Thursday, October 05, 2006By Melissa Rick
I think I can easily say that last weekend climaxed into the greatest adventure yet in Africa. Cassie, Chelsea, Deborah, Sarah G., and I headed far into the Volta Region near the border of Ghana and Togo to a small village. Our purpose was to witness the Palm Festival in the town. We went with a group from the university that goes every year. On Friday afternoon the five of us piled into a tro-tro. Immediately, I knew this would be an interesting trip. The organizers neglected to accurately count the number of people versus the amount of seats on the tro-tro. There was no possible way that all of us would fit. We ended up waiting by the side of the highway for over an hour and a half before another tro-tro arrived to carry the excess passengers.
The ride took around three or more hours but we finally arrived at our destination. It was dark and in Africa when it is dark it is DARK. Even in the middle of the town, it is pitch black with only scattered candles flickering tiny hallows of light around small stalls along the road. These few lights coupled with the strange darkness in the middle of a dense habituated area projects and a mystical sensation. While we were walking down the main road of the town many people were also out walking. The shadows of the candles made them seem like zombies or deformed figures.
When we arrived at the house where we were to stay the owner and his two older brothers greeted us in the traditional African way. They gave us water to drink and to pour libations to the ancestors to thank them for our safe journey and arrival. Then the man questioned our leader in the Ewe language (Ewes are the ethnic group in the Volta Region) to the purpose for our trip. The accommodations consisted of a small room for sixteen girls with thin cots on the ground. Everyone had to sleep sideways and try to not turn over. The “washroom” was a concrete room with a tiny trough. After the first night, we were thrilled to find the next room that not only had a door but also a box in the floor that opened into a large pit.
On Saturday, we walked close the house to see the day’s events. First there was a procession of the chief from his palace to a large open area for the ceremony. We joined the procession of drums, dancers, and local villagers. The chief sat in an ornate chair hoisted on top of men’s heads. At this point, Cassie was feeling sick and it was so miserably hot this day that she decided to go and lay down. Deborah decided to go with her.
Many of the experiences I continue to have in Africa are surreal. Even while they are occurring I feel like third person or on looker and think to myself “is this really happening?” They are strange dreams. Walking in the procession is one example of this sensation. When we got there another occurred.
When we arrived at the ceremony grounds, Chelsea, Sarah, and I sat in the grass near the rest of our group. Our group also included drummers who began to drum. Other groups were represented around the large field. Each had their own group of drummers and dancers that played and played for at least an hour or more as we waited for the ceremony to actually happen. Drumming and dance is a central aspect of the African social and formal life. Different ethnic groups have their own styles and dances. In one of our classes we are learning an Ewe dance called the Abuja. At this occasion in the Volta Region, the Abuja was a highlighted dance.
Soon after the ceremony began, Chelsea and I noticed that the speaker, who was talking in Ewe, was refereeing to the University of Legon. Suddenly we realized he was announcing our small but visible prominent group. One of the group leaders jumped up and the drummers started to get ready. He motioned for us to stand up to dance. Chelsea and I looked at each other in disbelief. We didn’t know this dance. He must be mistaking us for other student. In fact what was happening was that each group represented at the ceremony is introduced then does a practiced and choreographed dance for the chief. What was happening to our group was that some of the students had learned the dance but at this time they were no where to be found. To avoid insulting the crowd our leader was trying to get some of us to dance. I looked at Chelsea and said, “let’s do it.” So four white students and three Ghanaians attempted an African dance I had never seen before for the thousand or more crowd. There was a point in the dance were you flap your arms and squat. At this point the crowd would start laughing at us. Then we had to pause. When we did this the crowd would cheer. It was an experience I still can not believe I did.
After this and other interesting experiences, Cassie was still feeling terrible. We originally planned to stay an additional night but decided to get her back to the University Hospital as soon as possible. The five of us with help from the ever friendly Ghanaians found a tro-tro to take us back on the bumpy crowded ride to Accra. When we got back, Cassie went to the hospital with me and Professor Groenhout. The doctor immediately knew she had malaria. She is doing wonderful now and we are grateful that we were able to come back so quickly. Please pray for her continued recovery and health.