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Markets, Art, Music and Dance

Exploring Ghana further afield

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View Volunteer Trip to Ghana on BryanG's travel map.

"Only when you have crossed the river can you say the crocodile has a lump on his snout"
- Ashanti Proverb

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Although my primary purpose for being in Ghana in July was to teach at Senchi Ferry Methodist School each day, our group was free to explore on evenings and weekends. We spent most evenings eating and resting, but on weekends we formed into groups, hired cars or vans and hit the road!

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A dancer in New Akrade, Ghana performs on a stage at the outdoor community center

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I spent most of my time in the various towns I visited - Akosombo, Kumasi, Accra - wandering through twisting city streets and exploring markets selling everything from vegetables to textiles. That doesn't mean that I didn't get to explore museums and cultural sites, but to be honest, I found just wandering the streets and chatting with people at the market more interesting.

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Our first week a few of us headed 25 minutes by van north of Senchi to Akosombo and the local market. It only runs on Monday and Thursday, but is the primary shopping opportunity for people in the area. I had only been in Ghana for a few days, and found the Akosombo Marekt little overwealming - the crowds, mud, variety, the flies... In hindsight I am glad I started with this small regional market instead of plunging first into the swirl of Makola Market in Accra!

When I was in Ghana I always asked permission before photographing anyone, and initially had very little luck in getting people to agree. The more local language I learned and the more time I spend chatting with people BEFORE asking permission to photograph them, the better my conversion rate was. One time I asked a market woman if I could photograph her and she said "so you want to take my picture and take it back to America with you and leave me here? Why don't you just take me with you - that will be much better!" Touche!

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The approach to Akosombo Market - part of it was paved with permanent stalls, but most was muddy and informal

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A muddier view of the market - women in Ghana carry everything on their heads, regardless of bulk or weight

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Second hand clothing for sale - on closer inspection, much of it appears to be from North America

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A woman sells a common local delicacy - smoked fish caught in the nearby Volta River

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I found this tabloid poster wall interesting - a crowd was gathered around to see photos and read a bit about Michael Jackson - yep, even in the interior of Ghana it was a big story... Also depicted are shocking photos of the wealth and punishment of "Sakawa", or mobsters/con men who have become rich through organized crime

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Ghana is famous for many things - Kente Cloth, High-Life music, Ashanti Culture - and on a few occasions we were able to explore a little of each.

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Another shot of a dancer in New Akrade

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The Jr. High HIV club does a skit on how to avoid the dreaded disease - there was a whole assembly dedicated to music, dance and drama to further HIV/AIDS education

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The HIV Club Poetry contest!

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A Senchi Ferry student in traditional dress dances at the HIV Club assembly

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Our second weekend in Ghana a couple of us (Jeanne, India, Emily and I) hired a car and set out for the ancient Ashanti Capital of Kumasi. Although only about 150 miles away, because of the roads (occasionally excellent, but more frequently pot-holed or gravel) it took us close to six hours to get to our B&B in Kumasi.

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Our B&B in Kumasi, the Four Villages. Your home away from home in Kumasi!
http://www.fourvillages.com/

Even though it took a long time, I enjoyed the drive very much. There was so much to look at - the least being the diversity of the jungle sliding by, full of large and dramatic trees, the occasional baboon. What was most interesting were the glimpses into the life of local Ghanaians. Whenever we drove into a village we would slow way down to make our way over the ubiquitous "speed-bumps" and we all got a look at village life - the busy carrying, buying, selling and socializing that seemed to go on unabated all day and into the evening. As we drove accross the country from east to west we would drive through areas where different products where available for sale on the side of the road - bright orange palm oil in gallon plastic jugs in one area, sugar-cane in another, abundant fruit and vegetables in another.

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I am fascinated by the trees in Ghana - so many unfamiliar species, and so big!

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Cow Crossing - they had baboon crossings too, but I didn't get a photo

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Once we got into Kumasi the traffic thickened up and the hawkers started to appear at stop-lights. One could buy hot food, drinks, soap, you name it, and all from the window of your car!

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Kumasi is the center of the ancient Ashanti Kingdom, and although the Capital is Accra on the coast, Kumasi is described by many sources as the cultural capital of Ghana and the Akan people. The Ashanti Kingdom traces its roots to 1670, when a collection of local tribes banded together. Ashanti history invests a great deal of importance in the story of the "Golden Stool" which is the divinely inspired throne of this matrilineal society. The Ashanti were one of the few groups in Africa that put up a serious fight against European colonial powers.

The Ashanti Kingdom, which also fought wars with the Fante and Ga people of Ghana, had upwards of 100,000 soldiers, making it more powerful even that the Zulus of East Africa. From 1823 to 1900, the British fought four wars with the Ashanti and it was only in 1900 that the interior area around Kumasi was incorporated into the British Gold Coast colony. Bottom-line: the Ashanti were tough, and even in colonial times, the British never trained Ashanti warriors to join the British colonial army for fear they would apply their military skills and rebel. One of the most interesting places we visited in Kumasi was the Colonial Fort and Military museum which had everything from African weapons captured in the 19th century, British Colonial photographs, German, Japanese and Italian weapons captured around Africa during World War One and Two, and even an old Bradley tank left behind by the Americans!

We toured around Kumasi to explore "cultural sites", but I quickly slipped off on my own to explore Kejetia Market, which is touted as one of the largest in West Africa.

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On my way to the market, I made my way through various neighborhoods

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Although I only scraped the surface of Kejetia, I was able to get a sense of its scale on this quiet Sunday morning

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This woman was selling cooked eggs in spicy tomato sauce and found my attempt at Twi - her language - hilarious

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I am told one can buy just about anything at Kejetia Market, and I sure saw lots of stuff!

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In a poor country like Ghana very little is wasted - here used bike parts are for sale

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Motor-bike repair shop in the muslim quarter in Kumasi

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A cobbler if your sole is in need of some work

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The Sunday that I visited Kejetia most of what was for sale was food and produce

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This woman - named Ama - took some convincing, but I finally got her to smile

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This woman - also named Ama interestingly enough - was all smiles and giggles until it was time to shoot, then she posed in a rather serious manner. When I met her she had her box on her head, navigating the crowd, selling bread

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One evening after tutoring, we had the chance to visit a nearby bead factory (Cedi Beads) that designed and produced Krobo-style beads from recycled glass. Although an ancient art form utilizing various materials, in the past century, discarded beverage bottles have become the most common raw material at Cedi.

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Raw material

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An artisan prepares molds for liquid glass by "painting" them with colorizing agents

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Glass bottles are melted down and placed in molds to create beads

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After they are removed from the kiln, they are allowed to cool

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Another view of the kiln area

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After cooling, the beads are removed from the molds

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and polished in a stone basin

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Bead molds and finished beads on display

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A pile of the finished product - rough, but beautiful

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Traditional beads - painted with colorizing agents before being fired

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Plenty to buy in the gift shop!

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Some more delicate painted examples

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A view of the Akosombo Dam and Lake Volta beyond from the Volta Hotel

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The largest public works project in the history of this region, and a source of great national pride for the Ghanaian people is the Akosombo Dam. The dam was built in the early 1960s to power an American built aluminum smelter in nearby Tema, and opened in 1965 creating Lake Volta - the largest man-made lake in the world (8,500 sq/km). The lake covers 3.6% of the land in Ghana and required the resettlement of more than 80,000 people (some in nearby Senchi Ferry New Town). The damn is an internationally controversial subject - leftists would tell you that it is an example of neo-colonialism in that the majority of the project benefits foreign investors, a point of view with which I sympathize, but that said, the project might never been built otherwise. I have many opinions on foreign aid and investment in Africa - more pro-business than many of my comrades might expect - but I shall share these elsewhere...

Where was I? Oh yes - big dam, bigger lake, impressive powerplant, etc. A few of us went up one morning to take a tour. Later that weekend, Emily, Jeanne and I took a bout tour on Lake Volta itself.

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Maureen, India, Shirley and Maria pose with our guides on the dam itself - the southernmost tip of the lake in the background

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Looking down river from the top of the dam

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The turbines leading to the power-plant

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A view of the Dodi Princess docking on Dodi island on Lake Volta. Jeanne, Emily and I took a cruise one day. Not that much to see, but it nice to get out on the water.

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Dodi Island - one of the many in Lake Volta.

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I was surprised at how few boats there were on Lake Volta. I understand that it is restricted to those who live nearby, but in five hours I only saw three or four boats.

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Anne and Peggy pose near one of the entrances to the food portion of Makola Market

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On my last weekend in Ghana we all travelled to the Capital, Accra, for the day in order to catch our early morning flights home. We had a full afternoon to explore the city, and Anne, Peggy and I headed right for Makola Market. Billed as the biggest in West Africa. I couldn't tell if it was bigger or smaller than Kejeta Market in Kumasi, but since I spent at least four hours at Makola, it certainly seemed bigger.

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The crowds in the streets surrounding the market were crowded - not as crowded as say, Stanley Market in Hong Kong, but for Ghana, as busy as it gets!

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A woman sells two varieties of local peppers. One of the best things about Ghanaian food were the spices - hot and lively, but not too hot

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These are actually palm kernels. They are pressed to make palm oil, a local staple

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Fresh crabs

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Although the market area looks spacious enough, most of the action was down very narrow alleys or packed into vast collections of partially covered stalls.

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This fellow's shirt was too white for him to be a butcher - I suspect he just liked posing with entrails

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The African staple crop of cassava. It doesn't taste like much on its own - its like a very bland sweet potato - but serve it with a pepper sauce and subsistence never tasted so good!

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Two women take a break from grinding cassava flour. Note the t-shirt - from some goodwill box in Oregon all the way to Ghana...

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More snails - these ones were big, but not the biggest I saw

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Granted, that is Anne's petit hand, not mine, but it gives you a sense of scale

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The spice grinder

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Household goods of every description

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Small dried fish and shrimp

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Spices and other ingredients

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Bananas and more snails

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Newsstand at Makola Market

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A roasted grass-cutter. This West African delicacy is like cross between a beaver and a rat - quite expensive and much loved.

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A gregarious seller of pig's feet. From Jacksonville, Florida to Beijing, people seem to love their pigs feet....

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Anne and Peggy grew tired of Makola after about an hour, so we split up and I explored deeper into the clothing section on my own. It was amazing - hundreds upon hundreds of small stalls, all selling used clothing, much of it from North America. I was looking for some Obama in Ghana t-shirts, but since it was two weeks after his visit, I couldn't find any. A local guy, led me deep into the market - down back alleys, through underground sweatshops where men sweated over ancient sewing machines, and finally to one stall that still had the shirts I was looking for.

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Imagine this scene going on for hundreds of yards, twisting and turning, the ground under-foot soft with discarded rags

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I did find a few shops with new textiles, and in hindsight I wish I had bought some, but I was so dazed by the variety that I ended up buying almost nothing.

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Although not the Kente cloth that Ghana is most famous for, the selection of textiles was of very high quality

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Buttons galore!

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Finally, on the way to the airport, one of the hundreds of Welcome Obama billboards in Accra

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I had a wonderful time in Ghana and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in exploring Africa, but a bit nervous about how intense it might be. The people in Ghana - both in the capital and the countryside - are wonderful, and will go out of their way to welcome you and help you out if you have lost your way. Certainly a little tip is always a nice gesture, but is rarely, if ever, demanded (except at the airport).

The museums in Accra and Kumasi are limited, and this is not a big tourist country, but the countryside and the people make it worth the 12 hour flight from New York!

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My next stop? Hilary and I are off to Tokyo, Hakone and Kyoto in October - look for the Japan blog in November!

Posted by BryanG 10:24 Archived in Ghana Tagged tourist_sites

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