Adventures in Ghana: Volta Region

While I’m no longer in Ghana since I arrived back home a few days ago, I thought that I might as well share my final few adventures abroad. ūüôā First up, Mt. Afadjato is the highest mountain in Ghana at a monumental elevation of 805 meters. Better yet, the mountain is very close to the border of Togo, so while the summit may be the highest point in Ghana, you can see a couple of taller peaks right across the border. Apparently, the name Afadjato comes from an Ewe word that translates to ‘at war with the bush.’

Next up, Wli Falls are the tallest waterfalls in Ghana. We were able to swim in the pool at the base of the waterfall when we arrived there on the first day. The following day, we embarked on a very strenuous and fairly technical hike up to the top of the waterfall for some more swimming. According to the guidebook, “one US reader declared ‘[the hike] makes the Bright Angel Train in the Grand Canyon look like a lazy afternoon walk.'” It was absolutely beautiful. ūüôā

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Adventures in Ghana: Tafi Abuife

Following our brief detour at the pottery shed, we set out once again for the village of Tafi Abuife.¬†Nearly everyone in the village ‚ÄĒ men, women, and children ‚ÄĒ all¬†contribute to a single trade: weaving kente cloth.

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According to our required local tour guide, the village was founded after a group of villagers escaped their tyrannical chieftain by digging a tunnel underneath the village walls. During their escape, the villagers walked backwards and forwent shoes to make tracking them much more difficult. After walking for days, they decided to settle¬†in the forest and determine if they were being followed. However, a giant spider (who wove giant webs) lived there¬†and frightened the settlers. Since it seemed¬†that their old chieftain wouldn’t be able to find them here, they decided to learn to weave and present the spider with cloth as a tribute to overcome their fear. Thus was¬†born the kente cloth weaving village of Tafi Abuife. ūüôā Some very serious fact checking may need to be done on my version of the story.

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The region east of Volta Lake (where Tafi Abuife is located) is predominately Ewe, the third largest ethic group in Ghana. In Ewe, the original pronunciation of kente is Ke-te, which translates to the opening and closing of the loom. Once the Asante assimilated the fabric into their culture, the name of the cloth became slightly bastardized to kente.

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It’s interesting to see the impact of globalization at work here. As I understand it, all of the local cotton plants were destroyed in a bush fire. In order to continue their trade, cotton is imported from China, dyed in Accra, and then shipped to Tafi Abuife to be woven into kente over the course of many hours. After all of this, it costs about $5 for a two meter length of fabric.

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Adventures in Ghana: Kpandu Potters

After visiting the dam, we traveled further into the depths of the Volta region with the intent of finding Tafi Abuife, a village known for its Kente cloth. Somewhere along the way we missed a turn and found ourselves in the town of Kpandu. Deciding to make the best of it, I checked the guidebook and discovered that Kpandu is actually pretty well known for its pottery. Thus began our short excursion to the Fesi Shed of Kpandu Potters, which is a women’s cooperative. All of the pottery is hand made without the assistance of a wheel. I couldn’t leave without purchasing¬†a little crocodile and pig. ūüôā

Adventures in Ghana: Akosombo Dam

It’s time for¬†another adventure series of posts! Last week I made a trip with some friends of mine to the Volta region, which is east of the Eastern region. That makes sense. Our first stop was Akosombo Dam, which¬†is responsible for creating Lake Volta,¬†the largest manmade lake by surface area in the world. Lake Volta is fed by three main tributaries, the Red, White, and Black Volta Rivers. The power plant has six operational turbines with an output of 173.1 MW each.¬†Only three of the turbines were spinning while I was there, and apparently the Volta River Authority hasn’t been able to operate the plant at full capacity as often as they used to. The dam is responsible for generating about 60 – 70% of Ghana’s electricity, so variations in its production can have serious consequences for the grid.

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On the shore of Lake Volta

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Where the water from Lake Volta enters the penstocks

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Water flows down the orange penstocks to the turbines

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Overlooking River Volta

Adventures in Ghana: Kumasi

My final post for Adventures in Ghana! Believe it or not, I had to get back to work at some point. But first, Kumasi. Kumasi is the capital of the Ashanti¬†region and seat of the old Asante¬†empire. It is a large¬†and chaotic city, and I only saw a couple of the sites¬†I originally wanted to¬†visit…which means I have to go back! First up, Manhyia Palace!

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Outside the Manhyia Palace grounds! 

The palace (originally destroyed and then rebuilt by the British) is home to the Asantehene, the ruler of the Asante¬†people. The current Asantehene (referenced¬†as¬†His Majesty) is Emperor Asantehene Osei Tutu II. While my memory of the specifics is imperfect (feel free to fact check!), I believe that when an Asantehene is crowned…inducted…comes into power…a unique stool is made for them. When they die, the stool is blackened. These stools are replicas of the Golden Stool, which is a relic sacred to the Asante. The Golden Stool is covered in gold (huh…who would’ve thought?!) and is believed to have descended from the sky to the first Asantehene in the 17th century. The Stool is also believed to contain the soul of the nation. The Golden Stool was so important to Ghanaians, that they allowed their King to be deported rather than give up the stool to the British, and in 1900, when the British governor of the Gold Coast demanded to sit on the stool, the Asante went to war to protect the stool. There’s a lot more history surrounding the Asante kingdom, and it’s absolutely fascinating! Sadly, the majority of the palace was off limits to pictures, so enjoy the grounds and the peacock!

Next up, I traveled to the National Cultural Center, home to another museum (pictures also forbidden here) and more history (including a 300 year old royal cask that should it be opened would lead to the collapse of the Asante Kingdom). In addition, it is home to lots of craft stores and local artisans. I did get quite a few pictures of these!

One of the neater crafts to see hand made is Kente cloth weaving. Traditionally, Kente cloth was worn by royalty for special occasions, although it has become more prevalent in modern times. The cloth is handwoven and can take weeks to get a full length bolt of fabric. I’m not quite certain that it’s supposed to be worn as a scarf, but who knows!

Adventures in Ghana: KNUST Botanic Garden

This is going to be an extremely picture heavy post. My guidebook (Ghana: The Bradt Travel Guide by Phillip Briggs) describes the botanical garden as “a peaceful and often deserted oasis of tropical vegetation on the city outskirts, with fine displays of bamboo and flowering trees, many labeled specimens, and beautiful butterflies.” Although beautiful it was, I’m not quite sure that I visited the same garden as Mr. Briggs.

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Out for a walk in the park!

I initially¬†attempted to visit the botanical garden on my first day in Kumasi after getting settled in to the Engineering Guesthouse. After a sweltering thirty minute walk to get there, I was told that the gardens were closed to the public after 5:00 PM. I had arrived at 4:58 PM… Let the thirty minute walk back to central campus begin! It wasn’t a total loss however; this is how I met one of the planning students from last week’s post.

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One of the many giant termite mounds dotting the landscape. 

A few days later, I found the time to give it another go. This time, I went at noon o’ clock, plenty of time to explore the gardens before closing, and possibly the worst time of day to be out and about in the sun. After paying an entrance fee of 3 GHS, I was in!

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This is a lot of bamboo.

Here are where the differences begin. While there was plenty of bamboo, I could not for the life of me find any sort of labelled specimens. And the park was far from deserted. People in fairly dressy clothes were entering and leaving and generally walking about without particularly examining the flora around them. My first guess was that unbeknownst to me, there was another entrance that students on campus were using to quickly cut through the gardens on their way to and from class.

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My secret path. 

Determined to find this path and verify my hypothesis, I set out for another way into the gardens. I passed by an individual speaking to himself in one of the shaded areas. I figured that he was a student practicing a speech or presentation in the relative isolation of the garden. Given my lack of fluency in Twi, this was a big if. Eventually, I found what seemed to be a path that led out of the garden, and ducking under some low-hanging branches, I followed it.

I had found it! A way in and out of the garden free from entrance fees that allowed for faster access to campus! In addition, I found some sort of commemorative stone referencing KNUST. This path seemed an extremely odd place to keep it. Still, no one else was following this trail, so it still didn’t account for the well dressed people traveling the park. It was time to head back to the main grounds and solve this mystery.

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One of many butterflies I saw, it was the only that allowed me to get close enough for a picture. 

Finally, I figured it out. Surrounding the main path were dozens of shaded areas complete with benches. In each one, people were wondering back and forth, pacing, while another individual (a man in all cases that I saw) was reading/proclaiming from a book. I had stumbled on seemingly impromptu church services taking place in the garden.

IMG_5385In fact, none of the spaces in use seemed to be serving any other purpose than as a spot for worship. All of the groups seemed to share a similar style of worship as well, filled with exuberant and impassioned readings while the followers paced back and forth, muttering their replies. Ghana is known as one of the most religious and Christian countries in the world, and this style of worship can be found all around the country.

Adventures in Ghana: KNUST

Continuing my adventure, I dropped at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (or just KNUST) on the road back from Mole National Park to explore campus and also get a bit of work done. KNUST is much larger than ASHESI (and UD for that matter), enrolling nearly 24,000 students. Campus has its own arboretum (to be covered in a later post), a museum, market district, as well as a variety of guesthouses and libraries.

First stop, the museum! To be honest, it was not quite what I expected. Less a museum and more of a study space with a spattering of art, it nevertheless was an enjoyable stop. In my opinion, the highlight of the display are the engravings on the stone face of the building.

For being a school specializing in science and technology, KNUST has a lot of art throughout campus. Besides the murals, I also ran into sculpture gardens and many students in the middle of ad hoc fashion shoots.

I ended up befriending some first year planning majors on campus (one of them was kind enough to show me around the city of Kumasi). Planning is similar to urban planning, although the the class¬†that was described to me focused on development of infrastructure and new buildings for villages. Familiar to any college student back home, they’ve pulled more than a few late to all nighters working on their drafts.

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Back at the guest house, I met a Chinese pharmaceutical engineer, Matthew, who’s been living in Ghana for about a year and a half. We traded stories, and he told me about his hometown in China, a quiet, rural area surrounded by mountains.¬†As a parting gift, he shared some fruit from his home¬†that is used to create a herbal tea. According to my new friend (or at least how I understood it to be), the tea is typically imbibed after a long, hot day to lower the body temperature of the drinker. In addition, the tea is not (should not be?) consumed daily, although I couldn’t quite ascertain the reason for that. My opinion? The tea was delicious, and while I can’t say that I felt cooler, I certainly felt refreshed.

Prior to being picked up by my colleagues at the end of my multi-day stay, we found a road that was most obviously named for the company. ūüôā Conclusion: KNUST is a pretty cool campus with pretty awesome people. Stay tuned for my visit to the Arboretum.

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