More of the same
Slowly, life has become more of the same. After the initial few weeks, were every day would bring new surprises, it had to come to a point were you do the same things, the same time of the week, meeting the exact same people. Not that everything is now going smoothly, it is more like you accept the situation as it is, whether you like it or not. Here, it means that all geeks resign to the unorganized, chaotic style of the locals.
Thursday night, we almost always visit Champs, where they have their weekly trivia night. One group makes up questions, not totally unlike typical Trivial Pursuit questions, that other groups try to answer. The group with the best score gets a massive 100.000cedis. Okay, this doesn't sound as good in US$, where it is only $15. In our first week, we took top spot, to take third place the week after, after which we regained the primary position the week after that again. Third place isn't all that bad, where you get two pitchers of beer to entertain the group with. Second place, however, might hold the best price altogether, though: A pitcher of cocktails. Although first prize is worth more, the money is always used to partially settle the bill. So you never get to see anything of your prize.
The first two times we went in for the quiz, with Jean-Luc in our midst, he tried to push the group to answer as many questions with either 'Eddy Murphy' or 'Richard Pryor', which we did for all questions we were unable to answer. The second Thursday in March, we set the questions. And we already decided that we are going to have one round fully dedicated to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The biweekly stipend we receive from Geekcorps each time makes us briefly millionaires in Ghana. The $200 we get each two weeks equals a cool c1.400.000. Not bad at all! The only prerequisite for actually receiving the cash is filling in an evaluation form on our job and partner business. For me, last week, that meant having the dubious honor to mention that, for the first time, I was able to work with my shadow partner for more than 30 minutes in a row. Or, actually, it wasn't with my shadow partner Chico, but with the other student at the JoyOnline office, Michael. Although Michael takes more time to actually solve the problems I give him, he has the same amount of difficulty to actually getting to results, meaning that I have to come up with most solutions to the problems to avoid nobody doing anything.
There is the potential of a third person also taking up the role as shadow partner. Bijou, for one no longer studying, is a very quiet individual who tries much harder to understand problems he encounters in his work. The guy started only recently at Joy, in fact after I got there, but he seemed destined to become the new manager of JoyOnline. However, only the future will tell what will happen, since all the assignments I gave Bijou upto now he hasn't taken the time to try and solve them.
This weekend, I went on another trip. Together with Tomas and Tim we left for Kumasi, the biggest city in Ghana after Accra, nicknamed the 'Garden City'. The town holds the largest market in West Africa but the first question that came to my mind when I heard that was where, then, the largest market in Africa could be found, and how they measured the difference. And, then, where is the largest market in the world?
The market itself is quite unbelievable. We went to Kumasi together with Akwesi, a Ghanaian guy Tim met after Akwesi had posted something on the Geekhalla.org message board. Luckily, the guy knew his way around in Kumasi, mainly because he was studying there. Akwesi guided us through the market, helping us out all the time by being able to speak two of the most common local languages in Ghana, Twi and Ga.
The primary reason for us visiting Kumasi was Lumas Kendrick. An African-American, working for USAID in Kumasi, helping out a micro-credit organization, going by the name of Sinapi ABA. Quite an interesting organization, with 15 offices throughout Ghana and, altogether, some 20.000 customers. It was Lumas' plan to bring the organization into the Internet age by starting up some e-commerce strategy, where customers would be able to manage their funds online, apply for loans and, in the longer run, use the system as a tool for micro payments across the Internet. Lumas needed us to give some input on the validity and the actual possibilities of the system. After understanding the extent of his plans, we basically told him to, first, take the time to write down a very decent proposal and take his ideas one step at a time. One example; typically Ghanaian style he figured that his organization should also start Internet cafes cross country…
Meanwhile, the Kumasi market consists of small, permanent, stalls, no more than 2.5 meters high with a walking area in-between the stalls of, maybe, 40cm in width. One of the things it implies is that, once you are inside the market, you have no idea where the exit is. And since all walkways are constantly winding in all directions, without a guide, it takes hours to get out. Lucky for us, when we went into the market, Akwesi was leading and Lumas was following us three white people. That meant we were reasonably safe and, a wonder, got out after only 30minutes of coming in.
Saturday night, by far, was the most surreal nigh in Ghana yet. For one, Ghanaians are known to be very friendly, up to the point of being annoying. Then, the number of whites in Kumasi is very small. On our Saturday night on the town, we didn't meet more than 10 other whites. Now, whites, in Ghana, are already put up on a pedestal, but when there are less around, they can be almost revered. This all resulted in the locals, on Saturday night, being aggressively friendly, making Tomas coin the phrase "Nobody expects the Ashanti inquisition", where Kumasi is in the Ashanti region (one of the regions or provinces of Ghana). Men, literally, wanted to kiss you for just being there, wanting to show you their house and more. Women, shaking their butts against your crotch to see how much you're worth. And many people, even inside the nightclubs, wearing funeral costumes since, most weekends, for everyone, is the time to remember the dead with three day funerals. However, funerals are also to party, so it all comes together at night anyway.
The evening was sealed when, with Akwesi putting pressure on us, we took home one of the local girls, supposedly for a massage. She spent the night with Akwesi, Tomas, Tim and myself in one double bed, so I have no idea what exactly happened. However, the more interesting part happened before arriving. We had taken a taxi back to Lumas' house and, before finally going home, picked up a bottle of Akpateshi (local spirit) to keep on partying at home. However, since gasoline prices had increased significantly very recently, it turned out that our driver wasn't packing enough to get us home. We ended up pushing the taxi uphill for more than a mile, expecting our house to be on the other side of it. When it turned out it wasn't, we left the car, and its driver, at some roundabout, where the driver even had the nerve to ask for money for the trip! Then, it turned out the lady we had taken home didn't even speak English.
Sunday was a day of relaxation. After a very nice breakfast on the porch of Lumas' place, we went walking in the heat for some two hours, in search of the 'world famous' hat museum of Kumasi. Collected by the owner of some faraway hotel since 1928, the place is quite interesting. On the topmost floor of the hotel, in a room barely 10square meters in size, some 2000 hats are lying around in semi darkness. Because the Lonely Planet gave a completely wrong location for the hotel and the museum, we spent way to long walking around the city in search for the place.
Then there was the Ashanti sword, stuck in the ground a couple of hundred years ago by some Ashanti warlord, with the promise that if the sword was ever pulled from the ground, the Ashanti kingdom would fall. The sword is still there and even Mohammed Ali tried to pull it from the ground shortly before his Rumble in the Jungle. The sword is still there, but the Ashanti kingdom is now nothing more but a region in Ghana, so apparently something has gone wrong somewhere.
However, we didn't get to see the sword. They built a house around the place, which is closed on Sundays.