Kumasi

Saturday, December 16, 2006

By Melissa Rick

Kumasi is the “garden city of West Africa”.  Driving into the second largest city in Ghana, I was surprised and the extreme visual differences Kumasi appeared to have with the rest of the Ghanaian cities I’ve visited.  The city is built on several hills giving the streets and architecture curves and flows.  There are few shacks or stales lining the main streets and all the shops and stales and parking spaces feel clean, organized, and fresh.  Many of the buildings resemble early 19th century architecture.  The buildings betray Kumasi’s rich and important past.  It was the capital of the Asante Empire with a history that far exceeds any of the other prominent Ghanaian cities. 
The highlight of our trip was walking through the Kejetia Market.  It is reputedly the largest open air market in West Africa.  It sprawls out from the city center and goes on and on.  It is crowded and busy.  Sections of the market are organized for certain goods like clothing, shoes, live snails, and whatever else you could possible want.  The clothes in markets are second hand t-shirts and other items from the States.  It is interesting to see people walking around in t-shirts advertising the Super Bowl, Britany Spears, or teams and schools only someone from that area in the States would know about.  Children often have Disney characters or other cartoon outfits.  These clothes are called dead white man’s clothes. 
When we were in the market, I kept getting called Akosua, which is the Sunday day name.  What I have never been able to figure out is why they call us Akosua and not another day name.  Someone explained to me that there is a story or belief that all white people were born on Sunday, another mystery solved. 

A Wedding and A Funeral

By Melissa Rick

In Ghanaian culture, from birth to death there are certain rites of passage that each person goes through.  Seven days after a child is born he or she will be named in a ceremony.  This is called an outdooring, signifying taking the child outside for the first time.  During the ceremony, the child’s tongue will be touched with two liquids.  One is water and the other was traditionally the local alcoholic beverage but many people use some kind of soda today.  The child’s tongue will be touched with the water and alcohol to teach the child to learn the difference between good and evil.
Two other important ceremonies are weddings and funerals.  These usually happen every Saturday and take up an enormous part of Ghanaian’s lives.  They are usually all day ceremonies.  When I am traveling around on Saturdays, it seems like everyone is dressed to attend some kind of ceremony.  Some people will be dressed in colorful traditional clothes, while others will be in black and red for funerals.  Unlike American weddings and funerals, there is a distinct dress code for ceremonies. 
My host family invited me to attend a wedding and a funeral over two weekends in the last month.  I stayed with them and enjoyed their generosity and home cooked Ghanaian food.  The wedding I went to was a Christian wedding so many elements of it were similar to an American wedding.  A traditional wedding would consist of the groom’s family coming to the house of the bride to ask for her.  They would bring presents that the bride’s family had requested.  This has been called the brideprice.  The brideprice is misleading because it seems like the groom is purchasing the bride but really it signifies that the groom is at a point in his life where he can support a family and values the woman he is marrying.  Before this time, the family of the bride would have done all kinds of background checks on the groom and his family.  Currently, the traditional ceremony is usually used as the engagement ceremony or performed a week or so before the Christian wedding.
The wedding I went to was supposed to start at noon but did not begin until two.  Everyone, accept me, was dressed in beautiful Ghanaian bright silk fabrics.  The place was packed.  There is no such this as a small Ghanaian wedding.  You do not have to be invited to attend.  If you hear that a friend of yours is getting married, you should attend.  The wedding itself was over three hours long.  Then the reception was just an extension of the wedding with speeches and songs and lasted for at least another hour.  There were six presiding ministers.  There was loud praise and worship music throughout the ceremony and dancing and celebrating with the couple.  I was exhausted when we left.
The funeral contrasted American funerals.  There were eight ministers and it felt more like a celebration of the passing into the afterlife than a time to be sad.  Ghanaians spend enormous amounts of money on funerals.  It is important to have a proper funeral for the deceased.  The woman who died was over eighty years old.  Women in the church had paper visors on with her picture and the dates of her birth and death.  The entire ceremony was in Twi, so I had no idea what was said.  I was the only white person there and sat on a bench in squeezed in the middle of some very large Ghanaians.  I sure it was a ridiculous site.  The woman actually died a month and a week before the funeral but they kept the body in a freezer until the funeral arrangements were made.  This is quite common, but I was surprised that they still had an open casket.  The casket had gold like decorations and was covered in small tiles that looked like mirrors.  In Ghana, caskets shaped in strange designs are popular.  Some are shaped like cars, fish, pens, animals, or any special request depending on the person and his or her occupation. 
The funeral lasted for over two hours then everyone went to the grave site for another couple of hours.  The funeral was singing and preaching, much like a church service.  After the grave site, we went and greeted the family’s elders, which meant walking around and shaking about fifty people’s hands who were seated in an open area as refreshments were served.  We went into a room where the body was laid in state the night before and a group of women were seated around the bed.  They stayed with body the night before.  We walked around this room and shook hands.  Then we went to the reception, where served food and gave a donation to the family.  It is expected that everyone will give donations to help the family with the expense of the funeral because the funerals are so extravagant. 

Market and Stories

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

By Melissa Rick

A couple of weekends ago I stayed at a Ghanaian family’s house.  They are a wonderful couple from the church that I attend that have been generous to show me different aspects of normal Ghanaian life.  When they picked me up from my hostel, we immediately went to a Farmer’s market.  Me and Ante Charity went into the market.  Immediately after exiting the car a small girl with enormous metal bowl on her head attached herself to us.  She would carry all of the produce and food stuffs that Charity bought on her head.  Many like children were following all the other individuals in the market.  I was amazed what these small children could balance on their heads.  The bowls were overflowing with yams, pineapple, fruit, meat, and more. 
Charity moved confidently through the market as I followed along in her shadow in a state of sensory overload.  There was kenkey (balls of dough wrapped in corn husks), dried shrimp and fish, fresh hunks of meat, all kinds of fruits, and vegetables.  Charity talked to the sellers (wura) in Twi.  At each stand the amount the item is sold in is grouped together, like 5 for 2, 000 cedis.  Usually the seller would smile as she packaged the items and throw a couple extra into the bag.  Food stuff seems to follow clear gender roles in Ghana.  Men sell kabobs, meat, coconuts, and on the street popcorn.  Women sell everything else from working the chop bars (where we each most of our meals), to the small stales, fruit, and water.
Later that day, I played with their grandchildren and tried to teach them how to pop gum.  It was fun to be called Ante Melissa and Ante Akosua (my Twi day name).  Charity taught me how to make groundnut soup.  Later that night the power went off as part of the scheduled rolling blackouts.  We sat around in the living room and told stories.  I though it was interesting that they told Western and African stories.  I heard African tales I had heard before and are famous in this area, like the Ashante story of the Golden Stool.  In West Africa, Ananse (the spider) is a central role in folktales.  He is clever, lazy, and gets in trouble.  They told different stories with Ananse as the central character.  The variety of the stories was interesting.  I think that Western and African cultures influence each other and take different elements from each.  However, I also think there is an unequal exchange with African cultural elements losing.  For example, I never heard African folktales before coming to Africa but in African Western folktales were told.  Another surprise and insightful observation. 

Gundona

By Melissa Rick

Her dark face worn with clusters of wrinkles, demanded respect from the many difficult years each wrinkle represented.  She had a subtle shake, a combination of years and illness.  A few days prior, Gundona the female chief had been in the hospital and still carried a deep chest cough with her as a souvenir of some irritating illness.  She has been ruling for seven years now.  Traditional leaders in Ghana still play important roles.  Although they are no longer military leaders, they act for the social service interests of their people and as lobbyists. 
Gundona’s palace was part of a mud compound house that housed over 300 individuals.  The room she was sitting in when we visited her was one of these circular clay rooms.  It contained no windows and the sun tried to permeate the darkness through two doors located on either side of the room.  Flies swarmed the room and the heat gave it a strange smugly atmosphere.  Thundering drums gave a droning sound outside the room. 
She sat on a raised platform on skins.  In the Northern Region of Ghana the chiefs sit on skins whereas in the South they sit on stools.  For a chief to be dethroned it is called de-skinned or de-stooled.  We presented Gundona with a cell phone as a gift.  Through a translator she thanked us then told us of the grievances of her and her people.  She asked us to provide her with a car and to get the community a health clinic.  We didn’t know what to say.  As we climbed back into our air-conditioned bus, we were humbled and determined to remember this and the many similar experiences we experience daily in Ghana. 

Northern Region Summary

Saturday, November 04, 2006

By Melissa Rick

From Monday to Monday sixteen students, Professor Groenhout, her kids, Samuel, and our driver Robert went to the Northern Region.  Northern Ghana has a mystic element about it.  Most of the Southern Ghanaians I have met have never traveled to the Northern Region.  Stereotypes and generalizations about the North and Northern people permeate discussions and assumptions.  1,820,000 people live in the Northern Region, a small percentage of the 21 million population of Ghana.  Of this number 305,000 live in Tamale.  70% of the economy is agricultural and Islam is the dominant religion.  The average yearly income is around $100 US dollars. 
We drove by villages comprised of round clay huts with patched roofs.  Groups of compound houses would make up the small village.  Compound houses are separate huts formed in a circle with a courtyard in the middle.  One hut will be the kitchen, one for the male, one for each wife (polygamy is legal and practiced in Ghana especially in the North), and then an entrance hut. 
After a twelve hour bus ride we arrived for our first night in Tamale.  We spent most of our nights at TICCS (the Tamale Center for Cultural Studies) as we traveled around the surrounding areas during the day.  Perhaps my favorite part of the trip was renting old-rusty-barely-working-metal-bikes in Tamale.  Tamale has few cars and most people get around the relatively small city on bikes.  It was accelerating weaving past motor bikes, pedestrians, stalls, and other bikers on wobbly bikes.  The bike tour was a great way to see and experience the city. 
We also visited World Vision’s Northern office.  World Vision is focused on providing clean water for different villages in the North.  They function as an amazingly efficient NGO that wants communities to build sustainable projects that the community can maintain without assistance from World Vision. 
Another day we visited a crocodile pond.  The members of the village that surrounds this pond have their entire lives wrapped up in the existence of the crocodiles.  The crocodiles even lay their eggs in people’s homes.  For the tourists (us), the villagers coaxed a large crocodile out of the pond with a squawking live chicken.  The crocodile stayed stationary with its jaws open toward the chicken while our group sat on its back and took pictures.  Finally they handed the chicken over to the mouth of the crocodile and he consumed it in a few bites then slide back into the water. 
One night we stayed over in Yendi, which is the second largest “city” in the Northern Region.  While there, we saw another NGO, BIRDS and visited women in a collective.  The collective makes shea butter and sells it to make profit. 
That night we were treated to a Gonji Performance inside the courtyard of a more modern compound house.  The courtyard was packed with gonji players, women, and at least a hundred children.  The gonji is a traditional guitar like instrument that has almost a moaning type sound.  The performance was fun and at one point we each had to dance by ourselves or with one other person in the courtyard (embarrassing). 
Another highlight of the Northern Region Trip was Mole National Park.  The Park is a reserve for African animals.  We stayed at a hotel (with a pool!) at the park.  The hotel overlooks a watering hole and we watched warthogs, elephants, and birds enjoy the water.  In the morning we went on a nature hike through the park to see animals.  However, when we woke up we were surprised to find an elephant inches away from our hotel rooms!  On the nature walk we found two more elephants drinking water and sat and soaked up their majestic entertainment for a while. 

Page 1 of 4 pages  1 2 3 >  Last »