Tag Archives: Ghana

“I’m a free spirit.”

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“Kobi’s Bar: This stilted bar next to Coconut Grove Beach Resort has a great beachfront location, cheap beers, music at w/ends, often supplemented by live performances on Fri. or Sat.” — Brandt Travel Guide to Ghana

I was excited. We were staying at Coconut Grove Beach Resort, (actually in their sister budget accommodation in the Village). And so, armed as I was with the Brandt-country-specific travel guide, I was ready to head towards Kobi’s bar. But no one knew where it was, and Dan was rolling his eyes. See, things are hard in (most of) Africa, so just because something is in a guide book, that doesn’t mean that it still exists, or that if it does, you will ever find it. And Dan and I had already spent quite a lot of time on Ghana’s coast searching for things highlighted in the book, often spending the equivalent of tens of US dollars in cabs searching an area, only to find a closed or empty bar or restaurant. But Coconut Grove Beach Resort is fairly isolated, and so I figured that, surely, we could find Kobi’s. We walked back and forth across the beach in front of the resort for about an hour before we gave up.

But as we walked back towards the resort’s restaurant for dinner, we heard the drumming. We asked the resort security guards about the music. Though none of them knew the place as “Kobi’s bar” they all knew where the drumming was coming from and could point us up the road to the house, which was set a bit back from the beach (hence our earlier unsuccessful efforts). “Do they serve food there?” “Maybe sometimes.” — We have found this to be a typical response in Africa, and not because people are dodging the question, but because that is actually the answer. They may not usually have food, or even have a kitchen, but anything is possible. So, we resigned ourselves to our overpriced resort dinner for the evening, but afterward, we headed up to what we knew as Kobi’s bar. We met the manager of the bar and the famous Kobi. (Though that is not actually his name, but as is so common in Ghana, one of the possible (though unusual) shortened versions of his name, Kwabena, which he shares with roughly 14% of the male population because children are named based on the day of the week on which they are born. And yet, as you will notice, neither of these names are the name painted on the front of his sign.)

Kobi's bar, or umm, Akumapa Theater.
Kobi’s Bar, or, umm, Akumapa Theatre.

Kobi teaches a bunch of local kids to drum and dance. They practice a lot. They’d be more than happy to put on a performance for us the next day. “Do you serve food here?” “No, but I own a drum store down at Stumble Inn, (the next lodging down the beach from ours) and we could probably work something out.” This was followed by a discussion of the food that we had most enjoyed in Ghana so far, and their favorite dishes. And so, trying to nail down a price, I suggested about what Dan and I had spent on dinner at our fancy, overpriced resort that evening, but made it clear that I wanted to feed the four of us with it — they said that should be fine. The price was 80 cedis — a bit less than $26.

The following evening, we arrived at the bar promptly at 6 PM. (OK, it was more like 6:15 PM, and still we were so early that they didn’t know what to do with us. — Africa time is a thing.) And so, we sat for a bit sharing a beer. (We were told to be mindful of how much beer we drank because there was a lot of food to eat for dinner). A girl, maybe eight years old, plopped down in the chair next to us. “I’m a free spirit.” “Oh wow,” I said. I thought this was an impressive declaration for an eight-year-old, and it had me wondering if I, too, was a free spirit. But then we learned that all of these kids are Free Spirits. They are all involved in a foundation that helps support the drum school, their care and transportation, and occasionally helps some of them travel overseas to perform — several of them had been to Poland and most of them are traveling to the US in March.

Then Kobi showed us their “kitchen” — an incomplete building where the bar manger was bent over three small coal fires. Kobi explained that with the amount of money we had suggested, they had decided that they would just feed the whole school and cook it themselves — and so (due in no small part to the ingenuity and grit of Kobi and his manager) for what we spent at one dinner at a fancy resort, we provided dinner for the four of us adults and 13 kids. And the dinner was no basic affair. There were multiple courses including a soup (which, as we’ve mentioned, is eaten with one’s hands), fried and baked plantains and cassava, red beans, and both fried fish and chicken. But before dinner, there was the show — kids having a ball drumming and dancing for their audience of two — though several local kids came by to see what all the excitement was about. At the end of their last song the girl dancers grabbed us and dragged us onstage, and proceeded to try to teach me to dance.

“No. Put your hand here. No, there. OK. OK, now move your other hand like this…ummm, no, looser, yeah, looser…umm ok.” (Shakes head in resignation of imperfect white girl hand moving.) “OK, now move your bodyMOVE YOUR BODY…” (Actually turns and walks off,) proving, empirically, that white girls cannot dance, and that they may in fact be a lost cause.

The Show:

And Dinner:

  

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A few notes from Ghana

Ghana was the first African state to declare independence from European colonization. There have been peaceful hand-offs of power from one legitimately-elected head of state to another since 2000, making Ghana among the most stable states in Africa. The last three US Presidents have visited the country. President Obama and his family visited in 2009. Here are some notes about our time here so far:

1. The power was out all day on Tuesday in Cape Coast, because it was Tuesday. (Cape Coast is the former British capital and home of the infamous Cape Coast Castle through which millions of slaves were loaded onto slave ships bound for the Americas through the Door of No Return. We visited the castle on Tuesday. President Obama unveiled a plaque at the castle in 2009.) There was no power or water in our hotel room Tuesday night, because, TIFA.  It’s not the first time we’ve run into power outages on the trip, and it likely won’t be the last. And when I lived in Honduras, this kind of thing happened all the time. But, still. Next time you walk into your bathroom, flip on your light switch, and wash your hands in the sink, just think about all of the things that have to go right for that to happen — the power and water have to be available, the government has to not fail at getting them to your house, and then the wiring and plumbing in your house have to enable it to reach you.

2. There is a name for the weather pattern that is happening right now in Ghana, when hot wind blows the sand in from the Sahara, coating everything in a fine layer of dust — harmattan. December in Ghana is hot. So, without power, even if you sit completely still, new beads of sweat still form. On the plus side, our laundry dried in a day.

3. In Ghana, as in Honduras, you can buy drinking water in bags. This is brilliant. Think of all the times you have an empty bottle and you just need to refill it. Or all the times you are hot and thirsty and you just want to slam some water and not be burdened with carrying around the bottle looking for somewhere even slightly environment my friendly to put it. Also, we can buy 15 liters of drinking water for the equivalent of slightly leas than 1 USD. I think this is partly because it is a commodity that so few tourist buy in bulk (why?) that locals are thrown off their game when we ask for it, and just charge us the standard local price. (Note: this happens with nothing else.)

4. The beaches are really quite pretty, especially from a distance. They’d be much nicer if they were cleaner and were not required to include public bath and toilet among their various uses.

5. My vertigo has become more intense as I have aged. Which meant that there were times when I was legitimately freaking out during the rain-forest canopy walk at Kakum National Park.

6. Though we were unimpressed with the reggae at world-famous Big Milly’s in Kokrobrite, their cultural drumming and dancing night was incredible, all the more so because the show was not put on for us, at least not entirely — the entire village was in attendance.

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7. The adorable baby goats running around all of the towns have convinced Dan to become a goat farmer. Anyway, when you visit us and hear the baa-ing, at least you will know what that is all about.

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8. Our “VIP” air-conditioned bus from Accra to Cape Coast began with 20 minutes of preaching and group hymns
followed by 20 minutes of biblical trivia. Unfortunately, both were conducted in Twi, which, in addition to being a language we do not know, is a tonal language we do not know, so we were unable to join in. On one hand, it is nice to have a group of people praying with you as you think, “Please, God, do not let anybody steal my bag from under this bus, and please do not let this bus topple over as it swerves to avoid the potholes.” On the other hand, particularly as the preaching entered it’s second half hour, Dan was longing for a greater separation of church and state, and I have to admit that it is a bit disconcerting that across Africa (we ran into a similar group prayer/song to Allah on the ferry from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar) — the safety of your journey is entirely in the hands of God or one of his sons.

9. One night in Cape Coast, Dan and I bought a round at a neighborhood bar, for everyone in the bar. For $1.75, including tip. The whisky did come in bags.

10. In Ghana, people eat their delicious ground nut soup with their fingers (there are hand-washing stations at the tables). It still grosses Dan out, something about the dirt under your finger nails slipping into the soup. It is best with what is sometimes called banku, but goes by other names as well — fermented maize dough.

mmmm. Ground nut soup.
mmmm. Ground nut soup.

11. Many of the kids we see in the villages are happy. Some are reasonably well off, though most are not. Some are malnourished, but the vast majority are not. Most wear shoes, but some do not.

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Ghana Must Go is a good book, particularly in its descriptions of Ghana, and it includes references to Kokrobite and Big Milly’s. You should read it. This is one of my favorite parts:

“The child was smiling brightly, possessed of that brand of indomitable cheerfulness Kweku had only seen in children living in poverty near the equator: an instinct to laugh at the world as they found it, to find things to laugh at, to know where to look. Excitement at nothing and at everything, inextinguishable. Inexplicable under the circumstances. Amusement with the circumstances.”

And a bit later:

“Later in America he’d see [those kind of eyes] again, in the emergency room mostly, where eleven-year-olds die: the calm eyes of a child who has lived and died destitute and knows it, both accepting and defying the fact. with precisely the same heedlessness the world had shown her, and him, all dirt-poor children. The same disregard.”