Day 24

Since I had gone to bed quite late on Thursday, I decided to push my luck by “sleeping in” until 7AM. This left less time to get ready before 7:30 assembly, but the rushing was worth it for the extra hour of sleep. I assembled my 14, fully charged cameras and, after assembly and a brief teacher meeting, I headed into the school office. The upcoming weekend would be the first time that Class 6 was allowed to take their cameras home and I worried that, if I gave the class their cameras when our lesson ended at 9:30, they would use up their batteries by days end taking selfies with each other at lunch time. I asked the school secretary, Lydia, if she’d mind holding the cameras until the end of the school day; thankfully, she agreed. 

I headed up to the classroom just after 8 and repeated my lesson that I had used on Form 1 the day before. We went over their past assignment (the students that followed the instructions the best “won” a piece of candy), and then discussed how to write an accurate caption. Class 6 did not seem to grasp the art of caption writing as much as Form 1 had, though I’m hoping that with practice this will change. At the end of the class, we went over weekend camera rules and I explained when and how they could pick up their gleaming, temporary babies. 

Though I would normally have a class with Form 1 right before Class 6, I had moved that class to Thursday afternoon so that Mariana and I might have more time to go to the beach on Friday. As Mariana has explained to me, all of the beaches near Accra that are “worth” going to (the ones that are actually clean, swimmable, and don’t feature excessive amount of vendors) are a bit far from the school, so we’d need to leave a few hours in advance to leave room for travel time. While we were hoping to head to the beach as soon as my class ended at 9:30, the sky was still quite overcast so we thought it made sense to wait a bit and see if the sun came out. Unfortunately, an hour later the sun had still not surfaced so we instead switched gears and started searching the Internet for things to do around the city. We found many options, including but not limited to: a “custom coffin workshop” (I said we had to go; Mariana was less convinced), Ghana’s National Museum (featuring 10x higher prices for obronis), and many expensive restaurants. Mariana was in the mood for Italian food, so we searched around until we found an Italian restaurant that seemed good, but not too good (aka expensive). I located a restaurant in Osu called La Piazza, and we decided to go. 

Before we headed out, I had a really interesting conversation with Becky. Becky has a peculiar scar (a thin, oval shape) on her right cheek, and I’ve seen similar scars on other people around the city. Though I would normally brush off a scar as the result of an accident once-upon-a-time, I’ve seen so many people with these facial scars that it seemed it could not be a coincidence. It turns out that the origin of these scars is quite interesting, as Becky explained to me that they are tribal markings meant, firstly, to distinguish which tribe you are from, and secondly to protect you as a child. Becky received her scar as “protection” since her parents were worried she would die in her infancy. Though her parents had given birth to two healthy boys, it seemed that they were cursed in the girl department—they had laid two baby girls to rest and were thus quite scared of losing Becky as well. When Becky was just a little girl, a traditional healer cut a few inches across her left cheek—inserting a type of herbal concoction—in attempt to protect her from an early death. Though this practice is not common anymore thanks to the increased consumption of modern medicine, the lack of ultrasounds and OB/GYNs in Becky’s youth (and before her) meant higher infant mortality rates and thus more need for traditional “protection.” I found this explanation quite fascinating and, though it seems to be a dying art, I am really hoping that I can meet with a traditional healer while I am here to learn more about their practice. 

We left for lunch around 12:30 and took a car to Lapaz. In traveling from Alhaji to Osu, it is customary to take three tro tros: one to Lapaz, another to 37, and then a third to Osu. Fortunately for us, there are occasionally cars that run right from Lapaz to Osu (though only during the day, on weekdays), and we were lucky enough to snag one. The journey was quite long with traffic, so we did not get to our stop on Oxford Street until just before 2PM. Thankfully, it was a quick walk to the restaurant.

 The outside patio of La Piazza. 

The outside patio of La Piazza. 

La Piazza is a very beautiful restaurant, situated next to a super cute gelato shop named Pinocchio. The place was rife with obronis, which was a dead giveaway: this was going to be a much more expensive meal than we had anticipated. I say this because, to the average Ghanaian (and to Mariana and me), it’d seem absurd to spend more than 5-10 cedis on a meal. However, to a tourist (when the exchange rate is in their favor), it seems pretty normal to spend upwards of 50 cedis for food (this translates to about $12USD). While we were hoping to spend around 20 cedis each (a small splurge in itself), we were instead faced with entrees costing between 35-50 cedis. At first apprehensive, we checked the menu of the restaurant across the street to see if it seemed any more reasonable. When we saw that the prices were comparable, we gave up and resigned ourselves to paying a bit more at La Piazza. Still feeling thrifty, I ordered one of the cheaper plates, spaghetti with basil-roasted vegetables, for 35 cedis. 

The food was delicious. Though we were each given rather large portions, we were quick to slurp our plates down as we were both famished. Mariana really liked her meal as well (spaghetti with pesto and chicken) and, when we were done, we were practically bursting at the seams. When we took the time to examine our surroundings, we joked about how we were sort of pulling the wool over the other customers’ eyes. It might’ve looked like we could afford to go for this kind of meal all of the time (as the other quite-obviously-tourists-and-businessmen could), but little did they know that as they retired to their hotels we’d be going back to our “bush.” We had a good laugh about this, and then discussed our plan for the rest of the day.

 My meal, and Mariana with her meal.

My meal, and Mariana with her meal.

Historically, whenever we go to Osu, Mariana will subsequently go to Quasi’s house. He lives much closer to Osu than he does to Alhaji, so Mariana thinks that it makes more sense to see him when she is already sort of close (and it does). I totally understand her reasoning, though it does stink to think that whenever I venture to this part of town with her, I will always be returning on my own (and, when we go to Osu late at night, this means splitting a taxi one way, rather than two). Because I knew that I’d be spending my latter part of the afternoon alone, I decided to indulge my earlier fascination and try to locate that coffin workshop. Though “coffin workshop” sounds quite morbid, this workshop looked like a hoot as all of its coffins are sculpted into whatever the deceased’s (previously beating) heart desires. I had looked up photos of the workshop’s creations earlier in the day and was greeted with pictures of life-size shoes, chickens, and fish in which people would presumably be laid to rest. So weird, right? I obviously had to check it out. We paid our bill, stopped in for a quick taste test at Pinocchio (we were stuffed, but it was delicious; we will definitely have to return at some point), and then I ran to catch my tro tro.

As our waiter at La Piazza had specified, I took a tro tro from Osu towards Teshie. I found the car without issue, though I soon discovered there to be multiple Teshie bus stops (and I didn’t know which one I was supposed to get off at). I tried to show my mate the map I had pinned the workshop’s location to on my phone, but he hilariously thought I was handing him a phone call and he placed the phone to his ear. After hearing no one talking, he then passed the phone to the driver who tried to place the phone to his ear as well. This was cracking me up, as I kept trying to explain that I was showing them a map and not handing them a phone call, though they were still confused as to why they could not hear anyone talking on the other end. The whole tro tro got in on the joke and we all laughed before the mate finally realized what I was asking and handed the phone off to someone who could better explain to me where to go. After about a twenty-minute drive I was dropped off at my stop in Teshie and, after asking around a bit, I managed to locate the workshop.

 A pair of shorts dry atop a crab (coffin?), which is then attached to a boat (other coffin?). 

A pair of shorts dry atop a crab (coffin?), which is then attached to a boat (other coffin?). 

The shop was not exactly as I had expected, as the photos on the Internet had made it seem a bit larger. What’s more, while the pictures I had seen featured glistening, finished creations, the only coffins I could see were all in-progress (and, judging by the dust and cobwebs that had started to settle, had not been worked on for a bit). Nevertheless, the venue was just as delightfully weird as I had hoped and I saw coffins resembling a lobster, a crab, a fish, a tiger, a spider, and an old fashioned video camera, among other things. The employees at the shop were very nice and accommodating, humoring me by playing along with the little Twi (a popular native language here) that I know.

As most of the coffins were pushed to the sides of the shop and did not look like they were moving any time soon, it didn’t take long to walk through and see everything. I felt a bit weird for having traveled so far only to stay there for so short a period of time, though I did at least feel good to check the adventure off my growing Ghana bucket list. When I went to leave, one of the employees I had previously been chatting with pulled me aside and asked for some money in exchange for the time that I had spent taking pictures there. I had a feeling that this would happen, though I was surprised to be asked so late (as opposed to when I first got my camera out and asked if it was okay if I used it). The man asked for 20 cedis, a fee that I thought, frankly, was completely ridiculous. 20 cedis? That’s more than a day’s worth of salary for a lot of people that I’ve met here! As usual, I tried to explain that I am not an obroni who is only here for a weeklong vacation; I don’t have a ton of money to spend here, as I am here for several months and working completely unpaid. What’s more, I had to take at least three tro tros back to the school… and that wouldn’t be free. Once I explained my financial circumstances I could tell that the guy felt a little bad for assuming I could pay such a large fee (and to be fair, I guess I could… but not for a fifteen minute walk through of a business that makes their money off of customers, not tourism). He changed his mind and said that I didn’t have to pay anything at all, though now I felt bad and insisted that he take a 2 cedi bill from me. He thanked me, and I headed home.

 An unfinished truck coffin sits next to a cradle (???) coffin.

An unfinished truck coffin sits next to a cradle (???) coffin.

 A video camera and tiger are featured amongst other strange coffin designs. 

A video camera and tiger are featured amongst other strange coffin designs. 

I was able to take a tro tro from Teshie to 37, and then from 37 to Lapaz. On my way to Lapaz I began to feel unwell… I’m guessing because of how hard it is to eat nutritiously here (I wish I could even tell you the last time I had a vegetable). I picked up some pineapple in Lapaz to ease the swelling in my throat and then I headed back to the school, getting there around dinnertime. I ate my pineapple, played with the girls a bit, and then started to get ready for bed. At this point I had begun to feel quite achy, so I thought it best to sleep earlier since I would be meeting my friend Dom the next morning to adventure outside of Accra. I ended up passing out around 7PM, briefly waking up at 2AM, and then going blissfully back to sleep. Since Mariana was staying at Quasi’s house, she had generously allowed me to sleep in her bed (which has a much softer mattress than my own). Needless to say, I slept very well.