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Archive for June, 2010

Cultural Crafting…Ashanti Style

Kumasi, Ghana & Nkawkaw, Ghana

June 28, 2010

Ashanti weaving. beautiful!

Ashanti weaving. beautiful!

After getting our fill (or at least all our schedule (of sorts) could afford to fill) of the green lush life of the Volta region, we headed back city way to the central city of Kumasi, full of Ashanti traditions and many, many crafting villages. Reading through the guide book I wanted to go to all of them! Batik fabric printing, cloth weaving, potting, bead-making and the list went on… Of course all of the places we visited have traditional crafts but many of them are dying out as more plastics and synthetic goods are imported cheap…the younger generation doesn’t learn and less are buying.  Because plastics are what the western world uses, it is often associated with wealth and moving forward etc etc. So sad that a lot of these incredible traditions are dying out, but Ghana, more established and stable has a flourishing network of textiles and village-made wares all over. And sad that it has to come to this now…but the tourist industry surely helps them as well.

The market extends on for about a mile...massive!

The marketplace in Kumasi extends on for about a mile...massive!

On our way to Kumasi we met an amazing guy in our Tro Tro bus who was more than helpful. For the last half of the journey Markwell acted as tour guide to me pointing out natural and man-made landmarks and explaining what they were…fantastic person to sit next to! He not only took responsibility to ensure our next leg of our journey would be safe and comfy (he actually rode with us to the station…helping us carry our baggage…and walked around searching for the perfect bus for us… “no really, our standards aren’t that high! We’ll be fine!”…but onward he persisted and literally walked us on board once he found one that suited) he also called his cousin, Gerald, who lives in Kumasi to come and pick us up when we arrived and to stay in his home! Soo nice. One ironic detail was in Markwell’s attempt to put us on the swankiest bus so we could “kick back, relax and have no worries”, meant that there was a TV on board. NOOOOOOOO. Not only was the loudest of loud soap opera’s blaring for 5 hours half in English half in an African dialect, but there was some crazy preacher dude (recall the screaming preachers from Cape Coast??) doing his religious thing for all of the passengers to hear…and join in if they felt really inspired. This dude was standing in the aisle for a good hour. At first K thought he was just blessing the journey but on and ON it went. At one point I leaned over to whisper something to k and god punished me with one swift bounce of the bus that sent my baggage toppling onto my head…damned! Hahaha…classic. Where are the bagged ice-cream vendors now when I need them?!

Soap opera poster...this gives you some idea. And yes...that is the perfect face to make

Soap opera poster...this gives you some idea. And yes...that is the perfect face to make (notice parts 1 &2...i think our flick was parts 1,2,3,4,5 & 6)

One day we were on a mission to find my favorite dish, Red Red....found! Enjoying the food in one of the many stands.

One day we were on a mission to find my favorite dish, Red Red....found! Enjoying the food in one of the many stands.

Aaanyway, we finally made it to Kumasi by dark where, in fact, Gerald came to pick us up. Of course we knew he would…both he and Markwell had called us half a dozen times to make sure we were getting along ok! Haha…yep…fine here…still on the bus. Gerald took us to stay at his family’s home…clearly they were well off…nice cars in the driveway and a house that could have fit 3 families! How nice of him to take us in though….and we had our own room…ensuite!

Weaving away...i think this kid was like 14

Weaving away...i think this kid was like 12

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Over the next few days, Gerald showed us around the town, checked out the National Cultural Center where there was some good exhibits on Ashanti history and crafty bits to buy….i wanted to wait until we got out of town to the villages though. We tried to get to the Kumasi Hat Museum where apparently this dude has collected over 2000 hats  from all over the world throughout his lifetime…and given my own obsession with hats I was so excited to see this! But when we showed up (it was apparently in the upstairs of a hotel) the people there told us it was closed and though I begged for more info (are there any up there?? Can I just look in??) they were really not interested and couldn’t be bothered. Ahhh well. So instead we went out that afternoon to check out some crafting! By the time we got out of Kumasi it was a bit later in the day so we didn’t get to see the printmaking (it has to be done early and when there is sunlight to help it dry) but we did get to see some of the Ashanti cloth weaving which was pretty cool. Just a young dude, skillfully throwing the threads around the loom, and bouncing his feet to a rhythm just right, to make it all work. Some serious coordination involved and a contraption I don’t think I’d ever be able to envision creating the beautiful cloth designs that it does! Weaving…it blows my mind! haha The clothes are actually often woven in strips and then sewn together to create the larger clothes and tapestires. Very cool.  We couldn’t hang around too long though because that evening was a big night for all Ghanaians: the Black Stars were playing, who else but the U.S.A. in the quarter final game of the World Cup!

Watching the game! How many Star beers had we drunk at this point?

Watching the game! How many Star beers had we drunk at this point?

There's the Star we all love! a million sparkling bubbles hahahaha. ya...not much else though

There's the Star we all love! a million sparkling bubbles hahahaha. ya...not much else though

We’d been in our Ghana gear all day getting hoots and hollers “okkee! Ayyye! Ghanaaaah! You cheer for us! Yae!” But turns out, everyone was trying to make it back for the game…traffic was well, jammed. Luckily we could almost clearly watch game as we crawled by because everywhere you looked, TVs were on, people were crowded around, and well, hell, this game was a national event! As we raced to get back where we could watch on a big screen at a local restaurant, listening all the way, suddenly…2 minutes in….and…GOOOOOOOAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!! We couldn’t believe it! Yooowwwwsa!! Horns were blowing, horns were honking, people shouted, running out from all of the homes and shops, celebrating in the streets. As we sped by it was like a wave of people flooding out, dancing and singing in celebration. K and I were actually glad we were late getting back because seeing that was just amazing! Once we made it to the restaurant not a minute later, we quickly set in, ordered some beers and got to cheering the Black Stars on! I mean…we had some feelings for the U.S. of course…we wanted them to at least get a goal….but being in Ghana…well…”this time for Africa!”…we had to support Ghana! And what a fantastic game that was…to be in Africa for this world cup was just amazing…hard to describe how much it means to them…the nervous, excited vibe was everywhere. And after the win people were just sailing! Although we couldn’t seem to find any of them for the after party…where’d everyone go?? Did we ever figure that out K? Either way…good times. Go Black Stars!

Looking out over Nkawkaw...day out!

Looking out over Nkawkaw...day out!

down time? ping-pong time. K takes on local boy

down time? ping-pong time. K takes on local boy

Another day Gerald was kind enough to take us on another adventure out of the city to another town, Nkawkaw, where he’d grown up and still had family. It was a slow ride out, think we all fell asleep at some point, but when his grandmother welcomed us in with delicious home-cooking who could complain! His other cousins were either on their cell phones or watching other world cup games…am i still in Africa?! After our feed and hangin out a bit to enjoy the lovely views from this home, we hopped in a car with one of Gerald’s friends to check out a local pottery outfit. The women were all doing there thing and forming these bowls with their hands (wheels?? nooo) like it was the easiest thing in the world. They were chatting and laughing and more than happy to let us check out what they were up to.

Giving it some shape

Giving it some shape

bowls! waitin to be fired still

bowls! waitin to be fired still

We continued our tour of Nkawkaw by climbing up the mountain (by car of course) to see the views of the beautiful valley. Man, i bet there are some great hikes in there. Next time I visit Africa, i’d like to make it more of a hiking/outdoorsy tour…there are so many beautiful, untouched places it’s incredible. Of course, for now, it was great to have some beautiful views, check out the local crafting operations and meet the locals. Alright!

Awesome host Gerald!

Awesome host, Gerald!

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Ho(hoe)-There!

Hohoe, Ghana

June 24, 2010

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Off to the Volta Region

Cooome oooon Black Stars! Off to the Volta region, we wrestled anxiously in our seats with the rest of the passengers, wondering how the Ghanaian footballers fared in their World Cup game vs. Germany going on that very instant. The whole country was buzzing. Literally. Those horns whirring without pause throughout all the matches…and with every single TV tuned to the game, as you walked down the street, it sounded like at any moment a hoard of killer bees would descend on you (k, having been attacked by killer bees earlier in her service did not appreciate this sound). But in place of a swarm of bees you’d instead see a swarm of people crowded together in front of any shop, stand or home with a television set flickering footballers. The World Cup means so much to the people of Africa…it’s incredible…and how much more it means to the Ghanaians that have a team in the running! Right as our bus journey that day was ending we got word that the Black Stars had lost…but as we stepped out in Ho Hoe you would have never guessed it! People were hooping and hollering and running around and encouraging us to join the party! I couldn’t believe it! K mentioned it was one of her favorite things about Africa…hell, they were just excited their team was playing and representing africa…and hey, they did pretty damn well so let’s celebrate that! Awesome.

still along the way...

still along the way...

So that’s how we first met Hohoe and it continued fantastic from there. Before we go any further though, let’s get the pronunciation down of our current blog excursions. Near by is a town called Ho. Yes…simply ho…as in jolly Christmas..or…. So naturally I thought Hohoe was ho!ho! which is how I still like to pretend it is pronounced. But really it goes something like ho-hweey. Ahh well Ghana, I guess you have enough double names (Red Red, Tro Tro…) but that would have sealed the deal on coolness.

street bustle

street bustle

The coast of Ghana was lovely, beautiful, historical, chilled out and vibrant. Little towns bustling by the sea where once their lives were taken away from them. Accra was a big city, lots of traffic, lots of packed in people. But the Volta Region holding Hohoe in its lushness was misty and magnificently, devoid of tourist herds and filled with rising green mountains. The people that greeted us (besides the partygoers celebrating, hollering and running around in the streets) at our hostel were some of the nicest we’d met. They constantly asked us if we were alright, if we needed anything, always smiling and the night we ate dinner in their little restaurant, the woman cooked up one of the best meals I’d had in Africa yet! The meals around these parts are usually some sort of starch with sauce. In this case the starch was boiled yams sliced thick like big potato medallions…good on their own but when combined with the vegetarian “sauce” that she said she cooked up specially for me, it was delicious! Tasted like some sort of Indian dish…they know how to use spices in Ghana hooray!

K takes a daring stride with street food. snails! nooot so good this time around

K takes a daring stride with street food. snails! nooot so good this time around

the bustle has settled on this night. we're waitin for the internet to kick back on outside the cafe

the bustle has settled on this night. we're waitin for the internet to kick back on outside the cafe

Our first evening we went straight out onto the town to walk amongst the celebratory crowds whooping it up for the World Cup. We proudly sported our Ghanaian headgear of course and everyone loved it and called out to us wherever we were. Was nice to be called in reference to our sweet Ghana gear and not (well, directly) to our pale skin. There was such a great energy about…the nation went right on buzzing. We grabbed some street food dinner and the best grilled corn(mmm!) we had, munching as we soaked up the good African vibes.

That night, in the most pleasant of places, we thought we’d escaped unexpected room reconstruction and toxic fumes. Well, no reconstruction (besides what may be necessary for the future of my olfactory senses) but at about 4am I woke to the sharp, inflicting flavor of burning plastic. “Dear god….really?!” I gasped and threw the doors and windows open in desperation (k somehow still slept on…peace corps training I suppose). I thought our fan had died and melted but turns out our fridge had blown something. I spent the rest of the night curled in a chair on our porch, getting in a few more winks in before the flies descended. Well, one more motivating factor to keep us from lazing inside…

ready to head towards Wli Falls

About to explore

The energy of Hohoe captured us (more than burning plastic fumes) that previous night and the beauty further lured us in the next day when all the green hills and mountains stood steady against the shifting clouds. Shit, we better get out there before the rain attacks! I surely didn’t need any more urging to get out of toxic-room, so off we went. Our first stop was a short taxi ride away to a village home to a lovely waterfall, Wli. A sign informed us there were “Numerous Bats, Animals and Butterflys” to be explored! After finally convincing the local operation (yup…gotta pay…westernized eh?) all of whom looked like they’d been out celebrating a little too hard the night before, that we would be fine without a guide we trotted down the widest, most groomed path.  Excited that we probably avoided another “guide” episode, we peacefully enjoyed the sights and sounds. It was glorious, so much so that I ended up running the mile or so path to the falls. The humid air swallowed me, but as I sweated it out, heart rate rising, the soft ground patting beneath my feet, I suddenly felt swept into a Disney movie. Butterflies were flitting everywhere as I carefully hopped over root and stone, over river and slowly rose briefly upwards to the falls and then… “I hear water! Thar she cascades!”

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So far we’ve had waterfalls and butterflies, but bats?? I glanced up at the exposed rock outcrop next to the falls and thought wow, some crazy growth going on there. Wait…no!…holy guano batman! one of those barnacle things just flew away! Suddenly the sounds of their wings fywip-fywiping was immensely noticeable next to the crashing water. Shall we throw a rock? As all waterfalls are, Wli was beautiful so we did the proper thing and took lots of photos and stared upwards until that tired us.

 

Wli Falls
Wli Falls

check out all those bats!

Check out all those bats!
crazy spider-fly! what is it??!
Spider fly!!! what is it?!

We’d hoped to get in another hike on higher ground up the largest mountain in Ghana but we were too late in the day so instead opted for some hangout time in a nearby hostel, owned by a German couple, that offered the best views in town and probably some food and drink too. Perrrfect. We indulged in the views via wooden recliner chair and then took up quite a competitive game of badminton (the most exercise either of us had had in a while. Another game readers at home can play is watch my beer belly grow as trip progresses haha). I think the hostel lady was entertained by us cause we played for at least 2 hours! Or maybe we were just that out of shape.

twas a lovely view

Twas a lovely view

It’s really too bad we didn’t get to do the climb…I still kinda regret not staying in Hohoe an extra day to do the trek, but our trip was starting to get packed in with sights-to-see-before-flying-out so we had to keep a movin’. At this point though, our first move was back to town via shared taxi, a choice we did not realize at the time, would put us through musical hell. Our 14 yr old driver happened to LOOOOVE 90s pop songs. Actually…more accurately, just 5, 90s pop songs he had on cassette, on repeat. Sure it was fun at first…and funny watching the other passengers laughing at us knowing all the words and choreography. But when Shaggy’s “banging on the bathroom floor” song came on for the 4th time I thought I’d rather shove spiny tree branches in my ears than listen to that wretched, wretched! song again. Luckily the torture ended before that was a necessary coping tactic.

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In place of a proper mountain climb we wandered the streets back in Hohoe sampling yet more street food (ok…beer and street-food belly). I did find these ridiculously tasty peanut-butter balls like an African reeses! Reason enough to come to Africa: delicious street food at all hours…the fair just never stops.


Accra! Accra! Read something about it!

Accra, Ghana

June 23, 2010

That last insane travel day (see previous entry) ended as we pulled into the outskirts of Accra and hopped out of the back of the truck (and had to pay some money…hey…never miss an opportunity to make a buck eh?). A guy we met on the truck was going our way and became our guide/provider of funniest video ever that he took with his camera phone of me eating plantain chips out of the bag (my hands were too germy from the flood crust so i was shoving the bag in my face in order to eat the chips…classic! we were crying we were laughing so hard). It was of course dark now and it was great to have someone say…ok…get in this bus and that’ll take us to the center…of course…more in pointing and gesturing than words. In the back of this bus we sat crammed (and laughing over video)…more crammed than ever with our luggage piling over us and people climbing over us to get out. Eventually we were resolved to sit in the very back row which was an acrobatic feat even getting there. Luckily…everyone here helps you out. They don’t just watch you struggle…one will hold a bag for you, another puts down the seat, another pulls you into the right seat. So we successfully make it to the city center where K almost got mugged (some guy who had already stolen a purse upzipped her backpack, ran away and then got smacked (literally a slap to the face) by a few others who saw it…the police even wanted us to come and report it…but he didn’t actually take anything and at this point we just wanted a bed). My adventure involved peeing behind a car while the security guard who wouldn’t let me inside to use the toilet shouted “what is she doing?!” because I had been holding it the entire car ride.

 

When i told the manager that "hey, i'm from L.A.!" he looked very puzzled. You know...Beverly Hills?? Still, puzzled look.

When i told the manager that "hey, i'm from L.A.!" he looked very puzzled. You know...Beverly Hills?? Still, puzzled.

Our friend walked us all the way to the hotel but when we arrived we for once grew standards, opted out of the run-down place and thus arrived at the Beverly Hills Hotel just around the corner. Hey! Who knew…beverly hills hotel…right here in Ghana!Though of course, as you can imagine, this place did not in any way shape or form live up to its namesake, we did finally get a shower to wash off the flood crust, a hot meal, cold beers and a good laugh about what we’d gone through that day. They just seem to come out of nowhere eh? So that was our introduction to Accra.

 

big city.

big city. walkin round the market place

Accra! Big roads, big buildings, bigger people…you know…a big city. Ghana’s biggest and the capital to boot. Yes, there was gridlocked traffic and sprawl and pollution hovering…and I mentioned before…big people. In the cities in Ghana we distinctly noticed the largest people in West Africa. People here could afford more food, richer food, and more luxury living. We didn’t see too much of Accra (I mean…would you leave the beverly hills hotel?) in a sightseeing way but we did wander the streets enough to get a good feel and definitely had a fair sampling of all the tasty street food Ghana has to offer. We really lived more like locals, handwashing our laundry in the morning and wandering the markets in the afternoon.

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Right to the food: Red Red…i think K and I both made this our favorite of Ghana. You take beans, possibly some rice, cassava grain (it’s a sweet potato-like, tuber veg that, in this case, is pounded into a powder/oat form)a whole lotta palm oil (it’s orange and is in almost everything! Oil sauce…mmmm.), pepper sauce, and top if off with hunks of fried plantain (clearly the cherry on top). It is so insanely delicious… and we found it mostly as a breakfast dish (it will keep you full! A half serving was enough for both of us to split). One of my other favorites that I am definitely bringing with me back home (or anywhere!) are the fresh oranges…for juice. They cut the peel off down to the pulp so it’s easy to squeeze and cut the top right off. You just put your mouth over it and squeeze the juice in, and ahh ha! Fresh orange juice…and the oranges there…amazing. You can smell them down the street.

 

Red Red for brekky. Mmmmm. This lady served it up well! Whole meal for 50c.

Red Red for brekky. Mmmmm. This lady served it up well! Check out all those plantains just waitin' to be fried. Whole meal for 50c.

 

Let’s get back to Beverly Hills for story time. All the rooms seemed to offer a rockin’ cockroach party and tacky decour. Everything had a doily on it. Had the manager stood in the room long enough I would have felt compelled to stick one on his head for continuity. Remember…this is us living it up…splurging. We opted for the room bigger than a closet and with AC…the shower had a crack/small hole but hey…there’s running water. The next day I went out to find the manager to ask about a wash bucket and his friend excitedly approached me to explain that they were going to fix our shower! It all seemed to be in the upgrade planning stages and I thought…wow…great…they’re really on top of things here. Though what we didn’t realize was that they’d decided “fix” it while we were still in the room! We left for the day, came back a few hours later and when we asked for our keys the woman responded “ohh…i don’t have them…they’re still doing work in your room”. Huh…i dooo wonder what this could entail. Care to surmise? We both hesitantly approached our room… the door was wide open, our stuff thrown about, dirt where the bathroom floor had been, shower doors in a pile and a guy sitting in a hole in the ground that used to be our bathroom. Huh. Well, that’s interesting. Sooo, I guess we’ll come back later then? You learn to just take things in stride. I guess they wanted to impress us by this repair act because when I walked out the manager ran after me to explain “don’t worry! You’ll be able to use the other shower (ie in a tiny, more cockroachy room down the way) no problem! We’re fixing it!” No it won’t be done by tonight! But look how we’re fixing it! He kept re-iterating it “no problem!” Oh-huh…for who is it no problem again? And then here his friend shows up, puts his arm around me, “oh hello! Come! Come! You must see what i’ve done to your room!” Ya, ya…i saw that already, thanks. I loved that they both turned it into something miraculous and positive…all we saw was a hole and more cockroaches piling out. And how nice that they sealed it all (chemicals!), cleared away most of the dirt and sprayed something toxic to keep the bugs out leaving our room as a chemical oven.I guess it made sense to them. Can you turn up the AC please…let’s try to freeze out the smell eh? Luckily I got him to drop the price and hey, it forced us to see more sights. But still… Ohhh Africa.

Resting up inside

Resting up inside...welcome to Beverly Hills

 

On one wandering day we came across a really cool art gallery/store where they showcase a huge selection of the local artists. We took a couple of hours thumbing through the works in a massive portfolio and browsing around the place. A great place to check out artwork knowing they are originals, not tourist repeats. But even as we stepped in, I knew it’d be more of a art gallery tour than buying opportunity. But the more I looked around and was drawn into a few particular works, I noticed the price tags weren’t too outrageous. Even on a backpackers wage…hey…that’s doable! I have a soft spot for original art as a souvenir in place of tourist crap that just weights the pack and clutters any space I may eventually reside in for more than 4 nights. Someone’s unique, creative vision says more than a mass produced t-shirt (although…i have opted for the t-shirt on more than one occasion…i ain’t above it). K and I both fell in love with one artists’ work and decided to make the investment, contribute to a local gallery that clearly supports these artists and roll up a canvas I know i’ll be able to unfurl and share and capture a bit of Ghana with.

 

Clothing swings as the cars pass by.

Clothing swings as the cars pass by.

 

Traffic on the way out...notice all the hawkers selling to the cars in the streets. Pretty awesome actually.

Traffic on the way out...notice all the hawkers selling to the cars in the streets. Pretty awesome actually.

Accra was mostly a jumping point for us, though i’m sure as all big cities are, it has its fair share of cool offerings…but for now it was just another big city and we wanted to move away from traffic towards greener grounds and clearer skies. We heard that the Volta region was just what we were after and…we’re on the road again and getting a lot of attention for sporting our newly acquired Ghana gear in honor of the World Cup game that day…go Black Stars!

 

Sportin the red, yellow, green and supportin the Black Stars!

Sportin the red, yellow, green and supportin the Black Stars!


Camera Found!

Camera Found Indeed!!!

July 18, 2010

I must keep thee safe and close!

I must keep thee safe and close!

I still cannot believe it…this time my shock was one of extreme exhilaration…i thought it was impossible…i was still anxious and guilt ridden about my loss: how could i have let this happen??! And then, after a fitful night of metaphorical dreams, i woke and saw a message left on MB’s phone. My heart skipped a beat…no one else would have been calling. And then, i heard the news i tried desperately not to imagine, thinking it way too far fetched and only a painful “what if?”….But then there it was…the message i thought was impossible! “hi is this ryan? ya mate, some great news for ya….we have your camera here…” I guess it had been well-hidden by the guys working the night before and since i don’t have it in a typical camera case it went unnoticed. Oh-my-god. What?! Wait?! Really?! (i’m leaping with joy…heart racing) Oh! You have no idea how thankful i am…i can’t believe it…oh my–thank you so much…thank you..you have no idea!!! What a relief, what a couple days of extremes…i mean…24 hours and there’s no way…i had given into the powers of the universe and who ever the new owner might be…just let it go…let it go… And now here i was overflowing in contrasting emotions… I had tried so desperately (with tears of course) to make peace with what had happened and what it might mean…but…what sign was the universe sending me now?! When i had the camera, my dear Rebel,  in my hands (praise the awesome juggling shop and the guys who worked there…they saved my digital memories!) i couldn’t quite comprehend it…but the knot in my stomach began to untie and smile return to my being.  But still, taking pictures felt like a dream state…it still hadn’t sunk in.

After the experience i am more aware and appreciative of the moment simply viewed through eyes and not lense. Only bring out the camera for those very special shots. I still want to share with all of you (is anyone actually reading this??! i do have a great spamming audience) but after that experience i’m still battling with keeping the blog. I want to write for print so maybe that’s what i should be trying to do. For now…stories (and photos!!!) still coming…so don’t go away.

Well, that’s a relief…