top of page

Mama Africa

July 2, 2010

Alex Mitchell
Mama Africa

I am in Africa, Ghana to be exact, somewhere around Kumasi to be more exact. Though I feel like Africa sums it up. I am currently sitting in the back of a disgustingly hot bus, sweating profusely, cramped behind some woman's seat -- it must be broken - she's nearly in my lap. My companions, the miserable men sitting to the right of me are Moose Halpern, Aleksis Psychas, and Kai Moreb. This summer we set out on an adventure that began in Accra and ends in South Africa, at the World Cup. If you aren't jealous then stop reading. I only wish to provoke stomach wrenching envy by those sitting at their desks in DC or New York at whatever 9-5 internship you snagged. At least it will look good on the résumé, right? I hope Riggio’s leadership book is enthralling. Are you there yet? Sufficiently pissed? Me too, sorry, see, it’s this damn bus. We’re on the way to Accra, the capital of Ghana, from Tamale. It is hour five of our thirteen hour trip. Tamale is one of the most Northern cities in Ghana, a calm region that is a bit different than the rest of the nation. Our local guide, Razak, told us it is about 55 percent Muslims, a statement echoed by the call-to-prayer booming from the mosques five times a day. The market at the center of the city is similar to the ones we’ve seen thus far: full of second hand American apparel (not your $45 sparkly unitard - more like your 1998 Hall and Oates revival tank-top your dad gave away 7 years ago) and more fresh fruit than your salivary glands can handle. 

As white travelers (Obrunis as Ghanians say), we are perpetually being hustled. Which is fair enough, I could probably start a successful business here with the dollar amount equivalent to last year’s 16 meal plan. My Nikes shout, “I am obligated to pay twice as much for this taxi ride.” Luckily we’re traveling with Big Leks--the ultimate bargainer. Cold-hearted some would say, but he’s used to it. See the whole reason we are even in Ghana is because his family lives in Accra. They’ve graciously let us destroy the contents of their cupboards and spoil their toilets with ample amounts of traveler's diarrhea – an unfortunate inevitability. I knew the fish looked funky.

But this bus… this is just one bus, the last bus. Our first bus took us comfortably to Cape Coast, home of a disturbing attraction: the Cape Coast Slave Castle. This place was built sometime in the 1600s, I think, there is surprisingly little access to Wikipedia in rural Africa. So I’m not really sure when it was built, suffice to sayit fits the bill for a "slave castle," being sufficiently spooky. Walking into the slave dungeons and standing among the unforgiving stones it wasn't hard to imagine the horror.  The Door of No Return affected me the most. There, the slaves were slung into American and European ships, never to see their home or families again. Goodbye Mama Africa and freedom, hello cotton plantation. Forget a textbook, send a sixth grader to a slave castle and they'll never forget the feeling of heartbreak.

With the macabre of the castle still fresh in our mind, we headed to a slightly more uplifting location, the jungle. Yes, the jungle, like panthers and fat spiders, and so much humidity my glasses fogged up like a September TNC. Our purpose was to accomplish the canopy walk: A series of swaying bridges connected to the treetops. Yeah, “what the shit” is what I was thinking too. But once we got up there, along with an elementary school full of screaming children, it was amazing. (It's hard to act like a wimp when an eight year old girl is right next to you, leaping from plank to plank, unfazed.) Caught in the fog, we swayed our way across rope bridges like Indiana Jones. Maybe less swiftly, especially Leks, dude is top heavy with a feet the width of the bridge itself.

In the three days following our deep jungle excursion, we hit up the Green Turtle, an environmentally-friendly beach resort that is just a Corona commercial away from paradise. Actually it was soap and mosquito repellent away from paradise. If malaria has ever entered my bloodstream it was at the Green Turtle. Thank the holy lord for Doxycycline, my Malaria / Chlamydia / Syphilis / any-infection-you-might-ever-get pill. Despite the itching bites, we found happiness in a five cedi ($3.50) liter of gin, and the unexpected entertainment of a Jenga set. Pull, assign drink, pull, assign drink, make it fall- take a shot. Egyptians had it down, architecture is fun.

The next morning we hopped aboard another bus, this one 7 hours to TamaleLeks’ pops is working on campaign to fight malaria in more rural areas of Ghana, and that’s where we were heading, toone of thoserural villages outside of Tamale. We had to change transportation to get to the village - you’ve never seen more people crammed in one rickety van (a tro-tro). I counted 24, including the nipple-latched infant feeding next to Kai. We were fine until the hood flew up and scarred spider-web cracks across the windshield. Despite the scare, we made it to the village wet from the shoulder sweat of our neighbors but unscathed.

The village was like every African charity commercial you see on TV, minus the cleft pallets and ballooned bellies. So it wasn't really, I guess just the mud huts and nearly naked children, chilling out maxing, relaxing all cool. The kids were ecstatic to see a camera and posed for us while we got our fill of culture to show the rest of the world what awesome travelers we are. "I was there!" For the malaria spray, the huts were emptied and shot with a pesticide which supposedly lasts a year. When mosquitoes land on the walls they die immediately, like they deserve. Naughty disease spreaders. Upon our departure we were given a guinea fowl by the chief linguist, a lovely offering we kindly accepted, though we later gave it away to more adequately trained fowl chefs.

The trip north was incredible. Yet, now, I am cursing my life, minutes away from going mad. It is dark and the shine of my book light on the flow of my pen is the only thing keeping me sane. The potholes in the dirt road are not assisting my legibility and I may stab this lady in front of me. "I am six foot three, you are four-eleven, do you realize how little space I have!" I won't though. I'll sit here with my noise canceling headphones relaying silence from the dead iPod in my pocket, thinking of all the amazing aspects of this trip.  There's more to come though, on South Africa, the cup and such. I mean, if you care, the eight dollars Carl pays me per article isn't quite a driving force. Just saying.

bottom of page