Monday, February 19, 2007

Return to a (slightly) Changed Ghana

It’s taken many hours of movement (and many hours at a standstill) but I’ve arrived back in Tamale, in northern Ghana.

It started with a 21-hour voyage from Toronto to the Ghanaian capital of Accra (including a stopover in Amsterdam – I got to wander the streets and buy a pair of Che Guevara socks and I found a world/indie music store with excellent West African CDs).

I was surprised by how much the return to Accra hit me – it was very strange, coming back to Ghana after an almost two-month absence.

I think this is in large part due to the fact that Accra is very foreign to me – as Tom Owen has pointed out, with its streets congested with cars, mini buses and motorbikes, its sidewalks congested with hordes of people and stands, its pollution, noise, and heat, Accra is much more intense than Toronto. Last year whenever I would travel south from Tamale, I would feel like quite the small town boy rolling into the big city.

This time around, I stayed in Accra for two nights at a friend’s home, and then caught the 8am bus to Tamale. It left relatively on time (8:45am), and we rolled along towards Kumasi, the first major city on the way. We made it an hour and a half out of town, when the bus starting producing death-throe grinding noises and pulled to the side of the road. Four hours and one bus technician later, we were back on the way, with people grumbling about the STC (the state owned transportation company) – this kind of thing is the rule more so than the exception for STC. After a few more minor breakdowns and 2 hours of repair time in Kumasi, we finally made it to Tamale. The time: 3am. By the time I finally made it to my friend’s house (my old room is full of my landlord’s rice now) the mosques were firing up their sound systems for the call to morning prayer – sleep was difficult.

Tamale has changed a bit in my two month absence. There are now street signs up on the larger streets, revealing names I hadn’t know about before. However, the word Tamale is written in colour, with “Tam” in blue and “ale” in red – giving the signs a beer ad flavour (I’ll get a picture up soon).

The main street in the centre of town is being “decongested” – all the local shops, which are set up on the side of the street in small shack-like buildings, are being cleared out. Apparently they’re being relocated to two satellite markets in town, but I don’t know the details on this (nobody seems to), and I’m dubious about how effective these markets will be. The main strip was a major commercial hub for the city, and I worry that relocating all these shopkeepers will put a major dent in their sales.

Today I also drove by the foundations for a new fountain, near to the brand new stadium being constructed by a Chinese contractor. A fountain in Tamale seems more than a bit quixotic – my neighbourhood only has water once a week, so where they’ll find enough water to power a fountain all week, and why they’d want to when so many people are without potable water in town, is beyond me.

In any case, this all seems to relate to Ghana’s 50th anniversary – the 6th March will mark 50 years of independence for Ghana from British rule (the first sub-Saharan African nation to gain this status), and they’re sure to celebrate. Beautification projects are ongoing across the country.

Ghana will also be hosting the Cup of African Nations 2008 – an African soccer tournament. It’s for this reason that the new stadium is being constructed.

These two events are certainly exciting, but I can’t help but wonder if the preparations leading up to them are doing more harm for the people of Tamale than good.

One thing that certainly hasn’t changed is the warmth of the people – my friends in Tamale, people at the internet café in Accra, the food vendors I frequented last year. I’d forgotten how great it is to be made to feel so welcome in a foreign land, and for this, Ghana is unparalleled.


Sarah said...

Oh Luke, you make me want to forget about my thesis and come back to Ghana!

P.S. - Check out the pics on my facebook of you and your flashy bling!!

Bryn said...

Completely agreed with Sarah--fuck school!

Have a fried egg sandwhich for me. I can't find anything to compare to tea bread here...

marika said...

Good to hear you got back safe and sound, missing you at the chapter, it was short but sweet having you back around again. Looking forward to hearing how your new roles will pan out. Take care.

Kiersten said...

I'm glad to hear you're back in Ghana. Your blog is amazing to read and share with friends. I was shocked to see the cover of Time Europe this week (or last?)pointing to Ghana's independence. Here's the link,9171,1592611,00.html

Are you going to the film fest in Accra?

Luke Brown said...

Thanks everyone!

Kiersten: the link doesn't work. If you can track it down that would be awesome. I didn't know about an Accra film fest but unfortunately I won't be making it down south any time soon.

Luke Brown said...

Is it this one?,8599,1592611,00.html

John said...

Hi Luke

Kim's Dad here. I enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work.

John W. Thomas, P. Eng.

Fran said...

Hey, Ghana food lovers: Do you know about BETUMI: The African Culinary Network and its companion blog ?
I'm currently working on a regional Ghanaian cookbook with Barbara Baeta of Flair Catering in Accra, and one of the toughest recipes to duplicate is the tea bread recipe (different glutens in the flour, humidity, etc.).

Kiersten said...

The link doesn't show up correctly. The article is called Midnight's Family and was posted Feb 22, 2007 on

It's called the Environmental Film Festival in Accra during the beginning of April.

Hope you're well.

Fish said...

My favourite Prof is from Ghana and I'm wondering what an appropriate gift would be for the Anniversary of Independence. Any tips? I was thinking a Ghana shaped keychain… Perhaps a soccer ball with Ghana’s flag on it?

Tara said...

Hi Luke Brown!
Happy belated 50th anniversary. Glad to hear you made it back to Ghana safely.


Luke Brown said...

Fish, I don't know if there are any ethnic grocery stores selling African stuff around where you are. But it there are, then try to buy some "Fufu flour." I'm sure he'd love it.

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