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Archive for September, 2009

Coffin Quest

My ten day road tour of Ghana begins in Accra, searching for a coffin maker.

Stanley, my driver for the next ten days,  arrived at the hotel an hour early.

Before taking off in the Land Rover, we talked about what I was interested in and what sorts of things I wanted to photograph. First item on my list was to check out the fantasy coffins in Nungua, one of Accra’s suburbs. I had seen a coffin making workshop on the internet where coffins were made according to what type of job or interest the deceased had had in life.  If you were a fisherman, your coffin might be in the shape of a fish. If you were a shoemaker, your coffin might be a boot or a shoe. It was a photo opportunity my dreams are made of.

Stanley IMG_0233Stanley phoning the office to check on the coffin maker’s location

We went to the place where the coffin workshop was supposed to be, but it was no longer there. Stanley stopped and called the office to confirm the location. Then he asked someone on the street about it and was told the coffin maker had moved to Nsawam. That wasn’t all that far away, but with the Accra traffic, Stanley figured  maybe an hour and a half.

Accra street scene5 IMG_0268

We got stuck in one traffic jam after another.

Accra street scene IMG_0247Catching up on the neighborhood news

Stanley said it was better if I took photos from the car rather than getting out and taking them because people could cause us a problem. He also told me that Ghanaians are embarrassed and ashamed of their poverty, and that’s why they often don’t like tourists taking their pictures. They are afraid tourists will use them to mock their situation.

Accra street scene2 IMG_0248

I wish I could tell the Ghanaian people that it isn’t so. I take pictures of people everywhere I go on vacation.  Making fun of people just isn’t part of the plan.

Accra street scene3 IMG_0257I always admire how people walk so gracefully with loads on their heads over broken sidewalks and other hazards, never tripping or dropping a thing.

Accra Reviewing Homework IMG_0280Reviewing the lessons.

 

Accra street scene4 IMG_0276

Children mostly liked it if they saw me point my camera at them.  What was great fun, when I was out of the car and talking to them, was showing them their photo on the camera right after I took it.  That usually caused screams of excitement and laughter.

[This post has been abbreviated. The full story is in the Travels in Ghana e-book available at Amazon and Smashwords.]

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Afia African Villages Hotel

Had a very good night’s sleep. The hotel is far enough from the craziness of downtown Accra to be quiet and peaceful, yet close enough to be convenient if you need to go anywhere.

Afia Beach Hotel room IMG_0212

The room was spacious. There was a TV, a fridge and a nice sisal mat next to the bed, good for scraping the sand off your feet.

Afia Beach Hotel 3 IMG_0216The view from my room

Afia Beach Hotel Accra IMG_0196

My room was just a few steps from the beach. I was glad I hadn’t paid extra for a room right on the beach. A thicket of palm trees planted right in front of them obscured much of the beach view.

Afia Beach Hotel IMG_0204Early morning on the beach in Accra

The beach wasn’t terribly attractive here, but it was still nice to be near the water.

Afia Beach Hotel 2 IMG_0207

The hotel grounds, though, were extremely attractive with lush tropical plantings everywhere.

Afia Beach Hotel Tribes Restaurant IMG_0208Entrance to the hotel restaurant

After a short walk on the beach, I still had an hour before Stanley was due to arrive.  I spent it in the hotel’s internet cafe.  I don’t remember seeing an internet cafe among the hotel’s amenities advertised on their website, so it was a good surprise. The equipment was new, and the connection fast.

The hotel staff at Afia African Villages Hotel was very helpful, and everything about my stay here was very pleasant.

[This post has been abbreviated. The full story is in the Travels in Ghana e-book.]

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Too Much Welcome

I made a friend on the flight to Accra. My seatmate, Emmanuel, was a young Ghanaian who had recently established an NGO. NGOs (Non-Governmental Organization) are private organizations that are often involved in development work. We had some great conversations and a lot of laughs. We exchanged business cards as we were waiting to disembark.

It must have been over an hour after landing by the time we collected our bags, went through customs and approached the area where people were waiting for arriving passengers. To my surprise, Emmanuel was waiting for me after I passed through customs. He had found my hotel driver, who had a sign with my name on it, and had assured the man I was on my way. Ghanaians are very kind to strangers.

Obama Ghana IMG_0469

Numerous Obama billboards were still on display around town, months after his official visit. After my driver Anthony and I cruised past the third one, I was curious. I had read news articles about the popularity of the presidential visit, but I wanted to find out from the man on the street what it had been like.

Obama2 Ghana IMG_0298

“So, Anthony, how was Obama received by Ghanaians?”

“Oh! We made him too much welcome! It was like Jesus came.”

I howled. This was what was so much fun about being here, Ghanaian humor and Ghanaian flavored English.

Soon afterwards I was drifting off to sleep in an incredibly comfortable bed.  The next morning I would meet Stanley, my driver for the ten-day road tour.

[This post has been abbreviated. The full story is in the Travels in Ghana e-book available at Amazon and Smashwords.]

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Ghana Road Trip

map west africa_pol98-500pxw

Ghana lies roughly at the center of the West African coast.

My plan included visiting a slave fortress at Elmina along the coast and Nzulezu, a village built on stilts over Lake Amansuri (near Axim). Because some of the roads are unpaved and in bad condition, we had to backtrack in certain areas in order to save time.

map Ghana_19845-500pxwFrom Axim we went north, through Kumasi and stayed overnight at Techiman. Continuing north, we passed through Bole, which turned into an important stop, and ended the day at Mole National Park.

The following day we drove west to Tamale then north almost to the Burkina Faso border where we overnighted at Sirigu Village, southeast of Navrongo. There’s no other good road from Sirigu to the south, so we backtracked, first stopping in Bolgatanga where I got photos of smocks being sewn.  Then through Tamale again, and south towards Kintampo.

The Land Rover broke down in a village about 30 km north of Kintampo, but we made it to Techiman again by nightfall. The next day we visited the monkeys at Boabeng-Fiema and Adanwomase, the kente weaving village near Kumasi. After an overnight in Kumasi, we headed back south again to Accra, passing through Nkawkaw and Nsawam.

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Why Ghana?

Before I get started with the travelogue, I’d like to explain why I went to Ghana.  Ghana is a very poor country.

Axim Ghana IMG_0792

Her cities are not beautiful. Buildings are constructed with low quality materials and mostly seem to be in a state of decline. Sidewalks, if there are any, are broken and uneven, holes are uncovered, garbage is not collected, recycling a dream for the future.  Urban life in Ghana is crowded, polluted and chaotic.

Ghanian Village Picture 146

Most of her citizens live in crushing poverty. An amazingly large portion of the population in 2009 still live in mud huts with thatched roofs, just as their ancestors did two hundred years ago. No plumbing, no electricity.

It’s not easy to do business or get things done. Regulatory agencies don’t exist or are in their infancy. Services and amenities are often unavailable or poorly executed.

Ghana beach IMG_0728

Despite its disadvantages, Ghana has some beautiful beaches and offers many opportunities for adventure tourism,  ecotourism and wildlife viewing. Villages are working with NGOs to become eco villages where visitors are welcomed and encouraged to photograph freely, as it may be a chance — sometimes their only chance — for future jobs and income.

Two guys in Accra IMG_0283

Ghana’s greatest advantage is her people. Of all the West African countries, Ghana’s reputation for hospitality, friendliness and helpfulness to  strangers is the most widely known.  This makes traveling in Ghana a pleasure, no matter what the inconveniences along the way. And the fact that most people speak English, even if it’s a slightly different flavor than what you’re used to, makes it easier.

Ghana children Picture 535

Ghanaians, despite their poverty, possess an amazing joy for life.  They have a well developed sense of humor.  They are fun to be around.

I came to Ghana because I’d been there once before, only briefly, and I wanted to see more.  I came to Ghana because it’s not expensive, because things don’t always work the way you think they should, which is sometimes fun, and because it’s always an adventure.

But most of all,  I came to Ghana this year because I have an enduring fondness for West Africa and her people, warts and all.

I went to Ghana with a long list of places I wanted to see this time around, including some of the more remote northern regions where I could see wild animals and traditional villages. I wanted to photograph the production process of some of the many local products that are made without the benefit of mechanization.  I also had friends to visit.

I came home with another list, one of things I didn’t have time to see or would like to spend more time exploring. Then I did some more research on what I had seen and found out about some places that I  wish I’d seen. More to add to the list.

My second list is as long, if not longer, than the first one.  Ghana, I’ll be back.

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Coming Attractions

From September 3-12, 2009, I toured Ghana with a driver in a Land Rover.

Have been to Elmina Castle and spent the night at a beach hotel where there was a drumming and dancing troupe. Stanley, my driver, took us over roads that ranged from a good two-lane highway to a mere track snaking up the hills and down to the coast. Drove through a rubber plantation, talked to some people working there and took pictures of the rubber being harvested. Talked to a man building an adobe room, and he allowed me to photograph the construction work. A cluster of children gathered around and were jumping all over themselves to get their picture taken.

Stopped at a chop bar, which is a small restaurant that serves local food. The women let me photograph them preparing the food in the kitchen. Music blared from a boom box, and a young woman was dancing outside under a tree. I joined her, which created quite a stir as people were hollering to come see the obruni (white person) who could dance like them. I got lots of cheers and clapping. It was a really good day of simple pleasures, talking to everyday folks and snapping lots of photos.

Went to Nzulezu, the village built on stilts over a lake. Photographed the process of making palm wine and akpeteshie, which is the local white lightning. In Togo it’s known as sodabi. I’ve had several occasions to sample the drink when I lived in Togo, but this was the first opportunity I had to capture images of it being made.

Photographed how palm oil is made. Palm oil is widely used in West Africa in soap making and cooking, among other things, and as the palms are grown here, the oil is extracted locally and sold in plastic bottles by the roadside. In the U.S. palm oil isn’t carried in carried in stores unless you live in a metropolitan area such as Washington DC where there are many African immigrants. Then it’s easy to find an African supermarket and get some.

Only caught one brief glimpse of an elephant in Mole National Park, but I saw baboons, warthogs and quite a few bush buck. Also had close encounters with tse-tse flies, but I was assured that the sleeping sickness disease which they can carry has been eradicated, even though the flies themselves have not.

Had some interesting problems come up. Filled up my 4G camera memory chip before I even got to Mole and had to figure out what to do. I had two flash drives with me but no spare memory card. It was a bit of a problem, as I was in an area where there were only villages. The nearest large city where an internet cafe was available where I could transfer the images from the memory card to a flash drive would have taken about two and a half hours to get to, then we would have to backtrack a couple of hours to Mole. The road to Mole is a bad dirt road and is unsafe to drive at night, so it really was an issue.

There were also some vehicle breakdowns, meeting Lion Man and the Sirigu village crazy man, and lots of interesting characters I encountered along the way.

Since timing the drives so that we could find accommodations each day before night fell was critical, I didn’t make any effort to stop at any internet cafes to post in this blog along the way.

For my final ten days in Ghana I’m staying with friends in Accra. Although they have internet at the house, the connection is extremely slow. Also they have an old Apple computer, and half the keyboard navigation keys don’t work. Therefore, photos and a detailed travelogue will be posted in a few weeks once I return home.

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