Friday, May 29, 2009

Accra Bank Adventure

From journal on May 26, 2009 at 1pm - on tro tro ride from Hohoe to Accra:

Lush green grass, bushes, and trees surround us on either side of this narrow, two lane road (one lane in each direction) leading to Accra. Every so often, we drive through a village. Homes, schools, and little kiosks with women selling their crops are lined up on the sides of the roads. We pass children in their brown and orange school uniforms walking with friends. Bricks are stacked near unfinished buildings and run down houses. The countless numbers of potholes and ‘rumble strips’ (speed bumps) make the ride extra fun although they make it a bit difficult to write. We are behind another tro tro, obviously going to slow for our driver, Alex. He waits until the cars in the opposite direction have passed and then passes the slow tro tro. We have only been driving for a little more than 30 minutes yet we have already gone through three police check points.

We swerve around potholes, as do other drivers. The potholes seem to be the only thing that the drivers slow down for. In contrast to America, cars, not pedestrians have the right of way in Ghana. When people (or animals) are crossing the road, the driver beeps his horn repeatedly and continues speeding down the road without considering braking. Its like a real life version of the game Frogger where you try to cross multiple lanes of traffic without getting hit. Another police check point. We are waved through and continue on our way.

Animals are running around, not concerned with anything except for finding food. The mountains look beautiful – they are covered with green trees that reach to the sky. Palm trees and trees with various colored flowers line the sides of the streets. Men sit around shirtless. Women walk on the side of the road carrying their babies on their backs with huge baskets full of produce from their farms, a jug of water in a yellow gasoline looking container or wood balanced on their heads.

People can be spotted at the most random places. A man in what seems like the middle of nowhere is cutting grass with a machete. People are resting – taking naps on benches. Others are chatting away. Young children can often be seen with their mothers who work at kiosks, selling produce and other goods. Sometimes they are standing in the sewer, other times they are crawling or playing close to their mother. The older siblings love to pick up the babies, many who have never seen a white person before, and hold them out to us. They then laugh their heads off as the baby screams and hides from us (an unfamiliar creature).

On Tuesday morning, Raymond informed me that he thought it would be a good idea for us to go to Accra as Elyse’s two friends, Hannah and Kayla (who stayed in Ghana for longer than Elyse were going to be taking the tro tro to Accra and then taking a public bus to visit Cape Coast before they fly back to Canada next week. Raymond (and I) only expected to spend the day in Accra and return to Hohoe the same evening. Instead, due to the fact that we were unable to get everything done in one afternoon and because we were running on Ghanaian time (meaning that although we were to leave Hohoe at 11am, we did not leave until about 1:30pm), we decided to spend the night. Tuesday was definitely long day – besides the 4 hour drive (which Alex made shorter than that due to his speedy driving), we unsuccessfully tried to get Elyse’s friend’s travelers checks exchanged at a countless number of banks. In addition, we also visited a number of electric stores, looking for and negotiating on materials for the toilets, showerheads, and locks necessary for the new site of the orphanage. As it was getting late and the stores were beginning to close, we would have to wait until the following day to look for the materials for the windows.

So back to the whole bank situation…due to the fact that we (Elyse’s friends, Hannah and Kayla, and I) thought that we would be leaving Hohoe much sooner than we actually did, we did not think that we had time to visit the bank before our trip to Accra. So we told Raymond that we would need to stop at a bank once we got to Accra. I spotted the first Barclays that we drove past in Accra but the driver passed it and there was a ton of traffic so he did not think that it would be worth it to turn around. We were assured that there were other Barclays in Accra so when we stopped at the next one; we thought that we were in luck. The three of us girls approached the security booth outside the fence of the gate and I asked the guard where the ATM was as I only needed the ATM. He quickly replied that there was no ATM. Confused; the girls went searching for the entrance to the bank so that they could exchange their travelers checks. Apparently there was no actual bank either. It was only a bank for businesses. We laughed it off, got back in the tro tro and continued driving. We spotted a third Barclays which advertized on the sign that they had an ATM. Unfortunately; they only had an ATM which meant that the other girls were out of luck. I thought I was finally going to be able to access an ATM but, of course, the ATM was not working. As this Barclays was located right next to a bunch of other banks and we were running out of time until the banks would close, Hannah and Kayla tried a certain bank to change their checks and Raymond and I headed over to a different one which accepted Visa cards. We found the ATM and I entered my information but the ATM informed me that it was unable to connect with my bank in America. Hoping that Hannah and Kayla had better luck, we met back at the tro tro and quickly discovered that we were no further than when we had begun.

Raymond knew of another Barclays, located in the heart of Accra. To get there, we had to sit in horrible traffic. Raymond asked me if the traffic was this bad in America. I told him that I had previously thought that the traffic in Southern California was pretty bad at times but the traffic we were sitting in here was 100 times worse. Seriously, We would sit in the same spot for 10-15 minutes without moving an inch. And Ghanaian drivers are quite aggressive and loud as all the drivers are competing to be first, to make it through a certain intersection, and to get to their destination as quickly as possible without thinking of anyone else. They are not afraid the use their horns either. Although it is a bit hilarious at first, it gets annoying pretty quickly, especially when trucks or busses honk their horns very loud for long periods of time.

Every time we passed people walking on the side of the road, the horn in honked, in case the person somehow couldn’t hear the noise of the rattling car coming closer to them. This honk is a warning for the people to not even think of crossing the road.

Although Accra is a little bit of a more developed city than the rest of Ghana, most of the street lights were not working. At times, the drivers didn’t even pay much attention to the lights that were working. And for stop signs, they just went straight through those. Maybe that is why the government hasn’t bothered with spending tons of money to put up stop signs and such in the smaller towns and villages.

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