Travelling to Cape Verde

To travel hopefully is better than to arrive. I'm on my way to Cape Verde. I definitely begin to get into the mood more as we bump along and I can manage to persuade myself that work can wait till Iyou get back home. And at least my plane hasn’t disappeared yet...though Katie Price is on board, complete with four children and current husband. In economy too, not even the extra leg room bit. I've been chatting to her in the toilet queue. though I didn't realise who she was then. The lady in the seat next to me told me.

I get a really good peek at the scatter of islands that form the Cape Verde group as we swoop in. Hardly anyone in the UK had heard of them. and I'm visiting three of them - Sal, Sao Vicente and Santo Antão.

Cape Verde - in a Nutshell

  • The Cape Verde (Cabo Verde) group is ten volcanic islands, about 300 miles west of Senegal, It's named after Cap Vert (The Green Cape) in Senegal, the western most point in mainland Africa. They form part of the Macaronesia ecoregion, along with the Azores, the Canary Islands, Madeira, and the Savage Isles.
  • The Cape Verde archipelago was uninhabited until the fifteenth century, when Portuguese explorers discovered and colonized the islands, probably the first European settlement in the tropics.
  • The islands were conveniently located to play a role in the Atlantic slave trade and Cape Verde became economically prosperous, declining economically in the nineteenth century, when the slave trade was abolished. after the suppression of the Atlantic slave trade, and many of its inhabitants emigrated during that period.
  • However, Cape Verde has recovered, as an important commercial centre and useful stopover point for major shipping routes. It lacks natural resources, but tourism is becoming increasingly important.
  • Cape Verde became independent in 1975 and has been a stable representative democracy, since the early 1990s, Cape Verde has been and has remained one of the most developed and democratic countries in Africa.
  • The population of around 600,000 is of mostly African heritage, and predominantly Roman Catholic, reflecting the Portuguese legacy.

And things get adventuresome as soon as I arrive. The rep meeting me has tried to persuade me that I would rather spend the four hours between my arrival on Sal and my inter island hop to São Vicente in the 'executive airport lounge'. Instead I opt for my original arrangement, which was a trip into the tourist town of Santa Maria. It's on the other side of the island - a fifteen minute trip then.

Santa Maria on Sal

Cape Verde is anything but green on Sal. It is a sweep of brown, with small pointy volcanoes sticking out, next to rows of salt pans. So arid it makes Abu Dhabi look lush. Santa Maria is vaguely like The Canaries, transported to a mid west desert outpost. Entirely laid back. The beach is very nice. White coral, lots of sunbeds but not too crowded.

I have been allocated a day use room that involves checking into a hotel and signing copious forms. I'm also issued with a wrist band. It all seems very over the top but I sally forth for a visit to the buffet, before it closes. The offerings are plain weird. Lots of shredded omelette, fritters that are mainly batter with a few French beans protruding, fried spam which is reminiscent of pink leather and chunky omelette squares with speckles of tinned ham. Also hot tinned pineapple and peaches. I know they have to import most of their food, but this is ridiculous. Can I look forward to feasting like this all week? It is considered rude to eat in public in Cape Verde without sharing your food. That's not going to be a problem.

Taxi Torment

The rep pays me back by sending a driver on his own to return me to the airport. As I'm a bit unsure about being accosted by an unknown taxi I ask the hotel to phone for confirmation that he has been sent to fetch me. The driver in his turn exacts revenge by pretending he's in a rally and belting along the twisty roads with the Benfica football match on the radio at full volume. I get the rest of the match on the TV at the airport, as the connecting plane is, predictably, two hours late. Everyone speaks creole or Portuguese here, so I can't follow the commentary. It's clear that Benfica have won though, as everyone is in a very good mood. I suspect they delayed the plane so they could watch the rest of the match.

Praia, Cape Verde

I have arrived, but in the wrong place, so I'm extremely grumpy. I missed the onward connection, so an unplanned overnight in the busy, very untouristy capital Praia on Santiago Island. Loud TV all night, lots of traffic outside on a road with grumbling cobbles too. So tired I drop my i-phone and smash the screen which has only just been repaired. All equals one very tetchy me.

Another weird food experience. We are allowed free breakfast in the cafe downstairs. The offending TV is still on, and so is the football, it seems. No one speaks English, so we point at what we would like to eat. There's a mixture of fruit and sweet and savoury pastries and no limit to what we can have, apparently. I'm tempted to keep on pointing to see exactly how much the smiley attendant will dole out, but I retreat after securing a mound of food, a selection of juice and a large bottle of water.

São Vicente, Cape Verde

This plane is only an hour late and so I finally reach São Vicente. I think it's safe to say that tourism is pretty embryonic. The roads are dirt and the beach, well that looks like dirt too. The hotel is next to the airport, which is convenient, if a little noisy. Fortunately, it's not exactly Heathrow. The hotel layout is a bit holiday camp with green grass carpeting round the various pools. And guess what, lunch is a buffet. And so is dinner. Though slightly less weird. I recognise meat, salad and bean stew.

São Vicente is sold as The Island of Culture and Poets. Perhaps I will glimpse some of that tomorrow. For the moment it's sadly, cloudy, with a posted forecast that says it will be like this all week. It's just about warm enough to doze on a sunbed. Till I'm woken by yet more loud music. Time for pool games!! Back to my room. But no, screams from a baby, emanating through the wall.

Well the weather forecast was wrong. So far it's been gorgeously sunny. I'm on my lounger, by the adult pool this time (the quality of the fake grass is infinitely superior,). Everything looks better in the sun. The surrounding mountains are majestically craggy, the little orange cactus flowers are opening up and even the beach looks sort of decent. It's so warm I even have to seek some shade - later.


Late afternoon, I hop on the bus to Mindelo town, famed for its annual carnival; and as the home of the singer Cesaria Evoria. (The island airport is named after her too.) It takes ten minutes to zoom across the island, so I'm not sure how they manage to eke out the day tours they offer.

Mindelo is very pretty and colourful. There's a little port, with up market glass windowed cafés and a small market and there's live music belting out of several bars. It's all more Mediterranean than African, not at all like the mainland three hundred miles away. It's almost litter free; most of the people live in good housing, though admittedly some cottages are unfinished. Everyone walking the streets is very smart, and mostly tall and beautiful.

On my return, I've found a diminutive, fairy light strewn restaurant just outside the hotel. A buffet free zone in Cape Verde. More celebrity. It turns out my rep on São Vicente is a famous singer. 'Reggae and other stuff', he says. All the locals gape as we walk past and the braver ones ask for his autograph. Edson Duarte. He's certainly tall and gorgeous.

Santo Antão, Cape Verde

The islands are very different in character. Today, a day trip on the ferry to Santo Antão docking in the largest town, Porta Nova. This island is mostly mountainous, but also has a small desert area and is extraordinarily pretty; volcanic slopes patterned with stone terraces, pines and cypress trees. It seems to have escaped the deforestation of the other islands. Or perhaps the forest regenerates in the constant cloud cover. We drive on a road perched on the volcanic ridges, round the rim of a giant caldera, sheer sides plummeting into velvet depths. The road is cobbled the whole way - it took 47 years to construct.

Into the bottom of the caldera, where the agriculture is intensive. Goats frolic. There is one goat for every two people on the islands. Everything tropical seems to grow here, banana, mangoes, papaya, and sugar cane. Traditional thatched stone houses nestle against the steep walls and little cobbled irrigation channels meander through the crops, a relaxing trickle. This is the food basket of the island, though much of the produce is shipped over to São Vincente, to feed the ever growing population of Mindelo.

Then along the coast, incredible rock formations, organ pipes and little twisty outcrops straight out of The Hobbit. Bright seaside ports and a medley of fishing boats drawn up alongside. The towns are a mass of white and pastel cuboid houses emerging from the dark rock. There. even time to stop and watch the locals spilling out of church - they've been to an Easter Week celebration..

The ferry is carpeted in fake grass too. Is this why it's called Cape Verde?

The Godfather of Cape Verde

My driver has long Rasta locks and is called Dongo. He seems to own half the island. He has a fleet of eight vehicles that transport all the tourists round. I use the word vehicles advisedly. He castigates me for referring to his pick-up as a van. He also owns some construction companies, real estate companies and a café. All the way round he is on his mobile, checking up on all his employees. We inspect the cement in his lock-up and see if all his buses are in the right place. He also salutes or speaks to various men seated by the roadside. His tone doesn't sound that friendly to me. I'm not sure if he's the island mogul or the island mafia. Best not to upset him.


Today, I fly back to Sal. The plane is late, quelle surprise, but only 40 minutes late. Apparently it only counts as late at all unless it is well over half an hour behind.

This hotel is very different again. It's all plate glass, decking and white umbrellas, but still sprawling. No grass in sight. The weather forecast has thankfully continued to be spectacularly inaccurate, with temperatures in the thirties today. The beach here is definitely premier class, the sea is at its most azure and the ice cream is delicious.

There are plenty of little bars and restaurants too, though the town is nowhere near as pretty as Mindelo. And here there is hassle, more like the mainland. There's a tout outside every shop. The holidaymakers are a mixed clientele. Mostly German and French in my hotel. Overall, we seem to be on the verge of upmarket, but not quite. It could go either way...

Eat fish, read, sunbathe, snooze, massage.

Leaving Sal Katie on board this time, though my flight neighbour this time tells me that she and husband had a prolonged shouting match on the beach one evening. It's not all done for the cameras then.


We've driven north to Senegal, taking the ferry from The Gambia. Saly (or Saly Portudal) is billed as the premiere tourist destination 'in all of West Africa'. Saly was originally a Portuguese trading post known as Porto de Ale. The resort area was created in February 1984 and tourism began to take off in Senegal.

Le Saly Hotel

The hotel is attractive, with thatched bungalow style rooms. hey have windows like huge round eyes. There’s a stout woven fence between the sunbed area in the grounds of Le Saly Hotel and the beach and swimming pool. It very soon becomes apparent why this is necessary. Morning and evening the beach is alive with local men exercising, body building and playing football. I’ve read that wrestling is the most popular sport in Senegal and has become a national obsession. It seems to me that the whole population aspires to a wrestler’s physique. There is a great deal of posturing, and much sweating. It’s hot and humid, even at breakfast.

As the gymnasium disperses the middle of the day is given over to touts selling their wares. They’re naturally more interested in interacting with the tourists, rather than just posing. The whole is a colourful spectacle, (the costumes are flamboyant and wonderful) though increasingly exhausting, as the noise never ceases. It’s also a huge deterrent from walking on the beach, although once past the throng it’s interesting to watch the sailfish, marlin and tuna being unloaded from the gaudy fishing boats. Like the Gambia, the sands are broad, but brown, and the sea a murky grey. It’s not the prettiest of beaches. but rather, grand and palm lined.

Around Saly

The area now abounds with tourist attractions. wild life parks like Bandia, a golf course and a craft market. To the east, at Saly Niakhniakhal, the seafront is lined with restaurants and villas. There's even an art gallery.

The Road to Dakar

The road north to Dakar, the capital of Senegal, is slow and winding and the traffic round Dakar itself appalling. We almost miss our plane home. No wonder they cancelled the rally….


Serrakunda is the largest town in The Gambia (bigger by far than the capital Banjul) because it is formed of nine villages, which have expanded into a larger urban area, running along the coast. This is where most of the hotels are; there is a lot of building work going on, as the tourist business continues to grow. Off the beach it is a maze of dusty streets with a typically noisy and dirty, but vibrant market.

My Serrakunda hotel, perched on a cliff, is charming, boutique style, slightly frayed round the edges if you look too closely, (let’s call it shabby-chic) with a swimming pool and great views over the beach. The sandy shore, wide and brown, the sea a dull grey, but there are some interesting trees along the cliff edges, dry, spiky sculptures and gaily painted fishing boats to watch. Clouds of shrieking seagulls hover, as the catch is unloaded. Serrakunda Beach is best viewed from a distance. There’s plenty of space to lounge and sunbathe, but there are also a large number of locals selling or just wanting to pass the time of day. They are friendly enough, but persistent. It’s understandable, they are poor people, but interaction is exhausting, limiting forays onto the sand or out to the local markets.

On the River Gambia

 I've chosen The Gambia as it’s more or less the closest place to the UK where sunshine is guaranteed in February. It’s certainly warm and muggy, so shorter excursions are called for on this count too. Gambia is renowned for its bird life and an early morning boat trip along the Gambia River is one of the most popular trips. It’s very serene, if unremarkable. There are egrets and herons and the odd flash from the tiny iridescent kingfishers. The monkeys and baboons are more lively, a huge troop engaged in a battle in a forest clearing. 

North to Saly, in Senegal, after this stay.

Crossing the river on the ferry is a very different adventure. Read about it here.

Kololi, Gambia

There’s a variety of restaurants and bars, especially on Kololi’s crowded beachfront strip. They vary from the chic and gourmet to lively and very English. The taxis are efficient, even if you have to check the fare carefully. Here, there are some more up market hotels like the Karaiba, with its pavilions and designer food. It’s not a bad place to spend a few sunny days in winter.

Banjul, Capital of the Gambia

Banjul, the capital of the Gambia, is a warren, with a more substantial market than Serrakunda and some fiendish traffic. I climb Arch 22, on the Banjul-Serrekunda Highway, for a panorama of Banjul. This was built in 1996 to commemorate the military coup, led by Yahya Jammeh in 1994. The arch is 35 metres high and the lift isn't working. At the bottom is an unknown solder tomb. He's making a V for victory sign (I think) and carrying a baby.

The view shows me a mosque, a few colonial houses and a museum. I decide to pass on the museum.

When I finally reach my hotel, on the beach in Banjul, I’m happy to flop out on a very nice stretch of white sand. It’s carefully fenced off, of course, to prevent the hawkers coming too close. Music blares incongruously, as I luxuriate in the heat. ‘I’m dreaming of a White Christmas’. It’s nice to be able to speak English again, but this hotel is not really my style. It's more than a little frayed at the edges. Half the lights and the fridge in my room don’t work. And all the meals are buffet style. The food is all cold, even when it’s presented in chafing dishes, and highly unappetising. The clientele is mainly European and clad in tiny shorts and lurex hoodies. And I’ve collected my first mosquito bites this trip.

South to Senegal next.

From Bolgatanga to Kumasi

I've had stomach problems for over a day and I'm still feeling awful, but decide to still travel from Bolgatanga where I've been working, to Ashanti country in Ghana, which turns out not to be one of my better decisions. I have to pay six times as much as everyone else to get my luggage stowed away. The 'air-conditioned' minibus is driven by an accelerate/brake merchant. The air conditioning has broken down. I sit next to a guy who seems determined to get two seats worth for his money. Behind me is a toddler who wiles away his boredom by trying to work out how many ways he can strangle me with my seat belt.

The bush gradually gives way to rainforest, and bananas and pom poms on tall knitting needles signal the first palm trees. Mud huts are now square mud with tin roofs. there are hoardings: Goat Flavour Stock Cubes, Two Seater Water Closets Made Here, St Anthony’s Catholic School, Oxford., Funeral Dressing Here, Cadbury’s Choco. On the radio there's a sports round up. It’s all about Chelsea and Arsenal and  the Number 1 Accra team - Hearts of Oak.

The road seems to be under the course of construction most of the journey. Or has it just disappeared? It's red and slippery. The toilets on our one stop are close contenders for worst in the world (the winners are in China). After six hours I’m a queasy quivering wreck. Another taxi driver who thinks I’m beautiful and wants to visit me in England. It doesn’t stop him overcharging me. My hotel seems a contrasting haven of tranquillity. The rooms are clean and large. There’s a swimming pool and a large computer room. The staff are delightfully friendly and helpful and send out to the pharmacy for a rattle of pills for me.

Kumasi, Ghana

My trousers are definitely a more relaxed fit. Ghana has to be better than a Health Farm if you want to lose weight.

Kumasi is the second-largest city in Ghana, after the capital, Accra and the commercial, industrial and cultural capital of the historical Ashanti Empire. Present day Ghana was divided into states and empires from the 11th century. The most powerful were the Kingdom of Dagbon in the north and the Ashanti Empire in the south. Their power waned with colonialism, the Portuguese Empire in the 15th century, and ultimately, the British in the late 19th century. Ashanti was one of the four British colonial territories.

Kumasi is in a rain forest region, sometimes known as "The Garden City", although it's a historical epithet that is not so applicable today. Sadly, I'm not going to be able to see much of it, as I need to go back to bed, and my next day's accommodation on the coast is booked and paid for. Kumasi is also spread over several hills. I gird my loins and go out in a taxi to buy a bus ticket for tomorrow’s journey.

The roads are still under construction here too. This taxi driver circumnavigates by driving off road and on pavements where possible. There are no bus tickets to be had. I negotiate with the taxi driver. He says he will take me to the coast for 600,000 cedis. The receptionist is shocked. She thinks it’s daylight robbery, but it’s the same price as a taxi to Gatwick from home. And at least I can stop it if I feel sick.

I have read all my books and the hotel has none. The internet is so slow I run two PCs at the same time on different tasks. Although there is a satellite magazine there is actually only one tolerably visible channel. I watch an amazing Nigerian movie (its Nollywood here) called A Serious Mistake about a guy who goes to Europe to make his fortune. It’s complete with cavorting witch doctors who help his brother steal all the money he sends home. Eventually, the hero returns wearing a snappy suit and sunglasses and all is well.

Elmina, Coconut Grove

More blistering speed trials as my taxi thunders to Elmina. Streets stacked with huge rusty truck engines, heaps of not exactly shining wheels, stalls loaded with taxi sign prisms and miles of cocoa plantations. This is the home of Cadbury’s chocolate. Flat scenery at last becomes typically equatorial fringed velvet hills. Tin roofs give way to palm thatch. And my head is finally beginning to clear. The sun comes out and I glimpse glistening waves in the distance. Africa is redeeming herself.

The south of Ghana is more prosperous and has fewer potholes. There are road signs, place names, directions and even some tourists.

Coconut Grove Resort has manicured gardens, a swimming pool and assorted servants waiting to do my bidding (though they have to be summoned from the snooker table to do so). One of the servants, bids a lesser servant fetch me a coconut. Straight off the tree of course. The beach, if not white, is beautiful, suitably lined by the mandatory swaying palms and there is Atlantic surf thundering on rocks. The garden abounds with the usual wildlife, though the lawn mowing goats are accompanied by three horses.

My room has a shower cubicle that’s big enough to hold an orgy. (I should be so lucky).

There are hundreds of weaver bird nests suspended from the palm sky scrapers. When I walk down to breakfast the birds swarm out frantically cheeping, though the waiting buzzards perched on the fronds above are surely much more of a threat. Every day the grass is littered with fallen baskets.

All day on a sunbed by the pool watching solitary Africans balancing loads on their heads along the edge of the crashing surf.

The lizards and I are basking together. I abstain from press-ups though. The monsoon clouds are sitting just to the north of us all the time while the sky over the sea stays blue. Very clever.

Lobster, garlic butter and rice for supper. Tomato paste is offered. And even the TV has upgraded. B list American movies are on offer.

Every night one of the guys brings a flower to my room “to help me sleep well”. As he departs he inquires “is there anything else I can do for you?”

Nothing else to report except that the TV, whilst promising much, has given up the ghost, except for CNN, so I am now an expert on liquid explosives.

The Slave Forts - Elmina and Cape Coast

Jojo is my hire car driver. He has a really smart car with an intact windscreen. So far Jojo has driven carefully, been very polite, not put forward any matrimonial proposals and not made any demands at all for extra money. In fact he has been grateful for what I have given him. I keep resisting the urge to pinch him to make sure he’s real. Today he takes me to see the slave forts at Elmina and Cape Coast.

Elmina was first settled by the Portuguese, the first colonial town in West Africa, after they defeated the Spanish at the Battle of Guinea. The town grew around São Jorge da Mina Castle, Portugal's West African headquarters for trade (there was a lot of gold). The buildings are amongst the oldest in Africa and are amazingly photogenic. Whitewashed, criss-crossed by palms and surrounded by frenetic fishing harbours. Their stories of slavery though are gruesome. By 1479, the Portuguese were transporting slaves from as far away as Beni .

At Cape Coast the castle is a large whitewashed fort built by the Swedish in the 17th century. It was later used by the British as a holding prison for slaves. Inside, there are exhibits on pre-colonial local history, the slave trade and traditional crafts.

The depressingly dark images of humanity evoke emotions reminiscent of visits to Birkenau, Saigon and Hiroshima.

The colonial towns are picturesque and bustling with colourful fishing communities along the harbours. Ants’ nests of painted boats scattered with myriad bright rags of flags and heaps of spiders’ web nets. Kilns and latticed smokers full of small shrivelled silver blobs. Tented huts, bubbling pots, still more foraging goats, and babies in their slings, peeping round their mothers’ shoulders, toes pointing to the sky. All scattered along the mud and slurried rivulets of the lagoon. Decorated boats glide in carnival procession to unload wriggling baskets and the quay is ankle deep in slithering clay coloured life of all kinds. The button on my camera is working harder than it ever has before. Magic.

Seeking out reading matter I forage in the local bookshops. There is very little to choose from. Biblical tracts and school text books. I say I would like a story book. Then the girl unearths a battered copy of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. “Have you read this one?”


A very long day trip across the south coast of Ghana to the border with Cote D’Ivoire. A string of classic picture postcard beaches, a sea of rubber plantations and a lazy trip through rainforest backwaters in a dug out canoe. Well, a leaking rowboat that is paddled. We have to bail out with half a plastic basin. But it is still idyllic. Warm (the sun has stayed with me ever since I hit the south), tranquil. Green lily pads dotted with white spiky heads and dragonflies bobbing. Skimming across a lagoon to the 400-year old stilt village in Lake Tadane, (Nzulezu is an Nzema word meaning ‘surface of water’.)

The occupants are mainly sprawled across the decking “sleeping”. The chief “answers our questions” but is clearly only interested in “donations for the school”. The school is in much better shape than the ones in Bolga. The blackboard has paint on it.

I’m beginning to think that the tourist industry in Ghana might be worth developing, but Africa is consistently ready to shoot itself in the foot. A series of police barricades, the officials blatantly seeking bribes as they discover or manufacture minor driving offences. Jojo is allowed through all morning but one officer, unbeknownst to me, confiscates his photocopied driving licence. On the return journey we are twice detained. In the first instance I feign a lack of understanding as a smiling face asks if we are carrying “refreshments for our trip”. After a few minutes he gives up and lets us go.

The second instance is much more serious as the policeman is giving a prison warder impersonation. At first I leave Jojo to deal with it, but he clearly cannot and is becoming distraught. He is being threatened with court, simply because he does not have his licence. The policeman keeps disappearing with his documents threatening to “process him”. He clearly wants money but I am damned if I’m coughing up to this po faced bully.

Waiting it out isn’t working and Jojo is beside himself, so I pursue the guy with my pen and notepad, catch him actually counting his bounty from the last victim and request his name and number. “Why do you want it?” his accomplice asks. “To give to my friends in Accra” I improvise wildly. He stomps to his “office”. “I’ll deal with you in a moment.” Their hut door bangs shut. Then it opens again and the documents emerge. I tell Jojo to get the car out of there–quick. He is very impressed. So am I. And a bit shaken. For all I know they could have carted us off and locked us up.

My last night at Coconut Grove, so I decide to reprise the lobster. Lobster is finished. Oh well. Gordon’s Spark then.

Back to Accra, Capital of Ghana

To Accra. The pyramids of produce piled by the road still changing, green oranges to yams to coconuts to pineapples. Baskets of eggs are flourished hopefully. The prosperous roads in the south of Ghana turn out to be a blip around Cape Coast and potholes and road construction are the order of the day till we hit the traffic jams of Accra. On the way we meet a procession trailing car engine parts and beating on drums. They all wear football strip and are dribbling balls. it's the funeral of a football player.

Jojo’s halo slips a little. He has brought his business plan and is plainly disappointed by his tip even, though according to his business plan, I have already given him double his monthly salary in extras this week.

After all my adventures the Shangri La is plusher than I remember. Maybe it’s just the comparison with everywhere else in Ghana. The frogs are out in force again. They sing along to the band and there is even a small one nestled on my doorstep. The staff are still pretty rude though. The blue sky is playing hide and seek. It’s just about warm enough to sit by the swimming pool. Ten cats wait hopefully under the table while I eat. And so the Bolga Diary comes to an end.

Read more about Ghana here.

Friday - Planning for Ouagadougou

I’ve been planning to go to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso this weekend. How can you not go to a place with a name like that? Bolgatanga, where I'm working in Ghana, is close to the Burkina border. Mark, my Paga expedition companion, is keen to come too. Driver Dremani offers to take me there. Great, that will save a lot of hassle. But Dremani thinks Mark needn’t come now. I say he will be disappointed if he doesn’t. Dremani stomps off in a sulk.

Saturday, too early - The (Potholed) Road to Ouagadougou

Well, Ouagadougou is still happening. Mark deems it prudent to send me a text message at 4a.m. to check that this is so. Then he turns up with a sulking Dremani at 7.30. It’s like travelling with pair of small spoiled children. They expect to be fed, watered, and supplied with chewing gum and to listen to the radio at full blast. The passing scenery holds no interest for them at all as we roller coaster through at 90 miles an hour, huge potholes notwithstanding.

Crossing the Burkina Faso Border with No ID

It emerges that my companions' sole ID consists of Dremani’s driving license between them. I am flabbergasted as they manage to inveigle their way through two frontier posts. At the first, the Ghanaians just laugh at them. In Burkina Faso they are momentarily at a loss when the official instructs them to “Parler seulement francais ici”. They aren’t the only ones momentarily at a loss as I start grubbing around for my school girl French. "Related tribe to Dremani's," they explain as he waves them through, smiling, whilst I’m still filling in visa forms and paying out 25 dollars.

Despite the belligerence of the immigration officials only 15% of the population actually speaks French on a regular basis. There are 59 native languages spoken in Burkina, with the most common language, Mooré, spoken by roughly 50% of Burkinabé.

The countryside in Burkina is pretty and dotted with picture postcard villages - clusters of thatched rondavels. It’s even poorer than Ghana,

Burkina Faso, Land of Honest Men - in a Nutshell

  • Burkina Faso is a relatively new country.
  • For most of its history, this area was occupied by a series of overlapping kingdoms.
  • It was integrated into French West Africa during the colonial scramble.
  • Discontent led to its secession, still under French rule, as Upper Volta (because of its location on that river), in 1919. It was renamed Burkina Faso (Land of Honest Men), at independence in 1984.
  • Its citizens are known as Burkinabè.
  • Gold is the main export. Burkina Faso is also one of Africa’s largest producers of cotton.

Ougadougou, the Capital of Burkina Faso

  • Ouagadougou is the capital of Burkina Faso, home to over two million people and one of the oldest cities in the world.
  • It is named after Wubri, a Yonyonse hero and an important figure in Burkina Faso's history and is actually called Wage Sabre Soba Koumbem Tenga, meaning "Head War Chief's Village".
  • Ouagadougou is the French rendition, often shortened to Ouaga.
  • The inhabitants are called Ouagalais.

Exploring Ouagadougou

Ouagadougou is not nearly as exciting as its name; it’s  dilapidated and frenetic. Dremani insists on taking me to “the hotel where manager Nich stayed”. It’s seedy and expensive, but it has a pool and I capitulate. Peace beckons. But no, they want lunch. They want help finding lodgings. They don’t understand the language. This despite the fact that Dremani has been chatting to all his tribal compatriots in the local dialect, Mossi.

I find them a cheap hotel but the rooms here only have double beds. No, Dremani will not sleep with Mark. He wants to sleep well. I look at the menu and calculate their food bill and lodging for 24 hours, give them money and tell them to go away and meet me tomorrow. So much easier, despite the fact I was hoping for a male escort round the town. It would have been helpful, as I’m accosted every step of the way by Ouagalais wanting to sell a postcard, or guide me to an amazing sight.

Exploring Ougadougou

And, as always, there are adventures to be had. There’s a wedding on at the Hotel de Ville, so I sneak in for a look brandishing my camera and hoping that all the gorgeous folk in their glittering finery will think I’m an official photographer. It’s French chic African style with huge diaphanous hats. The largest mamas, dotted around the crowd, are exchanging soprano conversations.

The swimming pool calls and I seem to have completed my sightseeing - the few dusty boulevards that are the excitement that Ouaga has to offer. Ouagadougou did have one of West Africa's largest markets, but it burned down in 2003. The National Museum of Burkina Faso is shut. I spot another agama about to embark on its exercise programme on a wall. Focussing my lens on it I am startled by the animated conversation of two army officers. The wall happens to be part of the army office. Fortunately, they just gesture that I should go away, so I sidle off before I am arrested.

One benefit of Ouaga is that it has French restaurants. A really good dinner in a tranquil garden belonging to a restaurant run by nuns. Duck with mangoes, dauphinoise potatoes (well sort of) and no tomato paste. Yum.

Sunday in Burkina Faso

I feel I should venture out once more just to check that I have seen all Ouaga has to offer. I regret this almost instantly as I am besieged by “bonjours” on all sides. Nevertheless, I steadfastly ignore all greetings and the ensuing catcalls and jeering and check out some hotels that are nicer than mine.

Then I lose my bearings trying to cut back to the centre of town. None of the streets have signs in this area and it is one vast open dusty stretch. I manage to work out my position using my map and realise that I am right in the middle of the area highlighted by Lonely Planet Burkina Faso as being a mugging risk. Oh good. An even quicker clip back to the hotel pool. My foster children arrive at two. Dremani’s expression now would curdle milk. He cannot bring himself to offer a greeting and glowers the whole way back to Bolgatanga. So much for cheap hassle free travel.

Accra, The Capital of Ghana

I’m meeting Georgie, the very gorgeous young and confident founder and director of charity Afrikids. I’ve said I’ll come out to Ghana and see whether I can do anything to help in the schools that they work with. I don’t know too much about the organisation. I’ve been too busy to find out. My sister Catherine’s firm are major sponsors and that was how I got to hear about their work initially. Minor panic as Georgie doesn’t appear to be waiting at the aeroplane gate. I wonder if I could possibly have got the wrong date in all my rush. But she arrives on the plane, together with Andy, very young enthusiastic whizz kid and new strategic manager. The flight is uneventful.

Accra is typically tropical, steamy and musty. I fall asleep, the  room  resonating to the sound of a croaking bull frog chorus. Some quick sight seeing. The main tourist attraction in Accra is the beach. Otherwise its monuments mausoleums and museums. The Kwame Nkrumah Park, manages to combine all three. Adjacent, Independence (or Black Star) Square is the other place to take your camera. The Gate sports a black star commissioned by Nkrumah to represents Africa in general, as well as Ghana itself. It represents the country/continent's supreme power to control its own affairs.


Well, we booked flights north to Tamale on the Citylink website, but someone forgot to tell the website that they don’t fly on Wednesdays anymore. Fortunately, Amtrak can fit us in along with the Norwegian Rescue Mission contingent who are mainly from Liberia. The terrain changing from dry coastal savanna to grey-green rainforest to flat lush bush, wet season velvet green. as we fly north.

The Afrikids pick-up and a beaming driver, Dremani, waiting to take us the last stretch to Bolga (short for Bolgatanga), the hub of the Afrikids projects.


Countless introductions: Nich the Ghanaian director and operations manager at his office in the new Afrikids Academy, Sebastian the academy manager and teacher at the ICT suite there, (The roof has only just been replaced after the recent storms blew it off), Freddy/Felix (everyone has an English name and an African name) the manager of the Next Generation Children’s Home (NGH) for orphans and street children, (abandoned, sick, abused, raped and other horrific stories, a menagerie of children grinning and anxious to say hello, dragging me off on a tour of their dormitories, round faced Timothy who’s 16, struggling to read, but desperate to try, and Mamma Laadi presiding proudly over her foster home.

Mamma Laadi's Foster Home

Mamma Laadi is now in her third house, brand new and beautifully sited with amazing views over farmland. She was originally found in one room with 14 children she had taken off the street sick. She now has 30. As we arrive they all shove gently, wanting to be the ones to take our bags and show us round. Little doe eyed Joseph is uncharacteristically quiet today. He’s recovering from another bout of malaria.

Everyone loves Mamma Laadi's cooking. Rice balls, chicken and spicy groundnut sauce (they call it soup here).

Where to Sleep in Bolgatanga, Ghana?

Georgie and Andy are staying at the "in" place in Bolgatanga. “Comme ci Comme ca” lives up to its name and dinner takes an hour to arrive. Small red snappers and rice. They don’t have a room for me; a party of missionaries are in town. I can hear their very loud, very American, very sanctimonious voices at the next table. My lodgings, however, are the best in Bolga. Hot water and patterned sheets, top and bottom. But they are out in the sticks and the manager is very surly. I decide I probably won’t stay long, but am wasting my time deliberating. The Minster of Health is coming to town and has commandeered the house. Playing the King in four and twenty blackbirds, peering over his stacks of cash, Surly informs that I’m to be evicted in two days.

Currency in Ghana

Dremani has changed me some money - a hundred pounds. At 16,500 Ghana cedis to the pound I’m handed fat wads so large, I have to get a carrier bag to transport them.


We tour a number of projects. Fresh starts for girls who have been rescued from various indescribably awful situations. Some have depicted their previous lives on poignant videos. Now they are apprentice hairdressers and sewing machinists. There is also a micro finance project – a homestead in round mud huts near the soft green hills of Tongo. Goats are important. One goat will buy a year of schooling for a child. Three calves will buy a wife. The Single Mothers Association is also pitching for cash.


More projects in Sirigu, another northerly village famed for its art and pottery. Recklessly, I travel in the back of the pick up. The work experience boys have woven bright pink plastic patterned seats to bounce on, my head clearing the metal roof frame by a fraction. Dremani expertly weaves in and out of the potholes and I get an instant face lift as we tear up the road.

The homesteaders here are again pitifully poor. Their cylindrical grain stores are perched over a slurry of mud pools. A pair of grizzled patriarchs wearing hand tanned skins and wielding huge rusty machetes appear for yet more pictures. There are two small babies with moonfaced unceasing grins. They are triplets; their sister was too small and died. Afrikids is supplying millet porridge as basic food. Still they insist on presenting us with a large dish of guinea fowl eggs. A women’s basket weavers collective. Another riot of colour and gentle camaraderie.

And I’m beginning to think that Afrikids is linked to every single project I’ve seen advertised in Bolga. Georgie and Andy are very impressive in action. Very focussed, very objective driven, whilst still very compassionate.

The Schools of Bolgatanga - Bright Academy

Then to my first school, Bright Academy. It’s even more basic than I had expected. Open classrooms, another roof being replaced, canes and cauldrons, wooden benches, bare concrete walls and floors and painted blackboards. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice meets David Copperfield. The children are delightful, a mix of fee payers and street children. Beautifully behaved, they wear purple check pinafores and sing “We are happy to see you”. The excited headteachers are a partnership called Moses and Timothy.

The Schools of Bolgatanga - Zuarangu School

Another day, another school. Zuarangu School is right out in the rural area and is surrounded by a number of small projects. Families are granted loans or gifts to breed goats, or produce shea butter from peanuts. The homesteads are afloat with millet drying, guinea fowl and chicks racing in tiny flocks round tin pots. The homesteaders are grateful and keen to talk and demonstrate what they can do. The children rush out of school to pose for pictures in doorways.

The teachers eat jollof rice (tomato paste risotto) from bowls in the nursery whilst the children mill around. The youngest loll on their benches. The food is cooked in an empty classroom over a hastily constructed charcoal fire. The cauldron is carried into the playground. The nursery teacher hands out bowls and they eat with their fingers.

Pastor Charles and I are drawing up school plans. They are very excited about a planned computer suite. But they haven’t got electricity yet. There is another thunderstorm and the sky is so black I can’t see what I’m writing. Playing a scene straight out of Dandy a teacher is pursuing a child round the courtyard swishing at him with a cane. Later the head teacher, Timotei turns up. He has been suffering with malaria and looks as if he should still be in bed. The children have notes to take home telling their parents how to prevent and treat bilharzia. Most of them have it already.

They are taking their tests here too. At least they are running around screwing up bits of paper. I cause a Mexican wave as I walk round, as pupils rise to say good morning every time I go by. The nursery children all chorus “happy to see you, happy to meet you” relentlessly. Their teacher is working hard, lying on a bench with a blanket round her. I take an impromptu science lesson but the chalk won’t work.

Catherine has sponsored two sisters called Cynthia and Cecilia. They are extracted from their classes to say hello and topple out, shy, bewildered and beautiful. Then we go to visit them in their homestead. Catherine has sent frilly white tops for them. They look gorgeous but they don’t have skirts and I try to focus on their top halves as they pose for pictures in their knickers.

Planning Teacher Training Part I

Now, I have been round to see all the classes. Nich wants me to train all the teachers together but I’m beginning to feel incredibly daunted. They work so hard and have so little. There are a few battered text books and the children write in tatty exercise books. Some classes sit on the floor. Some of the younger ones just use fibreboard slates. Anything they practice reading has to be copied. The children are very polite and can hardly be heard even when they answer questions. The teachers’ knowledge is variable. The teachers straight from high school are totally untrained. Many English words are spelled incorrectly. One guy is teaching fractions totally wrong. He gets to set the exam paper so perhaps it doesn’t matter? The report cards are small single side tick box affairs. The test papers are full of grammatical errors and inaccurate information.

The gap between teaching here and in the UK is just huge. How to begin without demoralising everyone utterly? I’m trying to talk to Nich about the planned teacher training. It’s on Wednesday. How will it be organised? What do they want? Nich says he won’t be there on Wednesday, do what I like.

The School of Night Rabbits

Next, another project, evening classes for the street children. They have been begging or working in the streets all day. Diminutive, ragged and rheumy they recite the alphabet and spell orally, their backs to the board to test their memory. The one flickering fluorescent tube is dim and they are tired, but they all concentrate amazingly.

There is a debate over what to call the newly formed school. It has been christened The School of Hard Knocks, but we all think that something more optimistic is called for. Georgie wants an animal name so that the children will remember it. but the suggested owls are not deemed to be wise in Africa. Rabbits are the clever animals it seems, so the school is rebranded as The School of Night Rabbits.

A bucket of round green oranges is passed along. David, a medic and volunteer attends to the children’s many sores. They sit patiently, enjoying the attention and not even flinching when the purple iodine goes on. Then they troop off, back to the streets to sleep where they can.

Life in Bolga

Bolga sprawls unexpectedly, like an American frontier town. Well, its not that far from Ghana's northern border, with Burkina Faso. It 's a proliferation of painted signs announcing different missions and charities and projects.

I wander into town, attempting to get my bearings at last. There are countless small grimy booths and little braziers carrying scorched maize cobs on the litter strewn streets, brilliant bright basket stalls and the most amazing inside out conical straw hats. The people are wretchedly poor and desperate to sell. Goats are ubiquitous and each brazier has one chewing at the discarded husks. Their kids frisk around on the roads bleating loudly. Each business has its own hand painted sign. Never Be The Same haircuts. My Way and Sons Enterprises. The people have huge friendly eyes and strong high cheek bones. Most carry tribal razor slash markings. Their costumes are cheerful eye catching headscarves, kaftans and sarongs. Nearly everyone has a smile and a greeting as I walk past.

Brightly coloured statues of saints and biblical figures surround much of the town. No-one knows why Moses (the statue that is) is sporting a pair of horns.

Bolga Market

The market is an amazing whirl of activity, dotted with beneficiaries of Afrikids. Two small boys in checked shirts pursue us stealthily, their heads peeking into the corner of every photo we take. Rows of beans balanced in rosy Jenga like towers, brown shredded puti, (essential for the local liquor), round balls of goat droppings, (prized for adding flavour to the local soups) and wedges of tobacco. This is a new enterprise for the concoctions doctor, a sort of local pharmacist, his major occupation previously was murdering children judged to be inhabited by spirits.

The grain areas are really interesting, full of women endlessly raining basins into one other from on high. Although I have been warned that they won’t like photos, after a while they are jostling to have their pictures taken, striking poses for me and giggling. Market day is a moveable feast but takes place roughly every three days, a maze of stalls and bodies, women balancing huge metal bowls on their heads with poise and elegance. The bowls contain everything from sewing machines to precarious castles of guinea fowl eggs. The women are casually confident and rarely even use their arms to steady their loads. More goat droppings and some evil smelling piles of dried fish. Really nice flip flops at 50p a pair. And I buy rather too many of the gorgeous hats and baskets. I’m not sure how on earth I’m going to get them all home.

The Next Generation Home (NGH)

Up to the NGH to hear Timothy read . (My scooter man appeared in the nick of time.) When I arrive Timothy’s busy helping to skin a cow. The carcase is draped on the ground and all the boys are hacking at it. He goes to wash the blood off his hands before he can touch his book.

A small group gathers to watch. He doesn’t seem to mind. And then the rain starts again. It’s so noisy as it clatters on to the tin roof that I can hardly hear him speak. I'ts six o clock and I realise I haven’t had lunch yet. The rain has stopped cascading off the roof in waterfalls and turned into “English rain” as the locals call it. I venture out trying to leap over the newly formed rivers and cascades that are swirling through the red mud of the streets. I buy a large black plastic bag and tear a hole to put over my head. It covers me and my bag nicely to the amusement of the few brave folk outside.

Where to Sleep in Bolgatanga, Ghana Part II

Nich has found me a room at the Christian Mission. No he hasn’t. The occupants are still there. And so I end up at the other end of town. Estate Country, in the Balungu Princess (Annexe)

Admiring my new room. The toilet seat has come apart and the mattress is disappearing into the floor. Well it’s home, but not for long. At breakfast the owner tells me that the house is fully booked from Monday.

Nich takes me out in the pick up to look for somewhere else to stay. We view an endless assortment of shabby little rooms. Some are gloomy and depressing. Hot water is non existent. All are full in any case. There are numerous conventions on – missionaries, doctors. Nich finally remembers a “hotel” near the centre of town. Hallelujah! They have rooms and I am promised one for Monday.

A quick dinner in the All People’s Canteen. Though I’m the solitary diner tonight. Ground rice balls, spicy groundnut sauce and roast guinea fowl. Only lukewarm, but tasty and good value at about 80p. Now it’s dark and there are no street lights. My place is a mile out of town and I’m told it’s safe to walk alone. I collide with a large moving shape. It’s a pig frolicking. They emerge from the sewers, their usual home, to enjoy their favourite weather. Then I find a very large puddle, up to my knees. At least I hope it’s a puddle. I eventually arrive drenched. The kind owners boil me up big pails of hot water “to stop me shivering”. It’s thirty five degrees. But it’s great to wash my hair and to have a welcome cup of tea.

Paga, Ghana

I sleep fitfully. The air con has given up and the fan has five speeds that are all supersonic. It’s like camping in a hurricane. The foam mattress is leaning crazily at forty degrees. Outside they have been sweeping up water till late. The dogs have been joining in. Early in the morning they meet for a smoke and a discussion outside my window. This is succeeded by the strains of the Gospel Choir shepherding in Sunday. Thirty percent of the population here are Christian.

With Mark, the caretaker from the NGH to visit Paga, a town on the border with Burkino Faso. We travel luxuriously by taxi. The windscreen is a spidersweb of cracks. The driver navigates by one wing mirror and the exhaust continuously threatens to part company with the car. White Woman in Town is quickly joined by a host of would be guides.

We see an “ancient village” full of archaeological finds and some distinctive geometric black and white patterned walls. Then a slave fort complete with drumming on the entertainment rocks and punishment demonstrations. I nearly fall out of a tree trying to get up to the look out rock to do a lion king impersonation. The countryside spreads out for miles beyond,  flat, pea green and bestrewn with rusty rocks.

The highlight is a visit to the chief’s sacred crocodile pond. The locally told origin of the pond was that (600 years ago) a crocodile brought a dying man to the pond to drink, After surviving he declared the pond to be sacred and that no harm should come to the crocodiles. ] It is said that the souls of the people of Paga resides in these crocodiles, so they are protected. Tame (ish) Nile crocodiles are tempted out of the water with dead chickens. Laughing Ghanaians tweak their tails and pose for the camera. I bravely take the pictures.

Lunch is chicken in a tomato spicy soup (I search carefully for signs of droppings). The fowl were provided by Joe, the Sirigu project manager. These are less tough than most and the flesh can be hacked off the bones. Every meal so far has featured oily red tomato paste in some form.

Where to Sleep in Bolgatanga, Ghana Part II

So back to my next dwelling. Moving down the AA scale the Azonsolum is maybe a minus one star. I’m not looking too closely. There’s definitely no hot water and what there is, is very brown. I’m in room number 18. Another door in my room is labelled 19. A suite? No it’s the balcony. The manager tells me I’m lucky my phone works. When I want to change the channel on the TV I can phone down and tell them and they’ll alter it for me from Reception. I wonder how I’ll know what’s on so I can choose, but no problem. They can’t get any of the channels at the moment.

I decide a Gordon’s Spark on my balcony is called for. Reminiscent of Aquavit but gin laced and pretty potent. A jolly good 50p worth.

Arranging Teacher Training in Ghana

A head banger of a morning spent talking to the proprietors of Zuarangu School (ZS) and the Bright Academy. Each school has a proprietor and a headteacher - American system. I had arranged with Nich to see Pastor Charles of ZS at 10. He was to be asked to come over to the Bright Academy. He arrives at my lodging at 8.30. We discuss training. Georgie had told me that the teachers are very keen for training and will happily give up their holidays if necessary. Nich said that school finishes in mid August. They both say it is now school exam week and it will be easy to release teachers. I say this is very different to the UK where teachers are tired at the end of term, have reports to write and just want a holiday. They say it is.

Pastor Charles tells me that term in Ghana finishes on August 3rd. After that the teachers go home. Many will not be able to train as they have to stay at home and help on the land. That gives us eight days. He says maybe three or four of those, but transport will be a problem. Only if they can resolve transport. Headteacher Timotei is unwell. He’s not sure where he is or when he’s coming back. Maybe malaria. Charles tells me he is the ‘assemble man’, he’s been voted to lead the whole community. Status seems to be a major incentive for Charles. Ok, status. I tell him all about my job and how important it is and exaggerate all the money I earn.

“Ah” he says. “Rather like a consultant.”
“I am a consultant”
“Well in that case we are blessed to have you”

Pastor Thomas is not at Bright Academy. No-one has told him I’m coming. He and headteacher Moses were expecting training during the holidays. Maybe one day a week? It is very difficult to release the teachers during the day. They have to teach. They have to mark the test papers. They have to fill in report cards. They are very tired. Only three teachers are staying on anyway. Well, maybe the ones who are leaving can cover whilst we just train those three? No we’re not telling them they’re leaving till the end of term. We’re interviewing now. Will they get certificates? There is more incentive if they get certificates. Maybe four days on afternoons next week.

They heads tell me that they and the teachers all get paid the same amount. Thirteen pounds sterling a month.

I head of in search of my own jollof lunch. No jollof in the hotel kitchen (two fires here). Instead fried plantain and beans and more cold leathery chicken in tomato paste. Too early for a Gordon’s Spark?

There's a staff dinner in the evening, a buffet: all the different types of tomato paste and leather chicken at one sitting, spicy fish and sweet yam balls. I've found a dress to wear but the humidity is wreaking havoc on my hair. I look like something out of the fifties. Some of the men are wearing their best outfits, great thick woven kaftan tops that flare out in whirls like mini dervishes as they walk.

Georgie weaves her magic, aided by a large dose of directorial authority. Moses and Thomas demand to see me “in private”.

“Sue we will work with you all day every day. Sue we appreciate you so much. Sue we love you.”

Moses has been drinking the local tipple. Malta Guinness spiked with strawberry liqueur.

Back inside Dremani is disappointed that I won’t marry him. He wants to love a white lady. But will I go dancing with him anyway?

Teaching Computing

Up at the Afrikids Academy to watch Sebastian teach computing. But Sebastian sneaks off and I’m left taking the class instead. I  have never used the Paint programme before and am  diving into Help, hoping the students can’t see me. I write a report on Sebastian’s teaching using my laptop. Just as I finish there is a power cut and I lose the lot.

Where to Sleep in Bolgatanga, Ghana Part IV

And I’ve actually unpacked for the first time. I have finally moved into Comme Ci and am assured I can stay here till I leave. The missionaries have gone. Another lot have arrived but I’ve squeaked in alongside them. Another lunch and another hour's wait for it. I have just realised that the drink mats aren’t mats at all. They’re to put on top of the glasses to stop the flies falling in.

My hot water idyll didn’t last long. I hopped into the shower to find there was a distinct lack of wetness. The woman next door got my water instead. All over her bedroom floor. The guy on hotel reception won’t get it repaired. He’s sulking because I told him I won’t take him to England with me. I’ve lost count of my marriage proposals now. A student with a scooter keeps popping up to give me lifts round town.

As usual when I travel, my hotel room has become a veritable menagerie. There’s a huge vicious looking millipede undulating across the floor and the whining mosquitoes are ever present, waiting their chance. A tiny gecko is hiding behind the wardrobe. I can just see five scaly pressure pad fingers twitching. A pair of purple and orange agama lizards are doing press-ups on the wall outside the bathroom. Weaver birds are warning me away from their basket nests. Little iridescent blue birds are cautiously curious and a gorgeous scarlet version of a sparrow swoops by. Over in the compound the buzzards are pacing as if they were waiting outside an operating theatre. A discreet distance from them the goats enjoy scattering the guinea fowl and hens. Swallowtails and amber dragonflies shimmer in and out of the scene.

Back to Comme Ci in the pitch black. I have decided it’s too hairy walking at night. A torch was one of the many things I forgot to bring. It’s bad enough during the day trying to dodge all the bikes, goats, pigs, donkeys, chickens and taxis. At night the only illumination is the scattering of smouldering oil lamps on the street stalls. There are great swathes of rural land between blocks of buildings and these are eerily quiet. Not many of the bikes have lamps and the roads are lined with open sewers. I’m terrified I shall disappear into one. Guys in bars hiss to attract attention, so it’s red alert the whole way. Where is my motor bike student when I need him?

Once, in my room I decide to try the TV. There are seventy or so channels but I can only find the same two programmes repeated whatever the channel number. One is a documentary on the slave trade. The other is a succession of excruciatingly bad Nigerian soap operas (Nollywood). No wonder the English in the schools isn’t so hot. Nerinda Looses Love (sic). Each one has a sponsorship logo so large it covers half the screen. Shocko!

A Weekend in Burkina Faso

See Burkina Faso

Training Day 1

A little apprehensive today… I’m finally going to do some training this afternoon.  I'm not sure how many people are attending, how it will be organised or worst of all, whether they will be able to understand me. My stomach is twitching. It’s been a little graunchy ever since I arrived but some sort of fight has been taking place in my gut this weekend. It’s not really surprising considering the washing up arrangements. Plates are rinsed in cold water and little washing up liquid if you’re lucky. The same goes for cutlery. Because everyone eats with their fingers it’s traditional to perch a small washing up bowl and a bottle of liquid detergent on each table. And however religiously I scrub my palms I can guarantee that as soon as I step out the door someone will be enthusiastically greeting and wanting to shake hands.

Ghana is feeling like hard work at the moment. Everything happens at the last minute. I arrange my own chairs. Sebastian finds notebooks. Pens, though ordered, do not appear. “The teachers will have to manage” they say.

The training goes quite well. The 30 teachers are very well behaved compared to English teachers. One has brought a baby who lies quietly on the floor. The Ghana local education officer is there. All and sundry say they will drop in to get some tips. They all demand handouts. And certificates. The register is completed twice. Once with the names they use every day and once when they realise that the list is for the certificates and they should use their official names. They have trouble with my accent and the rain pelting on the roof doesn’t help. I spend most of the time shouting about how to manage good discipline. I’m trying to convince them to abandon the cane, but Moses jumps up and interrupts.

“We only use it to frighten them with, so it’s okay”.

I fetch the refreshment Fanta drinks from the fridge but it turns out these are not ours. Sebastian was “waiting” to go and buy them. 'First come, first served,' I say. I have learned.

My last chance to visit Bolga Market. I buy two skirts for Cynthia and Cecilia for a pound each and four packets of biscuits for the teachers for £1.50.

I have a little pile of addresses on torn bits of paper. Every child wants to be my friend and every adult my sister. Autograph hunting or a desperate wish to find a way to the UK?

Training Day 2

Day 2 of the training. No rain today but instead a radio blaring from the little village next door. The teachers did really well considering how much they knew before. Assessment for learning is now alive and kicking in Africa. Cultural differences are awkward for me to grapple with. I’ve remembered to avoid owls but Task Teddies don’t go down well either. “What’s a teddy?” Rabbits are again the preferred option though rabbit tasks doesn’t have quite the same ring or connotations. And I demonstrate using the task of writing instructions as I always do in England. Except that here making a cup of tea begins with the direction “first set the fire”. Have been trying to show how to write specific simple learning objectives. “It isn’t easy being easy!” says one guy.

A minor complaint that the teachers were hungry as they had not had time for lunch. I have asked Nich to get them meat pies tomorrow. And I’m not sure where they’re going to the toilet. There isn’t one at the Academy. I nip round the corner and five minutes away to the local church. I've decided they must be using the village maize patch as no-one seems to disappear for very long.

When it comes to drinking water out of plastic bags I am still a beginner. I wish I could master the art of biting the corner off without getting totally splattered.

I have decided to leave on Saturday. School term finishes on Thursday and it’s not the most exciting social life I’ve ever had. Me and the Ghana TV or the man selling hats at Comme Ci. I’ve managed to book myself some hotels found on the internet and a bit of travel to the coast. I hope the weather behaves, I think the rainy season has finished in the south.

Training Day 3

Everyone’s still turning up for training, but they’re beginning to feel tired now. I get them doing some mime and lighter stuff. Not meat pies, but cream crackers. And my sweet biscuits go down well. I'm not sure if folk are hungry or just plain selfish, but I have to prevent them taking too many. They don’t seem to care if there’s none left for anyone else. And yes they are using the maize patch. I start to take photos and end up, like the school photographer, doing the whole class. I have promised to send everyone a print.

And the best thing on TV tonight is an old World Cup soccer match – Netherlands v Cote D’Ivoire from Stuttgart. It says 'live' at the top of the screen.

Day 4 Training

The final training day. I realise that it isn’t a lot of different women turning up each day, but the same women wearing different wigs. I present certificates to everyone and they have their photos taken again receiving their certificates. It’s going to take forever to print all this off when I get back. They also have their photos taken altogether inside and outside, patting their own backs and giving thumbs up signs. I have my photo taken putting on the blue stripey kaftan they gave me at every stage of dressing and undressing. Fortunately, over the top of what I am wearing. They all write really lovely evaluations and that is it. Quite emotional really.

I give Sebastian money for the schools to have copies of my ring bindered book as they are anxious that the colour copy won’t get shared equitably. Worryingly, given any budget issue the schools’ attitudes seem always to be” who will give us the money?” rather than “how can we raise it?”

Last Day in Bolga

A whimper rather than a bang. A final meeting with the gang from the Bright Academy. They promise to try to become more self financing and to stop using the cane. A last walk up to the Afrikids Academy. I donate my shoes to a lady in a shop who asks for them. They’re only old black slip ons. The streets are very quiet now all the children are on holiday.

So back to Comme Ci and half an hour with my receptionist friend, who can’t add up the bill properly. All the while my stomach is going ballistic. The teachers kept giving me little titbits to eat yesterday. It’s hard to refuse. Pastor Charles was coming for a final meeting at three, but he hasn’t shown up. At least I can lie down. But not for long. I spend the rest of the evening vomiting.

And now I really have seen everything. Nigerian Big Brother - they seem to have missed the point rather. It isn’t really about how they get on with each other at all, but more about very complex individual competitive tasks. And they have visitors in the house - TV stars. At 8 o’clock Pastor Charles arrives, only 5 hours late. And I’m still chucking up. It's definitely a whimpering day. Peter Lilley is making a flying visit to the Ghana projects on Sunday and will stay in my room. Good luck to him!

Tomorrow a bus to Kumasi and the Coast

(Read more about Ghana here.)

Newsletter Subscription

Stay in touch. Get travel tips, updates on my latest adventures and posts on out of the way places, straight to your Inbox.

I keep your data private and only share your data with third parties that make this service possible. Privacy Policy. No spam I promise. Unsubscribe any time.