Saturday, August 23
Hamile, Ghana

The town of Hamale sits, literally, on the border between Burkina Faso and Ghana. One half of the town is in Burkina, the other half, spelled Hamile, is in Ghana. (Click here to see where Hamile is on a map.)

At any of the other border crossings I’ve made so far, such division of a town wouldn’t have mattered. But this “frontier,” as they call it, is different.

On the Burkina side, residents speak French and use the regional CFA as currency. The Ghana side speaks English and buys with currency that’s used only in Ghana, the cedi.

Yet people on both sides of the border speak the same local language, which I believe is called Walea. It’s a perfect example of how colonizers years ago divided countries without regard to the locals.

Walking the Burkina road to Ghana.

Walking the Burkina road to Ghana.

Both Burkinabes and Ghanians cross the border freely, some taking advantage of the strong purchasing power of the CFA on the Ghana side, since the cedi is weak.

I happened to arrive on market day, so I joined women from Burkina who carried goods on their heads across the border. Photos usually are forbidden at border crossings for security reasons, but I managed to get this shot:

Crossing the border from Burkina into Ghana.

Crossing the border from Burkina into Ghana.

After officials stamped my passport twice, once on the Burkina side and again on the Ghana side, I enlisted the help of a guy who called himself a “tourism volunteer” to change some money. The CFA I had used in Senegal, Mali and Burkina would be useless to me in Ghana.

He found a cattle trader who needed CFA and was willing to give me cedis in return. The exchange was rather confusing, with me trying to figure out rates between CFA and cedi and how that translated into dollars.

That confusion was multiplied when I realized that the Ghanians were speaking in old currency, which the government faded out recently, while I was holding the new currency. (The government calls it the redenomination of the cedi. Wikipedia also explains the new currency here.) But I left the cattle trader’s shop with what I guessed — and hoped — was a fair amount.

While the language and currency changed upon my arrival in Ghana, I quickly realized when I boarded a bus to Wa, Ghana’s northern regional capital, that transportation in this new country would, unfortunately, be similar to from where I had come. Ghanians started the car the same way as the people of Senegal, Mali and Burkina: a group of people pushed it from the back, the driver tried the ignition and eventually the engine came to life.