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Ghana 2008: Nations Cup diary
Vendor by a Ghana flag

The BBC's David Amanor is keeping a diary of his travels around Ghana during the Africa Cup of Nations.

In his latest instalment, he finds some bad-tempered losers and porcupine meat for sale.

FRIDAY 1 FEBRUARY

The Senegalese team has been packing their bags and fans, including a mime artist painted from tip to toe in the national colours and balancing a pot on his head, have come to see them off.

Senegal fan
The pot man remain immobile throughout the match

The pot man has been standing like a statue in the hotel car park for the last few days. Unfortunately I didn't see if he broke his pose to wave goodbye.

He was at the match last night, also immobile - not flinching when the Taranga Lions bowed out of the championships.

But some of his fellow fans at the Kumasi stadium were more bad-tempered.

Just after the game ended, two of them approached me and asked me aggressively if I was from the BBC.

"I want to tell you that the referee is no good. He disallowed us so many free kicks," they shout.

"He also disallowed South Africa a penalty, didn't he?" I respond.

But they are in no mood for debate and I move off.

The organisers should open the gates, and the let the people in for free
Student at Kumasi stadium

A little later when I'm interviewing a small boy waving a South African flag, another Senegalese fan comes over and starts remonstrating with us and tries to grab the flag.

I almost lose my cool - but the stewards intervene and tell him to go and ask us to hurry along.

We ourselves bid farewell to Kumasi, but Ibrahim, my driver, is not able to pick up speed as we hit road works about 35km outside the city.

As we slow down and come to a halt, women from all direction carrying all manner of food and produce make a beeline for us - for anyone living near the road works, it's a field day with good money to be made.

Later on we see some bush-meat sellers displaying porcupines and akrantie - a bush rat sometimes also called a grass cutter.

But we don't buy this time - skinning meat is not my forte.

THURSDAY 31 JANUARY

I've been ringing around to figure out why the stadiums are so empty during matches.

At the Kumasi's 40,000-capacity stadium last night there was barely a 10% turnout.

There are several theories:

A vendor in Kumasi
Empty stadiums are affecting vendors

  • Up to a quarter of seats have been allocated to sponsors and official organisations, who may not have turned up
  • People who bought tickets to sell on the black market have been unable to shift them at a higher price
  • That people aren't interested in seeing some teams - like yesterday's Zambia v Egypt - some felt it was a foregone conclusion that Egypt would qualify. Today's clash - Senegal and South Africa - is expected to be an exciting game with more bums on seats.
  • For the vendors at the stadiums, it's hurting business. I spoke to one lady last night, who'd hired a space outside the stands for her stall. She said that she'd have to throw away all her unsold meat pies.

    During the game, one student at the stadium said: "The organisers should open the gates, and the let the people in for free."

    WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY

    As I sit at my hotel table with boiled eggs and coffee for breakfast - I look over to see what the Senegalese team are eating.

    Agyeman Gyau
    Chief Agyeman Gyau advises no carnal knowledge before matches

    Each team has its own cook - but the players have already finished, so I get no clues to their dietary secrets.

    They seem remarkably relaxed - given Sunday's whipping from Angola - and tomorrow they face South Africa.

    Later I speak to some of the Senegalese minders and to my surprise one of them reckons the Taranga Lions will "be packing to go home tomorrow".

    But the other says, "No, no, no! They can do it - you saw what happened with Nigeria."

    TUESDAY 29 JANUARY

    Sunyani has a hangover after the heavy celebrations and things are quiet, but by 1100 music is blaring again on the streets.

    Happy Ghanaian supporters in Sunyani
    If this is the reaction when qualifying for the next round, what will it be if the Black Stars take the cup?

    I go to meet one of the key members of the 1963 Black Stars team - the year when Ghana hosted the Africa Cup of Nations and won it for the first time.

    I am struck by Agyeman Gyau's youthfulness - he's now a chief (so it's Nana Agyeman Gyau to give him his proper title) and with a little quick arithmetic I reckon he must be in his late 60s or early 70s.

    "I was told you were an old man, but you look like an older brother. How come you look so youthful?" I ask.

    He tells me that he has never drunk alcohol or smoked a cigarette and the secret to his success on the field - no carnal knowledge before matches.

    "An austere life, no fun?"

    His eyes twinkle and he replies: "I haven't always been married."

    David outside the Christian Faith Barbering Salon
    David sees the light and has a close cut

    We go on to talk about the differences between then and now - it's quite a life story and 40 minutes fly by and it's time to move on.

    But before hitting the road to Kumasi, I decide another visit to a barber is needed - the "Prof" is recommended.

    "I hear they call you Prof because you're a professor of barbering - the best barber of Sunyani," I say to the young man.

    He laughs and as he cuts I discover he was a university student until recently and used to cut hair to make some money while studying - then decided to go into it full time.

    MONDAY 28 JANUARY

    Sunyani is a busy place - I believe it's Ghana's fifth largest city and the area around here is referred to as the breadbasket of the nation.

    But more importantly for some, Brong Ahafo region is also where some of Ghana's top football players hail from.

    David on the "king of the crocodiles"
    I am told Nave is more than 90 years old

    The regional minister is a big football fan himself and has arranged for large plasma television screens to be erected in towns around the region "so that people can come out and watch the Nations Cup together".

    The total cost is around $40,000 - all met by sponsors and local contributors, I'm told.

    It is on one of these giant screens that I watch the Black Stars' final group match against Morocco at 1700.

    There are actually two of them at the Centre for National Culture, the other screen showing the Guinea v Namibia game simultaneously.

    With minutes to go to kick-off, young people are still running helter-skelter towards the venue with the kind of excitement you would expect at a real stadium. Some of them are still in school uniform.

    Bicycles, scooters and even taxis are left outside in an abandoned state as more than 1,000 people eventually pack in.

    From kick-off to final whistle, the support is loud and unremitting - drummers beat a rhythm throughout and when the first goal comes, the whole place erupts into a blinding cloud of dust as many leave the seats and pound the floor with their feet.

    Sunyani wanted a stadium, still wants a stadium and if enthusiasm were a criteria it would surely have been chosen for this Cup of Nations.

    After the final whistle gives the Black Stars a 2-0 victory, it feels like half the population is on the streets, tens of thousands dancing, singing, screaming, shouting and praising.

    I ask one reveller how long will the celebration last?

    "At least two weeks," she replies.

    If this is the reaction when qualifying for the next round, what will it be if the Black Stars take the cup?

    SUNDAY 27 JANUARY

    Wake at dawn as we've a long 500km journey ahead of us to Sunyani.

    They leave a cable poking outside the internet cafe so I can continue emailing from the laptop while the mosquitoes make a meal of me
    Turn on the TV searching for news - click through the channels, no luck.

    Turn on the radio looking for news - search through the stations, no luck.

    It's Sunday - it's Ghana - no news today just tele-evangelism and gospel music.

    Later on when my driver stops for breakfast of fufu (pounded yam or plantain) and palm nut soup, I take the opportunity to speak to some of the traders selling football paraphernalia.

    Kofi Appau from Kumasi, says he is still very disappointed with the Black Star's performance against Namibia.

    "One-nil!" he exclaims, "The goals are not enough; we need more goals to sell more stuff."

    By 1700 we arrived in Sunyani and I set to editing my radio pieces and attempt to email them. But the connection is slow, the internet cafe closes at 2200 and with an hour to go the report is still only one third of the way through.

    Fortunately the workers leave a cable poking outside for me so I can continue sending from the laptop while the mosquitoes make a meal of me.

    SATURDAY 26 JANUARY

    We've an afternoon appointment with the military in Bawku to respond to claims by young men in the northern town that they're not allowed to cheer during matches because of a curfew.

    A bike on the road from Bawku to Bolgatanga
    A helping hand to get home before curfew in Bawku

    So to kill time in the morning Ibrahim, my driver, and I head to Paga which is about 1km from the border with Burkina Faso.

    I've been told the place has a special relationship with crocodiles - in fact they're sacred and it's taboo to kill them or eat their flesh. According to local belief, each crocodile represents the soul of one inhabitant in the town,

    At the Zenga Crocodile Pond, hundreds of them share the small lake with the local community who use it for washing and fishing.

    The cattle and sheep also have no problem standing amongst the reptiles.

    The secret to such harmonious relations? Chickens - fed live to the crocs.

    The crocodiles bring the tourists; the tourists buy the chickens - and all live in safety except for the fowls, two of which I see disappearing down some gaping jaws

    My father and grandfather knew Nave the crocodile before me
    Zenga Crocodile Pond guide

    I meet the king of the crocodiles - Nave, a truly giant reptile - who I am told is more than 90 years old.

    "How do you know?" I ask my young guide.

    "Because my father and grandfather knew him before me," comes the reply.

    He insists the king won't hurt a fly and entreats me to climb on his back... when Nave makes a sudden move of his neck, I yelp and almost die of fear.

    I live to tell the tale - but won't advise anyone to follow my example!

    Later in Bawku, the military are still avoiding me.

    The police chief, however, is more forthcoming - explaining that he hopes the 2000-0500 curfew will be lifted for the Africa Nations Cup final.

    But he warns if the youth don't curtail their enthusiasm during Black Stars' matches, then it could send out the wrong signals to the government in Accra.

    Back in Bolgatanga I stop by a chop bar and enjoy some banku (fermented maize) - grilled fish and red hot pepper ground with tomatoes and onions - just the way I like it.

    There's a live match showing, I eat and savour Angola teaching Senegal a few unexpected lessons on the pitch.


    Map of Ghana



    SEE ALSO
    Ghana 2008: Nations Cup diary
    25 Jan 08 |  Africa
    Ghana 2008: Nations Cup diary
    19 Jan 08 |  Africa
    Shooting for success in Ghana
    18 Jan 08 |  Africa
    Desailly on Africa Cup of Nations
    18 Jan 08 |  Africa Cup of Nations
    Nations Cup pundit predictions
    17 Jan 08 |  Africa Cup of Nations
    Nations Cup Squad Selector
    15 Jan 08 |  Africa Cup of Nations

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