Thursday, January 21, 2010
I've been to a lot of beaches in my lifetime. I've been lucky enough to spend time on both the East and West Coasts of America, on the coast of Costa Rica, on a variety of beaches in Mexico, and even the Gulf of Mexico during time I've spent in the South.
I went to a beach in Accra yesterday—Labadi Beach—and it was a lot different than other beaches I've been to. For starters, it wasn't as if we left campus, took a stroll, and managed to find a nearby beach. No, quite the contrary.
Me and about 12 of my friends walked to the "tro-tro" station to catch a ride to the transfer station. A "tro-tro" is the public transportation system here in Ghana, used by those who don't want to ride the bus and don't want to pay more money for a taxi. Yesterday, I found myself in a tro-tro with 24 people including myself. The tro tro looks like an oversized van, and in each row people squish together to fit as many people as possible. Many of these people are tired, sweaty, and ready to get home. Sometimes, the tro-tro driver will play music from a local radio station. I like when he does that because it makes me feel like I fit in a little more. It's not like I want to go unnoticed, but when you walk around in a country that has an overwhelming majority of black people with a group of 10 white kids, you inevitably stick out.
We had to stop at another transfer station to head to the beach. Getting on the second tro-tro was even more ridiculous, as we had to cross two busy streets with a chaotic amount of cars. It was a stressful situation not only because I thought I was going to get hit, but right after we crossed the street I was stopped by a beautiful Indian woman for money. She grabbed my arm and looked at me desperately. I wanted to give her something, I really did, but one thing I learned here is that you really never know where that money might be going. I politely declined and continued to walk forward, trying not to feel guilty. Right as I looked up I saw what looked to be like her son attempt to pickpocket a couple of ladies. More and more people crowded near us, asking for us to buy stuff from them, or to give them money, and I couldn't wait just to get to our tro-tro.
We got on the next tro-tro and a sense of relief washed over me. It was a temporary relief though, because when we reached our final stop and got off the tro-tro we walked for a little ways before realizing the beach was nowhere in sight. A girl with us, Taylor, who studied in Ghana last semester, was leading us, and we ended up walking through an area that contained locals and their homes. We saw children running around in their underwear, women preparing dinner for that evening, chickens looking through sewage, and friends laughing together. I felt terrible. I felt like we intruded on their homes and their privacy, in an effort to find the beach of all places. I felt uncomfortable—not because of how the people treated us—but rather because of the entire situation. The last thing I really wanted to do was encroach on the homes of others, and it seemed like we did exactly that. When we finally reached the end of these homes we had to cross a small, rickety bridge and then cross another couple of streets. The beach was finally in sight.
We had to walk about another mile down the edges of the beach, along the rocks, before we could relax. When we finally got to step on the sand and have the waves touch our feet, it felt perfect. We passed a couple games of football, a couple holding hands, and of course some guys wanting us to buy their necklaces. We had made it. Of course, the adventure of getting to the beach couldn't end that smoothly. Right as we were approaching the actual beach area a middle-aged man told us that we could pass if we gave him something small. Because we were white he thought he might be able to get a little something out of us. Taylor stood up for us and put that down pretty quickly.
At the beach we got a big table, got a ton of chairs, and gathered around to hang out. We had some beers, good music, and had a lot of fun. I went in the ocean a couple of times, just to get my feet wet, and it was exhilarating.
Minus some creepy guys trying to hit on all of us, the stench of pot in the air, and the lack of bathrooms, reggae night was a blast. Reggae night happens every Wednesday at Labadi Beach, and I can tell you I definitely won't be there every time, but the experience was something I will always remember. I met Rastafarians for the first time in my life. I took a taxi in Africa for the first time. I got offered a joint for the first time in my life. Last night was a lot of firsts for me. Really though, I think that is what the rest of my time in Africa will be like. A lot of firsts. That makes me excited and happy, because ultimately, that is why I am here.