Jeff Warner PHOTOGRAPHIC, Golden, Colorado, USA

Thursday, September 15, 2011

9/15/11: The Warner Boys do Accra

Today Heidi decided she needed a break, and let Reade, Tate and I go it alone. Apparently, virtually ALL of the families stayed on the ship except for us, needing a break from the stress of traveling with kids, especially in a place like Ghana. The three Warner men also missed the only hamburger meal that the ship has served thus far. Drat!

After forcing the boys to do a Plyometrics P90X workout in the Union (Reade was not amused, only half-heartedly going through the motions), the boys and I showered and headed for the 11:00 shuttle bus to Accra. The 10:00 bus had broken down, and thus the 11:00 was quite full. And still broken down! We spent about 35 minutes sitting in the bus, watching four guys swap big old batteries for the A/C unit back and forth--four total--in, out, in, out of the back compartment of the bus. They finally decided it was good, and let the bus go. A/C still didn’t work! An hour later we were near the Accra Mall, a big 15 km from the ship due to traffic, and the bus pulled over to the side of the highway. Somehow the bus driver decided the bus was broken, even though it was running just as it had the whole way. We waited another 35 minutes for the 12:00 bus to come rescue us, and finally at 1:15 PM we were let off near Oxford Street near downtown Accra.

"Don't urinate here"

I'm not  sure what this sculpture was supposed to represent, and I'm not entirely sure I want to know.

Our goal was to get to the African Arts Market where we had med Hassan, hoping to maybe get in a quick soccer game with the boys. We weren’t precisely sure where it was, but I had a pretty good idea, though it was unclear what the walk would be like. As we pulled into a fenced off area where the bus could let us out, it started to seem like that first day all over again. Clearly this group of locals knew to wait here for the next bus-full of students, and we were again engaged through the bus window, though a little more randomly. The three of us exited the bus and were immediately met by 3 or 4 guys in their late teens or early twenties. We chatted at the fenceline, me trying very hard to convince them of the fact that we weren’t there to buy anything, that we were there to walk, see Accra, to talk to people. After about 15 minutes of being given the hard-sell on GHANA wrist bracelets and miscellaneous other things, most of them realized we weren’t kidding and backed off a bit. One kid in particular took us at our word, and actually gave Reade and Tate each a GHANA keychain. I assured him we weren’t buying anything, and he in turn assured me that he didn’t expect anything. He asked if he could walk with us, and I agreed to it, hoping that he might provide some of the deflection that locals can when accompanying people like us around places like this. 

Reade, 'Under', and Tate

I told ‘Under’ (as he called himself) that we were trying to get to the market, and he led us the right direction down Oxford Street. Many people approached us, some people that Under knew, others that he clearly told to get lost, though I had no idea what he actually said in his native tongue. As we progressed along this busy city street, he started to tell us bits and pieces about miscellaneous things. Hardly a tour guide, Under was 18 and could speak decent English. He had taken a liking to the boys, and they had to him.

The sewers of Ghana are mostly exposed, or worse yet, covered by wood or concrete that may or may not stand up to your weight. It's wise to watch where you step!

Once we got out of the commercial area, it came time for me to consult the map, as the surroundings changed to be a bit more ‘residential’ (term used quite loosely). We stopped on a corner where there was a little sidewalk market area, some music being played, people selling various things. I felt like we should be very close to our destination but it was nowhere in sight. Under said he thought it was still a 30-minute walk away (which I doubted, but could see no reason he wouldn’t be honest about it), so we aborted the plan due to time constraints. We reversed course and wandered back up toward Oxford Street, seeing a very old church, and many schools with children just getting out, staring at the boys and I like we were from another planet. It’s so interesting throwing big smiles at these kids, reactions running the gamut from pure delight with ancillary waves to utter horror (usually accompanied by averting the eyes, quickly looking straight ahead like nothing happened, trying not to appear conspicuous in any way). Upon passing a stand that was blaring the hip hop that is so popular here, Under and I tried to get Reade or Tate to dance with one teen girl wearing an ‘Obama Girl’ shirt, but neither would have any of it, though the girl seemed game.

Our streetcorner conversations

Seeing the 3:00 shuttle bus pull out promptly at 3:00 a few blocks down, I decided we should take the 4:00 back, and continued walking the other direction on Oxford Street, We reversed course at Danquah Circle, and told Under that we’d slowly head back to the big, purple building with pink (yes, pink) window panes where the bus picks us up. We ended up stopping on a corner about a block shy of the purple building, as a few guys that Under knew were standing around, shooting the bull. Two of the apparently less-sober ones asked if Reade and Tate could have a beer, to which I laughed and explained that the drinking age was 21 in the U.S., which they guffawed at. We met ‘Elvis’ and ‘Oxygen’, two friends of Under’s, and again had to convince them and a few others of our intentions for the day, explaining about Semester at Sea, that we weren’t typical tourists out looking to drop cash on every corner. After 20 minutes or so of answering and asking questions, a few of them heartily thanked us for stopping to talk and explaining why we were in Ghana, then they moved on. Elvis and Oxygen came along to the bus stop, and we all stood outside chatting as more and more SAS students arrived to catch the bus.

Tate and Elvis

Our tour guide for the afternoon, 'Under'.

The bus arrived and we said our goodbyes, and I gave Under 10 cidis for his time and efforts. Then were were off. Well, sort of. We spent about 10 minutes getting the first block, once again, due to traffic. We spent another 10 minutes getting a couple more blocks, followed by an additional 10 minutes getting a block or two further. Have I told you about the traffic around Accra? Well, let me tell you, without police escort, it’s simply insane. We finally got to a boulevard that got us away from downtown, but it ground practically to a halt in our direction. Only occasional traffic was coming in the reverse direction, so cars stuck in our lane started heading the wrong way up the other side of the street when it was clear. Most people just pulled to the shoulder so the three lanes of traffic would fit into two lanes, and we watched dozens of cars get to the traffic circle 200 meters ahead of us, while we moved not. 

Now, you might think that things work differently here than in the U.S., but that doesn’t preclude coming across the odd self-righteous zealot, willing to put it all out there in the interest of being right. I ran across just such a person while trying to amuse myself, watching the world of Ghana go by (in all cases, faster than us). Two cars headed past us in the wrong lane, though they came across a black car on the correct side of the street, the one car that wasn’t about to move for some law-breaker on the wrong side of the road. They both came to a stop before touching bumpers, the black car not moving an inch toward the shoulder, not leaving the other car enough room to get by on the inside. No one moved. No one got out of any car, nor were any fists shaken out any window in rage. They just sat there. They sat there for a full 10 minutes, until the traffic was able to move on our side, at which time the now 6 or 7 lawbreakers that had been stuck behind the Mexican standoff had to push their way into the correct side (ultimately leaving us to sit for a full ‘nother cycle of traffic). Once the road was completely clear, the black car proceeded onward. Guess that guy had nothing better to do than to sit around and assert his/her self-righteousness.


The self-righteous zealot, doing his part for the world.

After another 10 minutes we moved another 7 spots up, to the point that we could now see the traffic circle, which was oddly being controlled by military police. Then we sat. And sat. And sat. I could four different directions of traffic, two of which were getting virtually ALL the attention by the police, ours and another of which were getting practically no access to the roundabout. When he finally let the other lowly direction go, he let 20 cars pass. I got excited since we were about 15 cars from the circle, but he only let 7 from our direction. What? Now I was starting to get self-righteous, thinking about shouting some expletive out the window that wouldn’t get me thrown in jail. Does one exist for this white boy? I doubt it.

I keep watching the goings-on in the traffic circle like a hawk, trying to figure it all out. A law-breaker passes us on the left, goes right up to the roundabout where the military cop is, stopping short of him. After a minute or so the cop walks over to him, and is handed something from the guy in the car, and shortly thereafter is granted access to the circle to continue on his merry way. Payoff! Now why isn’t our bus driver doing that? I sat and pondered why it appeared that the ‘regular’ police have been tasked with getting us through this ridiculous traffic quickly, while these military police seem to have intentionally slowed our progress as long as they reasonably could. Weird.

We finally got through that 500 meters of road in about 45 minutes, and started to actually tip the speedometer off it’s resting place. It did, however, take about 2:40 to get the 20 km back to Tema, an excruciatingly slow pace, similar probably to the detail contained above.

One near bus driver vs. car driver fight later (yes, seriously), we arrived at the ship at 7:15 PM--far later than anyone would have imagined--and met Heidi getting ready to leave the dining room, relieved to see us alive. We hadn’t had lunch, and I was thoroughly impressed how the boys handled so much time in the saddle. Our 8 hour and 15 minute round trip had yielded about 2 hours 40 minutes of ‘boots on the ground’ time, and I began to realize why the Ghana Tourism Bureau arranges for police escorts of tour buses through the inextricable traffic horrors of Accra.

I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize in advance for the rather pedestrian nature of today’s imagery. Spending most of the day in a bus isn’t conducive to photographic creativity; at least it wasn’t for me! I did, however, make up a mnemonic so that I’d never forget the traffic in Accra:


Ah, what the heck, one for Tema:


(Takoradi Eases Motorized Annoyances?  Tiresome Excursions Monotonously Accomplished? Tumultuously Excessive Mechanized Anarchy? I gotta million of'em!)


  1. Nice mnemonics and imagery!

  2. It seems like you all need to have a book to read for traffic situations like this. Hard to believe that Under spent most of the day with you not knowing if he's be compensated in any way. You certainly have met some nice people.


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