Friday, July 6, 2007

A Ghanaian Fourth of July, Part 1

On Wednesday, while the rest of Americans woke up and prepared for the usual red-white-and-blue festivities, Stesha, Lindsey, Elizabeth and I sat down for lunch at a gas station restaurant (humbly called "Restaurant and bar") across from the bus station in Tamale. Tamale is a big, dirty city in northern Ghana where motos and goats rule the road. In northern Ghana, Islam has more of an influence, so there are beautiful mosques dotted throughout the city--along with a few more traditional mud-style buildings that seem to be less common in the south.

So, question: why were we a "12 hour drive" from home? (They told us the bus ride was 12 hours, but it turned out to be an even more grueling 15... and that was just leg one of the journey.)
Answer: To visit Mole National Park, a very remote nature reserve that allows lots of hiking and relaxing, as well as the occasional elephant sighting. And by "remote" I mean very, very remote--the closest town, Larabanga, apparently doesn't have it's own running water. They have to hike several miles down the road to Damongo.

After briefly toasting to the Fourth of July, and drawing more than a few stares, we ran to catch our final bus at the station across the street. The bus station was so filled with people that at moments we grabbed onto each other, worried someone would get lost in the flurry of people. We finally reached our bus to find that it was similarly packed, standing rooming only. To give you a mental image, picture a normal American public school bus--now, instead of 4 young children fitting in each row, imagine 6 adults, some without actual seats to sit on, crammed into each little row. Luckily our tickets guaranteed a seat, but this meant that the people already on the bus had to squish out of the way, and I had to climb over several rows of people to find my seat amid the increasingly angry crowd. As it turns out, the bus company overbooked the bus, and right after we boarded, two men had had enough, and began to scream and push at one another in the row directly in front of me. In a moment, the fight spread to more and more passengers, until it seemed half the bus was fighting and yelling. My new seat mate leaned over to me and pointed to two of the loudest protesters: "They're both police officers. They're probably going to beat someone up now."

Meanwhile, the four of us were thinking up what the headlines would be if the uproar turned more violent: "4 Americans start riot in Ghanaian bus station."

Thankfully, it soon calmed down, and before anyone else could protest, the bus took off, and we began the final leg of our journey--a 5 hour bus ride on an unpaved road into one of the most remote sections of Ghana. Needless to say we were quite relieved to arrive in Mole Park late that night, after nearly two days of traveling...

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