Stories from Ghana

Ghana. The land of Kwame Nkrumah. No, no, the land of Osagefyo[political reedemer] Kwame Nkrumah! I always wanted to come to you.

Day 1

I arrive at Kokota Intl airport. Immigration!

Immigration officer: What brings you to Ghana?

Me: I just came to visit

Immigration officer: (Appears shocked). Ehh what do you do? I am willing to bet that a white person would never be asked this question.

Me: I am a student.

Immigration officer: Ah! a student has money to travel?

Me: I  am now thinking that student was the wrong answer. So, I say – I also work.

The immigration officer hands me my passport.  Is there anyone out there who likes immigration?

First stop: University of Ghana, Legon.

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U of G Legon entrance

The campus is so lovely with lots and lots of trees.

uni of ghana

 

We have some delicious lunch at the one of the university canteens. Accra is hot and humid; I am melting. My friend Judith takes me for a tour of the campus.  Some woke professors at the university of Ghana has been leading a campaign to have a statue of Mahatma Gandhi removed from the campus in 2016.  I am surprised to see that the statue of Gandhi has not fallen. So, there two African universities that I know of that Gandhi stands tall – U of G, Legon and University of Nairobi. I later on meet with one of the Profs that was involved in this campaign and they say that the struggle is still on.  The most shocking part is that there is a group of Profs who see no problem, and indeed support the decision to have the statue on the campus (never mind there are no statues of African heroes and heroines on the campus). This is one of the many racist things that Gandhi had to say about Africans:

“A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.”

You can read more of these in this fantastic petition.

After you read all that in encapsulated in that petition you have to ask – Africans – who bewitched us? How can a African professor possibly make for a case that having Gandhi on campus is a good thing?

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Gandhi’s statue at U of G, Legon.

Day 2

We start off with the Du Bois Museum. This is situated at the house of this PanAfrican icon who moved to Ghana at the invitation of Osagefyo Kwame Nkrumah.  There is a very nice exhibition therein. The most interesting one is one for me is one about female heroines. You often only hear of  heroic male  figures, but here, they exhibit some iconic female defenders of African(s) freedom. Did you, for example, know about  Muhumusa of Rwanda? She was a priestess and warrior. She fought against the Germans and British for which she was detained until her death.

Nayabingi-Priestess

Our next stop is the art centre. This is a craft centre where you find all sorts of wonderful stuff. Here, you have to have to polish your bargaining skills;otherwise, you will pay lots and lots of money. The first step in the art of bargaining is to express extreme shock once the vendor mentions the price of the item you want to buy. Ah Masa! you cannot be serious. Then, pretend that you are walking away because the price is so outrageously high. Then, the vendor asks you  to name your price. You come up with some figure which is so removed from what the vendor said. Then, the vendor says – that is money but it is low.  Oh and before naming your price you have to say how embarrassed you are to even mention it because it is so low as compared to the vendors price because “ameanzia juu sana/started from so high”. I hate bargaining. I find it exhausting . Luckily, I am with a Ghanian who is an expert at it. I am interested in buying the Ashanti stool. This is the stool that was at the centre of the dethroning of the Ashanti king at the height of Britain’s colonial terrorism . The stool is the soul of the Ashanti nation. The British colonial operatives  wanted to get it and demanded for it but it was somehow hidden until after the return of the  exiled Prempeh I. More  about the stool here.  To me, the stool is a symbol of resistance of oppression. So, I get myself one – after bargaining hard!

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Image source:  OMGVoice.com

stool

 

We have lunch at Tawala beach. The food is soooo good! We would return to eat the friend yam there severally. There are lots of weed smokers around and we joked that they must be adding weed to the food.

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In the evening, we go to the university to watch  a play about the slave trade. It is so well done. This sets the stage for my trip to Cape Coast and Elmina castles. The characters used various indigenous languages and English. This was very interesting to me. I do not think a university in Kenya would showcase a play with indigenous languages unless its Swahili. This is what Ngugi wa Thiong’o has been speaking about for decades. That we should treat all languages as equal! In this play you could see that. One of the things that was said in the play that stuck to my mind was this: even if the Elmina castle was washed with all the waters from the Atlantic it would never be clean. 

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Approaching Elmina Castle

Day 3

Bojo beach. This was one of the top 10 must-visit places according to internet searches, but we found it a little overwhelming. And the food was nowhere near as good as the Tawala beach one.

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Bojo beach
Bojo beach
Bojo beach

The traffic on the way back was horrendous. Reminded me about Nairobi traffic.

traffic
This looks better than Nairobi traffic and maybe, it is. 

Being stuck in traffic provided the opportunity to observe the surroundings. I notice a lot of adverts related to churches and church-related events. Ghana or this part of Ghana is engulfed in evangelical and other forms of Christianity – just like Kenya. Have a look at this.

church 2

church 4

church
Now we know what skin colour God is – based on his finger! 🙂

Day 4

Market, markets, markets.  I am interested buying fabric. You will be spoilt for choice here.

fabric

 

There are so many indigenous food varieties here. Different kinds of fish, grains, plantain, yams, peppers etc

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Pepper
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Garden eggs.
yam
Yam. This is the real deal. Nothing tastes better in this life!  Image source:  intracen.org.
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Smoked fish.

And snails. I did not get to try this, but they are delicacy and quite expensive.

Panoramio
Snails : Image source – Panaromio

Day 5

Aburi gardens is a park that was established by the colonial regime. It is near a natural forest and is open for tourism as well as other events.  There are a lot of interesting tree species here. I had never seen a cinnamon tree, for example. The most impressive ones for me, is this one. It is believed that the tree has spirits. Its is a ficus/ strangler fig, and is hollow from top to bottom (because it ate up the other tree).

strangler fig
Strangler fig: Image source – TripAdvisor.
Aburi park 2
Magnificent palms as you enter into Aburi park.

The other one is this cedar tree which dried up and one of the resident artists produced this masterpiece out of it. Our guide tells us that the carving is a representation of the realities of life: that, while there will always be people who will be lifting up, there will always be another group that will be working effortlessly to pull you down.

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Day 6

I had to be disciplined and respectful of my host so I joined them to church. I agreed with most of the things that the pastor was saying especially – do the right thing even if everyone else around you isn’t. Do not be corrupt even if everyone else around you is corrupt.  After church, I met these lovely and exceedingly funny ladies. I cannot write about the things that they were talking about here. And my friend was saying, you see this kind of social life(the catching up and socializing after church & sustaining those social networks beyond the church) is what those who are abroad do not get to experience. It is a society! This is the truth. The individualistic life of the west does not allow for this kind of socializing.

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After church

Day 7

I leave Accra at the crack of dawn and head to  Cape Coast. I have three things on my itinerary. Kakum National Park, Cape Coast Castle, and Elmina Castle.

The main attraction at Kakum is a suspension bridge. This a series of 7 canopy walk bridges that are not designed for the faint-hearted.  The trick is – do not under any circumstance look down! (the average height from the ground is 30 metres). Look ahead and you will be fine. My guide tells me that there was a time he had other guests here and one of them reached the middle, and could move no further. He just stood still and cried like a baby. “Can you imagine? A full grown man crying?” He said it with such disdain.

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Canopy walk
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Canopy walk

The land on which this park seats was donated by the community. So much for the idea that Africans are not interested in conservation.

After Kakum we head to Elmina Castle. It is about a 30 minutes or so drive.  You see the castle as you approach. It sits by the edge of the sea.

Elmina castle from a distance
Elmina Castle.

This was one of the most important castles in the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Here, captured Africans were brought and kept in inhumane conditions before being transported to various places across the world. We get a guide to take us around. The most horrific thing that I have seen that is close to this are the Rwandese genocide museums where you are greeted by the stench of death.  We move from dungeon to dungeon as the guide explains the conditions under which captured Africans were kept. I am nauseated. You can hardly breathe in the dark dungeons.  Then, he takes us to the female dungeon. He tells us that there was no sanitation provided and female slaves had to, like other slaves, live with their own excreta and menstrual blood, in addition.

female slave dungeon
Female slaves dungeon.

At the time the castle was opened to the public the level of the waste was at the point illustrated in the picture below. This was about over 100 years after the abolishing of the slave trade. To date, the female dungeon still smells…no, not smells – stinks!

shit level
Guide demonstrates the height of human waste at the time the castle was opened. 

The woes of female slaves did not end there. If the white administrators (who lived in airy spacious rooms above the dungeons)  needed sex , then female slaves would be paraded in the yard, then washed and paraded in the courtyard for them to pick out the one he wanted from the balcony.

church and slave dungeon
Courtyard where women would be paraded.

But, the most shocking thing for me, was that there was a church situated right above the  female slave dungeon. Yes, all the slave traders were Christians. So, they would be up in the church worshiping God, Jesus etc, and the female slaves would be groaning in pain below them. Now every time I see a church, I think there is a slave dungeon beneath it.

If you did something wrong (i.e., protest your oppression) you were condemned to the death cell. Here you were literally starved to death. There was a cell for the white officers who misbehaved, but this had ventilation and did not have the skull/sign of death emblazoned above it.

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Africans’ cell.

From Elmina we went Cape Coast Castle which  is another chamber of horrors. I see wreaths laid by descendants of slaves who come to visit from all over the world, and I am filled with disgust for humanity. Sometimes, I think animals are more evolved than human beings. Have you ever seen animals enslaving each other? Have you ever seen animals colonizing each other? Have you ever seen animals murdering each other en masse?  Human beings have done that and much more.  As we finish the tour of the Castle the guide tells us that the Castles should be a reminder that we have to stand up against forms of slavery. He then finishes by saying that: There is a kind of slavery that is prevalent in the world today, and that is racism.

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Cape Coast Castle.
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Wreaths laid by descendants of slaves. Image Source: Ghanatasts.blogspot. ca

We leave the Cape Coast and head back to Accra, and for two days I cannot sleep well. I am traumatized by the horrid stories from these slave chambers. I am ashamed that I knew so little about the slave trade.  So ashamed.  I make an undertaking to educate myself henceforth.  The fact that you do not learn about these things in schools is an indictment of our education systems. No wonder Africans on the continent have not actively engaging with the struggles of Africans off the continent.

Day  8 

I attend a lecture by Prof. Horace G. Campbell as the third occupant of the Kwame Nkrumah Chair in African Studies. Prof.  Campbell delivered a compelling lecture outlining his vision, his thought processes, how his work aligns with Nkurumist Pan African ideology, and how the university can contribute to Africa’s interests. Listening to such people makes me fall in love with academia.

“…the convergence of multiple forces; environmental, financial, health pandemics, militarism, and geo-political changes, along with the diminution of Europe demand new analysis, new ideas and new forms fo organizing. These challenges call on African scholars and activists to rethink the basic ideas of Pan Africanism when the current educational structures of Africa have been organized to retreat from the inspiring ideas of Nkrumah and visionaries such as Amilcar Cabral and Cheikh Anta Diop.”

You can read more about the installation here.

Since he had spoken about the university’s plan about engaging in a green economy, I asked a question about how we can liberate ourselves from waste-especially plastic waste. I had noticed quite a lot of plastic waste around the places I went. This is a huge problem in Kenya too.

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Vice Chancellor’s residence, University of Ghana Legon.

Day 9

Final shopping and lunch at Tawala- Yes, again!

aburi park
Aburi gardens.

Day 10

Left for Nairobi. One of the most impressive things about Ghana, in my view, is its cuisine. That in itself, is an outstanding tourist attraction. I also like the warmth of Ghanian people. Next time, I will go to Kumase!!

nkrumah
Kwame Nkrumah Memorial park. The grey structure in the backround houses his remains and that of his wife Fathia. It also represents an tree stump – a tree that was cut off before its time. 

 

kwame

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