When visiting four years ago, Accra, the teeming capital of Ghana, was our first exposure to an African country.  As we visit Ghana for the 3rdtime, we have our eyes wide open. looking for changes; anything that could indicate prosperity; such as modern buildings, access to clean water and electricity, less hunger.  During prior trips, the 2 things that initially preoccupied my visual energy were the loads people carried on their head (think slender African woman, baby tied on her back, large/heavy basin of grain on her head) and the omnipresent black plastic bags littering the landscape. On public television, you may have seen a program about an emergent problem in the developing world, that of non-biodegradable trash, especially the sudden introduction of the “black plastic bag” and other consumer plastics.  Before plastics, most trash would bio-degrade fairly quickly, be readily burned, composted, or consumed by farm animals. Centralized garbage disposal did not exist; trash disposal was something that each family handled with very little impact on the environment.  In recent years, however, Ghana was typical of developing countries in that black plastic bags, about one/square foot, were drifting in the breeze down every street, alley and pathway. At this time, I am happy to report, there is dramatically less garbage in the streets (Hooray!), the result of a massive trash clean up of the city for the visit of President Obama and family two months ago.  In addition, the populace in general seems to have been convinced to change their habits and the government must have instituted a disposal method for trash. Both Accra and Kumasi are remarkably cleaner than in the past.

 And now for an interesting tidbit about Obama’s visit.  We, ordinary folks from Portland, Oregon, have now shaken hands with, and even hugged, someone who has talked face-to-face with President Obama, and we had to come to Africa for the experience!  Our good friend Roland, now on the Accra “Airport Police Force”, was assigned to hotel security during the President’s visit to Ghana and actually shook hands and chatted with President Obama.  (Our “kids” Mikey and Kristin will fondly remember Roland from their trip to Ghana in Christmas of 2005).

 David, the lone white man at Metro Mass bus station



After several days in the big cities of southern Ghana, we had a truly African experience in the bus ride north to Bolgatanga.  Because it was Sunday, the fairly civilized and reliable bus company we had hoped to use did not have a bus going north.  We settled for “Metro Mass”, a good company I am sure, but one intended for locals taking their goods home from Kumasi.  We were the only white faces in the crowds seeking transport.  That fact, along with the confused and clueless expression on our faces, seemed to afford us some special privileges.  We were traveling with four large suitcases and various smaller backpacks and computer cases; a hefty 270 pounds of luggage, most of it school and medical supplies.  As the bus was filling up with bags of yams, furniture, mattresses, and bulky cargo of every imaginable type, with the passengers arguing excitedly about space for their items in the Akan languages, we were wondering if there was any chance of getting our baggage on board.  We had been fortunate enough to locate the person selling baggage tags, but the tags didn’t seem worth much in this setting.  Finally, our eye contact with the baggage loader paid off.  When there was just enough room left, he told us to buy a rope for 1 dollar and that he would use it to tie on our bags. It was quickly done, but sadly/guiltily five Ghanaians did not get on the bus because their cargo wouldn’t fit on board.  We then sat in true African fashion, packed tightly on the bus, next to a young girl that got carsick, but fortunately not next to a baby without diapers. Along the way we experienced one of the miracles of the modern world, something that makes me think maybe I can keep coming to Africa in my 60’s, something that will really impress friend and African traveler Elizabeth G. and daughter Kristin after her visit 4 years ago.  You ask, “What could it possibly be?” It was a bit of the modern world in the middle of a ten hour African bus trip; a restroom with white porcelain, flushing toilets that actually worked at the bus rest stop.  Toilet seat, soap and toilet paper included. This in a location where I would have argued you might be just as likely to encounter a Martian as a flushing toilet.  Usually one has to muster up great fortitude, strength of character, and need to pee really badly before going into a bus stop restroom in Western Africa.