Monday, January 23, 2012

Mission Accomplished!

first things first....

oh nothing, just me spectating an elephant as it eats the landscaping at Mole Hotel. the hotel staff was unsurprised by this little breakfast interruption, but the rest of us loved it. they really do kinda see them as pests.

backing up a bit, here are some castle pictures from the Elmina Castle, a few k outside of Cape Coast. the castle was originally built by the Portuguese and eventually taken by the Dutch, then the British when Ghana was the stronghold during the slave trade. almost all the slaves that left west Africa spent time in this castle or the one at Cape Coast. we saw the dungeons all the way up to the governors quarters, but i'm only gonna put a few pics here. this is the view of the fort that was used as a lookout, on the top of that hill. you also can get a pretty good glimpse of Elmina itself, a "small" village (huge!) that is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.
another view. the castle hugs the coast but still had a moat.
the view from where the governor stood to address his troops. to the left are the dungeons, to the right are the rooms where they imprisoned unruly soldiers, or the tomb where they threw rebellious slaves. the building in the middle, oddly enough, was the chapel.
another view, from the other side of the courtyard.
ok. now to the good stuff...Mole National Park. it was originally established as a hunting ground in the 1950's, when the government was trying to eliminate the tsetse fly. the theory was that the larger animals were its' breeding grounds, so they should all be killed. after 20 years, it was decided sleeping sickness (caused by the tsetse fly) was no longer a threat and turned into a game reserve. in 1974 it was formally established as a protected area (and they doubled it in size!) this picture is of a "bachelor pack" of male kops, a kind of gazelle. once the young male kop is about 7-9 months old, they are driven out of whichever elder male's territory they were born on. they then roam in these large bachelor groups until they are old enough and strong enough to fight a lone male for his territory. the female kops can come and go as they please, meaning the males are really just fighting for land, not right to the females.
here is an elephant crossing the road, causing quite a ruckus. this is a male elephant, the only kind we saw, as the females are all hiding deep in the forest with their babies.

i'm a little obsessed with warthogs now. they like to walk around on their knees. here is a baby demonstrating. they are fairly dangerous, according to the staff at Mole a full-grown warthog can defeat a baboon anytime. this one was too little to do much damage yet. just don't make it's mama mad.

when not scaring baboons, the warthogs enjoy the scraps of the staff canteen. they treat them almost like dogs, though they are careful not to touch them and to keep the baby away. but they are not unpleasant to have around. and they will eat anything. we even saw one eat a plastic bag.
the elephant down by the watering hole. just headed to pack some mud on his skin. he doesn't worry about the crocs in that pool, they're all scared of him.
if you can ignore the glowing eyes (my bad) you can see the pattern of this bush back perfectly. they were one of the most beautiful animals we saw. and this one got so close to us!
the view from Mole's observation platform. spectacular.
this is the first elephant we saw, about 20 minutes into our morning walk. he was wallowing in the water when we found him, which is why he has that delightful painted look about him. cute?

so as you can imagine, we are 2 very happy campers right now. and tomorrow, we're headed to the beach to take a vacation from our vacation. all this trip people have been telling us to go to Busua, so it seems like the appropriate place to end our Ghana adventure. enjoy the pictures and i'll post again soon!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Some pictures from Ghana

Hello again. Can you believe these pictures took less than 5 mins to load? ohhh yeah. we are in Kumasi, the second-largest city in Ghana. it is huge, less sprawled than Accra but definitely feels just as Western. at night, when all the vendors have left it looks exactly like a medium-sized American city. crazy. without further ado, here are a few highlight pictures from Ghana so far...

the crayfish coffin. probably my favorite one.

a pineapple and an ice cream coffin. these compliment each other nicely on so many levels.

this is the view of the swinging bridge we walked on for our canopy rainforest tour, in Kakum national park. it was about 30 m from the ground, which didn't seem like much until we got up there. it was pretty cool though. we saw some gorgeous trees, a lot of butterflies, and not much else. my theory is it creaks to much for the monkeys and birds to come any closer. though our guide DID have a bird call as his cellphone ringtone. how appropriate.

a lagoon on the outskirts of Cape Coast. we went on an excellent tour of 2 castles, but we used S St J's camera there so i don't have those pics yet. there were cannonballs, dungeons, a dedication from Barack and Michelle Obama, a "door of no return" leading to the sea, and a bat colony. just so you can visualize.

this panel was in the walls of a building at the national cultural center here in Kumasi, where you're not supposed to take any pictures but i snapped this one anyways. i think it's 1) awesome looking and 2) a good example of the Ashanti style. we also toured a museum about the Ashanti today which was pretty fascinating (even though it was very small). i learned a lot of fun little tidbits like the Ashanti king's bare feet are never allowed to touch the ground (or he wouldn't be king anymore) so he rests them on elephant tusks while he bathes. also, kingship is inherited through the mother's side, so the king is not succeeded by his son, but his nephew. there is no queen, rather a queen mother, and she is almost as highly regarded as the king. probably the coolest thing we saw there was the Ashanti war drum, which is made out of leopard skin. when they heard their enemies approaching, they would hide in the bushes and play the drum, and it sounds like a leopard. hearing the leopard, the enemy would flee and then the Ashanti would attack amidst the confusion. the drum is played by scraping a stick across the face, and it really does sound like a leopard. pretty cool.
tomorrow we head to the north and Mole national park. we are hoping to see a lot of big game, and are going to try and stay until we see an elephant. think positive thoughts for us and i'll let you know what happens!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Checkin Out the Coffin's Curators

hi again.
i know, 2 posts in one day...a little excessive. but when you're in a place with internet that's so awesomely fast you can spoil yourself a little, right?
i actually had a lot of photos i wanted to upload but, due to my camera battery's being exhausted, i could not. so i'm just going to babble a little bit.

today we went to check out the coffins of Ghana. this may sound like a strange thing to do, but Ghana is actually famous worldwide for their coffins. we saw a picture of one shaped like a shoe (a sneaker, where the laces come off to let the body in) in an old Ghanian newspaper and from then on i knew that was one thing i wanted to see before i left. i didn't imagine i would get to do it so early on. but with a friend headed to the airport at 5 pm, we decided that would be the perfect outing. so we set out to catch a tro-tro (like a gelly in Gambia, local transport, incredibly cheap and, you know, "cultural") to the area of town our guidebook said they would be. and, of course, they weren't. we did, however, all to fittingly pass a funeral procession on the way, where there was an exuberant marching band, dancing children, and a silver gilded coffin with The Last Supper painting carved on the sides. but we found a taxi fairly easily who took us even farther out of Accra to an area called Teshi, where we passed one coffin workshop and were dropped off at another. that was where we met Eric, a really cool guy with a website you should really check out, not in the least because i don't think you'll believe me about how awesome these coffins are until you see some pics.

the coffins come in all shapes and sizes, and all different kinds. Eric's shop had quite a few fish, an eagle, a lion, a coke bottle, a Star (beer) bottle, and a tomato basket overflowing with wooden tomatoes. and that was just the beginning. i am so glad Eric was there to give us some insight on this practice, this art form.

the story Eric told us was about his grandfather, who truly loved his grandmother, and to celebrate her death (and her dreams in life) he made her a coffin shaped like an airplane, because one thing she'd always wanted to do is fly, but never could. apparently, many tribes traditionally bury their chiefs in a coffin shaped like the symbol of their tribe (which is why the fish coffins are so popular), but his grandfather was one of the first to build one for someone who wasn't of paramount importance to anyone but her family. his labor of love bloomed into a business, and eventually his father took up his grandfather's business, and now Eric and his father work together. we must have talked to him for almost an hour, about coffins, families, death, everything. he has been all over the world, working with other artists, teaching at universities, and designing coffins for people. for example, he was asked to go to russia to contribute to their "death and culture" museum and wound up making the curator a coffin in the shape of a vodka bottle.

Eric has a unique perspective on death, being in his line of work. he wants to make coffins that people will truly enjoy, and he showed us some examples. one of the funniest ones to me was a coffin in the shape of a Bible, true to form. i promise i have pictures. part of his perspective also comes from the Ghanaian view, where death is a celebration of life. they don't avoid it like other cultures. there are posters all over the cities, like obituaries, with large pictures of people who have recently passed, and information about them. the coffins are all playful, and usually representative of the person's life. some women even go so far as to be buried in chicken coffins with carved wooden chicks to represent each of their children nestled at their feet. it's absolutely a different take than we have in america. i asked Eric (who could resist) what kind of coffin he would want...and he said he'd already made his. it's in his house, doubling as a tv stand. it's in the shape of a planar, the carpentry tool. not as fantastic as the crayfish coffin we later found, but respectable. the funniest part is that his father (who has been in the business all Eric's life) refuses to make his own coffin, or consider what he wants, and even tries to get Eric to take his planar out of the house. different ideas.

it was amazing. a little off the beaten path, but i can't think of a better way i'd have spent the day. it could be a really helpful part of the mourning process, to send your loved one off in a representation of what they loved the most. it definitely helps those still here remember and celebrate. to Cape Coast! update soon.


hi friends.
i have only 8 mins left so i'll make this quick. i am safely in ghana after a riveting 3 days in dakar wishing i spoke french and praying it will be easier in morocco (it will. they actually expect tourists there). ghana calls themselves the gold coast but i want to be the first to say they should change their slogan to the jackpot of west africa. this place has everything (i know i said that about dakar, but this time i'm serious)-cars with alarms, cranes, pineapples sold whole on the street the vendor cuts for you, a KFC, amazing red-red (look it up), fried plantains, crazy coffins, tattoo parlors (cuz that's not a risk), art galleries...and we haven't left Accra. tomorrow we're heading for Cape Coast to check out the slave castles (and take a guided tour so i can elaborate for you) and this vegetarian restaurant featuring Moringa, the miracle tree (seriously, look it up). hopefully i will get to post after Cape Coast, internet is supposed to be really good around the southern part of Ghana. If it's as nice as it is at this cafe, i'll even be able to post pictures (i forgot my camera cord). for now, though, i am going to continue to enjoy Accra, and look for additions to my "funny signs" picture collection. some standout reps include the "silence. board meeting in progress" sign posted outside the men's room and the "face the wall chop shop" which serves (what else?" red-red and fufu (look it up). love to you all!

Monday, January 2, 2012

L is for Leaving

i should have started this alphabet thing a little earlier, i suppose. we're only at L and it's time for me to go! i left my village for good friday, within a day or so exactly 2 years from when i first arrived there. it was hard to leave, as i am sure you can imagine. there were tears, and not all of them were mine. saying goodbye is never easy, and in a situation like this where you don't know when or if you will ever see the person again, it becomes even harder. also, gambians have a different perception of how to say goodbye. they don't like to do it. a full half of my host family left the compound just minutes before i did, wordlessly, so they wouldn't have to see me go. the rest of them could barely look me in the eye. a few cried, and hugged me, but that was far from the norm. i am very glad i learned before that day they were not going to stay put for what i see as a normal goodbye, or i would have been offended. it's a sort of a compliment, it turns out, it means they are so upset they can not face you. otherwise they would stay. but very opposite from the american mindset, which is that goodbye is really important, and you could really offend someone by not saying goodbye to then, as it is a sign you are insignificant in their lives. i don't doubt, in any way, that i was a part of these people's lives.

i know i still am.

and now, i am finishing up the paperwork and the packing, getting ready to leave the Gambia. but don't put up your eyeglasses just yet, dear reader, for my african adventure is not over. from Gambia i will be going to Dakar (but only for 4 days) and then setting out to Ghana(!!!!!!!!!!!!) for 2 and a half weeks. Once Ghana has been good and seen, i'll continue on to Morocco (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), then take the ferry over to Spain (!!!!!!!!!!!!), where I will while away the days in as european of a fashion i can muster, before finally returning home (!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) to my family. so as long as i'm still technically across the Atlantic (and maybe even a few weeks after i'm not) i plan on maintaining this blog. so keep on checking for the same infrequent posting schedule, and see if you'll be first to know whether or not i saw elephants in Mole, or sea turtles in Butre, or learned more Arabic in Fez. I might even post pictures of the dolphins that supposedly frolic in the wake of the ferry to Gibraltar.
if you're lucky.