Wednesday 12 July 2006

On to Keta

There are two ways to get to Keta from Ada Foah. You can back track along the road to Sogakope and cross the Volta there over the bridge; or you can - on market days only - catch the ferry across the mouth of the river to the little village of Anyanui. Market day is once a week, on Wednesday, and it just so happens that today is Wednesday.

The ferry is due at 8.00am and the people at the hotel advised me to checkout by 7.00am to make sure I get to the boarding point on time, apparently a 10-20 minute walk away. Checkout takes 20 minutes, in the end, with manual writing of receipts and VAT invoices, credit card authorisation etc. I decide to skip breakfast. $10 (USD) for a paltry-looking buffet just doesn’t seem worth it. I plan to eat something on arrival at Anyanui.

It actually only takes 5 minutes to walk down a dusty track from the Manet Paradise Beach Hotel to the shore in the fishing village of Azanzi. En route I get a lot of attention from kids heading to school: "hello!", "how are you?" and, of course, "obruni!". I wander along and miss the turning to the boarding point. A girl of 14 or thereabouts comes up to me and asks where I’m heading. She then guides me to where I should be. An older woman sitting outside one of the mud huts jokes that the girl has found herself a white husband.

With chickens running about at my feet, I sit on a bench by the water’s edge next to a colourful wooden fishing boat, alongside a house where young children are getting ready for school or playing about. The oldest of them begins to ask me questions. She says she likes my backpack and then asks who’s in it. I tell her it’s just "clothes". She asks me: "who’s clothes?". I understand "whose clothes?". I say "my clothes". She persists: "who is clothes?". Ah! of course, sacks on backs are for children in Ghana and are usually carried by women. So I say "clothes" and indicate what I mean by touching my t-shirt sleeve. "Sheds!", she says. I can see how the word has come to have that meaning: shed your clothes, hence just sheds. "Yes, that’s right", I tell her.

Then shes says "Give me something!" and I begin to lose interest as does she when I flatly say "no".

A small group of men come and check out the morning’s attraction. They’re eager to know who I am, where I’ve come from, where I’m going. They reassure me the ferry will arrive at 8.00am. I receive a text message - yes, even on the shore of a remote fishing village, courtesy of areeba. I take my phone from my pocket and they are awestruck. What a beautiful phone! (it’s the Motorola V3i aka RAZR).

They ask me if it can take pictures so I duly oblige. They gaze at it strangely as I take the picture and the image is less than flattering. They ask how much it costs. I decide it’s best if they don’t know that it’s about twice the annual GDP per capita of Ghana. So I say it was a gift and don’t know. That way they won’t try to barter for it.

As the ferry approaches, they help me to the actual boarding point, 20m away, where some live chickens and various other bags and boxes are waiting to be loaded and taken to the market at Anyanui. The ferry, the MS Sogakope, according to the Bradt Guide to Ghana, can carry about 250 passengers and is already crammed with market goers carrying tomatoes, smoked fish and all sorts of other goods. I clamber up the narrow gangway and take my seat on the upper deck, where it’s a little less crowded. The ticket costs me 3,000 cedis, around 20 pence.

On the way, we stop at a number of small villages on little islands that have no other means of communicating with the world other than the ferry once a week and the little boats - canoes, essentially, sometimes with sails - that we pass, taking children to school and others to whatever place there might be nearby.

Anyanui has a tiny landing point and long canoes full of passengers, either just heading off or arriving, are crammed around it. Right by the water are large piles of wood, big sticks in big bundles piled high in to cuboid towers that are being taken apart and reassembled precariously on to small trucks and vans. Some men call to me "where to?" and they direct me to the tro-tro that will take me some of the way to my destination.

A tro-tro is essentially a mini minibus that ought to have about 8 passengers but in reality carries 14 or 15. I got a seat at the front, next to the driver, which gave me a little more space, to load my rucksack, camera bag and tripod on top of me. A local chief gets in next to me and I have the impression that the front seat is usually for white people and people of rank.

I have no chance to get any food or drink, which I’m in need of now, at 9.00am, two and a half hours after getting up. I manage to squeeze off a couple of pictures through my telephoto lens and hope that they might capture some of the sense of colour and movement.

These tiny little battered cans hurtle along at unmeasurable speeds. Unmeasurable because the speedo doesn’t work. They feel like they could topple over at any moment and apparently have a knack for it. I’m glad that I can use my luggage as an airbag, should the need arise. The tro-tros seem to race each other so that they can pick up the next people waiting along the route. These are private vehicles and the idea is to make as much money as possible, even if that means having the ‘conductor’ hanging half out the door as we dash along broken roads.

At a small town, we jump off and I’m guided to the station, where another tro-tro (they actually call them cars here, preferring the english approximation) will take me on to Keta. Again I’m sat at the front with a chief next to me holding his staff. It’s hot and humid now but I’m largely oblivious to the discomfort.

On reaching Tegbi, in the Keta area, I jump out at Lorneh junction and walk half a mile down the road towards the beach to Lorneh Lodge, the hotel where I’m hoping to stay. I settle in and go to the poolside for brunch and a swim. I get a club sandwich and after a very quick swim head back indoors. It’s extremely hot now and I think I’m going to blister if I stay out any longer.

I meet an American in the grounds of the hotel. Charlie is a baptist ‘worship pastor’ (his business card says) from Tampa, Florida, USA. There is a cult, he tells me, that involves sexually abusing children, who after a certain age are simply abandoned. Their parents don’t want them back and they are outcasts from society. His goals are to educate people against becoming involved in this practice and to buy land to build an orphanage for the abandoned children. He seems to be doing other things too, like providing medical assistance while he’s around and a whole series of ‘workshops’.

He offers the services of his driver, George, to take me into town. I’m not sure what I’m looking to see but I’m thinking of just wandering about. But George tells me it’s not safe and so I settle on being dropped off at Fort Prinzenstein, an old slave fort built by the Danes and sold to the British in the late 18th century.

Actually, the Brits were relatively late to the whole slave-trading bonanza. The Portuguese had got here 300 years earlier and the Dutch and Danes had been at it for perhaps 200. Staggeringly, there were 42 slave forts in West Africa, of which 38 were in Ghana.

The Brits cottoned on to the idea of improving the conditions of the slaves, while banged up in the forts awaiting deportation to the Caribbean or wherever else. But this was not out of altruism. Quite simply they realised they’d make more money by keeping the slaves alive and that enlarging the windows to allow air to circulate around the cells was a good idea. It was a Brit too, William Wilberforce, who pushed for the abolition of slavery by 1832. However, the records at Fort Prinzenstein show that trade continued for another 60 years.

I enjoyed this visit far more than my visits to Elmina and Cape Coast castles in 2004. Although the buildings there are far more impressive, the guides were thoroughly politicised and moralising, as though the tourists standing in front of them were personally guilty of the rape of female slaves and the barbaric conditions in which they were all kept.

The story is more complicated and happened more than 100 years before my birth. The guide at Prinzenstein tried to keep things factual. Yes, the Europeans committed this and that outrage. The local chiefs, however, were complicitous and aided the Europeans in kidnapping people in return for guns so that they could wage war against their local enemies. It’s a sad period of history from which not too many people come out well.

Later we talked about English and Ghanaian football and our marital status. I was guided to the road where I could pick up a tro-tro back to Tegbi and he and a friend wait with me until it arrives, to make sure I’m safe. Again, I get a front seat.

I walk on to the beach to see what activity there is and take a couple of pictures. Not too much to see at this time but I’m assured that tomorrow morning is the best time to have a look.

As I walk back up to the hotel, I get a text from Will. He’ll be joining me in Ho on Friday morning. In the meantime, IMD have called and want to offer me a place on next year’s MBA!! Woohoo!!