Archive for July, 2012
There are a number of major events in the Omega Schools calendar. On Sandie’s first day (back in November) the football tournament was in full swing; later there was the Carol Service and last term there was the Literary Festival. The big event of the summer term is the Choral Festival, which took place last Friday.
Each of the ten schools provided a choir (of about 20 boys and girls) who sang a short set programme and were judged on a range of criteria including appearance as well as musical ability. As a break from the singing, girls from two schools performed traditional dances, and a boy played the accordion. It was a very enjoyable morning.
What made it really special for us was that, from now on, the festival is to be called the Ian and Sandie Schagen Choral Festival. After the first round of the competition (before the three top choirs took part in a ‘sing off’) the music directors from all of the schools formed a special choir to sing for us. We were proud to present the trophy to the winning school, and felt very touched that they had decided to remember us in this way. It will certainly be one of our treasured memories of Ghana.
A tale of two evenings
When the Festival was over, we returned to the office. After work, we had drinks at the hotel opposite with Henry, the recently-appointed Chief Finance Officer at Omega. It was very pleasant chatting in the late afternoon sun. Then we took a tro-tro along the main road back in the direction of home, but stopped at the Sizzler restaurant for dinner, before getting a taxi for the final part of the journey.
We spent Saturday at home, as we had quite a lot to do. We wanted to go out in the evening, but apart from the Sizzler, we could only think of one restaurant anywhere near where we live, a place called Lloyds Plaza. The plan was to walk (about a mile) to the paved road at Gbawe, have a drink in a bar there and then catch a tro-tro to Lloyds. It didn’t quite work out though.
Just before we reached the road, Ian slipped on pile of earth and fell over. Luckily he was not badly hurt, but his trousers were ruined. The bar where we planned to drink was deserted, and the music was extremely loud, so we ended up walking all the way to Lloyds. It was lively, with a good atmosphere, and our drinks were brought promptly. Then we realised that there was no sign of any food, or menus. On enquiring, we were told that they could do us pizzas, but it would take an hour. We were not in a hurry, so we agreed. But an hour and a half went by, and still no pizzas. They finally arrived just as our taxi driver came to collect us. They boxed them for us to take home, but they proved so horrible we ate sandwiches instead, and the pizzas went in the bin.
A chapter of disasters
Ian’s trousers were not the only things ruined this weekend. Sandie’s trainers, which had suffered badly from the trek up and down the hill, finally fell apart completely. And the airbed which we have been sleeping on since January appears to have sprung a leak – so it’s back to our hard Ghanaian mattress.
It seems that lots of things are going wrong right now. Having had electricians in twice recently, we now have a problem with the plumbing in the bathroom. We’ve also had reports of problems with the house in High Wycombe and our flat in Slough. Most seriously, the aircon system in our Florida house broke down completely, so we spent part of Saturday trying to decide (with no knowledge of the subject whatsoever) which of a number of quotes to accept, and arranging with the agent to get the new system installed.
Problems with buildings can be fixed – they just cost money! The really sad news from home was that Lucy, Claire’s cat, had collapsed suddenly and had to be put to sleep. Although she’d had a good long life, and survived the past two years with only three legs, her sudden end came as a shock. She’d been in the family for 18 years, and will be greatly missed. RIP, Lucy.
In July we had a conundrum. Although we have 1-year multiple entry visas, we’re only allowed to stay in Ghana for 60 days at any one time. Previously we’ve gone back to the UK every other month, but from May to September we’d decided on a 4-month stretch without flying home. So we had two choices: get the entry permits renewed at Immigration in Accra (which sounded like a lot of hassle), or visit another country and return.
We were told that going to Lomé, in Togo, was easy and the city was known as the ‘Paris of West Africa’, good for restaurants and shopping. So we decided Togo. We chose a hotel with a large attractive swimming pool (according to the Internet photos) and looked forward to a weekend of relaxation.
On Saturday 14th July we set off, getting a taxi to Tudu tro-tro station and picking up a long-distance minibus to Aflao, on the eastern border of Ghana. There we crossed the border into Togo, getting an entry visa with little bother. The hassle began just outside the border, where hordes of people began to badger us. Eventually we managed to get a taxi to our hotel, the Ibis Lomé Centre next to the beach. We had heard that parts of Lomé were unsafe, but were concerned to discover that the hotel itself issued warnings with room keys about the frequent attacks in surrounding areas.
The hotel itself has well landscaped grounds, with a large pool and thatched restaurant. We discovered that wedding parties use the grounds for their photos. The hotel itself is a bit tired, but we had a reasonable room on the top floor with a view of the sea.
After lunch (real French bread with real cheese), we ignored the warnings and went out to look at the city. The Grand Marché is the central market area, with streets full of stalls selling all kinds of stuff, including a lot of clothing and brightly coloured cloth. However, we didn’t see much in the way of restaurants and ‘Paris of West Africa’ seemed more than slightly exaggerated.
On Sunday we were hoping to go on a tour to see more of the country, but when we woke up the rain was coming down in sheets. It rained most of the morning, and then we went out again to see more of the city, though we didn’t encounter much of great interest. In the afternoon it brightened up briefly, and we spent some time by the pool, but then it became very windy and we retreated to our room. Later on we went to another hotel for dinner, but neither of the main meals we had in Togo matched up to the standards of French cuisine.
On Monday the weather improved, but it was time to head back to Ghana. We crossed the border again with no problem, and got the all-important stamps in our passports. After three tro-tros and a walk up the hill we were back home. It was interesting to see part of another African country, but what we saw of Togo would not put it on our list of top tourist destinations.
The Omega Schools chain is expanding rapidly – ten schools currently functioning, and ten more being built, due to open September. The number of central office staff is similarly increasing, so bigger office accommodation was desperately needed. The move finally took place on Tuesday 3 July – the day we travelled back from our western trip. We had been warned the previous Friday that it might happen, so we duly packed two boxes with our work and personal goods.
We returned home on Tuesday evening not knowing which office to go to on Wednesday. The promised message did not arrive, but after several phone calls we managed to establish that the move had taken place, and that a lift had been arranged for us next morning. On arrival we found the new office looking more like a building site, there was no indication of where we were supposed to sit, and no sign of our boxes. Sandie looked around and then went back home and worked there. (Ian needed to collaborate with others, so did not have that option.)
The new office
Things have improved since, and we’ve settled in. The new office is very different from the old one, which was situated at Oblogo School. We no longer hear the outdoor morning assembly (complete with drums) and we are not surrounded by crowds of children when we leave work. We are now in Kasoa, on the top floor of a new office building which is on the main coast road, so the only sound is the traffic rushing by outside.
We are in a big open space, which has been subdivided by white partitions, creating a maze rather like the ones they make rats run through. We no longer share a table, but have a proper desk each, though we still sit very close. The new office has improved facilities, but they are not all functional yet. We are still waiting for the promised internet connection. The roof terrace where we can supposedly relax is work in progress, so it’s still lunch at our desks. The kitchen is not ready either, so washing up is done in the ladies’ toilets. The toilets themselves are very smart, complete with soap dispenser (luxury!) and paper towels (sometimes) but sadly the water supply is erratic, so the smart toilets are often out of use.
Travelling to work
For us, the main disadvantage of the new office is that it is much further from home (about 12 miles). In theory, we get a lift from a colleague (John) who lives nearby. In the morning it takes 40 minutes to get to the office, but the journey home takes longer, as we can only turn right from the office, and have to drive through the Kasoa traffic in order to turn and head for home. If our lift is not available, we have a 30-minute walk to catch a tro-tro.
We could walk to our old office in 15 minutes, do an 8-hour day and be home again at 4.15. This gave us time to have a shower (needed after slogging up a steep hill in the heat!) and do other things before having drinks on the balcony and watching the sun set. We now have a much longer day; we start earlier, and John leaves the office later than we used to do, so we do not get home till about 6. We have therefore had to adapt the routine that we used to enjoy. On the other hand, there is a hotel with a bar just opposite the new office, and we pass a decent restaurant on the way home, so we have been able to resume our old Friday habit of drinks and a meal after work. Every cloud……
Talking of clouds, the weather has changed too. As forecast by our friends, the thunderstorms seem to have stopped, but there is still ‘ordinary’ rain, on and off. Heavy cloud means no sunset, but patchy cloud can make it even more beautiful. It is now noticeably cooler than it was a few months ago. We recently saw weather charts showing that the summer months are cooler than the rest of the year, which confirms our experience. Of course, all things are relative – we hasten to add that it is never cold in Ghana, but some months are hotter than others. We are still wearing shorts and T-shirts (or equivalent), but not sweltering as much as we used to do.
Until Saturday 30 June, we had not ventured west along the coast beyond Elmina. As Monday 2 July was a public holiday, we decided to take an extra day off and do a four-day trip. It seemed a good opportunity, so although the weather is currently changeable, we decided to take a chance. It was something of an adventure.
About 50 miles beyond Cape Coast is Takoradi, the third biggest city in Ghana. Our first overnight stop was Busua, about 12 miles west of Takoradi. To get there we used five tro-tros and a taxi. We left home at 8.10, and did our usual walk (30 minutes) to the main road. Then we took:
Tro-tro #1 to the Old Barrier – a quick stop-off to get cash from the ATM at our bank.
Tro-tro #2 the rest of the way to Kasoa, where we were able to catch a long-distance
Tro-tro #3 to Takoradi. The good news was that, because we were the last passengers to board, we did not have to wait to leave. The bad news was that, because we were the last passengers to board, we got the worst seats: cramped and uncomfortable. The other bad news was that the tro-tro was in even-worse-than-usual condition, and shortly before Takoradi it broke down. This meant that we had to take
Tro-tro #4 into the city. We managed to find the right starting-point for
Tro-tro #5 to Agona Junction. And finally, a taxi from there to Busua.
We arrived at the Busua Inn just after 3pm. It had taken us exactly seven hours to do a journey of about 140 miles. After dumping our things and having a drink, we explored Busua Beach, which is regarded as one of the best in Ghana. It is certainly beautiful, and we were lucky with the weather – sunny and breezy, not ideal for sunbathing or swimming, but perfect for a long walk by the sea.
The weather was not so good on Sunday morning. While waiting for the rain to stop, we sat on the balcony outside our room, reading or (in Ian’s case) doing sudoku – until the resident monkey made a lightning grab for his pencil!
We took a taxi to nearby Dixcove, a town with a fort and a colourful fishing harbour. By now we have seen so many towns with forts and fishing harbours that they are beginning to blur! And in this case the rain started again, in earnest, as we made our way to the fort, so we did not stay long.
A shared taxi took us back to Agona Junction, and we finally managed to find the right place to get a tro-tro for Axim, even further west. In Axim we saw yet another fort, but little else of interest, so we took a taxi to the Ankobra Beach Resort, just outside the town, where we stayed for the remaining two nights.
The weather was still not good, and there was rain on and off through the afternoon.
During one dry spell we went for a short stroll along the beach, but the ominous clouds soon drove us back to our chalet, and a good book. In any case, the beach was disappointing – at high tide there was very little dry sand to walk on. The wind was strong and the waves rough – definitely the wild west!
Early on Monday morning we did an excursion to Nzulezo, the famous stilt village on Lake Amansuri. This was to be the highlight of our trip – the main reason for our journey west – so we were desperately hoping that the weather would co-operate! Getting there involved a one-hour taxi journey to Beyin, and then a canoe trip (also lasting one hour) to Nzulezo.
We were lucky with the weather. It rained while we were in the taxi, which did not matter, but was dry while we were in the canoe, and in the village. We even had some sun! We found Nzulezo itself rather disappointing – not very different from other Ghanaian villages, except for being over water. And (possibly because the water level of the lake was high) the ‘stilts’ did not seem very tall. But the canoe trip through the Amansuri Wetland (‘the largest stand of intact swamp forest in Ghana’) was interesting and enjoyable.
We shared the Nzulezo trip with Rosemarie, a German lady who has lived in Ghana for most of the last 50 years. As the good weather did not continue through the afternoon, we had a long leisurely lunch with Rosemarie and her husband Robert, before returning to our books.
We had some sun in the morning, so took more pictures of the beach before checking out and starting the journey home. We took a tro-tro straight to Takoradi, and reached the city about 11.30 am. Our intention was to have a look round, and some lunch, before catching an Accra-bound bus. However, our plans changed when we discovered that there was a riot going on!
Crowds of people were running towards us, away from a column of thick black smoke. We did not wait to discover what was happening, but it was evident that tear gas was being used (we assume by the police). Although we ran away (like everyone else) our eyes, throats and faces really stung for a while. After that, we decided we’d had enough excitement, so we caught the next bus home.