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Home to Ghana for the holidays

Valerie Hope

Home to Ghana for the holidays

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I find that as I get older a year disappears much faster than it used to. This year’s festive Christmas season brings back some wonderful memories of my family vacation to Ghana in December 2013, when I, along with my husband Jomo and my two children – Kyei and Adai – took a trip to the land of my birth for Christmas and a special family function.  This would have been my first visit back to Ghana in 25 years.

Our journey in Ghana began in Accra, the capital city.  As we entered Immigration at Kotoka National Airport, an encounter with my then five-year-son got me thinking that despite wider access to information, old perceptions still linger and cloud our reality of what African countries are like.

Out of the blue, my son Kyei said to me “Mummy, Ghana is different to what I expected” to which I replied, “What do you mean?” He then said, “I thought it was going to be a lot of red mud and bricks,” I was floored.

After all, I was born in Ghana and both my parents are Ghanaians, who travelled to Ghana with some frequency. My son had the benefit of pictures and numerous chats about this specific holiday and I just couldn’t figure out why this would have been his first impression. He then quickly followed up with, “Can you buy toys in Ghana?”

There were much better ways to handle this line of questioning, but my tired retort after almost 15 hours of flight time (eight hours to London and approximately six and half hours to Ghana) plus another five to six hours of customs and immigration, travelling to and from airports and passing security checks was, “Why would you think that and of course you can.”

I am glad to say that at the end of our vacation, we all had a whole new perspective of Ghana and the industriousness, intuitiveness, friendliness and creativity of its people.

As we finally put customs behind us and stepped into the arrivals hall with our mountain of luggage and our air of “abrokyere” (pronounced A-bro-chray. A Ghanaian expression similar in context to the Bajan term living “ovuh an away”), we were approached by at least six to eight porters offering their assistance, for a fee of course. The intense and sometimes entertaining sales hustle we experienced on this and many other occasions as obvious foreigners in Ghana had begun.

We stayed in Accra for about five days, which unfortunately was not enough time to fully take in all the excitement and places of interest in what is the largest and most populous city in Ghana. 

Like Barbados, Accra presents a varied appearance of modern, colonial, and traditional architecture. There was also an uncanny similarity in the design of residential properties and neighbourhoods to those here in Barbados.

Some notable differences included the common sight of large rolls of barbed and electrified wires which adorned the very high walls of many properties as a security measure and also the fact that paved roads were only commonplace in gated communities and on major roadways. In many areas, the “roads “were simply rolled tracks of a red-coloured dirt, which generated significant amounts of dust on dry days.

There are numerous exclusive, gated luxury residential developments in Accra. While there, we had the privilege of staying with friends in one of these high-end communities.

Their six-bedroom house was located in Trasacco Valley and featured every convenience you would expect in a luxury home. This particular development even had security checks on each street as well as at the main gate.

This meant that while we could take a unchecked strolls down the street our temporary home was located in, we could not just stray over to another street without the express permission of a resident there.

Our only regret was that we spent so much time fighting traffic on the road to visit people or take in some of the landmarks around Accra that we did not get to fully experience the wonderful amenities available to us in Trasacco. 

The traffic in Accra is gridlocked most of the time and, unfortunately, the majority of the driving population behave in a manner similar to that of our unruly Bajan ZR drivers. I was amazed that we did not witness any accidents. 

On one occasion as we drove to the popular shopping and entertainment centre, Accra Mall, we witnessed a driver overtake about ten cars to push his way back into the line of traffic.

For good reason, many visitors opt not to drive themselves but instead hire drivers who are better suited to navigate the unstated road rules in Accra. 

For those without cars, transport options around Accra include regular taxis as well as well worn privately owned minivans which operate like our ZRs and are referred to locally as “Tro Tro’. Most of these vans are decorated with a distinctive phrase on their back windows usually featuring common local sayings or offering praises to God.  

The slow-moving traffic has contributed to a thriving network of roadside vendors, who offer you anything from much needed cold drinks to paintings, snacks and even shoes. As we were there in December, toys, Christmas lights and décor were also popular offerings.

Other popular locations for shopping include the bustling and crowded Makola Market and The Art Centre. Makola offers every type of merchandise imaginable, including souvenirs, food, fabric, clothing, and household goods, and it is full of noise and activity. It is a great place to visit to experience Ghanaian culture.

The Art Centre, which is in walking distance from Makola, is a collection of various stalls and buildings. It is the place to go for quality artwork, from paintings to sculptures and locally made jewellery, sandals and clothes.

Unlike in the commercial shopping centres, prices are always negotiable. Expect as a visitor that you will always be quoted higher than average prices.  

On one occasion an enterprising vendor went from US$25 for a well sculpted and beautiful mask to a price of US$5 for two when we repeatedly refused.

I must admit that though we did not need any more art, we bought them as we were worn out by his persistence. Even then as we got back to the car and shared details of our “bargain”, our driver said “You could have gotten it cheaper.”

In addition to shopping, Accra offers visitors a wide range of must see landmarks, including Black Star Independence Square; Flagstaff House, home to the president and Government of Ghana; The Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, which is the resting place of Ghana’s first president, and of course the magnificent Aburi Botanical Gardens.