Written by SunsetDelux on 15 Apr, 2003
Along the western coast of Ghana lies Beyin, situated on a dusty and bumpy track, and perhaps of little significance to the traveller in and of itself. Beyin is a laid-back, friendly launch pad for those wishing to make their way to the stilt-village of…Read More
Along the western coast of Ghana lies Beyin, situated on a dusty and bumpy track, and perhaps of little significance to the traveller in and of itself. Beyin is a laid-back, friendly launch pad for those wishing to make their way to the stilt-village of Nzulezo, an intriguing oddity considering the vast tracts of empty inhabitable land that surrounds this small, amphibian settlement.
Getting to Beyin does involve some canny figuring out of where to change tro-tros between Takoradi and the village itself. Try and leave plenty of daylight hours to get there, as it’s probably worth arriving while it’s still light out, especially as Beyin isn’t blessed with fantastic street lighting, so arriving by day will make finding the two main guesthouses far easier. The first of these, Fort Apollonia, is the furthest west of Ghana’s 14 whitewashed coastal landmarks, the more imposing of the two guesthouses Beyin has to offer, and thus the more obvious and popular abode for folks to lay their heads. Meanwhile, on the main road through Beyin sits a rather withered looking two-story dwelling that handles the overflow when Apollonia is full. Whichever dwelling you choose, or come to take, don’t expect abundant luxury; both the fort and guesthouse offer only basic, though comfortable, friendly and very cheap, accommodation.
Obviously, most of those passing through Beyin will be curious to see Nzulezo, and getting there couldn’t be much simpler. Beyin knows only too well why many visit their humble spot on the western coast of Ghana, and no sooner after unfamiliar faces are spotted, arrangements will be made for someone to boat you to the stilt village. In the absence of any official tourist office or business, this is most likely to be carried out in familiar Ghanaian ad-hoc style by one of the self-employed village guides, whose livelihood largely depends on ferrying tourists and travellers to and from Nzulezo.
Nzulezo then, is located on a lake just to the north of Beyin. Getting to the shores of the lake requires a short trek through some undergrowth and just how short this walk is depends entirely on the seasons -- and whether it’s dry or wet. Obviously, the higher the water level, the further you’ll be floating along the water. We enjoyed a laid-back punt through lush reeds and jungle in the morning sun for most of the way there; shortly before we arrived at this stilt complex, a joint effort was required to row of the boat. The journey there is certainly an education in and of itself, with the guide pointing out how he and others fish in the lake using various fish traps along the way. Nevertheless, the journey is a means to an end; the end being to have a polite nose about the rather unusual affair of a village on stilts. And after the hard work put into rowing a boat through a tropical day, the sight of it, which allows the body a hard-earned rest, is more than welcome.
Once moored up at the village and you are able to look around. One thing that's common to every visit to Nzulezo is the signing of the guestbook along with the handing over of a compulsory but small donation to the village coffers. Looking around the village, it's satisfying to note that theses donations have made a difference to this small fishing community. On our visit, our guide pointed to the school as an example of where collected money went. While it could not be garnered for sure as to whether this was strictly true, with public services in this poor corner of the world so thin on the ground, it would be quite likely that this was the case. There was also talk amongst the village that the next collective project here would be to establish a small guesthouse on the stilted phenomenon itself. So, this may have already been established, but since the wheels of progress oft turn very slowly in Ghana, the opposite might also be true.
Walking around the village is certainly an interesting experience, not least of course because the place is a fully functioning and working settlement. The oddities of the place will undoubtedly raise a wry smile as well, especially when walking past homes with TVs and stereos (of course a relative luxury in this corner of the globe) plugged into large car batteries. Listening to tales from village elders about how the village was founded is also eyebrow-raising; apparently it involved a magical snail and a fleeing tribe from Mali?! Perhaps the overwhelming impression however, given by the villagers along with the guides, is one of a genuinely welcoming attitude, which makes paying what feels like a pittance to both village and guide, easily worth it.
On leaving Nzulezo do make sure that you have reserves of physical strength, as obviously there will be a reasonable amount of rowing to be done to get back to dry land, where the majority of Ghana exists in settlements that aren't established directly over water. Once back on dry land and in Beyin, the only way out of the village is by tro-tro or taxi back towards Takoradi, from where, of course, a number of road routes through Ghana are easily navigable.
Written by SunsetDelux on 04 Sep, 2002
From an entirely selfish point of view, Ghana is a gem for the traveller. It’s friendly, relatively safe, and underdeveloped to the extent that its natural wonder and beauty are left largely untouched, while having a surprisingly decent infrastructure, making it an ease to get…Read More
From an entirely selfish point of view, Ghana is a gem for the traveller. It’s friendly, relatively safe, and underdeveloped to the extent that its natural wonder and beauty are left largely untouched, while having a surprisingly decent infrastructure, making it an ease to get about. Amadzofe, a small, sleepy village located in the heart of Ghana’s Volta region has certainly realised its own saleability to curious wandering folk. While of course ad hoc, and better for it, the village has established a small-scale tourist industry, from where Mount Gemi is easily accessible, as well as the not to be missed falls. Natural beauty abounds both in and around this settlement, containing no more than a few hundred people. For anyone a little sun kissed from days of lying on a sun drenched beach, the lush, fresh surrounds of this small, friendly affair is only ever a few tro-tro rides away…
Naturally, Ghana’s sporadically sprawling capital is the best place to start journeying up the country’s eastern slither, situated to the east of Lake Volta and nudged up against the Togo border. A good place to aim for initially is Ho, fifteen miles south of Amadzofe. On your way there you’ll cross the bridge at Atimpoku, certainly one of Ghana’s few impressive man-made sights. Ho in itself is certainly a pleasant place to rest, eat and while away a few hours, nested within the surrounds of lush, green hills. There’s a decent array of places to eat and drink, while information on the entire region can be found in the SIC building. Though useful however, don’t expect to go there and become overwhelmed by information.
South of Amadzofe then, Ho is certainly the logical launch pad from where a tro-tro can be found going direct to the village. Though a matter of only a dozen miles lies between these two settlements, don’t expect the easiest ride to Amadzofe from Ho, a large part of which is up a narrow mud track spiralling up the hills towards the village. It was raining heavily the evening I took a tro-tro up from Ho. By the time we started climbing up the hill to Amadzofe the mud track resembled more a dirty stream than a road, with a rather fearless driver seemingly blissfully ignorant of the dangerous angles the tro-tro was often leaning at over the hillside edge! Still, a few nerve-breaking moments and an eleventh-hour pact with The Almighty later, the sight of tarmac laid on the final stretch up to Amadzofe, filled me with a warm reassurance that life might still continue beyond this tro-tro ride!
Reaching the village the locals will almost certainly notice straight away you’re a stranger, henceforth follows a textbook case of Ghanaian hospitality, which is repeated in villages and towns, large or small, throughout this country. Within hours of arriving we had managed to arrange a day’s itinerary for the following day and were enjoying food cooked for us at the abode we had been offered for the night. Those looking for comfort may well be disappointed staying in Amadzofe. Though the beneficiary of a small-scale tourism project begun by a participant of the US’ Peace Corps, and now run by locals, visitors are likely to be placed in residential dwellings within the village, where bucket showers and rooms with no electricity are often the norm. The boundless enthusiasm and hospitality of the villagers though, can often make up for the lack of any degree of luxury.
Exploring the beautiful surrounds of Amadzofe is certainly what most visitors arriving at this village come for, and though sometimes exhausting, the views taken in make it a venture worthwhile. Guides are available (and virtually compulsory) for taking the trek up the nearby Mount Gemi and the climb down to the falls. At around 2600ft, more a hill than a mountain, the climb up Mount Gemi even for the only vaguely fit, is relatively easy as of course, Amadzofe itself is situated high up in the hills. Perhaps only distinct from other nearby peaks due to a metal cross erected on top of Gemi, the views from here are nonetheless impressive and well worth the relative lack of effort needed to reach its summit. A piece of trivia here and returning to its distinctive feature, being the cross erected at Gemi’s peak; the popular hearsay in the village is apparently that this was used by Britain and her allies in World War One; to intercept any signals being transmitted from inside bordering (what was then) German Togoland.
Mount Gemi may offer views of rolling countryside stretching miles into the distant haze but the more impressive sight by far are the falls located nearby. After a steep climb down to the falls is endured, reaching the upper and lower parts of the falls (in that sequence) is a joy. The upper falls especially, are a pleasure to savour. Where seemingly endless lush undergrowth gives way to an opening at the foot of the upper falls, random spray soothes and refreshes bodies exhausted and overheated by the trek down. The clearing offers a view over thousands of acres of untouched forest, stretching endlessly into the distance.
While the cost of a guide for Gemi and the falls is inexpensive, it is perhaps your muscles and not your wallet, that may pay the heavier price after the trek down and then back up to the falls has been completed! Though the climb down through the bush is more than worth any amount of pain caused by any muscles being reawakened for the first time in years, do be careful especially when exploring the falls.
Amadzofe is certainly worth adding to the checklist of places to explore when in Ghana. With its relative ease of access and the natural beauty that abounds around it, the village is also friendly where such pleasures as relaxing in local spots can still be indulged in. Leaving Amadzofe requires taking one of two courses of action. Of course a tro-tro can be caught going back to Ho, so long as you’re confident with the vehicle’s capacity to break (!), where it is easy to change for other destinations. Alternatively, a guide can be made available to walk you out of the village to the nearest village down the hillside with a tro-tro park that can be used by those travelling north. Indeed, if this is the intention, to travel north further through the region, then walking out of the village is a quicker way to start this journey, than travelling south to Ho and changing there. Bear in mind though, for the novelty of not using petrol for leaving Amadzofe, the cost of getting out by foot is triple that of securing a seat in a tro-tro! This said though, the cost of leaving the village by either means will still make a paltry dent in the western wallet.
Written by African Explorer on 23 Aug, 2000
The Chief, Gabangudana gave us a hut or 'compound' to
sleep in and the villagers flooded
us with gifts of food and pigeons to eat. One evening
we gathered around and they drummed and danced
under the stars. What a great experience! After a
while the village life began…Read More
The Chief, Gabangudana gave us a hut or 'compound' to
sleep in and the villagers flooded
us with gifts of food and pigeons to eat. One evening
we gathered around and they drummed and danced
under the stars. What a great experience! After a
while the village life began to get annoying, not because
of the rough living but due to the fact that
white people very rarely travel through this region
and the villagers couldn't get enough of us. They
literally followed us everywhere to watch us.
They would stand in silence and whenever we would
do something amusing they would burst out in laughter and start mumbling in their native mampruli to each other.
Twice I was fortunate enough to meet with the chief. When
escorted into his compound you must formally greet
him by bowing down and clapping your hands. He silently repeated the word 'naa naa' while he welcomes
you to his village. Chief Gabanguduna was a friendly
man although most of his own villagers have never been
able to meet him. He is the oldest child of the queen
who recently died at (supposedly) 145 years old.
Written by eezi on 17 Jul, 2000
Unlike francophone West Africa, Ghanaians didn't adopt rice-based meals after colonialism, but stayed rather with their traditional staples: fufu, banku, kenkey and red-red. Normally I find experiencing the local dishes one of the most interesting aspects of any trip, but these staples I found a…Read More
Unlike francophone West Africa, Ghanaians didn't adopt rice-based meals after colonialism, but stayed rather with their traditional staples: fufu, banku, kenkey and red-red. Normally I find experiencing the local dishes one of the most interesting aspects of any trip, but these staples I found a little hard to swallow.
Fufu, banku and kenkey are all made from ground maize, yam or a combination of the two,which is then boiled and served with a 'saue' a thinnish soup of goat or fish stock.
While all three appear similar to the starches of eastern and southern Africa, bland but filling, they have one major difference - they are completely wihtout texture; smooth, shiny and sticky! The word 'goop' is the most descriptive in my vocabulary!
I spent much of the first two times I tried fufu feeling it slide between my teeth and gums - it was only later that I discovered that Ghanaians don't even try to chew - it's to be swallowed whole (in small mouthfuls of course)!
The proper etiquette is to squeeze off small blobs of the fufu/ banku/ kenkey (having washed one's hands in the water that ought to be provided - if it's not, ask for some); roll it in the fingers until one has made a ball (this takes some practice; it's easier if you have a bit of the 'sauce' on your fingers to stop the starch from sticking to them); dip the blob in the sauce, pop it in the mouth and swallow - DON'T CHEW!
Banku has an extra surprise - it's left to ferment for a while before boiling. While it looks the same as fufu, it tastes sour. You want to be aware of that. Banku - bland, fufu - sour; or is it the other way around?
Red-red consists of deep-fried plaintains and beans. While its not unpleasant, it sits very heavily and is best washed down with a big bottle of beer.
Be warned that it's not easy to find 'continental' food in many of the smaller towns, so if you're inclined to wander off the beaten track you're going to wind up with feasting on these meals.
Written by goggles421 on 03 May, 2005
From there, we all squeezed into a much smaller cell, just barely large enough to hold all of us, which Cyprus said was for condemned slaves. Before anyone had a chance to really wonder about what exactly it meant to be a condemned slave,…Read More
From there, we all squeezed into a much smaller cell, just barely large enough to hold all of us, which Cyprus said was for condemned slaves. Before anyone had a chance to really wonder about what exactly it meant to be a condemned slave, a heavy door slammed shut behind us, killing any small trace of light that had shone in through the doorway.
"Condemned slaves were those sentenced to death," Cyprus told us. "Ten were brought in here at a time. They were left here in cramped, complete darkness with nothing, until every single one of them died."
His words were followed by a stunned silence, broken only by the sound of a single sob that shot out from a student hidden in the darkness.
We emerged outside on the second level of the castle, looking down on the fishing boats and blue coast, everyone trying to regain control of their emotions.
One of the Ghanaian volunteers we were working with, Philipa, came over to me and said, "See what your people did? It wasn’t good. But we let you come here, we want you here even though it was very bad. We let you in and we also forgive, because we all believe in God."
I looked at her, stunned, and could think of no response other than, "But those weren’t my people, I’m not Dutch!" I was suddenly embarrassed. "Or Portuguese!" I added.
"Ah, it is the same, the white people," she replied.
The feeling of frustration with being merely a stereotype was new to me. I became very aware of the fact that after spending my entire life as part of the white majority, I was suddenly in a culture where I was very much in the minority.
Philipa put her arm around me and said, "Don’t be sad, now we are friends, good friends!"
The relationship between blacks and whites damaged to such an extent so long ago clearly hadn’t completely been repaired. Resentment and guilt reverberated down through centuries over the crimes committed. If Elmina didn’t prove that, plenty of other incidents did.
One night in Kumasi after the entire group had gone to a restaurant for dinner, we came out to find that our bus had been hit by a woman driving a car without a license. We got in the bus and sat there, waiting for the owner to come settle the issue. A crowd gathered around and the woman tried to leave. The owner finally showed up, very angry that his bus had been hit, and a heated argument ensued. We watched through the windows as the argument escalated, and more than once it looked as though a serious fight would break out. Starzy, Cyprus, and Franko all tried to keep the peace, but a man accompanying the driver made a comment to them in Twi that none of us could understand. Within seconds, all three of them who had been trying to calm everyone down were now themselves screaming and pushing, trying to get at the man who had in the meantime jumped in the car and locked the doors.
When everyone finally got back on the bus and we left, I asked Franko what had happened that made them so angry. At first he did not want to tell me, and simply said that "the man said something very bad," but after talking for a while he told the truth.
"Cyprus told the man that we needed to leave because you all need to get to bed," Franko began. "But then the man said that we, Starzy and Cyprus and me, were like your slaves. I don’t know why he would say that, that is an awful thing to say, but some people still think like that I guess."
One night in Jukwa, Starzy and I went down the road to buy egg sandwiches from a woman who made them on a table outside of her house. Her family and many neighbors were outside in their night clothes, talking to each other. As we approached, they stared at me and whispered in Twi, aware I could not understand them. Starzy noticed I felt uncomfortable, and grabbed my hand and introduced me to them. It wasn’t long before they were all smiling and introducing themselves to me by day-name. When I smiled back and pointed to my chest and said "Akosua," they grew even happier to meet me. One of the women, who spoke broken English, put her arm around me and pointed up at the sky that was slowly becoming more and more familiar to me.
"See stars? They same stars you know. Same stars you see at home."
Despite the success of obtaining a fair price at the cultural village, this experience of bargaining was not quite as common in the market in Accra. The crowds, hustle, and fast pace did not allow for such a long period of negotiation. Unlike…Read More
Despite the success of obtaining a fair price at the cultural village, this experience of bargaining was not quite as common in the market in Accra. The crowds, hustle, and fast pace did not allow for such a long period of negotiation. Unlike the cultural village which sold mostly art and artifacts, markets sold limited amounts of such items in addition to everything else imaginable. A large market is the Wal-Mart of Ghana. Many stands sold jewelry, different types of necklaces and bracelets and even rings, some handmade in Ghana, some cheap imports from Taiwan or the United States. Used clothing stands sold secondhand articles rejected from Goodwill in the U.S. There were also seamstresses and fabric to have a dress, shirt, pants, or a skirt made. Fruits, vegetables, dried fish, candy, water, Coca-Cola, and even ice cream were sold from large baskets, many times from atop a woman’s head. CDs, cassettes, DVDs and radios were available from some stalls as well, the most common being the music and movies that were big in the United States years ago. Early '90s music by Celine Dion, Ace of Base, M.C. Hammer, and many others was still extremely popular in Ghana.
The trick to shopping involved the precarious balance of standing close enough to the stalls to keep from being hit by passing tro-tros while simultaneously avoiding the open sewers and women with large baskets or trays of goods on their head. The fast pace of people traffic passing from stall to stall made it impossible to spend too much time at any one vendor.
The market was huge and completely unlike the small market in Jukwa, which consisted of a few stands clustered together selling Coca-Cola products and various vegetables, Accra resembled a maze. Entering was easy, but finding your way out was more of a challenge. The stands followed a pattern in their location. Used clothing was prominent along the train tracks. Fish, fruits, and vegetables were sold by women sitting together in a large open lot behind a building. Music and high-tech devices occupied the stands in the building, which itself blended into the outdoor vendors so much that I almost didn’t notice entering it until I looked down from the second-level and saw the crowds below me. We traversed the market in groups no larger than four; any more, and it would be too difficult to maneuver. Cyprus led us through the narrow, winding paths, and I barely made it past a vendor without someone grabbing me and pulling me closer to look at their wares. The stands were packed so tightly that I felt like I was in a tunnel; at some points, if someone told me I was underground I would have believed it.
The crowds and fast pace of the markets came as a surprise in comparison to the laid-back, no-hurry way of life that surrounded many other daily activities. Outside of the markets, time seemed to not exist, no one was rushed, and that led to a great deal of waiting. In restaurants, in banks, and in traffic, patience became a very important virtue. More than once, a ForEx ran out of currency and we were forced to find a bank to exchange our money for cedis. The problem with the bank in Cape Coast was that the "Please wait in line for the next available teller" sign seemed to be just a suggestion. Numerous people walked right past the others ahead of them in line, and no one even complained. The slow, relaxed service didn’t help. Finally, no more than twenty people and two and a half hours later, it was my turn.
"We are out of large bills, we only have 2,000 and 1,000 cedis," the woman behind the counter told me.
"Oh, okay," I said, not thinking that would affect me much. "I just want to change this $50."
"The rate today is 8,900 cedis per dollar," she said as she began to count my money.
She handed me two stacks of cedis, larger than any I’d ever seen before. Sure she had made a mistake, I began to count them, and soon realized what I had done. I had asked for 445,000 cedis, which is exactly what she gave me. In 1,000 cedi bills.
"Thank you very much," I said as I stuffed the overflowing stacks of 445 1,000 cedi bills into my purse. Behind me, I heard her talking to the next customer.
"We are almost out of 1,000 cedi bills, just coins left."
If possible, the wait for food was even worse. Unless you could afford to dedicate three hours of your day to it, eating in a restaurant was not a good idea. Most restaurants seemed to lack menus, waitresses, and food. Typically, there would be a few menus to share, if any at all, and we often sat there for about twenty minutes before anyone even came out to take drink orders. In many places, the person cooking the food was also the one who served it. It was also pretty much guaranteed that the first three meals anyone tried to order they would be out of, or couldn’t make because a necessary appliance was broken in the kitchen. Most places did have basic dishes, such as chicken, fufu, jollof rice, and kelewele (fried plantains), so we ate those on a regular basis.
One morning, we ate breakfast at a hotel that served meals on the back patio. Our group dominated the few tables in the back, but it was clearly popular among tourists. I heard two Dutch women speaking behind me and a Greek man was checking out at the front desk. When a woman finally came by to take our order, I asked for a guava juice and an omelet. She disappeared into the kitchen – a small room just off the patio with no door connecting it to the hotel. Twenty minutes later, she emerged with a few food orders and tea and water. Back into the kitchen. Another fifteen minutes, and this time she had my omelet and a few more drinks.
"Can I get a guava juice?" I politely asked again.
"Ah yes, you ordered it. Next trip, five minutes, it will be right out."
Somehow, I didn’t believe her. I ate my omelet, and another fifteen minutes later, she brought out the last few food orders and a drink for John, who had also ordered guava juice, then disappeared again.
I had given up on my juice, and when she finished picking up the dirty dishes twenty minutes later, I figured it didn’t matter by now, she was gone for good. But then she came out with the check. And a single glass of guava juice.
"Did someone order guava juice?" she asked, holding it up.
I smiled weakly. "I did," I replied.
"Ah, here you go miss," she smiled. "I am sorry for the wait."
The least severe of the Three Deadly Waits was for a tro-tro, least severe because tro-tro arrival often involved the shortest waiting period; however, the real trial of patience often came while sitting in the tro-tro, stuck in traffic at a standstill comparable to New York City during rush hour.
The tro-tro is the cheapest form of public transportation in Ghana, costing only about 2,000 cedis no matter how far the ride. Tro-tros are built to hold about twelve passengers; however, most drivers will pick up extra people, so they were often more crowded than that. The speedometer never worked (though the radio always seemed to), and more than once a few people had to get out and push the tro-tro while the driver accelerated to give it a running start. Since there are too many roads for police to constantly patrol to enforce the speed limit, instead large speed bumps are placed every so often to force the driver to slow down. This leads to a jerky ride, with the driver constantly alternating between speeds of about 50 and 5 miles per hour.
Many tro-tros - like taxis, fishing boats, and businesses - had names with direct reference to Christianity, the main religion in southern Ghana (the north consists of mostly Muslims.) Usually, taxis and tro-tros had bible verses or simple statements such as "Follow Jesus" or "I Believe in God" on the back of them. We saw fishing boats in Elmina with names like "The Lord" or "Jesus All in All." Most interesting were the businesses, including "God’s Way Gift Shop," "Holy Wood Hair Salon," and "Thy Will Be Done Fast Food."
I learned this custom one of the first days in Jukwa, when the children gathered around while I was taking a shower. Just as I finished and shut off the water for the last time, I heard the distinct sound of giggling right outside…Read More
I learned this custom one of the first days in Jukwa, when the children gathered around while I was taking a shower. Just as I finished and shut off the water for the last time, I heard the distinct sound of giggling right outside the door. Urgent whispers in Twi floated through the crack between the wall and the door, punctuated by an exclamation in thickly accented English of, "There’s a bruni in the shower!"
I dried off and dressed while the whispers continued, then opened the door to find six pairs of wide eyes staring at me. It occurred to me that these children had probably never seen a bruni (colloquial word for "white, foreign woman") before. They continued to stare as I emerged, dripping wet with a towel wrapped around my head, a bucket in my hand, and my bag of shampoo, conditioner, and soap in my arms. I smiled awkwardly and said, "Hi!" but received only a collective giggle in response. They crowded around me, examining everything from the sandals on my feet to the rings on my fingers. Then I felt someone tug at the bag I carried, which held my dirty clothes and toiletries. I looked down at a boy I guessed to be about seven or eight years old. He pointed at my bag then tugged it again, and this time his surprisingly strong voice said, "I carry for you."
"Oh, that’s okay. I've got it, but thanks," I replied.
"No, no, let me carry," he persisted as he lifted everything out of my arms.
"Um, alright. Thank you," I responded. "What’s your name?"
"I am Nicholas. What is your name?" I watched as he placed the bucket on his head, balancing it perfectly, then swung my bag around his shoulder.
"Emily," I replied.
"Em-i-ly." I repeated it more slowly as Nicholas and the other children struggled to pronounce it, then as an afterthought gave my day-name instead. In Ghana, everyone has a second name that corresponds to the day on which they were born, and whether they are male or female. "Akosua," I said at last.
"Ah! Sunday born! I am Sunday born also!" A girl who looked to be about ten years old exclaimed. She pointed to herself and said "Victoria. But day-name Esi." I remembered hearing that Esi was an alternate name for girls born on Sunday.
She put her hand on my arm and gazed up at me. "Can I have address?"
The other children stood nearby and eagerly awaited my response. I knew if I gave one child my address, I would end up giving it to all six of them. I agreed anyway.
"Do you have paper?" I asked. "Or anything to write with?"
None of them did, so I went into our crowded room and retrieved what I needed from my own suitcase. The children’s big eyes grew even wider when they saw me emerge with an entire pack of pens. I’d brought out the unopened pack with the intention of just using one, but the excitement and exclamations brought about by the abundance of writing utensils I carried surprised me, and so I ended up giving each child two pens and a few sheets of paper. They were delighted by the gifts, then pestered me even more for my address, so I copied it six times, one for each of them.
A day or two later, I along with the other members of the group were hit with a much larger onslaught of children asking for addresses. This occurred on our visit to the schools across the street from the house we stayed in. The primary and secondary schools were situated on either side of the library we had been building.
The first classroom we visited was full of eleven and twelve-year-old children. The teacher introduced us as "the Americans." Immediately, the children’s eyes lit up. I glanced at the board and saw they had been learning math.
Then the teacher said, "See, you must get smart. You learn add, you can go to America. You don’t learn add, you must stay here." He paused. "Who wants to go to America?"
Every child raised his hand.
"Will you take them back to America with you?" the teacher asked us. I knew he was kidding, but something in his voice sounded serious about his request.
We said goodbye and began to walk toward the secondary school to visit the older students. The younger children crowded around us, wanting more addresses, more pictures, and more time away from their math class.
As we pulled away at last, a very thin little girl ran up to me and tugged on my skirt. I looked down at her, smiled, and said goodbye again.
"Please, ma’am, please," she begged, "I need a new school uniform. Will you buy it for me?"
Her uniform had many rips and tears, and the color was faded. Despite her tiny frame, it still seemed too small on her. It must have been bought years ago. At some point, I had become numb to this type of request, and somehow I managed to tell her I was sorry, I had no money with me. Of course, I did have money, and I could have easily given it to her, but then what would I tell the rest of the children who would surely approach me with a similar request?
We moved on to a classroom of fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds in the secondary school. The notes on the board showed they were learning about HIV and AIDS – very similar to a sophomore health education class in any given American high school. I introduced myself to a girl named Harriet, who after a few minutes of simple conversation, paused and gave me a contemplative look.
"You are from States?" she asked.
"Yes, I am," I replied. Harriet broke into a wide grin and sat forward in excitement.
"Ahh! So you drive Rolls Royce?" she exclaimed.
My eyes widened.
"No, no, no," I corrected her. "I ride bus."
One evening at dinner, I was helping Christina (our cook) clean the plates after the meal. We had peanut soup, with a small piece of beef on the side and watermelon for dessert. Nicholas had been hanging around, but at the time I didn’t give it much thought. It wasn’t until later, as I scraped the bits of tough meat and pieces of lard that were leftover off the plates, that he came closer to me.
"Can I have that?" he asked. I looked down at the plate I was holding and saw the chunk of beef fat he was pointing to.
"Um, sure," I replied.
Another boy came over, and pretty soon the two of them were vying for the bit of meat. In their struggles, it fell to the ground, into the damp mud from the rain earlier that day. They picked it up and ate it anyway. Every piece of discarded meat, rind of watermelon, and residue of soup I tried to scrape into the pot was quickly scooped up by Nicholas.
I thought that Nicholas was a thin 7-year-old--a young child. Later on, Christina told me that he was actually twelve.
The shower was broken at the VOLU center (the organization we volunteered through) the night we happened to be there, and there was a problem with the plumbing for the first day and a half we were in Jukwa. No running water obviously meant…Read More
The shower was broken at the VOLU center (the organization we volunteered through) the night we happened to be there, and there was a problem with the plumbing for the first day and a half we were in Jukwa. No running water obviously meant no bathing. After a few days of hot sun, bug spray, sunscreen, and clay-like dirt from the work site, words can not express the excitement I felt on my first trip to the shower. The shower itself was like all of the other rooms where we were staying - no door led from one room to another, there was simply an exit to the outside. In this case, the lone door opened right into the main eating area and only real table, so it was not much different than if you were to open a shower curtain and find yourself in the main room of a dinner party.
The shower was positioned directly overhead, and my futile attempt to hang my clothes on the door handle did nothing more than open the door, leaving my clothes in a heap. I placed them in a puddle, then eagerly turned on the faucet and felt the cool spray of water wash over me. Ah, such bliss! It lasted for about twenty seconds. Then the pipes stopped working again. I stood in contemplation, dripping wet but not the slightest bit clean, looking down at my wet towel, wet clothes, and unused soap with disappointment. I tried to be thankful that I was at least able to rinse off, but it was difficult to feel genuine appreciation pour out of me as I dried off with my wet towel, reapplied another layer of bug spray, and put my dirty (and now wet) clothes back on.
Another day and a half passed before I got up the nerve to once again tackle the temperamental shower. The water had proven to be working on an almost slightly regular basis, but I was not foolish enough to think this meant I was in the clear. This time, I brought a bucket to fill with water lest the pipes act up while I was lathered in soap. I turned the handle and held my breath in hope that the plumbing would work. I was in luck! The water rushed through the pipes and flew out in a cold brown spray that filled my bucket.
I practically did a victory dance right there in the shower, celebrating the long anticipated appearance of water. It was a privilege here, not a commodity, and so it could have come out fuchsia for how little I cared about what color it was. Because the amount of this precious resource was in limited supply, I greatly shortened the length of my shower as well. Whenever I could, I turned off the shower to avoid running the water unnecessarily. This also gave it time to go down the drain, a chiseled hole in the corner of the wall that the floor tilted toward – much like the drain in the concrete bathroom we had been invited to use.
It wasn’t until later in the trip, when we visited Akosombo dam and a nearby village, that I realized just how uncommon it was to have plumbing at all, and how valuable water was. The village was called Nyame ben, which means "God is near." The people there had no running water, no electricity, and very little contact with the world outside their village. We drove past miles of nothingness, then got as close as we could to the village’s schools, which were pavilions with thatched roofing, but we still had to walk up a trail for ten minutes to actually reach them. The schools were set out from the village because no teachers were willing to travel any further; the village itself was still another twenty-five-minute hike away. The path was narrow and overgrown in many areas; it felt like a trek through a jungle. Everyone was expecting our visit and the children cheered and greeted us as we came off the trail into the village. The village receded back in a straight line, never branching off to either side. Many children wore only underwear, and almost no one wore shoes. They were delighted when we handed out the lollipops we had brought for them, and smiled and grabbed our hands. Cyprus delivered pictures from past visits to a few families, who were thrilled to see him again. Starzy was the only one who spoke the local language, a dialect close to Twi, so he did most of the interpreting for us.
Cyprus led us further into the village, where we came upon a group of huts. An old woman looked out of one on our left and exclaimed, "Oh! White people!" Clearly, she hadn’t been expecting us. She hopped out of the doorway and danced around, giving everyone hearty welcomes with handshakes and high-fives.
Cyprus told us that everyone called her Dada, which means "mother." At eighty-six, she was the oldest member of the village and had never taken a medication that wasn’t an herbal remedy in her life. Her energy and agility was admirable. It seemed that the western technology and medicines we find so necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle weren’t so necessary after all.
We also met the youngest member of the village, a newborn baby only three weeks old. Everyone took a turn holding the tiny infant, who was carefully swaddled in batik cloth. Other children gathered around, playing with the whistles attached to the bottom of their lollipop sticks.
As it grew dark, we walked over to the shore on the one side of the village. Instead of following the trail back, we canoed along the edge of it on Lake Volta in complete darkness, surrounded by nothing. I couldn’t even begin to fathom what it must be like to live in such seclusion.
We didn’t have to travel to Nyame ben to see people surviving on very little. In Jukwa and nearly everywhere else we visited, most families led difficult lives without much money or food. Children often asked for money or a small item such as a pen, which they could then sell. This in itself suggested the level of privation in Ghana. More often, they asked for my address, which I did not understand at first. I later realized that having contacts in America and elsewhere in the world was used as a status symbol.
Written by pluralofcow on 20 Sep, 2004
Half the fun of traveling in West Africa is in the actual traveling, and much of the adventure lies there as well. It seems that the further north one travels, the more difficult transportation becomes. This is certainly true in the case of…Read More
Half the fun of traveling in West Africa is in the actual traveling, and much of the adventure lies there as well. It seems that the further north one travels, the more difficult transportation becomes. This is certainly true in the case of Larabanga.
You'd imagine that since Mole National Park is a major tourist destination, the Ghana government would have made it easily accessible. This is hardly the case. To reach Larabanga, one must first travel to Tamale and immediately purchase a ticket on the afternoon OSA bus. Tickets can be purchased at the main lorry park and cost 8,000 cedis. The bus does not leave on time, but it's necessary to arrive at the station promptly as the queue begins to form, and being at the back is not good at all.
Once the bus arrives and unloads, there is a mad rush for the door and insults are hurled about. Since there is little transport to Larabanga and neighboring towns, items such as gigantic crates of tomatoes and huge tins of U.S. AID cooking oil also must fit on the bus. The short of it is that you're lucky if you get a seat, and if you do, you'll likely be stuck holding all of your belongings, and possibly someone's child.
The ride to Larabanga takes about two hours with a stop in Damongo to drop off people and supplies. The road is unpaved, very bumpy, and very dusty. Tying a kerchief around one's face would help at least with the latter.
Leaving Larabanga is similarly complicated, especially if you are moving on to a different destination. The only places you can really go are Wa and Tamale. Ask locals about what days/times a vehicle is likely to come through, and where to wait. They don't necessarily run on a tight schedule, but if you budget in a day or so for leaving the village, it ought to be adequate.
The road on to Wa is even harsher than the one from Tamale, and the vehicles that travel there are small tro tros that travel at extreme speeds. Tourists rarely take this route, so other passengers in the vehicle tend to be genuinely interested in who you are and what you're doing (they usually assume you're Peace Corps). This conversation helps pass the time on the four-hour journey into the upper-west region. Close
Written by pluralofcow on 27 Aug, 2004
About 15km south of Kumasi on the Beresese Road are the villages of Asuofia and Asamang. Both villages are famous for their glass beads. I visited with a very large group of American students, and found the experience to be rather traumatic.…Read More
About 15km south of Kumasi on the Beresese Road are the villages of Asuofia and Asamang. Both villages are famous for their glass beads. I visited with a very large group of American students, and found the experience to be rather traumatic.
Upon arrival the group of tourists was immediately surrounded by a crowd of children. At first of course, you think 'how cute.' And it's true the kids are adorable in that ragged third world way that most kids in Africa seem to be. But these kids had experienced the tour bus arrival many times before and knew exactly what to do. At first they're all smiles for the camera, but before you know it it's "give me a pen," "give me money," "give me a gift" surrounding you from all sides. Eventually the owner of the bead oven came to meet us and led us through the throng of children to a gated area, inside of which was the bead factory.
After a short, and not particularly informative lecture on how the beads are made (coke bottles are melted down, mixed with dye, and baked in an ancient looking oven), we were released back into the village to a home where the beads are sold. Of course no real directions are given to this place, so a lot of aimless wandering follows, accompanied by the unending chorus of "give me pen," with the more audacious youth grabbing our arms and walking with us as they begged. Disconcerting to say the least.
Eventually we found our way to the gated-in yard where women were selling the beads, strung onto a soft cotton rope. A wide variety of beads were available, and were not too expensive after bargaining. Many of the beads are very large and brightly colored. After purchasing a number of beads, my groups was ready to leave.
Outside the fence, the crowd of children had grown even larger, and enveloped us again as we made our way to the vehicle. In fact there were so many that it was difficult to get on the bus as they blocked the door.
While this certainly wasn't a dangerous experience, it was by no means pleasant, and left a bad taste in my mouth. The beads were very pretty, but similar ones can be purchased at the Saturday market in Agomanya (in the Eastern Region) without any of the fuss. Perhaps in a smaller group the children wouldn't beg as much, but I wouldn't recommend the experience to any but the most intrepid traveler.
On a similar note, the experience reminded me of why it is bad to ramble all over the world handing out trinkets to children. In many cases it isn't what they need, and it not only creates problems in these communities, but it also creates unreasonable expectations for future travelers to the region. I've always found it much more gratifying to give gifts to folks I've stayed with or befriended rather than handing out plastic nonsense like a lady Santa Claus.