Thursday, November 6, 2008

Road tripping, African style

Sister Juliana had mentioned something about traveling to Kumasi and maybe taking me with her, but I didn’t know if it was for sure. She has this habit of not telling me things... I’m just led along blindly everywhere I go. Last night, however, she said to pack my bags, because I would be spending the midterm break and the weekend in Kumasi! Finally, I get to travel!

She said we’d be leaving at 5AM. I believed her, but of course, we didn’t end up leaving until 5:45. I piled into the back seat with my bag, and soon, we were on the road, Sister Juliana, Sister Dorothy, and me. I’ve taken road trips in America and in Europe, but this was my first African road trip! As the car bounced away from the school, I couldn’t help but laughing. Here I was, in this big, 4-wheel drive, tearing down the road like Indiana Jones... but with nuns. Me, white girl, the obruni, in an SUV with two African nuns. Please! My life is a comedy.

Oh, but the view was magnificent! We drove out of the suburbs and into the jungle. Some of the trees were familiar - varieties of palm trees, banana trees, bamboo trees - but some of the trees were unlike anything I’d ever seen. Positively magnificent! My favorite is this most beautiful tree that almost makes me cry when I look at it. It is really, really tall, the tallest tree that towers above the others. Its grayish trunk is huge and strong at the bottom, but tapers a bit towards the top. Near the top, enormous branches spread out in all directions, covered with pretty green leaves. It looks like the small trees one sees in front of a house or lining a boulevard, except gigantic versions, which are the most incredible trees I’ve ever seen. I wish I were better at describing how beautiful they are!

I was kept occupied by watching the ever-changing view and by listening to Sister Juliana singing African church hymns and popular songs. We stopped at a rest stop to buy soft drinks and pastries and to use the urinal. Yes, a urinal. For women. It was actually just a few walls that made little coves about 1 square meter each, without any type of door. There was a slight dip in the concrete that led down to a gutter a couple meters away. That was it. I was the only person in there, hoping no other ladies would enter until I was finished, because I knew they would stare at the whiteness of the obruni’s nakedness. It was like peeing in the woods, except without the dirt or trees to hide you, and it cost 5 pesewas. I’ve never actually peed in the woods before, but I have used restrooms without toilets in Europe, which were rooms with porcelain holes in the floor and much more private and easier to use. The rest stop had toilets, too, but those cost 20 pesewas. I thought that Sister Juliana handed me a 5 pesewa piece because she didn’t think I was worth the 15 extra pesewas until I climbed back into the car and she said, “You’re an African woman, now.” (She’s really into Africanizing me. It’s kind of funny.)

I continued to be amazed by the landscape as we drove through the jungle, passing through small towns along the way. We made several stops at produce stands along the way. The stands were basically bamboo sticks propped up and covered with dried palm branches to provide shade for the sellers, women with their babies strapped to their backs. They sold all types of produce. We made several stops, with Sister Juliana getting out to haggle with the sellers, who then proceeded to load the back of the SUV with dozens of huge bunches of plantains, still on the branch. The seat and the floor next to me were filled with black plastic bags of tomatoes, garden eggs (like eggplant), cassava, oranges, peppers, leaves, bananas, ginger, and several types of fruit that I’ve never seen before. I wasn’t sure why we didn’t just buy everything at one stop, but I’m sure that each seller appreciated the business. Their stands were in the middle of nowhere! “We’re marketing,” Sister Juliana told me, and I laughed. Marketing has such a different connotation in America.

Then, we arrived in Kumasi! It is the second biggest city in Ghana, after Accra. We were only in Kumasi for about thirty minutes, sitting in traffic.

“We’re actually going to my village. It’s about 45 minutes away from Kumasi. They don’t have electricity,” Sister Juliana said. Hmm... she does enjoy surprising me, doesn’t she?

Kumasi was amazing. It was so unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and yet it was every big city I’ve ever been in. The buildings were bigger than what I’ve seen in the suburbs of Accra. There were hundreds of people selling everything you could want, like the Madina market, only less ghetto and more city-like. (Okay, I know I’m being vague, but that’s because I still haven’t found words to describe this country.) We were inching forward in the traffic, and men and women came up to our windows with buckets balanced on their heads as they tried to sell us things we didn’t need. I felt so happy to be in a big city! This may sound crazy, but I love the smell of bus fumes. It’s such a big city smell, and I love big cities!

Sister Dorothy got off in Kumasi to take a car to a funeral in the north, and Sister Juliana and I stopped by her aunt’s hair salon in a quiet neighborhood just outside the busyness. I’d never been inside an African hair salon before, and I was so surprised to learn that they use fake hair. They braided it into Sister Juliana’s short but real hair, and gave her cornrows with several inches of completely artificial braids on the back. Interesting! I learn something new every day.

FINALLY we arrived at Sister Juliana’s parents’ house in the village... but I’ll save that story for another day. I must say that I am very lucky to be alive right now. Ghanian drivers are CRAZY! Sister Juliana is no exception. If the speed limit is 50 kph, she’ll push 100, easily. The roads are at some places really bad, so she swerves to avoid potholes. When she’s behind a slow truck, she’ll overtake it, even if there is another car or truck coming towards us from the opposite direction also driving 100 kph. It’s quite terrifying, but...

I survived the first part of my very first African road trip!

1 comment:

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