Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I'm back from Ghana!

I am finally over my jet lag and can give a reasonable account of my trip. It was amazing. I am not the best photographer, but it's hard not to get some good pictures in Africa. Lonely Planet calls Ghana Africa for beginners. I'm not so sure about that, but I did feel very safe there and it was nice to be in an anglophone country. Most people learn English in school, so even though Twi and Frafra are their first languages, English is familiar to every one. I went with a group called Beyond Boundaries which partners with a grass roots organization in northern Ghana to work on issues of gender equality. We spent a week with the sister organization and a week being tourists. I'll tell the story in pictures.


This is my group just after getting off the plane in Accra. 11 hours in coach and we still look fabulous. We were met by a group of very helpful guys including Pakwesi who is married to an American and whose main job was to keep us from doing anything stupid.

That's Pakwesi in the plaid pants helping me out at the Cape Coast slave castle.

We drove to Cape Coast the night we arrived in Accra and stayed at a guest house called The Mighty Victory. It is run by a Ghanaian woman who lived in the US for forty years and then went back to run her father's guest house. In Cape Coast we visited and toured the slave castle. it was a strange experience walking where all those Black folks walked. This would have been their last sight of Africa. The tour guide starts every tour by showing a plaque installed by the current Ashanti chiefs apologizing for the role that Africans played in the trade.

Here are some shots of the castle.

These are the cannons that protected the castle.
This is Denise and me in front of the cannonballs. Don't I look like that aunt you had who went all these exotic places and never wore pants? Picture me in a dress on a camel...

It was eerie how beautiful it was there. The views over the Atlantic were beautiful, and there were fishing boats on the shore outside the castle, much as there must have been when it was being used for slave trade. The guide said that there was a chapel where the White people who ran the castle held services. It was located right above one of the dungeons.

The view from the castle

At any rate there were children outside the castle selling some of everything. You can buy anything, and I mean anything on the streets in Ghana. In the cities people walk through traffic carrying things on their heads -- food, clothes, phone cards, dog leashes, toilet paper... it's amazing. They are a very entrepreneurial people. It struck me how true this was when Pamela and I were walking on the street in front of Kwame NKrumah's tomb on our last full day in the country. A woman walked up to us with a baby on her back and began to beg for money. We were shocked since we had literally not seen a single panhandler for the entire trip and Pamela had not seen one on her previous trip. As we were standing there a Ghanaian man came up and began to berate the woman. "You are just asking for money for nothing, do not do this! Someone in a car passing by asked why he was yelling at a woman, and he said "She is just asking for money!" Turning to her he continued "Find something to sell!" For us that said it all.

This is a picture of the kids outside of Cape Coast castle. The girl is selling plantain chips. I am addicted to plantain chips. If you go to Ghana, you will also become addicted. Accept it. You will find yourself hanging out the side window of a tro tro frantically waving down a plantain chip seller trying to get your next fix.

From Cape Coast we began a two day trip to the northern border of the country just across from Burkina Faso. We were headed for Bolgatonga where the Center for Sustainable Development Initiatives (CENSUDI) is headquartered. This is an organization headed by a woman named Franciska Issaka. She is a force of nature who started the organization with her sister. They focus on helping other grass roots organizations make changes in the everyday lives of villagers. Their particular concern is gender equality -- education for girls, getting wives full ownership of land that sort of thing. They are doing wonderful things. We visited some of the organizations they help, made a donation and had a wonderful dinner at Franciska's house where we heard from the young people who work with her.

While up North we visited a women's cooperative that produces rice for resale. The same group also makes baskets. We bought Bolga baskets while there, and talked with Stella who runs the organization. She is an amazing woman. I left promising to help her produce some specialty labels for small runs of the rice. Franciska will take the labels back when she visits at Thanksgiving. Here are some pictures of Stella at work. Yes this is how Ghanaian women dress to go to work! I am humbled.

Me, Stella and the label!
We also met the women of the Kanada women's association (they produce the baskets) and visited Kantia school. These are all organizations that work with CENSUDI. Everyone was wonderful and the Kanada ladies even let me dance with them. I was out danced, but it was fun. Pamela has the pictures, so fortunately no one will see my shame.

The Kanada ladies.
Kantia School. The children were amazing. They are focused and serious. The school is really just a cinder block building. Each classroom faces out on to a hallway and the fourth wall is open. The headmaster and teachers can walk by and see everyone. The amazing thing was that while we were there the sixth graders were studying for a national science test. They were working on things that I cannot understand now. I know I never saw that stuff until high school. We stood outside the classroom while the teacher reviewed the material. Talking (quietly) to the headmaster and senior teacher. Not a single one of those children lost concentration or looked around. I was awed.

One of my traveling companions, Denise, is also an elementary teacher. This is her teaching some of the younger kids how to play tic tac toe.

Traveling in a developing country had its challenges. Apparently paving roads is optional and we spent hours in bone jarring motion on the trip north. Also, the sanitation infrastructure is really, really bad. Let's just say that when we came back we felt a compulsion to flush toilets just to watch them work. But that's to be expected. There was one incident involving lizards in a bath house that Pamela and I will share forever.

After our week in Bolgatonga we started the drive back. Going both ways we stopped in Techiman and Kumasi and on the way back we stopped at Mole national game preserve where we had close encounters with elephants. Let me tell you it's not like the zoo.

The requisite elephant pictures

Safari guides and Pakwesi. The little guy in the middle had a very large gun. I stayed very close to him. Especially after the guy on the right uttered the following sentence: "You know I was in Kenya and they are so lucky. They have the big five. And since they are on the savannah, their lions are easily seen. Not like our lions who hide in the trees." Yes, I stayed close to the man with the big gun. He was my friend.

We also visited Bonwire which is a village which specializes in kente cloth. Kente is only woven by men. Let's just say that driving into a village where every single vendor is male, they are all more or less related, and they all want to sell you something is a unique experience.

Here are some pictures of the wonderful cloth. I bought a piece of black and white kente which is traditionally worn for mourning. I went there specifically to buy it. Kente is very expensive, and I was determined to buy the mourning cloth and nothing else. Then I saw this.

The picture does not do it justice. It is beautiful. I wanted it, but did not buy it because I needed to have money to get home. Seriously, it is that costly. However if you happen to be in Bonwire and want to make me happy, buy this for me. Seriously.

Kente weaver

Kente heaven

We had a great time, and I will probably go back one more time with Pamela. This time we'll take Ed and stop in London to see the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Here's hoping that works out.

Well I won't bore anyone with more pictures. I'm glad I went, and I'm glad to be back home.