As of today we have been in Ghana for five weeks and have only 11 days left in the country. It is very hard to believe how fast time has passed. For the past two weeks, we have been exploring Kumasi, which is the second largest city in Ghana and the heart of the Ashanti culture. The Ashanti culture and history are extremely important to the people of the Ghana as they were the dominant kingdom prior to colonial occupation. We are staying at the Engineering Guest House on the campus of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). The campus is located outside of the city and the geography of the region is very different from Accra. Prior to the development of the city, a large forest covered the region, and the KNUST campus maintains the beautiful wooded environment. Despite being further from the city, I appreciate the much quieter and cooler atmosphere that comes with our surroundings.
Upon arriving in Kumasi, we toured the campus and the city as a group. Our two main stops in the city were at the Manhiya Palace and the National Cultural Center. The Manhiya Palace is currently a museum displaying the history of the Ashanti kingdom and the previous Asantehenes. Originally, it was the palace for the Asantehene, but in 1974, he relocated to a new home adjacent to the museum. In the museum, we saw the clothing, furniture, weapons, and other items that were once used by the royal families. At the National Cultural Center, we had a tour of a traditional Ashanti building, where we learned about important cultural practices of the Ashanti. Crafts workshops, art galleries, and shops were also located inside the National Cultural Center. The Ashanti history and culture are still very important aspects of modern-day life in Ghana.
Outside of our group tour, I ventured to the city centre and the Kejetia Market in a smaller group of friends. The Kejetia Market is the largest market in West Africa, and truly dwarfs the market we visited in Accra. The size and activity, however, were not overwhelming mainly due to how familiar and comfortable we have become in interacting with the locals. The market sold similar goods to the market in Accra. It is divided into sections comparable to that of Wal-Mart grouping similar goods like kitchen supplies, food, clothing, and electronics into their own unique area. My big purchase at the market was a baby blue Lebron James jersey, and I hope to make one more visit to the market before we depart for Cape Coast. While in the city centre, I ate at a restaurant where I enjoyed a nice vanilla milkshake, which is a rare occasion in Africa.
We have had a variety of different interactive learning opportunities and excursions related to our classes as well. The art class traveled to two nearby villages: Bonwire and Ntonso. Bonwire acts as a large production center of the traditional kente cloth, which we have been weaving in our class. We visited the workshops and retail centers, where we were able to observe many villagers displaying fast and dynamic kente-weaving skills. I’m hoping the short visit will help me improve my weaving technique. It was truly impressive to watch the weavers and see how easy they make it appear.
After Bonwire, we head to Ntonso, which is well-known for a traditional cloth called Adinkra. Traditionally, Adinkra cloth was to be worn at funerals and means “farewell” or “departing message.” We carved Adinkra symbols into a piece of calabash (a type of gourd) and then used a dye to stamp the symbols onto our piece of cloth. The dye comes from the bark of the badie tree. It takes a full day of pounding the bark into a pulp before you can boil the remains into the dye. We each attempted to pound the bark, and because of that I really appreciate how strenuous and demanding the task is. This also revealed the importance of each detail when creating the Adinkra cloth.
The music class also had the opportunity to see a performance by the Koo Nimo Drumming and Dance Group. The performance began with traditional African drumming and rhythms coupled with traditional dancing. After this segment, the performance shifted gears and incorporated Western instruments (the guitar) and style into the music. The performance again ended with another interactive dancing activity. This opportunity allowed us to see and hear how Western trends have influenced African music, and the timing of the event coincided with what we are currently learning in class.
One week ago, we traveled to Obuasi, a town south of Kumasi, to visit the gold mine. Obuasi has significant economic importance to Ghana, as the town holds the third largest gold mining operations in the country. Additionally, it employs nearly 6,000 people in the area. The region of Ghana was once known as the Gold Coast from its early interactions with European traders who came in search of gold. After a brief information session, our group got dressed up in traditional mining attire including an overcoat, boots, helmet, light, and oxygen tank. Unfortunately, there were not enough oxygen tanks, so I was one of the few that had to brave the mines without one.
The lowest level of the mine is around 8,000 feet below ground. Had we arrived an hour earlier we could have ventured that deep, but instead we walked as a group down about 800 feet. We saw the training center and drilling stations at this level, which are very comparable to what we would have seen further underground. At one point, we all turned off the lights on our helmets and were in complete darkness for around 30 seconds. This allowed us to experience how you feel when you’re alone working and your light shuts off. The visit emphasized the tough working conditions and demanding lifestyle that miners endure on a daily basis. Overall, this was a great experience that helped us learn more about the history of one of Ghana’s greatest natural resources.
This past weekend we traveled to Mole (pronounced moh-lay) National Park, which is about an 8 hour drive north of Kumasi. The park is home to elephants, baboons, monkeys, warthogs, crocodiles, and a variety of antelope and birds. Both Friday and Sunday were our long days on the road, and Saturday was the day of our safari. We stayed at the lodge in the park, which sat atop a hill and overlooked a large watering hole. Saturday morning at 7 AM, we split up into groups of 10 people and began our walking safari with an armed guide. Because of recent rainfall, there were now many other watering holes around the area so our guide warned it may be difficult to see elephants and other animals.
Luckily, only 15 minutes into our safari, an elephant came to the watering hole, and many of our groups were in different positions around the elephant. One of the park rules said people had to stay 50 meters away from them; however, various groups had gotten closer (roughly 20-30 meters) to take pictures. Unfortunately, the elephant became annoyed by all the commotion. The elephant stomped its foot and then charged my specific group. Our guide instructed us to run to a building in the nearby woods roughly 40 meters away, and he gripped his gun as if he may need to use it. Fortunately, the elephant pulled up as we fled the scene. This was the first of many highlights at Mole. We saw many baboons in the nearby staff village, and monkeys and warthogs could be found all around our hotel. Saturday afternoon I went on another safari in a vehicle with some friends and we saw a group of four elephants bathing and eating. The deer-like animals, including antelope, bush buck, water buck, and kob, were the most common sighting on both safaris. We relaxed by the pool and visited a mosque in a nearby Larabanga, when we were finished with our safaris.
Sunday morning I woke up at 5 AM with my friend Dustin to watch the watering hole as the sun rose. Roughly an hour later, we were surprised to find an elephant right outside of our hotel room. Later in the morning, another elephant was crossing the watering hole as crocodiles followed closely behind. Even though the safari experience is quite different from those you would find in East Africa, it was a very enjoyable weekend in Mole. Seeing elephants, baboons, and warthogs in the wild made the 8 hour trip worthwhile.
Overall, I have really enjoyed our stay in Kumasi. I have appreciated the new setting and learning more about the different regions within Ghana. This Thursday we will begin our home stays with a local host family. We will be assigned in pairs to families located around Kumasi. I am looking forward to living with a Ghanaian family for four days because it will give us an inside look at the daily life in a household. When we return Monday morning, we will be departing for Cape Coast. The next four weeks of our trip will be much faster paced as we will be moving quickly between the final locations in an attempt to see all we can before we return to the U.S.