Ghana Part 2: Dead White Men’s Clothes

As you know from reading Part 1, we had a quick flight to Kumasi, an easy ride to the KNUST campus, and an arm-gnawingly long wait between lunch ordering and lunch eating. Good thing it paid off with this:

Red-Red: Red beans, "red" plantains
Red-Red: Red beans, “red” plantains
Plantains, Fish, and Palava Sauce
Plantains, Fish, and Palava Sauce

One of the great pleasures of travel is the food. Unless you’re someplace horrid, like rural England. We’ve always tried to let our taste buds be as adventurous as our wide eyes, sunburnt noses, blistered feet, and — as you recall from the story of our flight to Ghana — our (sometimes) pierced eardrums. Even when we were both vegetarians (Jenny still is, really, but I fell off the wagon in 2011, after 13 years), I would grant myself special dispensation to eat things like yak in Nepal, pigeon in Morocco, sheep stomach in Ethiopia, and, sadly, whale in Japan.

The food on this trip was especially lekker. Fried tilapia crusted with ginger, spicy peanut stews, sweet and savory plantains, fufu, jollof rice, red-red … Mmmmm. Even after the “Ghana gut” set in, we just kept eating.

Watching Cartoons in Kumasi

As is the case wherever food is prepared and consumed, in cities and villages all over the world, the best meals are those that nourish both the belly and the brain. Dining at a table of PhDs — Jenny and her Ghanaian colleagues David Zoogah of Morgan State University and Moses Acquaah of UNC Greensboro — meant heapin’ helpin’s of enriched conversation; including theories on the perception vs reality of freedom in Africa, and how the chief/subordinate relationship may negatively impact emerging economies.

Contrast these discussions with the nonsense emanating from the restaurant’s boob tube, perched on a special stand above the corner table: When not blaring the worst English overdubs of Telemundo dramas, the one TV at the one restaurant at the university guest house was showing cartoons. Mostly old Batman cartoons. [OK, I’ll admit that I did sneak some peeks at the episode where The Joker and Mr. Freeze team up, but Batman (and Boy Wonder, of course) get help from Aquaman to (DRATS!) foil the plot yet again. Classic.]

Dead White Man’s Clothes

Once their academic business was successfully concluded, David, Moses, and David’s brother Kofi guided us around Kumasi. (Nice Ones, no?) We drove winding streets, dodging goats (my mother always warned me to watch for them), gaping in awe at street vendors carrying entire bakeries/electronic shops/convenience stores on their heads, and laughing at the sibling rivalry between David and Kofi, who disagreed incessantly over driving directions. Kofi, the ninth-born, was forced to relent to his elder brother, even when he was in the right.

Street Vendors, Kumasi
Street Vendors, Kumasi
Kejetia Market, Kumasi, home to dead white men's clothes (obroni wawu)
Kejetia Market, Kumasi, home to dead white men’s clothes (obroni wawu)

Although it was our intention to visit Kumasi’s famous Kejetia Market, the largest open-air market in West Africa, on foot, the traffic (or disagreements thereabout) kept us at a distance. We had hoped to see the obroni wawu, or “dead white men’s clothes.” Kejetia is the biggest importer of second-hand clothing from places like the US, the UK, and Western Europe. The clothes — ranging from t-shirts to bras to jackets to jeans — are often tailored on the streets, as many of the pieces are meant to fit larger (read: fatter) bodies.

To the Capital, not the Coast

Soon enough, it was time to return to Accra. We had arranged for Francis, the driver you met in Part 1, to fetch us at the airport and drive to Cape Coast, about 3 hours from the capital. Cape Coast Castle is one of several dozen “slave castles” constructed in Ghana during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We were prepared for a powerful tour, for the difficult history. We were prepared to cry. But it was not meant to be. Flight delays from Kumasi, caused by the seasonal Harmattan, pushed us off schedule. We would not have time for the drive to Cape Coast before our return flight to Johannesburg.

Instead, we drove (with Francis) around Accra. After lunch at Afrikiko (you know, to keep that Ghana gut going), we drove to Makola Market, Accra’s version of Kejetia.

Driving into the Makola Market Madness, Accra
Driving into the Makola Market Madness, Accra
Makola Market, Accra
Makola Market, Accra

Time to Fly

Sadly, as slowly as we inched through the choked streets of Accra, the clock kept its normal pace. Aside from a couple of stops — at Global Mamas for hand-made clothing and Smollensky’s for a drink on the rooftop — we were not able to see many more sights before it was time to head back to the airport.

What a great trip, though. Thanks to David, Moses, Kofi, Felicity, and all who helped make it special. We hope to return someday, and will gladly brave any and all screaming children, indigestion, and/or American animation in our path. Until next time.

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