Kumasi Adventures

October 14, 2012
Back at Kasoa
Oh, what a weekend we had.
We three girls went on a grand trip. (Grand: not to mean ‘luxurious’ in this context, as you will understand when my story unfolds.)
As a background:
Kumasi is Ghana’s 2nd best known city. According to Google Map, it is 229 km from Kasoa. It should take, again according to Google Map, roughly 3 hours to traverse it. However as you know because of the incompletely cemented and asphalted roads here, the actual trip is expected to be between 4-5 hours. Again, part of the famed ‘GMT’— Ghana Maybe Time (a coined term of one acquaintance).
As we later on quite painfully learned, 4-5 hours is being optimistic.
First Saga: THE RIDE.
Ours lasted 6 hours, almost 7. Looking back, we all agreed that this is most likely due to the fact that instead of taking a bus (less stops, more technically reliable) to Kumasi we took a tro-tro. The night before our trip we intended NOT to take a tro-tro,but that is where we found ourselves being escorted to on Friday morning. There were many things that were wrong in so many ways with this particular tro-tro but there were also some things that could have gone wrong but didn’t. Like how many people were allowed to be seated per row. On an ordinary short-distance trip (i.e, within the city or less than 2 hours) in a smaller tro-tro, there would be 4 people in each row; however during our trip there were only 3 per row. I thought, oh what a treat. I was so pleased with this small indulgence that I neglected the space between my knees and the driver’s seat. I also overlooked the stiff, non-cushioned seat that was going to be my butt rest.
One mistake I did: I didn’t pee before going out of the house after downing 750ml of water. This was a blunder that I was going to pay for so dearly. I knew it had to be the case even before our tro-tro left the station when I stared feeling the subtle promptings of my bladder. There was no way though that I was going out of the tro-tro though and start looking for a restroom in the station that was already teeming with an unbelievable number of human bodies. To be able to understand why I could not do it, one has to know what a tro-tro station here is like.
First, the human factor as I have already alluded to. Like ants scattered about in search for sweets, passengers and conductors and drivers and scalpers and hawkers mill about, in and out, shouting, talking loud. And as you know, when you don’t understand a certain language it always seems annoyingly blaring.
Second is the factor of place. Or the sense of the place. Let us start from the ground up. Orange. Orange is the color of their earth here. There is something about this color that moves my gut funny. Perhaps it’s how it is allied with the dust emanating from the shuffling of human feet, the reverberation of tires, the scattered litter. Add a few puddles of murky water and mud, and orange turns brown— almost like the color you get on your palette when you mix colors too clumsily.
There are also the colors white and black. Gray if you add them together. Almost always, white tro-tro. Black tires. Black skin. White teeth.
Then of course there’s the swarm of the dark and bright and light and deep colors of women’s dresses and head wraps, assembled in a motley of designs almost none of which are exactly alike. They are all nauseatingly beautiful.
Third factor is the distinctness of odor. There’s the whiff of fried food and orange and pineapple. There’s the reek of the unmistakably salty fishness of dried marine life.  There’s the lingering sweat that has overstayed its welcome in armpits and groins and feet. There’s the newly organized puddle of murky water. There’s the smoldering smell of smoke spurted by exhaust.
So in the face of all this gut-smacking assault to my senses— I decided that my bladder’s suggestions would have to retreat and be set aside. Surely, my skill at withholding these things have been honed throughout my medical training (fondly remembering how we would assist on a surgical procedure for hours on end; how we do rounds forever, how we just have to finish one more admission, one more discharge before generously giving ourselves a break), and that morning would have to be the day that I would summon all forces learned along the way. With unknowing brightness, I hoped that we would make a stop over somewhere.
We did. We actually did. It was when the police (in their routine stop-over for bribes) stopped our driver on an intermittently paved road. There were tall bushes on our right. Some of the passengers went down, headed for and disappeared in the bushes. They reappeared a minute later, business done. I couldn’t do it. Not with a pair of pants on me.
Don’t get me wrong—I have done it in the past when there was no other choice (i.e., mountains).  In fact at one time I did it in an open but remote field (I swear there was no one else around save for a cow or two that were staring at me with their bland eyes). But that was a different story. In this story, there were other people around. There was a real threat of being seen. Had I worn a skirt I would have headed for the bushes too. 
At this point, I still hoped that we would make a real stop over.
We never did.
To imagine the magnitude of how long I kept my bladder in check — it was a whole day’s (Ghanaian) work schedule. A whole Ghana day.  Anyway, this was not even the best part of our trip.  It was the hundred kilometers upon hundred kilometers long bouncy ride on potholes. Orange-colored potholes that bequeathed millions of orange-colored dust particles into the muggy air, into the open windows of our white tro-tro, that ultimately settled on our hair, on our faces and necks, on our arms and legs, on our bags and clothes. The key thing is that they settled.
Dust settled. Knotting our hair, forming a cake of dust foundation pasted further by the oil on our faces.
And remember the seat we had? Perfect chum for this perfect ride. My knees were starting to get so sore it almost rivaled my pre-knee surgery days.  There was no way around it — no matter how I lifted my leg up and curled my feet the impossibly scant space between my legs and the driver’s seat was a fact that could not be changed.  I tried to out-sleep and out-mind these conflicting matters at hand, all of which were seeking immediate attention at the same time. But sleep would not come to me so readily. And when it did, it would come so suddenly and quickly: my head would snap back in a flash and at almost the exact moment that it does, I awaken.
Now, this may seem like a ride to forever but we did make it eventually to Kumasi.
Second Saga: THE HOTEL.
Sports Hotel was what it was called. Unmistakably blue in appearance, as described so aptly in their website. It was so named with the Sports Stadium which was near the vicinity, in mind. We booked a suite for three people, for two nights (120 cedis/60 dollars a night). I thought that was well-understood over the phone. First thing the receptionist asked was if we were going to book two suites since there were three of us. She said it was hotel policy that only two people could stay in a suite. I said we didn’t want to spend for two rooms. She began to haggle. I asked if we could see the room, thinking that an argument could be better settled once there is proof that an alternative existed. So up we went to see the room. Immediately I found proof of the alternative: a solid couch that could fit all 5’2 of me and a big queen-sized bed.  I said, see this room is big enough for us. She insisted on the hotel policy. I said well, 240 cedis or nothing—your choice. Fine, she said, you can have this room.
I thought that was the end of the Kasoa girls vs Sports Hotel. It turns out, that was the easiest. On the night of our arrival, all we wanted was a good dinner. After struggling with human and vehicle traffic in the city and mistaken restaurant identity, we decided to have it in our hotel. Our guidebook said it had a good restaurant anyway.
I don’t know what standards the author of the guidebook had at the time of his writing, but ‘good’ it was not. Not even close. I ordered one of the simplest food in the menu. Margherita pizza, I thought was fail-safe. L had jollof rice with chicken. U ordered pepperoni pizza without herbs. I added avocado salad and beer to go along with my pizza. Meanwhile our waiter had a look of incomplete understanding. She said she would be able to remember every thing we ordered without writing it down. 5 minutes later she came back, said that there was no pepperoni. Nor avocado. U then said to just replace the pepperoni with ham. I said to just replace the avocado salad with prawn salad. She then expectantly looked at L, who did not have any order changes in mind. L said, what you didn’t get our orders? And we did another round of our orders, this time with pen and paper. 20 minutes became 30 became 40.
My pizza came: a round and thin dough-looking item with tomato sauce and over burned cheese on top. U’s pepperoni-turned-ham pizza came: it was the same as mine. Dismayed, I asked for red pepper and black pepper to spice things up. She gave me two thick sauces, one red and one black. I asked for my salad, which was to be my appetizer. Oh, she said—we ran out of it.  Oh my holy cow. This was not how you reward a 6 hour long potholed ride. The only redeeming factor was the beer.
My pizza with the ‘red and black pepper’ on the side

The story does not end there. We asked for water. She said, do you want small, medium or large. L said medium. I said large. Seconds later she came back, saying I’m sorry we don’t have small or large. This could not be happening.
Come breakfast time we were served toast. We asked for butter. And guess what. I mean, whodoes not have butter in their restaurant?!
Third Saga: THE MARKET.
Who can resist going to the famed market of Kumasi? Located in the Kejetia area, it is supposed to be the largest open air market in West Africa. Some Ghanaians say the whole of Africa.  It is said to be where traders from across the continent transact business.
So we went. We walked from the Mehia Temple to what we assumed, based on sight, smell and sound, was the market.
There is nothing quite like it. Said to house 10, 000 stalls, it is MASSIVE. Though quite honestly intimidating, it does beckon you to go in and explore. To experience. At first we entered rather reluctantly. But the quick-stepped crowd egged us forward and further on inside the labyrinthine market. And that is exactly how it felt like: a labyrinth. Had we trudged on further inside, we might have seen how exactly the web untangles in what is said to be an orderly manner: dry goods- spices- fabric-clothes-meat-fish. Or something like that. We only reached the part where the dry goods and spices dissected.
Going into the market felt like being swallowed whole. Being in the market, in every sense of the word, engages each of your senses. Again, the septic interplay of human factor, place, odor and sound making my gut churn in unexpected, inexplicable ways. It made me anxious. Especially when some men would start calling me out – ssst! China! Little girl! Obroni! One man at one point blocked my step, then gripped my wrist. I said, ghea! (Stop!). He gripped me harder. I shouted STOP! And wringed my wrist free. My wrist throbbed in heat and I hated him so much at that time.  The way he held me was so malicious. Thankfully that was the last lingering one. The one that followed was equally incredible (I was inside the taxi already and a man reached into the window and touched my arm) but less distressful.
A portion of the MASSIVE market
As the night was fast approaching, we decided to be quick in hailing a taxi, or at least attempted to. I don’t know if we just weren’t saying words correctly, but we have always had to show them our map to give them a sense of where we wanted to go. And always, they still would not know.
On that night, all we wanted was good food. Queen’s Gate seemed to have a respectable reputation, based on our guidebook. What we found was an old rickety Queen’s Gate sign announcing its presence demurely in a dark, run-down building.
And so began our eternal luck with food. This upsetting turn of event was what led us to our hotel, and as you already know it didn’t have a happy ending either. It continued through our lunch by Lake Bosumtwe the following day, although looking back I think the tasty French fries was a good omen of things to come. Because where we went for our second dinner totally made up for every misadventure of the past two days. The hotel itself (Golden Tulip) was not very grandiose, but since everything really is relative—it was to our eyes, the most magnificent hotel in the world. And boy did we feast.

I do not mean to ignore Lake Bosumtwe, said to be the largest natural body of water in Ghana. It was stupefyingly placid. The road leading there was embraced on either side by rainforest. I loved it! The lake is surrounded by many (22, I think) villages. On a canoe, we attempted to visit a couple but because of our less than mediocre canoeing skills we didn’t even come near one. The guide suggested that we swim in the lake and try to cross to the other side as some have done in the past. We declined. It was not a day to attempt greatness. We saw a couple of fishermen on their wooden planks. These planks are just quite plainly, planks. Fishermen sit on them and with hand paddles they propel themselves forward. Their abs must be solid with the kind of balancing perfection they have to do each time they cast their nets.
Said fisherman in balancing perfection

Wooden planks
Our trip back to Accra was infinitely better. For 4 dollars more, we bought ourselves a cushioned seat that reclined, air-condition and comfort. I was so thankful for the improved ride that I was able to ignore the annoyingly boisterous dialogue happening in the DVD movie being played on the screen.
L so happy

Me, so happy too

And yay, we made a proper stop over. See, I learn from my mistakes. This time I went down and gave relief to my bladder. After paying 10p (5 cents), I proceeded to the restroom and lo and behold: 
I could not escape from squatting, could I
We live only once and it is for these experiences that we thrive! If traveling were an art, and I believe it is, it would be nothing close to logically ordered designs. 


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