Monday, May 17, 2004

That's Africa

Well, I have to admit that Africa is starting to get to me. After you've been here a month, you start to get an idea of why it is the way it is, and even though I'm still enjoying seeing new things and meeting new people, the constant harassment is wearing on me. I guess I thought coming to Africa, among other things, would give me some idea of how black people felt coming to America, but I've found out that although here I stand out, it's a totally different treatment that I get. I feel like everyone who sees me on the street is sizing me up to see how much money they can milk out of the white girl. What can they sell me, what can they do for me that will earn them a tip, if they look pathetic enough, how much will I donate to their cause? And yes, I have more money than they do, but it doesn't mean I can hand it out freely on the street, nor that doing so would help them in the long run - it would just encourage more begging. I can't walk anywhere alone - sometimes it's curiosity, sometimes it's for money, sometimes it's because they "want to marry a white lady" - but even though I consider myself a pretty tough traveller, I find myself longing for a place where everyone will just leave me the hell alone. It's hard to explain without being here to see it, but I can't even go to the bathroom without a trail of 8 children trying to come with me - and sometimes adults too - I guess they want to see if white people do the same thing in there that they do. Or I'll sit down to eat in a restaurant and one of two things will happen: either a group of children will slowly start to gather and just chant this annoying chant they have "obroni, how are you? I am fine, thank you" over and over again, or some guy will come in and tell me how beautiful I am, ask to marry me, and give me his address, and then not let me eat in peace. I put this in my journal because this is all part of the cultural experience, and it's really shaping my impressions of the places I go. Once I have made a friend somewhere it gets markedly better, as I do get harassed less when I'm with a black person, but it never stops. Here in Africa, there is no such thing as privacy, no such thing as personal space, and no such thing as anonymity, at least for a white person.

So now you know what my daily life is like a month into my trip, I'll tell you a bit about what I've been doing. I had just arrived in Kumasi when last I wrote. Kumasi is the heart of the Ashanti kingdom, and it is particularly bad about harassing tourists. I wasn't going to stay there long, but unfortunately got stuck for a whole week. So I saw everything - all the museums, all the little suburbs, all the random little excursions that Lonely Planet only devotes one sentence to. I went out to Lake Bosumtwi, which was nice until I walked down the beach to a little village and was basically attacked by children trying to get into my bag to get pens. They were like little vultures, and it was very, very sad. In Kumasi I made friends with a very nice boy who was baptized "Neil Armstrong" (no kidding). He goes by Armstrong, and he took me around every day, invited me to his house, where I was given local homemade food, and was generally very good to me. In the meantime I also made friends with a Rasta named George, who thought it would be a crime if I left Africa without trying a "black snake." I begged to differ. Well, I was going to leave on Thursday to Accra for the Aboakyer festival where they hunt antelopes, but I found out half way through the week that it had already happened. You see, the two rival tribes that participate in the festival had each decided to publish different dates, and so the one in the newspaper wasn't the one when it actually happened, and I missed it. As they keep telling me here, that's Africa. Anyway, I decided to stay in Kumasi for the Akwasidae Kese festival, which only happens every five years. Well, it wasn't much of a festival, though I did get to see the king and the Queen Mother being paraded in on palanquins, along with the golden stool, the sacred seat of the Ashanti king that never comes out except on very special occasions. The presidents of Ghana and Togo were there, along with various other dignitaries, so it was important, just not very interesting.

So finally I left Kumasi on Monday and went to the Boabeng-Fiema monkey sanctuary, which was really nice. I saw lots of monkeys and met a nice Peace Corps volunteer from NYC (the only other whites here are all volunteers). The next day we waited on the road for 2 hours for a car out, and then it took me another 6 hours to get where I was going, which was Tamale. I left on the 4am bus to Larabanga, a tiny little town at the gates of Mole National Park. I was again the only white there, so I was assailed when I alighted from the tro-tro, and after lunch that consisted of a plate of rice and two rocks that turned out to be cow meat (apparently they overcook everything because of the tapeworm), I hired a bike and rode the 7km over the uneven gravel road to the park. Well, they only had one bike, and it was too big for me, and the seat was really uncomfortable, and in the heat of the afternoon it took me about a half an hour before the nausea went away after I arrived at the park. It was worth it, though, because I spent the afternoon watching herds of elephants, kobs, baboons, green monkeys, warthogs, guinea fowl, and various other birds and animals I may be forgetting now. Most of these animals I had only ever seen in a zoo, and it was kind of surreal to watch herds of elephants and think about them being in their natural environment and not there for tourists. Well, the ride there had bruised me pretty bad and I couldn't sit down on the bike for the way back, so I walked part way and then was lucky enough to hitch a ride. I couldn't sit down comfortably for about two days. Yikes. Well, back in Larabanga I saw the oldest mosque in West Africa, a small mud structure dating from 1421, or so I'm told. I slept on the roof of the guesthouse because it was too hot inside, and spent the night next to two young boys who were kicking me and tapping me to ask if I was awake. I also made friends with two guys from a nearby town - Stone and Sraj - who ended up taking me back with them to Damongo, where I spent two days. It was an interesting slice of life in small town Ghana, and in the north, no less, which is MUCH less developed than the south. They only got electricity 14 years ago, and they still don't have running water. This is getting a little old. When your bath water is gray and has little fish (?) swimming in it, you have to just close your eyes and pray for the best. So they took me to see the local hospital (I hope to God I don't get sick here) and the school, and various other things that were not touristy, but interesting to see. Even though we were staying in the apartment Stone shares with his girlfriend, he got a little frisky, so I was glad to get out of there. He had some nerve - he told me he never cheats on his girlfriend, but "whites are special"... and tried to kiss me right in front of her. The shamelessness of some people here is just mindboggling. Well, from there I went to Bolgatanga, where I ran into a huge concentration of white people, surprisingly for a tiny town. They were, of course, all volunteers, and I guess it makes sense that they would be concentrated in the north, as that is the most impoverished area and most in need of help. It looks just like the Africa you see in pictures - children with distended bellies running around dirty and mostly naked all over the street. The problem here is so overwhelming - they have enough food, but they have no concept of a balanced diet. And even if they did, they can't grow vegetables because they have no irrigation. So it's tough to see because even if you want to help, it feels like it would just be a drop in the bucket.

Anyway, I only spent a short night in Bolga, and then took 8 hours to get to Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, where I arrived last night. My friend Adrien, whom I met in Benin, came to meet me here and will stay for the week and leave when I go to Mali. It was nice to see him again, and he actually wanted to wash my clothes last night. It was embarrassing to let him see all my clothing that is no longer its original color, but rather just looks like a big patch of dirt, but he didn't seem to mind. So I will spend one week here in Burkina and then be going to Mali. I'll let you know how it goes...

Keep in touch,

No comments:

Adventure map for 2009...