Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Health Care: IV

For those of you worried about my well-being, you are in good company. The director of the University hospital popped in to say that he promised my program director that I would get better. To do that, he said that he would need to restart my treatment. I explained to him why I had stopped and that no one tells me anything, that being in a hospital in a foreign country where people talk about you in their native (Twi) language is rather intimidating. Unbeknownst to him, he was also capitalizing on my regret about stopping treatment. Thus, I listened to good reason and restarted. A new IV insert was jabbed in below my veins. The medication began flowing once more. I managed to fall asleep too.

Morning arrived with the pervasive calls of a rooster. My IV had run dry again but it restarted without the painful jump-start. My program director had brought silverware but breakfast was a piece of bread with a bowl of hot chocolate. I felt much better, quantum leaps better. I even finished the Clancy novel.

Sitting in a chair outside my room people watching, a woman came up and we got to talking. I found another chair and learned that she was a former Foreign Service Officer (FSO) with Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Her first posting had been in Togo and upon her arrival, she found that a man would not stop bothering her and they eventually married. Since he was also an FSO, she had to resign as it was understood at the time that married women could not serve with their husbands in the work place. Her most memorable post was to Washington where her husband served as Deputy Chief of Mission, a position outranked only by the Ambassador. They lived in an all-white neighborhood in Bethesda MD. The first weekend after she arrived, her husband hosted a neighborhood cookout and she got to meet all of the neighbors. She said she wondered how the neighbors would act around her as they did not know her achievements, working with the MFA before she met her husband, and some may have expected a bush wife. But everyone was very cordial and she got many requests for recipes of the
Ghanaian dishes she served in addition to the standard American fare of hot dogs and hamburgers. What a break from the boredom!

Unfortunately, my second day in the hospital turned into a second night. My program director talked to the doctor before seeing me over her lunch break and apparently they wanted to pump me full of cipro to get rid of the bad food. I think my body did a fairly good job at this all on its own but I did not argue. She wrote a list of things I would need and promised to be back later that evening.

Coming back, she brought a pair of sheets to replace my sole hospital issued sheet, a few more books, my cellphone (which of course did not work well in that part of Legon), and other things to get me through one last night.

Morning arrived before I knew it. In fact, I awoke to see the doctor looking through my chart. She asked if I had any complaints which in my newly awaken-ness was having trouble comprehending exactly what she meant. This woman had been terse from the start and was very annoyed that I could not understand what she thought was a basic question. My request for elaboration discerned that she wanted to know about pain and if I had any other ailments. No was thankfully an easy answer and I went back to sleep. Later that morning, I walked up the hall to see if I could be discharged the last IV had finally been exhausted. They removed my IV and I packed my backpack to leave. I needed 15 cedis to pay my bill but had only 13 which the nurses thankfully took. The evil IV insert came out (note how it was not before I paid my bill) and suddenly I was free from the hospital!

After telling a cab driver that 3 cedis was too much for a simple on campus ride, I walked into the hostel, triumphant that I had vanquished the vile piece of chicken! The ironic thing is that I probably could have walked out at anything except for the fact that I was not retaining what I should have been retaining. I will never complain about being in an American hospital should I ever find myself in one again!

Health Care: Part III

Sleeping in the hospital is difficult even without anyone around to make noise. I was still hooked up the IV which I was watching anxiously as the fluid fell lower and lower until it ran out. I was extremely worried about it letting air bubbles into my blood stream which I believe are very painful (I am not going to confirm this since any web search results would induce nightmares). Once the IV ran out, a nurse was nowhere to be found. What to do? As I was hooked up and enjoying my book, I decided to wait.

What a costly decision to do so. Since there was no longer any fluid flowing through my IV, my body clotted up the intrusion. A nurse finally arrived to change my IV packs and the fluid had trouble flowing. This was no shock to me but it seemed to be news to the nurse. Before I knew it, she was feeling along my vein to un-clot the blood which was particularly painful. However, things began to flow once more and my heart beat declined to a more moderate pace. For the second time that day, I had been forgotten about by the hospital staff (the first time was in the “ER” restroom). Upon awaking from a nap, the IV had run out again. After wandering up the hall in search of medical attention, I was told to go back and that someone would be along to change my IV. A Ghanaian wait, a change in IV bags, and the fluid again refused to flow. The same painful procedure followed but it failed to get things moving. I did not even have my glasses on as I had just awoken so I failed to anticipate a large needle being inserted just downstream from my insert. It hurt more than words can describe. In retaliation for my blood being so forcefully un-clotted, it boiled up in anger. This was avoidable if the nurses would actually check in on their patients every once in a while. I asked as politely as my boiling blood would let me that this not happen again.

It was either bed or reading so I choose bed. I woke up a few hours later to find for the third time that evening, my IV had stopped at halfway long ago and that my blood had likely clotted the intrusion. This was the last straw. I had no faith in the nurses’ abilities to watch over me. I could have died in that room and upon the discovery of my body hours later, they would have just said “ooohhh” in that apologetic manner of Ghana with perhaps a “charlie” which is what sorry sounds like. When the nurse came by to change it, I said no more. I thought that the medicine was my last bag and it was still half full, indicating that I had received half of my medicine. I told the nurse that I was stopping treatment, that I did not want to be forgotten again, and the procedure to restart the IV was too much to go through again. She did not take kindly to those words even thought I was polite as one could possibly be under the circumstances but left to report the uncooperative “obruni” patient to the nurse in charge. This second nurse did not argue and told the first nurse that it is the patient’s right to refuse treatment. Before I knew it, I was free and unable to sleep, went back to my book. As far as I was concerned, I had received most of my medicine and would check out tomorrow. No one had volunteered any information to the contrary.

I have always wondered why patients stop treatment but here I found myself selecting it as the most rational option at the time. The IV problems were the first reason as I had never had an IV before and was scared to death about the air bubbles. Second, the general lack of attention and care to my well-being was thoroughly unnerving. It is not that I am a needy person but both times my IV clogged were preventable with even a little attention from the nurses. Third, I felt very much alone. I left my phone in an unusual location in my room so my roommate could not find it. I have not memorized any Ghanaian phone numbers so calling one of my friends was not an option. My only connection to the outside world was when my program director arrived the next morning.

Finally, I was overwhelmed by Ghana, anxiety about the IV and air bubbles, lack of faith in the nurses to help if my condition worsened, and culture shock at the hospital conditions led me down the most rational path of stopping treatment. I was shocked that no one was informing me as to what was happening, I have no idea what sort of medication was put into me, when I might check out, or anything unless I asked and I was in no mood to ask. Much to my annoyance, the insert was left in my skin as they fully anticipated me restarting. I went back to my book since my boiling blood utterly discouraged sleep.

Health Care: Part II

After discussing my symptoms with the doctor, I was wheeled to a room which I can only describe as the ER. Unbeknownst to me, eagerly awaiting medicine on a bed, my program director and her husband were arguing with the nurses about getting me some medicine. Apparently, they did not think I was seriously sick enough to warrant “free” drugs and were demanding payment before treatment. I only heard shouting and only later confirmed my suspicions with my roommate who was kind enough to accompany me to the University Hospital. Finally, a nurse came by, drew blood and hooked me up to an IV. The IV was an entirely new experience for me and was frightening. My previous hospital stay was about 20 years ago as three month old infant who thought it prudent to see just what the parental unit was made of through the whooping cough test (My current existence suggests a passing mark).

During this “ER” stay, the unmentionables struck and I discovered that toilet paper was not in stock nor had it ever been. While I expect this at almost every public place in Ghana, it was somewhat of a shock at the hospital. I shudder to think of the alternative.

Eventually, I was moved to another room which would become my confinement for the next not one but two evenings. Medicine was hooked up to my IV tube (also a scary process). My program director and her husband along with my roommate appeared. Her husband had found toilet paper and soap at a nearby market stall. They would be back later with additional stuff and I provided a list of important items that I would need.

The dinner cart, literally a few pots on a cart, arrived later that evening. A kindly father tending to his son in the next bed made sure that I received some food as I was sort of out of it, having just awoken from a nap in which I dreamt a rather vivid dream. Unfortunately, the kitchen lacked even a single spoon to spare so I had to eat my rice and soap African style (without assistance of utensils). The hospital couldn’t even sell me a plastic spoon! Shortly after that, my program director and her husband reappeared with some of my stuff such as a change of clothes, a Tom Clancy novel, and more dinner. My program director thought that I would be discharged the following morning.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Health Care: Part I

Ahhh, the hostel floor was as cold as the refrigerated water I was craving. Moments before, I had walked out of the bathroom on a quest to retrieve my bottle of icy cold goodness from the communal fridge just up the hall. Walking forward, my vision began to black out, longer than it had before, so I resorted to feeling my way along the wall. The thought of sitting down and letting this episode pass never occurred to me as I fully anticipated a vision restoration momentarily. I guess my belief in my body’s infallibility propelled my forward (although my friends saw me and wandered why I was so close to the wall). Suddenly, my legs lost hope in this infallibility belief and down I went, sending my head into the wall, and my body sliding down to the cool hostel floor. Mind you, only my vision blacked out and I recall hoping that someone, anyone had seen this tragic tumble so I wouldn’t have to shout for assistance in the otherwise quiet hostel.

Luckily, a university employee saw me and run up. Two of my friends also saw me and one immediately called our program director. They even bandaged up my then bleeding forehead. Before I knew it, I was in the back of my program director’s car enroute to the University hospital in the company of my roommate, hoping that I would not get sick in the back of the car which had retained its new car smell. S

Walking into the hospital, I was shown to a bed. After a wait as a doctor was found, I was plopped into a chair to explain what exactly was ailing me. The doctor who seemed to be of student age was rather terse as apparently, she was all set to leave for the day. Always nice to know exactly what a bother you are.

What happened?

That is a good question and one that I can only answer with an educated guess. On Sunday, I was feeling lazy and did not rustle up much energy to do much of anything, even getting breakfast, beyond reading Tom Clancy. I ate crackers and drank very little. Late afternoon after explaining why Burkina Faso had fallen off my radar for this trip, I hopped on my bike to double check the exam schedule (which is subject to change at all times) and then took a longer detour around the neighborhood. I have no problem exhorting the tons of energy required for this escapade on a largely empty stomach. This past summer, I had no problems hiking six miles to discover that my lunch was not in my backpack but on the counter at home. Half of ancient Nature Valley Bar ™ kept me going (Ginny got the other half). I took another detour past the Creamy Inn, a sad excuse of an ice cream shop, for an attempt at a sundae that would remotely resemble its American counterpart.

Later Sunday evening, I had dinner with my roommate at one of the night market stands. He chose sausage (read hot dog) while I chose chicken, a defining choice. After assuming both sets of grandparents that I am doing okay over the phone, I went to bed.

At around 4am Monday morning, unmentionables struck me unawares. Coming back, I wondered if I could still make it to dance. I concluded that the potential for embarrassment was too high so I reset my alarm with the goal of sleeping off whatever ailment I had. Until around 1:30p, those unmentionables would arouse me from my bedridden-ness every two hours as if on a timer.

I suppose that is the backgrounder. Inferring from that, I think I had low blood sugar and mild dehydration, all of which conspired towards the moment of collapse.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Alright, I suppose I should admit it. I am addicted not to alcohol (although this rosé from Argentina is quite good), nor I am addicted to medication (I just take one malaria pill each day, not any time I feel like it). Rather, I cannot get enough of Ghana’s chocolate bars. For those of you that know me well, I have a mouth full of sweet-teeth. Much like Albany, Ghana lacks the sweet tooth culture of dedicated desert shops, icy coffee drinks, and a lack of convenience stores that sell a plethora of candy bars. Granted I can still get Snickers, Twix and a few others on occasion, even more from high grocery stores like Max Mart and Shop Rite. And while FanIce carts selling vanilla ice cream in a plastic sachet package are a nice treat (and for about $0.35), it is unable to quench my thirst for sweets.

Kingsbite Milk Chocolate, by Golden Tree and manufactured with Ghanaian cocoa in nearby Tema, simply melts in my mouth. Eating only half of the bar is rarely an option. It does not help that they are widely available, even on the streets (their asking price of 4 cedis is an outrageous, I do not pay more than 2 cedis, 50 pesawas). I walk by the convenience store that sells them every day. I get craving while deep into campus and wander aimlessly in search of chocolate amid the sea of women selling bananas and groundnuts (peanuts) at a pittance.

I am not sure what I will do when I get home. I suppose taking the best girlfriend in the world to Aletheas’ will help, in particular their selection of dark chocolate and dreamy ice cream sundaes. I will buy a bunch to bring back as they do not melt easily in heat (Ghanaian feature). When that runs out and I am busy at some sort of summer job, I do not know what I will do. Maybe Starbucks has the cure, I think they make chocolate now right? I have to maintain my Gold Card status somehow!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Back to Ghana


After a top notch breakfast, we climbed onto the back of motorcycle taxies for our trip up Mount Klouto. It was only 12km from Kpalime although way up a narrow, winding mountain road. We briefly stopped for photos at a waterfall. Instead of hiking up Mount Klouto right away, our guide took us to a local artists gallery.
Using paints made from local plants and canvas also made locally, the paintings were rather stunning. While there were typical depictions of palm trees, traditional mud huts, and women, I was impressed by the amount of abstract art done by one of the artists. Perhaps it was the strength of the Togolese coffee but I overcame my usual pre-fabricated opinions about abstract art to warrant some complements. I also hoped for a good price on one of the hut with palm tree scenes hanging in the corner. Without even negotiating in the tense Ghanaian style, my offer of $20 USD for a 12,000 CFA painting was accepted. I also bought half a pound of coffee which will with any luck (pending my existing stock of Starbucks), make it all the way home.
Hiking up Mount Klouto was rather easy as our vertical ascent was at best 400 feet as the motorcycle taxis had done most of the work getting us to the artist gallery. We walked through a pretty English run hotel which may warrant another trip back as the locale was quiet and cool with beautiful views. We walked up the quiet dirt lane past an enormous tree, big enough to warrant photos of ourselves in the tree.

Through prettier fields of a crop of the unknown sort (at least to me) and past glimpses of the views below, we finally reached the flat top of Mount Klouto. We were even greeted by not one but two radio towers. Barring that, the view was rather stunning. While haze obscured things such as distance Lake Volta, we could still see the surrounding higher hills, a PM’s summer residence, and a small town nestled in the valley below us. Unfortunately, the legions of butterflies were reduced to just a few because of the later hour in the morning and the lack of ripe fruit on the large tree on the top.

Mount Agou, despite its taller nature, lacked the 360 degree views of Mount Klouto. It was more about the journey away as the mountain was a good 20km away over rough and narrow roads. It was quiet coming down as the motorcycle drivers turned off their motors to save gas as the grade allowed for surprisingly quick speeds. We passed through a small hillside village that could have come from Nepal. On the way back down, we were stopped by a fallen tree as a family of loggers were hard at work ravaging the hill side. My driver got off the bike, picked up a machete and within ten minutes, the large tree was cleared and we continue almost silently down the mountain road, the loud cycle horn advertising our presence coming around a blind turn.

Back to Accra

After a long wait for still more delicious food, my travel buddies and I decided that since we had accomplished all that we had set out to do, and since we were low on funds (16,000 CFA per night can do that), we hired our guide and two others to take us by motorcycle taxi to the border. Of course, luck would have it that we owed half a day extra due to our late checkout and the sky which had been relatively clear all day turned ominous as it often does although rain rarely falls from those skies here.

Well, we had sat on the back of motorcycles for at least 60km on Friday and as we hopped on one last time to go back, we had already logged 64km or more than day. Surely, a few more would not be too much of a problem even with full backpacks of stuff. Well, it turned out that my travel buddies were scared for their lives most of the way back.

The sky got darker, the rain drizzled down, and the road was among the worse “major” roads I had laid rubber on. Despite my grave misgivings on the 45km ride back from Lake Togo on Friday, complete with enormous and overloaded tractor trailer trucks, total road reconstruction, and other crazy motorcycles, all at the terrifically terrifying speed of 80-90km per hour, I thought the ride back to Ghana was a piece of cake. It helped that my driver and I joked about the road including my own father preference for non-avoidance of potholes.

All of my good rides were with drivers who at least could laugh at what I was saying, my non-Francoise coupled with “small-small English,” helped the mind forget the fact that one is indeed on the back of a motorcycle with no helmet, speeding along on an awful road at with a poorly functioning headlight, and clear out the thoughts of should one survive the immediate worst of a crash, the subsequent medical facilities located hours away in Ho, Ghana or Lome, Togo. Cutting edge surgery would be assessable only with the medical evacuation card in my wallet followed by a 6 hour chartered flight to Europe or South Africa. Plus, there is the added pressure of loved ones and what such an event could do to them. Should I travel to another country with abundant motorcycle taxis, I may purchase a helmet before leaving.

Crossing the Border

The poor quality indicated the amount of traffic the crossing to Ho, Ghana typically handled. Our first passport check was with a Togolese military guy. He was in a dilapidated hut, cradling a flashlight to look at our visas, write down our personal details inside an equally dilapidated ledger, and find the ink pad to give our passports a decent stamp. Should the Togolese military ever find a better use of their time, they could train 10 year old's to perform their job or at least a large percentage of it.

Our second Togolese passport check was even more relaxed. A military guy and his off duty buddy were lying on cots under a pavilion. We chatted up the lonely pair and the military guy became more animated as he came out of his drowsiness. “How are you from?” That was the answer he sought my colleague who was having none of it as it was at the end of a long day of traveling, all of which appeared lost on the face of military man. He gave us back our lifelines with a smile and a goodbye.

Finally in Ghana

We finally reached the Ghanaian border station. We were first asked for our yellow fever cards, a new experience as we had not been asked for them when we first arrived at the airport. After a few tense moments of frantic scrambling, we were waved through as the yellow card I received from the Albany medical clinic finally served its purpose after decorating the last page of my passport. This was also done by flashlight. Unlike the Ghanaian border station at busy Aflao, computers were nowhere to be found nor were the passport scanners, ready to scan my identity into Ghana’s database. Instead, flashlights built into cellphones and after an generous donation, matches started a lone candle which helped the agents read the Ghana residency permits in our passports and fill out our immigration forms. Shortly after beginning the process, the sky opened up as it had threatened to do the entire ride to the border. It did not just rain but bucketed in a tropical sort of fashion that one is accustomed to seeing television shows such as Lost. By the time the immigration formalities had been completed, most of rain stopped.

We got one lost short ride to the mostly empty tro-tro station and paid our guides with both CFAs, handshakes and hugs, augmenting that feeling of accomplishment at the ordeal we had all jointly experienced. The tro-tro was meant to hold nine, two in the front of the station wagon, four in the middle and three in the back but one lone Reuters contractor and ourselves ended up paying extra to get things moving to Ho. The car lacked even side panels on the doors as well as a handle to open the windows. My pencil found a use to crank things open. In addition to being dirt, the road was also under construction as the driver occasionally weaved through large piles of gravel and drove through large puddles of rain. We even passed a few soggy motorcycles trying to do the same thing. Ho came up quickly and the gentleman from Reuters walked us to the tro-tro station that goes to Accra as he was headed in the same direction. We settled in to a comfortable, new Toyota van with clean seats, air-conditioning, and closed windows for the two and a half hour jaunt back to Accra.

Togo was well loved as I know one of my travel buddies is headed back this weekend! If I had more money, I would join them but I would like to visit Burkina Faso and Mole National Park before heading home instead.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The rest of Togo: Part 1

I am too tired to blog in my Togo voice so you will have to bear with the soothing, calm sounds of my natural voice.

Picking up where I left off in the internet café in Lome, I realized that the time set aside to meet with my fellow travelers to proceed to Lake Togo had come and gone. At Le Galion, the staff gave me a note that was left detailing exactly where they had gone which made it easy to catch up. I packed up my stuff in my room, left behind my phone charger, and checked out. Perhaps because of the lack of a toilet (but in its place a shower and sink), my room was 7,000 CFAs (seefahs) or about $14 which was less than my meal at Eiffel Restaurant.

Hopping onto a moto-taxi, I rode to the Grand Marche where I could change 100 cedis in CFAs as I would need that for the next day or two. I found two Muslim men who, perhaps in appreciation of my Arabic greeting, gave me a decent return of 30,000 CFAs. Back onto a moto-taxi and flush with CFAs, I showed the driver the location, Hotel Le Lac, Lake Togo. When he did not know where to go, he stopped at a hotel and asked directions as something was getting lost in translation between us (he spoke only “small-small” English). The hotel staff spoke better English and directed me to a taxi stop just up the street and told me to pay 1,000 CFAs to get to the hotel. I relaxed as best I could in the taxi, sitting four across in the backseat which reminded me of my first few weeks doing Crew.

My backpack and I were let off at the stop for Hotel Le Lac. For 200 CFAs, a moto-taxi took me right to the entrance. Looking out at the water, I saw my friends who had not been there too long anyways. The beach on Lake Togo had a resident population of Hobie Cats (catamaran sailboats) and other small sailboats. I asked a guy who appeared to be guarding them about a possible rental and he said that they were all privately owned, much to my disappointment. Luckily, the lake was quite pleasant and warm to swim in, and exceedingly shallow. I was several hundred yards off and still standing up in the mucky bottom. This even allowed me to explore a fishing set up, a series of poles and nets in the water aimed at trapping fish. The one I looked at had a few of them in it.

After relaxing on the beach under the shade of palm trees, we packed up to head back to Lome to pick up passports and catch the tro-tro to Kpalime, a town in the heart of coffee country. The enterprising Togolese immigration officials had advised my colleagues to buy a yearlong, multiple entry visa, lying that their single entry visa had expired. We were able to pick up passports without an issue and made our way to the tro-tro.

Togo is less well off than Ghana in some ways. Food is wicked expensive (but delicious) and it is simply confusing to use currency with so many zeros in it. People are also poorer as evidenced by the tro-tro. Vehicles are older and much more overloaded with stuff than in Ghana. While the three of us claimed the back seat, a fourth person was inserted when it was really meant (at least in Ghana) for three across. Thus, the two and a half hour drive was cramped and bumpy. At a tollbooth, our Togolese seatmate bought escargots on a stick, handed in from out the window. I have seen a lot of different foods on sticks but snails were definitely a first. Unfortunately, we drove off before we could decide whether to buy some.

Arriving late at the hotel, I ordered some food and checked into my room. It was 16,000 CFAs a night or around $34, expensive by West Africa standards but really nice. I turned the air-conditioning down to 16 degrees Celsius, took my fourth hot shower on the Continent and came down to beef, peppers and onions grilled on a pair of metal sticks (usually they are wood). The steak fries were also top notch (steak fries being what the French refer to French fries as). We also negotiated with a guide to explain were we wanted to go on Saturday. Luckily, my friend spent 11 years taking French and was finally able to put it to use. Didae agreed to take us up Mount Klouto and Mt Agou the next morning at 7am.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dear Togo: Second Impressions

While we have indeed started off on the wrong foot, I have decided to come to terms and be thankful nothing more was lost as losing my Canon would have been devastating. Perhaps dinner out will start things anew, that is after touring some beautiful museums of African scripture and art (sadly, no photos allowed). But before we eventually sit down to a down to a delicious meal, let us begin with discussing your differences from my other lover; dear Ghana.

The obvious one at this moment is your AZERTY keyboards are difficult to use for those QUERTY users. Your Hotel de Galion is one of the best thus far with rooms for about 15 bucks and a first floor restaurant reminiscent of the outdoor/indoor cafes of your former colonial overlord (France). Your toasted sandwich on French bread with ham and melted cheese melted my tongue as my Ghanaian lover has no clue as to a sandwich (being a former English colony). Your omelettes are succulent and fulfilling. Wine is an of course instead of a rare treat. Beer options appear to be more broad than Ghana’s big five. Despite the inherent dangers of being helmet-less, your motorcycle taxis should make themselves available in Accra as their speed and fun factor would be most welcome there. You even have imported a precious few rickshaws from the subcontinent! My dear, you actually care about the condition of your beaches as seashells far outnumber the rare pieces of trash. I love well kept women. Due in part to your lack of tro-tros, lack of too many taxis and economic development, traffic remains a characteristic of only my Ghana lover. Your small size and lack of that urban renewal attitude of dear Ghana, you have kept your capital quaint, quiet and very pretty.

Despite those clear advantages, we have a number of differences of opinion. Let us not forgot you robbed me. Then, your taste in women and their obvious pairing with your advanced age; balding head, eyepatch, and other characteristics of a poorly aging Frenchmen, right in the broad daylight of the breakfast table is most disgusting. Could you not confine your ladies of the night to well, the night?

Your occasional rejection of pants is another turn off. I suppose I should not be surprised given your colonial heritage imparting the time honoured phrase that “they don’t wear pants on the other side of France” which you seem to have misinterpreted. Its roots lie in the fact that during the era of the Three Estates, one Estate wore pants so expensive and of such high quality that the term pants was woefully inadequate. Dear Togo, you do not seem to understand that they still wore something. While I am used to seeing young black males and some white ones wearing pants well south of their buttocks, that usually reveals a dilapidated pair of boxer briefs instead of bare buttocks. You even did away with the concept altogether at one point. Surely Togo you can afford to buy a pair of pants with my stolen funds?

While your food was great, your top restaurant experienced a change of ownership and name change, both of which for the worse. Two and a half hours, and then lost entrees beguiled us. Your seefa or CFA needs to loose some wait and could certainly drop at least two zeros. Your blunders thus far I think have impede what could have been a wonderful relationship.

Despite all oft those incidents, I am alive and even able to overcome the evil AZERTY keyboard (French of course) in order to pound out two blog posts. I have my health, a full stomach of delicious food, a nice hotel room, and a nice day planned. I even have a wonderful relationship with the real woman of my dreams to boot!!! (Sorry dear Ghana and Togo, you have no hope on this front).

Dear Togo: Welcome Matt

While dear Ghana has treated me well, insulated really from the realities of many of her 53 countries which I think may have contributed to my own vulnerabilities, I think that it may be time to expand my horizons. Abidjan is sadly out of commission thus nearer by Togo, yes you my dear Togo, may be a good option. Early Thursday morning, I acted on that impulse, finding Madina’s tro-tro to Aflao, Ghana which is just across the border from Lome, your capital. The ride across Ghana’s coastal plain was thankfully quick abite rough. My travel buddies were unable to resist dear Togo’s advances and had left a day ahead of me. My goal was to meet them at the Hotel de Galion at 12 pm noon on Thursday. Luckily dear Togo and despite many potential hurdles, this went off with out a hitch as after waiting in the hotel café, my travel mates found me enjoying a top notch omelette, the best I have had in Africa.

However Togo, your welcome matt stole 40 bucks from me. That was most mean and certainly got our relationship off on the wrong foot. Your scheme strongly suggests that an insecure obruni travelling by his stony lonesome utilize the kindly trans-border services of a friendly guide. I changed money what I am sure was a crummy rate.

Then, I followed the guide to Ghana immigration where the guide disappeared to look for a taxi which should have raised a red flag. I filled out dear Ghana's forms, my passport was scanned and information entered into a computer; and I added to my collection of passport stamps. I proceeded to your own customs facilities which were less technologically advanced as my passport was stamped and my name entered into your aging ledger by hand. Your unfamiliarity with a UN passport (complete with UN blue cover) almost denied a Nigerian UN representative entrance but we both made it through.

Though your guide, you informed me that your machine would see my foreign currency and that I should hide it between my cedis. Another red flag should have sounded the alarm as the border services was not even computerized but alas, the guide managed to slip away some 40 bucks and 10 cedis from me, the latter through a tip which was a kick in the pants. I realized my loss only when one of my travel buddies mentioned it me later. So my dear Togo, we have gotten off on the wrong foot at the very least. This may impede our relationship developing much beyond a thing.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Mobile blogging, thanks Vodaphone. I am sitting in the back of a tro tro on my way to Togo! I cannot wait for the great food and beautiful scenery. I am meeting up with two of my friends who left yesterday. I received some great suggestions from a friend including fried wagashi cheese.Web access will be sparse and my won' work there so I will post on Monday at the earilest as typing with a 1-9 phone keypad is wicked slow.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Beach Break

Getting There

It was at least half the fun or rather battle in this case. According to the Bradt Guide, you can simply hail a taxi to take you to where the tro-tro for a certain destination departs. I got half of this after talking to a second taxi driver. He said take the tro-tro to Accra Mall, switch to one going to Tema, and upon arrival, there would be one to Ada Foah (pronounced Adafo). Sure enough, he was right and I found a tro-tro (never shortened to tro) going to Ada Foah. After about two and a half hours of driving through the extreme flat coast plain and many stops later, I arrived to an empty tro-tro park as the last remaining passenger. Not to fear, kindly Eric was there to guide me to a boat that would take me to Maranatha Beach Club. I coasted in on a small wooden canoe powered by a large sail make of rice sacks and a guy with a paddle.


Upon arrival, I inquired the room price which was 20 GHC, more than Bradt Guide’s 12 GHC. An immediate turn off, I wandered down the beach to another resort and ordered a soda which was more than twice what it should cost. Beer was expensive too. Back to Maranatha, I bought two nights in a tiny hunt with a sand floor. While each hut had a country flag painted on it, mine had a Ghanaian flag minus the star.

In front of the huts were a bunch of thatched-roof pavilions with chairs and tables and some chairs and lounge chairs near the water’s edge. When I say water, I mean Volta River water. When I boarded the canoe in Ada Foah, I sailed down the Volta River to Maranatha. A few hundred feet behind Maranatha, I could hear the waves thunder against the shore. It was great having to bodies of water as the Volta was a perfect place to wash after a salty and sandy swim in the ocean.


Of course, then entire point of this trip was the beach and swimming in the refreshing ocean. The first thing I noticed is how slanted the sand is relative to the water. Then, I stepped out into the waves and was almost knocked over by smallish swell. That never happens to me, particularly not for a wave that small. The bigger ones were even more intense as unless I drove under it or swam through the top, it would pick me up without so much of a thought and throw me onto the shore. This astonished me to no end. Perhaps this is because my beach experiences are limited, mainly Maine and New Hampshire with a little Cape Cod and Labadi Beach (Accra, Ghana) thrown in. While getting thrown onto shore was not fun, when the wave receded, it seemed to take half of the sand with it. While I made several successful attempts at bodysurfing, the last one ended up scraping my sunburnt stomach against the sand and then filling my hair and bath suit full of sand as it receded, a sort of “blank” you parting gift. While I did enjoy trying to not die in the waves and not get swept away by a strong rip tide, I found myself with more time to walk and read on the beach. One major trajedy of African beaches and many beaches worldwide is the trash. There were tons upon tons of trash scattered along the beach, mostly of Ghanaian origin due to the many discarded water sachets baring English script among the heaps of plastic bags, containers and other items. While one could by and large still feel the sand under one’s feet, it did provide a rather sad background to an otherwise gorgeous locale.


In Bradt Guide, two places were suggested as a side trip from the beach clubs. One was to Crocodile Island which is now home to basket weavers or at least it was went Bradt went to press as no one at Maranatha knew what I was talking about. However, the rum factory on Sugar Cane Island was known to them and I chartered a motor canoe to take me there. The kindly owner showed me his sugar cane crushing machine, made in India but sadly broken as is so frequent when many Africans use machines. In the meantime, he gets his cane crushed offsite. Then, we moved onto the actual cane fields. He showed me that the plant is divided into three parts. The middle is crushed for sugar cane juice. The top is then replanted. After being crushed, it can be recycled as they do in Accra into paper but he simply uses it for fire wood and other uses.

Upon extraction from the cane, the juice is set to ferment in plastic, 55 gallon drums. After about three weeks, it is then heated in a rusting 55 gallon metal drum and the steam goes through the top into a pipe and across to a vat of cool water. The steam condenses into rum as it slips down coiled metal tubes and eventually flows out of a spigot at the bottom of the vat as rum. He brews two types, clear rum and a reddish rum. Many of the Caribbean rums are reddish colored because they ferment in wooden barrels. Since wooden barrels are not used in Ghana, he gets the reddish color by adding mahogany chips into some of his plastic barrels.

We then sat down to free samples. He brought two water bottles which contained his produce as one could have easily been mistaken for water. I suppose having his own label is a distance dream instead of AquaSplash and BonAqua bottled water. I had never had straight rum before so it was a bit intense, feeling a burning sensation deep down in my throat. While my Ghanaian boat captain and colleague downed a full shot of the stuff, I was reduced to gentle sips and even then could only finish half. After the samples, he refilled the bottles and I bought both red and white rum for 10 GHC each. While I did come around to enjoying rum straight, in the future I may break my cardinal rule of not mixing alcohol with sweet things and add some sort of soda.

The Hut

At first glance, the hut was intriguing. After opening a tiny, old U lock, I found a double deck complete with a single sheet, two pillows, and a bug net, a chair and a table. There was a single incandescent light bulb controlled by a temperamental light switch. Ghanaians use the energy/money saving incandescent lights almost exclusively as it is part of the reason why six turbines at Akosombo Dam with an output of 1,020 MW can power 24 million Ghanaians with some to spare for their Togolese and Beninois neighbors. The walls were simply thatched palms and the roof was a thatched something else. Fishing nets ensured that the roof would not blow away and an upside down pot capped the peak. While a sand floor was a neat feature initially, I came to despise it as at least half of that sand migrated into my bed on the first night. This was compounded by not having a top sheet (Ghanaians seem to be stingy with sheets). The bed was similarly awful as some of its supporting ribs showed a disdain for staying in a supportive position, preferring to rest on the floor. It made for a crummy night’s sleep, augmented only by the sound of waves pounding the shore.

Despite those setbacks, I enjoyed my time alone. I did not have to talk to anyone, not even the obrunis (well, except for one gregarious Dutchman). I started and finished Gums, Germs, and Steel which even featured a chapter on why Africa is black and has only a fragment of their once formidable pygmy population ( Mind you, I agreed with Wikipedia and think the term is pejorative but an alternative has yet to be invented. I almost panicked Saturday as the tiny resort with maybe six paying guests was overrun by college students from Accra. It was interesting as it appeared that few had actual bathing suits, preferring to swim in whatever they had on yet many of those same students had digital cameras. Priorities I suppose. I did talk with a former Ghanaian who served in the army as a UN Peacekeeper in UN Missions in Cote d’Ivoire, D.R. Congo, and several other places. Since he goes to college in Labadi not far from Legon, we will certainly meet up for a beer to exchange stories (or me simply listen to his). All 200 hundred or so left by 6pm, leaving just their trash which was largely picked up by the time I got up this morning.