Sunday, April 4, 2010


Spring is blooming fast and furious though it feels no different here.

So I'll start at the beginning...
Ghana's independence day is March 6, 1957 and they do not have BBQs and watch fireworks late into the night to celebrate- but they certainly celebrate. My Danish friend and I decided to go to Independence Square where we heard all the celebratory action would be...despite the fact that every Ghanaian we told us that we shouldn't waste our time in the sun when we can watch it on TV. 7:30am we reach Tema station and head out on foot for the square though Sofie is not feeling up to par, I just tell her it's not far.... so we are walking along for a while... and then a longer while... getting into a rather slummy part of town- see some boys playing football in what looks like a mini broken down castle, another slave fort, in fact one I had heard about but couldn't find. We keep trekking in the rising heat, buy an orange, some bananas... powdered milk which Sofie eats with a sash of water just plain like that... eww? Finally we ask someone if this is the right direction and of course it is not so we spend another 45 minutes walking back past the football boys, past the station and on to the Square and get there right in time for the celebration. But of course not in time to get a seat.
This year was different I have heard. They usually invite the military and police to march in all their uniformed glory, but this year they ("they" being the government I assume) requested about 40 junior high and high schools to train their cadet corps (mini-militant training) to walk in formation at the square. It was rather awful though becasue the children were fainting in the heat from standing out there for hours and had to be carried to the shade. Overall it was a bit boring and hot, and we couldn't hear the speeches given and then they shot off a few guns. The best part was just seeing
our friends after they were done marching.

On the weekend after it was our school's Founder's Day which is celebrated by the students performing traditional dances from their respective tribes. It was very beautiful, and actually made me rather... jealous? extra-conscious? *blank* becasue it hit home what it means to have culture. After I was talking to a friend though, and they were telling me that even though they do it, they feel very removed from it. Our school was founded 83 year ago by three English colonizers (whose faces are on the purple cloth).

The very next day we were back to the Independence Square for the annual Thanksgiving Ceremony. We, myself, Maire and Sofie went becasue we heard the President would be there... and we figured it was rather special because my class was specially invited to represent Achimota.... so we went, though the hours we spent sitting there I can't say we didn't regret it just a smidgen. It was basically hours of praise for another year of Ghana attended by the president and everyone else "important" as well as a few schools and other uniformed organizations, individuals, etc. (in fact I believe my host father was invited, but did not attend). The things that struck me- first, it was all out in the open, no metal detectors, no glass boxes, no bag searches not even personal ID checking... just the president and entire governmental body there with those invited and from afar those not invited just watching. Then there was the very fact of what it was. A day reserved to giving thanks and praying for the country. There was a 10 minute speech from the president, but it wasn't quite what we were imagining. The best part, of course, was just being with my classmates outside of school, even if we still were in uniforms.

THEN the next week we went back to Sagymasi, the village, for another funeral. This time something very interesting happened. During the burial of the 42 year old woman, there were some other women who began acting out gold digging, which was the woman's occupation. So here they are burying the casket, crying and singing while the women are play- digging in the ground and haggling over prices and running away from police, all laughing and making a show... but everyone was just sort of looking at them through their sorrow. I asked my uncle if it is normal, and he said that yes indeed sometimes people will come act out the professions of the dead. And sometimes they try to prop the dead up to make it seem like they are doing the work. Yes. Interesting. Not sure just how I would react to that. The village remembered me, and got to meet my friend Marie who is now living with me.... which is another addition.

So, one night my friend from Missouri comes to my door at 9:30pm on a school night with ALL of her bags asking if she could stay becasue something happened with her family. I don't want to go into what happened... just say there were some personality differences, but the point is she's now living with me... We have fun together, me the red-headed hippie and her the Midwest Mexican, sort of opposite but similar in all the right ways.

So THEN there was this past weekend..... PARAGLIDING!!!!!!!
For the past 5 years there has been an international paragliding festival held at this particular mountain here in Ghana a few hours away from Accra. We went up by trotro to Koftown (that's it's local nickname, I can't attempt the real spelling) and spent way too much sika at the bead market, then stayed the night with another AFS girl.... ate mangoes and cake for supper after getting all showered on and squeezing 5 in a taxi. Up on the mountain the next day we purchased our 50 cedi tickets (about $35) for the parachuting..... then waited, what? 30 hours? Yes. They told us there was no way we were flying that day because apparently people had been buying tickets through the Tourist Board for two days already.... Great. So we then had to figure out a place to stay, which proved rather difficult. We called hotels, all booked, we called another AFS girl, didn't answer, but there was another AFS girl (actually from Seattle, go figure) who was there with her host family and they were staying at a camp site there. She said, well, maybe you all can just camp out under these empty cabanas, I mean no one is around and there should be a party all night anyway, and, come on, its Ghana. So we did.

After a lovely meal in town we got back up to the hill and found our piece of cement, gathered bamboo leaves with a few random mattresses, and covered them with our extra clothes for our beds. I went out to the edge of the mountain and looked out over Kawhu, the town/city below nestled in the black mountains, a line of traffic snaking away to the south- everyone coming up for the Easter weekend. It was a beautiful night, up on the mountain, lightening, huge groves of bamboo, cool breeze, the feeling of adventure in the atmosphere, and of course, most importantly, great company. We were 9: the three YES students, two Belgian students who we had stayed with in Koftown, two German volunteers and two Ghanaians (a host brother and a work colleague of the Germans). Sleeping was surprisingly comfortable just very COLD for the first time in a long while. We were curled up under any cloth we had- most of us had brought something but we were in a cloud before we even went to sleep and the cloud just got thicker each hour. Woke up with the sun and ate the three loaves of bread with chocolate spread that we bought the day before. Lovely day for flying.

(This picture, by the way, is from the air)

Walked over to the runway..... got our names on the list..... and..... waited.

We ran into a school friend, a young woman from the embassy and a university student who we had met at a production of Vagina Monologues some months ago. There were many foreigners, in fact most of the people paying for rides (and all the people giving them) were not local, yet there were numbers of Ghanaian families there too watch... it was rather amusing actually because all the locals were dressed up for the city, pink dresses, spik and span ruffly blouses, heals, I mean the works, contrasted to the obruni, most of whom had the "globe trek" or camping look- sweaty, little dirty, backpacks, tank tops, and Tevas. And Burnt. The whites were red, slowly growing redder as the day and days passed.

So our turn FINALLY came at 4:30pm. I went last. My pilot came over looking tired from a long day of flying, said his name was Billy. Asked if I got sick easily, I said no, Great- you like roller coasters? Of course! And he smiled. So we got all the gear on, a big pack that is the seat, laid out the parachute on the steep hillside and made sure all the thin ropes were straight and strong. He said I had one job- to run hard and fast and keep running until my feet were in the air. After watching almost 200 people do it, I pretty much had the idea, and was only afraid I would trip and fall which would screw up the whole thing and in my worst nightmares would end in us rolling off the cliff all tangled up in the strings and fabric of our wings..... Luckily, I ran and kept running and my feet left the ground and the wind filled the sail and the cliff fell away below me. Suddenly I was a balloon rising, Billy said to lean to the left, the other left, and we swung around above the crowds who had moments before been snapping pictures of us. The misty cliffs, afternoon hazed, side lit... the cool air rushing past, the very sound of the forest- chirping and rustling when we got close enough. Past the overlook I had sat at for hours the night before, above our cabana, above the road and cliffs and people, the smells and heat of the ground. Billy pointed out dangerous looking clouds, birds and the rising smoke which would take us higher. We were 500 feet above the take off zone which was a mountain, so we must have been much more than twice that height above the LZ.

I cannot describe the feeling of being up there. The freedom, and yet the attention required, weight shifting, watching the clouds and feeling the air lifting you or not, the birds, how to control the chute to turn and find the rising drafts. I didn't feel like a bird. No, I was not flying I was being lifted like a balloon, a dandelion seed, a baby in a storks beak. It was incredible to say the least. Billy even let me take the reins for a little while, it is quite easy to steer, just pull down on one handle and let the other one looser and shift weight by crossing one leg over the other. He has been flying for some 11 years, and had been to South Africa and South America... I remembered when I was little and used to see the paragliders at the Santa Barbra beaches, used to wonder what it was like to be in the air like that. I asked if he had flown there, and he said it is some of the most beautiful flying.

We came down after about 30 minutes, landing was surprisingly easy, and then I was looking back up at the mountain. And on the other side of the fence there was a group of children, young and dirty squabbling- pushing, yelling, grabbing.... Billy said they had been fighting over water bottles all day. So do you give the thirsty kids water because they obviously need it or do you save them the struggle when you only have enough for one? And a little girl comes up with the precious Voltic. That is the brand here- their slogan is "Don't say water, say Voltic". I landed with a thud back in Africa, or at least a part of Africa. Most Ghanaians are frustrated at how they are perceived, and although I don't want to go into it now, I would feel better reminding everyone that while poverty is a problem and comes up in moments like that, it is not all there is here.

We made it home by 9 in a trotro with all our limbs and money and sense, just rumbling stomachs. And I will say that I was lucky to have had such a great ride, there were others not so fortunate. They simply did not get any wind to take them anywhere, so they basically coasted to the LZ. So yes, made it home and now are planning our next adventure to go around the southern part of the country because the north is dangerous right now with CSM (an annual disease).

So I end here, many hours later with Paul Simon playing and taking me back to that car ride to Colorado that changed my life. Marie is painting Adinkra symbols on her drum. Adinkra are the traditional symbols that most often adorn cloth but are now used as logos for companies, on fences, just as general decoration. My legs have an awful lot of mosquito bites from sitting out here for so bloody long but ravaging Youtube for my favorite songs and writing to you all is worth it. Yesterday riding home from church we passed a woman selling pig feet in little bundles of three.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing Justine!! This sounds splendid!