Bead-Making in Ghana

Let me start by saying, if someone were to ask me the biggest difference between Ghana and Ethiopia, I would have to say the heat. I’m sure that sounds clichéd, the climate in Ethiopia was almost always so comfortable, but I’ve only experienced heat like Ghana in SE Asia (and they seemed to have much more reliable electricity and air).

Most days, this heat is totally manageable. The school has generators and so does our apartment. The only time we’re without air is in our taxi rides to get groceries each Sunday. But this past Saturday was brutal.

After an hour and a half on a bus, we arrived at TK Beads and immediately experienced scorching heat. We were shown how local powder glass beads are made. No part of them is made indoors.

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The first thing we encountered was heaps of glass bottles. Those are broken down, smashed with a crudely made giant mortar and pestle. Once the glass has become dust, it’s mixed with various ceramic dyes to achieve the desired color. It’s then poured into molds.

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Inside each mold is a straight twig from a special kind of tree (and of course I’ve forgotten the name of this special tree!). This tree has been chosen because once the molds are filled, they are placed inside a furnace and the twigs burn out at the precisely right time – not too soon and the bead hasn’t formed and not too late that part of the twig remains in the bead. You then have a perfect hole.

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And God said, “Let there be spiders.”

I just finished reading Anansi Boys. Which, you might think, is an odd book for me to have read, given my moderate to severe arachnophobia. Because, you see, Anansi Boys is, essentially, all about spiders.

However, it’s the sequel-esque to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which I recently read and could quite possibly be one of my favourite books I’ve read this year. You see, Anansi is an African folktale character who most often takes the shape of a spider. He is the spirit of all stories. Legend has it that all stories used to belong to Tiger, but Anansi tricked him and now, instead of the drab, sad world that Tiger had created, the world is now filled with Anansi’s funny, trickster stories.

But, Anansi is a spider. And his boys are Fat Charlie and Spider. And there is literally a scene where thousands of spiders: “the great spiders and the small spiders, venomous spiders and biting spiders: huge hairy spiders and elegant chitinous spiders,” come and save Spider from Tiger.

Despite all that, it was a pretty decent book. Not one of Gaiman’s best (those awards would go to American Gods, The Graveyard Book, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane) but pretty good nonetheless.

But, I think, had I been reading this book a few weeks ago, things would have gone much better for me…

It all started at Frenchman’s Farm, a small accommodation with no website where we were told we could get away for the night, do some hiking in the Ankasa Nature Reserve and really unplug.

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One thing I can say for the farm, it was beautiful. We arrived at noon, fairly starving after a 3 ½ hour ride from our previous accommodation just outside of Elmina. And we proceeded to be served cold coconut milk – from coconuts, of course, while waiting about 3 hours for lunch.

Ok, that’s fine. Coconut milk is pretty good and the flesh is delicious, so we waited. We finally got fed about 3 o’clock and then we made our way to the Ankasa Nature Reserve. Then this happened:

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Kakum, Elmina Castle, and Trump

Our base for the first half of the trip was Ko-Sa Beach Resort, about 20 minutes west of Elmina. We love living in the city – access to more goods, events, and people – but every now and then it’s nice to escape, and Ko-Sa provided a perfect location.

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From there we drove to Kakum National Park, a tropical forest reserve. The park is quite a ways from our school – about four hours one day and another hour and a half the second day, but yet we found ourselves crossing paths with one of my students. Moments like that always make Ghana feel much smaller than it should be!

After a short hike into the reserve, we found ourselves at the park’s canopy walkway. It is 350 meters long and is suspended between seven treetops. Ranging between 40 and 50 meters high, it offers incredible views of the surrounding foliage.

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Then, because all trips seem rushed at the beginning, we were off and headed to Elmina. We had driven through the town the night before and now were back to tour St. George Castle (also known as Elmina Castle). The Portuguese built this castle in 1482 and it was the first trading post built on the Gulf of Guinea. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was one of the most important stops on the route of the Atlantic slave trade.

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In Everlasting Memory…

The first thing I noticed as our guide shut the door and locked us in was that it was instantly more difficult to breath. Which sounds like an exaggeration, nothing changes instantaneously, but by closing that door, he had cut off the circulation of air in the room.

I peered around in the darkness, trying to make out the shapes of the 10 or so other people locked in with me. The room started to feel smaller and I couldn’t imagine trying to fit another 20 people inside the small space. And then the door opened and after only a minute inside, we walked out to fresh air and our freedom.

No African ever put in that room walked out. Their bodies were carried out – the cell was used for any slave who had attempted to escape, woman who refused to be raped, or anyone else the soldiers felt like making an example of. This cell was above ground. The Male Slave Dungeon was below.

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Built in 1653 as a wooden structure, the fort (now Cape Coast Castle) changed hands many times. Originally built by the Swedes, it was temporarily in Danish and Dutch hands before being reinforced and rebuilt by the British in 1665.

The underground cells were split into three rooms, holding up to 200 men in each at any given time. Two rooms were in nearly complete blackness. The first housed the strongest and most able-bodied men and usually remained locked the three months the men were kept there. On a rare occasion, the men would be allowed out to be fed while the room was cleaned. Over time, this happened less and less and eventually, those in charge stopped cleaning the room at all. Instead, they merely tossed sawdust over the food, feces, urine, vomit, and blood and brought in a new roundup of slaves.

The third room housed the youngest of the boys, often between the ages of 10 and 25. This room also remained locked to “protect” the most valuable merchandise. It was the only room that afforded enough light to see. The middle room housed the rest of the male slaves.

Above ground was the Female Slave Dungeon. Up to 400 women were held in that single room any given time.

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Slaves who died during captivity at the castle were simply tossed into the sea. When those in charge died, they were given a ceremony and burial.

The following photo shows the graves of Governor George Maclean and his wife, Letitia Landon, (rare for a wife to accompany her husband) who died while at the castle. Castle rumor has it that the wife committed suicide after she discovered her husband’s African mistress. The story has, of course, never been substantiated. It is known that her husband died of malaria.

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From up above, you’d never know of the terrible things happening below. The whitewashed walls, beautiful ocean views, and bright, smiling faces masked the human cruelties going on below. Additionally, there was a church above the underground cells.

We spent about 30 minutes in the various dungeons and cells that slaves spent up to three months in. The rest of our time at Cape Coast Castle was spent above ground, breathing in the fresh air, enjoying the architecture, and marveling at how human beings could so degrade other human beings.

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Even the storage rooms allowed for better ventilation than the slaves quarters. They had plenty of light and airflow, as well as wooden ceilings. They were also washed on a regular basis.

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Tequila Night

All right, picture the song “Tequila” blasting over the speakers, 20-some waitstaff dancing with maracas, and an entire restaurant singing along. Oh, did I mention the restaurant had just passed out free tequila shots? That’s why we were singing : )

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Thursday nights are Mexican Night at Coco Lounge and we were told to arrive early in order to snag a seat. We rolled in and placed right before my very eyes was the first (ok, second…Burger & Relish killed it too) legit cocktail menu I’ve seen in Accra. And with it, legit cocktail prices! Haha

It wasn’t hard for the group to decide on our drink of choice for the evening – margaritas. Make mine passion fruit, please!

We started with fried plantain chips & salsa and quickly moved on to tortilla chips & a black bean dip. I still dream about that dip!

The tacos were bite-sized (ok, two-bite sized) and adorable. A bit heavy on the sour cream, but good news, Ghanaian sour cream tastes nothing like the real stuff! Thank goodness, because real sour cream is disgusting.

After that, I thought we were wrapping things up when our host walked by and tossed this on Andy’s head:

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When $2.03 is too much

I’m watching this taxi drive away, indignant that he wanted to charge us 15 cedi ($3.80) to drive less than 3 kilometers down a main road. It’s no big deal, I tell myself – and Chandler – we’ve never had problems getting a taxi before, another one will come along.

We continue walking…the length of our road, the length of the next, and we find ourselves on the main road with cars speeding past.

The difference is, tonight is the night before Founder’s Day, and we quickly learn that either everyone in the city is hopping into a taxi to celebrate or most of the taxi drivers have decided to stay in tonight. Whichever way it is, the only taxis we see as we walk along are full.

Now, we’ve never had to walk all the way to the main road before. Once we hit it, we’re not sure the taxis will stop. There isn’t much of a shoulder and they’re driving by at pretty high speeds. We hang out in the bus lane.

A few minutes later, a taxi pulls up. I’m not really sure where we’re going, so I let Chandler barter with the driver. He claims to know where we’re going, but says it is much, much farther than we think. He also says the traffic is so bad we must pay extra for him to return. Return where, I think? We’re going to a traffic circle about 2 km away and then turning around and coming back another 1 km. He’s barely going anywhere.

Chandler gets him down to 8 cedi ($2.03), but by now, I’m so frustrated I won’t accept anything more than 5. He drives away. The next taxi won’t go below 10 cedi.

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Wonderings…

Which food group does honey fall into? Fats, oils, and sugars. What are coconuts? Fruit. Is garlic a vegetable? Yes. Do cranberries grow on bushes? No, on vines.

In our first Unit of Inquiry we’re talking about healthy habits when it comes to relationships, foods, and exercise. These are my students’ wonderings…

And I’m realizing, maybe I should be a little more curious as well. My whole life, a good portion of my curiosity was satisfied by reading interesting literature. This week was a great week for me. Our high school library just released their new shipment of books and as I perused the list, my own personal “to-read” list grew.

Which, by the way, sounds exactly like my interactions with the Summerglen Library in Fort Worth. It wouldn’t be a hyperbole to state that reading is my favourite past time. But I have to remind myself to look around and admire my new surroundings.

Ghana is a new country for me and despite the overwhelming similarities I find with Ethiopia, I’ve never been here before and I need to stop taking advantage of all of the easy (read lazy) comforts I’ve gotten used to in the past month.

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