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Friday, 11 March 2011

Coastal Hashing and International Women's Day

Morning walk along the beach, Mankoadze

On Saturday morning Amanda and I set out on our adventure up the coast to the hash weekend, beginning, naturally with some lunch to set us up for the journey. We're heading up the coast for this once-a-month weekend away, which we're able to enjoy all the more since it's Independence Day in Ghana on Sunday, and everyone is taking a public holiday to celebrate 54 years of independence.

At Asanka Local, Chop Bar

Asanka Local is a 'chop' (food) bar in central Osu, a massive dance hall-like place with a very high ceiling and simple wooden tables and chairs. It seems it's a local institution, mainly for lunch, and fills up on Saturdays with a mixed crowd of couples out on a date, construction work men taking a break, and of course, the token white travellers. We are here to meet Neil, hash name Sleepy Dick(!) who is a Canadian-born farmer living in Accra, where he and his Ghanaian wife have a farm. Within the open kitchen we saw massive stainless steel bowls filled with dark red stews. They look very similar to me - in colour at any rate - but we're asked to choose between goat, chicken or tilapia, pepper sauce or soups and banku, fufu or rice, so in fact there are many different choices available.

Banku is a dense maize-based pattie shaped like a fat beef burger. With your right hand, you break off a piece of this and dip it into your bowl of sauce, soup and meat to scoop up some of the liquid and eat with some meat. Rather like the Ethiopian injera, the custom is to eat with your right hand and leave your left hand dry; unlike injera, however, the sauces accompanying the banku are runny in consistency, and only a Ghanaian old hand (no pun intended) would be able to eat this without getting sauce everywhere. Wearing a white t-shirt, I decided to opt for a safer option of redred with plantains, which I ate with a fork, but I tasted the banku and sauces, which were spicy and tasty. Most Ghanaians eat this sort of meal for lunch or late afternoon, as the density of banku will challenge the digestive system (and put even the most caffeinated individual to sleep for the rest of the day).

"Sleepy" drives us through Accra to the outskirts, where we sit in traffic jam after jam. Driving, incidentally, is not quite a blood sport in Ghana, but certainly an adventure in playing chicken. Lanes are poorly demarcated, if at all, and one needs to drive with a derring-do attitude that any Londoner would respect. Driving at cars or buses seems to be a necessity if one wants to change lanes or come off at a roundabout turning, in the hope that the cars threatened by this manoeuvre will be valued at a higher price by their drivers than being one space ahead in the endless stream of crawling cars.

The shore, Mankoadze on the second hash run

The outskirts of Accra seem endless; the newly constructed road leading all the way to Takoradi (some 200km away) and beyond has created new business opportunities along the way, and so we pass by a steady number of shops and buildings on our way, lining the street. Beyond them, back from the road, there are rarely more than a handful of houses. The life and industry of these suburban outposts is on the highway, where the vendors sell their fruits, packets of super glue and water bottles to the traffic-jammed travelers, or perhaps fix a flat tyre or provide a cold beer to those staying for a little longer.

Keke's Beach Resort, Makoadze

We head through Winneba to reach Makoadze, a town named originally 'Windy Bay' which then loosened by the Ghanaian accent morphed into Winneba. It's a university town, the buildings of which contrast with the simple roadside huts and grey concrete houses with their manicured lawns and fresh cream-painted stone and glass exteriors. On through this, though, we turn off the road some 10km farther, into the red-dust road leading to Mankoadze and Keke's, our weekend destination.

Setting out on the first hash run

The hashers are already kitted out for the first run when we arrive, so quickly into our trainers and down to meet them and we're suddenly running along the beach, 'On on!' along the hash trail. It's 4pm so the heat has died down from a temperature that could melt glass to one that might mere singe one's hair, and luckily the sea breeze takes the edge off. Over the next two days on the three runs that we do I develop an impressive range of scratches, mosquito bites and sporadic sun burn by running like the mad English woman that I am through the beautiful countryside. Thankfully at the end of every run there's hash circle time where stories and jokes are shared, and beers and ground nuts available in plentiful supply, and we can also run for a dip in the sea, still in running garb, to cool down a bit. Then food, time to chat and relax and read for the rest of the weekend, whilst the gigantic presence sea roars softly in the background. The photographs of Keke's speak for themselves.

Second hash run, where we pass boys paddling furiously out to sea to catch fish

On our final run we have a checkpoint (a chance for the walkers and runners to group together before running off on the next part of the trail) at a skeleton beach cottage a few hundred yards from our hotel. This is actually a cottage begun by none other than child star and sometime political candidate Shirley Temple, who was US ambassador to the Republic of Ghana, I learn, from 1974-1976. Unfortunately given the short length of her tenure, this little cottage was never completed and is probably one of the only reminders of her time spent in Ghana nearly four decades ago.

STC - Shirley Temple's Cottage by the sea

Refreshed after our holiday weekend, it's back to work in the office. Tuesday is International Women's day and the women of CARE Ghana's office have decided to 'warm the seats' of their superiors - most of whom are men - by taking over the desks of their line managers for the morning, whilst wearing traditional Ghanaian dress. Amanda and I have been primed for this activity and are escorted to buy fabric from Oxford Street in Osu, and then to a local dress-maker who keeps a tiny metal hut only a street away from our office, so that she can measure us for our outfits.

Modeling my traditional Ghanaian outfit

The dressmaker is a tiny woman, deafening herself with the religious pop hymns blaring out from her ancient stereo as she churns out vibrant-coloured garments for her clientele. We select our styles from a poster where a variety of styles and fabrics are modeled, and it's as simple as that. Returning from the weekend away to a quiet Monday afternoon, only four days after our first meeting with the dressmaker and our colourful outfits are ready to wear! After practising our walking - the skirts are cut tight traditionally, restricting movement - we head into the office decked out like peacocks for our day celebrating the women of the world. It feels great to be in Ghana contributing to CARE's strategic mission to lift 10 million women and girls out of poverty by 2015 on this day.

Celebrating International Women's Day

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