Sunday, April 7, 2013

TIA: This is Africa

March 7, 2013

Today was our second day in Tokoradi, Ghana, and I was chosen to shoot some video of one of the students' field labs.  We were headed to the Nzulezo village on stilts.  It sounded like a really cool trip that I was able to tag along with.  Danny was going to be the photographer and I would shoot video.

We hopped on the bus after an early 7am breakfast and settled in for the one hour drive to the village.  Well, there's a new hash tag, #TIA, which means, "this is Africa."  It basically says that whatever you were expecting, you're expecting wrong.  This is Africa - we do things on our own time.

Our hour-long bus ride turned into three hours on windy, dirt roads with impressive pot holes.  It was beautiful scenery and it was interesting to see so much of Ghana.  We got to drive by a rubber tree farm and see all the little collecting bowls on the trees to get the rubber.  There was a lot of construction, so they said this was why it took so long.  We got to see villages and larger settlements and places where they were mining.  What, I'm not sure.

We finally pulled up to the Nzulezo village visitor's center, and the bus's collective bladders were about to burst, so we all piled off to head for the wash rooms.  After the wash rooms, we were asked to pay a fee for our cameras.  We each had to pay two dollars if we wanted to take any photos.  The woman wrote down our names and whether or not we paid, but she didn't have change, so people were giving 20 cedis with the promise that we'd get change at lunch.  I heard one woman mutter under her breath, "what a racket."

It was 11:30am, so the promise of a noon lunch after the tour sounded a little fishy.  The woman said that the tour was an hour and a half long, so another woman asked when lunch was, and she said noon.  Okay, TIA.

We were running later than planned, obviously, so the tour guide, Stephen, asked us all to get back on the bus.  He said we would usually walk down to the road to the village, but to save time, we would ride the bus.  We pilled back on and we drove a couple minutes to a relatively large set of concrete, teal houses where there were many bright orange life vests.  They suited each of us up with a life vest, and we followed directions and strapped them on tight.

We started on our walk down the little dirt road that led through a few houses and out into a massive field.  You could see a ring of trees around the field where the jungle started, and it looked like the set of trees a ways out was where the water started.  We were all excited again and walked for about fifteen minutes.  We got to the first set of trees only to find another, longer field on the other side.  There was no shade and no other way.  So we kept walking.  It must have been over a mile because we ended up walking for almost 45 minutes.  Most people got wise right away and stripped off their life jackets because we were roasting in the feels-like-105º weather.

We were pouring sweat by the time we reached a small shelter with benches.  We could see the long canoes and were happy to finally be where we needed to be.  These canoes would take us to the village.  The guides asked us to remove our shoes, which we felt a little surprised at.  It turned out we had to walk through the swamp to get to the boats.

We all hesitantly entered the black, mucky, HOT water.  The parts that were sand were okay, but then you'd find a big, mucky hole where your foot would sink down into the squishy mud.  I kept telling myself: this is an adventure.  We're fine. This is an adventure.

We got in the boats, and I sat next to a student who had been left behind by her group, so we shared a tiny bench.  It was just big enough for both of our rear ends to fit.  My job was to film and her job was to bail out the water that was leaking through cracks in the boat.  Her job seemed more important than my job.

Our two local rowers took us through a long, shady ditch area which was a welcome break from the blazing direct sunlight of the field.  Then, the ditch opened up to a massive lake that we had to cross to get to the village.  It was a good 20-minute boat ride to get there.  At this point, we had been traveling for four hours, and there were some complainers starting to whine.  I was with them in my head.

We got to the village on stilts, finally, and climbed up on a ladder to find a raised walkway that went through the huts up on the stilts.  Many students went straight for the beverage house where a woman was selling Star beer (Ghana's favorite beer) and cold Pepsi's.  We weren't quite sure in general where we were supposed to go or what we were supposed to do because we were just barging into these people's homes.  People were laying around, not paying much attention to us.  Those that did seemed annoyed at us, and others asked for money.

We were brought back to an open air meeting room on stilts at the end of the walkway and met the man who was second to the chief.  The chief had gone to visit another town, so they brought his daughter as a representative who sat through the history brief looking overtly bored with the whole thing.  The history of the people following a snail god to this location and setting up on his back was interesting, but we were all tired and hot, that I don't think people really caught more than what I just said.

The second-to-the-chief man then passed around a bowl for money that he claimed would be given to the school, but we learned from Cambodia, that these things are not always as they seem.  I decided not to contribute, and was followed by small children all the way back to the boats asking me for money.  It definitely tainted the experience a bit.  As usual, a tourist site is set up to trap you in a location where you're asked to feel sorry for them and give them money.  I'm feeling a little jaded about the whole thing.

The interesting part to this stilts village was the satellite dishes on the sides of the huts.  Everything was built up on bamboo stilts and then built out of bamboo with tin roofs, and there was a single power line running from across the lake to provide power to the village, and people were inside watching satellite television.  Others were outside wanting a handout.  I wonder how they afford the satellite tv...

It had only been 25 minutes, but because we were behind schedule our tour guide hurried us back to our boats.  We got on with the same crew and the same people and began our journey back to the visitor's center for lunch.  I looked at my watch and guessed we wouldn't be eating until 3:00.

The boat ride was okay, and we chatted with our rowers, but, surprise, they asked us for money.  They said at the end we could contribute anything we wanted.  They did work hard rowing us so far, so I tipped them each an American dollar.  At least our guides got that dollar.  I wonder where our "camera fee" and the school-bowl money goes.  I suppose we'll never know.

The long boat ride back turned into the longest 45-minute, direct sunlight field walk I've ever done.  We were all exhausted and hungry and out of water and dripping with sweat.  We made it back to the bus, and they took us back to the visitor's center.  They had lunch set up for us and we were able to eat by the beautiful ocean.  It felt nice to sit and to eat.  People remained pretty positive despite the ongoing jokes about how poorly the day went and how not worth the money this tour was.  Students pay a hefty fee to go on these organized tours.  I've heard that this was a poor example of a field lab because so much had been miscommunicated to SAS.

We had some fresh fruit for dessert, and I realized that I like powpows.  Every papaya I've ever had in the states has been bland and unrefreshing to me, but the small, brightly colored papayas that they had with watermelon and pineapple made for dessert magic.

It was time to go so that we could make sure to be back to the ship before it departed for Tema this evening, but we still had time to stop at a fort.  There was a British for that had been turned into a museum that was just a "three-minute walk" from the bus.  We all skeptically accepted to jump out and peek at it, and it turned out this time that he wasn't lying.  It was just inside a little piece of a town, and we walked past women smashing grain, children playing, and some men fixing up the concrete on an open-air building that looked to be a place where people might gather and hear someone speak.

The fort was interesting, but I wasn't in the mood to listen to a tour guide, so I poked around a bit on my own and rejoined the tour on the end.  To my detriment, I now have no information on the place we visited, but it was fun to climb around an old, concrete fort complete with replica canons.

We dragged ourselves back onto the bus to settle in for the ride back to the ship.  I was so sweaty and still dripping, but after a short, awkward nap, I woke up freezing in the air conditioning.  Now was not the time to be moist with the frigid air of the bus.  What a complainer I am...

We got back to the ship with time to spare, boarded and I went straight for a shower, water then dinner.  I found Matt and a few people from Unreasonable who were interested in doing a drum circle up on the 7th deck.  We joined in.  I drummed and then danced in the middle a little, and we all had a great time. People from every part of the shipboard community joined in: students, faculty, staff and lifelong learners.  The Unreasonable learning partners from Microsoft and SAP joined in and people jammed into the night.  It was a great time.  A good ending to a long, tiring day.