Above and beyond the physical and mental health benefits of running, what I love most about this sport is exploring new places – noticing the small but significant features that define a place, sensing its spirit, pulse and culture, observing people in their natural space, and for a moment, feeling like there is no other place I belong, than pounding the pavement one step at a time, breathing in deeply and taking it all in – the sights, the sounds, the smells.
I have long dreamt of running in different cities and towns around the world. So you can imagine my excitement when a work assignment called me to Ghana – the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone! Ghana is a country in West Africa, bordering the Gulf of Guinea, and neatly tucked between the French-speaking countries of Côte d’Ivoire and Togo, with Burkina Faso straddling its northern border. Ghana’s rich history includes its pivotal leadership in the fight for Africa’s independence from colonial rule, stamped by President Kwame Nkrumah’s inspirational words on the eve of their independence, “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up to the total liberation of Africa”.
My destination in Ghana was Big Ada, a historic and rustic town in the Ada East district of the Greater Accra Region. The town lies along the road from Ada Kasseh to the district capital Ada Foah, just off the Accra-Aflao motorway. With its prime location on the Volta River, Big Ada was an important trading centre but in 1928 with the construction of the harbour sea port in Takoradi, economic activities greatly declined. From what I could gather, the area is now more known for promoting eco-tourism than for being a bustling trading hub.
Determined to discover as much as I could, I managed four runs during the week, all leaving me hot and sweaty but with a renewed sense of focus and energy to navigate my working days.
What Was It Like Running in Big Ada?
Hot And Humid! If you know anything about Botswana, you know it gets hot! So heat is not something that intimidates me. In fact, many of my summer runs are done at +35˚C. Although you feel the piercing sun, it is rarely humid – so it doesn’t feel… heavy. I had been forewarned but there’s one thing understanding it at the intellectual level and actually experiencing it! My first run in Ghana was a shock to the system. When I set off at 6am, it was 25˚C with 87% humidity. It hit me like a thunder bolt as soon as I exited the air-conditioned hotel. I decided to go out even earlier on subsequent days, but even then I felt like I was running in a sauna!
Liberating. That said, I will never forget my first run in Ghana. It felt liberating! I’ve always been nervous running alone in completely new areas, even back home, but here I was, in a foreign country, running without any real sense of direction but determined to experience it all.
Each run started with a 1.5km reddish-brown dirt road from the hotel to the tarred road. It was lined with lush green trees and the houses and structures were few and far between.
I crossed paths with a handful of people on the road and I heard the familiar sounds of people sweeping their yards using traditional straw brooms, longer than the ones we use in Botswana. I also encountered different animals including dogs, goats, chickens, pigs and cows.
When I reached the end of the dirt , I would turn either left or right onto tarred road. Both routes took me past a number of different kiosks, many of them vibrant in colour. I spotted a charming little community library and a small art centre for children. There were also several churches, and on Sunday, a preacher was giving a sermon from his balcony.
On one of my runs, I had to stop for a few minutes as a herd of cattle crossed the road – I’d love to say this was new to me but I’ve experienced this one too many times in Gaborone!
Bustling Motorbikes. Something that was very different here were the number of motorbikes zipping past from the very early hours of the morning, many carrying passengers or baskets of goods. There were also some that had been custom-made with a trailer to carry larger items.
Mix Of Traditional and Modern. There were a number of traditional houses with thatched roofs and also some houses that looked like remnants from the British colonial era as their distinct roof structures were similar to some that we have in different towns in Botswana. And then of course there were more modern hotels and residences, several still under construction.
Safe. As a solo woman runner, safety is always a huge concern. So I reached out to a good friend of mine who lives in Accra, and I was so comforted when she said it was safe to run and that people “don’t bother you”. The hotel porter confirmed the same before I left for my first run. I’m so pleased to say that in all my days running, I wasn’t bothered once – some kids greeted me politely and the adults just continued about their morning. It was a great feeling to run and feel so at peace and it gave me the encouragement to keep varying my route. Also, although there were no sidewalks, many of the cars moved to the side, giving me ample room to run.
Inspirational. Each of my runs culminated at the riverside where I would stand for a few minutes by the palm trees watching the fishing canoes passing by and the morning clouds give way to the beautiful blue skies above. Simply inspirational. After a shower, I’d enjoy a cappuccino and some fried plantain. Is there a better way to start the day?
I am so excited that I got to run in Ghana. Each run left me with one predominant feeling – that of gratitude. Gratitude for the gift of running – four years ago, I would have been stuck in the hotel for the whole week and flown back home without a clue of what was beyond the hotel gates. But running has given me the courage, fearlessness and determination to actively explore new places and dare to see, feel and appreciate all that is around me. And as if in celebration of this (and overnight downpour), a loud chorus of frogs greeted me for my final 9km run in Ada!
I hope you enjoyed running with me in Ghana! Have you been to Ghana before? Are your summer runs humid? Why are you grateful for running?