Trip to Kumasi, Palace Museum

Sunday, August 13, 2017
Kumasi, Ashanti Region, Ghana
Today seemed to be a day of things going not quite the way we had planned. Sadly, my limited experience in this part of the world has led me to the understanding that such occurrences are not at all unusual…
After a good night’s sleep we all met down in the restaurant for breakfast at 7 am. Then came our first challenge. Our van and driver were supposed to be here at 9 am to take us up to Kumasi. But about 7:15 the main driver and owner of the business called to say the man who has driven us around the last few days is too sick with malaria to take us to Kumasi. I feel badly for him, and I certainly don’t want a man too sick to pay good attention to the road behind the wheel, but at the same time it does put us in a bind because we have a schedule to keep.
No problem, he says, he’ll bring another car and driver, or perhaps find another van and will let me know. About 20 minutes later he calls back to say he is coming with two cars, and he would like me to drive one and follow him up to Kumasi. We can get everyone in two cars.
Getting the people in is not a problem, it is our luggage. We can’t fit it all in the trunk (boot) of the two small Toyota’s he has there. So he takes off for about 30 minutes and returns with a larger SUV. I’ll drive the small Corolla, and he’ll drive the larger SUV. All fits in and we are off, probably 45 minutes late. But no worries, we’ll be fine.
The next challenge came at the very first police checkpoint we come to, where we are both stopped. I’m asked to open the boot, and then show him my license. I’ve checked, and a US license is valid in Ghana, but the policeman takes my license and says it is not valid. Our driver called his contact at the license bureau and he confirms that my license is good for the first 30 days I’m in Ghana. If I stay longer then I have to get a waiver to go with my license. But the policeman wouldn’t accept it. After 25 minutes or so, our driver talking steadily and calmly, the policeman finally asked me for 200 cedis! An incredible bribe for a policeman to ask! I had 50 in my pocket, and he said it wasn’t enough. I grabbed another 20 and he took it. It is possible that if we had persisted with them, and put them on the phone with the proper authorities we could have been allowed to proceed without paying a bribe. But it also is likely that they would have kept us on the side of the road for 1 or 2 hours or more. So, welcome to corruption Ghana style…
We drove through four or five more police checkpoints before getting to Kumasi, and at every one I cringed wondering what was going to happen. But all of the others smiled and just waived us through cheerfully. So we arrived in Kumasi at the Rexmar Hotel safely, but almost two hours late.
Reuel Dima, our pastor here, was waiting for us. Our rooms were ready, so we unloaded our luggage, I paid our driver, and Reuel got two taxis to take us to the Manhyia Palace Museum. Our driver left the small Toyota with me, and told me to drive it as I wished. But I don’t feel comfortable doing more than I need to in Kumasi traffic, and with the incident of earlier in the day fresh in my mind, I opted for two taxis. (There wasn’t enough room in the seats for us all, so on way Cody sat in the dirty and open back of the small Opal station wagon, and on the way back I did. It was filthy and very uncomfortable, but it worked.
But before we left, Reuel took me aside to let me know that just three days ago the caretaker of the place where we will have the camp, and where we have reserved for the Feast called to say that they are raising our prices! We have an agreement, you can’t do that!! But in Ghana they can, and all-too-often they do. This very thing has happened to us multiple times, primarily for the Feast. We are going to talk with them tomorrow and see what we can do, but at this point we have little choice but to go forward for the camp. The kids will be on their way early in the morning! But there is a very good chance that we will be looking for a new Feast site for this year immediately after camp… Oh, and to boot, we can’t get on camp before 12 noon. Another change to the agreement. It just keeps getting better..
At the museum, the older gentleman who has taken me on a tour in the past has retired, I was sad to learn. He is the author of two of the books I have on Ashanti history, and his tour was detailed and filled with fascinating personal anecdotes. The young man who took us around did a good job, but it wasn’t nearly as detailed and personalized. But it is still a good tour.
Next challenge. We were finished by just after 3:30. Since we’d had no lunch, we all opted for an early dinner. I had bragged up the Home Touch restaurant with its brick-fired pizzas, so we asked our taxis to take us there. I don’t know exactly where the restaurant is located, because every taxi I’ve been in, when I mention the place they all know it and drive straight there. These two took us to a place with a similar name that DEFINITELY was not the right place! The pounding music coming from huge columns of speakers was not what any of us wanted. So we ended up having them just take us back to the hotel.
Just as we left I learned that between when we made the reservations and now, this hotel was sold, and they are in the process of doing a lot of renovations – including to the restaurant, which is totally non-functional. For a day of many things going wrong, why not this too?! But the owner offered to take us to a sister hotel not too far away for either a free dinner or free breakfast. Cliff had gotten online and found a nice little Italian restaurant just two kilometers from us for dinner, so we opted for the breakfast.
As we started walking toward a taxi stand, one of the girls saw a sign for the place, “Lil Italy” – so way take a taxi when we can see the sign! As it turned out, the sign wasn’t showing where the place is, rather which road to take, and keep taking, up the hill, around a corner and then to another sign (rusted off its post and sitting in the ditch) that points down a muddy and potholed tiny dirt road. We’ve come this far, so let’s go on. We find it, with the gate closed and locked. Just then a car of foreign nationals drives up also wanting to dine. That was when a man came from inside to tell us the place is closed down. Maybe this is why I so often skip meals in Ghana – it sometimes just isn’t always worth the effort!
As we walked back through the mud, around the corner, down the hill and back to the taxi stand, Cliff mentioned a Chinese restaurant he had seen when we were out earlier. OK, let’s try it. He had to go back over to the hotel to get enough wifi to let his map program find it and give us directions. A man with a pickup offered to drive us for 80 cedis! When I got him talked down to 30 (a little less than $7) he agreed and we piled in. Three of us sat in the front, and the rest sat down in the pickup bed. All in all not terribly uncomfortable – much better than the back of the taxi!
As we started through traffic, Cliff noted the driver was not going the right way, based on his directions. But the driver insisted he knew where the Chinese restaurant was. This one turned out to be the Royal Gardens Chinese Restaurant, which Cliff said was the #1 rated restaurant in Kumasi!
We got a variety of dishes from chicken with cashews, to pineapple chicken, crispy beef, and a couple of dishes with more kick that I avoided. The table had a huge Lazy Susan in the middle, so all the dishes were sat on it, and we turned it around, everyone getting some of everything they wanted! It was an absolutely delicious meal, at least a 4 star, I thought. And it turned out to $17 per person. Expensive for over here, but for what we got, not bad at all. So this unexpected and unplanned twist turned out pretty good, and made up for many of the missteps of the day.
Back at the hotel, we are getting ready now to call it a night. Cliff and Derek want to see a particular soccer match, but with the renovations here they don’t have those channels back on yet. The owner has offered to take them someplace not too far away to watch it, so they may be back late. As for me – the a/c is working (the last night with that for awhile) and we have hot water (last for that for the duration of camp too). So I’m planning to relax, go to bed early, and enjoy a relaxed morning before we get on camp and things start rolling. At least I hope they’ll start rolling the right direction…
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Joel Meeker

I hate the smell of corruption in the morning.... Thinking of you all.

Mary Hendren

Hard to imagine all in one day: bribes, raising rates, changing times, hotel sold, restaurant closed--but in the end you had a good meal. What an adventure.