GHANA I BENIN I INDIA I ZIMBABWE I MARS I CANADA I TOGO I JAPAN I SOUTH AFRICA
ghana


Sent:
May 11, 2007

ARRESTED, ELEVATED AND DISGUSTED

Where to begin?? At the end I suppose. Am back in Dagbamete now trying to nurse Anu back to health. She is the unfortunate recipient of chicken pox as an adult, which from what I can gather, is hellish. She is mending now but still not enjoying herself. At least we can relax under the cool and breezy shade of some trees behind our lodge, watch butterflies and shadows and listen to birds and school children in the distance. Before this transpired many strange and interesting things have happened.

Now then…..

Last off was up north in Tamale with the Atindaana family doing some travel and checking out some Dagomba music. One day we went further north to the rocky city of Bolgatanga (“sand rocks”….there are small and not so small boulders peppered all over the landscape) to see some relations who live in traditional Guruni (Fra-Fra) houses. The houses are quite unique. Essentially, there can be anywhere from 3 to more than 15 buildings, usually made from mud bricks, all connected by walls. Everything is very smooth and well defined. There are little holes built into the walls for chickens to live in, other dome shaped structures for goats/sheep and then larger places for cows and more still for ancestors spirits. Other rooms are there for the people too of course and sometimes for spiritual matters. The architectual distinction (if they weren’t distinct enough) in these parts is the presence of roofs that are designed for people to ascend to by means of steps also molded into the structure of the house in question. This you will not see anywhere else in Ghana. The flat, mud rooftop serves several purposes….staying cool and away from mosquitoes at night(for sleeping), watching over the property and also musicians will assemble and play there on certain occasions. Another interesting tradition is that you never exit through the door you enter.

After Bolgatanga we drove further north to the town of Paga where a curious eco-tourism initiative is set up. From what I can gather, a crocodile helped one of the forefathers of the people of Paga long ago and the people now protect and revere crocodiles. These days it is manifested by visitors coming to the crocodile ponds, buying a small chicken, paying a few dollars and then they call one or two of the reptiles from the pond. After devouring the chicken in one snap its jaws, the crocodile becomes a little sedate (satiated??) and you can go behind it, hold its tail, pose…be a tourist. It was kind of strange but where else would you get to touch a crocodile. Can you exploit crocodiles?? Anyhow, they get fed and the community gets a little needed coin. Eco-tourism has benefits…..I suppose.

Back in Tamale I get back into the Dagomba music and suffer more than I have suffered before for any instrument. The lunga is a “talking” drum whose voice can change by squeezing the ropes (in this case rough goat sinews) that give it tension. Held under the armpit and squeezed by the arm and hand, after playing for an hour I develop blisters, a rash and great pain in the forearm. There is no way around it…those muscles have not been developed like others in my body. That continued for the next four days. The music itself is awesome though. Before leaving Tamale I got to do a little dance in the market one day. I had just bought a cassette from a roaming salesman of some gonje music, a type of fiddle you could say. It is haunting and elusive music consisting of inimitable voices, the gonje and a rattle. I couldn’t wait to get home and listen to it. Before I could though I heard something in the distance. A radio?? No as it seemed to be moving and had a different energy about it. Following my ears I happened upon two fellows, one playing the gonje and the other the rattle and both singing. Surprisingly, it was super loud, perhaps amplified by the market stalls. I stood and enjoyed but as custom demands a roving band of musicians must get paid something so I stuck a few bills to the foreheads of the players. Now they played louder and with more vigour…in appreciation I did a little dance as I felt it. Upon that happening, some of the ladies started dashing me some small bills!!! It is these random acts of music that I cherish. The sounds of the gonje still resonate in my ears.

Leaving the North in an AC bus that turned out to be non-AC, and staying in “Hotel de California” in Accra and I realize my hotel standards may be rising slightly. Running water isn’t too much to ask for is it?? Accompanying Anu to Winneba for more of her mangrove research and “trouble” comes our way. We only wanted to go to the beach. Following the sound of the crashing waves we walk through a dried up lagoon, (both breaking our sandals) over a fallow farm and reach a concrete wall with some steps leading up it. Looks inviting so we ascend and come down the other side onto a field of some sort…some barrack type house and buildings…a school methinks. I see some local people walking to and fro so I think all is well. At the beach and we get our fill and return the way we came. Upon climbing the wall this time we are accosted with shouts of “Hey!! Hey you...come heah!!” like that of a small annoying dog, from a young man. Not knowing who he is nor why he is shouting, nor why I should listen to just anyone yelling at me, I stop and wait for him to come to me as he’s coming anyhow. As he approaches I see uniformed policeman approach from the left and think “Hmmm..best to be cool about this.” The officer explains that we have trespassed upon a police training school. Explaining our ignorance and not seeing any sign bearing such designation upon the grounds, he still insists that we see his master. The master, in a bad mood perhaps, still says that we must go to the office and be put in the “Big Blue Book” which he says is not good. Walking to that office, I hear the officer converse with a lady in Ewe. Now my mood changes. “Efo, afika netso?” I ask him (Brother, where are you from?”) The portly fellow now becomes jolly and smiles upon hearing this. After some discussion I find he is from a town known to me and he knows the places I stay and we even know one fellow in common. He reassures me that nothing bad will happen to me as “we are from the same place” as he puts it. Still, we must put something in the book so he doesn’t get in any hot water. As he writes our incident down, among others, I can see the words “arrested”, “detained”, “suspects” and “released”. Arrested in Ghana!!!. If only for my knowledge of Ewe, he escorted us to the roadside, bid us farewell and gave us the name of his brother in his hometown if we ever go there. I wish all police matters were this cordial. Then I had to walk the long way home, for a mile, barefoot over sand, gravel and asphalt….. during the night snakes would be on the bush path that we arrived on earlier.

Then on May 2 I turned 30. For that occasion I woke at 4am, walked in the dark to a rainforest, hiked as the sun came up through dense foliage, glowing eyes in the forest looking at us like specters in the blue black space as curious about us as we them….”bush babies” they are called…some kind of primate. More sounds from insects, animals and birds than I thought possible, some biting ants, and then as the sun did rise so did we as we spent the next hour or so on a series of rope and wood canopies that joined six massive trees, giving you a view from the top of diversity like I’ve never seen. As it was so early, the closest thing around us to people were two species of monkeys frolicking in some trees. The forest is resonant and resplendent. I didn’t know green came in so many colours…very deep. A slight calming breeze. I could spend all day up there.

For the rest of my birthday I had some fresh fruit juice and went to a slave castle in Cape Coast. Volumes could be and has been written about slavery and if you don’t know anything about slavery, well….I’m not gonna lay it out here. All you have to do is spend 10 seconds in a former slave dungeon to get the basic feeling. In fact, it is unfathomable in all respects especially what is must have been like to be captured and sold into the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. I’ve read about it but being in this place put a whole other spin on it. Packed 1000 men and 500 women at a time at a 6 week stretch in a concrete hell with little to no light, food or water. The walls and darkness spoke of confusion, hope, despair, hatred, sorrow, death. You could almost smell it. It was sickening to think about really. One can never imagine. The whole castle had this heavy and depressing vibe about it…..even the surrounding waters. You could imagine the ships out there waiting for the captives, like sharks, to take them to the Americas and Caribbean. The atrocities on that end are a whole other story, not to mention the actual journey across. Nearly worked to death in many cases to make the European and Western nations rich beyond comprehension (and a select few families in West Africa) and set the stage for today’s global imbalance. 400 years. Millions of people. Colonialism and its aftermath….complex in every respect though simply put…slavery was and is (as it continues in some countries today) an abomination against human existence. How and why it continued for that long, on such a scale and so well organized is beyond me.

I stop here.

curtis


ENTRIES FROM GHANA
APRIL 29, 2009
MAY 11, 2007
APRIL 21, 2007
MARCH 29, 2007
FEBRUARY 12, 2007
JANUARY 22, 2007
JUNE 10, 2002
JUNE 2, 2002
MAY 10, 2002


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