Snippit of Ghana 2003

   We start in Tamale in northern Ghana in the wee hours of the morning at the OSA bus station to catch a bus to Makongo. Our ultimate destination is the Yepai Queen, the cargo ferry that plies lake Volta. This is a Muslim area of the country and morning prayer is broadcast throughout the station. Our friend Awudu is there to see us off and when the bus pulls in there's the usual frenzy of people cramming on to the bus. My innate politeness causes me to stand patiently waiting to get on. Then I hear my name called and I see Awudu inside the bus; he has scrambled in a side window (he's a natural in the melee), and got us seats.
   Once in the bus I look for the Dutch vet students we met in Mole Park and who are also going to the ferry and planned to be on the bus. Returning Awudu's favor I grab the seats in front of us for them. The Dutch fellows arrive in the nick of time; our bags are tossed on the buses roof with the pots, bags of charcoal and other un-named cargo and we are off.
A typical Ghana bus ride, little flip down seats that eliminate an aisle and Mark has a very large woman in this seat next to him. A short ride (only 3 hours) and we arrive at Makongo where we must take a short ferry ride to Yegi where we will catch the large cargo ferry.

Click for full picture Mosque

Lorrie Click for full picture

Makongo Ferry: Click for Full Image

   We sit in the shade of a truck and wait for the ferry to arrive, sharing the pineapple that I bought in Tamale for 50 cents which is rather expensive since we'd been paying 25 cents further south (but that is where they are grown, the vendor explained; ah ,but I still got her to knock a 1000 cedi off the price). The bus we were on (it carries about 50 people) also waits for the ferry to arrive and will take those passengers back to Tamale.
   The ferry pulls up, a simple vessel, the people waiting at the front to disembark. The rope is dropped and in complete surprise to the abruni's (Ghanian for white man) everyone starts running in total pandemonium for the bus. Men are climbing up the side and jumping in the windows. I was so caught off guard that my jaw dropped but Mark had thedigital at the ready. I was especially impressed with the woman running full tilt with

Run for a Ride: Click for Full Image



 Bus: Click for full picture
the metal bowl on her head that is used to carry goods. Soon the running and hurry is explained. There are more people than seats on the bus and those that don't get on will have to find other ways.
That little scene complete, the much smaller group loads the ferry in a downright orderly and cordial fashion. As is typical in Ghana, two teenage boys attach themselves to us, asking questions and giving us the inside scoop of how things work in their country and Yegi in particular.
In Yegi it's a long, hot afternoon waiting for the cargo ferry. The shade and benches of the waiting area help and we take turns with the Dutch fellows watching our stuff and taking short walks to find water and snacks. There is much speculation about whether the four of us actually
got the two cabins. I have an advantage in that I got the name of the fellow I made the reservation with and he liked the fact that my name was Mary (like the mother of Jesus, he asked, yes I replied, but not so holy, and we both laughed). But this was two weeks ago and we had read that there was often confusion and miscommunication about the cabin reservations so we wouldn't know until we got on the boat. At one point I decide to take my hair out of my pony tail and brush it because I'm covered in dirt from the bus ride. I'm absorbed in my own little world when Mark gently nudges me and nods his head for me to look. All the young girls are watching in total fascination as I brush my hair. You see, not only is it blond and straight but long for their standards. Here, schoolgirls are required to keep their hair short so they spend their time on school and learning, not on hair and primping.
Alternate transport: Click for full image
    One girl wanted to buy a strand of my hair. I would gladly have given it to her but, unlike the schoolgirls, my vanity rose and I didn't think there was a place I could cut a lock that wouldn't be noticeable. Dark settles and we see the ferry's spotlight in the distance. The abrunis formulate a plan. The teenage boys say we must get to the captain of the boat as quickly as possible to make sure we get our rooms. Leon and I will make for the boat with just our daypacks (to allow for maneuverability) and Maren and Mark will stay behind with the other packs. Down at the boat it's chaos of course, people and goods getting off and boat workers keeping those of us that want to board waiting. But then there's a dispute and ruckus to the right of us, I take the distraction as an opportunity and slip past, Leon right behind, and we make our way up to find the captain.
Yepai Queen: Click for Full Image
   1st Class Cabin: Click for full image
We find the bridge and the captain. I explain that we have reservationsfor the cabins and tell him the name of the person I spoke with. There's much laughter from the captain and his his crew because of how pronounced the name. Well after after hovering, watching and staking our claim we are given the rooms. Mark and Maren arrive and we retire to our cabins, for the coolness of air conditioning (yes, AC, the only time we had it in Ghana) and a soft bunk.
     Why such the concern about the cabins you might ask. Well, the other option is to spend the 48 hours on tables and benches down below, and, as the guide book said, you'd have to be a masochist for that. So I can now say I have been in a first class cabin on a boat, but neither the boat or the cabin would be part of the Carnival cruise line brochures. Sometime in the early morning, the boat blared its horns and we were off. This is the yam time of year and the boat will stop at villages along the laketo load yams.
     The trip down the lake is quiet and fascinating. In the morning we take our first hot showers because we share the toilet and shower with the ferry crew. Tea, bread and hard boiled eggs in the galley for a dollar and we sit with the locals. There's a chicken tied at the bottom of the stairwell that Mark refers to as "dinner".  

   The boat stops at the villages and the empty crates on the boat start to fill. The yams are loaded by hand, carried in bowls on the heads of the women, then the men pack them in the crates. The colors, the atmosphere, the camaraderie, are incredible. The abruni read, write, look at the scenery and watch the activity.

Cargo Deck: Click for Full Image

Loading Yams: Click for Full Image

  Stacking Yams: Click for Full Image

 We are nearing Akosombo, and the end of our journey. It's dark and I am reclined on my bunk reading my book. I begin to hear singing out on the deck and after a few moments I go out to investigate. The group of women that have been camped on the deck are singing and dancing. A wonderful rhythm and song. Us abrunis listen and sway. One of the crewmembers comes up and explains that these women are Christians and are singing their praise and thankfulness that we are reaching port safely. This is not unfounded because when the boat was fully loaded it was listing significantly to port and the yams had to be repositioned and the bilge pump was working pretty hard to extract the water the boat took on. As I'm swaying to the music one of the women comes up to me and starts singing in English "I know, I know, I know Jesus is my savior"

and I can tell she is making the effort in English and wants me to join her.
   Well, what's a tried and true atheist supposed to do? It only takes me a nanosecond to decide this is not the time for a religious discussion, and as they say "when in Rome" so in full blasphemy I join in and belt out the song while swinging my hips with the rhythm.
 The song of thanks is rather appropriate because today is Thanksgiving; one I will never forget.

Ghana West Africa 2003h