Friday, 21 December 2012

Homesickness on Lake Volta

Something that I submitted for the Just Back travel writing competition about my experiences in Ghana...
Obruni, Obruni!” I turn my attention away from the swallows skimming the water and back onto the shoreline. The culprits, two boys, stifle giggles as I catch their gaze. I smile and wave as they shuffle on their feet. “Eti sen!” I greet them. Startled by my well-rehearsed response they let out two excitable squeals and scamper up the bank back towards their mother on a nearby food stall, usually it would make me laugh, but today, being a white man in Ghana feels wearisome.
It is late afternoon and my legs are dangling over the side of the boat as I wait for it to fill. There is a storm gathering in the west and having arrived in the morning, I was hoping to be in Donkorkom on the other side of Lake Volta by now. Instead, I am in a scruffy port just outside of Kapandu, increasingly despondent about my chances of staying dry.
Before the construction of the Akosombo hydroelectric dam in 1965, a journey between the two towns could be undertaken by road. They are now separated by the world’s largest man-made lake. Unlike Accra, which hums with electricity, life on the edge of the water is marginal and slow. The climate and soil quality, once able to support vast cocoa plantations, has worsened and the majority of the locals eke out a living growing and selling vegetables. Close to the boat, a few stallholders idly observe the lake. There are few customers for Yam and Red-Red today.
The coming gloom is offset by a series of lush conical islands which rise up from the middle of the lake. Closer to shore are the skeletal remains of submerged trees, around them weave swallows hunting for mosquitos. It is October, I wonder are these the same birds that I saw in my boyhood summers in North Yorkshire? After six months working in Accra, I am drawn to the thought of home.
The boat slowly fills as I ponder. I am initially joined by a woman with a child swaddled to her back, shortly followed by a group of boys hauling tubs of tilapia. As we near departure the tranquillity of the afternoon is broken. Hawkers appear around the boat offering phone credit, drinks and fried plantain. Each has their own cry. “Yes pure! Pure water!” comes the nearby call of a girl selling chlorinated water sachets from a cool box. I buy one, rip off the corner with my mouth and gulp. It tastes truly awful. I grimace and the man next to me smiles.
“Kwabena”, he interjects, offering his hand. My eyes are immediately drawn to Asante markings on his cheeks. His accent is softened by several years living in the UK and after an inevitable conversation about English football I ask Kwabena why he shunned the bright lights of London or Accra and instead decided to settle in Donkorkom. He pauses, smiles and says “I missed it. It’s where I am from. It’s my home”.

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