Williwaw to Florence’s horror is in no time attracting the normal vendors, give me’s, dogs, and no good do ours. The egg vendor having made a successful sale is commandeered to point out where the Mission lies. Up he pops on to the driver’s footstep, “OK left that right, straight on that’s left. He has the gift of giving Irish directions. If I were you I would not start for here. I follow the pointed finger rather than the verbal and to my surprise arrive in a large yard sporting a workshop capable of repairing the whole of Ghana armed forces vehicles.
We are welcome is in a strong German accent by Brother Keith. Our feet are no more on terra firma when we are off on a guided tour of the Missions piggery, chicken farm, and plantations. The Goldmine whereabouts are not revealed. In the meantime, Williwaw exhaust is under the acetylene torch for a re-welding. Brother Keith suggests that we make camp in the Plantation for the night. We arrive at the gates to the Plantation to find that they are closed. The water pumps shut down with the security guard long gone home. Fanny is travel weary. Bole has nothing to offer other than a dose of fleas. We pass a flat dusty area with a small mud hut in the middle. Pitch no 58.
Bright and early next morning finds us all much rested making good mileage on a tar surface our target is Kumasi. The capital of the Ashanti region said to have the biggest market in western Africa. We make it a far as Techiman.
Here we stop outside a pink church. This time it is a Catholic mission unlike the sole welcome from Brother Keith we a confronted by the church committee and a few hundred children from the adjacent school. We are allocated the football pitch for Pitch No 59. Over the next few hours, we are bestowed with gifts of fruits. There is no stopping the line of people arriving with their gifts of welcome. A small mountain of Pineapples, Bananas, Papaws, Cacao, start to grow higher than Williwaws roof.
The early TV cooking class by Fanny is attended on mass with standing room only. To our amusement, a flash from my camera to record the attendance causes a near stampede. Oblivious to our need for some privacy some of the spectators sit on the grass within spitting distance in total silence observing our every movement. After the cooking show the village dignitaries, one after another introduced themselves using their long formal names. Each one state when he was born, where he was born and what village they came from. It is not long before we get our first taste of Ashanti culture. A man approaches in a traditional dress. Black-robed with leather flip-flops a formal invitation is issued to join the villagers in the church in the morning.
The Ashanti region covers a mere 24,390sq km area. Founded in 1701 by Osei Tutu the region was annexed by the British from the gold coast colony after a war in 1873. There then king Prempeh 1 was exiled to Seychelles in 1901 and allowed back in 1906 ingratitude of the Ashanti steadfastness to the Allies in world war one.
It is said that the Sir Frederick Hodgson in 1900 demanded a Gold stool known as the Sika Dwa be handed over so he could park his ass on it. This golden stool embodied the soul of the Ashanti people. Neither the Asantehene nor the kings were allowed to grace the stool with their rears. The original, which had arrived down from heaven was the symbol and the foundation of the kingdom in the 17th century. Fortunately, the Ashanti royal family had anticipated him providing him with a fake stool. The original had been hidden.
We all sleep wondering how many rows of eyes will be awaiting or waking in the morning. The first up is Florence to a round of applauds. Caught creeping out of her sleeping bag by the awaiting multitude she is the Asantehene of the moment with every woman wanting to touch her blond hair. Next is Fanny. With no affects whatsoever she makes strong appeals for some privacy. “I don’t live in a zoo”. Breakfast is a difficult meal.
The first job of the day on hand is to return without offending our hosts our mountain of fruit. Explanations that it is impossible for us to fit, never mind eating the mountain all fall on deaf ears. In the end, sanity prevailed with the mountain being returned in the order of village echelon. This exercise takes hours as each village member once again introduced him or her self again with the full trimmings.
It is late afternoon and we are not relishing our formal visit to the pink church. It turns out not to be forgotten. On entering we are once again presented to the church VIP and the worshippers. What follows puts us to shame. Two beautiful carved wooden stools are presented to us in honour of our visit. I make a pathetic speech of thank before we all troop outside the church door for the obligatory photo. A visit to the school it the next duty. The whole school, teachers and students are awaiting our arrival. With a request to speak to them from the village elder we are presented formally. In my best Irish brogue, I give them a short rundown on us. From where we have come, and where we hope to go. Our third formal introduction to the elders follows.
One by one, full name, date of birth, origin, and status position. A guided tour of the school was next on the afternoon line-up. Fanny looks at me in despair. Luckily unknown to the girls before hitting the pit I had slipped off last night with the last man to be introduced Abou for a bottle of Guinness. I explained to our captured audience that I had promised Adou to visit his Plantation before we set off on our way in the morning. It made no difference as all two hundred children, teachers, elders tag along as we set off down into a maze of high Tropical growth. Pineapples, Papaws, Mangos, Chillies, Yams, you name it all grew in six months. The piece the resistance according to Abou is his Palm wine still. Thank God we did not have to sample any of the wine. Past experience of three-day palm wine had left its mark. Once bitten not bitten twice thank you?
Suffering from lockjaw and throbbing face from hours of smiling we give a hoot to signal our early departure. Nothing stirs. Our route is across the Kwahu Plateau to Kumasi 107km as the crow flies, or 6º 41N -1º 35W. We make good time arriving early evening. A room with a bath is top on the list. Check into a hotel recommended in the bible we soak, soak, soak, and sleep. The morning breakfast bill is an unadulterated rip-off. So much for the Bible, it could do with its information being dated. The manager is called.
“You are not dealing here with raw prawns, 8000 cides for three boiled eggs.” “It’s possible to buy a chicken farm for the same amount” One hour later with Fanny threatening damnation on the hotel in her next tourist guide publication a reduction of 700% reflects the going price of an eouf.
We move to the Kings hotel, which seems to have the price of omelettes right.
The Kumasi previously known as Coomassie derives its name from the Kum tree and seat. Akan speaking Ashanti people, who are named mostly after the days of the week, populate it. In modern-day Ghana, it remains an energetic city with its own Ashanti courts and a royal family. It is for some time our first taste of the city. Supermarkets, Banks, post office, co2.
Into the hustle and bustle, we go armed with a map. The first call is the Market one of Africa biggest. Markets with all their smells, movement, noise, colour, give one a wonderful sense of being. The countries economic heartbeat pulses before your eyes. Our taxi drops us off at one of the many entrances. A mass of corrugated roof stalls spread out as far as we can see. A frontal attack looks far to life-threatening so we skirt the outer east boundary as if shy to enter. Here we find the main railway that circles the core market peppered on both sides with stalls that only move on hearing the blast of the train’s horn. From on top of the railway embankment, the brown rusty roofs of the market nestle as if welded together in a hollow.
Down we go disappearing in a flash under a canopy of galvanised tin. There are no organised isles leading to a checkout. No prices, no bar codes, no see your face on the floor, no artificial light, no trolleys, no massive car park, no loyalty cards, no buy one get one free, no name tags, no crèche, no credit cards. There is, however, that wonderful African quality dignity with a smile no matter how bad business is.
We wander for hours through well-defined areas, spices, flour, rice, and fresh tomato puree, vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, tub aware, plastic bottles, stainless steel, guns, medical cures, tablets, silk, tailors, firewood, sunglasses, shoes, car parts, money exchanges, greegree, jewellery, tapes, records, you name it and it is to be had.
A few items we noticed that might be hard to find these days were smoked bush meat and fetish items. The whole lot it is governed by supply and demand, market prices and market laws. We emerge into the sunshine promising ourselves another dose before we say our goodbyes.
Our second Kumasi day is Fannies. She has the bit between the teeth and is single-minded in that we are off to meet Nana for a cup of tea in the palace grounds. She had met him back in London in the late sixties. The thirty odd stone Ashanti king had given her an open-ended invitation to call on him if she happened to be in the area. Learning once more the use of the indicators and the horn we all troop across town in Williwaw to Manhyia the Asantehene’s Palace.
Arriving at the palace, which is colonial in its caricature we are directed to the secretary’s office. The only permanent resident in the offices is a large black cat. People roam in and out at will. Fanny leaves a note with the cat for his highness. We learn that he will be meeting some of his Chieftains on Monday. Come along and watch.
We console Fanny with a visit to the Prempeh II Jubilee Museum to see the fake stool, and a leather sack, which according to tradition if opened will cause the downfall of the Asante nation. But not to worry, as across the road there is a sword if pulled from the ground will have the same effect according to another legend. Perhaps King Arthur had a practice session down here. We did not try. It looked like that the end was near, and the whole Asante culture, nation, is going to be conquered by rust.
Rust or not I am rapidly becoming ineffectual due to thirst. A watering hole is needed. Some minutes later while pleasurably sipping a cool Guinness down the street comes a parade of people dressed in traditional black, sandals shuffling in my direction to the sound of drums. Dancing is considered a highly recommended way of communication. This approaching thud was sure interconnecting with Fanny. In a flash, she is up joined in the march past. Hopping up and down in full swing with the rhythms till I bring her attention that to the rear of the procession is a coffin. How was she to know it was Ntan drumming? An Asante style of playing highly decorative drums to see the departed on their way to the pearly gates. We call it a day retiring to a swimming pool behind our hotel.
A visit to the Asante Gold mine Obuasi for a spot of lunch and a guided tour sounds a good idea. It is one of the largest open cast gold mines in the world. As a shareholder, I ring the mine.
(Top TIP: It a good move to invest in a few hundred shares in select corporations operating in Africa prior to departing they might give you a free meal or two.)
The mines PR man cannot make up his mind if he works in the mine or outside. It all sounds too messy to risk the 70km trip out-of-town so we decide to buy the tee-shirt and mess about town. Tomorrow is the royal oath.
One more with feeling we arrive to see Nan. Entering the palace grounds we find a small crowd sitting under the shade of the royal trees. Apparently, four new district chief are to take the royal oath. The heat of the day marks time but Fanny’s determination to achieve her goal cannot be deflected. I take a walk over to the royal courts. Five hardened thugs are up for swiping tomatoes. The outcome of the case I did not learn. All four judges dressed in their Kente robes stood up all of a sudden and marched over under their sun umbrellas to the palace grounds the case can wait. The Oath of allegiance ritual is about to begin.
I arrive back to the girls to learn that the whole event is taking place inside the palace. Apparently, Otumfuo Opoku-Ware II Asantehene is so fat he has outgrown the palace doors Being the only ones not dressed in black robes, sporting a lighter shade of red from the sun we have no chance of infiltrating the chamber. I hoof Florence to a round of clapping from the multitudes stretched out under the royal king palm trees up on my shoulders for a squint through one of the windows. She gets somewhat a wobbly viewing of the proceedings.
In a tropical downpour, we eventually retire to the pool for a swim > Wonderful.
The next day after eight-hour driving including a company tour of the Goldmine we emerge gold dust free to that superb sight of the braking surf at Busua beach. Pitch No 60
Busua is a Jerry Rawlings resort 230 odd km west of Accra, 4º 46 N 2º 07 W. We are here because we are advised to avoid Accra for a few days due to elections. How knows there might be another coup. Mr Rawlings is a dab hand at coups. Back in 1972 to take power he executed a few of his foe. But in 1979 he did a commendable thing for an African dictator. As promised when he took it over in 1972 he handed the country back to civilian power.
The next three years saw a country blessed with natural wealth plunged into debt till our man once more held another coup. Son of a Scottish pharmacist he is Ghana current president and looks like remaining so with the help of the USA for some time to come.
Built for I billion cidies in 1996 Pleasure Beach hotel in Busua is a modern complex with twenty beach chalets with a restaurant and bar central block. Suffering from a large dose of African inanity the whole place is run by a beauty queen named Gloria. Busua village in its own right gets quite a write-up in the bible mention as a favourite meeting place for over Landers.
Once again the Bible gets the prices of accommodation and the like way of the current mark. We spend two nights in one of the Hotel Chalets receiving a bill that puts in plain words the modern meaning of the Gold coast. We move to the car park designated as their camped area for the rest of our enforced stay. It is not hard to see how Busua was once popular before the arrival of Pleasure Beach which has led to the disappearance of any genuine over Landers, not to mention the palm trees.
On day three of our stay, we wander over to Dixcove a small fishing village. It’s a short walk up the beach and over a hill. To our horror, less than ten minutes up the beach we find the local lavatory awaiting the incoming tide. Perhaps the hotel derived its name from such oblivious pleasure. Shunning the crap minefield we cross a dubious small but deep stream. A steep climb follows up through the last of the surviving palm trees till we emerge overlooking the Cove.
Perched high on the rock cliff overlooking the cove is our first Slave trade fort. It is not difficult to envisage anchored in the small bay a large slave ship.
Descending the slope metal crosses built by the Portuguese stands in a silent proclamation to man’s greed.
All along this coastline forts built by the French, Portuguese, Dutch, British, Swedes, and Danish had doors of on return. Not so long ago over 10 million slaves were dragged through these doors to be packed like sardines on slave ships bound to the USA. The Gold Cost originally got its name from the slave trade meaning the payments made to slave hunters. It’s only one hundred and ninth five years ago that the USA abolished slavery. Their human stories remain a strong magnetism for any visitor to Ghana.
(To be continued)