Monday, July 20, 2009

Ghana's Most Beautiful (or, how Chris got himself on Ghanaian TV)

What do you get when you blend American Idol, a beauty pageant, and Canadian Heritage Minutes, and then transport the concoction to Ghana? Well, you'd pretty much end up with Ghana's Most Beautiful, which airs on Sunday nights on Ghana's TV3.

A bit about the show:

Ghana's Most Beautiful airs live on TV3 Sundays at 8:00pm! It's a contest between 10 beautiful female contestants, each representing one of the ten regions of Ghana. These young women compete to win cash, a car, and glory for their region. Viewers at home can text the name of their favorite contestant to prevent them from being "evicted" (there's no communal house; I assume the term has been approrpiated from the wildly popular Big Brother Africa). As far as I can gather, every week, each woman writes and performs a short (4-6 minute) one-person play, adhering to the "character" to which they have been assigned (character examples include: prostitute, a woman in labour, and a neglected, elderly woman). Each skit is designed to teach a moral lesson about the traditional Ghanaian female roles (examples: don't live with a man before marriage, cultivate a healthy relationship with your husband, respect your elders). There's also a standard cheesy TV host, and two judges that comment after each performance, all of which combines to give the show an "American Idol" feel.

On Sunday, we attended the live airing of the show. Actually, when the evening started, Taylor (my coworker, housemate, and general life partner), Kris (our friend who we met in Ghana, who also goes to the same University as Taylor) and I had no idea what type of event we would be attending. Bashir (a Ghanaian, who is good friends with Kris) had told us that we'd be attending a "cultural" show, which I assumed meant that it would be a live traditional cultural performance. We had no idea that it we were attending a live TV show! There was no guest list or ticketing process, which was surprising. I've since learned that the show's final episode, held in the National Conference Center, is a grand affair for which you must purchase tickets.

When the four of us arrived, it looked like we would be unable to find seats. However, one of the producers spotted us (let's just say we were pretty easy to pick out of the crowd) and gave Taylor and me front row seats (!). Of course, the camera found its way to us a number of times (Kris and I each had full-screen close-up shots). People at work excitedly told me that they had seen me on TV3 the night before!

The show itself was awesome. The women are all incredibly talented actresses. My favorite was Yaa, who played a drunk barren woman. She spoke almost entirely in Twi (the local language), so I didn't understand very much of what she was staying. Nonetheless, I found her performance hi-larious - she was really focused and in-character the whole time (even when a piece of her costume unintentionally fell off)! (You can text "Yaa" to Vodafone short code 8888).

Even though it was an elaborate and obviously expensive soundstage, it was by no means a "Western"-feeling experience. The audience was quite rowdy, to the point where they were heckling the contestants as they were performing! My favorite heckle was when a contestant was playing a woman caught off-guard by the onset of labour. The audience reaction: "PUSH!!! PUSH!!!" There were other moments that I found awkward, though. For example, when the contestant playing a prostitute simulated an on-stage rape, the audience was howling with laughter and approval. It was definitely a Lost in Translation moment.

The show ended with a surprising twist! For the first time, instead of submitting them to the scrutiny of the judges or the viewers, Gideon (the Ghanaian Ryan Seacrest) asked the women to nominate each other for eviction. The women (who seem to have grown quite close) refused to do so ... the first to act, a near-tearful Lamisi instead opted to selflessly nominate herself! The other women followed suit, and Gideon appeared at a loss for words. He was prepared to leave the eviction to the discretion of the judges, but the live crowd (myself included) urged him to change his mind! Therefore, there were no evictions for the week, which made the crowd burst into a frenzy! Seriously, people were leaping out of their seats hugging each other as the credits rolled.

All in all, it was a surreal experience - one that I won't easily forget!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Barack Obama is my home boy

That's right, this weekend prominently featured the 44th (and 1st African-American) President of the United States (who, incidentally, is also the 1st deadly three-point assassin in the White House). It's no secret that I'm a huge Obama-phile, so I was tremendously excited (despite being continually reminded by my American friends that he is not, in fact, MY President).

Barack Obama arrived in Ghana late on Friday night, spoke to Parliament Saturday morning, and visited the slave castle in Cape Coast Saturday afternoon.

It is a massive understatement to say that Ghana was excited for his visit. After he made the announcement that he would be visiting Ghana, it seemed that every fourth word the next day was "Obama". About a week before he arrived, there were massive billboards erected to greet him.

I don't exactly look American, so I didn't personally experience the pro-Americanism sentiment. However, I witnessed an elderly vendor spontaneously break into a chant of "Obama Obama Obama!" when my American friend walked past. He told me that this sort of thing happens to him all the time. The whole city was buzzing with anticipation! People even had clothes made with Obama's face featured on the fabric's print.

Obama visited Ghana because of the country's history of peaceful, stable democracy. This was his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa. He passed over larger countries, including his father's Kenya. These simple facts combined to instill a tremendous sense in Ghanaians, who are generally a proud people in the first instance.

We camped out Saturday morning, at a busy intersection, hoping to get a glimpse of him. Despite waiting for approximately five hours, we ultimately didn't get a glimpse of him up close. We did see the current Ghanaian President, John Atta-Mills, as well as the popular former-President Jerry Rawlings.

His speech (to which I listened while huddled around a car radio) emphasized the need for African self-sufficiency. My favorite line, delivered near the beginning, was "We must start from the simple premise that Africa's future is up to Africans." It was a simple phrase that carried great meaning for the people of Ghana, and Africa.

I also had a, "Wow, we're in the 21st century moment" while listening to the radio in the run-up to his visit. The American government was advertising a service, where you could register via text message to receive live SMS updates from Obama's speech. Firstly, it showed how willing Obama is to leverage technology to his advantage. Moreover, though, I think it illustrated one of the chief surprises I've encountered while in Ghana. Growing up in the 80s, I can still remember a time when cell phones were luxuries restricted to the elite few. Nowadays, in Ghana, one of the world's most impoverished countries it seems that almost everyone has a cell phone! I find this interesting, because the telecommunications industry has almost entirely leap-frogged the land-line phase (greatly reducing the infrastructure demands of establishing a communications network). There's actually a 3.5G network in Ghana (that being said, browsing the interwebs on your iPhone is a surefire way to incur a four-digit cell phone bill).

So, in conclusion, Obama is my homeboy.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cheap Chickens (or, something is a-fowl in Ghana)

I'm constantly surrounded by chickens. I don't mean lily-livered cowards or fraidy-cats. No, I'm talking about the birds. Poultry. Fowl. Most mornings, I wake up to the familiar sound of a rooster crowing (just like in the cartoons, except for way more annoying). Sometimes they can be bothersome (example: when I'm in court, attempting to listen to a very soft-spoken judge ). Still, if I had to make a soundtrack of noises that captured my experience in Ghana, rooster caws would definitely be in my Top 6.

Just for fun, here are the other five (in no particular order):
-Young girls selling sachets of "ice pure water" (aaaaiiiice pyuuuah waaaataaaa!)
-The raspy calls from tro-tro mates (accraccraccra ... serkserkserkserk).
-Car horns, usually in rapid succession (taxi drivers trying to drum up business)
-Children chanting "Obruni! How are you? Obruni! How are you?" (obruni = white person)
-Akon (He's huge here)

Prior to May, I had been a vegetarian for around two and a half years. I'm not particularly concerned about animal rights (there's no sense in treating them cruelly, but I'd much rather test a new drug on a rabbit instead of a person). It's not really a decision motivated by health concerns, either (I still eat terribly). For me, it's a choice that has to do with sustainability and consumption reduction. I could throw stats at you regarding the amount of water and/or energy required to produce a pound of beef versus a pound of grain, but I'll trust that you can Google those figures as well as I can.

When I accepted this internship, I decided that I would renounce vegetarianism whilst in Ghana. My reasoning was threefold. Firstly, I figured that my cultural experience would be more immersive if I was able to fully experience the local cuisine. Secondly, I reasoned that the meat production industry in Ghana would not resemble the factory-farms of North America, and would therefore not have as great of a negative environmental impact. Finally, (and this is selfish) I am too lazy to play "dodge the meat" for a whole summer in a country where vegetarianism is a completely foreign concept.

I have thoroughly enjoyed local food (the main staples - fufu, kenkey, wakye, etc. - are often served in a meat-based sauce). Ghanaians are very eager to share their culture with foreigners, and are often very excited when Westerners enjoy their food (our genial taxi driver last night: "Oooo! You know red red?! I like that very well! Very well!"). So my rationale is sound on the first point.

However, I was sad to discover that rationale number two doesn't check out at all. The vast majority of chicken consumed in Ghana is not be locally or sustainably farmed. Rather, it is flown in frozen from Europe. EU farmers, who receive generous subsidies, produce more meat than is required domestically. The excess meat is then imported to the Ghanaian (and other African) market(s). Normally, in such a situation, countries introduce tariffs to protect their local industry. However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has made it clear that it opposes a high tariff regime, and Ghanaian leadership has bowed to this pressure. This leaves Ghana unable to protect its local industry, since local farmers (both small-scale and large-scale) cannot compete with the cheap, subsidized foreign imports. It's not a phenomenon restricted to the poultry industry, either. The rice and textile industries have been similarly crippled by foreign imports. My place of work, the Center for Public Interest Law, has actually done some work on this issue (Dr. Ayine, our Director, is quoted in the first article listed below).

It's crazy to think that a country with so much natural farmland has to rely on imported chicken and rice, but that's exactly the situation in which Ghana finds itself.

For further reading:
CorpWatch - Playing Chicken: Ghana vs. the IMF
Subsidized imports decimate the Ghana poultry industry
TRADE-GHANA: The Chilling Effect of Frozen Poultry Imports

In other news:
-Obama arrives tonight! The city is almost vibrating with palatable excitement
-I still need a haircut

Monday, July 6, 2009

Got to go to Togo

This past weekend, the crew did a little border-hop over to Togo, Ghana's French-speaking eastern neighbor. Part of the reason for the trip was visa-related (with a multiple entry visa, it's common to briefly leave the country and then gain a new immigration stamp upon reentry; it's basically like restarting the shot clock).

From Accra, it takes roughly 3 hours to reach the border town of Aflao. Crossing the border was its own chaotic adventure. Actually, "chaotic" is probably a poor choice of words; there were clearly several schemes being run at all times, aimed at scamming visitors as quickly as possible. "Hectic" would be a more appropriate description. As soon as we descended from the bus, we were mobbed by an army of money changers who would take our Ghanaian cedis or American dollars in exchange for Togolese CFAs (which are also used in a number of other African countries). A basic rate for USD => CFAs is roughly 1:450. A bad rate (advertised by most of the money changers) is 1:400. However, they're counting on tourists to not even have a clue about the rate (or, in the alternative, not being able to perform the quick mental calculations). One person in our party wound up exchanging $40 USD at a 1:250 rate, and another person changed at 1:333. I managed to secure the correct 1:450 rate, but I wound up being cheated in a more explicit way - as the money-changer was handing me my bills, he was quickly pocketing a few of them! He used some really fast sleight of hand, and I actually couldn't catch it with my eyes. I was prudent enough to manually recount the money before leaving their presence (they ironically told me, "Don't count it here, someone might steal your money!"). Once I confronted him about the deception, he reluctantly gave me the correct amount.

It was a really strange experience. In Ghana, thievery is strongly condemned. In fact, it is common to hear stories about would-be-thieves who are severely beaten (and sometimes killed) when they are caught stealing. I have rarely feared for my possessions or my security because I know that there is such a strong social stigmatization against criminal behaviour.

Once you cross the border by foot, you're basically already in Lomé, Togo's largest city. I was surprised by how dramatic the difference is between the two sides of the border. Firstly, the use of English drops to zero almost immediately. The type of food being sold by street vendors is also different - baguettes with avocado are ubiquitous and delicious. The composition of the vehicles on the road is also very different. In Ghana, the roads are mostly covered with small cars like Peugots, more often than not serving as taxis. In Togo, roughly 60% of all vehicles on the road are motorcycles. They essentially act as their public transportation system - you can't go anywhere without being asked if you want to take a "moto-moto".

These differences are even more remarkable when you consider the artificiality of the division between the two relatively young countries. The eastern region of Ghana actually used to be part of Togoland (as British Togoland). This explains why people on both sides of the border typically speak the same traditional language (Ewe). In 1956, the residents of British Togoland voted to join the newly emerging country of Ghana, whereas Togo gained its independence in 1960.

The first thing we did upon arrival was to visit the massive "Grande Marché" (Big Market). The market was packed tightly with vendors selling all types of wares - from fabrics to foodstuffs.

The next day, we visited the "Fetish Market", which is where ingredients for traditional voodoo medicines are sold. It's about ten minutes out of Lomé. At the market, we had to pay a guide a supposedly mandatory $10 fee (I have my doubts about this). Still, it was a cool experience. There were all sorts of skulls, skins, and horns for sale; the scene had the same kind of eerie silence and chilling atmosphere you'd from a horror movie.

Again, there was some pretty smooth scamming ... we went to see the "voodoo chief" (his business card, strangely, made no mention of his chieftaincy - it just said "herbologiste"). This is what happened when I went to buy a couple of the voodoo dolls:

Voodoo chief: [Ewe]
Translator: He must ask the spirits what an appropriate price will be for these dolls. They will tell him what you must pay.
Chief: [Shaking four white shells in his hands, and casting them on the ground. He then studies them intently, and says something to the translator in Ewe.]
Translator: The spirits have said that they require 35,000 CFAs.
Me: Uhh ... well, I don't have that. I only have 10,000 CFAs.
Translator: We will go back and consult the spirits. [He speaks to the "chief" in Ewe]
Chief: [Shakes more of the shells, casts them on the ground, studies them.]
Translator: The spirits have said that it will be acceptable to pay 30,000 CFAs.
Me: No, seriously, I only have 10,000 CFAs.
Translator: [quickly] Okay, that's fine. Take them.
[Then, the voodoo chief's cell phone rings in his pocket.]

We ended our weekend by spending Saturday night and most of Sunday on a beachfront lodge called "Coco Beach", about 10 minutes outside of Lomé. It was fortunate enough that we found a place to stay (we didn't have any plans or reservations; the whole trip was us flying by the seat of our pants). To stay somewhere as gorgeous (and inexpensive!) as Coco Beach was borderline miraculous. We were taken care of out by an incredibly funny and helpful Togolese employee named Emmanuelle. Coco Beach was incredibly beautiful (you're probably sick of reading that), and we had a very nice and relaxing time.

Another week, another beautiful beach.

Oh, and on the way, we totally had to stop and wait for a cow crossing. It was awesome.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Green Turtle Lodge

Just a heads-up: If you are a jealous-type who likes secluded beach resorts, then I'd recommend skipping this post. Otherwise, you're just going to end up hating on me.

The family reunited to spend the weekend at Green Turtle Lodge (unfortunately, Myriam had to leave early). Of course, it was awesome.

The Green Turtle Lodge is an eco-resort that was established by a British couple in 2003. It's located about five hours outside of Accra, and about one hour away from the closest town of substance (Takoradi). The Green Turtle Lodge is seriously beautiful, which is further magnified by its isolation. Pictures probably aren't going to do the place justice, but I'll try ...

I find ecotourism an intriguing concept. On one hand, the principles behind the practice sounds great - among them: reduction of environmental impact, sustainable use of the local biodiversity, and the sharing the benefits of tourism with indigenous communities. On the other hand, tourism of any kind is inherently intrusive (albeit to varying degrees), and I'm wary of industries and companies that "greenwash" for the sole purpose of increasing marketability.

Of course, I didn't find the Green Turtle Lodge to be of the objectionable sort. The six of us slept into a surprisingly spacious solar-powered clay hut, and used the self-composting toilets. Surprisingly, the smell was quite tolerable! (I've heard that the odor is mitigated by spreading ash). As an example of the type of experience we had: for supper on our last night, we purchased live lobsters from a fisherman in the nearby village of Akwidaa. We carried them back in a plastic bag (lobsters: not happy) so they could be cooked for us at the resort (result: deliciousness).

One of the cool things that we were able to do was rent Boogie Boards. The girls decided to abstain, but the guys threw caution to the wind (and strong undertows be damned) and went for it. Again, I'm not the best swimmer, but I still had a ton of fun on the board. The waves were pretty size-able (Thomas estimates that the big ones were probably 12-14 feet high), so we could ride them pretty far into the shore.

So, it was another really fun weekend with the family!

Next week: Togo!
Also coming soon: Cutting my own hair.
Oh, and: Obama on the 10th and 11th!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Trials, Trees, and Travels

Trials, Trees and Travels

Lots happened over the last week, so I'm going to break this up into a few sections. Normally I'd spread it over multiple posts, but I don't want to spam RSS feeds or FaceBook profiles (see, I'm considerate like that). Check it out on the original site, because I'm not sure the newly added alt-text is going to work in FaceBook.

Trial at Tarkwa

On Thursday, I travelled to Tarkwa (approximately five hours outside of Accra) to observe a Ghanaian trial. The case was being heard at the High Court in Tarkwa, which is roughly analogous to the superior court of a province (or, for the Americans following along, a US district court). The court house building wasn't exactly beautiful. In fact, when I was snapping photos, a passerby inquired as to whether I was here to renovate the building (much to her dismay, I wasn't). I tried to not let the aesthetics of the place distract me from the substance of the legal proceedings.

It's worth mentioning that, much like Canada, Ghana inherited the British legal tradition, including much of the old pomp and circumstance. For example, just like in Canada, the lawyers referred to the judge as "my lord", and were wearing robes and tabs. A mildly hilarious quirk that (mercifully) didn't stick around in Canada (or the UK, AFAIK): wigs. All the lawyers appearing at the High Court have to wear wigs (which, for added comedy, are also light blond). This includes our CEPIL lawyer, Prince, who was the one arguing in court. You can see that he's tabbed and holding his wig, as well as his robes.

The court house also had some pretty hilarious signage. For example:

The court case itself was a little difficult to follow. Not necessarily because the legal system is foreign - in fact, most of the actual proceedings mirrored the Canadian system very closely. However, the physical realities of the court room made it very difficult to hear what was happening. Most significantly, the judge had a really, really soft voice. As in, on-board-the-Red-October-during-a-sonar-scan soft. Like many buildings here, the court room is "naturally ventilated" (meaning that the walls are designed to let air through, with the unfortunate side effect of also letting noise right through). So, on top of our soft-spoken judge, there was a rooster that had inconveniently placed itself directly outside the courtyard. This isn't some cartoon rooster that crows once at dawn, either. Oh, no - this little bugger managed to crow pretty much non-stop throughout the entire case.

When you represent an entire community, you tend to have a lot of clients. This means you're going to have to do a lot of explaining after the proceedings conclude. Here you can see Prince talking to the residents of the mining community, and explaining to them what exactly had taken place in Court that day.

Fort Victoria

On the way back from Tarkwa, we had to go through Cape Coast. Taylor and I decided to get dropped off and spend the weekend doing some sightseeing.

Right next to our hotel (the Mighty Victory Lodge, which struck me as a little grandiose for a hotel name) was Fort Victoria, which really struck me as more of a watchtower than an actual fort. The weather when we arrived was kind of dark and stormy, which really added to the atmosphere. Fort Victoria is actually situated on the highest point in Cape Coast, which is what gives the fort its strategic value. You can't really see it in the photos, but there were black birds (crows, perhaps?) circling the whole time.

Kakum National Park

Early the next morning, we set off for Kakum National Park. The main attraction of a visit to Kakum is the canopy walk. After a mild upwards hike, visitors are suspended about seven stories above the rainforest floor. The height didn't actually bother me, because you can't really see all the way to the bottom. Your view is obscured by the treetops, so it didn't feel like we were very high. Of course, that's just my opinion ... my traveling companion was unable to look down, and instead marched forward in straight line without once letting her eyes drop. The bridges (seven in total, connected by little "rest stations" anchored to the tallest trees), however, tended to sway and bounce with each step. Although we were assured that the Park has never had a fatality on the bridge, I am positive that more than one traveller has lost their digital camera on that walk.

After the canopy walk, we opted to take a brief nature walk. Our guide (who was awesome) would explain the various traditional medical uses for the bark and sap of the trees and plants that we passed. He didn't constrain himself to making a briefly explaining that "Tree X helped treat Ailment Y", either. Instead, he provided us with detailed instructions on how to prepare and administer the correct treatment (I'm pretty sure that I can now heal an infected compound fracture with some hot water and tree bark). Some of the trees that we saw were amazingly huge. Here's a picture of Taylor standing next to the largest one. That's not a wall behind her, oh no. That's a tree. A large, large tree.

I also really enjoyed this tree, because I think plants with natural defenses are awesome. I'm hopefully that one day it'll evolve into an Ent.

Castles at Cape Coast and Elmina

After getting back from Kakum, we rested for a moment, and then headed out to Cape Coast castle.

The castle is located right along the ocean, and was a major commercial hub during the slave trade. We participated in a guided tour that took us through the various dungeons and holding cells contained within the castle. It was quite a chilling experience, particularly when our guide would close the door to briefly simulate the conditions faced by the slaves. Of course, any simulation could not approach the horror of the dungeon's original purpose. We were in a group of about 25 or 30, and we felt claustrophobic being in that confined space. I can't even fathom what it would have bene like for the 300 men who were forced to eat, sleep, and excrete waste within that same space. I tried to take a photo or two, but pictures of walls don't really convey the visceral feeling of confinement.

After exploring the Cape Coast castle, we took a taxi over to Elmina (the town that is only forty-five minutes away from Cape Coast). The castle at Elmina is actually the oldest extant European building in sub-Saharan Africa.

It was constructed in 1482 (!) by the Portuguese, subsequently taken over by the Dutch, then later acquired by the British. Even more so than Cape Coast castle, it was a major part in the Atlantic Slave Trade.

The population of Elmina seemed to really depend on tourists who visited the castle, much more so than Cape Coast. At the immediate exterior of the castle, there was a huge throng of teenage youths trying to sell various baubles. It was a pushier atmosphere than even the pushiest market in Accra. One particularly clever scheme involved a couple friendly youths approaching and befriending tourists as they entered the castle, and then presenting them with a "gift" of a seashell with their name written in marker. They would then ask for a 10 or 20 Gh¢ "donation" to their "football club".

On our way out of Cape Coast and back to Accra, our original plan was to stop by an ATM to take out enough money to pay our hotel bill. Of course, none of them worked (ATMs are notoriously unreliable in Ghana, which is something I should have had the foresight to realize ahead of time). Anyways, we were about 15 Gh¢ (or about $11 Cdn) short of settling up our hotel bill. I was growing a little distraught, since literally each of the town's four banks was either a.) without an ATM b.) without an ATM that would accept my debit card (x2) c.) without an ATM that was not temporarily out of service. Thankfully, we were able to borrow some money from a fellow traveller by the name of Andy Crawford.

Sidenote: Andy Crawford = Patron Saint of Awesome
Who exactly is Andy Crawford? A saint? An angel? A time-travelling cyborg from the future, programmed to teach humanity the moral lessons that will enable our species to avoid nuclear extinction and continue thriving in the twenty-third century? Or is he simply a kind-hearted Irish fellow? Sadly, we may never know the truth.

Some random, but really cool, pictures

Check out this awesomeness:

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Let me introduce you to the cornerstone of Ghanaian transportation: the tro-tro.

A "tro-tro" is, essentially, a large van that has been retrofitted to seat anywhere between 14 and 20 people. It's what I use to go to and from work on a daily basis, and often my preferred mode of transportation for getting around the city.

Tro-tros run regular routes, and Each tro-tro has to be sanctioned by the appropriate transportation board in order to operate legally. They are operated by a two-man crew - a driver, and a mate (I use the term "two-man" purposefully; I have never seen a female driver or a female mate). The driver's role is straightforward, but the mate has a slightly more harrowing job. As you can see in the photo, the mate will hang haphazardly out of the open van door (often while it's still moving), trying to draw passengers into the tro-tro. He is also responsible for seating the passengers (often herding us into remarkably small spaces), and for collecting the fares (which are truly a pittance ... even the longest route within the city will cost less than $0.50 CDN).

Most of them have some sort of slogan affixed to the front and the back, often religiously themed. (One of my all-time favorites: "Try Islam!") Inside the tro-tro, the driver will have often lined the windshield with flags from his favorite foreign countries (Canada is a popular choice), or just as frequently, his favorite football team ("football" in the soccer sense of the word).

These tro-tros essentially comprise the country's public transportation system. The major tro-tro stations (inevitably, attached to a large market where street vendors sell everything from fruits to suits) have hundreds of tro-tros, as you can see from Thomas' picture below.

But you don't have to get out of the tro-tro to do your shopping! Oh, no! At nearly every major intersection, during the inevitable traffic jams, there are merchants who will run up and down the busy street, trying to sell you food, water, newspapers, phone cards, etc. You can pretty much get all the necessities of life at any red-light.

When I'm on the tro-tro is when I feel most immersed in Ghanaian culture. Unless I'm traveling with a co-worker, I will usually be the only "obruni" on the tro-tro. If I am traveling to an unfamiliar location, there will be no shortage of people to help point me in the right direction. Once, when I had paid my fare and a mate had given me insufficient change, a helpful fellow tro-tro'er argued with the mate on my behalf until I was provided with adequate coinage.

However, there is a downside. The sad truth is that tro-tros, particularly the ones that travel between cities, are quite dangerous. There are, of course, no seat-belts, and the rusty frames of the vehicles look like they would crumple if you stared at it hard enough. The vehicles are all very old, and often break down in the middle of the road (this has happened to me twice so far, fortunately with no negative consequences other than an additional delay). A week and a half ago, one of my housemates had a visiting family member tragically involved in a tro-tro accident (on the highway, where the speeds are much, much higher). Things will hopefully turn out alright, but that incident does underscore the inherent danger in tro-tro travel. There's not much I can do, though ... it's something that's out of my contro-trol.

Tomorrow: Going to a trial in the Tarkwa region!