This past weekend David McCann became my most international friend. To date we have spent time together in 3 different countries on 3 different continents. So far we’ve both made it to Ghana, Chile, and of course The Sates. David has been working the past month for Busy Internet, in Accra, Ghana. Busy Internet is an internet service provider, and home to the largest internet café in all of West Africa. David is helping the company develop their latest venture, Trade Net. Trade Net is a mobile phone based system for buyers and sellers of natural goods to exchange prices and orders. I know David from Georgia Tech, where we both received our bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
On Friday I flew out to Accra. The flight was pretty nice and only 30 minutes late. Not half bad. I flew on Slok Airlines which recently resumed operations after some safety issues. I felt safe, and the flight was cheap. I arrived in Ghana and was pleasantly greeted by AC and running water. I needed David’s address for the immigration officer when I arrived, but I didn’t have it. I was afraid this was going to be a big ordeal, but the immigration office was very nice about it all. He called David for me to find out the address and let me on my way. It was all so nice, and orderly and professional… so developed.
I was picked up from the airport by David, Mark Davies, and Jim Forster. Mark Davies is the owner of Busy Internet. He started his internet career in the dot com days with a web based city guide and was bought out by CitySearch. Jim Forster worked for Cisco back when the company only had 30 employees. He now holds the title, “Distinguished Engineer” at Cisco. It was kinda cool hanging out with guys who have pretty much done what I’d like to do professionally. Now I just need to find a start-up to be a part of that’s going to be wildly successful.
After leaving the airport we went to Jamestown, the historic district of Accra. There we walked around the beach, hung out with some fishermen, and climbed to the top of the light house. It was really cool to see the fishermen and their boats. They still fish the same way they always have. At dusk they leave, fish all night, and come back in the morning. They use simple nets and boats whose hauls are made from a solid tree trunk. The light house offered some really nice views of the city and the boats coming in from the sea. It’s also fun climbing around stuff like this in countries where liability isn’t a huge concern.
Ghana is far more developed than Liberia. A country can do a lot when it hasn’t had a civil war in recent history. The roads were filled with cars, and not the white SUVs of international NGOs, but of civilians and taxis. The roads were even paved. They had traffic lights, stop signs, and it seemed that people were following some sort of traffic law on the streets. I was also caught off guard by the tourism in Ghana. Tourism in Liberia simply doesn’t exist. So it was a little strange for me to meet people who were just touring around. It was also weird, and nice, to be in a place where it’s safe enough to take a taxi at night, expats don’t have their own drivers, and a local will want to talk to you just to be friendly. All in all I really liked Ghana. The 24×7 electricity and running water was also really nice.
On Saturday David and I went down to Cape Coast. Cape Coast is where the British originally landed in Ghana and setup the slave trade. Consequently the town has a lot of British inspired architecture and is a very lovely place. At the center of the city is the old slave fort where slaves were kept before being shipped off to the old or new world. We started out by touring the top of the fort, where the British lived. This gave us some great views of the city, and with the sun out it was really nice to climb around and check stuff out. Then we went down to where the slaves were kept. This wasn’t as pleasant. The slave’s chambers were dark dungeons under the fort where up to a 1000 men and 400 women were kept at once. It was a very sobering feeling to know that I was standing where countless people had suffered so many unimaginable things. Usually I think I’m pretty good at imaging, and thinking of what something could be like, but standing there in the dark corner of a cell I just couldn’t picture knowing that I was going to spend the night there, eat there, and maybe die there.
Saturday night David and I walked around Cape Coast a bit. We hung out at a local bar, but it kinda sucked. I’m used to being around expats who work for NGOs , and to some degree, are there to help. It felt a little wrong to be around expats who were being jerk tourists. It reminded me of bars in Thailand when I was there. Young people just trying to get drunk and hook-up with each other. Not as exciting as talking about the national poverty reduction strategy and its economic ramifications with a friend who works in the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Liberia.
We also saw an open air Easter Eve service that night. It was a Charismatic service so the pastor would get super quite and start to cry a little, then yell and scream into the mic. It was a little ridiculous. People would be dragged out of the crowd to a tarp in front of the stage where they would be placed so they could wiggle and writhe without getting in anyone’s way. I’m assuming the idea is that they were under the influence of the Holy Spirit who was at work in their lives at that moment in some powerful way, probably kicking out demons or something. Not how I would spend Easter.
Sunday morning David and I went to a national park do to a canopy walk in the jungle. The place had 6 rope suspension bridges between trees in the jungle that you could walk along. It was pretty cool, but short. After you walk through it once you’re kinda ready to move on. But it was really pretty.
After that we came back to Accra and pretty much just hung out. For me this was really nice. I appreciated the break from working and worrying about utilities and other basic issues. We even went to a shopping mall where I bought an ice cream sandwich. It was awesome. Then David and I kicked back and relaxed. I watched Star Trek I on DSTV and surfed the net.
Monday we went to a beach in Accra. David and I had a trash fight in the water. We threw plastic bags and other floating debris back and forth. No one told me that the water was unsafe, and floating plastic bags don’t worry me as much as floating feces, something we have to worry about in Monrovia. At any rate it was a lot of fun and I got to meet some of David’s friend from Ghana. For dinner we went to a tex-mex sports bar. This is my first tex-mex experience since 2007. It wasn’t the best tex-mex in the world, but good enough for me.
Tuesday I flew back, and that was that. Overall I really liked Ghana. I told Dr. Mike Best, my boss, about my time in Ghana. He said, “Yikes. When Accra seems to be a relatively well running city you know you must be living in…. well…. Liberia.”