Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ghana is a Wrap!

Akwaaba, Me din de Amma.  I know slightly more Twi, but not too much more.  I am called Abruni and don't mind.    My sandals are a bit worse for wear and my backpack has held up through another country.  

Accra seemed overwhelming during my first few days, but in just a short time I learned to navigate the streets with ease. 

Once again I became comfortable with discomfort which has been a theme that continues to widen my understanding of the world, both at home and abroad. 

I will be leaving in the next couple of hours.

I'm anxious to resume my life.  I have a course scheduled to start and will resume tutoring young children in the homeless shelter.  I can't wait to see my granddaughters - Ava and Mia and of course Barkley Bear, Theresa and my boys.

But I'm also sad to leave Ghana.  I have a new appreciation of one country in Africa and have just begun to understand the culture. 

I leave here proving to myself, once again, that I can travel freely around a new country by myself.  I never could have imagined this independence twenty years ago.  Simply by saying a few words in Twi I have opened conversations with people and learned so much from them.

Last night was my last evening with my students.  A few kept asking when I would return, what else I teach and would I come back.  I will miss them and yes, if my expertise is required, I would come back.

My students are welcoming, bright and enthusiastic.  I am sure they learned from the two courses I taught and in return, I learned from them.

I have had pictures taken with people and have no idea who they are or why they wanted pictures.  I always ask them to take pictures with my camera in return...just because it makes a good story. 

When Janyn was here we spotted Ghanaians taking pictures of us thinking we wouldn't notice - we did.

In turn, we took pictures of Ghanaians who we thought wouldn't notice - and probably did.

I met Ashley, a Peace Corps Volunteer.  She introduced me to her neighbors who pounded fufu and made soup for Janyn and me.

I listened to good music. . . and some not so good.

I learned about Ghanaian Art, although one piece still remains a mystery.

I learned to move through the city in a TroTro by myself.  I met many friendly Ghanaians on the TroTro rides.  

We shared stories of Ghana and the United States.  For someone who is directionally challenged this is an accomplishment worth noting.

The second Peace Corps goal is to promote a better understanding of Americans - something I can do as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, even if it's not my country of service. 

I bought fruit my first day with negotiation help from the staff but quickly learned the art of independence, becoming fast friends with my favorite vendor.  Hugging me was actually her idea... something Ghanaians rarely do.  She dashed me my last pineapple (Dash=an extra or a gift).  When she showed it to me she told me it was the biggest and freshest pineapple she had. It was the best I have eaten, here or anywhere.

I visited many museums, Nkrumah's Memorial Site and Independence Square, mostly with Janyn, one with Ashley and some by myself. My curiosity was peaked knowing that history is the key to unlocking the culture of a people; consequently many nights were spent searching for answers on the internet, or by reading books and watching video material.

Janyn and I visited one of the poorest villages in Ghana where we were offered a desperate woman's baby shortly after this picture was taken.

What I will miss the most is the simplicity of life.  I saw it in Central America, I lived it in Saint Lucia and I have been reminded of the peacefulness it brings in Ghana, Africa. 

It continues to bring up a burning question. "Peace Corps Response?"  I'm not sure. The application is only half completed.

And Barkley, my virtual dog.  I brought him to Saint Lucia and yes, he came with me to Ghana. He was a good virtual boy and stayed in one spot during his entire virtual visit.  He always kept me company and never bothered anyone.  What a great virtual dog!

So it is time to leave and I am anxious to get home and so sad to leave. Nante Yie!

Thanks Ghana, my students, and Webster University!  

Now on to a grueling 25 hour, door-to-door, travel adventure.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

My Top Ten

Here is my Top 10 List of things I have learned about Ghana.  It was a much longer list that was trimmed down to be manageable.  There is a lot to know about this country and its people.

10. Funerals recognize a person’s worth. 

9.  In the "olden times" women who had ten or more children were not expected to participate in communal labor.  Consequently, big families were common.  

8.  Older people are respected and called “Daddy” or “Mommy”.

7.  Traditional foods are starchy and they use a lot of palm oil in cooking. Fufu, Kenkey (fermented cornmeal wrapped in plantain leaves or corn husks) ground nut soup, palm nut soup and fish are a large part of the Ghanaian diet.  Ground nuts are what we call peanuts.

6.  Using the left hand to eat, point or gesture is considered rude.  When acknowledging people in the room, one always begins on the right.

5.  Dance, music, wood carving and textiles express traditions, symbols and values of the people.   Talking drums warn people of important meetings or war.

4.  Stools are a traditional symbol of chiefs. The Golden Stool is sacred and holds the spirit of the Ashanti. Only the King is allowed to sit on the Golden Stool.  Nana Yaa Asantewaa was the Queen Mother who stood up to the British and saved the sacred stool, a brave heroine.  The Golden Stool is only shown in public once every five years.

3.  Ghanaians don’t smoke.

2.  History is passed down through stories and the arts. There are no dates.  It's either present time or olden time.  

1.  Ghanaians are friendly and pride themselves on being peaceful.

and .... one more small piece of information I found interesting and deserves more than one line in the Top 10:  

Ghana’s government is currently governed by an Executive, Legislative and Judiciary Branch.  There are several Ministers of State as well as Regional Ministers.  

The Ashanti or Asanti Nation forms a greater society of Ghana known as the Akan. Once the official governing body, it is now largely ceremonial and seems to exist to preserve the culture.  The Akan includes ten tribes, and eight matrilineal clans.  These clans are the basis for values and norms.  Each individual is identified to one of the matrilineal clans of the Akans.  The Queen Mother’s lineage defines the succession of the royal kings.

The main areas of importance to the culture are: Kente, the Golden Stool and talking Drums.  The King performs ceremonial duties and also mediates disagreements.  The Queen Mother is a co-ruler and holds the power to veto the King's decisions.

For those who find culture and history interesting, you may enjoy the video's below about how one brave woman saved the Golden Stool.

Yaa Asantewaa was the Queen Mother who stood up to the British when they demanded the Golden Stool near the turn on the 20th Century.  She was tough woman and is a heroin in the Asanti Culture.
Part I: 5 Minutes
Part 2: 8 Minutes

and if you are REALLY interested and want to invest an hour into an excellent PBS Documentary, this is very well done and informative.
Kingdom of Africa - Kingdom of Asante

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Ntonso Experience

Today we are going to Ntonso Village, about an hour from our hotel in Kumasi.  Ashley packs a backpack and says, “Let’s just take one.  We can share mine”.  This is her home-turf and she feels a sense of responsibility for us. We head downstairs for breakfast.

We have the time today and so we plan to take a TroTro; a small van used for public transportation. It is more fun than taking a taxi.

We walk the three miles to Kejetia (pronounced Catch-a-tia) Market to find our tro-tro.  This market houses thousands of vendors. It is widely advertised in the travel books and websites as the largest open-air market in Africa and a great place to buy crafts: Kente and Batik fabric, find a seamstress, buy fruits and vegetables, trinkets and a myriad of things that traveling vacationers or local Ghanaians might want to purchase.

Ashley warns to not bring anything of value here as there are many opportunists looking for a vulnerable traveller.  I concede we might look like a good target and so Janyn and I use our pockets for our IPhones and money; cargo shorts come in so handy.  She securely fastened her pack in front of her as we move through the crowd and toward the buses. 

It is interesting to read travel books.  I've learned that one must leave expectations behind and that most of what is described is left to interpretation whether it be food, tours, sightseeing or just the culture in general.  It is likely that many would not enjoy the experiences that I have loved.  And, many would love Kejetia.  I have no interest in this market other than to find a bus to Ntonso. Although I felt very safe, I took no pictures of Kejetia Market, but picked one off the internet.

Kejetia is not my thing.  I’m not a shopper, but will buy when given an experience.  I had an experience when I went to the bead factory and another when we drummed at the Cultural Arts Center. Today we are seeking an experience in Ntonso.  I like stories that go with my souvenirs. Otherwise, they are things that sit on shelves that I must dust. I have found Ghanaians are better at providing an experience than most countries I've visited.

We quickly find a bus and board waiting for every seat to be filled.  It fills quite fast.  We are in the back and seated next to women who want to get to know us.  They are curious. I wish I had asked to take their picture. Only one of the women knows English so there is some translation going on between them.

Ashley speaks Twi, but Janyn and I only know a few words.  When I say, “me din de Ama” they laugh. (Ama is my Ghanaian name as I was born on a Saturday).  I find that Ghanaians are happy when they learn we know something about their language.  

The women want to know where we are from and what it is like in the United States.  We talk about traffic.  Ghana rivals the traffic in Los Angeles. We talk about food and our experience with their cuisine.  We talk about work and what we are doing here. We talk about their commute. Just normal conversation among people who live polar different lifestyles. This is what riding public transportation is about.  It is learning the culture, meeting the people and being part of everyday mundane activities of daily life.  By the time we arrive we have become fast friends.

The women point to the side of the road.  “Get out here!”.  The van stops and the door opens.  We climb over several passengers working ourselves out of the van before walking up a dirt road.

Ntonso is a place where Kente Cloth is made.  In addition, the Ashanti People also do Adrinkra Stamping in this village.  This is the reason we have come.   As we approach the building we see a familiar word, “Akwaaba”, meaning “welcome”.

There is cloth everywhere.  Hanging outside as well as an entire room filled with various clothes.  We must use our IPhone flashlights when inside as there is no electricity.  I am so happy we found this place.  Two men greet us and give us a tour of the ink stamping process.  The Ashanti people make dye using the bark from the Badie Tree.  The pieces of fibrous bark are soaked in water for 24 hours before being pounded into a mortar.  Pounding takes about three hours.

I have noticed that pounding things with big sticks is a theme in this country. They pound fufu, tree bark and glass. 

Janyn makes an attempt at using the bamboo to crush some of the bark, remarking “I don’t have to eat it”, a reference to last night’s fufu dinner.  If you listen to the video carefully, you will hear him calling us "mommy".  This is common in Ghana - another mystery, but I have a theory.  I think it's what they call "older women".

Once this process is complete the mortar is poured into a pot and boiled for four hours.  It is then strained and boiled again for another four hours before it is ready to be used.

The stamps are carved symbols.  Each symbol has a meaning and when placed together they tell a story.   In the "olden times" they used cassava to carve their stamps, however, they did not last long.  They now use calabash to create stamps.  He said they last 18 years.  Then he said the stamps on the table were 25 years old. I'm not quite sure where these numbers come from. Time seems to have little meaning in Ghana. I quietly let this go and concede calabash stamps last far longer than cassava stamps.  This makes sense.

Just beyond the stamping area were men weaving Kente Cloth.  We watch them as they weave the bundles of thread with precision.  At one point Ashley sat down and attempted to weave, finding it quite difficult.

We decide to purchase cloth and stamp our stories onto it.  There is so many pieces to choose from that it is overwhelming  They even have Kente woven into an Obama Portrait.  It's an amusing novelty and I quickly decide against that piece.

I chose two clothes.  One for me and one for a friend.  Then I stamped them.

Janyn chose two as well.

Then Ashley decided to take her dress off (wrapping herself in Kente) and stamp her dress.  This was fun!

I had taken the before picture of Ashley in her dress at breakfast.  And now, here is the after picture as well as a few other pieces drying in the sun.

We spent considerable time there and made a few purchases and were "dashed" others.  A dash is something that is an additional item given as a bonus for the purchase.  

They walked us out to the highway to catch a ride back to Kumasi.  We purchased a couple of bags of water.  Water is sold everywhere on the street. Women carry large buckets of cold water on their heads.  I bite the corner of the bag and quickly drink it, while doing what everyone else does with the empty bag.  There are thousands of discarded empty bags on the streets of Ghana.

The men flag a taxi for us.  But it's not a real taxi, its a line taxi.  This is a mystery.  A line taxi is a taxi that travels straight through to a single destination at quite a distance.  The fare is the same as a bus.  If this were a real taxi, the fare would probably be at least GHS 150, but since it's a line taxi, the fare is only about GHS 5 per person.  There is nothing marked to say it's a line taxi.  It looks exactly like a taxi. I'm not sure how one distinguishes the line taxi from a regular taxi. Like I said, it's a mystery.

We get off in Kamasi and stop to buy a coconut on the street.

Our next stop is one of two museums we visited in Kumasi to learn about the Ashanti people and their king and queen.