The routine of daily life returns far too quickly. Each morning I am closer to my usual time. This morning it was 6:30 when I woke up; two days ago it was 4:30. Last night I lasted until nearly 10:30 before I dragged my tired self upstairs to bed.
Last year I returned to a different Ghana after forty years away. The cities are huge and filled with crowds of people and with cars caught in constant traffic jams, except for Sundays when the roads are clear. That is church day in Ghana.
I could hear the sounds of car horns everywhere. They blow a second after the traffic lights turn green which I find strange in a country where patience, like food and water, is a necessity of life. Ghana is dirty, mostly in the cities. I partially blame the water sachets, small plastic bags of pure water, sold everywhere then tossed to the ground when empty. After a while, though, I didn’t notice. I just saw Ghana: the people, the animals and the wonderful small villages and towns.
Along the roads are deserted houses made of clay. They fall apart easily when not tended. Other houses in various stages of construction are everywhere. They aren’t abandoned but in process. New houses are build over time, when the owners have money. It often takes years to finish a house.
The roads are filled with tro-tros ferrying riders from one stop to another, from one small village to the next. The driver’s helper sits by the sliding door and yells the destination. Each tro-tro is filled with people crammed elbow to elbow. People don’t seem to mind the heat.
Goats are everywhere. They stand on the shoulders of the road to eat the grass beside the road. Babies stand with their mothers. Pregnant goats waddle. At night, the goats sleep on the same shoulders where they spent the day. I never saw a goat which had been hit by a car. Drivers are careful.
Along the road, villages and small towns appear out of nowhere. Speed bumps are the only indicators. They slow drivers down going into and out of each village, even the smallest. In between the villages I saw women carrying bundles of wood, bicyclists riding along the side of the road and children with buckets both filled and empty. Many times I never saw their destinations and wondered where they were going. I guessed there were isolated compounds somewhere off the road. Hawkers are everywhere. If you stop, they come to the windows hoping for a sale. Off their heads come their trays. Some are filled with oranges or bread, groundnuts, water sachets or dried fish. At toll booths, the hawkers sell wares particular to the region. Near the water were shrimp, octopus and snails. The food I wanted was a sweet donut. When I found some , I bought two. They used to be a roadside staple. Now they are rarer. The other food I miss is toasted coconut balls. They were delicious.
The Ghanaians are wonderful, friendly people. When you speak to them in a local language, they smile from ear to ear and often clap. They say, “You have done well.” If you are lost, a Ghanaian will give you directions or even walk you to your destination. A woman got in our car and directed us to where we wanted to go. They will grab your bundles so you don’t have to carry them. I was offered a bench every time I stopped to take a small rest. Ghana is rich in its people.
Ghana is a country of street food. We used to go into town at night for snacks and buy we’d kabobs, plantain chips or fried yams. The women, the aunties, were set up along the sides of the road behind basins filled with oil boiling over charcoal fires. Lit lanterns sat on their tables. I always liked the sight of the dark street dotted with those lanterns. Mostly that hasn’t changed, but now street food is available starting in the afternoons. I bought tasty sausages and kabobs, often with fried onions. I bought kelewele and yams and bread, delicious butter bread, and rolls for my sausages. Many small kiosks now dot the sides of the streets and sell food. They all have painted names on the front and most boast they are the best: the best meat, the best kenkey and the best of just about everything.
Last year Ghana was new again. This year it was familiar. It felt far more like home, the way it had all those years ago.