Monday, November 11, 2013

Ghana Update: Thursday, Day 10

This is the final update, which we sent from an airport on our return trip. Thank you for reading these! Normal blogpostery will resume shortly.

I can't thank you dear readers enough for all times you prayed on behalf of our team. Visiting Ghana was a truly phenomenal experience and I'd heartily recommend traveling there with Crusades for Christ. Just be sure to take along some beef jerky for Pastor Isaac.
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Day 10

Today was bittersweet.  We started out by packing up this morning.  Shopping was on the agenda as well and we all piled into the bus after devouring breakfast pizza and pineapple.  The first market we went to was called Wild Gecko and the prices were set so we didn’t have to worry about haggling (or we didn’t GET to, depending on who you ask).  The prices were quite a bit higher too so most of the actual purchasing was done later.
Next we drove to a very large open air flea market with rows of stalls and shop owners standing out front inviting us in.  Actually, it was more like urging or demanding.  They could get quite aggressive and more than one team member became frustrated with the African system. It seemed that “just looking” was not an option and even casual interest prompted much pressuring and begging and bartering directed toward us unsuspecting Americans. Some really enjoyed bartering, however, because there’s just something satisfying about knowing that you got a good deal.  Or at least thinking you did. =)
Quite a few people purchased drums. The quality of the drums made them a great purchase, and the price was very reasonable.  Jon had talked with the shop owner and said that he promised to bring back more buyers if he gave us a special deal.  I bought a medium-sized drum for about twenty dollars; much cheaper than anything for sale in the states and authentic too.  Other popular purchases today included figurines, dresses/shirts, paintings and baskets.
After the market experience we were hot and tired and very sweaty so we headed back to Leon and Barb’s for a light lunch.  All of us, that is but Shawn and Jared and Jaxon.  They chose to have an adventure of their own which I will not attempt to recount.  We heard the full story when they finally did return, just shortly before we were scheduled to depart for the airport.

-The Scribe

Jared, Jaxon and I had quite the adventure indeed.  But I’ll begin with some background information. 

“Shawn, I haven’t forgotten about Tema.” Jon said as he greeted us on the day we arrived.

Our earth is tidily organized by coordinates.  Zero degrees latitude puts you right down on the equator.  Zero degrees longitude places you on the vertical equator:  the Prime Meridian.  This imaginary line was cooked up by the British when they devised the coordinate system.  They had to place the beginning point SOMEWHERE, so why not straight through London?  Follow that line perfectly south, and you’ll soon end up in Ghana.

Ghana is the closest country to the intersection of the equator and the Prime Meridian.  The exact intersection is in the ocean roughly 400 miles below Ghana.  When I visited Ghana last year with a work project team, I discovered that the Prime Meridian runs right through Tema, a town located only a handful of kilometers from Accra.  I had wanted to go visit the line so I could stand in two hemispheres at the same time, but the rest of the work team didn’t share my enthusiasm for the detour, so I didn’t go.

“If you ever return to Ghana, we will be sure to take you to Tema.” Jon said.

Good to his word, Jon organized my little side quest.  The only time it worked to go would be while the group did their shopping in the marketplace.  The group needed Jon’s honed bartering skills so he stayed behind with them and ordered a taxi to take me to Tema, a large town roughly 30 minutes away from our shopping area.  Jared Bontrager and Jaxon Weaver offered to accompany me on the trip.  We hopped into that taxi and took off, planning to rendezvous with the team an hour later at the marketplace.  Jon had loaned me his cell phone for the trip, to help with navigation but also provide a means of communication.

We cruised halfway to Tema before hitting the first traffic jam.  Roundabouts are common in Ghana and they seem to work fairly well in comparison to normal intersections with traffic lights.  But cram enough vehicles into one and nightmares get crafted real quick.  The road to Tema had four roundabouts, and each one was completely wedged bumper-to-bumper with cars, trucks, vans, semis, and motorcycles.  Each access road was packed as well, so we would crawl along as we jockeyed for position.  Our 30-minute schedule was out the window before we had gotten through the first roundabout.  But our spirits were still high, because we were about to go witness one of the most significant manmade boundaries ever devised.

We got to Tema after sitting on the road for two and a half hours.  During that time, we witnessed some of the most astonishing feats of driving prowess I’ve seen in my entire life.  We snuck past vehicles with precious few inches to spare.  Semis made alternate lanes for themselves by driving over medians.  Motorcycles were getting shoved around by the merciless stream of vehicles, but getting their revenge later when they zipped between vehicles during traffic jams.  Pedestrians were leisurely crossing the street in front of cars and trucks traveling at high rates of speed.  Meanwhile, we cooked.  The sun was out in full force as we sat in a small taxi with no air conditioning.  Jared and I got unique tans on our right arms since we sat with our arms draped on the window sill for 2 hours.  At certain points, we could have gauged our progress by measuring beard growth.  To break the monotony (and to capitalize on a captive audience), sellers ran up and down the road to offer snacks, toys, and beverages.  Jaxon bought a chicken gizzard kebab, Jared bought a bottled beverage, the taxi driver bought some biscuit-like cookies, and we all bought some bags of water. (Except for the driver, who claimed he could drive all day without drinking water.

Once we got to Tema, I directed the taxi driver to take us to the Meridian Hotel.  From what I had researched online, the hotel had an engraved line in the ground where we could take our photos.  But when we got to the location, there were only unfinished buildings and a vast construction site.  We asked some locals, who kindly informed us that the Meridian Hotel had collapsed years ago.  Evidently no one had thought to insert that nugget of wisdom in the hotel website biography. “We’re located in beautiful Tema near the Atlantic Coast. Oh, and our building collapsed years ago and we’re out of business.”  
I had been hoping for a well-marked Meridian line, like you can find in England.
But I would have settled for a signpost.

We asked some locals if they knew where to find the Prime Meridian.  It took a bit of effort to explain what the crazy American tourists had in mind. The locals understood what we were after and said that there was indeed an engraved line for the Prime Meridian.  It could be found in the Meridian Plaza, only a few blocks away.  We journeyed uptown to the plaza and searched around for a bit before we asked some locals where the line was.  They stated that in order to see the line, we’d have to travel to the Meridian Hotel, the location we had just come from.

At that point, we gave up.  We took a few photos in the area we suspected was near the line, but we had no way to check for sure.  The line is very, very close to where the hotel had once stood.  Within 20 feet, said one source.  During our treks across town, we crossed the Prime Meridian multiple times, so we called that good. 

After they heard we were stuck in traffic, the group didn’t wait for us at the marketplace.  So we instructed our taxi driver to drop us off at Leon’s.  We were snarled in traffic a few times but the return trip was definitely quicker.  We got back to Leon’s and scarfed down a quick supper while double-checking that everything had been packed.  What had been planned as a one-hour trip had devolved into a fairly-disappointing four-hour detour.  I felt like I had thrown an unnecessary wrench into the team’s gears. “Ah well, that’s okay. We had no idea the traffic would be bad. Besides, we’re still on schedule, so you’re alright.” said Jon, Barb, and Leon, trying to cheer me up.

I learned a lot from the trip, and I was grateful for the opportunity.  Ghanaians live busy lives and adequately marking the location of the Prime Meridian is very far down on their to-do list.

When we had been stuck in traffic, I had been praying for deliverance.  “God, please just get us there quickly.”  After we returned and I was reading the daily letter sent to me by Joy Gerber, I was shocked to see her letter matched what I was experiencing exactly:  selfish prayers asking for immediate deliverance from troubles don’t teach us anything.  Alternatively, realizing that God is with us and has a plan for each circumstance helps us to grow in our relationship with Him.

Thank You, Father, for giving me opportunities to grow in my relationship with You.

-The Scribe’s Proofreader