Friday, December 20, 2013

Day 11- Kakum National Park

This is our last full day in Ghana- our plan leaves tomorrow afternoon. It's so surreal! I can't imagine going home to snow and Christmas. 
Today, however, was a perfect ending activity. We checked out of the Anomabo (sniff sniff) very early and drove to Kakum National Park. This is a tropical rainforest that has been protected and restored by the local people and Ghanaian government. The rainforest was thick and muggy and very dark- the canopy blocked out a lot of sunlight.  We were taken on a lovely walk through part of the forest by our guide, who showed us the medicinal properties of every plant we passed. His wealth of information was astounding. He could survive out here, no question about it. He basically showed us how the indigenous people (his ancestors) survived in the rainforest. There was a tree, sap, or leaf for every ailment you might have. 

This tree was used for shelter- you could weave a covering of
leaves and curl up in the crevice of the trunk.

The walk was beautiful. I kept hoping to see an animal of some kind, but our guide told us that they are really only out and about early in the morning. Once visitors show up they hide away. That was a real shame, because all sorts of animals live in this rainforest. Different kinds of monkeys, antelope, snakes, scorpions, birds of all imagining, and elephants, just to name a few. Even if we couldn't see them, we could hear birds and monkeys chattering away above our heads somewhere. 

Our pathway

The best part of the visit by far, however, was the canopy walk. The canopy is this elevated walkway through the tops of the trees, 130 feet in the air. 

Yes, it is as rickety as it looks. The board is just wide enough for your feet to fit and the rope sides come up to about your shoulders. The whole thing is only attached from the ends so it swings side to side as you walk on it. If the view wasn't so stunning it would be terrifying, but luckily you are so distracted by the beauty of the rainforest that you forget to be scared. 

I am sad to be leaving this beautiful country. We all certainly miss some comforts and specific foods of home (mmm chips and salsa), but the rich culture and warm people make this a truly special place. The struggle is clear in all aspects of their life, but the optimism and wisdom through which they overcome the struggles is inspiring. I hope to make it back here someday, or at least get to explore other parts of Africa.
 Until then, goodbye Ghana! Thanks for everything you have taught me!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Day 10, Anomabo Beach Hotel, Cape Coast

We had an early start this morning. After a FEAST of a breakfast at the hotel (they had cereal, milk, omelettes, even sausages!) we took a drive to the city of Cape Coast. Cape Coast Castle, one of the largest slave forts on the western coast of Africa, is standing there among the city. It was built gradually over a long period of time and was expanded each time a different nation won it in a battle (I believe it went from Portugal to Denmark to Holland and finally to England), but the majority of the structure was finished in the 17th century by the British (so some of it is older than that). We took a guided tour of the fort, which was chilling. We went into the dungeons where they held the slaves before they loaded the ships to be sent all over the world. Hundreds of people crammed into the tiny, dark stone rooms with small ravines for relieving themselves. We walked through the Door of No Return, where the slaves were marched onto the ships. The door opens right onto the rocks of the ocean. They have now created a Door of Return on the other side to go back into the fort. There was even a recent ceremonial burial of the remains of some slaves in America who were brought back to Cape Coast for a burial in their homeland. Those remains are the only direct slaves to go back through the Door of No Return. The most disturbing part was the solitary confinement room where men would be placed as punishment and basically starved to death. It was definitely a sobering experience, but one that you cannot skip if you are in the area. Our tour guide was a wonderful Ghanian man who kept lecturing us about the importance of history and how pointless it is to assign blame or harbor resentment because we are in a different time. He also said that it is not our place to pass judgement, it is only our job to remember the past and learn from it. I thought those were wise words. 

There were also two large plaques by the front of the fort- one from President Obama from his visit a few years ago and one dedicated to the fort from local tribal chiefs. It turns out there is quite a messy history of chiefs using the slave trade to settle tribal feuds and they would often sell their enemies to other tribes or to Europeans as slaves. The plaque from the chiefs read something along the lines of "let us not dwell in the past but learn from it", really the same message that the tour guide had. 

We stopped for lunch at a hotel along the road, but this hotel had live alligators that were swimming around and underneath the restaurant. Random but cool! Terrible food, but I guess you sacrifice something for the atmosphere.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing by the beach and enjoying our last night at our little resort. It's hard to believe that it's December when you're soaking up the sun by the beach!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Day 9- Anomabo Beach Hotel, Cape Coast

Travel day! We left Dagbe early this morning, after much hugging and exchanging of emails. The staff are very friendly and patient people and I really loved getting to know them. I feel like I have a sense of the culture much better because I lived among them for a week. 
We had a 6 hour drive to our next destination, most of which was spent sleeping and soaking up the first AC in a week. Luckily we made good time and got to the Anomabo Beach Hotel, in the area of Cape Coast. Here is a map for anyone interested in our general area.
We started out in Accra, traveled east along the coast to the
Volta Region, then doubled back to the Cape Coast area
We got to the Anomabo with some daylight left, so we spent the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the beach. After the intense schedule and sparse living in the village this seemed like an extravagant vacation. We enjoyed a drink at the restaurant, took a walk on the beach, and had a group beach bonfire. It's so beautiful here!
The view from our hotel

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Day 8- Dagbe Cultural Center, Kopeyia

Today is our performance day and our last day here at Dagbe! The staff have invited surrounding villages and friends that live nearby to come and see our dance and drumming that we have learned. After our performance this afternoon there will be a huge feast for the village and a big party with music and dancing. Jeremy, our group leader, bought them a goat for the feast and we were invited to watch the slaughter this morning. Now I don’t handle blood well, but I have been all about pushing myself to experience new things this trip and I figured when else will I get the chance to watch my meal get made from the very beginning? So I got up early this morning with a handful of other brave souls and we watched the goat slaughter. Unfortunately my blood-queasiness won out over my interest and I fainted. Yup, actually fainted. No joke—got dizzy, everything went bright white and I collapsed on the ground. I could just see the thoughts of the staff members killing the goat—silly American woman swooning at a dead goat. I was so embarrassed! But mostly just so sick. I’ve never fainted before and it was not a pleasant experience. I was so weak and shaky that I ended not being able to dance during our final rehearsal this morning, so I just sat and took pictures. The final rehearsal went really well, and we all felt very prepared. At least I got some great pictures of the rehearsal.

I spent the afternoon resting so that I could perform later that day. We were dressed in the "wrappas" that we wore for the funeral and performed our drumming, songs, and dance for a small audience. They had invited people from the village to come, most of whom were children. However, the chief himself no pressure! It went really well and was actually a lot of fun. After running the dance over and over in rehearsals, doing it once was a piece of cake. After the performance, the school jazz band performed what I think were traditional Ewe songs arranged for jazz band, which was very interesting. Then the feast! There was the goat (which I avoided) but a lot of other traditional foods as well. We also had to try the director's specialty drink, which turned out to be strong liquor and garlic (not my favorite thing...) The cooks went all out and the villagers hung around, dancing for hours. They had a sound system set up with lights in the trees. It was quite the party!
Dressed up for the performance

Monday, December 16, 2013

Day 7- Dagbe Cultural Center, Kopeyia

We finished our batiking this morning! To get the wax off we just dunked the fabric in hot water (heated over a fire of course) to melt the wax and then soaked it in cold water to get the wax to harden and come off. So simple! Then we set them out to dry, and once they’re dry they are ready to go. I can’t wait to see how it turns out!
Mensah, our teacher, showing us how to remove the wax

Our finished fabrics laying out to dry

Dance class was intense as usual. We learned how to enter and exit during the dance, added some fancy moves to the last variation since we had time, and then ran the dance twice. We were beat by the end, but now that we have it down it is so much fun. It takes more stamina than any of us have, but it’s a blast to interact with the drums and let your body respond to what they are doing.
After the fourth day of this, however, I needed some rest! Some people went back to the market this afternoon but I hung around Dagbe to read and do some laundry. Now laundry here consists of getting a metal bucket from the kitchen, filling it up from the faucet of rain water outside, and scrubbing it inside the bucket. It was actually a pleasant experience, with the sun beating down and the cool water on your hands and (finally!) clean clothes!

I really enjoyed the drum class today. We learned the sogo part, the large round drum, and it is by far my favorite. It isn’t too hard but it changes a lot so that keeps it interesting. Then after dinner I took a private group lesson in djembe. We decided that since we bought the drum back in Accra we had better learn how to play them! Djembe is different than all of the drums we have been learning in the group class because it is played only with your palms, no sticks. I think I like sticks better—your hands hurt so badly after a few minutes of palm drumming! In order to get the right sound out you really have to slap your hand hard on the side and top of the skin. Our teacher, George, was great and very patient with us beginners. It ended up being a lot of fun—he would teach us a pattern and then have us keep the pattern going while he improvised like crazy on top of us. We definitely still have a long way to go, but at least we know how to make a sound now! Believe it or not, drumming is way more complicated than just hitting something. We had to learn exactly how to position our hand and the precise amount of force to use (which was considerable) so that we got the right sound out of the drum. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Day 6- Dagbe Cultural Center, Kopeyia

We were warned that Dagbe living is rustic, but it really isn’t as bad as I anticipated. Especially considering the way that the rest of the village is living. We have electricity and fans in every room. There is no running water but they have rigged up their own system with rain water so the toilets flush and the showers turn on. However, the fact that we are using collected rain water means that we have to conserve like crazy, so toilets flush only when necessary and showers consists of turning on the water to get wet, turning the water off and soaping up, and then turning the water back on to rinse. It also means no hot water, but we are so hot all of the time that no one is complaining about that one.

We got up early this morning to dye our Batik fabric. The wax had dried on our fabric and Mensa mixed the powered dye with hot water and some sulfuric powder. We dunked our fabric in a big bowl of dye and then left it soaking there weighed down by rocks for 15 minutes. We took it out, wrung it out, and left it to dry. Simple as that! Next step will be to de wax it.

Mensah, out teacher, dipping the fabric in dye
Jen, our group leader, dying her fabric

Today we learned the rest of Gahu- all 5 varitaions. The dance from beginning to end is more than 20 minutes long, and today we ran it twice. Needless to say we are all dead tired. I really had to push myself through it but I’m comforted by the fact that I’m not the only exhausted one.

After lunch we took a group trip to the beach, only about 15 minutes away from Kopeyia (the village that Dagbe is in). The beach is just pure paradise. Beautiful breeze, palm trees everywhere, fishing boats coming in and out with their nets, and the biggest waves I have ever seen in my life. We aren’t allowed to swim on any of the beaches because the undertow is so strong, and after seeing those waves today I believe the danger is real.

Fisherman picking up his net on the beach

We got back from the beach in time for our drumming class at 4:00. I’m finally starting to hear the changes from the master drum, the problem now is remembering which pattern goes on which instrument and then what change comes next. It’s a lot to keep track of. 

After dinner we went down to a the “spot” again and got some drinks. Some of the younger guys in the Dagbe staff went with us and we had a fun couple of hours just hanging out and talking. It cools down a little bit at night, enough so that you’re still hot but you’re not dripping in sweat like during the day. And believe me, it’s a welcome change!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Day 5- Dagbe Cultural Center, Kopeyia

This morning a small group of us woke up early to take a class in batik printmaking. None of us knew a thing about it, but since we’re here, why not try it! We started out with a piece of white fabric and chose our stamp from a huge pile that our teacher, Mensah, provided. The basic idea is that you melt paraffin wax in a cauldron over the fire and then stamp the hot wax onto your fabric. When you dye the fabric, the dye won’t stick to the wax and you will have a white design where you stamped and color everywhere else. This takes some time to let the wax cool and dry before dyeing and then for the dye to dry, so today we just did the stamping part. I’m curious to see how it will turn out!

 <-- A member of our group dipping her stamp in the wax

I thought yesterday’s dance class was hard , but it was nothing compared to today. The Gahu dance that we are learning has a structure similar to a pop song-  a basic movement (kind of like a chorus) that goes on for a while and then switches to a variation (which is like a verse), then back to the basic movement, then a variation that is different from the first variation, then back to basic, etc. Sort of like an ABACAD  type idea. Since we are only here for 5 days we will only learn the basic movement and 5 variations, although more exist. The tricky part is that there is no set amount of time that each section lasts—you just have to listen to the master drummer for the rhythm that is the signal to change to the next section. It takes some practice! Plus the dance moves themselves are a work out and include a bunch of tiny details to keep track of all at once. I think once we get it down it will be really fun, but at the moment it is a challenge!

Instead of afternoon classes we took a group trip to the funeral. We were dressed by the Dagbe staff in proper attire- t-shirt on top and a “wrappa” on the bottom, meaning a large piece of fabric wrapped around you like a skirt (for men and women). We then took the 15 minute walk to the village where the funeral is being held. This was the village that the man who died was from, so they hosted the event.
Now traditional Ghanaian funerals take place in two parts—a burial ceremony and a funeral/celebration. The burial took place the day before so we went to the funeral part. But in order to wrap your head around this you have to forget everything you know about funerals and replace it with the Ghanaian version, because it is almost the exact opposite from what we are used to in Western culture.

First of all, the crowd was huge. Easily a thousand people crammed into this village, maybe even more. They were arranged in groups scattered around the village, each group forming their own drumming circle. Each group represented a specific community (village, church, town) that the people traveled from. Each drum circle had a core group of people in matching outfits that were playing instruments, singing, and dancing. The funeral was really less of a ceremony and more of a giant party. Vendors walked around selling jewelry and nail polish and cold drinks and candy. It was hot and crowded and very loud. We were pretty out of place, but were mostly welcomed enthusiastically. Strangers would grab your hand and pull you into the circle to dance, people would smile and wave as they passed by, and the children didn’t even try to hide their staring. It was overwhelming but really a blast. The sheer number of people says a lot about the man who died, although according to some of Dagbe staff members this was just a “medium” funeral. Man, I can’t even imagine a large one!

<-- Our group dancing at the funeral   

<-- One of the community groups dancing together.

After dinner I took a private lesson in basket weaving. It was by far the most relaxing part of my day. My teacher, David, cut up the palm fronds for me and helped me get it started, and then you just sit back and weave the pieces in and out, over and under. You can even make them different colors with different colored pieces of leaves. I’m so proud of my basket!