Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Ghana 2008

The offer of marriage came whilst sharing a taxi to Lake Bosumtwe - I said I already had one - and one was all I was allowed, in the UK anyway.

Extended families , multiple wives, larger children looking after smaller ones. Women doing most of the work and walking many miles with their 'shop' on their head.

Mostly everyone sells.

Thats the way it is.


Coming to this part of West Africa were Elephants, Lions, Warriors, Eagles, Super Eagles, National Elephants, Squirrels, Indomitable Lions, Pharaohs, Hawks, Bullets, Antelopes, Teranga Lions, Carthage Eagles and 'Bafana Bafana'. 15 teams joining the Black Stars of Ghana for the 26th Africa Cup of Nations.

What we saw was loads of goals in a fast moving first phase of matches including some absolute crackers.

And despite the hot conditions not too many dull games.

Crowds were generally good although for some games they didn't turn up until half time.

Whilst the home team win their first three games they only play well in the last.

But Ghana do go on to the semi finals after a great , battling win over Nigeria.

Unfortunately Cameroon prove too strong in the end - absorbing the hosts pressure to breakaway and get the only goal. Arguably Ghana might have made the final with Essien in midfield and a better striker. Nevertheless they had given the home fans a good run for their money without getting to the final. Inspirational figures like Essien and Muntari gave plenty for the cause.

When Ghana were doing well the streets are crowded , the bars are busy. Though very basic they have the essentials - beer and a mega-sound system.

But after the home team lose the roads were quiet, the flags having gone, t-shirts are now half price and the traders gradually switch back to their usual goods.

THE FINAL - Cameroon v Egypt in Accra

As Ghana didn't make it there were many tickets for sale and the stadium was probably less than half full at kick off (though it did fill up somewhat later on)

Not surprisingly a more cautious approach was adopted by both teams in hot , sticky conditions. Cameroon were particularly defensive leaving Eto'o up front and isolated.

It was an error from Rigobert Song , Cameroon's most capped player, that proved decisive. He was caught in possession by Zidan , who crossed for Abou Treika to score.

So the Pharaohs clinched their 6th title and after the closing ceremony (and ecstatic celebrations) they received the trophy from FIFA president Sepp Blatter.


Buses - usually late departing, sometimes by well over an hour . Their speed depends on the driver (who sometimes needed waking up before departure) and the roads which were variable being potholed, littered with abandoned vehicles and sometimes with substantial roadworks.

Trains - you could see some tracks - and numerous people living around and on them but never any trains. Nobody went on them though I did find someone who had seen one.

Taxis & Tro tros - after a while you get a feel for the 'going rate' then its usually a quick negotiation . Taxis themselves could be in moderate shape but did the job even if in one case the driver had no keys (hotwiring each time i guess) The tro-tros , as long as they were going your way, represented good value.

Don't expect too much hot water in the hotels - not that it matters too much as the weather is so warm anyway (in some places it hadn't rained much since November)

Minor faults are common - door locks that fall apart, windows that don't close and rationed toilet paper.

And be aware of the islamic alarm clock found in one place I stayed - set to go off every 4 hours - no wonder I didn't always sleep well in that hotel.


Mole National Park - from Tamale (in the far North mainly Muslim region) two hours each way - half of which is along a very bumpy, dusty track - think Dakar Rally.

Two hours of strolling around with a ranger (with gun - not needed) But worth it to be near enormous elephants, various monkeys, warthogs, antelopes, crocodiles & some cheeky baboons.

The unenclosed park occupies a very large area and but you see only a small fraction.

Jamestown Accra - your correspondent decided to walk around 'British Accra' with a local -after agreeing a deal for him to show me around . On the way we met his mother. In typically hot conditions we walked around the old harbour & fort area and watched the fishermen (and women) dealing with their catches.

Slave Castle - In a country where they still use the expression for the British as 'our Imperial masters', whether ironically or not, it was essential to see one of the slave castles at Cape Coast.

The tour took you into the dungeons , condemned cell & through the 'door of no return' - the exit the slaves took to the ships bound for the West Indies , South America & the Caribbean.


They walk - one guy told me about when he was a young child he walked for 5 miles to his aunties' farm to harvest some fruit , then took around 2 hours to put it all together, place it onto his head & walk the 5 miles back to his mother's house.

No wonder the local men are usually slim, upright & fit (as long as they avoid the nasty diseases)
Talking of which at one point during the tournament there were 30,000 condoms distributed to various drinking spots around the central region.

Football is (also) popular and so is religion but funerals are the where the real expenditure goes. Often it seems there is no money to help sick relations but if they die no expense is spared.

For the living, often existing on 5 cedis (£2.50) per day, the routine is familiar - meaning usually selling something on the street.

Or working in the markets which are jam-packed wooden structures providing an intense, claustrophobic & disorientating environment. Most things imaginable are sold.

Food and drink - rice & chicken , beef & rice , beans - not many dare try the fish sold in the street stalls.

Some decent margaritas , Starbucks count = 0.

Out in the villages you see animals (eg goats , chickens) and children roaming free. Some in disconcertingly dangerous roadside situations.

The facilities are basic with sewers running down the sides of the roads. This makes wandering around in the dark more tricky than usual.

Sunday morning is different as the families dress up for church and in the sunshine the sparkling clothes and smiles of the children brighten up any mood.

Being there as a Westerner , though not a Bill Gates or Bono, you can't helping wanting to assist in some way , however miniscule.
So I embarked on a short lesson for the 6 year-old son of a hotel landlord.

Paq Kwasi and I played noughts & crosses - he grasped that he put down the crosses (and I the noughts) but despite much thought he wasn't able to understand how to 'win'.

Similarly playing 'hangman' he struggled with some of the letters and their pronunciation and couldn't recognise his country (Ghana) or the town he lived in (Tamale) when written down.

Maybe education is a factor.

A (European) volunteer worker who I met on a bus told me this story...

The new teacher gives the young children paper & pencils and says

' so children today you are going to draw a picture of a house - lets say your house'
the children get ready then some minutes pass and nothing is happening.

'why are you waiting' the teacher asks.

'Miss we're waiting for you to draw the house and then we will copy it'

Typical of the local education - perhaps.

As the trip nears its end you feel the need to get back to European comforts more and more . So you gravitate towards the up-market hotels for the air conditioning and some peace and quiet after the Accra mayhem.

In one hotel I come across some Cameroon players and ex-star Roger Milla but conversation is very limited as he doesn't speak English.

So the football was memorable , the organisation not so. But the friendliness of the real people would draw you back.

Though I refused the marriage proposal I spent much time smiling and nodding at the locals as they acknowledge you. Often it was the children with their uninhibited smiles that you remember. When they smile the world lights up.

Thats the way it is.

more pictures at

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