Ghana – JuJu on two wheels

2 June 2000

Nearly five thousand seven hundred km’s north of Cape Town, the great African continent bellies / bulges out towards the west in a huge pregnant bulge.  If you should decide to travel along this bulge from Cameroun, your journey would follow the 50 latitude line through Lagos, Benin and Togo before crossing the Volta into Ghana.  To the west of this country, formerly known as the Gold Coast, lies Côte D’ivoire, while Burkino Faso and Niger nudges in from the north.  Accra, the sprawling capital city, hunkers down centrally on the coast, with tropical forest encroaching upon its perimeters from all sides.  Settled in the 15th century by the Ga tribe, Accra can lay claim to European historic links with the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Danish, before eventually becoming a British colony in 1902.  This schizophrenic history is ultimately obvious in the multiple personalities the capital displays to a first time visitor.  Park-like open spaces, over flowing with trees and lush undergrowth, sprawl next to slum shanty towns;  communistera architecture flanking archetypal colonial buildings;  natural beauty bordering on open sewers – so typical of African cities, totally unpredictable.  And it is into this decaying state of fusion that we touch down at 5pm;  30 degrees Celsius;  humidity lurking at close to a 100% and desperation surging close to the surface amongst the gaggle of taxi drivers grasping at their last possible profit of the day.

Emanuel, our Ghanaian contact, manages to whisk us through the fray, eventually depositing us at the Coconut Grove Regency.  This turns out to be totally different to any of my previous African experiences in that it is the lap of luxury.  Which in essence makes it way, way freaky.  I end the day with local flavour – a dish called waakeye, made of a black eyed beans, kasava and rice gumbo, with a delicious grilled snapper on the side.

3 June 2000

A realisation of surreality kicks in around 4am, when a combination of equatorial bird calls, suppressive humidity and a Star Beer erection forces me out of bed.  A brave attempt to remain in dreamland is eventually foiled by a pride of roaring 4×4’s exiting the hotel parking area, and I grudgingly get up.  Accra is slowly waking from its slumber, with Prime Minister Gerry Rawlings leading a celebration of the beginning of his revolution just down the avenue from the hotel.  An exploratory walk in the direction of the festivities is blocked by security forces with automatic weapons and manual attitudes, and this and thoughts of breakfast see me retrace my steps to the Coconut Grove.

Gustav, a director of Afribike, and Tim, a ragamuffin scoundrel of a bicycle mechanic from Darwin in Australia, join me for a spread of sausages, omelette, toast and coffee.  I have no idea why the tropics affect me like this, but I seem to be eating like a forest hog.

Our first task of the day is to get the Xtrabike up to speed, and this necessitates an exciting excursion into one of Accra’s many African markets.  An elaborate bartering system eventually secures us the gear cable, additional tyres and spares necessary for the journey to Elmina.  Which means the serious work can begin:  equipping the bicycle for its coastal journey.  Tim excels in this department swearing at the right tools while misplacing the wrong parts with a disciplined regularity.  Suffice it to say that despite his best efforts, work does manage to progress.

Around 2pm, we meet up with David Peckham.  An ex Peace Corps volunteer, he has been hard at work implementing cycling (IMT) projects in Ghana.  His main feat of the day, however, is to lead up to one of Accra’s dodgiest chop bars.  Here we manage to devour large quantities of plantain and cassava drowned in fish soup, while acquainting ourselves with the produce of Ghana Breweries.  Enters Premium Quality STAR Beer, cold filtered and “critically examined” by the Ghana Standards Board, whatever that may mean.  After critically examining a Star, a Club and an ABC beer (all conveniently packaged in 625ml bottles) myself, I concur that it is beer indeed.

The lager intake slightly affects the initial test run of the Xtracycle.  I quickly realises the nuances setting the handling properties of this two-wheeled limousine apart from my dual suspension beauty at home.  Big turning circle and high centre of gravity – not to mention the fact that Tim’s ministrations has reduced it to a one-speed and front brake only bicycle.  I like him, but he will have to work on his techie-skills.  Driving on the right hand side of the road, plus the cold-filtering of my motor neuron skills, sees a dodgy return journey.  Despite the impediments of the wild at heart child from Darwin, we make it back to Coconut Grove.  After tweaking The Limo in a few places, Tim and myself took the cycles into the cyclone that is Accra traffic.  Wearing a respirator and a dragon-motif shirt, Tim took on the persona of a techni-colour Darth Vader, scaring the shit out of kids and attracting stares from incredulous locals.  We cycled past the National Theatre along Independence Avenue until we eventually got to the coast.  No romanticism here though – dirt poor people, open sewers running into the ocean, scruffy chickens and a rancid smell is not what brochures are made of.  After declining an offer of Gold Coast ganja from a scarecrow rasta, we headed back to the hotel.

4 June 2000

The Ghana routine seems to be settling into a distinct pattern:  an early rise to follow the sun;  hunkering down for a few cups of coffee, fresh fruit, toast with French buérre and a green pepper omelette and then heading into the melee of traffic battering along Independence Avenue.  Tim and I are dressed in matching Afribike T-shirts – if we were in SA, people might have pegged us as being a couple.  I explain this to Tim and is rewarded with his trademark, high pitched hyena howl.

The plan today is to “push-bike” (excuse the Aussie term) down to Labadi Beach, the only beach in Accra where swimming is apparently advisable.  Cycling in Accra is a stunning experience, with well-marked cycle lanes protecting you from the worst of the traffic in many areas.  It is only when you enter into the ancient sections where the chop- bars and shanties and barber shops spill right onto the pot-holed tarmac.  Here you have to dodge mangy dogs, chained rhesus monkeys, stray goats and the occasional dregs of human society.  Open sewers, piles of human waste and over-zealous tro’s-tro’s push your handling skills, but the richness of culture and friendly Ghanaian eyes make it all worthwhile.  Africa is just so much more alive and tangible than the first world.

The Xtracycle takes the approach onto the sand at La Beach in its stride.  Despite the additional weight it handles well, but the teething problems of gearing and a loose steering column remains.  Just before La Beach we stop to help a motley assortment of local fishermen beach their long and heavy “akru” rowing boat.  With its massive 10 metre keel, fashioned from a solitary forest giant, and heavy wooden construction, it probably weighs a couple of tons, so it takes a while.  Protracted negotiations with Kingsford, the group’s spokesman, eventually secures me photographic rights to this spectacle.  Somehow, for a few minutes, the building and cars and development disappears, and the boat-beaching is reduced to a powerful and raw pagan ritual.

The ride back traversed the Ossu neighbourhood where the presidential residence is, so photography was not a good idea.  By now the street-grid of Accra had burnt into my subconscious and navigating became a cinch.  Lunch became a celebration with the local Ghanian staff vibrant and chatty – one of the local clubs, Ghana Golden Hearts was playing a team from Togo and excitement surged through the city.

I decided to do another ride around 4pm, heading out to Kwame Nkruhma National Memorial.  A little local by the name of Ben decided to give me his 13 year old views on life and time in Ghana, proudly showing me around the hushed gardens around the memorial.  I do not manage to find my way to Forts Usher and James, but an old gentleman insists on showing me around the lovely old presbyterian church in Usher Town.  A slow roll back through the city into the setting sun made me settle into the mood of West Africa.  Life in the tropics does not come much better than this.

5 June 2000

Eating, drinking and fucking are essential activities in the tropics.  Every day arrives like a fruit bordering on over-ripe, bursting with juice and fecundity, to be used before the day’s end or go to spoil.  I’m constantly ravenous and eating up to 5 meals a day, and the massive beers do not have any real effect.

Last night saw Cockatoo Tim, juppie Paul and myself take off in search of jazz clubs, but we had to eventually give up as it was Sunday night.  Instead we settled for Paloma, a casino cum bar with a distinctly nouveau riche and brash clientéle.  Various unsavoury topics were discussed over a few large beers before side-stepping the sewer canals on the way back to the hotel.  A double-tot of cashew brandy just before we left added that slight edge to the journey.

The rest of the day is ever so slightly reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.  We do the bureaucratic boogy through various government departments and ministries in an effort to drum up support for the Afribike project.  Overall I thing that the feedback is very positive, especially from the DFR and the Minister of Tourism, but the most exciting contact of the day turned out to be Mr Amoah from the accounting department.  When not in his grey suit, Alfred E. Amoah (FCCA;  CA) wears a richly brocaded Kente cloth reserved for the Chief of Ekumfi Atwia.  His real name is Nana Esiedu Baah Okoampah VII and he reigns supreme over the Ekumfi region.  The off-shoot of all of this is that I am invited to a festival of storytelling, liberation, prostration and much merry-making.  All of this apparently in conjunction with the consumption of huge quantities of schnapps.

A stop at the Cyber Café on the way home allows a touch of contact with Cape Town, a life and place light years removed from the fecundity of Ghana.

6 June 2000

Tim decides I need a crash course in the rudimentaries of cycling mechanics, so we set to work on finishing of the Xtracycle.  Things do not happen quickly in Ghana though and even a minor part like a cable-hanger or brake system could require a bit of scavenging in the barter-city bike market.

The plan is to bum a lift on the back of a truck to Awutu Beraku and start rolling from there.  Apparently the outskirts of Ghana is renowned for its killer traffic and the officials from the Department of Roads and Transport feel it is unsafe to cycle through the immediate area.  Our route has also changed to incorporate the festival in Ekumfi Atwia, so our first stopover will now be in the little harbour village of Apam.

The best move we make is to use a bakkie to transport the cycles out of the urban sprawl around Accra.  Gridlocks, death wish tro-tro’s, massive motherfucker markets and a grey haze of carbon monoxide is not the way to start a journey.  At Awutu Beraku the serious business of pedalling looms near, forcing Tim and myself to seek solace in a chilled Star before steering the cumbersome bikes into the intermittent traffic scream.

Despite the additional weight of my camping gear and photographic equipment, not to mention the power loss in the long chain, we cruise along at around 10 to 12 km’s per hour.  Villages come and go, as do a selection of strange signs, My God is Able Plumbers;  With God Motors and Jesus Never Fails Communication are just some I can remember.

At Gomoa Mpatha? we pull in at a chop bar for a rest and a Club Ginger.  Its around 4h30, we’ve done just over 25 kays and I miss my little dual-suspension.  The local people, from villagers to Togolese businessmen, fall over each over to see the bike.  that and the smiles and friendly greetings we ellicit on the way is more than enough to see us through the odd low patch, but I am quite relieved when we eventually get to the Apam junction.

This is where things nearly go horribly wrong.  At the entrance to the village I notice a barrier with a faint light and a few traffic cones, but in the darkness I do not pay much attention to the few people hanging around.  The mood changes in a split second when I misjudge the width of the Xtracycle and flatten a row of traffic cones like a gobbling Puc-man machine.  Within seconds we are surrounded by an armed and angry group of police, demanding to see our papers and totally disbelieving the face that we are cycling through Ghana for pleasure.  It take a lot of explaining and divine patience from Tim before we are eventually allowed to enter the smokey and dark back alleys of Apam in search of Fort Lydsaamheid.  The fort, built in 1697 by the Dutch, now serves as a resthouse where brave visitors may rent a cell for 10 000 cedis (R14).  After running the gauntlet of sewage ditches, disbelieving villagers and silent, wall-eyed dogs we make it to Fort Patience, deciding that the name is very apt indeed.  Our hostess, or jailer if you will, is a recalcitrant old bitch and well deserving of Tim referring to her henceforth as the Wicked Witch of West Africa.

We wander into the tin-roofed village, dimly lit by cooking fires and the occasional kerosene lantern, in search of food and a good night beer.  It is late and choices are ????????????? so we eventually settle for dry bread washed down with some help from a few large clubs.  Sleep arrives like night in the tropics suddenly and with no warning.

7 June 2000

I dream that I wake up before sunrise to stare out across the ramparts of a seventeenth century castle.  Below me a palm-fringed bay sprawls out towards an horizon filled with charging cumulus clouds.  Square-sailed priogues, splashed with brilliant splotches of primary colour, scuttle before the wind while oarsmen in long-boats slug it our in a n ancient battle with the ocean.  The rising sun casts long shadows in the waking village where dogs, chickens and pygmy goats compete for scaps on the dusty streets.  Crowds of vibrantly attired people spill onto the beaches from the market square to flutter like flocks of tropical birds in a strange morning ritual.

But it isn’t a dream.  Apam, with its 500 year old trees and ancient buildings, unfolds before me in all its surreal and gritty beauty.  While Tim stews a pot of tea, I scramble downhill to have a wash at the beach.  The poverty is palpable in Africa, perpetually engaged in an assault on the beauty of this pagan continent.  A Fante grandfather meets me with a bucket of fresh water to wash the ocean from my face;  on the way back a couple in a palmfrond hut invites me in to share a meager breakfast;  school children scamper over to introduce themselves to this strange white man – people in Ghana will give you everything they can and if they have nothing, they will part with a radiant smile.

Our first day seems to have taken its toll.  Tim retires back to our cell for another nap, while I catch up on some writiing.  By one o’clock we are back on our bikes though, leaving Apam to a chorus of “What is your name, White Man?”  Our direction is still north-west and a breeze has come up, making the riding tougher than usual.  The hilly topography of the Gomoa district does not make things any easier either.

With our changed schedule, we now need to meet Chief Nana on Friday, leaving us with two more days of cycling and 90km’s to go.  With this is mind we decide not to strike out for Asaafo on the coast, but to rather stay over in Mankessim.  This bustling junction town isn’t much to look at, but many historians regard it as the source of Fante expansionism into south and central Ghana.

Our stay is at best unremarkable except for the fact that we meet the Queen Mother of one of the coastal villages.  She graciously bestows on us the right to pitch our puny tents behind her service station.  Her husband, a true scholar and gentleman, tolerates her pink gin swagger with elan, eventually taking charge of the smiling watchman with the big-bore rifle.

8 June 2000

Its been a hard night in more ways than one.  Rucksack space reduced me to travel without a mattress;  my tent bust a zip so I ended up hanging my mozzienet from a tree in a mielie field and the Queen Mother forgot to mention that the service station had a 24hr truck refueling service.  Sleep came in infrequent bursts in between m………. africanus launching attacks at the mosquito net, trucks and drivers belching raucously in close proximity and rocks piercing unmentionable parts of my body.  I therefore decide to beat the sun out of bed at around 4h45 to be on the road by 6am.  Elmina, our final destination, still lies more than 50km away, but the thought of a shower and a proper plate of Red-Red bean stew, rice balls and fried plantain sees us setting a good pace.

A chop-stop just past Saltpond gives me the opportunity to climb up to Amsterdam Castle, originally built by the British in 1637.  My quick tour does no justice to the nearly 400 years of history embedded in the stone structure, but my plate of fu-fu and the rest of the journey awaits me.  At Anomabu I venture into the backs streets to find one of the historical posubans, elaborately decorated shrines unique to Ghana’s central region.  Built by Asaafo companies, traditionally patrilineal military units responsible for the protection of Akan communities, the significance of these shrines are today mainly ceremonial, but in ancient times were used to store weapons in case of war.

We power into Cape Coast well ahead of time around 11h00.  Tim has to meet someone at C.C University, so we split and I decide to carry on to Elmina.  My final route hugs the beautiful, gold coastline, taking em past the Elmina Castle and over the bridge where the Kakum river churns into the ocean.

The intensity of traveling in Africa sneaks up on you at moments like this.  One minute I am cocooned in my bicycle journey and the next I am into the vortex of an ancient continent.  The harbour market at the mouth of the Kakum River explodes into your head space ripping the heart out of reality.  Battered pirogues, colourful burst of kente cloth, straining and swearing figures hauling in nets, swirling masses of humans pressing in from all sides, a wild-eyed Rasta screaming that I should fuck-off back to America, thousands of wide-lipped smiles mingle with the smell of rotting fish, human skin and cooking fires.  The assault one my senses is such that I have to stop the bike and force myself to grasp this writhing mass of humanity and squalor that could just as easily have been a scene from the Middle Ages.

Less than an hour later I am back in White Man’s Fantasy world – eating at a fancy restaurant and reveling in the cold beers, exquisitely dressed staff and hot showers of the coconut Grove in Elmina.  The duality of Africa is its reality – there are two separate worlds in which the privileged few and the massively poor moves.  It makes me despondent to think how many centuries it might take to remove this massive imbalance.

9 June 2000

Exactly one week in Ghana Today, but manic level of interaction makes it feel like a month.  The chief of the village Ekumfi Atwia, Nana Esiedu baah Okoampah the Seventh, dispatches a driver to pick us up at the Coconut Grove around 9pm.  By 10h30 we have gone into GMT (Ghana Maybe Time), but just as I decide to give up hope, our luxury 4×4 arrives.  The journey is death-defying, even by African standards, but we manage to evade pot-holes, goats, errant tro-tro’s and a massive pile up between two trucks.  Ekumfi-Atwia however is a delightful little collection of houses and huts, intersected by clean streets teeming with wide-eyed children.  We barely have time to find our seats in the tin-roofed amphitheatre before the Chief’s procession announces its arrival with a resounding din.  At the head of the phalanx is a wizened little grandfather blowing into a curved cowhorn.  He is followed by the Chief, the Queen Mother, an umbrella-twirling octogenarian and a gaggle of elders dressed in kente robes.  The rear is brought up by the drummer, another Akan elder, coaxing an insistent rhythm from his cowhide percussion instrument.  they enter the amphitheatre and Tim and I rise with the assembled people, dogs and ruffled chickens present at this auspicious gathering.

An interpreter has been appointed to guide us through the event, and through him we piece together the significance of the Ahoda celebrations Centuries ago, in a time where the Akan people were plagued by famine and pestilence, the council of elders consulted their chief oracle who advised them that their only recourse would be to make a human sacrifice.

The people discussed this and felt they would not be able to force one of their own ebusua to do this, but after months of deliberation, a man named Egya Ahor came forward and volunteered.  Once the gods had been appeased, life returned to normal for the Akan people, and ever since the Ahoba has been celebrated to reaffirm their gratitude to Egya Ahor.

For the next 4 hours we listen to speeches from the leaders of various ebusuas or families, watch them pour schnapps as a libation to their deities and are treated to exquisite musical and dance performances.  The tradition of story-telling holds great importance in Ghanaian culture and the songs of the troupes portray these tales, weaving magical visions of the history of the Fante tribe and other Akan peoples.  Glistening and finely honed young bodies, ebony skin like velvet rippling in the setting sun and eyes as deep as the Volta Lake swirl into and around the central square, while boys in their early teens pulse their percussion beat into the heavy tropical heat.

By the end of the day I have shot more than eight rolls of film and I am physically and mentally exhausted.  The searing intensity of history resurfacing, the clash of Western and African cultures and the fusion of hopes and dreams of a better future sucks you in and spits you out.  But the good outweighs the bad and eight solid hours of sleep is sure to recharge my soul.

10 June 2000

Today we decide to make time to visit a virgin – in this case the virgin rainforests of the Kakum National Park.  Merlin, the director of a UK – based charity called Re-Cycle, has joined us in Elmina and is keen to go off and climb some trees.  (With his harsh pipe in attendance, of course).  We manage to command a battered old minibus to transport us to the park which is situated about 50km north of Elmina, taking our tents in order to camp out under the forest canopy.

It is the first place in Ghana where I see other white tourist;  busloads of Americans;  a smattering of Europeans and an occasional fellow African.  Prices have been hiked dramatically to meet he obvious demand and we have to swallow hard in order to pay the half price fee of 30 000 cedi’s each that Merlin negotiates for us.

The walk itself is interesting rather than spectacular.  Ageing walkways, made of wooden boards about 30cm wide, is suspended by rope and cable about 40 metres off the ground.  Netting up to about shoulder height protects the walker, but fraying ropes and an unstable swing would probably freak out the overly vertiginous.  Seven individual sections of the walkway traverses the canopy between massive forest giants, allowing you an excellent view of the various strata of the rainforest.  My moan of the day is that you are only allowed an hour on the walkways, so the whole experience does become a bit of a cattle-rush experience.  I prefer the actual forest hike we partake in about 2 hours later.  Here a community guide leads a small group along a demarcated path, pointing our various trees and describing their Fante names as well as their traditional and medicinal uses.  I do think the best way of doing this is to get there before 9am in order to be first up on the walkways – not only will this reduce the rush factor, but your chances of actually spotting birds and the rare forest animal will be greatly increased.

The terrible threesome manages to filch a lift on a schoolbus heading back to Cape Coast.  On the way I spot a turn-off to Hans Botel, a strange and intriguing joint featuring accommodation, a restaurant on stilts, and amazing variety of birdlife and a few voracious crocodiles.  With a fond adieu to my compadre’s I switch into solo mode to explore and learn more about this incredible country.

Surreality strikes at this little Schwarywaldt lounging in the tripics – very much a German-style guest house straddling a muddy lake somethere far away in Africa.  Chattering weavers, motionless crocodiles, swirling tilapia on the lookout for the occassional breadcrust makes you aware that you are in Africa, but very safely enscounced within a small European enclave.  I meet a young fashion designer from Accra and an accountant from Tamalé in the north, both of them reinforcing my opinion that the Ghanains must rate amongst the friendliest people on the continent.

The Botel features without the worst reggae band in the whole of the known universe.  Not only is the front either cruising on meths or grass, but he has also decided to set the entire works of Ricky Martin and Julio Iglesias to a wickedly improbable beat.  This is comedy that makes Seinfeldt look silly and I decide to extend my bed time accordingly.  The main act however manages to come along an hour later and completely blows me out of the water with their sumptuously executed harmonies and heartrending rhythms.  Sounds that reach down through feet splayed upon ochre earth to tap into a vast continent floated on millions of tears shed over thousands of years.

11 June 2000

The birdlife around the Hans Cottage Botel is incredible – pied kingfishers, a massive colony of weavers, crowned egrets and a plethora of water birds vie for fish, insects, seeds and amphibians in and around the murky pond and surrounding marsh.

I use one of the small boats to paddle into the reeds in an effort to get closer to the green-backed herons skulking in the shallows, but only manage to disturb a crocodile and scare myself shitless.

Around lunchtime I meet up with the rest of the Afribike crowd back at Coconut Grove.  Everyone seems to be very much in conference mode which gives me the opportunity for a quick diversion to the Elmina bridge market.  It is here where the Benya Lagoon flows into the Gulf of Guinea to create a safe fishing harbour for a multitude of pirogues and longboats sailing in and out on the tides.  Originally named “Aldea das Duas Partes”, or the village of two parts, by the early Portuguese traders, Elmina’s present-day name refers to the gold mines on the Coast (El Mina de Ouro).  Settled as early as 1300 AD, Elmina’s potential came to the attention of a Portuguese captain, one Diago de Azambuja, who laid the foundations of the Castle of St. George in 1482 after soliciting the permission of King Kwamina Ansah of the Edina state.  For more than a century and a half the fort that is today Elmina Castle remained the base of Portuguese operations on the Gold Coast and it was only in 1637 that the Dutch captured the fort.  It remains the oldest existing building in S/S Africa.  Despite having retained its roots as a Ghanian fishing village, a walk through the ancient alleyways of Elmina will juxtapose European culture with tribal charisma in a paradox that is so often inherent to Africa’s moods.

12 June 2000

Today sees the start of the much-discussed Afribike conference and the whole of Coconut Grove seems abuzz with cycling-related excitement.  I plan to do photographs during the morning session and then hopefully explore Elmina on foot to see the posuban shrines and other historical treasures offered by this delightful village.

A guy named Kwezi (which means “Born on Friday” offers to act as my guide on a walking tour of the Elmina old town.  Our first stop is at the Posuban No. 5, an improbably adorned double-story building featuring an array of colonial and tribal figures arranged around the ground floor.  The whole roof is dominated by a massive, moulded concrete ship, complete with sailors, a captain at the helm and flags frozen in time.  Our real fun however starts at Posuban No. 2, where a major crowd has gathered.  I realise that the shit is about to hit the fan when street vendors in the general vicinity scramble to pack away their wares, but just then the crowd erupts.  A phalanx of psyched young braves, bearing clubs and glinting machetes, charges into the crowd, fists begin to fly and the screaming notches up to fever pitch.  Kwezi joins the mélee (to make peace, he says later on) leaving me with visions of the Mau-Mau and no backup.  Despite the raging passions, the true nature of the Ghana people comes through and despite a lot of brandishing, no-one actually uses a machete.  Tensions still simmer into the night despite a tropical deluge that rumbles in from the Gulf of Guinea, with the various asafo (or militia) units retreating to their respective areas.

After a few Stars, a delicious plate of Red-Red and a huge hug from Merlin I head off to bed, very relieved that my skinny, white ass remains intact.

13 June 2000

My last day in Elmina and I decide that a more comprehensive exploration of the harbour and Elmina Castle might be in order.  The Castle of St. George, with its chequered European history and disturbing slave cells, is an obvious tourist destination on the Gold Coast.  Its foundation dates back to 1482, making it the oldest European building in sub-Saharan Africa (although the bulk of the later additions were only added during the 17th century).  So many under-currents surge through the rock and mortar that I cannot help being disturbed by the massive wrongs that have been enforced here so many years ago.  The fear and sweat and fate of millions of salves become especially palpable inside the slave cells, where human life and dignity were destroyed scornfully and with a cruelty that does not make sense to me in any way.

Mr Antwi, the director of the department of Feeder Roads, kindly offers to negotiate the hectic Ghana road system to deliver me back to Accra.  Two close calls, one overturned truck and a dead chicken are a few of the problems we have to navigate on the way, but apparently this is nothing compared to lagos, so let’s be thankful for small mercies.

14 June 2000

The two weeks in Ghana feel a bit more like two months and I feel a genuine sadness at having to leave this beautiful land of smiles behind.  Wherever I had the opportunity to spend more than a few days, the people I met became friends, but it will also be the kindness of strangers that will remain with me for a long time.  Like a tropical jigger, this country gets under your skin.

I spend the morning hunting for the ceremonial cloth woven according to Asahente tradition.  Master weavers, originating from the Kumasi region in central Ghana, create intricately woven, geometric designs in a kaleidoscopic range of colour.  The National Cultural Centre and its market turns out to be an absolute bloody bunfight, but I eventually locate a small market in central Accra with a reasonable selection of kente and adinkra cloth.  A protracted negotiation process is

embarked upon with much sighing, rolling of eyes, throwing of hands in the air and proclamations of deep integrity running through the veins of the respective parties involved.  The final deal is clinched swiftly and, I think, with both parties convinced that they have emerged as the convincing victor.  I also buy to Ga tribal masks, one with cowrey shell and the other with copper inlays before heading uptown to the National Museum.

Except for a very informative display on the Asehente history and tradition, the museum does not impress.  Unlike Maputo and Luanda, it has working hours and staff in attendance, but the exhibits in general are put together quite poorly.

The intensity of this sensory overload is akin to mainlining history – pumping centuries of cultural and visual symbolism into your mind;  ingesting a hundred years in one day – understanding it all while not understanding anything at all.

You tap into the core of this ancient continent, switching into the motherlode of mankind’s’s origins and hit the download button to let it surge and buck inside your head space while it sears at your soul.