Saturday, April 17, 2010

Babylon by Bus

Babylon by Bus is one of Bob Marley's album titles (in case you didn't
know). We were all WELL acquainted with Bob Marley on the way home
from Bolga to Accra.

Our day started early with 7am breakfast and then off to visit the
court house. A mere 4 hours later we were celebrating two new
families! The day is off to a great start!

We headed back to the hotel to cool down and change clothes before
going to visit the kids' home villages. But it wasn't meant to be.
At 11:30 we got the call that our bus from Bolga to Accra left at 3pm!
That meant that we had about 10 minutes to pack and get out the door
towards the villages--3 to visit, 1.5 hours driving time round trip,
and need to be back by 2pm doesn't leave much time! Of we went...

I won't go into too much detail about the visits here, but they were
surreal. In some ways it was very much like stepping back into time.
The families were all lovely, and welcomed us with open arms. It was
very good to meet Kendi's biological father and 1/2 brothers. He
allowed me into their home to take pictures, which I'm told was a big
privilege. I'm very thankful we'll have those photos for our
daughter.

I'm sure all three of us families brought home precious things from
our trip (mostly memories). I picked up a rock at Kendi's village,
and another mom picked up 12 pebbles at her daughter's village.
Oh--and the last family picked up a chicken at their son's village! A
precious gift that I don't mean to make light of. It's just
that...well...there was no places for a chicken. And it was REALLY
funny to watch everybody chase after the chicken for the initial
catch. Even funnier when the chicken escaped at the second village
only to be chased down again and put back into the trunk! [Sorry
animal activists. This is Ghana.]

After 3 quick visits it was time to fly back to Bolga and check out of
the hotel. Not without drama! There was an issue of not reducing the
rate for nights when there was no air conditioning, but we got out of
there by 2:15, two taxis packed to the gills with luggage for a group
of not-so-light-packing obrunis! Ghanaians aren't usually in much of
a hurry but they sure can hurry when they need to! The taxis scooted
us through town as quickly as they could, all the way to the OA bus
station (don't ask me what OA stands for). We were SO relieved to see
a very nice bus with plenty of cargo room for our stuff. I think we
all took a collected breath of relief. For about 5 seconds.
"Sorry-oh! These are not OA tickets! Your friend has deceived you!"
Oops. We were at the wrong bus station. Darn it! And we were on
time (barely) and everything! We packed everything back into the two
taxis. Yes, the chicken was still hanging out in the trunk.

It was right at 3pm when we pulled into the right bus station and
located the right bus. Not quite as nice, and not quite as much cargo
space, but it was air conditioned (sort of) and it would get us to
Accra (or so we thought)! After we got settled into our seats it was
back out in the market atmosphere to buy bread, bananas, and FanYogo.
We hadn't eaten since breakfast by this time. All hungry, but nothing
of much substance to eat. We were packed in, and feeling somewhat
optimistic by the time the bus took off at 4pm.

Enter "Royal Palace." Ahh....Nigerian soap operas! Not only Nigerian
soap operas, but we got the full Nigerian soap opera introduction,
complete with BLARING volume. I'm not just talking loud. It was
have-to-cover-your-ears blaring! What's sad is that everybody likes
to poke fun of the Nigerian soap operas, but when you are captive on
the bus, you watch them. And you actually want to know what comes
next. We watched "Royal Palace" one, two AND three! I will never
forget one of the theme songs in the movie. Have been humming it all
day.

We made it past Tamale. Seemed to take way too long to ONLY be "still
in Northern Ghana."

Kintampo! [spelling?] Our first break, about 5 hours in and just in
time for my bladder! My friend managed to find us an actual sit down
(but not flushing, no light, and interesting smells) toilet. The
obruni ladies were NOT complaining! We had about 15 minutes at this
stop. In addition to our lunch of bread and bananas we added a dinner
of hard boiled eggs. Not joking--very thankful for that protein.
Eggs never tasted so good!

Back on the bus...headed towards Kumasi.

Three hours later we finally reach Kumasi! Yippee! We were all very
tired by this point but at least we were on the downward slope of the
trip. From Accra to Kumasi only took 4 hours on the "executive" bus
we road on the way up to Bolga. Accra here we come! Uh-oh. Except I
really needed to "go" again, and this time there was no sit down
toilet. There wasn't even a stand up toilet. We were on our
own--completely "free range!" Thankfully it was 2am at a bus stop, so
there were plenty of dark "alleys" between the buses. A and I joined
forces and picked a spot (armed with our trusty cloth as a make-shift
pee-pee shelter). A was just about to go when I looked up and saw
that we had friends observing the obrunis from on top of the buses!
No matter how dark, and obruni hiney WILL glow! We found a better
spot. Ladies and gentleman, I've now joined the millions of African
woman that squat and pee out in the open every day. Yes, I'm proud!
It's been a big fear of mine. I made it 8 trips to Ghana without
having to go "free range." That's got to be some kind of record,
right?

Back on the bus, we are waiting and waiting for the driver to just
leave Kumasi already. Waiting and waiting. Half hour goes by....
Someone comes on the bus and tells us that we must exit the bus and
get on another bus. The bus we're on is stopping in Kumasi. URGH!
Just a bit of chaos getting all of our stuff off of one bus and onto
the other. Not too bad. The bus looked a bit nicer. It was also
fuller though. And we just had to take empty seats wherever they
were. This put me next to a gentleman I didn't know. No problem.
It's only 4 hours, right? Right.

Enter Bob Marley... Oh Bob Marley, I think I have heard every one of
your songs now. We got to know you well from 2-6am. Nothing like
Reggae blaring in your ears in the middle of the night.

We haven't left the station yet and people are getting frustrated.
The driver enters the bus and starts checking people's tickets. This
REALLY ticked off the guy next to me. Like REALLY bad. He starts
SCREAMING at the bus driver that he doesn't know his job and "You are
a stu-peed stu-peed mahn!" Bus driver and guy next door start going
at it verbally. At one point I was pretty sure they were going to go
at it physically. You should have seen me (on the outside seat)
ducking my head so that I wouldn't be in the middle of their fight!

Eventually everybody calms down a bit. Not before guy next door drops
more than a few f-bombs, but hey....we're Bob Marley fans. We can
chill.

We FINALLY leave the bus station. Trying to regroup. Trying to find
the positive vibe again. But I'm tired. And I'm hungry. And I'm
motion sick. And my butt HURTS!

We go a few blocks and then stop again! Hey! What's that about? The
driver opens the door and people start rushing in. What?! There are
no empty seats! Oh. I was wondering what those twenty plastic stools
behind the seats were for. They are going to line people up down the
middle of the aisle and have them sit on these plastic stools to
Accra! Yikes. BUT NO! Enter guy next door (again)! He's like,
"Hey! What do you think you are doing? We are not cattle in the car!
We are not s*it in a bahg!!" He starts leaning over me to get in
these people's faces while at the same time screaming at the driver
who "is a greedy, greedy mahn!" Then he really gets going, rallying
his troops! To the rest of us he shouts, "This is a safety concern!
We must stand for our rights!" (thank you Bob Marley). Everybody
agreed with him completely (although not as loudly as he agreed with
himself). The stand for your rights Bob Marley song had JUST played,
so it was extra funny to we obrunis. After a few minutes the people
were shooed out of the bus and we were finally REALLY on our way. Or?

The thing about Ghana roads is that it's all go and stop. Push the
peddle to the metal until there's a pot hole then slam on your breaks.
For. Thirteen. Hours. [If everything goes as planned.] Still, we are
making progress. I hope to see Accra somewhere in the 6am hour.
There's a stop for gas. There's a stop for this man or that to pee.
There's an unknown reason stop for about 30 minutes in there
somewhere. Then, we really stop. The bus driver gets out on his own.
I don't know about everybody else, but I assumed he had to pee. But
it's taking too long. Poop maybe? Nope. Eventually all the men
decide to get out. This should have been a clue to me, but I wasn't
all with it at this point. About 30 minutes into this stop my friend
tells me we stop because we have a flat tire. A FLAT TIRE?!
SERIOUSLY?! On the bus?! As I'm thinking about it now it occurs to
me that I suppose I should actually be very thankful that we didn't
have some sort of accident riding in a bus with a flat tire!

In America what would we do? Well, I guess they would change the tire
to the spore. But oops! No spare on this bus. Friend assures me we
are almost to Accra. Not even 30 minutes. But we're stuck. They are
calling someone to what? Bring them a BUS TIRE?! Oh! We wait, and
we wait. In the meantime, our ride is already at the bus station in
Accra waiting for us. We have the bright idea to ask him to come and
pick us from the place where the bus is. No go. He has no money and
not enough gas to get where we are. This makes more sense later.
Durn it! We tell him we can get him money if he can just get to us.
No go. We are still hoping the bus tire will come. No go. The sun
is rising and things are going to heat up quickly. We knew it was
going to be a while when the driver turned off the bus. But
oh-so-thankfully he did turn UP the reggae music! Can you say 5
tired, hungry, ready-to-be-there obrunis?

Plan C is to see if we can hire two taxis to take us and our staff to
the bus stop. Nope. No taxis around. Friend says he will walk a
ways and see what he can come up with. In the meantime, a white
tro-tro (van) has parked just next to the bus. They start taking out
the tro-tro seats. Hmm...interesting. Then I notice a goat has
appeared in the tro-tro. Okay. This is Ghana, after all. I get back
on the bus and see that they are actually loading goats onto the
tro-tro. Okay. Still Ghana. It can happen. But...what I don't
realize is that on the other side of the bus they are off-loading the
goats! LOL! ROFL! Yes, 20 goats in the cargo carriage of the bus!
No wonder we had to pay 5 extra cedis to get our luggage under there!
I think 20 goats beats 1 chipper chicken any day, don't you? And this
was the NICE bus!

As we are counting goats a gloriously empty tro-tro pulls around.
Could it be? Yes! It is! Friend has hired an empty tro-tro for us!
He will take us into Accra for the bargain price of 35 cedis. At the
time we thought we were very near Accra and that was a rip off. But
no. Nothing is clear cut on this trip. Anyway...the guys are
off-loading our stuff from the bus and loading it into the tro-tro.

Nature is calling again for the obruni ladies. But it's not so easy
this time. No bus stop. No cover of darkness. We watch in envy and
awe as Ghanaian woman very comfortably stand at the side of the road,
cover themselves gracefully with a cloth, squat down insanely low, and
relieve themselves right on the side of the road, about 3 feet from
the bus. The obrunis are going, "How did she do that?!" while at the
same time looking for a shady spot, making sure we have TP, a group of
three, AND a cloth for our make-shift bathroom stall. Thankfully we
find a dark corner behind someone's shop. We're covered from the
street. Not so covered from behind the shop, where a group of
Ghanaian children have spotted us and are staring in awe. Whatever.
We're passed it at this point. We just have to go!

Mission successful. We're in the tro-tro. Only "less than 30
minutes" from Accra, right? Not right. First of all, we're still
several towns outside of Accra. Second of all, there is HORRIBLE
construction! We are on this awful pot-hole filled dirt road,
swerving in and out of traffic for what seemed like 4 hours but was
probably closer to 2. Maybe the tro-tro ride in itself doesn't sound
so bad, but on top of everything else we'd gone through to get that
far, it felt pretty bad! We were OVER the adventure. We just wanted
to be "home" in nice cushy Accra.

After some additional bartering with the tro-tro driver and more
confusion with the friend that was supposed to meet us at the bus
station, we FINALLY get into Rye Manor hotel. It's taken a mere 17
hours from hotel door to hotel door. Oh. But. Wait.

We go to check in and the new manager of the place asks how long we
are staying (until Friday). Okay, she says. That will be $XXX (money
up front)! What?! No way! Our luggage is off the tro-tro. The
tro-tro is gone. We look like we've been in a wrestling match with an
alligator, and this woman wants money up front? We were in no
mood--not a one of us. With all the gumption and pride I have I tell
her, "Fine. We'll just go to Bora Bora" and start walking out the
door. "Oh wait, oh! Sorry-oh! But why don't you people want to
pay?" We try to explain this isn't the way it's done in the rest of
the world. She tries to explain it is the way it's done in HER world.
In the end, we agree that we can pay one day at a time. Fine. Whew.
Glad I didn't have to follow through on going to a different hotel!

One family goes into their room and drops. Rest trumps food. The
other family and I decide food trumps rest. No water coming through
the pipes so we are all treated to a cold bucket shower. Don't care!
Felt great! Clean and cool! Then we go for a nice COOL late
breakfast/early lunch/MEAL at DutcHotel. Oops. The A/C is out in the
restaurant. But no problem, we sat at the bar. We enjoyed our ICED
drinks and yummy American-ish meals. We make it back to Rye Manor hot
and tired. Ready to crash on our fantastically cool rooms. We ring
the bell to let us in the gate. Except it doesn't ring. Oh crap.
Light's out.

So I'm sitting here, in room #8 (the only room without an exterior
window). It's dark. And still. And hot. My toilet doesn't flush.
My a/c doesn't work. My fan doesn't work. My lights don't work. But
hey! We're in Accra! It can only get better from here!!!

8 comments:

bbqdaisy 4:12 PM  

Ohhh Anita ... WHAT A DAY!!! Wow!!! Your bus ride sounds similar to that of Carrie's, hence why R now wants all BH families to fly up North =) PRAISING with you for court and the new families!! AWESOME!! AWESOME! It is a JOY to follow along on your ADVENTURE in Ghana! Prayers of peace and REST! Maria

Mama D.'s Dozen 4:18 PM  

Oh my! So many memories come flooding back. Though we did not ride the bus (hired a driver and rented a 4x4), we did have the construction ... the "no where to potty" stops ... the lack of food ... the heat ... the exhaustion ...

On our first trip, we did show up at a hotel only to be told that our reservations had been given to someone else, and that we could come back tomorrow (we were 4 hours outside of Accra). We went to hotel after hotel, only to be told, "we are full tonight. come back tomorrow".

On my 2nd trip, we did stay at a hotel that changed rates daily ... over-charged ... didn't keep track of when we paid ... and we lost electricity a LOT ... no fans, no AC, no water ...

Sorry your journey back to Accra was so difficult. Hoping and praying that the rest of the trips gets better.

So glad that you were able to visit the villages, meet the families, enter the homes, and bring back small treasures. You are BLESSED to have had that experience, and Kendi will be blessed by the photographs and your memories.

Laurel :)

Michelle 4:24 PM  

The nigerian soap opera's definitely sound like the story I heard with Carrie! I am sooo glad you made it safe and sound...what a story you will be able to tell for the rest of your life!

Our trip to Bolga and our hotel in Accra was so much less exciting and story-provoking!

Renee 4:26 PM  

Oh MY LOL. You are awesome. You had me cracking up the whole way...Bob Marley hee, hee.

Amy 4:58 PM  

Now THAT'S an adventure! Dang Anita! What a trip. Love you and hope things are a little more low key from here on out. Glad you got to meet Kendi's father and be in her village. That is really special!

Fabu (not remotely jealous of your trip this time!)

Jen 6:38 PM  

Oh my goodness! Typical Ghana travels! I loved the line...
we're Bob Marley fans...we can chill!
That had me cracking up along with the fact there were 20 goats on the bus. At least you know you would not have starved!
I know after a day like that, you lay on that bed and wonder how you made it and thank God the day is over. I would have been claustrophobic and would have gone crazy in room 8 with no air or fan unless I had just spent the last 17 hours the way you did!
What an adventure this trip has been! Hang in there!

A. Gillispie 12:12 PM  

Jen, I felt TOTALLY claustrophobic in #8 with no moving air yesterday! But at least it wasn't on a bus. Even with how tired I was I couldn't fall alseep because it just felt like I would run out of air!

Okay BH families, I think I need to hear the full story on Carri's trip to Bolga!

Yes, the two families I'm with all agree that IF ANY WAY POSSIBLE they would take the flight to Tamale next time! I would too.

I told Eric that I've got enough stories to last me a life time now--no need to do THAT again!
A

Tanya 4:53 PM  

Oh Anita. What a long adventure. My trip to Bolga was heavenly compared to that. I flew (with Sam and Maria) to Tamale. We had a/c and showers in Tamale overnight then rented a driver and a 4x4 the rest of the way.

I am going back to Bolga in July. This time we are taking the bus. I will certainly remember ear plugs and long sleeves. I can hardly tolerate car travel antway, I'm not really looking forward to that bus ride.

Blessings as you travel.