have some basic knowledge. During the oral exam, they want to know whether you are the pushy jerk whom no one wants to work with or the quiet but effective result getter. He gave a specific hypothetical example in that many of the positions the test asks you to argue are fundamentally loser positions with flaws, saying that the goal is not to win but to stand by the best policy. He said a good strategy is the present your assigned position as best you can but conclude by being honest and saying that Cindy’s position is a better one. That tidbit will certainly stick in my mind. Talking to someone who just passed the test was his best suggestion, especially if they are in the A100 or close to being in the A100 job training class (diplomacy 101 for FSOs). He encouraged us to contact him should we ever have difficulty finding a recent pass-ee.

His advice on languages was also a particular help to me. He said that he has always had difficult learning languages and that while there are a few lucky people with a gift for them (Lucky for me, I have fallen rather hard for one of those people!), he was not one of them. Inquiring as to whether I had a dog and then asking if I had a stupid one (in my case two of both), he said that with persistence and hard work, you can train that dog to do something such as learn a new, difficult language. This comes after 20 months of slogging through Arabic in Tunis (and being able to fluently tell me so). He said that self-study for languages is difficult for those without the language gift. While I think I will continue with Arabic in the fall, his advice does provide me some perspective as I don’t actually need Arabic to join the FS, passing the test is the ultimate decider, outweighing all else.

In all, this was one of the highlights of my trip. It is not often that one meets a practitioner, let alone someone who is in the same cone that I am most interested in. I am very grateful and look forward to keeping in touch.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Last Hurrah: Benin Part III

After a less than restive night sleep, we arose, had a quick breakfast, and made for the taxi station. The ride to the taxi station took some negotiation but we finally ended up there. Quickly, I found a taxi that would take us to Cotonou. While only 1,000 CFA per person, we sat four across in the back seat and one half of me sat on an uncomfortable metal bar. The girls crammed in the back seat where I later found out there was little air. Like the taxi the day before, this taxi was similarly dilapidated, requiring a literal running start as two guys pushed the car until the driver put it into gear.

Riding through Cotonou, we saw a city very different from any we had seen. While it was as poor as Lomé, there seemed to be a lot more life. The entire scene was visually rewarding. A plethora of motorcycle dealers, fewer sellers of the usual roadside items whom were less well stocked than their Ghanaian counterparts (indication of wealth), and far too many vehicles and motorcycles on the road at once. As the taxi slowly emptied out, we negotiated to be taken all the way to Porto Novo and our hotel. Approaching a toll booth, our driver ignored the line of vehicles and proceeded to cut in front of the bulk of the line. It turned out that this was common practice although the constant blare of horns reminded us that not everyone accepted this practice. Not long after exiting the toll, the taxi ran out of gas and the driver had to run down the street to find some. After restarting the car using wires instead of the key, the driver had someone push the car in order to get back into gear.

Upon our arrival after a long ride, we checked into the Hotel Songhai in Porto Novo. I have always been curious why no African nation has adopted this ancient name Songhai, after the ancient Songhai empire, as Ghana did with the ancient Ghanaian empire. After about ten minutes in the air conditioned goodness, my roommate and I left our other two travel mates to relax while we took the opportunity to visit a stilt village.

A large lagoon/lake sits behind Cotonou, the commercial capital of Benin, and Porto Novo, the political capital. Home to endless fishermen and women, an entire village built on stilts, and numerous crab traps and fishing apparatus, we negotiated an expensive boat ride with the wrong people. While we got an extended tour of the marshland and talked the price down from 40,000 CFA to 18,000 CFA for the two of us, my roommate figured that not one of the people in the boat on the way back paid anywhere near that much.

Riding the boat was relaxing. I wonder if one can take the boat all the way to Cotonou. We rode through the swamp grass, stopping every now and then to clear the propeller of weeds or to get the motor working again. After passing numerous fishermen and women, we arrived at the stilt village. Since the rainy season has only just begun, the water was a few feet below the village’s level as there was a sandy bar below most of the homes. The Japanese development agency built outhouses some years which has no doubt helped water quality. At the village bank, several women loaded their day’s catch into our boat for the trip to the market. Most of the fisherwomen had what I hoped were their children as their first mates, helping them load the fish and then taking charge of bringing their small canoes home. I say hope as it is sadly not uncommon for people to purchase children as slaves to work in their fishing boats.

One last side note: While writing this in my hotel room, CNN is talking about human trafficking. I wonder if any of the children we saw fishing were slaves.

The Last Hurrah: Benin Part II


Exiting (sorté) Le Galion, we took moto-taxis to Grand Marché and quickly found a tro-tro that could not only take us to the Beninois-Togo border but to our final destination, Comé, Benin. Differing slightly from Ghanaian tro-tros, the Togolese cram four people across a seat where Ghanaians would cram no more than three (smaller tro-tro). While my roommate and I shared the relative comfort of the front seat, our travel mates shared a cramped seat further back with two others.
Upon our eventual arrival in Comé, we took the most dilapidated taxi I have even seen to Hotel Chez Théo on the shores of Lake Ahéné. Scared in the front seat, I reached down for the seat belt to find only a sharp edge. Looking up in slight pain, two people began to push the ancient Nissan backwards as it appeared the reverse gear was no longer in working condition. While we arrived at the hotel safe and sound, the ride was more memorable than I would care to recall.


While the room was standard enough, the hotel has a restaurant on stilts. While the kitchen is on shore, the tables and bar are on a variety of platforms, seemingly built ad hoc. Breakfast was French bread, still heavenly warm, with real coffee and fruit although my first placemat was inhabited by a colony of ants. Upon finishing breakfast, we decided to take a trip to view some of the local sights.

Riding moto-taxis, our first stop was the python temple in Comé. The Beninese are about 60% traditional religion and the reminder French Catholic (contrast dually noted).The python temple was simply that. There were small half size huts that would house the priests for seven days in preparation for some sort of festival. We were ushered into an odd shaped temple that housed some forty pythons. They all appeared rather lethargic and one was passed around my travel mates necked. While I had no problem with the snakes, putting one around my neck was never considered.

An English speaking guide from the local tourist office was provided to take us around on moto-taxis (zemi-johns) to view the local sights dedicated towards reminding people of the slave trade. Benin was known formerly as the Slave Coast. We saw a tree in front of the slave market, originally constructed by a Brazilian slaver. We then stopped at a variety of traditional religious symbols marking each aspect of the slave trade. The Tree of Forgetfulness required slaves to walk around it three times in order to forget every aspect of their lives in Africa, all at the request of the Dahomey (Benin’s colonial name) king.

The last stop on this depressing moto-taxi ride was the memorial at the ocean. Built by the government, it was a simple arch that framed the sea. Slaves would be rowed out to the slaving ships for the trip to Brazil and Haiti. We snapped some photos, ignored the many purveyors of tourist junk, and made for the hotel.

Riding back on moto-taxis, it almost immediately began to rain. And rain it did, in fact it bucketed at one point. Luckily, I had put my camera under my raincoat along with our photo copied guide of where we would stay. The next day, my only boots were still wet.

The Last Hurrah: Benin Part I

After my meeting with the diplomat, three of my friends and I hopped a tro-tro to Aflao, the Ghanaian border town next to Lomé, Togo. Our ultimate goal was Comé, Benin but my meeting lasted longer than I thought and we had to drop by the Beninese embassy to pick up our visas. What a simple process, doing this ahead of time as the Beninese consular office was very nice and efficient, processing our visas in less than 24 hours.

After a bumpy but largely comfortable tro-tro ride to Aflao, the last bit with only a few people inside (and a whole row to myself), we arrived at the border, crossed without too much of an issue although purchasing the Togolese visa was a bit costly and before I knew it we arrived at Hotel Le Galion, my favorite in all of West Africa thus far. The next morning, we would travel to Comé, Benin and onwards to our hotel.

Why is the Hotel Le Galion my favorite? The atmosphere is irreplaceable. That begins with the clientele. Both poorly aged French men and their hookers, along with students from both France and ISH, make the hotel their base. All mix and mingle in the courtyard of the hotel, under huge old trees and safely behind a medium height wall. There are tables under umbrellas with the hotel looking down and in. Just inside there is a large bar that also serves as the front desk. The staff and service is very good as a few of the women even speak small-small English or enough to understand non-Francois’s such as me. On some nights, a band plays in the far side, masquerading the diners in sounds of electric guitar, piano and the soft Togolese vocals.

Par the former French colonial Africa tradition, Le Galion also has a full service restaurant serving excellent food. From ham sandwiches (on a toasted baguette with melted cheese and ham),omelets that are yellow, tasty and with real cheese, and coffee that isn’t instant, Le Galion knows how to do French West African food. Drinks include a variety of beers (well beyond the big Ghanaian five) including Flag, the best macro-lager I have had below the Tropic of Cancer. Wine is expensive but decent enough. Dessert includes top notch ice cream and chocolate mousse. All of this is at good prices and right in the hotel courtyard. One realized quickly why Hotel Le Galion is my favorite.