Monday, January 14, 2013

Epilogue: A Sense of Ghana

From the moment we arrived in Ghana, all of our senses were flooded as we drank in the sights, sounds and smells of this beautiful country.

Arriving at night, we were driven through the capital city of Accra. Exhausted from travelling but excited for the adventure that awaited us, we took in the darkened landscape; winding streets and brightly painted homes with exotic gardens. The air was filled with the woody incense of kitchen fires, a lovely scent that would dominate our entire visit. It was a warm and humid night, but after leaving the chilly Canadian November, we didn't mind!

That night we stayed in a hotel in the city, and dawn brought a chorus of roosters, the chatter of market-goers and noisy preparations for the coming day. Year-round the sun rises on Ghana at 6 AM and sets at 6 PM; we soon learned that one has to make the most of the daylight hours, especially when electricity is unavailable or unreliable.

Our living alarm clocks.
Our first DIVOG guide, Bright, picked us up at our hotel to take us to catch a bus to the city of Ho, the capital of the Volta region and home base for our project. It seemed like a simple task, but after two bus stations, two taxi rides and much haggling, we discovered no one wanted to take us with our huge pile of luggage! Bright's negotiation skills were put to the test amongst a noisy crowd of street hawkers, and he finally got us seats on a 'tro tro,' the local name for a minibus.

A streetside scene near the Ho market, filled with all kinds of transportation.
We packed into the tro tro, shoulder to shoulder, getting to know our fellow passengers without ever exchanging words. I discovered the innate kindness of the Ghanaians on rides like these; everyone helped each other without a thought; whether it was aiding someone with their bags, giving travel advice or passing someone's fare to the driver. These simple everyday gestures were heartwarming.

Driving to Ho on pothole-riddled roads was an exciting initiation into the daily life of a Ghanaian. The roads were lined with pedestrians, goats, chickens, bicycles, dogs and vehicles. At every intersection or crossroad there was opportunity to do commerce... Thirsty? Hungry? In need of a loaf of bread? Just pull over and someone will attend to your needs for a few Ghana cedis. This business made North American drive-throughs seem so inconvenient!

A roadside restaurant and convenience store.
Our surroundings were so colourful, everywhere I looked there was something new and wondrous to encounter. Many of the roads were a reddish soil, a beautiful contrast to the lush greenery that lined the road. The diversity in vegetation astounded me; I couldn't count the different kinds of fruit trees and crops. There were mango trees, coconuts, palms, shea nuts, figs, apples, oranges, calabash, mangroves, baobabs and acacia trees. The natural beauty of this country was so inspiring!

The amazing roadside flora in the Volta region.
Our drive north, and everywhere thereafter, offered us much time for people-watching. The brightly patterned clothing of the women and men we sped past were a source of envy for me. Boldly designed batiks, geometrical Kente weaves and robes of intense colour were varied and plentiful. The people mirrored their countryside!

Beautiful woman, child and man at the Volta River.
We watched in fascination as women and men carried their parcels, firewood and water buckets gracefully on their heads, leaving their hands free to hold little hands or to reassure babes wrapped on their backs. Children did as the adults - everyone pitched in!
Carrying a large load of yams!
Much activity happens roadside in Ghana. In the southeast, much of the land is lush forest so the roads offer easy passage and flat open space. We often drove past blankets covered with peppers laid out along the edge of the hot paved roads as well as fresh laundered clothing drying in the sun and women with the baskets full of produce waiting to be picked up for sale at market. The sight of children with machetes in hand was at first shocking but then became a familiar sight as they walked to farm or forest to gather daily foods or to cut wood.

Tableaux of social life flashed by as we wound our way through villages and towns. In Ghanaian culture, funerals are a highly celebrated event. Usually lasting three days, Saturdays are always the pinnacle of the ceremony where much of the village is invited, dressed in darkly coloured finery with intricate designs and west African symbols. Not entirely a mournful ceremony, music, singing and dancing are an important part in celebrating the life of a lost loved one. We often witnessed these striking groups gathering or on their way to join in these revelries.

West African Adinkra symbols used on fabric and on virtually everything in Ghana.
They say that music is the heartbeat of life, and in Ghana, that heartbeat rings loud and true. Radios played everywhere we went; in houses, cars, and on cell phones. Of course our transportation was no exception, filled with western pop songs, reggae music and even country & western ballads, but mostly we heard the popular Ghanaian genre of music called Highlife. With a danceable Afro-Cuban feel it is sometimes mixed with modern hip hop to form 'Hiplife' music. We were lucky watch a few dance-offs among the children and to shake our hips to this joyful music throughout our trip!

Children using a metal basin to drum on. 
Food and its preparation is a point of pride in Ghana, and for good reason- its delicious! Full of flavour and offering diverse ingredients, a Ghanaian meal often has a starch component (yams, rice, cassava or plantain) paired with fish, meat, beans or vegetables like tomatoes, okra and various greens. Ghana's most well-known dish is called fufu; cassava and plantain pounded into dumplings and served with a stew or soup spiced with peppers. The traditional method of preparing fufu is with a large pestle and mortar.
Our hostess, Petrina, pounding fufu.
Big bowl of Fufu with palm soup and goatmeat.
Ghana's vibrant riches impressed me daily, but none so much as their greatest natural resource: their people. Krista and I met so many lovely people on our short sojourn and were continually impressed with Ghanaian hospitality, sincerity and friendship. Some of the most benevolent people that I have ever encountered, they went out of their way to help us, wore their hearts on their sleeves and were bravely honest. Ghanaians are very proud of their country, their culture, their spirituality and their politics. We were often approached simply to exchange ideas about Canada and Ghana, and we happily obliged.

Most Ghanaians have very little material wealth compared to our standards in the West, yet the people we met were always quick to lend a hand, to give their time and support to us and our project with no strings attached. Well, perhaps there was one expectation of us. As one young girl said to us on our last day at Bakpe, "Please don't forget about us".

As Krista and I reflect on this incredible project and journey, as we present our experiences to our own community who helped fund Puppets Without Borders, we hope to shine a light on the beautiful people of Ghana, as they shone their light on us. No, we will never, ever forget you!

Happy, happy faces!