The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ho Adventure, Kente Village and Getting Back, by Suzanne

For our last day in the Volta Region we hired Vincent for a ½ day, to go to a kente village.  Although Steve and I had a great time at Tofi Abuipe when we went in 2006, I decided to go to a different one, partly to go in a different direction since Tofi Abuipe was in the same direction as our travels yesterday.  First, we needed to replenish our cash since although at check in the hotel said they’d take American cash, at check out after some phone calls they said no, they wouldn’t.  The first two ATMs we tried wouldn’t work, so we went to exchange our American at Barclay’s Bank (and got an exchange rate about 15% lower than the going rate in Accra), that took almost an hour.  Then off to Kpetoe Agotime, an Ewe kente village near the Togo border, south east of Ho (yesterday we went north and northeast of Ho).  On the way I saw some homemade signs posted by the roadside that I had also seen yesterday: No Light, No Vote and also No Water: No Vote.  I asked Vincent about it, he said that people are frustrated not having electricity and/or water, and it’s an election year (the election is in December).  By the way, Ghana has instituted fingerprint scanning technology for voter registration, so hopefully there won’t be any fraud this year - not that there was any in the past, of course! ;-)  Since many Ghanaians don’t have birth certificates or IDs, I hear that it was decided as the only way to reliably have one person, one vote.  You may be asking, wait a minute, if there’s no electricity, how can there be fingerprint scanners to either register to vote, or to vote?  The technology comes with battery packs, and has apparently been very successful – robust and also seemingly accurate, since it has apparently noticed people with the same fingerprint registering to vote under different names.  So good for Ghana, a step ahead of the US in this area.  And, of course, I hear that some Ashesi grads helped develop the technology!

Kente is a woven fabric done in strips that is often sewn into cloths, which is very traditional and prized.  Kente is worn by both men and women only for very special circumstances. The Ewe kente differs somewhat from the Ashante kente that is woven in areas west of Lake Volta.  Kente is traditionally woven by men, who often train from a very young age, although one of the places that we tour has a woman weaver as well.  It is often the traditional economy of a village, passed down from generation to generation.  The weavers we see are fast and precise, and weave some beautiful strips and cloths.  Many of them have “names”, that is the name of the pattern.  One of my favorites is 'Together we are Good'.  Different from what I recall in Tofi Abuipe, here each weaver (or group, since 3-10 weavers set up in different locations around the village) displays what they have for sale, and you negotiate to buy directly from the weaver.  A great system.  We first tour the village and see who is weaving today and ask initial prices, and when we’ve finished we go back and negotiate for what we want.  Between Addison and I, we buy something from each group we visit, which is nice. 
One of the outdoor weaving areas we visited

The kente village is not far from Ho, and we have a little more time before our ½ day with Vincent is up, so I have him take us by a batik stand before heading back to the hotel.  Ho is known for its beautiful batiks, and they don’t disappoint.  After a few more purchases, we’re off to pay our hotel bill and head to the tro-tro station for the return trip to Accra.  Vincent drops us at the station (although we could have walked, it’s another hot day) and I ask him about air conditioned transport back to Accra.  He says, yes, of course, instructs us where to go, and we find it easily, there is a queue and one is loading as we arrive but fills about 4 people ahead of us.  And, it doesn’t appear to be air conditioned, looks like the same tro-tro we took up.  We wait and wait and wait in the queue, the queue gets quite long, and I set a time at which I’ll go look around if we don’t depart.  The time comes and goes, so I walk around the yard once again asking for a Ford to Accra, and get only quizzical looks.  But then I hear someone calling “Madina”, a tro-tro is filling for Madina, which is a bit north of Accra and would be closer for us than going all the way into Accra and back out again at rush hour, which is how it would have worked if we had gotten on an Accra tro-tro.  So I go back and get Addison, who had been holding our place in the Accra queue, and we’re off pretty quickly.  Movement is good after 90 minutes of waiting.

This tro-tro seems to be roomier, although the same number of people are in it.  This time I take the jump seat to ensure Addison has head room, and the seats are lower so I can easily see out the window.  It is an overcast day so not quite so hot, which helps also.

On the way back, there are the usual police checkpoints, although during the days they are typically either unmanned or the officers sit by the side of the road in the shade and wave people by.  We pass an active police checkpoint, and the police order everyone off the van (while still waving other tro-tros and cars by).  They separate out Addison and I (the only non-Ghanaians) and ask for our passports.  We didn’t bring them, we say.  After some questioning and hassling we are let go, the rest of the tro-tro is already loaded and waiting for us, and we’re off again.  Always interesting to experience the reverse of the privileged white man phenomenon now and again.

We hit Medina right after 5pm and it’s a gridlock – actually, we literally witness many incidences of gridlock, requiring some unfortunate relenting party to have to back up.  We’re not in a big hurry, we just need to be back before too late, so I sit back and enjoy the show.  I try and guess where I think the tro-tro will try and plant itself, sometimes I’m right and sometimes he goes in a completely different finger of the traffic and I think, ‘there’s no way he’ll get through there!’ but of course he does.  Only once does he knock into a stand by the side of the road, but it’s unmanned and a bystander rights it again and helps direct the tro-tro through the sort-of sidewalk.  Amazing.  Wish I’d taken pictures but I don’t think it would have done it justice, anyway.

On the way I texted some friends about places to eat in Medina since I knew traffic would be bad and it would be dinnertime (and once again, we didn’t eat lunch so we’re hungry).  Armed with the name of my top choice, we head out of the tro-tro yard and use the same old system as trying to find the right transport – ask someone which way, walk in that direction for awhile, then ask someone else.  Eventually we figure out that we are walking in the correct direction, but it’s too far, we should take a taxi.  But that’s pretty nonsensical, since we’re walking faster than the taxis are moving due to the traffic.  What to do?  I decide to try asking one more person, to ensure it really is too far to walk, and she says, yes, it is too far to walk, but why don’t you go to Las Palmas?  I say, I don’t know Las Palmas, is it any good and she assures us it’s very nice and only about 2 blocks away, so we go there instead.  The food is kind of cafeteria Ghanaian but hot and we both order something pretty safe (Jollof rice and chicken), although there are probably 40 different dishes, mostly soups and stews, to choose from.  We’re happy to sit in a relatively uncrowded room, eat our food and watch the traffic go by.  We’re at an upstairs window overlooking a part of the market and taxi yard. Eventually traffic does noticeably disapate and we set off to find a taxi home (after a pass through the market for bananas for my breakfast).  The taxi driver doesn’t want to drive us all the way to Berekuso (he perhaps knows of the road conditions) but takes us to the next town south of Berekuso called Kwabenya where we take a shared taxi the rest of the way.  Shared taxis are kind of like taxi-tro-tros, then run a fixed route but only leave when they are full, and charge a fraction of what it would cost to rent a regular taxi.  Addison is amazed at the price, although in the week since I last did a shared taxi the price has almost doubled – probably a result of the worsening road conditions due to continued erosion during the rainy season, and maybe because it’s night (?) but also I usually get a smaller price since my house is about ½ way to Berekuso but this guy charges me full, oh well.  Still considerably cheaper than renting a regular taxi.  Addison tells me the next day that once I got out three more people get in – I ask how that was possible and he shrugs and says they squeezed and sat on laps. 

Getting back to my house I was never so happy to have both electricity and water.  I take one of those really memorable showers, washing off a hard day’s travel, and unfortunately have a bit of work to do before bed, but am happy to have light to do it by.  By the time I go to bed, I am exhausted but thankful for a very adventuresome but safe and enjoyable trip!


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