Marc Becker's Home Page


Find on

Marc's Blog

Saturday, October 24, 2009


A month ago, workers at the Guest Centre took what seemed like a week to chop down a bamboo stand behind my flat. A couple weeks later they spent several days dragging away the branches. Today I looked out my window and saw that the remnants of the stand were ablaze. First we closed the windows so that the ash did not float into our flat (we are already coughing enough from the exhaust from the generator on the other side of the flat). But as we continued to watch I began to worry that the crackling and snapping flames were spreading so quickly in this dry environment that they would soon engulf the Guest Centre. We debate whether we should throw everything into suitcases so that we can quickly evacuate if necessary.

Finally I walked out behind the flat to see how great of a danger we were facing. A worker comes over and explains that they are burning down the bamboo stand because three pythons had taken up residence there, and that the university could not risk the liability of a guest being bitten, which would mean certain death. They had not seen the pythons leave the stand, and now they were not sure if they had been burned alive or whether they had escaped.

We had debated whether to do something this weekend, but between the lack of engaging options and the hassle of traveling anywhere we were not sure whether it was worth the effort. With pythons on the loose, the option of just staying home and reading a book becomes an even more attractive option.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ussher Fort

I found out about another fort in Accra, so I took off to visit it. Ussher Fort apparently is not that old (the date above the doorway says 1839), which probably means that it was not part of the slave trade. When I arrive a caretaker relieves me of 5 Ghana cedis to snap some pictures of the fort, and then takes me to a small museum (for which he charges me another 3 Ghana cedis) with a generic history of the transatlantic slave trade and pictures of other castles and forts along the coast. My guide book says that more recently this fort was used as a prison, and that Ghana's independence leader and first president Kwame Nkrumah was once held here. I ask the caretaker if I could see his cell, and he shows me a couple of cells, but is very vague with specific information including exactly when Nkrumah was there. I ask about visiting James Town, which is just up the road from Ussher Fort, and Fort James, but instead the caretaker puts me in a taxi and sends me off to the National Museum. Walking in the heat in the middle of they day had pretty much worn me out anyway, but at some point I'll have to try to make a return trip to visit Fort James.

PS: We went to the Archaeology museum on campus, and they had an exhibit case on Ussher. Apparently the original fort dates back to the 1600s like most European structures on the coast, but what currently exists (like many of the forts) is of a more recent vintage.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Sunday morning the electricity at the Guest Centre went off. It briefly flickered back on, but has been off ever since. We quickly unplug everything, scared of power surges if the power comes back on.

Apparently it is a broad outage due to the failure of a transformer. Usually the Guest Centre turns on their backup generator when the grid goes down, but apparently they are short of fuel and could not get more during the weekend, but they promised to turn it on at 6pm when the sun sets. I had invited my students over for pancakes at 6pm, but didn't want to start mixing up the batter because of the uncertainty of whether we would have electricity or not. Even when the generator finally came on the electricity did not come back on in my flat because, apparently, someone had not thought to throw the switch for the electricity to come from the generator rather than the grid. I keep saying "apparently" because good information or a clear story is hard to come by.

At some point during the nite the generator went off, long after the three hours of diesel reserves that they had given as a reason for not turning it on earlier in the day. On Monday morning the restaurant and guest centre office had electricity even though our flats and the rest of campus did not. I'm not entirely clear how they accomplished that. The generator remained off, apparently because without electricity that had no way to pump the diesel necessary to run the generator. Mid-morning they turned the generator back on, which we desperately needed to recharge our laptop batteries. The generator is right outside the patio doors of my flat, and the high pitched noise and rising heat (it regularly hits 30C in the afternoons now) chased me into the bedroom where we closed the windows and shades and turned the AC on. That, of course, puts more of a load on the generator, and mid afternoon it went back off. This was a bit of a problem, as I had beans soaking for dinner and now I had no way to cook them.

Early Monday evening they restarted the generator and I quickly cook my beans, but now the noise is driving us crazy but at least we have light and electricity to recharge our laptop batteries (again) and cook some food. Such are the tradeoffs in Africa. Meanwhile, my internet connection is slow to the point of useless. I thought the outage would shut down so many users that the network would be blazingly fast. I wonder if in some way the outage is putting more of a load on the network, or if the servers are not running at full capacity. More frustrating than the outages is the lack of information and resulting uncertainties.

PS: Tuesday morning, and it's going on 48 hrs now without electricity and the generator is off again because it allegedly has run out of fuel. But the restaurant and guest centre office have electricity (and reasonably fast internet), apparently because they are on a different "phase." The internet at home is still slow to the point of useless.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

From Cape Coast to Accra

Yesterday we finished our lap of Ghana and headed back to Accra.

We started out (after another late start) with a visit to the Cape Coast Castle, the one we wanted to do yesterday. I had visited before, but I wanted a picture of myself for my facebook profile at the Door of No Return since I had forgotten to take one during my previous visit. Unfortunately, the door was padlocked shut and it is hard to get both me and the sense of the door in the same shot, but oh well.

Before leaving Cape Coast we made a quick stop at Fort William, which together with Fort Victoria was one of the signal towers for the castle. While in the Cape Coast castle, I did confirm that both signal towers were visible from the governor's room as the guide at Fort Victoria had told us the previous day, but it was not the straight view that I had imagined. Later Fort William was converted into a lighthouse, and today a caretaker family lives in the former fort. It seems me me that it would be quite a funky place to live.

From Cape Coast we headed back up the coast toward Accra and made a quick swing through Moree to see the ruins of Fort Nassau. Our guide book says that there is not much to see at the fort, and more engaging than the ruins are the view of the beach and town from the hilltop. Because of our late start and delays (it is now noon, and my original plan was to take the entire day visiting these forts on the way back to Accra), we just swing by the market, snap a quick couple of pictures, and head on. My guide book says that Fort Nassau was the first Dutch fort (1612), and served as their headquarters until they captured Elmina in 1637, but Kwesi Anquandah's book on castles and forts of Ghana does not even mention it. Forty some forts and other trading structures originally dotted the Gold Coast, but only a hand full of them still remain.

The next stop is Fort William in Anomabu (not to be confused with the signal fort of the same name in Cape Coast). The Dutch originally built Fort William in 1630 before the British later took over it. Fort William is a fairly substantial structure, I think the largest on the Ghanian coast (Elmina, Cape Coast, and Christiansborg are all castles rather than forts). As with Cape Coast, hundreds of slaves came through this fort as part of the trans-atlantic slave trade. The guide (who stopped talking when ever I paused to snap a photo) told a similar type of story as we already had heard at Elmina and Cape Coast. After the slave trade, the fort was used as a prison (under seemingly similar miserable conditions), and only recently has become a historic site open to visitors.

Now it is an hour later, and serious questions set in whether we'll have time to visit all of the remaining forts along the coast. The next one is Fort Amsterdam at Abanze, one of the forts (the only one?) visible from the main road, and one that made me want to return after our first trip to explore these other structures in a closer and more relaxed environment. When we roll up at Abanze we're mobbed with an annoying group of kids shouting "white man give me money," hardly something more relaxing. In Sandinista Nicaragua, I would lecture kids who tried to do that on the evils of economic dependency and the fostering of an imperialist mentality, but I'm not sure what the proper (or understandable) response would be here. At the Fort, the caretaker attempts to charge us another five Ghana cedis, but it is clear that he has neither the linguistic or ambulatory skills to take us on a tour like we had at Fort William. We're pissing through incredible sums of money on this trip, and so we show him our receipt from From William and protest that the two Forts are linked together on the museum board's price list and we shouldn't have to pay again. In the end, we just dash him a cedis, but I feel sorry for him because clearly it was his job to be sure that no one visited the site for free as we just did, even though there was very little information or historical explanation to justify the high charge (though the bats in the dungeon were pretty cool, though I'm terrified of being bitten and contacting rabies). Meanwhile, kids are mobbing the vehicle where Cheryl had remained behind, and so we cut short the visit and continue on down the coast.

After a short stop for fruit, fuel, food, and a swing through Mankessim where we get yelled for stopping in front of the posuban shrine, we arrive at Apam, location of Fort Leydsaamsheid (Fort Patience). The friendly guide relieves us of our 2 Ghana Cedis a piece (I've learned now to ask for prices up front, rather than fighting about them later; I give the guide a 5 cedis note but fails to give me my change, apparently opting to keep the extra cedis as his required voluntary 'dash'). The fort also doubles as a resthouse. It costs 2 cedis a nite, the same as entrance fee, and I wonder what it would be like to stay there. The guidebook says that the rooms were cells, but they are not down in the dungeon but rather up on the second floor where the officer quarters originally would have been. So, my concern was not so much sleeping where slaves were once held, but rather facing the potential and constant hassles, like the little kid who kept tugging on my water bottle.

Now it is 4pm, and only one more fort lies between us and Accra. Rather than making another trip just to visit the Fort of Good Hope at Senya Beraku, we decide to go for it. Unfortunately, I misread the map (complicating my misreading directions is the Brandt guide that mistakenly refers to a dirt road) that leads us on another half hour detour down another bumpy dirt road that eventually end up at the fort. Unlike the other forts that we have visited, this one doubles as a restaurant for receptions and the like, as well as having rooms for rent, though at 20 Ghana cedis it is significantly more expensive than Fort Patience. We're charged one cedis for a quick tour, and I wonder whether this fort is privately owned (or at least run) rather than being property of the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (as I assume was the case with the other forts we visited). I ponder returning here to hang out for a weekend, but decide it would probably be more fun to do so with others rather than as a solo journey.

Now it's 5pm, an hour to nightfall, and we're only 45 kilometers from Accra. Under normal circumstances, it seems like we should make it back before dark. But Accra is not very normal. And so we spend a couple hours fighting really bad traffic to get back to the university. In a way, it makes me happy that we stopped at the last fort so I don't feel the need to go back out again to knock this last fort off my list.

And so ends our lap of Ghana, 10 days from Legon to Legon. We missed a couple things I wanted to visit (like Wa), and while out and about I ran into other things I wouldn't have minded visiting if we had more time (like the Gambaga escarpment). But we did most of what I wanted to do, and some extra things as well (like Lake Bosumtwi). So, in the end, we're probably done most of what I normally could expect to do during a semester of shorter weekend trips on public transit. Maybe I'll be happy with what I've seen and settle back into what I enjoyed so much about Ghana during my first couple of weeks here--just hanging out in the Guest Centre reading books that I never get a chance to read when I am back home.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Elmina revisited

This morning we checked out of the Joyflux Hotel in Kumasi only to find out not only did they want to charge us almost double the listed prices on the menu, but they also refused to honor the price that we had agreed up at checkin. After half on hour of hassle, we finally got on the road--only to head straight north into a deadlocked traffic jam into the middle of the city even though we were on the south side of Kumasi and we were headed south to Cape Coast. After an hour of that, we turned around and headed back south toward Cape Coast, only to take another hour-long detour through Obuasi. The saving grace of that detour was that we saw the famous AngloGold Ashanti, one of the largest gold mines in the world. I wonder about how to make connections between what is happening here and ongoing protests against mining in Latin America.

So, we arrived at Cape Coast a couple hours after what we had planned and hoped, which played havoc with our plans for a nice, relaxed, casual visit to unwind at the end of this trip, and then a slow trip back into Accra tomorrow. We started with the Elmina castle, which of course I have seen before but Cheryl had not. Mostly what I wanted to do is to visit other historical sites along the coast that I could not when we were here last time. Across from Elmina castle is the Fort St. Jago that the Dutch used to steal Elmina from the Portuguese. The visit to St. Jago started out perfectly fine, but as with too many things here ended on a very sour note as the guide attempted to charge us even though the entry fee was included in what we already had paid at Elmina.

After losing some more time buying fish, we made it to Cape Coast right at 5pm, and the friendly staff sold us a ticket even though they were closing. What's up with that? But we'll go back and try to visit tomorrow morning before heading back to Accra, which will unfortunately put us back at the University Guest Centre a couple hours later than planned. But we did take advantage of the time to swing past Global Mamas and Fort Victoria, a signal tower for the Cape Coast castle. There is another signal tower called Fort Williams that I also wanted to visit, but the people who charged us to climb up to Fort Victoria started telling long-winded and detailed military histories and we ran out of daylight. Hopefully we'll have better luck tomorrow.

On the upside, where we're staying has a fairly strong internet connection so I'm able to upload most of the photos and videos that I haven't been able to over the past week, though unfortunately I'm outside with the mosquitos and once again we're paying through the nose for our room. Hopefully I won't get malaria out of this as well.

Happy birthday, Wiren!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kuapa Kokoo

By the end of the day, the constant rip-offs become wearing. Last nite I found out that the Joyflux Hotel where we are staying in Kumasi was charging us 50 percent more for water than what is listed on the menu. And now I find out, just like the restaurant in Bolga, they charged us more than double for our meals than what is listed on the menu. The excuse is the same--the prices in the menu are old, and so we are charging more. What a lame excuse; if that were the case, why not tell us up front? I grow so weary of the constant hassles and rip-offs, and being constantly on the guard against rip-offs.

This morning we visited the Amankwatia Society, one of the fair trade cocoa cooperative Kuapa Kokoo's local farmer cooperatives. We met with the cooperative board during their busy harvest season. After the meeting, coop members took us to the cocoa grove where they showed us how they harvest the pods. With a long stick they hook the cocoa pods high up in the trees. Then they split the pods open, take out the seeds, and wrap them up in banana leaves to let them ferment for a couple days before laying them out in the sun to dry.

Cocoa, of course, is a crop native to the Americas, and the Aztecs considered it to be a food of the gods, something unfit for commoner consumption. At different points, cocoa has also been used as a currency. Back in Ghana, cooperative members presented each of us with a cocoa pod, but I'm not entirely sure what to do with one. Obey says we can crack it open and suck on the seeds, as they have a tasty cover. The seeds, however, need to be fermented, dried, and processed before they represent anything approaching what we generally consider to be chocolate.

The community has a new secondary school but no teacher, and behind it a primary school. I went to take pictures of the schools just before they broke for lunch. Or maybe they broke for lunch because the arrival of an obruni with a camera was too disruptive for studies to continue into the afternoon. I felt like a pied piper as I walked away with a whole flock of children following behind trying to get me to take their picture. One of them was wearing a Kansas Jayhawk t-shirt.

We had a bit of extra time in the late afternoon, and I scrambled to see if there was anything touristy in Kumasi that I wanted to do rather than making a trip back here before we leave in December. Finally I decided to make a run out to Lake Bosumtwi about an hour outside of Kumasi. A couple nites ago Cheryl was watching Ghana's version of who wants to be a millionaire, and the question of what is Ghana's only natural lake came up. The answer, of course, is Lake Bosumtwi. It is a crater lake, apparently formed by a meteorite striking the earth rather than a collapsed volcano.

The lake is very beautiful, and reminded me somewhat of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, tho the hassle factor here is much higher. The guide book warns about it, and sure enough it began with an unofficial check point on the road to the lake that attempts to charge an entrance fee. I followed the book's advice and refused to pay. At the lake, people descended on us, including one person claiming to be the chief's representative (apparently he changed his story, because the guide book says that he claimed to be the chief). After a while and after ignoring everyone, they begin to leave us alone. Unfortunately, now it is late afternoon and we need to get back to Kumasi before dark. It is a nice lake, and it was nice to chill for a bit, but the constant hassle factor does become wearing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


On our way to Kumasi we stopped at the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. The monkeys were so friendly that they came up to us and would eat bananas out of our hands. The monkeys, like the crocs at Paga, are considered to be sacred and therefore protected. People are not allowed to hunt or hurt them (tho a couple people were walking around town with rifles; I'm not sure what was up with that). When a monkey dies it is given a formal burial in a monkey cemetery. It leaves me thinking that perhaps humans should also be part of a fetish system so that people don't harm or kill them.

Under a tree in Africa

October 12-13

Isn't meeting under a tree in Africa the ultimate cliche? But that is what we did over the course of one and a half days of meetings with Trade Aid and their partners around Bolgatanga in northern Ghana. The process almost seems routine now. We roll up in our white NGO vehicle, and the women are waiting for us with a whole song and dance routine. We then move into a meeting where the women tell us their stories as a couple seemingly token selection of people weave baskets, one of them of course one that SERRV sells. The first group is the most successful one, complete with a permanent craft center. The second one is less successful, so we meet under a tree. The third is, well, ok. But, quite frankly, it is by far the best way to see a country. Were I an anthropologist, it would take me a long time to gain the confidence and access at which these meeting start.

I had perhaps my worst experience at lunch in Bolga. It was a typical restaurant menu (starch and dead animals), which left me wondering why restaurants couldn't figure out how to cook decent food. But I selected something tolerable, though overpriced. When the (unitemized) bill came well over an hour later it was almost double of what was listed on the menu. The server started into a confusing and conflicting story about how he didn't want to bring us the menus because the prices were outdated, that they didn't have what I ordered so they brought us something else, etc., etc. I told him no, I was paying the prices listed on the menu for what we had ordered. As he refused I became more insistent, and it quickly spiraled downwards to the point where I was screaming at him at the top of my voice. Only when I went to get my (Missouri-issued) cell phone to call in the big guns did he finally back down. I can't stand to be treated unfairly, perhaps something that I picked up from my father.

We mixed in a bit of play with work, visting the Tongo hills just southeast of Bolga. My guide book talks about a community tourist project about twice the distance that we traveled out of town so I don't think we were where I wanted to be but oh well. A couple guys took us up around the hills (which are quite scenic) and showed us where people hid from slave raiders in the rocks and fought the British. It quickly became rather clear that these guys could easily rob us there if they so desired. Not exactly the safest playground.

We left Bolga Tuesday afternoon for Kumasi, and stopped halfway at the Kintampo Falls which were nice but overpriced like all of the other tourist attractions in this country. After a short visit to the falls, the guide took us to a relatively expensive hotel that claims to be full service but the AC and TV did not work in the room, they have no internet service, most of the lights in the room didn't work, and then the electricity went out and it is clear that they don't have a generator either.


October 11

When I was young I faced this perpetual conundrum that if I had money I had no time to travel (because I was working), and if I had time to travel I had no money (because I had no job). Now that I'm old I have managed to configure my life in such a way that time and money tend to go together (I've figured out ways to make travel part of my job), but now I can't get blogging and an internet connection to correspond in any sort of rational manner. If I have an internet connection (like the first couple days of this week) I'm so overwhelmed by concerns of the outside world that I don't have time to blog, and if I don't have an internet connection (like right now) I have the time and space to blog but no way to upload my posts. So, here are posts from the last couple days.

I woke up early at Mole National Park and went to the lodge to see if I could see anything in the elephant pond over the escarpment on which the Mole Motel is perched. Not much luck. At 7am we took off on our morning safari walk. At first we just walked down the road, which seemed rather meaningless to me because we could have driven in that direction. Furthermore, we were following the cars that were scaring the baboons off the road. I thought we would be completely out of luck for the day.

Then, suddenly, we saw an elephant on the road ahead of us. We started walking quickly toward it. Behind us came a row of cars, and the guide/guard mumbled that they would scare the elephant off before we got there. Sure enough, it went crashing into the brush, followed by a second one. But now walkers were at an advantage over the drivers, as we went crashing into the brush after them. After a while, the elephant apparently grew tired of obrunis chasing after it and turned toward us, bellowed, and started what I interpreted as a false charge. The guard/guide chambered a round in his hunting rifle and waved us to move behind him. One of the dutch guys in our group said at the beginning that he hoped he would be lucky that day. Now he said he was being just a bit too lucky.

So, we left the elephants to their own merry making and took off on our own. The guide/guard explained that the females were off somewhere else right now (in their mating cycle, I think) and so the males were traveling through here either alone (as we saw yesterday) or in small groups (as with the two bulls now). The tour became more interesting/educational, as the guard unchambered the round and starting guiding us through the local flora and fauna.

We walked around to the elephant bath that I had been watching in the morning, and luck of luck we ran into two elephants bathing. The guide/guard said it was a bull and his offspring, and they were splashing around and playing in the water. Four elephants in one morning safari. Not bad, especially for starting out by following the cars. My only regret was that I didn't realize that my camera battery was wearing down, so I didn't get much video.

On our way out of the park we passed back through Larabanga where I wanted to stop to stop to see the "mystery rock" that allegedly could not be moved to build the road. It turned out to be one of those most awful tourist traps. Someone had built a wall around the rock so it was not visible from the road, and then tried to charge several cedis to see it. What a rip off. Furthermore, to my untrained eye it appears that given the grade of the hill the engineers would have wrapped the road the way they did whether the rock was there or not.

I wanted head northeast through Wa on our way to to Bolgatanga, but we were now running out of time so we had to head straight back through Tamale. We arrived at about 4pm, which gave us time for a quick trip up to Paga on the Burkina Faso border to see the sacred crocodile ponds. To me, it struck me as another tourist crock. Although it is billed as a "community tourism project," they charged stacked fees and double-billed others in such a way that they charged us 15 cedis just to see a couple stupid crocs.

Locals say that the crocs are their sacred ancestors, which is good for the crocs cuz no one kills them. They also claim that the crocs never hurt anyone, which is good for the people because the thing tourists like to do is to take their pictures with the crocs. Part of the 15 cedis was one of those required voluntary donations to buy a chicken to feed to the croc (perhaps good for the croc, but not so much for the chicken), which a kid threw so quickly at the croc that we couldn't have taken a decent picture even had we wanted to do so.

After a quick swing by the Burkina Faso border (add it to my list of countries I've seen but not visited), we continue on to the Pikworo slave camp, perhaps the most interesting site I've visited so far here in Ghana. Slave raiders assembled slaves here before taking them south to the market at Salaga. A young man named Aaron, who said he learned the history of the site from his father, took us around to where the slaves had been chained to trees and had been fed in bowls carved into the rock. Musicians were present to show us how they entertained the captives with a rock drum. Aaron showed us where the raiders auctioned off the slaves, and tied troublemakers to rocks in the hot sun as punishment. All together very visual and very fascinating. It was well worth the stop, and gave me some good information, ideas, and visuals to use in my classes.

By now it is getting dark, and we make a quick stop at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows in Navrongo, the oldest Catholic mission in northern Ghana (only 100 years old). But the museum was already closed and it is too dark to get any decent pictures, and I wish we had done the entire afternoon trip in reverse. I could have done without the crock of crocs.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mole National Park

October 10

This post was almost called "No Elephants," because elephants are the main reason that people come to Mole National Park and for a while I thought there was a good chance that we would not see any. But at the end of our evening safari we finally ran across one grazing and flapping its ears and swinging grass on its head.

We woke up early again this morning to drive to Mole because from the guidebook I understood that the road was in bad condition, but compared to what we drove on the day before it was a dream. The first stop was at Larabanga to see a stick-and-mud mosque, Ghana's oldest surviving structure, perhaps 50 years older than the Elmina castle on the coast, the oldest European structure in Ghana. We were mobbed by people who wanted to show us around, or rather take our money, but we found the tourist office who relieved us of what they deemed to be an appropriate amount of our money and then gave us a tour guide who didn't tell us anything. He only came alive at the end when he found out that I taught history at the University of Ghana and then he excitedly started talking about this Kate from California who was here a month ago and is studying history at the University as well.

When we arrived at the park they told us that we could only take safaris at 7am and 3:30pm, and that we should go to the Mole Motel and wait until 3:30. But the price list stated that only vehicular safaris be taken between 11am and 2:30pm, which seemed to be complete news to the guides. So, they said to come back at 11am, and I just assumed that it was a big blowoff. Life in Ghana can be so confusing.

So we went to check in at the Mole Motel, and I maybe fought too hard for the chalet that I had tried to reserve via email because they gave us a room in which the AC didn't work. Apparently they no longer use the email address that is listed in the Brandt guide, and googling Mole Motel doesn't bring up any logical reservation listings. Life in Ghana can be so confusing.

So, at 11am we went back to the information centre for our safari and no one was around, but they called a guide and sure enough he came--along with his gun. We are required to travel with an armed guard, and I keep wanting to ask why--too shoot would-be robbers, wayward obrunis, or what. The guide/guard kept grumbling that it made no sense to go out now because no sensible animal (nor any sensible tour guide, it seems) would be out in the middle of the heat of the day. But we saw a fair number of animals: various kinds of antelope (roan, kob, waterbuck, bushbuck), baboons (they're everywhere!), warthog, various birds, and loads of the tsetse biting fly, but no elephants. But overall, not bad for the hot part of the day.

We return at 3:30 for the more proper afternoon safari, and actually see less than we did in the middle of the day. When we arrive the guide/guard is leaving with a Peace Corps vehicle and he claims that someone had told him that we were not coming back, that they were short on guides, and that we should just follow their vehicle. In the morning they had seemingly overcharged us, and now in the afternoon they seemingly undercharged us. Who knows. Life in Ghana can be so confusing.

But we did find our elephant. Just a poor, lonely elephant surrounded by annoying obrunis snapping pictures of themselves with it. I thought elephants usually traveled in packs.

After dinner I come back to the room and start looking for a dark place to star gaze. I open the front door of our room, and a whole herd of warthogs who had settled in their for the nite and I startle each other. The only light is coming off of the motel, and I'm nervous about wondering off too far for fear that I'll run into more critters. We're just north of the equator, and I've never been entirely clear from where exactly the southern cross is visible, and whether what I'm looking at is the true or false cross.

Dusty trails

October 9

Today was a long, dusty, exhausting trip from Hohoe to Tamale via Salaga over seriously damaged roads. I'm not sure that these were the worst roads I've ever been on (I've seen some pretty bad roads in Bolivia and Mali), but they were far from decent shape. The owner of the Waterfall Lodge where we stayed last nite said the trip was 9 hrs. We set out at 6am, and it was after dark by the time we rolled into Tamale. I should have counted, but it seems to me that there were more cars broken down on the road (as, say, opposed to oh BESIDES the road) than we met traveling in both directions. At various places, the road served more for foot traffic, bicycles, goats, laundry, and at one point someone seemingly taking a nap, than for vehicular traffic. We passed from the beautiful Togo mountains to the flat savannah. To me, the savannah looks a lot like a prairie, and I've never understood the difference between a savannah and a prairie.

Part of the reason why I wanted to come north this way was because after reading A History of Indigenous Slavery in Ghana From the 15th to the 19th Centuries by my history colleague Akosua Adoma Perbi I wanted to visit Salaga. Salaga was the location of one of the most important slave markets in Ghana. Slave traders apparently brought slaves there from all over west Africa to sell them to other traders who took them hundreds of kilometers south to places like Cape Coast where they were then sold again and put on boats and shipped to the Americas.

Not much remains to be seen at Salaga. We visited Wonkan Bawa, the place where slaves were bathed before being taken the final couple kilometers to the market at Salaga. In Salaga itself, all that remains is a sign that marks the slave market and a tree to replace the tree that died in 1970 where slaves were chained while they were auctioned off. The town is trying to pull together a small museum and cultural center with chains and weapons from the slave trade. We found a kind guide named Brazil who took us around and explained various aspects of the trade.

In Tamale, we are staying at the TICCS Guesthouse, a place that comes highly recommended by my friend and colleague Deborah Pellow. When we arrived the manager Adam said that they were full up because a group from Calvin College is staying here. After dropping Deborah's name, somehow a spare room opened up. It's amazing how that can happen. But we are hardly here long enough to enjoy the cultural center. Tomorrow is another early start for another bumpy ride to Mole National Park.

It's all downhill from here

[Note: we've been traveling and I haven't had internet access, so here are a couple old blog posts I wrote offline. This one is from October 8. I'll add in pictures later.]

Today I visited Ghana's highest waterfall and climbed Ghana's tallest mountain and I've been here two months now which means that I'm just short of the halfway point, so in a variety of ways and on a variety of levels, it is now all downhill from here.

After a false start yesterday afternoon, we woke up early this morning and left for the Volta region. Four hours later we were at the Wli or Agumatsa falls, right on the Togo border. The waterfall was nice as far as waterfalls go, but at 60 meters is no where near the level of an Iguazu. I would think about crossing into Togo, but my passport is in immigration to get my visa renewed and Cheryl doesn't have a multiple reentry visa for Ghana. But I've seen Togo now, if that counts for anything.

We then continued on to Mount Afadjato, which at 885 meters seemed little more than a hill to me, though the trail was steep Guatemala style. We waited a while before starting out because it was raining. I was only carrying my big Nikon and I didn't want to get it wet, so I left it in the car and as a result the best photo I have is one at the base. That was probably just as well, because the ascent took everything out of me and I really didn't need the extra weight.

I keep thinking about comparisons between Africa and Latin America, between Ghana and Ecuador. Like I've said before, there are the obvious superficial differences like the no left hand rule and not pointing with your mouth (I have trouble breaking myself on both accounts), and the much deeper issues of colonial legacies and economic dependency. Visiting parks bring this to the surface again because just like in Ecuador there is a dual price structure where as a gringo I pay more than locals (often MUCH more), and I pay as much (or more) than I would for a national park in the US even though there is much less to do and fewer amenities here. 20 Ghana cedis (plus a required tip for the tour guide) for 3 people for a 45-minute visit to a waterfall? Be real. Both issues drive me crazy.

But the one that is really getting to me now is that everyone wants to do everything for me, as if I'm a helpless person. One of my students said it made him so sad when he saw me walking to the night market to buy vegetables, because I should not have to do that for myself. My students want to carry my bags for me. On this trip we have a driver, when we are usually accustomed to driving ourselves (though frankly this is not as bad as Mali where we had a driver, a translator, and a guide--3 people just for the two of us). I value my autonomy and self-sufficiency, and having others do things for me runs so hard against that. I've come to be very critical of individualism, and I wonder if my strong need for personal space and independence is a manifestation of that.

Happy dia del guerrillero heroico. I wonder if Che had lived to be my age if he would have traveled like this.

| Marc Becker's Home Page | |