Monthly Archives: October 2012

TOGO or Not To Go.

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Beautiful city of Lomé

When I decided I was coming to Ghana, I knew that I would want to travel to another country once I got here.

I planned that my fall break would be dedicated to experiencing another country on the continent and since Togo is right next door—why not? As the break approached, my excitement weaned. I had to apply for a visa? And pay? And what about transportation? Travelling in between countries in Africa is not as easy as one would like to think. Since you’re already on the continent, one would assume that airfare would be cheaper or crossing borders might be relatively easy process as compared to travelling from outside the continent. However, this is not 100 percent true.

19th Oct., Martina and I set out with only our weekend bags and a couple hundred Ghana cedis. That’s all we had. We had no clue how we were getting to the country. We had no visa, no place to stay, no hotel reservation, and most importantly, no knowledge of French!

The rain drenched us. For the two months that I have been in Ghana, it has never rained that hard or that long. We thought it was an omen—one we didn’t take heed to.

Onward we went. Took a taxi for 8 GH¢. Got to the the bus station. Paid another 9 GH¢

for the three and a half hour tro-tro ride to the Ghanaian border. It was smooth sailing. We got to the border around 8:30pm and were greeted by cheery Ghanaian officers who assisted us in acquiring a Togolese visa.

Now this is where things got tricky. CFA or West African CFA Franc is the currency used by many French colonized countries in West Africa. In Central Francophone countries, Central African CFA Franc is used.

The visa was about $30 USD, 60 GH¢ or 15,000 CFA. The conversion to CFA became a bit complicated, and even more so because Martina and I were totally unprepared.

However, crossing the border felt like such a liberating experience. We finally reached our destination and immediately saw a difference. We even met a Nigerian friend, who stuck with us the entire trip.

Read the rest of this entry

KUMASI, the “Garden City”

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Boy, oh BOY!

We had such a short weekend in Kumasi, but it was so impactful!

After the 5-hour drive from Accra to the capital of the Asante region, we finally arrived at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) where we stayed. We dropped off our belongings and took a very short tour of the campus, which is structured very much like a traditional campus with an “authentic” college-feel—unlike what I accustomed to at NYU! One of our RA’s, Abigail is an alumna of the University and she took us to art department where many of her colleagues and professors were still making and displaying art. Students were working diligently on their sculpted pieces with brows of concentration and hands of sturdiness.

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Student at KNUST and his self-sculpture

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Moving on from our small tour, we visited the Almighty God workshop, where Kwame Akoto (the artist behind Almighty God Artworks, also known as Almighty God) greeted us with Bible scriptures and songs of praise. Paintings of Jesus Christ, celestial representations, political messages of safe sex and anti-smoking campaigns dressed the walls of the outdoor art space. Every painting was charged, whether it be politically, religiously or otherwise. Akoto writes messages on each of his works, leaving nothing unstated or to be guessed.

Each of us that participated in the workshop was guided by Akoto’s talent to further develop our projects.

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Cherry (colleague at NYU) doing a portrait of me at Almighty God workshop

We visted Manhiya palace the following day, which also serves as a museum. The house that serves as a museum was the home of the previous Asantehene (or King of Asante). Upon his return to the Asante kingdom from exile, the British offered him the house as compensation. The Asantehene would not accept the offering until it was fully paid for and obtained by Asante. Eventually, the home was paid for, and he moved in.

Life-size figures of previous Asantehene and Queen Mothers are placed in separate rooms in house along with old photographs, furniture, cutlery and eatery that remained from the previous king. Each artifact served as a piece of Asante history.

After the time at tour at the palace, we travelled to a village in Kumasi where Adinkra cloth is made. There are certain symbols used in the Asante culture that represent certain ideas, principles or beliefs that are essentially universal. The most popular one is gye nyame which translates to “except God.” It means that the person wearing this fears no one/nothing except God and puts nothing before Him. There are several dozen others, but only about 60 of the symbols are most frequently used.

In the village, the business of Adinkra cloth making is a owned by a man and his family. The brother carves the symbols, and the man makes the dye. Making the dye consists of obtaining a specific tree bark and soaking it in water for hours. After soaking it and breaking it apart, the bark is pounded continuously and then boiled for a total of exactly 11 hours (precision is key here)! Then the boiled concoction is cooled and sifted.

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Photo of finished dye.

Because the village is so remote, the inhabitants use the remnants of boiled bark to treat certain health problems as well. The bland bark is left until mushrooms sprout and once sprouted; they are boiled. Women suffering with menstrual cramps and diarrhea complications are treated from this bark-mushroom method!

The wooden carvings are then dipped into the black dye, and “printed” onto cloth. Some of the other family members weave Kente—which is another tedious process that involves serious endurance. The weaving is done using a wooden contraption that the weaver sits in and shifts his legs and arms in a religious motion to create the beautiful cloth. It is done in strips, and then the strips are put together to create full-length material.

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Abigail (a CRA at NYU)  practicing Kente weaving and one of the weavers. 

Although these people seem happy living in this remote village, many wanted to exchange contact in hopes of gaining an opportunity to come to the U.S. Although this happens often in Ghana, all of us were taken back when a woman offered her child to a colleague in the group. This was a jarring experience for my colleague as the reality of village poverty was right in front of her.

At the end of our weekend, we attended the Akwasidae festival (read about it in the following post). Kumasi was a great experience! I went back this past weekend to visit some friends we met last time.

It’s Asante to You!

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Someone ever looked at your name and pronounced it in a way that was so off, you had to think “does this person know how to read?” Well, I guess that’s how the Asante felt when European interaction left them scarred with the Ashanti name instead. 

About four weeks ago, I went to Kumasi— leaving Accra for my second journey through Ghana. Kumasi—capital of the Asante region— is known for several things, including a significant agricultural economy, Kente weaving, loads and loads of foliage and most importantly, Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II. Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II is the King of Asante and on the Sunday that we visited Kumasi, New York University students paid homage to him at the Akwasidae festival at Manhiya Palace.

The festival serves as time for people to come and not only pay homage and show respect for the King, but also for other Asante chiefs and vistors to congregate. The day before the festival, which happens every 42 days, the King meets with sub-chiefs throughout the kingdom at Manhiya palace. Others who come with grievances and concerns can also make an appointment to see the King. The following day, the King makes a public appearance on the grounds of the palace where men, women and children come dressed in traditional and contemporary attire to pay homage.

Although the King may seem like the main focus, all of the drumming, songs and dance performed are in honor of ancestral spirits. Huge, elaborately decorated umbrellas dance around in the sky. Sounds of traditional horns and praise singing fill the air as visitors from other African nations, the U.S. and Europe greet the King with gifts and smiles.

 

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As Asantehene, Osei Tutu II sits dressed in a colorful, Kente cloth covered in solid gold jewelry from head to foot with an amiable look plastered on his face.

 

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                                    Photo of Otumfuo Osei Tutu II
                      Photo Credit: Rachel Herron (colleague at NYU)

At times, the festival was a bit hard to follow, as the procession didn’t seem organized and the praise songs were in Twi. However, after the ceremony, we met with one of the Asante sub-chiefs who gave us a bit of insight. 

Every part of the ceremony and the festival is indeed organized and strategically planned. He told us, without a doubt he knows when and where to stand and sit as it correlates with his position within the kingdom as a high-ranking chief. He stressed that Ghana, as a country and Asante, as a major ethnic group, have traditional, yet modern customs, which are intricately mingled. The chief continued on to say that he is fully educated, holding a Ph. D yet he knows, accepts and understands his position as sub-chief to the King. He gladly accepts his obligation of reign and enjoys helping others in his community.

 

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                               Photo of us with one of the Asante sub-chiefs

Aside from being chief, he is a professional, as with Osei Tutu II. He too is an advocate for education and has maintained a scholarship for upcoming students who have to academic potential, but not necessarily the monetary means to attend University. He also serves as chancellor of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). 

The festival and the meeting we had with the sub-chief after ceremony was a truly unique, stimulating experience!