The third blog of the summer from our 2015 Volunteer Coordinator, Kerry.
Off the Tourist Track – Nima Highway Tours
Located just off the Ring Road close to the heart of Accra, you enter into a series of slums and markets. One of these villages is Nima. I admit that I had never heard of the village before and had no idea what to expect when I booked us on to the tour. It turned out to be an eye-opening experience…
Gareth, Faith and I departed from a taxi at Nima Roundabout to find a man waving at us – I hoped that this would be Charles, the tour guide. Charles is local to the town and has lived there all his life. He’s aim is to show tourists, and anyone that is interested, what life is really like, illustrating that people work hard in tough conditions. You can find out more on his Facebook page.
We followed Charles into a small shop by the roundabout and were seated under the hanging sachets of washing powder and Milo. Here Charles gave us a history of Nima, how the population grew from neighbouring towns and countries along the coast, immigrating to Accra, where trading took place. We learnt that the community is predominately Muslim, followed by Christian. The talk set the scene for the coming tour and was delivered in Charles’ clear, expressive English which made it easy to follow the details.
The tour itself took us from the Catholic Church and mosque to the local school, which was recently opened to offer affordable, quality schooling, however Charles explained that the cost was still too high for many families and therefore not all children receive an education.
Turning a corner halfway down the street, we entered into the local market. As it wasn’t market day, it was less busy and we had the chance to look closely at the seeds, beans, pulses, herbs and spices spread across each slanted wooden table packed tightly together along both sides of the pathway.
Entering into the inside of the market itself, people eyed us curiously as we walked past the stalls laden with fruit, fish (dried and staring blankly), cages of chickens, shrieking as they climbed over each other, and in the middle of the maze was a meat market. Swarms of flies crowded the air, frenzied by the smell of fresh meat, slowly rotting fruit and human sweat. This was the main food market.
After the market we weaved through the hot streets with tro-tros bumping past, the conductors shouting the names of the destination incessantly. We were led through a narrow passage surrounded on all sides by concrete one-storey houses, until we arrived at an opening, through here we entered into a compound house. This is essentially a four-sided low building set around a courtyard formed of a huge open cooking arena with freshly washed laundry hanging in the still air above. A few people were sitting on steps outside front doors, we stopped outside one of these doors and Charles called out his step-sister. She gave us a warm welcome. Charles explained that most of the rooms are single and do not have a bathroom – these are rented out to make more money – typically up to 15 people can fit into a one room-one hall (what we would call a lounge) space. On average the rent can be around 40 GHC a month, payable to a private landlord. I was curious about the lack of a toilet. Charles explained that people have to use the public washroom/toilet for everything, at a cost of 40 peshwa a time (roughly 6p). The maintenance, as expected, is varied and can be to a low standard. As Accra was built in a hurry without proper planning, there is no running water in this part of the city – so it is a trek to the local water tank to fill a bucket.
Just when you are starting to think that it is a lot like going back in time…we walk out past a flatscreen TV on a wall showing volleyball. So no running water, but electric was available; it highlighted the piecemeal creation of the town. Despite the lack of basics, there was a strong sense of community, which was apparent everywhere. The people were very friendly – everyone we passed, young and old, said hello with many introducing themselves as well.
We even had a chance to visit Charles’ current home. It was a cosy space, fairly typical of a Ghanaian home with painted walls, a gas stove, small desk, a bed and (the one which I wouldn’t say is necessarily typical) a bucket shower. It was a real privilege to get an insight into a different side of Ghana, and to see it through the eyes of a local, rather than as a tourist. If you would like to experience the tour for yourself, and meet the lovely Charles.
The tour costs 25 GHC each (£5.00) and I would definitely recommend – it is safe, insightful and an eye-opening experience. A completely different feel to Ho!
Kwame Nkrumah Museum, Markets, Spot Bars and the Beach! (aka the rest of Accra)
The first place I decided to take the volunteers in Accra was the markets, here traders cram into every street of Accra selling everything from hardware and phone parts to underwear and assorted clothes (think charity shop spread over blankets next to the roadside) to packaged foods, chop bars and fruit. It is a hum of noise, smells, people and traffic. We sought refuge in a small bar/restaurant to have lunch and recuperate. The service may have been slow (even for Ghana!), but it was a good opportunity to discuss Accra so far; our volunteers had been in Ghana for under 24 hours! Once satisfied with rice, plantain and (for Gareth) chicken and chips, (although he did dabble in some plantain!) we continued our journey to the Kwame Nkrumah Museum. Kwame Nkrumah was Ghana’s first president who fought hard for independence, and was rewarded on 6 March 1957, with an independent state, Ghana (formerly Gold Coast). It is a far cry from the rest of the city, set amidst exotic trees and grass with statues set around the gardens, it is sublimely peaceful. It is easy to spend several hours, after visiting the museum, to wander the grounds, view the president’s tomb and watch the multiple wedding photos being taken (if you are lucky, you may also get to star in one!)
I made sure to finish our day in a Spot Bar, after a hot day walking around Accra, there is nothing better than a cold beer sat outside under a cool sky with a gentle breeze.
The last sightseeing opportunity in Accra was to visit the beach! Whilst waiting for our STC bus to fill (we were the first on – good sign!) we had some time to fill. The beach is used primarily for fishing and we could watch the fisherman at sea as we gazed out across the water. It was a satisfying moment and a nice tone to leave Accra on.