Two weeks after arriving back in America, I had to go to summer school. . That’s right, go ahead and feel sorry for me. However, one of the courses I took turned out to be pretty cool. It was Comparing Comics (COLT 370). For my final project, I had to create a 3-page comic of my own. I knew exactly what I was going to do. I had a children’s story floating around in my head that I thought of while I was Ghana. It’s called Kofi, the boy with the round head. I was kind of in a time crunch by the end, so the coloring got a tad sloppy, but I guess it is supposed to look like a child wrote it. Anyway– Enjoy!
No other weekend could compare to the Volta Region trip. Beautiful place for beautiful people.
Mosquito bites or zero water pressure no longer annoy me. They become a part of life that I have comfortably lived with during the past month. I no longer complain about how slow my work day is because I start losing the concept of time. It does not really matter what time it is. Everything belongs to a chaotic rhythm of Ghanaian life. And being early to anything is mere stupidity.
During the past month, I had a chance to visit different parts of Ghana and different communities in Accra, to experience Ghanaian night life and to be a part of such amazing experience.
I went to one of the most serene places on Earth just to learn about the worst crime in humane history: Slavery. It was a surreal feeling to be in such a beautiful place that also happened to be “the door of no return” to many people. The clash of pretty scenery and disgusting crime gave me chill. It was amazing to be able to touch ruined walls of Cape Coast and Elmina castles, especially when I spent so much time reading about slavery. At the same time, anger was boiling in my body. Sometime, I felt ashamed to be a human being.
I jumped on the bouncing canopy walkway that happened to be xyz feet above the ground (trust me, it was high). It was great fun to walk beneath giant trees of the rain forest, although my heart was about to stop beating whenever I looked down. And sweat ran like a never ending stream.
I took a deep breath before leaving the obruni bus and heading to central market in Kumasi. The biggest open market in West Africa and the second biggest of its kind in the continent (behind Ethiopia). I quickly realized that wearing shorts in the market was my biggest mistake. Old ladies slapped my thighs. Some yelled at me for holding a camera in hand. Some pointed at my mosquito bites and laughed at my shorts. However, those things did not prevent me from enjoying the most overwhelming walk in my entire life. People walked from every direction. I needed to look in front of me and behind me just to make sure that I wouldn’t hit my head or have my foot crushed.
Every section in the market had its own distinct smell and sound. The shoes section was covered by black dust, sparks of fire and the smell of leather (or faux leather? Plastic? Not sure). The spice section smelled like my grandma’s kitchen whenever she cooked her famous chicken curry. The fabric alley dazzled me with its colorful and vibrant textiles. Perhaps one of the liveliest thing that I have ever seen.I felt like being in horror movie while walking through the meat section. Dead cow hung above my head. Gizzard lay in front of my eyes. Ghanaian men sharpened their bloody knife when asking my hand for marriage. I was glad that I made it outside without throwing up (no regrets for walking in either). Standing at a market corner and waiting for Sonny our guide made me nervous because people kept staring at this obruni. After 15 minutes, I escaped to a nearby fabric alley. Although I didn’t buy anything, Ghanaian fabric ladies still greeted me kindly. I practiced my Twi with them and we laughed together. How I love being a rare Asian who tried to speak Twi in the middle of African market.
Living in a house with 14 other people, who were strangers one month ago, is now one of the greatest things I have ever done. Coming home to these familiar faces is my most favorite part of the day. Because I love each and every one of them so dearly.
I’m leaving Ghana in four days. Yes, I’m excited to go home, to see my family after two years. Yet, the counting down process is quite bittersweet this time because of fond memories I have had.
The people. The food. The creepers. The daily chaos. The tro tro. The mango lady. Everything in Ghana and everyone in Ghana will be a permanent part that shapes who I am.
Ghana is divided into ten regions and for our last group trip on the Obroni Bus, we headed to the Volta Region, located in the eastern side of the country. I’m a sucker for boating and lakes so when I heard we would be staying on the lake itself, taking a boat ride, and hiking to the tallest waterfall in Western Africa I became a giddy girl!
Our bus ride to Volta held an array of new scenery. Accra is a big city so most of the space is taken up by markets, houses, or desolate fields. But once we entered into the Volta Region all of the scenery changed from a man made market city to a green world of jungle and new wildlife.
The waterfall was amazing, to say the least. It was ferocious with a magnitude hard to imagine unless you stood under or near it, which we did. But for us to even get near the waterfall Ghanaians had to guide us towards it… Backwards. Facing towards the waterfall wasn’t happening… The splashes were enough to poke your eye out! Breathing was near impossible because water shot down your throat. And good luck walking alone with the wind. As I faced backwards and moved slowly towards the roar with a Ghanaian tightly holding my hand, water splashed up and stung my back like shards of glass. The wind created from the fall was enough to knock you off your feet, even being stomach deep in the water. I wasn’t ever able to stand under the fall, I think I would have been pummeled into the pool even more than I felt I was, but I stood darn close. As shards of water hit and bounced off my back, my hair blew into my face, my screams were drowned out by the roar of the waterfall, my legs shook from the undercurrent and I lost my balance. Able to regain my bearings quickly by the helpful hand of my new Ghanaian friend, I took a minute to open my eyes to a small squint. I saw dozens of Ghanaians dancing, chanting, and laughing in the more calm and distant water; a euphoric moment for all of us indeed.
Today is the official day of mourning for Ghana’s deceased President, Atta Mills. It was one week ago he passed away.
Yesterday, my work told me I needed to wear red and black to mourn the President’s death tomorrow (which is today). When I awoke in the morning, instead of wearing the black cardigan I made a mental note to yesterday, I foolishly forgot and asked Joe to borrow one of his white & blue plaid button ups. As I sat smooshed between two mourning Ghanaians on my usual morning tro ride, I remembered today was the day I was suppose to wear red and black. Shoot. I nervously looked back in the tro and Ghanaian women wore floor length black dresses with pops of red jewelery and scarves. Men wore anything and everything that was black or red. Children followed suit. Street sellers switched from selling fruit to selling red scarves & flags. The city was mourning, regardless of their previous political affiliation.
Thinking my Obroni self as a cop-out for my forgetfulness, on my walk to work, a man asked me why I wasn’t wearing red. I was caught. I told him I didn’t have any and sort of just laughed uncomfortably… Thinking he would call me out and say something rude, he instead said I could have some of his scarf and proceeded to rip me a huge piece. I tied it around my neck and as he walked away he gave me the “Ok, you’re good now” look. I felt like someone just told me I had my fly down or told me I had toilet paper hanging out of my pants…
The rest of the walk to work was full of praises, thanks, and many smiles and extra-long Ghanaian handshakes. (The handshakes here have a hard to master snap to them) Ghanaians were genuinely happy to see I was mourning with them. Think of Eugene on Game Day but replace football with a funeral, switch green & yellow with black & red, and add about a million more people.
When I arrived at the office, my co-workers exclaimed praises that I had a red scarf on. They even pulled out their phone cameras and took pictures, then proceeded to get into a heated debate because one co-worker wasn’t wearing black or red. He says mourning is not about what colors you wear but what is in your heart. The rest of the staff said things like “Aye! Tssst! No! Even the Obroni is wearing a red scarf!”
The rollercoaster Obroni Bus rides rock a lot of us to sleep. Sorry if I caught you in an unfortunate light; I think you’re all beautiful sleepers
How Kofi lost his wallet, fell in love with a casino manager named Sasha and built an allegiance to an unknown cab driver.
As a precursor to the story I’m about to tell I feel as though it’s necessary to say a few things first. (For those of who know me well feel free to skip down to the next paragraph). I, Joseph Russell Faltyn, am a bit of spaz. I know some stuff, sure. And for the most part I’m able to hold my own when it comes to conversations about politics, golf, movies, some history, old Disney cartoons, the sociology of wild squirrels, etc etc. But, and this is a fairly big but when it comes to me, I tend to move around in the most ungraceful of manners. I have the attention span of a slow ant stuck in water. I forget names within seconds of hearing them. And at times, most of my “real world” Ghana housemates would probably agree with this, I tend to say things that are way ahead of any sort of filter or thought process. So, with that said – and there is plenty more being left unsaid about my ungraceful, un-filtered, schizoid-like walk through life – I’ll show an ounce of mercy on myself and stop there. I think you get the picture. Besides, this is just a rough illustration of me as it relates to this story. I just hope that it helps. But it probably won’t. My apologies. I’ll start now…
The night began shortly after I made the decision to accompany my good friend (and wife) Catherine to Osu. She had made arrangements with a co-worker of hers to pick up a bag of toiletries. Can’t really elaborate on that so I’ll leave it up to Catherine to tell that story. Oh, and while you’re at it, you should also ask her about that one time when she forgot her eyesight at home and was tricked by a dark hole in the ground. That girl is so silly. But moving on. Got to stick to my point. After we grabbed the shampoo in Osu we decided to walk to the restaurant where are friends were waiting for us.
Osu at night… Wow… So much going on. An endless see of snake hissings and eager taxi drivers. People hawking fan ice and small dried fish. An odd array of lights and random storefronts. Big speakers and loud music. People clutching onto their STAR beers as they dance Azonto with barefeet in the middle of the street. Cars dodging people and other cars and chickens and sometimes goats with erratic ease. Exchanging honks like they were involved in some sort of odd and secretive conversation. At times its difficult to distinguish the boundaries of Osu’s small and hectic main road from the steps of all the STAR sponsored bars that litter the street. And in the middle of it all there sits a well-lit KFC that looks more like a neon religious institution than it does a place that sells mashed potatoes. This is Osu. I love it. It’s chaos embraced. A reality accepted.
After about twenty minutes we stroll into Monsoon, our Osu spot, and take our seats at the table. I order a club and some sushi and for the next few hours we all had a great time being together under the African Skies. We talked about god knows what with smiles on our faces. It wasn’t until after dinner, when a small group of us decided to follow a friend to a “cool spot” that the grins began to lose their shape. In the shadow of a brightly lit and decorated building I looked up and instantly recognized where we were. This was no surprise. This was Osu’s Picadilly Casino. With curios eyes I became fixated by the yellow walls. Like a kid at his first circus I was completely lost in wonder and uncertainty.
Overwhelmed by the roaring tide of a sea of fearless Ghanaian taxi drivers the only thing I really remember hearing before our obruni army rang the opening bell came from somewhere behind me. “Let the games begin,” he confidently declared. I wanted to hate it, but before I could I became calm. I only had 20 cedi in my wallet (about 10 bucks). Such good news. Could have been worse. Has been worse. But not tonight. We marched inside. From there it kind of all melted away. It was a small casino. Vegas in a closet. A few card games. Some roulette. Bright lights. Distraction. Hopeful eyes. And more Obruni’s than Obibini’s (But that was to be expected). You know the scene. Lots of disappointment and just as many hopeful smiles. Smiles that were waiting to be suddenly ripped away.
After a brief encounter with a rude slot machine I wondered around and looked for familiar faces. It didn’t take long. I found Rob and Lana sitting at the computerized roulette table. Their heads bobbing and weaving like they were enjoying an intense tennis match. Fortunately for them they didn’t really understand the game. I grabbed a seat next to Rob. Unfortunately for them I did. Our collective fates were sealed. Time wasn’t an issue. The only thing that mattered for the next series of moments was black or red, even or odd, black 11 or red 32. Together we sat with wide eyes fixated on a small, pathetic and sinister white plastic ball.
And then just as quickly as we began it ended. Our cue to leave being the overwhelming feeling of defeat. The ball had won. After doing the roundups we all met outside. By the look of it, I’m pretty sure Rob, Lana and myself had been the biggest losers. Oh well. Pointing towards the ground I hissed once or twice and hailed a cab. Hsst. Hsst.
On the ride home I sat staring out the window. Watching the scenes of a Ghanaian night rush past me. One thing leading to another. I realized that things could have been worse. At least I still had my computer, my camera and my wallet. For now.
Once we got home I was immediately taken in by the three mattresses that occupy our living room. There usually isn’t a lot to talk about at two in the morning. Especially after returning from a casino. So we all went our separate ways. Lying face down on the mattress I thought of Van Morrison. It had become such a marvelous night for a moondance.
I awoke the next morning to Kayla poking me in the butt with something that felt like a stick. It was six am and everyone was in a hurry to load up the obruni bus. Except for me. I’m not really sure if we were on time or not but it didn’t really matter, I suppose, because at some point our trip to the eastern region needed to begin. By the time I managed to peel myself away from the mattress breakfast had been devoured and Thao was walking out the door with a determined look on her face and a ziplock bag full of fruit. She’s quick when she needs to be. Real quick.
In a frenzy I packed my north face backpack, a necessity for all adventures, and scoured the rooms for my wallet. In the obruni house things belong wherever they are. Pringles in the bathroom. Baby wipes in the fridge. First Aid kits skewed about in a room made up of glass walls. But, in a familiar and odd way, those sort of things just make sense here. Anyways, I had everything but my wallet was nowhere to be found. It didn’t help that Bjorn was yelling at me from the front porch. “Joe! Hurry up!” I’ll find it, I assured myself, when we get back.
And so after a beautiful adventure that involved waterfalls, obruni bus chaos, a man made lake, a missing boat and a loud alarm we returned to our house in Accra and the search for my wallet began. And then ended. It was nowhere. My debit card… gone. My ID… gone. My UO ID… gone. Access to money… gone. All the numbers I had gotten from all the pretty Ghanian girls… Gone. (I wish) Basically, my Ghanaian life was put on hold. All I had was enough peswas to catch the trotro to work in the morning. I’d worry about paying for the return trip later.
Computer… check. Camera… check. Wallet… no dice.
Defeated, Garth tried to cheer me up by saying he would cover my Batman movie ticket that evening. That was the only thing I had to look forward to anymore. The Dark Knight Rises. And then we got there and I was engulfed by an army of eager Ghanians with buckets full of popcorn. It was intense. So many people and so little room. At one point a cute little british girl and me were so close that we could only laugh. I’m pretty sure she was really just uncomfortable, and that it was more of a nervous laugh manufactured out of politeness than anything else. Feeling the need to go anywhere else I stepped up the effort. After a few more slightly hostile pushes and shoves I made my way to the crowded ticket counter. Aside from Dan, Ryan and me all of the others were already in the theater. Eager to move on to the concession area where I had planned on buying a lemon Fanta, I nodded at the girl behind the counter, faked a painful smile, and asked for a single ticket. Expecting the question, she responded in a hurry with a look of indifference and a scripted “The movie is sold out… Sorry”. Turns out I couldn’t even pay for good news. Someone somewhere was having fun with me. I was sure of it. Then a little kid rushed passed me and spilled some of his orange Fanta on my foot. He stopped in his tracks and took a moment to judge how much was gone from his bottle. I have a feeling he wasn’t happy with the assessment. His head slowly began to come up and when our eyes finally met he looked as though he was about to either throw a punch or break out into tears. I was confused, and oddly curious. His lips were forced together and he didn’t say a word. He just continued to stare at me like I had just torn every single one of his Christmas presents to shreds while laughing. Yep. It was most definitely time to go. I needed to be at home so that I could bang my head against a wall in peace. Away from fantas, and casinos, and people with movie tickets. Away from malls, and Fufu, and all the Kofi’s in the world.
Disappointed all three of us attempted to trotro it home but gave up shortly after Dan almost stabbed a guy that was either trying to steal her purse or was eager to get on the trotro and head home. Motive wouldn’t have mattered anyway because Dan was pissed. Danger Dan. We took the easy route and hailed a cab. Hssst. Hssst. Fingers down. But little did I know that the annoying game of lets all play a trick on Joe was about to end. And all because of a comment that was sent to the blog.
Her name is Sasha. She is the casino manager at Picadilly and she is great.
Please anybody let Faltyn Joseph Russel know
that all his ID’s and credit cards are lost/found, at Piccadily casino Accra. he has just go to casino menager for his documents.
Piccadily Casino Manager
She had found our Media in Ghana blog via a Google search online and in just a few short sentences she lifted the dark weight from my chest. The skies cleared up and the clouds retreated. I don’t know what she looks like. Where she is from. Whether or not she has any siblings. What her favorite color is. Or whether or not she is a dog or a cat person. But the one thing I am sure of is that she is the most amazing person I know. (Besides my mom and my dad of course). Sasha, they need to write songs about you.
I’ve left things in New York taxicabs and never seen them again. Some had my name. Others didn’t. I mean it’s New York. What should you expect? They are nothing but black holes on wheels. Devouring anything left behind. But they have a system. Medallions. Plaques bearing drivers names. Meters. Numbers. Whatever. The cabs in Ghana don’t. They have permits, sure. But they aren’t, for the most part, governed by any sort of systematic process. This, of course, is just me going off of observation and minimal experience but I think it’s safe to assume that there is less consistency amongst Ghanaian cabs than NY ones. So one would assume that if a phone, or a wallet, or a whatever is left behind in a Ghanaian cab either the driver or the next passenger just got a shiny new accessory. Well, I’m here to say that I was dumb to think so too. I was dumb to assume. And I was dumb to think that the people here are any less trustworthy than those in the U.S, or Australia, or England, or anywhere else in the world. In fact, despite my misfortune at the roulette table and my occasional overpriced cab ride because I’m an obruni, I have a new found respect for cab drivers and casino managers in Ghana.
I’m aware of the fact that we may never meet and that you know my name and I don’t know yours. I’ve accepted that. But, here’s to you Mr. Unknown Cab Driver. You helped me fill a void of faith. You taught me that, well, I’m naïve and I have a lot to learn. You showed me that compassion and empathy exist in places where generalizations and assumptions come in prettier packages than understanding. You went out of your way to help a stranger. We need more people like you and Sasha in this world.
Thank you Sasha and Mr. Unknown Cab Driver. Thank you very very much. When I come back to Ghana all the Fufu you can eat and all the Clubs you can drink are on me!
Pack light. That’s the modern traveler’s mantra. I bought into the ‘pack light’ hype after lugging 200 pounds of luggage around Europe in 2008. So, packing for Ghana, I decided my laptop would be superfluous with my thinner, lighter, capable iPad.
Boy was I wrong. In Ghana, this is basically all the iPad is good for:
All that to say, I’ve been offline for most of the trip. But as responsibilities wind down at work, and before the new stateside responsibilities begin, I wanted to share some of my few experiences. Mostly so I don’t forget.
These are some pictures from our first weekend away at a place called Coconut Grove, just outside of Cape Coast in Ghana’s Central Region. Arriving in such a luxurious place after witnessing such intense impoverishment the week prior, I arrived, and left, feeling surreal. Even now, toward the end of the trip, beginning to feel comfortable in such a foreign place, ‘surreal’ still suffices. These pictures are from Coconut Grove and they help explain how I’ve felt in Africa. They are unmanipulated long exposures.
From the second we walked in we knew we were out of place. The harmonizing choir group, the amount of obibinis wearing traditional Kente cloth and beautifully wrapped headbands, and the massive cross that hung center stage—not to mention we were sitting in the children’s seating area. A woman asked for us to sit with her on the other side of the church, and there we found three seats ready for Ryan, Dan, and myself. We didn’t realize until the sermon was over that she was a longtime friend of Albert, Dan’s co-worker who plays the organ and sings in the Trinity Methodist Church choir group.
Didn’t do much editing, but I figured with our limited internet access, it was more important to finally post this video. Also, I just realized that maybe they are crocs, not gators? I don’t know, but if that’s the case then just pretend the title is “Crocs in Chana” instead of “Gators in Ghana.”
My favorite part of this clip is at the end when Mary (Crocodile Lady) is just cracking up at all of the scared Obrunis. And also that despite what happened, Jan managed to find a cool bird’s nest. Ha ha.