Posted tagged ‘Kumasi’

“You either get the point of Africa or you don’t. What draws me back year after year is that it’s like seeing the world with the lid off.”

August 14, 2016

Big surprise: today is hot, already 88˚, and combined with the 70% humidity it feels like 100˚. I was on the deck earlier checking the plants. They have to be watered again, but I’ll wait until later in the day hoping it will be cooler.

When I arrived in Ghana for Peace Corps training, I knew nothing about Africa. The books and mimeographed materials from Peace Corps didn’t do much in helping me understand where I was going. Knowing there were two seasons, rainy and dry, had me picturing what rainy and dry look like here, that was all I had for reference. Descriptions of Ghanaian culture were like excerpts from a geography book. I read about the different tribes and where they lived. The country was divided into regions, a bit like our states.

Before we left Philadelphia for Ghana, I found out I was going to be posted in the Upper Region, only a place on the map to me. The Upper Region spanned all the way across the whole top section of Ghana from east to west. I was to be posted in its capital, Bolgatanga.

When I went to Bolga for a week during training, it was the rainy season when everything is green, and the market is filled with all sorts of fruit and vegetables. I figured that would be Bolga all the time. I was totally wrong.

When training was over, I made my way home, to Bolga. I stopped overnight in Kumasi, about the halfway mark. I always added an overnight so I could visit friends along the way. The trip from Accra to Kumasi was a wonderful train ride. From Kumasi to Bolga was a bus or lorry ride, always hot and always crammed with people.

Bolga was still in the rainy season when I moved into my house. The rains stopped a month or two later. Everything dried. The ground split. Nothing stayed green. My lips and the heels of my feet split. I walked on tiptoes. I learned to take bucket baths. My meals never varied. Breakfast was two eggs cooked in groundnut oil and two pieces of toast. Lunch was fruit. Dinner was beef cooked in tomato broth, a necessity to make the meat tender, or chicken. Yams were the side dish, sometimes in a mash and sometimes cooked with the meat. I always drank water except in the morning when I drank instant coffee with canned milk.

I never minded the same meals or the dry season. I was astonished every day that I was  living in Africa. I loved Bolga whether rainy or dry. My friends and I would often look at the sky and say it looked like rain. That was a joke, and we never got tired of it. We knew the rain was months away. If we found something new in the market, it was cause for celebration. If we didn’t, it didn’t matter.

In about five weeks, I’ll be back home in Bolga.

” It takes a long time to grow an old friend.”

June 1, 2012

After the heat and humidity of yesterday in particular, today feels a might chilly. The sun is shining but there is a breeze, and the temperature is only 64°.

I love weekday mornings as they are always so quiet. The only sounds are the birds and an occasional car driving by. My get ready for summer activities are almost complete. All the deck window boxes are filled with herbs and the clay pots have flowers. The vegetable garden is full; a few squashes took the empty spaces. The deck has been swept for about the fourth time, and the only cleaning left is the table and a few spots on the chairs. I need to get tubing for my fountain then I can start it running. Once that is done the pageantry can begin. The final pieces will be taken to the deck to assume their rightful spots. First will come the plastic flamingo dressed for summer in its hula skirt and lei. Then the very last piece will be brought from his winter quarters. With flags and triumphant music accompanying this move, out will come the gnome, the Travelocity gnome, who will sit prominently on the deck by the fountain looking like a complete Ozymandias without the sneer. Then and only then can the deck season begin!

Tomorrow my friends Michelle and John will arrive. They live in Ohio and are driving here touring as they come. Michelle and I were in the Peace Corps together. I sometimes stayed with her in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city, on my way north. I always felt like Country Mouse visiting City Mouse. I remember taking a shower in her apartment and finding two faucets: one was for hot water. I was amazed. She had hot water all the time with the turn of a faucet. My hot shower lasted until the flow of water in the pipes warmed by the sun was gone. I always tried to wash my hair under the warmed water as the first blast of cold water on my head was always a shock even though I knew what to expect. Michelle came to Bolga once, and her memory is of being wet from her shower and lying on the bed under the ceiling fan hoping to feel even the tiniest bit of a cool breeze. I always took my shower just before bed, never toweled off and went to bed still soaked from the shower. It was easier that way to fall asleep in the heat.

When I went back to Ghana last summer, I understood Michelle and the heat, but air conditioning had come to Bolga; however, I still didn’t have hot water. That came in a bucket.

“To the solemn graves, near a lonely cemetery, my heart like a muffled drum is beating funeral marches.”

February 18, 2012

I screamed and ran but tripped on something. I knew I couldn’t save myself so I covered my head with my hands and waited for the end. Luckily it didn’t come. Whatever was in the sky was harmless; it even felt warm, almost welcoming. After a while, I removed my hands, shaded my eyes and looked upward. There was a round, bright ball in the sky. I was awed.

Today is sunny and warm and beautiful.

When I was in Ghana, I went to two funerals. One was for my student, Margaret Atiah, who was a FraFra, a member of the local tribe. The other funeral was for my principal’s husband. They were Ashanti and lived in a huge house near Kumasi. He had died in Rome, and we sat on the porch of her house, Mrs. Intsiful and I, waiting for the casket.

The funerals were so very different. Margaret’s was tribal, traditional. She was carried, wrapped in a grass funeral mat, by relatives, all men, up to her family’s compound in the hills. The men ran carrying her body over their heads. We, the mourners, followed. The body was brought into a compound where the women shaved the hair off Margaret’s body. They believed that because you came naked into the world, you also leave naked. Margaret was to be entombed with her parents. She was considered too young for her own tomb. After the women were finished, Margaret was wrapped in the grass funeral mat which covered her completely. She was then carried to her parents’ grave. It had already been opened. The pieces of pottery which had covered that opening were on the grass to the side and would be replaced over the cover when the funeral was finished. A naked man went into the tomb and waited. The grass mat was held over the opening and her body was dropped inside to the man. I was told he would place her beside her parents. There was no ceremony the way we know it. The tradition was the ceremony. Her daughter, who was about five, had had her head shaved in mourning for her mother. The family gave us a goat so we could eat together as a school family and remember Margaret.

The second funeral was far different. The casket had a porthole which showed the man’s face; it was placed on his bed in the middle of the room. The rest of the room was empty. We mourners circled the casket. Many people moaned and screamed as they walked by it. The sound of grief was constant. His son screamed Kwabena, Kwabena, his father’s name, over and over out a window. At one point, as I was standing to the side, a man came up to me and said he thought white people were amazing. He said there was sweat on the upper lip of the deceased making him look alive. I didn’t bother to explain.

When the time came, the casket was placed in the back of an open hearse, and we walked behind it to the cemetery. Prayers were said, and the body was lowered into the ground. We then walked back to the house. Food was served and people danced and sang. Death was celebrated.

Living in Ghana gave me experiences beyond measure.

“When you are sitting in your own house, you don’t learn anything. You must get out of your house to learn.”

September 19, 2011

Ahoy, me maties. Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. The sea is ruffled and the sails are billowed. Tis’ a great, grand ship and ye are all welcome aboard. Grab a flask of grog and hear me story.

This is the last of my Ghanaian saga. I spent five days in Bolga and three nights sitting and laughing with my students. One day three of them took me shopping in the market. I just sat while they haggled for my baskets and for the smock I bought. We then visited craft places, and I watched the making of the leather goods. At the dress shop, I picked out the one I wanted and Florence bought it. I protested and she just ignored me. Afterwards, I suggested lunch, and we went to The Diplomat where we all had goat and fried rice. It seems fried rice has become a Ghanaian staple. I treated the bargainers to lunch in thanks for all the money I knew I’d saved. They promised to be back that night, my last night in Bolga.

Six of my students came that night. They drank beer and malt and the table beside us gave us a half bottle of champagne they hadn’t finished. The students brought kelewele, my favorite dish and one I suspect I have mentioned many times. They ordered Guinea fowl without pepper so I could eat it. We all ate with our hands and shared the meal. I didn’t eat the bones, and my students couldn’t understand why. I explained we only ate the meat, and they lectured me about wasting food and they finished off the bones. It was a grand night, and we all shared memories. They did imitations of me in the classroom which were right on target. They were me frustrated about what I was trying to teach, and they repeated exactly what I used to say then roared laughing. They told me how the watchman wasn’t really asleep when I’d come to the school at night and find the gate locked. He was just ignoring me and he told the students how funny he thought it was that the white lady kept yelling, “Watchman, watchman,” and he just didn’t move. Most times I ended up climbing the gate, so much for the security of the watchman. I never did understand how he couldn’t hear me as his dog was barking and barking as I yelled. They remembered the one time I walked out of class as they were not prepared, and how they crammed then begged me to return. I did. They sang me a song they had learned from one of the cassettes I had brought with me. I cried when they sang Leaving on a Jet Plane perfectly. One of them told me she often sings it and always thinks of me when she does. That did me in.

We hugged and kissed and exchanged addresses and phone numbers. Three of them have called me already, and I have called a couple. This time we will not lose touch with one another.

I left Bolga the next morning. Thomas and I made it to Kumasi and we stayed there for the night. When we arrived, one of the students who had completed school before I arrived in Bolga was waiting for us as the principal of my old school lived in Kumasi. The talking drums of cell phones had found her through that graduate who was kind enough to meet us and take us to Madame Intsiful’s school. It was named St. George’s, after her she told me. Her name is Georgina. When I walked into the room, she looked at me and said, “I know you,” but she didn’t remember my name. She is quite old now so I understood and reintroduced myself. We chatted a short while and then she walked us to the car.

My hotel room was on a noisy street, but it was clean and had a shower and air-conditioning and was pretty cheap. I didn’t roam Kumasi as I didn’t know it in my day and certainly didn’t know the large city it had become. When I lived in Ghana, I went there just to visit Ralph and Michelle. I was country mouse visiting city mice.

Thomas and I left the next morning, and I arrived back at the Triple Crown in the early afternoon, welcomed by the staff. For dinner that night, I had Lebanese food. It was in Ghana where I first tasted hummos as Accra used to be filled with small Lebanese restaurants. Tahal’s was a Peace Corps favorite spot. I watched some of the Nigerian soap opera then took a shower, a hot shower, and fell asleep early.

On Friday, my last full day in Ghana, I hired the van and Isaac and I did a bit of riding around Accra while I picked up a few last-minute gifts. I had him take me through Adabraca, the section of Ghana where the PC hostel used to be, but I couldn’t remember where. That night I met another former volunteer for dinner. She was staying on Ghana a bit longer.

The next day I packed and then mostly sat around until it was time to go to the airport. I was sad to leave and wished I had planned a three-week trip instead of a two, but I suppose at the end of three weeks I would have been wishing for a month.

The flight was amazing as I went home first class and had one of those sleeping pods which make you feel a bit like an astronaut. I decided I had been substituted at birth. My real family had money and always traveled first class.

My trip back to Ghana was everything and more than I had hoped. I found my Ghana then met the new one, no less wonderful but a lot bigger and noisier and filled with far more people. The Ghanaians are warm and welcoming. I was greeted everywhere and waved at when we were on the road. I fell in love all over again with what I have always called my other country. I had always promised myself I would go back to Ghana. I finally fulfilled that promise.

I’m Ghana get you in a taxi, honey

September 18, 2011

I have uploaded all the photos of my trip. My first thought had been to do it in pieces like Ghana I, Ghana II and up to whatever, but I decided just to add to the first batch and keep going. It took a good part of the day! Enjoy!

My Dear Hedley, Watch out!

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