Last Tuesday I got the STC bus in Accra and headed west down the coast to the town of Cape Coast. The bus was reasonably comfortable although the seats were pretty narrow. And then there were fold down seats at every row covering the aisle. It had no A/C.
The most striking thing about the 100 mile ride were the hundreds of signs along the road, three-fourths of which were related to churches, especially Evengelical, Seventh Day Adventist, Methodist, Morman, Pentecostal and Presbyterian. There were church schools, fellowships, clinics, etc. Many NGO’s were there too, like the Hunger Project and Save the Children. The other quarter of the signs were for private businesses but they, too, had religion combined: God is Able Supermarket, Lord of Mercy Beauty Salon, Come to Jesus For Your Car Decorations. Let me see now, the whites bought and sold 10,000,000 Africans for slavery, from whose labor they benefited, big time; after that the whites sent zillions of missionaries to convert the Africans to their religion—and the bizarre thing is that the Africans bought it! There are churches on every corner. I sat for awhile on Sunday morning at the Miracle Family Church in Cape Coast. They had lots of singing, loud microphones, drums, and a four hour church service! (Haven’t they suffered enough?!)
The Portuguese were the first Europeans here in 1482, establishing trade for ivory and gold, for which they built a series of forts along the coast. Later the real ‘gold’ turned out to be slaves, which attracted the Swedes, British, Dutch, Germans and Danes. All these forts changed hands many times; there still are about 30 in these parts.
There is a nice Women’s Coop here where I usually eat breakfast and Friday, I had fufu there for lunch, with Gary, a Brit,. This is pounded cassava and plantains in a hearty spicy meat/tomato based soup. They brought bowls of warm water, a bar of soap and hand towels since you eat this with your fingers. It was delicious!
The people are kind of a puzzle. They speak very forcefully and often I think they’re having an argument, but I guess it’s just conversation. The little children point and shout, “birunee, birunee” which means “white person.” Taxi drivers, soliciting business, loudly yell, “HEY, HEY! I’m talking to YOU! Where are you going?” which feels a little aggressive but I think it’s just their way. At first it was a little off-putting, though. They also laugh very loud and get very excited.
I decided to try to mail a package of souvenirs home. I bought a cardboard box from a storelady (15 cents), then some electrical tape from an electric shop (45 cents)—the only tape I could find. I had to ask directions many times to find the Post Office—one taxi driver said it had moved, and I would need a taxi to go there, “So LET’S GO!” I looked further and it was nearby. Many forms to be filled out—the clerk was very pleasant and after I paid and left, he ran after me about half a block because I hadn’t put a return address on the box. I explained that I was sending it to myself so none was necessary. He said he thought that was it, but wanted to make sure that I hadn’t forgotten!
Thursday I hired a taxi to take me a couple of places east of here (yes, I know, that’s kind of cheating for a backpacker) to see some castles. The taxi even had working seat belts—a first! Fort Kormatin at Abanze had been restored by the Dutch. I had a most interesting guide (he lives in the castle). This is where Louis Armstrong traced his roots.
Also a contingent from Suriname in South America had come to find their roots. Apparently the religion, customs, and language are still flourishing in Suriname (which, of course used to be Dutch Guiana).
Next I went to Anamabu to see the castle there (it’s now a prison) but more to see the Asofa shrines. These are called Posuban and are painted figures (animals, policemen, Adam and Eve, boats) in a shrine setting, which are gathering places for Asofa—social clubs. It’s an old Fanti custom and they used to be defensive companies. There are some in Cape Coast, also.
The people here really love President Clinton. I see his picture frequently and street artists seem to paint him. The fact that he visited Africa several times really made an impression on them. Several taxi drivers, desk clerks, etc. have said this.
Friday I took a tro-tro to Kakum National Park. They do have some wildlife (forest elephants, leopards) but nobody ever gets to see it because the park isn’t open at dawn or dusk. Anyway, I walked the cable and rope walkway which is a series of six rope bridges about 120-140 feet high, over the tree tops. You bounce along and it’s a little scary, but not bad. A Swedish couple and I had a wonderful female guide, kind of a forest ranger.
Afterward when I stood on the road waiting for a tro-tro, Gary (mentioned earlier) was there waiting also. So when we got back we ate fufu together. He has bicycled from Dakar, Senegal, all the way through Senegal, Mali, Burkino Faso and Ghana. WOW!! He also always drinks the local water (not bottled) up to 5 gallons a day when cycling.
They have THE most delicious pineapple here that I have ever tasted. I buy one each day at a street stand—they cut it up and put it in a plastic bag—so good!
The people were very dressed up. The women wore fancier versions of their regular attire with the addition of a black turban/tie around their heads. Middle aged and older men wore black pants and black tee shirts with the name )”in memory of—“) and a picture of the deceased on the front.
Some women had red and white “costumes” which may be a club or Asofa representation.
Many people wore red and black prints, which are funeral colors. I had a peek at the insides of these two large churches—rather splendid and colorful.
Later I took a tro-tro to Elmina, the site of the first Portuguese fort, which the Dutch rebuilt into St. George’s Castle. I also climbed up a hill to visit St. Jago’s Castle, also very interesting and picturesque. Unfortunately my camera conked out! What a bummer. Anyway, the town was one of the most picturesque that I’ve seen. After I got back, I removed and reinserted the batteries—CURED! Thank goodness. These electronic cameras are too complex for our own good, although they do magical things.
Sunday I took the bus to Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city (almost one million). The bus had 67 seats and 67 passengers. Cape Coast was not the point of origin so we all got the fold-down aisle seats. After a rest stop, a young man (student) offered to exchange with me—how nice!
Kumasi is Ashanti country and still has a chief with a palace. I’m eager to see all, and will try to write again next week.