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Friday, March 23, 2007

The Adventures

We're back! Hopefully lots of pictures forthcoming, at some point. At some point I may go through and write detailed descriptions of the past couple weeks, but for now, highlights!:

On day one we bounded through up-highway one-lane traffic with two guides (Prosper and Stephen) and a driver (Gentle Ben). Less than an hour in Prosper shared with us an Ewe lullaby about a bouncing baby. In exchange I showed them my recent articles in the paper about the Ewe of Togo and Ghana, who were split by colonial borders back in the day. They seemed happy that someone had taken an interest in their oppression and added that the current government is Ashanti-dominated and didn't bother appointing anyone from their region (Volta) to government positions. They were two very knowledgeable men from the same village who shed light on everything we were to see, which for the first few days was a lot of road and trees dotted by roadside villages and hawkers as we headed city-to-city to the north, through Kumasi, Sunyani (a detour because of construction), Techiman, Kintampo, to Damango just south of beautiful Mole National Park, where we came within just a few metres of several herds of elephants and the little eglets milling abut their gigantic dirty remarkably silent feet, a warthog, bushback and kob antelopes, several baboon families, and one rare bird (the oriole warbler, which sounds like two common species to me).

In the afternoon we visited West Africa's oldest mosque, made of mud and sticks, possibly in the 13th century, in the village of Larabanga, where we were swarmed by sad-eyed children holding our hands and pushy teenagers demanding fees and tips. Conor nearly started a riot with his hockey cards, which he hands out to children in lieu of money, as a symbol of Canadian culture. "You have football, this is what we play in my country," he explains to jumping pushing screaming 10-year-old masses.

After a narrow escape we downed several large beers and played Oware, a board game using ebony seeds, and debate which I retroactively entitle: Literacy: the new Imperialism?

In the bleary-eyed misty morning we headed to Tamale then Bolgatanga, then to a village called Navrongo, known for a beautiful Catholic Cathedral built of clay and decorated by local women artisons with pictures of everymen and angels, with an adjacent craft museum filled with calabash drums and murals. In nearby Paga we were disappointed at Chief's crocodile pond, an 'ecotourism' project where crocs are drawn from the water with live chickens so tourists can sit on them and have pictures taken while locals beat them with sticks. For 60 cents you can take away a written explanation of why crocs are so sacred (they are considered ancestors). Thank god I'm not sacred. We took a quick peek at the Burkina Faso border and went south to the Pikworo slave camp, a fascinating stop for 19th century slaves on the slow southward march to eternal servitute. Such a sad and sombre place, except for the constant ch-ching of additional charges, including 12 cents for each photo you snap and a tip for a group of local men playing an old slave spiritual, and their sad-eyed dancing children. Their performance was quite powerful and the sight has been perfectly maintained, including carved out holes in the rocks that served as bowls, and 'punishment rock' for busted escapists, who were tied with their back down, shirtless in the merciless sun. They squirmed so much that their chains have left an obvious groove around the base of the rock.

We slept in Bolga and made haste back to Kintampo the next day, where slid down the waterfall on our bums and had waterfights with a visiting group of secondary school students. Conor and I celebrated his Irish heritage in a 'pub' called Ryans, surround by middle-aged Europeans and young Ghanaian prostitutes. Go Irish!

Whew, this is exhausting.

Which is exactly what Miia said when the Kumasi doctors diagnosed her with her second bout of malaria. [She's much better now.] So she joined us, sweaty and tired at Assin Manso, where the slaves were given their last bath before being sold. They have erected a wall where slave descendants can write their names for a hundred bucks to show that they have returned, against all odds. The names will stand amidst depictions of America's finest blacks, like Booker T. Washington, whose bio closes with "he taught blacks to be upright citizens who minded their own business." Outside is a mural of an evil looking fat greasy white slavemaster whipping the captured African men. The site of the bath itself is now quite beautiful despite its sinister past. It is surrounded by bamboo and greenery, and has an eerie calm to it.

Finally we came to GHana's creme de la resistance, Elmina, a small seaside fishing town founded by the Portuguese, that along with its sister Cape Coast became one of Africa's great slave exporting hubs, run out of two ominously clean white castles. We splurged and stayed at Hans Cottage Botel, played in the pool, had pingpong grand slams, and watched crocodiles (these ones were fed no chicken, just fish, and generally stayed in the water but were fun to watch, especially when they fought over a morsel). Next door was Kakum National Park, where we did a canopy walk over a 40 metre high, 700 metre long, rope bridge, from which you have a spectacular view of one of Africa's largest remaining stretches of rainforest, and all the insects and birds and lizards therein.

Then they took us to the castles...I think I'll write about that later; it was a provocative experience.



Anonymous said...

I'm tired just reading about it. Sounds like a blast, minus the malaria flareup. Sven

EB said...

You'll need a year to rest when you get home. The place where they held the slaves was visited by the Gov. Gen of Canada (Jean?) sorry forget her full name right now - she was there earlier this year (Haitian born I believe) and she was very emotional, upset seeing it according to the media. Hope you both can get a restful weekend. EB

benjibopper said...

Sven, I'm told the best thing about malaria is that it gets less painful each time. Miia may disagree with that assessment.

EB, Jean or Jeanne came right after we arrived in Ghana, it was quite a big deal here. Everyone talked a lot about how pretty she was. Apparently she cried during the castle tour. According to our tour guides, most black people who tour the castle cry, and you can see why - more on that later, but the dungeons are hellish places, no human should ever go through that.