Having longed to one day to visit Accra for so long, I suddenly had the opportunity to visit it twice in the same month! Both visits were marked by a strong sense of wellbeing upon arrival, although the state was induced by two quite different stimuli at the two occasions. The first was the result of an encounter with a man from Togo on the flight in from Abuja, with whom we discussed such deep spiritual matters that I was left feeling at one with all (wo)mankind, and deeply centred. The second, I must confess, was a lovely haze induced by the double gin & tonic that I had just before I embarked! 🙂
In both cases I was met by a gleaming airport and very pleasant officers; increasing my pleasure was the sight of so many immigration booths, in front of which stood hardly two people waiting, which made for a nice break. Everything clearly marked, too, so one knows where to go. I was also impressed by how clean the toilets were – everything automated – soap, water, and the drying paper are gently discharged by simply holding one’s hands next to each appliance… Unfortunately, my usual experience with airport bathrooms in African capitals is doors that don’t close properly, water flowing out of only one or two taps, and attendants asking for a tip. I catch myself thinking this must be a new airport and I hope they keep it up! Not very charitable, I know.
The city of Accra itself does look like a lot of the other African Capitals that I’ve been to – low concrete and brick colonial style government buildings jostling for space with gleaming tinted glass multi-storey buildings, and interspersed by half-finished and seemingly abandoned construction.. and just like many African capitals, the near roadside is lined by low tin or timber buildings here and there, crammed in next to one another and dealing in everything from furniture, to fruit & veg, to clothing, construction materials and whatever else the passerby might need.
Similar to other African Capitals one also observes large colourful billboards all along the road, advertising mobile phone companies (MTN dominates), banks, and apartments for sale in the trendiest gated communities. I’m gratified to find that just like my own capital city Kampala, Accra is very green, and is also characterised by mild weather, with temperatures around 26 degrees as we approach noon; unlike my own capital city, however, the roads are wider and the traffic much more orderly.
There are a few peculiarities that I notice driving along the road in Accra:
1. The quirk of naming their roundabouts and junctions – there’s the Danquah Circle, then you have the Tetteh Quarshie Interchange, not forgetting, of course, the centre of downtown: the Kwame Nkrumah Circle – a little research revaels that there up to four more roundabouts named for Ghana’s Founding Fathers – the big six as they are known.
2. Billboards announcing burials – these varied in size, from maybe 3 feet high by 2 feet wide, to entire industrial sized billboards. I was told that they had quite elaborate funeral ceremonies – especially the Asante tribe – where sometimes bodies lay in the morgue for up to six months as relatives were mobilised from within and without. Apparently for minor royals, the body is sometimes secretly buried and the ceremonies held up to a year later! This website tells more about the extravagances these funerals induce
All in all, my stay in Ghana had more highlights than I can count, but I will dwell on three: the food, my visit to the Cape Coast, and the fabric (Oh-My-God, THE FABRIC!!)!
Well: maybe I will start with a quick fourth: the people! Warmer, nicer, politer people I am yet to meet. Calling you Sir and Ma, gentle as you like – my overriding adjective for them is simply: a noble people!
But to the food. The Ghanaians, like many West African I have since found, love their spice. I will never forget the deceptively named “spicy goat broth” that I served up one lunch time, which was so hot that within two spoonfuls my whole face was burning and I had to abandon the dish! Wa! But so aromatic, and even through the heat really delicious! And of course their famous red-red – a dish made half from beans and half from palm oil it seemed to me! This to be eaten with fried plantain and sometimes rice, it is utterly delicious! I came across all sorts of other vegetables and pounded fermented grains, and of course the ever-present Milo chocolate drink – as they proudly say: “we are cocoa people!” (although I don’t know how much of the Milo they drink is actually manufactured in Ghana).
Speaking of chocolate, I also got to get a taste of their locally produced chocolate – I hear there are a lot of specialist chocolates produced in Ghana but the only ones I could find in the shops were the Niche and Goldentree brands – the Goldentree brand appears to be the one that most people I spoke to associated with their childhoods, but I could not find a high percentage chocolate version and so did not try it; I did try the Niche 72% one and that was very good! .
Our trip to Ghana’s old capital city, the Cape Coast took us about 4 hours out of the city, through some beautiful forest, and hills, and a couple of small towns. Arriving in the Cape Coast I am reminded of the coastal towns nearer to me, like the old towns Mombasa & Zanzibar – narrow streets and crowded houses; the difference here is that the houses sit on steep hillsides, reminiscent of the ancient city of Petra in Jordan that I once visited.
The main attraction in the city is the castle that most recently housed the British Colonial masters, but started life as a trade outpost for various European nations including Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, France & The Netherlands. In the end, however, it was captured by the British, and after their exit is now a memorial to the slave trade that marks a large part of its history. Our tour guide told of the horrors faced by the men and women that were held at this castle, including the dreaded windowless dungeon where unruly male slaves were sent to die of thirst of suffocation, whichever came first. Just as I had seen at Ouidah in Benin, we were finally brought to the door of no return, although while the one at Ouidah is symbolic, the one at the Cape Castle is the actual opening through which slaves walked and encountered the boundless ocean, many for the first time, with no possibility of turning back.
We were reminded, once more, by the horrors that these innocent men and women endured. In 2019 Ghana widely commemorated the 400 years since the slave trade began, and had declared it the year of the diaspora. As such, all through the tour we cam across many groups of people of African decent from all over the world, some standing silently in remembrance, and others moved to tears. The most bizzarre sight for us was the little church that was built on top of the dark airless dungeons that housed the slaves below, complete with a little hatch through which the Sunday morning worshipers could peep down at the wretched masses below. How could they reconcile their actions with their faith?
But on to more joyous subjects: at no time in my life have I encountered a more dazzling and delightful array of fabric than I was on my two visits to Ghana!
From the fabric that some savvy entreprenuers brought to our hotel during the workshops I was attending, to the trip to the market downtown, I bought so much material that I had to send some along to Nigeria with some colleagues, so I could pick it up on a trip to Lagos in another few weeks! My two happiest purchases were a roll of Kente and one of Adinkra – both hand made and stitched – 3 yards of the Kente cost me about $120 and 4 Yards of Adinkra about $75. CAN’T wait to convert them into some stunning garments!!
What can I say, readers? Visiting Ghana started on a high and ended on a high. There are high chances that I will be returning there in another few months and I am sure I will find even more to love about it – I know I will be on the hunt for these specialist chocolatiers, for sure!! Looking forward to it!