From Accra to Tamale

(Wrote this a few days ago, but had no internet to publish it.)

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Hello everyone!

First, I want to apologize for ending my last post with “assuming they have good enough internet connection”. It is a ridiculously ignorant statement to make, just as bad as asking if we live on trees in Malaysia, a question that has actually been asked to me before.

So here I am, in Tamale!

I spent half a day in Accra with the director of this non-governmental organization that I’ll be interning with (he came to pick me up at the airport). I shall from henceforth call him Mr. Smith (with is 0% true). His brother is a policeman in Accra, so he came with as well.

Ahhh Africa. I swear, in that one day, I’ve heard the sentence, “So now you know Africa!” no less than 5 times. I found it odd in the sense that if someone comes to Malaysia and I take them around, I don’t think I’d ever say, “So now you’ve seen Asia!” So I guess sometimes even the Africans make generalizing statements about themselves like that. I dunno.


We were in taxis most of the time: from the airport to the brother’s house (for me to leave my luggage there), from the house to the bus station (to get tickets to Tamale), from the bus station to a restaurant (for lunch), from the restaurant to a small, chillaxing drink shop (to while time), from the drinks shop to the brother’s house (to get my luggage), and finally from the house to the bus station.

They don’t put the seatbelts on over here. Not knowing this the first time I got into a taxi, I tried to pull on the seat belt — no luck, it wouldn’t budge, from not being used since forever is my guess.

And the taxis (plus half the cars on the road, it seems) don’t have air-conditioning on. You want air-conditioning? You wind down the damn windows.

Once, we couldn’t get the backseat windows to open. The taxi driver was all, “Push it down! Push it down!” And Mr. Smith kept pushing the window button, but it still didn’t work. Then the taxi guy bellowed, “NO I SAID PUSH IT DOWN!”, reached over from the front seat and freaking pushed the glass pane down.

Mr. Smith laughed (he laughs like, 10,000 times a day), and said, “African car!” And his brother added, “Everything here is manual.”

Taxi is a really, really common form of transportation here. There are taxis everywhere. It seems to me like half the cars on the road are taxis. And everyone is so informal. Like I said, the taxi driver bellowed at us. If that happened in the US, panties would get bunched up, I assure you. And one time, Mr. Smith’s brother heard a song he liked on the radio, and without asking, he turned up the volume way past comfortable level, and started headbanging along. Never seen that happen in a taxi anywhere else before.

And Accra is a damn expensive place. Don’t think just ‘cause it’s in Africa that it must be more affordable than Malaysia, because it damn well isn’t.

1 Ghana cedi = 2 Ringgit Malaysia. Bet you didn’t know that, huh? So my lunch, which was a smallish-medium lamb kebab sandwich, costed me RM18. If this was Malaysia, I’d be on everyone’s ass about having spent this much for something thid small. But here, it seems like it’s not too bad at all. Not cheap, but not really expensive either. And a 20-minute taxi ride costed me RM80.

Anyway. After a 12-hour bus ride from Accra to Tamale, here I am, in my room, at my host family’s place. Thank god Tamale is more affordable than Accra.

This place is QUITE AN EXPERIENCE IN ITSELF. That is in capital letters because I don’t know how else to emphasize that it REALLY IS quite an experience. I’ll talk about it (with the added aid of pictures) in a later post.

Everyone has been really nice to me though. During my long and arduous journey here (34 hours of traveling! Longer, if I include waiting times!), I keep getting asked, “Would you like to free yourself?”

WHOA. Say wha?

Doesn’t that sound like a very positive-energy, take-control-of-your-life sort of thing?

“Would you like to free yourself?” ….Would you like to be liberated from the chains of societal expectations?



….. Except in fact, they are asking me if I would like to go use the toilet.

During that long bus ride, every time the bus stopped for a break, people would care enough to come and tell this white person that I can “go over there” (with helpful pointing) should I care to “free” myself. Yes, white person, I’ve been referred to as that a couple times.

They seem to have an aversion to using the word “toilet”, or even “restroom”. They always say “free yourself”, and occasionally, “use the private”. (I remember when I first went to the US, my friends teased me whenever I said I had to go to the “toilet”, because it is a very unseemly word to use in public.)

The kids, on the other hand, always say “urinate”. I’ve never heard them refer to it as anything else. They go, “I need to urinate.”

The kids playing football in the compound where I live. They asked me to film them play ball.

Anyway. For the first time in my life, I freed myself by squatting over a hole in a raised platform, under which is a pail used to collect the stuff that I freed myself from. Isn’t that so cool?

If you look at the picture above, that blue building in the background, where the ladder is? The bathroom and toilets are to the left of the ladder.

I’ve not tried doing bigger businesses yet though, I don’t know how it would feel. Not too different from sitting on a regular toilet seat, I suspect.

So yeah. Starting work tomorrow. See how that’ll go.

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