From Houston to Sydney 2013

West Africa



Our main task on this grey, overcast day was to undertake another long drive, the final one for this trip.  The distance from Kumasi to Accra (Ghana’s capital city) is 250 kilometres.  Google Maps suggests the drive should take 3 hours and 35 minutes, suggesting yet again that Google doesn’t know very much about road conditions in West Africa.  The trip took us five hours (10:30 am to 3:30 pm), travelling along some of the best roads we have experienced in West Africa – just as you might expect for a highway joining the largest and second largest cities in the wealthiest of the countries that we will be visiting.

Before setting out on the long drive, we had some time to explore Kumasi and its nearby areas.  We decided to return to Ahwiaa, the wood carving village we had visited yesterday.  During yesterday’s visit, we had met Kwamanellie, the grandson of the village chief (who I also met as a courtesy extended to “one who has a big beard”).  During yesterday’s visit, Kwamanellie apologised to us that no-one had been working because of the funeral, and suggested that if we returned this morning, we would definitely see some action.  I promised that I would do my best to return.

True to my word, we arrived this morning at a little after 9:00 am.  Kwamanellie immediately spotted us and came across the road to greet us.  Unfortunately, there was no work going on in the workshop yet again this morning.  Apparently one of the men who needed to perform some unspecified but significant task on a piece of timber was probably at church, according to the speculation anyway.  Consequently, all the other men were sitting around (same poses as yesterday) waiting for him, unsure whether he would turn up later in the day or not.  It was suggested that he might not even turn up that week.  Or longer.  Anyway, they would just sit and wait.

I asked my son, Andrew, how as a consultant he might suggest that productivity could be improved in the communal work shed.  Andrew suggested “less manual work”.  I wondered how that could be possible.

Kwamanellie was obviously feeling a bit awkward that we had returned on the basis of his promise to see some craftsmen fashioning stools from a single piece of timber.  Therefore, he took us for walk away from the main road, down some laterite and dirt laneways, to see some of the men at work in the small shelters some have built in their own yards (as not all of them work communally these days).

We passed a couple of empty sheds with some pieces of scrap timber lying around before coming to a good friend of Kwamanellie.  Well, they used to be good friends, because when we arrived, Kwamanellie got his friend out of the house to give us a demonstration.  His friend duly complied, showing us how to use a small power saw on a piece of timber – not quite what we came to see, but at least Kwamanellie had produced some ‘action’ as promised.

Our visit finished when we were given the friend’s phone number in case we might want to telephone and order some furniture or some carvings, and as we returned to the car, we learned more about Kwamanellie himself – apparently he is a drummer, and by his own admission, an excellent one at that.

Before we could begin the drive to Accra, we had to drive through the city centre of Kumasi to reach the highway.  Being a Sunday morning, it was much less busy than our experience yesterday afternoon, but to give you an idea of what driving through central Kumasi is like, I shot a short video as we drove through this morning (2 mins 24 sec).  You can see it at

The drive to Accra was pleasant and relatively smooth.  Once again, the air conditioner in the car was broken; Mama mentioned that Harouna had purchased five new belts for it since we had left Bamako.  We therefore had to drive with the windows open, which meant we probably inhaled more clouds of dense black diesel fumes than is normally recommended.

Most of the area we drove through was agricultural, and it was easy to see the crops that are grown and the various industries by looking at the produce that was being sold in stalls along the roadside: tomatoes, sugar cane, bananas, onions, lemons, yams, corn, pineapples, potatoes, coconuts, peanuts, cocoa beans, palm oil, eggs and honey.  Every so often we came across men who were holding up animals they had caught for sale, mainly young antelopes and armadillos.

Yet again, we didn’t have lunch today, but as we had a good breakfast and the day was hot, we didn’t miss it.  In fact, Harouna stopped at one point and bought five bananas to share with us, paying just 1 cedi.  Each banana was thus about 10 cents – terrific value for beautiful, tree ripened, newly picked fruit.

Since the trip began, I have been using my iPhone extensively for various tasks, and it never fails to grab attention.  Since we have arrived in Ghana, even Mama now seems to trust its directions as being more reliable than the directions we get by asking people on street corners (and there is sound evidence for his shift in opinion, given the poor quality of some of the advice we have received).

I first became aware of the allure of the iPhone when we were visiting the Palace Museum in Abomey in Benin.  I was taking notes on it and the guide was intrigued (and initially a bit suspicious) by what I was doing.  I showed him what I was doing, and some of the other features such as Google Maps, and he was so intrigued that he frequently interrupted the tour to ask me more questions about it.  At the end of the visit, he asked for my e-mail address because he wants to buy my handset from me when its contract ends.

For most people in West Africa, my iPhone seems to appear as a miracle device.  They have seen it guide us with Google Maps, and they have seen me using Notes, Numbers (the spreadsheet for keeping tab of costs), various weather apps (but mainly Weather Line) to get forecasts, the torch, the calculator, CIA Factbook to check data, the app to convert currency, French-English dictionaries, the video camera, the Voice Memos app to record music during traditional dances, and lots more.  My experience must be somewhat akin to those early explorers who went into hitherto unknown areas and met First Contact peoples who had never seen steel axes, sewn clothes, guns, and so on – the reaction to my iPhone is like people witnessing their first miracle.

The one thing no-one has seen me do is make a phone call (as my SIM card does not have any global roaming).  However, making a phone call is something that most locals can already do with the mobile phones that seem ubiquitous here; I don’t think making phone calls impresses folk in West Africa these days – but a torch in a phone; now THAT is something else!


26 January 2014

Day 30 - Kumasi to Accra