Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Ghana Journal I - Akwabaa and Bodacious
It's nearly a month since I returned from my trip to Ghana, a short but meaningful one. My daughter was going because of her interest in international health, particularly, in Africa. She'd been to Swaziland twice, and I'd gone once before, back in the 70's, to parts of East and West Africa. How nice it would be, I thought, to be on the Continent together. Beyond that I wanted to go to one of the dungeons where the enslaved Africans were held before loaded on ships for the infamous Middle Passage. I had not done that before, but now I had a need to do so. I learned they are called castles, but that journey is not for today's Ghana Journal.
A family friend, Bernadine, and I flew non-stop to Accra. Nine hours. The flight, with center rows of 3 seats, flanked by rows 2 seats deep, was full. I speak from the vantage point of coach class, and have no idea if all the business class seats had bodies. Judging from our section and the airport terminal, Ghanaians ruled the passenger list, and I couldn't help notice that quite a few were mothers with young children, and some grandmothers. I imagined happy occasions on their returning home, to visit or stay.
Akwabaa! This is the greeting you hear and see on signs everywhere. It means you are welcome. And you are. You feel it with customs folks who look over your passport and make small talk, smiling young men who swamp you once you're outside the airport itself, vying for the role of helping you to your transportation, with hotel staff, and the young men and women vendors who approach the car selling home made and store bought food, pouches of water, gum, dish towels, nearly anything that can be used. The Ghanaians we encountered had a warmth and dignity about them, from those in the middle class sector to those who live in a small village we visited in Kligor, a few hours drive from Accra, in the Volta region.
Accra is a sprawling city teeming with buildings, traffic circles, serious traffic at rush hour, and people on the move. Unlike my time there before, where we only walked, we only rode. Felix, our driver, is an Ewe, an ethnic group that originates from the Volta region. Every morning he appeared at our hotel in a crisp neat look, shirt and pants, ready for the day's agenda. A dark skinned man in his early 60's with a head-on smile, he let us know early that he is a Christian man who observes his faith seriously. That didn't get in the way of his humor though, and we had some good laughs. The only time Bernadine, my daughter and I did any substantial physical activity was at Kakum National Forest, where we had some serious climbing to do to get to Canopy Walk. It's not for the weak-hearted. High above the forest, a plank of wood swung as we walked, holding on to the rope banister that topped the braided rope that ran from it to the wood. That was the railing to keep us in. It reached our waist, sometimes. My daughter found nothing enjoyable about it, and I admit the forest got dwarfed, as I concentrated intently on balance as I stepped.
Wherever we went, from Accra to the village in Kligor to Cape Coast, where two of the castles that imprisoned our ancestors were located, Ghanaians brought up Obama. In their faces I saw a deep pride and joy in the son of an African now President, a man who chose to visit their country with his family. I too felt a deep pride, learning more about their first President, Kwame Nkrumah, when we visited his memorial, accompanied by our well-informed tour guide. The audacity of this African man in leading Ghana out of colonization by Britain, only 52 years ago. The strategic foresight he had in marrying an Egyptian woman and envisioning a unified and free Africa. The legacy of audacity in our ancestors is a mind-blowing, immeasurable gift. Growing up, I remember the word bo-dacious . "She's so bodacious," we'd say, like too bold, over the top. But where would we be without those bodacious folks in our history, and in our lives today?
Photos by thandiwe.