|Leaving in the dark|
If you’re a North American, it probably wasn’t until your very late teens that you truly loved the roadtrip. With visions of a high tech Kerouac, you would spend more time excitedly making the ultimate Roadtrip Mixtape than packing...(for you young ones, that’s like an iPod playlist)…But if you’re eleven, and your family decides they’re spending two and a half weeks of precious summertime traveling in fumes of gas, McDonalds, and seat sweat to British Columbia, it’s not so awesome.
So, on Friday, February 24’th, when GHEI YEP students were assembling for the Youth Learning Tour of this year, a daylong roadtrip across Ghana to see the Akosombo Hydro-Electric Dam, I was a little shocked to see their enthusiasm. Nothing much registered though because I was numbed by the outrageous hour we were meeting. The night was dark and cool; a serious rainstorm had beat down Humjibre the night before. Power was out and the moon and stars were blanketed out by thick, lingering clouds.
|Happy handing out Breakfast Meatpies|
Once we piled onto the bus and after the attendance call and preliminary prayers were said, the bus rumbled to life. Then the singing began. There was so munch rambunctious energy, I wondered for a second if the rattling bus was falling apart because of the road or the shouting and stomping of the 48 kids. I fell asleep somehow.
|The view from the bus window of the Akosombo Dam|
Most of the trip passed in dim flashes; soon we were in Kumasi, on the deplorable detour from the never ending highway construction. Then we were in the hilly, pedestrian unfriendliness of Nkawkaw. When and how the singing died down I wasn’t too sure, but by time we neared Akosombo and everyone had their breakfast meatpies, things were relatively tame, and the bus was still mostly in one piece.
|The orange beast rests and expels its passengers|
The Akosombo Dam, the large Hydroelectric Dam commissioned by Kwame Nkrumah in 1961, was designed to bring Ghana into an age of mass industrialization and provide electricity for all. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite happen that way (for a great insight into early Ghana and the construction of the dam check out the documentary “Black Power” by Adam Curtis for the BBC, which you can see on youtube). Nowadays, it remains an impressive site and an important part of Ghana’s young history and its future, especially for young Ghanaians learning about their country.
Stretching our legs after the 10 hours on the dusty bus was a joy, and as we waited for our tour guide, we were surrounded by vendors with plantain chips, crawfish, and snails on a stick. If only I had seen the snails on a stick before I bought a bag of plantains chips! Curses!
Standing on top of the dam, one felt the impressive power, not just from the turbines below us, but by looking out at the mass of water behind the dam, Lake Volta, the largest artificial lake in the world. The guide wasn’t great but did give a historical context to the dam’s importance, and it did indeed feel mighty as we looked at the wide expanse of water one side, and the huge drop to the river on the other. The guide mumbled through technical details that seemed barely rehearsed so by the end we may have spent more time appreciating the view and posing for pictures than listening. Fortunately, Happy provided a more digestible overview of the mechanics of the Dam afterwards. Wikipedia might have helped…
Next, using a BlackBerry and the Bradt Guide to Ghana, we managed to direct the bus driver to Asenema Falls, after a few trips down the wrong road. The driver’s ability to turn the bus around in the middle of busy Ghanaian town was mindboggling.
|The sign to the falls was pretty sad|
It was early afternoon by time we made it to the falls, and by then there was tension inside the orange beast. The bus had a stuffy heat that reminded me of my parents Chevrolet…the water sachets on the floor began to resemble McDonalds wrappers…and the early 90’s…We’re these kids going to flip out? Could we handle complaints and whines from a group that could sing and dance en masse with such precision?
Fortunately, we had arrived at the poorly signposted footpath just in time, and we marched in file to the falls. While not exactly breathtaking, these were beautiful falls, and so was the undisturbed forest around it, and just like that, the cloud of grumpiness seemed lifted.
The kids were glad to get a cool blast from the falls, but the phones being pulled out told another story. I saw a group of girls pose one by one, rotating the camera among them, and I wondered if the phone was borrowed. “Snap me!” was the usual call out, and when you turned around, a 14 year old boy was looking pretty slick (and a wee bit gangsta) in front of tropical waterfalls. These kids are made for Facebook, I shuddered…
We made it back to Nkawkaw, where cars and trucks and people jostle in what seemed less like a highway and more of a long chaotic public square. We slowed to a crawl in what was definitely the worst traffic jam of these poor children’s lives, though the kids felt snackish but not peeved.
|Teachers and students, bound for someone's Facebook|
Ghana has magnificent, giant traffic jams which are only made bearable by the masses of enterprising young women that swarm your car with snacks, drinks, and quick meals. Dodging in and out of traffic, in a quick jog, with a box of yam chips balanced on your head is a feat on its own, but to be able to make change for people while chasing after your customer’s car, that’s super human.
As our bus coughed and shuffled through Nkawkaw like an old man with a stinky pipe, swift commerce followed us. Kids were buying water sachets, cookies, and (more?) meatpies through the windows. It was like slowly moving through a drive thru without stopping. Happy opened the bus door and helped a young woman on who stayed aboard while the kids cleared out her supply of Yam Chips and fried fish. Then she scampered off the bus as we slowed, only to jump back on and sell out another wooden box full fish n’ chips.
The kids ate more substantially when we got off the bus for a break in Kumasi. It was after a torturous ride through traffic in Kumasi, which did indeed became the worst traffic jam of their young lives. They quickly spread out around the bus station as we refueled, coming back loaded with take away food or rubbing their belly. I frowned at the pack of crackers I bought in a starving frenzy. Curses!
|GHEI YEP Students on Youth Learning Tour 2012|