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Archive for December, 2009

Beauty Queen Hotel

From Adanwomase, it was only 30 to 45 minutes to the Beauty Queen Hotel in Kumasi where Stanley puts up his visitors.  The length of time it took was due more to the traffic congestion than the distance. One of the reasons he likes it is because it’s not in the city center and he doesn’t have to face even worse traffic.

The Beauty Queen is on a busy street. It wasn’t remarkable looking, so I didn’t take a picture. As always, you regret more the photos you didn’t take. However boring looking I might have thought it was, I still wish I had snapped a photo or two.

There was a double room with no view for 45 cedis and one with a balcony overlooking the busy, noisy street for 65. I took the no-view quieter room, and Stanley went off to find less expensive accommodations.

The room was air conditioned and had a fan and cable TV. It was unremarkable otherwise. Water pressure in the shower was nonexistent. Only a trickle came out of the shower head. But there was a plastic bucket in there, and the lack of pressure was probably the reason.  I let the bucket fill up under the trickling faucet while I fussed with luggage.

After a refreshing bucket bath and a change of clothes, I went down to the hotel restaurant. It was not yet 5:00 pm, but I hadn’t had lunch today so I was starving. In the cavernous bar-restaurant, they had both the TV and a stereo blaring. The restaurant had the usual cheesy decor, complete with cheap plastic placemats and plastic flowers on each table. I think the food must have been prepared some hours earlier, as the chicken was pretty dry.  There was too much pepper in the rice.

So the Beauty Queen was about average, for a West African hotel.  The staff were probably the best part about it. They were all friendly and helpful.

 

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After watching the kente weavers, on the way back to the Land Rover I noticed some carvings made on the trunk of a cut down tree near the Visitor Center.

I wondered if the wood carver who worked on the tree was from some other part of Africa.

The reason it crossed my mind is because West African women don’t traditionally wear neck rings.

Another scene was carved into the back.

Yet another surprise a little further around.

How cool is that!

Stanley had gone past the carved tree and into the grove of live trees behind the Visitor Center. He called me to come look.

“This is cocoa,” he said.  I never knew that cocoa beans grew in pods. He found a pod lying on the ground and broke it open to show me the cocoa beans inside surrounded by a thick milky liquid.

“The workers suck the liquid if they are hungry. Try it.”

I scooped up a few beans and sucked on the cocoa milk. It was surprisingly sweet.

Cocoa beans are fermented for a few days then dried before being made into chocolate.

Cocoa is one of Ghana’s most important cash crops. Ghanaian cocoa has a reputation for being very good quality.

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We returned to the kente weaving workshop where there were maybe a dozen weavers at work. Most of the remaining weavers were in the village at the funeral.

As is typical in most Ghanian villages, there’s no electricity here.

Kente is made in narrow strips about four inches wide and about six feet in length. The strips are stitched together to create a large piece of fabric.

The workshop and the equipment were interesting. I wished I had been there on a day that more weavers were present.

The weavers are generally friendly and willing to be photographed.

The weavers have no back support at their work stations.

Even the feet don’t get to relax. This must be exhausting work.

Patterns can be very simple or very complex. They have meanings. Some patterns are reserved for royalty only.

The weavers are extremely rapid at their work.

You can see what this kind of work does for the arms and shoulders.  This weaver has fastened a flashlight overhead in his work area so he can work after dark.

I’ve just discovered that Adanwomase has a website.  You can find out more about the village and kente cloth here.

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I definitely had kente fever. A few steps away after buying my first cloth, another store beckons.

Oh, wow! My rationalization mechanism was working overtime:  what am I going to do with it? I don’t sew, and I won’t cut it! My advice:  don’t even bother trying to rationalize it. Just buy it if you love it!

A few doors down, some smocks were hanging up for sale and one caught my eye. The price was 30 cedis, half what I paid in Bolga.  I bought it.

In Adanwomase, prices are already at rock bottom, so if you go there know that no one is trying to gouge the tourist. If that isn’t enticement enough, the Adanwomase villagers have signed a pledge, worked out with the Visitor’s Center and a Peace Corps Volunteer assigned to their area, that villagers promise not to beg tourists for money or hassle them in any way.  So respectful are they that my presence didn’t attract the usual gaggle of children. I kind of missed that!

Unfortunately, when I get shopping fever the  photography suffers. That’s why I have no photos of the village itself. I was too distracted by all the beautiful kente for sale.

It was so hot. Fortunately there was a shop open that was selling sodas. Cold ones, even! And, oh, yeah, they also had some kente for sale.

I had my golden kente, so I thought I’d treat myself to one more piece in a different color.

There was another shop open on the way back to the visitor’s center where I found a pattern in green and purple that I liked.

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When buying Kente cloth, it’s useful to know that it’s packaged in two ways:  men’s kente and women’s kente.  Men wear kente like a toga, so if you buy a man’s kente cloth, it will be a much larger piece of material, like roughly the size of a bedspread, and correspondingly will be more expensive.  Cost of a man’s kente cloth can be from 300 cedis on up. The price will vary depending on the materials used, number of colors of thread used, and the difficulty of the design.

Women’s kente is about half the cost of a man’s kente because there is less cloth, but it’s sold in three pieces. One piece is wrapped around the body, one is wrapped around the head and the third is the baby wrap, the piece of cloth used to hold a baby on its mother’s back.

I mentioned I just wanted a small piece of cloth. The shop owner said that children sometimes wear kente but he could also sell me just one piece of a woman’s three-piece kente ensemble.  Perfect!

The price for one piece of the three-piece set was 60 cedis.  I felt more than comfortable with the price, which worked out to roughly US$40 for a gorgeous, hand woven piece of Ghana national treasure about the size of an afghan.

 

Which one to choose?  Oh, that was a problem. Normally I don’t care for orange or gold, but those colors are components of quite a lot of kente designs. Over time, I began to like the kente patterns in orange more and more.   I narrowed it down to two, and finally chose this one.  Then I had a brilliant idea.

I asked the shop owner if I could take his picture with the piece of kente I didn’t buy “so I could regret it for the rest of my life.” He laughed and stretched out the other piece of cloth.

And I do regret it!!!

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Day nine of the Ghana road trip:  searching for the lesser known Kente village.

Nkoranza and Techiman aren’t very far from Kumasi, and Adanwomase, the kente weaving village, is so close to Kumasi that you could almost consider it a suburb.  After our yam shopping spree, it wasn’t even lunch time, so there was more than enough time to see kente weaving before we stopped for the night.

Adanwomase is nowhere near as well known as Bonwire for its kente weaving industry, the largest money making enterprise in the village.  I learned about Adanwomase from the Bradt Guide to Ghana when I was planning my trip.  The village was recommended precisely because it is less well known.  The quality of the kente cloth made here is just as good as Bonwire, but prices are lower and it’s hassle-free for tourists.  Lesser known and hassle free are two phrases which get my attention when it comes to vacation planning.

We finally saw a sign that confirmed we were going in the right direction.

Adanwomase is a small village.  The livelihood of most of the people who live there is connected with the making of kente cloth. I didn’t see any restaurants, and there were not many stores.  You could walk through the whole village in maybe fifteen minutes.

The Adanwomase visitor’s center guide.

The visitor center at Adanwomase is new, having opened earlier this year.  It was only a short distance from the kente weaving workshop.   Our guide normally began the kente tour by taking visitors to the village and going to a yarn shop, so you could see the raw material from which kente is made.   Unfortunately for me, it was a Saturday and most of the villagers along with almost all of the nearly 150 kente weavers were attending a funeral.

We walked back to the main street to see if we could find a yarn shop open, but we didn’t.  Instead, we stopped at one of the few shops which were still open that sold finished pieces of kente.

Now the real dilemma begins:  of all  the gorgeous cloth in the display case, which one do I choose?

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These guys weren’t just hanging on, they were dancing!

The white haze on the right half of the photo isn’t smoke pouring from an exhaust, which happens often enough. It’s just a dirty windshield.

 

If riding on top wasn’t crazy dangerous enough, how about perching on the back bumper?

Not only do we have a guy on top, look at how the vehicle tilts to one side.  Either there’s too much stuff inside, or something’s broken. Overloaded vehicles are common, as well as vehicles in unsafe mechanical condition.

Guys riding on tro-tro roofs are likely mates, the guys who assist the tro-tro driver by collecting fares and loading and unloading cargo. If the mate is on the roof, that means they can squeeze one more paying passenger inside.

Why even hang on to anything?  What could possibly happen?

I’ve gone through all my truck-on-the-highway photos.  Almost all of them have passengers riding on top.

There were six or seven people inside this taxi when it passed by in Techiman.  Two people sharing the bucket seat in front is very common. West Africans are typically a lot less well fed than Americans, so it’s doable. Taxi and tro-tro drivers like to maximize their fare capability to offset fuel costs and police payoffs.

This is simply trying to make a left turn at an uncontrolled intersection in Kumasi.  Traffic in Kumasi is as much of a  nightmare as it is in Accra.

Unsafe loads were such a “normal” sight that I’d often forget to take a picture of them.

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