On Sunday morning I woke up feeling a little confused, very warm, and relieved to see that I was still fully covered by my mosquito net – which I had decided to use as a duvet in the absence of a hook to hang it from. Before I bow to criticism here – yes I do know that this really defeats the purpose of the net – however having finally reached my room following over 12 hours of travelling I had two options. Spend half an hour faffing around attempting to create a makeshift hanging device (which at the same time risked waking up the other volunteers staying in our accomodation) or just sleep under it like a duvet and hope for the best. Naturally I took the second option, jumped straight in to bed and fell asleep moments after resting my head on the pillow. Which brings me back to my triumphant moment of waking up, Malaria free, that Sunday.
Having arrived at the accomodation pretty much in the middle of the night – everything that lay outside of my room remained a mystery – and naturally I was keen to go and explore. First things first, it was time to try out the showers. The previous evening, we had been delighted to be hear that, contrary to the expectations that Julian had laid out for us, the accomodation had both running showers AND flushing toilets (most of the time). Only once I stood naked in the cubicle did I realise that running showers didn’t necessarily mean warm running showers and it was with a nervous hand that I first turned reached out turned the water on. I twisted the handle (picture garden hose twizzle tap type device) and sure enough, water began to flow through the shower head. A quick surveillance of the top of the shower told me it was completely devoid of poisonous snakes and spiders (which I had irrationally come to believe would be lurking around every corner), and I stepped into the cold water. The temperature, surprisingly, was perfect – cold enough to take your breath away as you stepped in, but warm enough to stand under for long enough to wash your hair. In my case – for the first few days at least – this meant washing my hair with ‘dry-wash’ a bottle of goodness I had left over from Rundinavia. It is effectively hand sanitiser which is completely eco-friendly and evaporates in seconds. Still, given that I had managed to leave one bottle of shampoo at home and one, the replacement bottle, on the aeroplane in Amsterdam, the dry-wash was a godsend – and at least I left the shower smelling marginally more clean than when I went in.
Shower done, I headed out to the courtyard to meet the others, spotting my first African spider (roughly the size of a fifty pence piece and oddly flat – and probably not actually native) lurking deviously in the corridor. I skirted round in what was almost certainly a near death experience and dipped out the door into the sun. It was then that I heard those magical words which everyone (I would imagine) longs to hear – one of the staff members at the hostel had made us breakfast and being that I was the last to appear – it was waiting for us. We feasted on a delicious breakfast and shortly after hopped in a taxi to head in to town – we would finally get a chance to see what Ghana looked like in the daylight – and a chance to re-live the terrifying taxi drive of the night before – only this time whilst being able to see the expanse of potholes which seem to dominate over tarmac on Ghanaian roads.
A few terrifying minutes later we would arrive in Mpraeso – the local town. Here we had a few missions to complete – find and purchase Ghanaian sim cards for our trusty burner phones, buy some food and water to keep us going for the next couple of days and most importantly, sample the local beer. Luckily we were with our local contact, Rebecca, meaning the taxis knew exactly where to go whilst the team sat back and just hoped we were going the right way. For this journey I couldn’t take my eyes away from the window – around every corner there was something new. The houses all seemed to be make shift – with very little in the way of architectural similarities. Food sellers seemed to line every road and every now and again we would pass somebody carrying an impossible load on top of their head, seemingly without any trouble whatsoever. Goats wandered in groups, dogs often darted out in front of the taxi and every now and again, and no this isn’t a lead in to a joke, a chicken would cross the road. No doubt to get to the other side and to prove to the hedgehog that it could be done.
Hilarious jokes aside, as expected, we shortly arrived in Mpraeso and pulled into a little street just a short drive from the main square. Stepping out of the taxi the first thing we did was joke about falling into the sewer – apparently this was listed as one of the most common causes of injury to tourists in Ghana. As I peared into the foot wide, two foot deep trench running along the side of the road my first thought was that yes, it probably would hurt to fall in there (plus the added unpleasantness of the risk of coming into contact with human waste), but secondly, how does one go about falling in something THAT obvious? Having thought this I knew it was only a matter of time before I ended up being that person and so as we trotted up the road, I took extra care not to fall into the huge guttering. Luckily, we made it to the phone shop sewage free, and once again we had very little idea what was going on for a good ten minutes, but ended up coming away with Ghanaian Sims loaded with credit. Credit which (as Ellis would remind us almost daily) seemingly never run out. At just 0.2 Cedi per text (4p) and with a significant lack of signal in most areas – one could run a Ghanaian phone for quite some time with a relatively small sum of money.
Next up on our list of things to do was to buy some food and water to keep us going for the next few days – a relatively simple thing for anyone who has been in the area a few days – but a task that on day one was a bit of a baffling experience.
First off, we had no idea how much something should cost. Not only this – the shop keepers seemed to have very little idea how much they should charge us. We quickly began to notice that as the only white people around, we were easy to spot, and easy to exploit. This meant that often the shopkeepers would try their luck at getting more money out of us. Initially, our naivety meant this worked – and we spent roughly five pounds on a pineapple and a watermelon – which to the locals probably would have come in at less than a pound. We did get slightly better at negotiating though – and at spotting when the sellers were just pushing their luck – and as the week went on everything we bought seemed to drop in price somewhat. But, for me at least, there was always a little bit of guilt associated with haggling with someone who lives in a tin shack with 8 other members of their family. Still, at least we were buying from the locals – which must have had some kind of inkling of a positive impact on the local economy. Not to mention the two times I got ripped off by the locals – selling me twice roasted (pretty much cremated) plantain and a stale bag of popcorn. My advice to other Oburonis (the Ghanaian word for foreigner – commonly used to mean ‘white people’) visiting Ghana would be to expect to haggle – it seems to be an integral part of Ghanaian culture – so much so they even do it amongst themselves. Heatedly.
Food sorted from the market (rice, tomatoes, curry powder, stock, onions and a few mystery veg), we went into a small shop to buy water supplies – which we discovered came served in little pouches. For just 3 Cedi (60p) we were able to buy 15 litres of water – and though the bag system really is useless – it seemed a bit of a bargain. Less so when you realise they charge the locals half this price. And even less so when you realise they have an amazing ability to soak up the smell of anything stored with it – for instance garlic. Or fish.
Finally, it was time to go and have a sit down. That day temperatures were hitting around 38°C, and after just a couple of hours exploring the town we were tired and thirsty (poor little English us). Rebecca took us to a lively – and by lively I mean extremely loud – rooftop bar. The music blaring from the speakers was catchy, making us tap our feet as we raised our second toast of the trip (the first having been over breakfast in Heathrow). Needless to say, the beer was refreshing, the company good (as good as it could be when none of you can hear each other trying to speak) and the atmosphere was buzzing. It had been a successful first day, there was a national holiday to look forward to tomorrow and then we could get stuck into the real business of organising the tournament. Ghana was treating us well and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. Just as soon as I’d finished my beer.