Accra: Bargaining and Taxis

When you are coming to Ghana, one piece of advice is consistent (with exceptions)…you have to be prepared to bargain.  Some say that if someone asks for 20 cedis you should counter with half of that, or about 10 cedis.  I’m not sure if that is true, however I believe that as obruni you will be asked a special price and it will be high.  Of course, there are exceptions – if you buy from the sellers at red lights, the price is the price so you want to have some exact change, and for heaven’s sake decide early before the traffic starts moving again.  The site of watching these sellers pick a product out from the container atop their head as they jog along with a car that has started to continue on its journey is almost frightening.

My friend Robert from Pamoja Ghana accompanied me to work on my second day at the office so that I could learn the public transportation system.  With heavy traffic and all of the passing Tro Tros full, Robert suggested we take a taxi to the next junction and catch a Tro Tro from there.   And so he hailed a taxi and after some tough negotiating on his part, we took a taxi to the Zongo Junction at Medina for 3 cedis before catching the Adenta Tro Tro for 40 pesawas each.  We did the same thing returning at the end of the day when it seemed like there would never be a Haatso Tro Tro at Zongo Junction.  And, so, I understood what the best negotiated price range was.

Interestingly, the next day as I travelled to work on my own for the first time, I encountered similar difficulty with traffic and full Tro Tros passing by.  A cab tooted and so I signalled for him to come over and asked cab how much to take me to Zongo Junction Medina to catch the Adenta Tro Tro.

“8 cedis.”

“8 cedis!  Yesterday, I went for 3 cedis.”

“No” and he drove off without further negotiation.  No discussion.  Oh well. 

As someone else joined me waiting for the Tro Tro I shared the taxi story and he  told me, “it is because you are a white woman”. 

To which I replied, “he thinks I am a stupid white woman” and this made my new friend laugh and I was happy my story made him smile.

Sometimes the taxi cabs will ask more of Obruni.  That can be frustrating at times since I am not used to negotiating in Canada – I rarely take a taxi and in Canada taxis are metered so negotiating is rarely an option. 

So, to bargain or not to bargain?

While the travel guide, and perhaps friends will say, bargain, it is really a personal choice.  Now that I know the approximate value of cab rides, the negotiating has come easier, for cab rides at least…or perhaps it is more appropriate to say that the decision making has become easier.  I can decide, I like his price or I do not like his price.  There lots of other cabs.  I come back with what I think is a reasonable price and a bit high and usually they will accept.  For me, it is more important to build relationships than save one or two cedi.  If I was staying for a year, I may have a different outlook although at the end of the day I know that the cabbies, like all of us, are just trying to support their family.

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Sunday in Accra

Ghanaians have a strong faith which they live every day, with approximately 60% of the population of Christian faith and 40% or so of muslim faith.  Here are some common sites you see around Accra,

God is good

and in Twi, a similar message (I think) 🙂

Almost all taxis and tro tros have such messages on their reat window.  And many company names reflect faith,

And the same message in Twi, I think….

A final message for this post,

I hope you enjoy these images.  God Bless everyone on this beautiful Kwasiada (Sunday)!

Maureen

p.s. yes, it is now Monday however the internet also was resting yesterday! 🙂

A Drumming Welcome

Since arriving in Accra I was awaiting an opportunity to visit the National Arts Center, meet up with a friend of a friend, and pick up some good souveniers for my men back home.  Today was the perfect day. 

Hailing a taxi in Accra is easy.  Stand by the road.  They all toot to Obruni to see if you want a ride.  If you want to pick up a dedicated taxi, point to the ground, they will come over to talk to you.  If you do not want a taxi, just shake your head no.  On any given day when you might be walking along the road this means that you will undoubtedly do lots of head shaking! 

“Me ko Arts Center.”  It is the first time I spoke Twi and the person actually knew what I said and did not laugh at me….of course it is easy…Me ko Arts Center….and my grammar was off, I should have said, we not I…alas, I digress…he understood, or perhaps he just understood “arts center” , either way, we were good to go!

We negotiated a fare and off we went.  It was nice to drive through some of the different neighborhoods of Accra since for the most part I have travelled the same roads every day.  There are rich and poor parts of Accra, or so it seems.  The public schools and the private schools are significantly different – it appears the private schools are perhaps doing some strategic messaging with the schools they are building, not sure.

As we approached the center, we passed the Embassy for the Czech Republic which made me think of our internation student who today is arriving home after spending 10 months with us in Canada.  All of her family and friends are having a party for her and I am sure they will have great fun!  If you have never hosted an international student in your home, perhaps consider it.  It can be a great experience and an opportunity to learn about another culture.

The Arts Center reminds me of a straw market you might find in the Carribean.  Local handicrafts, such as Kente cloth, woodwork, etc, as well as the standard souvenier items.  Inside the center it is shaded which is a nice break from the sun.   My friend Stephen helped me find some gifts for my family…it was like having my own personal shopper…medasse Stephen! 🙂

Stephen and I in his shop

After purchasing some items, our friend took us to see some drums – not to purchase, just to see.  This meant travelling back outside and the sun was almost blinding after being inside for a bit.  Again, it was hot…surprise, surprise.  

Stephen’s friend Will welcomed us to his shop where completed drums may be purchased.  As we had walked to the shop a whole throng of men were following us and at first I did not know why, until they all sat down and offered us a drumming welcome…here is a bit of the welcome….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ND_o-AE5Pg

The drums are truly exquisite!  They are all made right there…I mean literally, right there.  Men were working in the surrounding shops – cutting the standard base from a chunk of wood, planing the wood by hand, painting the base, carving the base (either before or after painting), sanding a carved base by hand, stringing the band for the skin and handle, cutting the skins, scraping the fur off of the dried skins by hand, custom carving for the finish, varnishing, everything….everything done by hand with manual tools or the tools God provided upon birth.  It was truly a sight to see and one that every visitor to Accra should explore.  This group of guys were so very friendly, even though I told them I was not buying a drum they were happy to show me around and take pictures and invited me to take some lessons. 

 

If you travel to the Arts Center ask to take pictures, and be sure to show everyone how handsome they are in the pictures…they like to see them!

A Tro Tro Story

“Accra, Accra, Accra.”  “LaPaz, LaPaz, LaPaz.” “Haatso.” “Accra, Accra, Accra.” LaPaz.” “Circ, Circ.”  “Accra!” “LaPaz!” “ Circ!”  “Accra!  Accra! Accra!”  “LaPaz, LaPaz, LaPaz.” “Haatso.” “Accra, Accra, Accra.” LaPaz.” “Circ, Circ.”  “Accra!” “LaPaz!” “ Circ!”  

“Obruni, where are you going?”

“Haatso down.”

“No.”

😦

“LaPaz, LaPaz, LaPaz.” “Accra! Accra!” LaPaz.” “Circ! Circ!”  “Accra!” “LaPaz!” “ Circ!” “Accra!  Accra! Accra!”  “Haatso.”

 Someone said Haatso!  🙂

“Haatso down?”

“No.  Go over there.” 

😦

“Accra!” “LaPaz!” “ Circ!” “Accra! Accra! Accra!”  “LaPaz! LaPaz! LaPaz!” “Accra!  Accra! Accra!” 

….oh my goodness…. :S

 “Accra, Accra, Accra.”  “LaPaz, LaPaz, LaPaz.” “Accra.” LaPaz.” “Circ, Circ.”  “Accra!” “LaPaz!” “ Circ!”  “Accra!  Accra! Accra!” 

“Obruni, where are you going?”

“Haatso down.  Carpentry.”

“No.” and he gives me the universal dismissal signal as he starts shouting once more “Accra! Accra! Accra!”

“I am also going there,” says a tall, dark and handsome stranger standing to my left.

“Haatso down?”

“Accra, Accra, Accra.”  “LePasse, LePasse, LePasse.” “Haatso.” “Accra.” LePasse.” “Circ, Circ.”  “Accra!” “LePasse!” “ Circ!”  “Accra!  Accra! Accra!” 

“Yes.”

“Accra, Accra, Accra.”  “LePasse, LePasse, LePasse.” “Haatso.” “Accra.” LePasse.” “Circ, Circ.”  “Accra!” “LePasse!” “ Circ!”  “Accra!  Accra! Accra!” 

“May I wait with you?”

“Accra, Accra, Accra.”  “LePasse, LePasse, LePasse.” “Haatso.” “Accra.” LePasse.” “Circ, Circ.”  “Accra!” “LePasse!” “ Circ!”  “Accra!  Accra! Accra!” 

“Yes.”

“Thank you.  Meda ase.”

He talks to me about how he travels to Haatso and some of the options and since I cannot hear him well above all the clamour, I pay attention, try to catch a few words, nod and smile.

His 6 foot plus height makes it easy for him to see beyond the surrounding commotion.  His native ear makes it easier for him to listen for what he needs to hear through the incessant shouting. 

“Accra, Accra, Accra.”  “LaPaz, LaPaz, LaPaz.” “Haatso.” “Accra.” LaPaz.” “Circ, Circ.”  “Accra!” “LaPaz!” “ Circ!”  “Accra!  Accra! Accra!” 

His ears perk up and he signals to me, “Come” and so, I follow.

Weaving through the throng of people is challenging when you are wearing a loaded back pack.  It is so crowded.  My new friend stops and I catch up and stand beside him.  We are now at the back of the crowd…so to speak.  It is hot and I hope my sunscreen is working as it drips into my eyes.

Within minutes, my new friend is on the move again and I am happy he is over six feet tall and wearing a bright yellow golf shirt.  I lose him momentarily as he dodges between Tro Tros and instinctively he seems to notice because I catch a glance of him again.  He has stopped and is looking behind for me.  I think I am easy to spot! LOL! 🙂

He waits for me at the Tro Tro door and offers for me to enter first, again I thank him and take one of the seats.  He pops in beside me and since Tro Tros only depart when they are full we are barely seated when  the Tro Tro jerks ahead and departs.  It is before the rush hour…although I think at the Tro Tro junctions it is always rush hour!  🙂  The very kind folks I am working with at Pamoja Ghana have suggested that I leave early so that it is easier for me to travel back to the hotel and today I am thankful for their suggestion.  They are taking good care of me, God Bless them. 

Each Tro Tro has a mate.  The mate is the one who does all the shouting at the junctions to let people know where the Tro Tro is going.  He also calls the route out to folks standing by the side of the road along the way in case they are awaiting the Tro Tro.  He has the seat beside the sliding door and pops in and out , in and out and back in, oftentimes swinging from or hanging onto the door frame or the frame of the open window. 

You pay the mate.  He asks you where you are going and will collect the appropriate fee.  For me, it is 35 pesawas from Adenta to Medina and 40 pesawas from Medina to Haatso Carpentry Shop.  So, 75 pesawas total or about 50 cents.  Affordable public transportation.  Hot, yes, but affordable so used by many.

Our mate starts collecting fares and I have my fare ready.  As I go to pass my coins, my new friend says, “I already pay for you.” 

I look at him and offer him my coins.  “I have money, I can pay.  Please take this.”

“No, it’s good.  I pay for you.”

“Medaase.”

“You are welcome.”

Only moments later, my friends says something to the mate which I do not understand.  The Tro Tro stops and my friend is on the move “I will alight.”  And so as he gets up, I thank him again.  “Medaase.  God bless you.”   He smiles at me.

As he lands on the road, the mate calls “away”, and we are off again.  I wave and my friend waves back.  He has put me safe on my way.  He has used what little money he has to pay my way.  I may never see him again in this city of 3 million people.  And, for the first time since arriving in Accra I have a tears in my eyes.

Haatso to Adenta: the drive to work

Some random pictures from the drive to work,  Haatso to Adenta in Greater Accra, Ghana.

This first picture says a lot about Accra.  The name of the shop on the right is “thy will be done”.  Many of the shops have names with religious meaning.  Ghanaians are very strong in their faith and they live their faith every day.  In the upper right in the distance, is a poly tank – used to hold water.  On the left, is a typical store you will find along the road, some specialize (Shoes, bags, clothes, furniture, etc.) while others appear more like the typical corner store we would be familiar with, albeit smaller.

Here is a furniture store….all beds appear to be king sized!

 

The University of Ghana is a substantial property and includes a botanical garden which I have yet to visit but pass each day as I travel to and from Adenta for work.  I think it is so cool the way this building is built…the design makes it appear as if it is collapsing.  My plan is to visit the gardens before I leave.

The hardest thing about the trip to work is the traffic.  Here is the traffic one morning at Riss Junction (which is on the Accra – Adenta Road…and if you read my blog regularly you know that is not the real name of the road. LOL!).  All of the pictures are from the same junction, different directions.

Yes, the road is under construction, and to keep traffic off the new road they lay down nail strips.  In sections where there are no nail strips, the traffic will travel.  One morning we drove on this new road, following a grader as it dodged oncoming traffic. Not sure I would want to hold the flags.

The vans you see in the pictures are the Tro Tros.  More about Tro Tros will come in a later post.  There are also sellers at every Junction and whereever there is traffic congestion.  You can buy anything from the comfort of your car.  The most interesting thing we have seen so far is the Ab Exerciser!

Lanes?  Yah, no…well sort of.  Potholes, plenty.  My friends at Landmard Geographic Solutions would be kept extremely busy plotting all the potholes in Accra…another reason traffic flows so slowly.

For those who have left me comments about my blog, I thank you.  I am truly pleased that you are enjoying it. 

Some of you have asked about providing financial support.  I thank you!  There will more to come on that at a later time. Stay tuned!

 

 

Aburi Botanical Gardens, Ghana

More pictures from Aburi Botanical Gardens in Ghana.  Well worth the trip.  Enjoy!

This tree was very cool.  What to do with a tree that is dead…

 

All that remained of the tree was carved!

 

 

And, the following is not really a tree…

It is actually a parasite weed that travels on animals or in the wind and when it catches in a tree (usually at the junction of two branches) it starts to grow around a branch, and will strangle that branch.  It continues to grow to the ground and will root, stealing nutrition and water from the host tree.  It eventually grows around the host tree and strangles it slowly (over a period of years).  The dead parts of the host tree is then eaten by termites.  this results in a hollow tree and when you walk in side, the hollow is the size of the original host tree that is no more.

Aburi Botanical Gardens, just north of Accra…another reason to visit Ghana.

 

Aburi Botanical Gardens, Ghana

It took me over two hours to get there by Tro Tro and was worth it.

Even though it ended up that none of my friends could join me on the adventure, I went anyway.  The first Tro Tro ride was easy, once it was determined by some local men that I was in fact standing in the wrong spot.  As they approached to queue with me, they asked where I was going and pointed me to a spot on the other side of the corner.  As they were doing so, a Tro Tro arrived and so they yelled at the driver and mate to wait for me, which they did.  Thanking the men, I scurried off and paid the 40 pesawas (about $.30CDN) to take the Tro Tro to Madina. 

Madina, well, that’s a different story…

Madina is what I would call a major junction and yet my instincts tell me as I type this that I ain’t seen nothing yet!  Madina is a hub-of-sorts and also the location for a market which I was hoping to explore on my return trip from Aburi. 

The Tro-Tro stopped in Madina (which I had recognized in my Friday travels from work) and I started looking for landmarks of which the most obvious for me in Madina is the huge billboard that was overhead as I came from work, and walked past to catch a Tro Tro to the hotel on Friday.  I asked a few people how to get to the Aburi Tro Tro  and they all pointed me in the same direction.  I found the parking spot for the Aburi bound Tro Tros and after chatting with some people who wanted to shake my hand, I was shown the queu.  It was a long queue.  As soon as Obruni arrived in the queue, it seemed as if all the market vendors were continuous and focusing on me.  I did buy some more bottled water – the sun was burning hot when it appeared – and I was happy to have brought my big floppy sun hat…even if it was the only sun hat for miles. 

I was in the queue for about one hour.  It did not move fast and some people were getting impatient…the delay obviously unusual and as a queue friend mentioned, no one knew why it was so slow, Tro Tros were not coming.  At one point, the woman behind me went to leave and said to me, “I will come” to which I replied, “Yes” thinking that she wanted me to hold her spot.  A few minutes later a man was calling to me, “Obruni, come, I have a car for you.”  “To Aburi?”  “Yes.”  “How much?” …an important question to know what he meant by ‘car’.  “1 cedi, 20 Pesawas.”  Another woman beside me, hearing all of this and the confusion in my voice said, “Tro Tro”  to which the man replied, “Yes, Tro Tro, quickly we must go, come with me.”  Not wanting to go alone, I asked, “May I bring my friends?”  “How many?” I turned to look at the women who had just helped me and she said to him, “one”.  He was clearly not convinced she was my friend but said, “Yes, one is good.” and so she and I followed him to take the last two seats in a departing Tro Tro.

I have read and been told that Ghanaians are extremely polite and queue for Tro Tros and personally, I do not think it is appropriate to cut in line and so as I realized what was happening I felt I was caught in a quandry.   The men at the front of the line were unhappy they would have to wait for the next Tro Tro while at the same time the mate was explaining something to them and seemed unaffected by their complaining as he took my hand and pulled me past the men.  “My friend” did not hesitate as I had;  she jumped right in.  Once we were seated, she turned to me and thanked me. 

A light hand touched my shoulder and as I turned, I saw the woman who had been in line behind me in the queue.  She was smiling and as I realized what had happened I thanked her.  She had sent the mate for Obruni who was melting in the hot sun.  Midase! 🙂

I reached into my back pack and found the Canada flag bouncy ball and held it out to her and asked if she would like it for her little boy.  She took it with a big smile and while the little one seemed confused, he thanked me.  Another drink of water and we were on our way. 

Located in the hills north of Accra, the drive To Aburi offers a breathtaking view of the Greater Accra region, even on a Tro Tro…the only difficulty was getting a picture of the view…oh well.  On Saturday, all you could see was the city as far as the clouds would allow.  I learned on this drive, where the stones came from that are used for the fancy siding work on some buildings – they were from this mountain.

Approaching Aburi town, I notice two women walking along in beautiful traditional dress in red and black which can only mean one thing.  There is a funeral in town.  All of the residents of the town were in black or red or a combination.  When there is a funeral in Ghana all of those who know the person or their family celebrate the life together over the weekend.  The town was busy.

‘My friend’ walked me a little ways to point me in the right direction and I proceeded up the hill towards the entry to the Botanical Garden.  It was a nice town with children playing hopscotch in the sand at the edge of the road while girls filled buckets of water (at what appeared to be the town’s poly-tank well) and struggled to balance the large buckets on their head to continue on their way.  It amazes me that they can carry such weight and I marvel at the posture it must take.

The gate attendant at the garden’s was very friendly and we chatted a bit.  He asked and as I explained that I would be working in Adenta, he asked where.  As I told him, I added, “so I will be working in Adenta and mostly right now I am lost, but everyone is very helpful” and he laughed.  I am certain he knew I spoke the truth!

The Palm trees lining the entry to Aburi Botanical Gardens were planted in 1900 and so are 111 years old.  In this picture you can get a sense of their enormity as you look at the woman walking along the path.   

For 1 cedi (about $.67 CDN) I took a guided tour of the gardens.  Our guide was extermely informative and shared his knowledge with the small group and answered all of our questions.  The garden is mostly comprised of trees and non-flowering plants and is beautiful none the less.  The gardens were a refreshing break from the heat of Accra.  With the elevation and trees, the shade was nice and cooling.  All I needed was another application of bug spray.