Tuesday, 3 September 2013

So Far and So Close.

Monday August 19th.
Benjamin reading out his poem.
Today was going to be tiring. I wasn’t looking forward to it. A full morning in Takoradi followed by teaching for 2 hours the moment we got back.

The journey to Takoradi is long and cramped. Squeezed in the back of shared taxis and tro-tros the entire way, where the number of seats seems at the least advisory and at most a challenge to the taxi drivers and tro-tro conductors here. Limbs go numb. Stranger’s flesh is pressed up tightly against you and sweat pours out. I never have cause to miss the tube here. At least you have time to think. The vehicles vibrate so loudly when they pass 30mph that conversation is near on impossible; not that any of the speedos work here to gauge 30mph, but you get the picture. The journey wasn’t as bad nor as cramped today as it has previously been. Only my left leg went numb this time.

We went to the bank and successfully set Eben up a new bank account for the NGO before taking a taxi to the post office to pick up a love parcel for Eben from a Canadian girl.

The Ghanaian postal system seems to have about as much clue about Geography as the average American it delivers parcels, packages and letters only to the general vicinity of where they were addressed. Then, presumably to save the postmen time, effort and expense, they get you to personally come the hour or so to the sorting office and deliver it to your house yourself (except you don’t have to wear the uniform). Take heed Britain, it’s probably how the private Royal Mail will operate. Once you have found the appropriate window and official (the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand) the official will make you sign and countersign meaningless pieces of paper a few times before doing the same herself. The lady will then after checking all the paperwork eventually disappear for 20mins or so; have lunch, a nice chat with some friends, co-workers, passers by, family and a quick lie down (it was a big lunch after all). All before returning to the heavily bared and locked window (presumably so the unfortunate customers don’t strangle her) and pick a package that has been sitting 2 ft to the left of her the entire time. She will handle the package the way you would a full nappy and then toss it to you before disappearing again in to Narnia, Middle Earth or whatever dimension she is from.

Job done. Surely?!

You’d presume wrong. A customs official then appears at the window from a different portal to the underworld you hadn’t spotted before to frown at you in silence for a while. Giving you the sort of look you’d expect if you have just barged in to her house in the dead of night and had started wiping you nose of all her nice new curtains. Finally she will stir and quiz you on all aspects of the packages history, origin, future, criminal convictions, sexual preferences and employment history:

“Who has sent this to you?” It's written right there where it says 'return address'.
“When?” About 3 months ago –the postal systems temporal apathy is on a par with the geographical one.
“Why?” She was under the mistaken impression that it would be delivered to me so I could open it and use the contents
“What does it contain?” A giraffe? Illegal immigrant borrowers? 10 pounds of nitro-glycerin? I have no idea! I am one of the unfortunate few who are not blessed with X-Ray vision. I am a mere mortal just like you cannot see through the opaque exterior packaging.

Well that’s what I thought anyway. Eben, thankfully was more adult about these matters than I was in my head, answering with polite enthusiasm. Which is probably a good thing, as they would surely have made him fill out another form for every sarcastic remark.

Guantanamo questioning over, the customs officer takes the package and presumably reasons of ‘National Security’ rather than to quickly value the goods inside, opens up the package right in front of you. I’m sure this impromptu opening of private packages has lead to some rather embarrassing situations over the years, no matter how ‘discreet’ the packaging is.

Eben has been sent a letter, an iPhone case, some headphones, 2 different Canadian flags and a couple of t-shirts. The customs officer’s eyes light up as she notices that this package is (as she suspected all along) in clear breach of the Ghanaian-Canadian flag trade agreement (1998). Eben has clearly noticed too and quickly hands over the appropriate taxation as ratified under section 3.1 of the agreement, which, as all good International Relations students can tell you, is 3¢. He signs a few more forms for good measure and fires off a short letter of apology to the Canadian Government for disregarding their agreement and we are finally on our way. A mere one and a half hours later. God help you if there’s a queue.

The kids. You can tell they are hanging on my every word.
We head back in to the centre of town in a taxi. I am in search of a new torch having misplaced the other one at Green Turtle the other week. Torches are essential here. With the regular power outages in Busua it is the only way to be garmented you find your way around not only your room but the entire town. I pick one up for a mere 7¢ and we head to the tro-tro station where I stock up with as many bags of plantain chips as I can for 5¢. I am slightly addicted to them after a diet consisting mostly of rice and you can’t get them in Busua.

Helping the kids to Rhyme. I'm sure they'll get it in no time.
We arrived back in Busua and headed straight for the school. We were half an hour late; so still 15mins early in Ghanaian time. Amazingly most of the kids were already there. I taught the ever-growing number of children about rhyming, and got them over the course of a lesson to write a Limerick style poem each (although all on the same theme). The lesson was an at times painful but mainly rewarding and fun hour and a half. As soon as it was over I headed straight for the water in the hope it would wash the journey out of me. Spanish (I forget his real name, Alberto maybe? and in these cases it’s far easier just to call people by their nationalities), and switch-foot-mystro Ballack were already out. The tide was receding meaning the sand banks were not as favourable for long rides but could get sucky and leave the chance of a few barrels for the brave and the quick. It took me a while to catch my first wave but after a couple I was crouching low, a matter of inches from being incased in a wave. With each wave I kept getting closer and closer, even having 3 attempts on one wave. Surely only inches away at one point. After a while I admitted defeat. It was frustrating but really fun session. I exited the water smiling. I had come so close to a barrel. Next time… Next time…

My attempt at a Ghanaian Limerick.
I went for dinner with Spanish, Yan and Katyia (Yan and Katyia are 2 of the numerous Slovakian librarians that inhabit Busua – It’s a strange place, I know). I practically swallowed my Red Red in one mouthful, before heading gratefully towards bed. It had been a busy day after all. 

Philip's Limerick. 

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