Archive for December, 2011
In the past few weeks, we have not done much (if any) sightseeing, but we have attended a number of special events, as a result of which we are becoming increasingly familiar with Ghanaian life and culture.
The carol service
On December 9, Omega Schools held a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, beginning at 9am. Ian was unable to attend, but Sandie decided to go along. She assumed that it would last an hour or so, and she would be back at her desk to work as usual in the afternoon. The service was held at a school several miles from the office, but a teacher was deputed to escort her (via two taxis and a tro-tro). She was concerned that they were going to be late, as they did not leave until 8.45, but she need not have worried.
The service was held outdoors, and attended by about 50 or 60 pupils from each of the ten Omega Schools. Chairs and canopies were arranged as well as a small stage. The service did not actually start until 10.30, and lasted (we kid you not) for six hours. It began with a quiz, in which two pupils from each school answered questions about the Bible. At lease, Sandie thinks that’s what they were answering questions about. As the megaphone was not working, and there was a lot of noise from the surrounding classrooms (pupils not participating in the service) it was impossible to hear.
The quiz itself lasted for an hour and a half. After that, the service followed a more traditional format, with the Bible readings (in a variety of English and Ghanaian languages) interspersed with singing, dancing and drama from school members. Some was unusual and interesting, some rather samey. It was only after hearing Good Christian men, rejoice for the fifth time that Sandie realised that the singing was part of a competition. Prizes for that and the quiz were awarded (one by Sandie) at the end.
The birthday party
The following day, Saturday, we were invited to join in the celebrations for our neighbour Elizabeth’s 76th birthday. In the morning we watched trucks deliver chairs, tables and canopies, which we now realise are standard at Ghanaian events – they are normally held outdoors, but you need protection from the sun. In the afternoon, all Elizabeth’s family came, including her 23 grandchildren, who organised the party. Her five children bought her a car, which was decked out with streamers and balloons. There was plenty of food and drink, as well as music and dancing. Unfortunately the power was off all day, so when it got dark people moved outside and two cars were positioned so that the headlamps gave some light.
Elizabeth invited us to a thanksgiving service, held the next day at the church where her son is the pastor. This is the other side of Accra, and we were taken in the new car – seven of us altogether, so it was a bit of a squeeze. Like most church services in Ghana, the service began at 9am and lasted three hours – but it was not necessary to be there the whole time, which was just as well because we arrived late. Elizabeth changed into a beautiful dress for the occasion. The church is charismatic and Pentecostal, and the service included some celebratory dancing as well as a lot of loud African music. Elizabeth cut her cake (for the second time) and we all shared a bit before coming back home through the heavy traffic.
This last week we have had a couple more celebrations. On Monday we invited our colleagues from the Omega Schools office up to the flat for drinks. About 20 of them came and seemed to enjoy the event, though they left quite early. On Wednesday there was a brief party at the office to mark the departure of one of the older members of the team.
We feel we have now become familiar with Ghanaian celebrations, though the few we have attended may not be a representative sample! Things that might surprise our friends in other countries are (1) there is comparatively little alcohol and (2) parties as well as business meetings tend to include prayers. Even at our own decadent gathering, most people chose soft drinks and towards the end the guests sang a hymn and one offered a closing prayer!
Our flat has improved considerably of late. Towards the end of November we went into Accra and blew the grant we’d been given on a washing machine, a TV stand, a coffee table and some curtain rails. (That may not seem a very exciting selection, but you appreciate these things when you have to do without them!) They were delivered the next day, and Ian assembled the flat-pack items immediately. The TV no longer sits on an armchair, and we no longer have to put our coffee mugs on a cardboard box!
The other things took longer. It was almost a fortnight before the plumber turned up to plumb in the washing machine (on the day of the carol service, as it happened, hence Ian’s non-attendance). We’d been unable to find a handyman to put up the curtain rails, but on discovering that the plumber had an electric drill, Ian persuaded him to do both jobs. Now we can wash our clothes and draw the curtains, both mighty causes for celebration!
On Friday 23rd we fly back to the UK via Rome, arriving on Christmas Eve. We are looking forward to seeing friends and family again, but not to the cold weather!
Friday 2nd December was a public holiday in Ghana (National Farmers’ Day), so we had a long weekend and decided to make our first excursion away from the Accra area to Cape Coast, the ancient capital of the British Gold Coast colony. It’s less than 100 miles to the west of Accra, but our excursion there seemed like an adventure for two reasons. First, we decided to travel light, so set off with just our rucksacks on our backs. Second, the journey was far from easy.
It takes only 30 minutes for us to walk from the flat to the main coast road. Buses between Accra and Cape Coast pass along that road – but unfortunately they do not stop to pick up passengers. Therefore, in order to reach Cape Coast, we had to first travel to Accra, in the opposite direction, and fight our way through the usual horrendous traffic jams.
We took a tro-tro into Accra, and then a taxi to the STC bus station (STC is one of the two companies running services to Cape Coast, and we had been told they were the best). We arrived in good time, because we’d been warned that there would be long queues. This proved not to be the case, and the bus we planned to catch was late, so we waited a total of three and a half hours before heading west again. The traffic getting out of Accra was even worse than it had been in the morning, so we passed Weija Junction (a mile or so from our flat) six hours after we set off.
After that, things were much easier, and it took not much more than two hours to reach Cape Coast. The main sights of interest there are the castles built by different European powers to support the slave trade. We visited two of these. On Saturday morning we went to Elmina, a short distance west of Cape Coast, and had a tour of the castle there. This was originally built by the Portuguese but then captured by the Dutch, who ran the slave trade from there until eventually selling it to the British.
The tour was very interesting, but quite horrific. We saw the dungeons where hundreds of individuals were kept for up to three months in terrible conditions. We heard how so many of them died and their bodies were thrown in the sea, and how female slaves were chosen by the governor to be raped by him and his soldiers. At the end of the tour Ian was feeling quite ashamed of his Dutch ancestry.
Elmina town is quite interesting, with a large number of local fishing boats using it as a base. There is also Fort Jago on a nearby hill which offers a good viewpoint over Elmina Castle and the town. Walking round the town we saw some of the ‘posuban’ shrines erected by the local companies of militia, which are decorated with unusual sculptures, including a sailing ship and statues of Adam and Eve.
On Saturday afternoon we returned to Cape Coast. In the evening we had drinks at a beach resort, watching the sunset and children playing in the surf.
On Sunday we did a tour of Cape Coast Castle, where the slave trade was operated by the British. The conditions in the dungeons were equally horrific, and we passed through the ‘Door of No Return’ which ushered the slaves out to the waiting boats to take them away from home forever. We saw the plaque on the outside saying ‘Door of Return’, because a few years ago they brought back the remains of a couple of slaves through the door and had a ceremony in the castle to mark their return home. We also saw a plaque commemorating a visit by Barack and Michelle Obama in 2009. Michelle Obama apparently believes that her ancestors may have been among the slaves shipped across the Atlantic from Cape Coast.
Our long weekend at Cape Coast was informative and enjoyable, despite the horrific nature of the history there. We liked being able to walk out and have restaurant meals and drinks in the evening, although it was not easy to pick our way between the traffic and the open sewers (Sandie actually had her toe run over by a taxi, but fortunately no damage was done). We did some shopping (a few souvenirs, and a dress for Sandie); we even found a small secondhand bookshop where we were able to stock up with reading material.
The journey home was much easier than the journey to Cape Coast. We decided to use Metro Mass (the alternative bus company) because they operate more frequently and leave from the centre of the town. The great thing is, that although buses do not pick up passengers along the coast road, they will drop passengers on request. So we did not have to go back into Accra. We alighted at Weija Junction, and walked back up the hill, with rucksacks somewhat heavier than when we set out.