Sunday, June 11, 2006

Part III - How to get to Accra

(If you haven't read the first two installments, make sure to scroll down and check those out first.)

In our promised land of Abo Toase, as the rain poured down and Robin and I dashed for cover, we were beckoned to the car of some kind men from Accra. They invited us to a restaurant for a warm beer and some fish soup while we waited for the rain to pass. There were three of them – an interior designer, a teacher and a taxi-cab driver (you have my permission to use this as the opening line of a joke) – who were in town for a funeral. They told us that we could easily find a car to the city of Kpandu, so our serendipitous friendship was short-lived, and our stay in Abo Toase was fleeting, as we quickly moved to Kpandu (a city which was listed in my guidebook). Our intent was to immediately move from Kpandu to Accra, to complete our voyage that same day. But Kpandu, as it turned out, wouldn’t allow this.

Or rather, we wouldn’t allow ourselves to flee this city. We were immediately struck by the beguiling character of Kpandu’s streets. They were lined with well-kept two-storey buildings, and bustling with the kind of life I’d come to expect from most streets in Ghana. However, unlike Tamale, this life continued on into the night, past 10pm. People stayed out, barbecuing corn and steak on the street-side, heading to one of the many drinking spots, or simply enjoying the night’s air. At a random street kiosk, we discovered our new favourite fruit: sweet apple, a spiky, roughly avocado-sized green fruit filled with a white flesh that tastes something like sour apple (perhaps also called custard apple).

Another factor we found refreshing and surprising was the lack of attention that Robin and I drew. We’d become accustomed to cries of “Saliminga!” in Tamale; despite the high number of foreign development workers and volunteers there (we’re not a rare sight), foreigners are still often worthy of vocal comment. In Kpandu, we seemed to be invisible, as though our white skin were transparent – I don’t even know the local word for white person, since it wasn’t uttered. While I generally love the outgoingness and openness of Ghanaian culture, being a frequent focal point of attention while walking down the street can sometimes wear on my nerves (although I accept it – I’m the stranger in this land, and have to follow the social conventions of the land). But Kpandu was a break from this, and we felt free to explore the city’s streets in near anonymity.

The next day I attended mass, conducted entirely in the local language of Ewe, and held in a German-built cathedral from the early 1900s. After mass, I still wasn’t feeling religious enough, so we decided to visit a local cult.

The Blues of Ur was founded by a local man named Mr. Appaw who claims to have witnessed a bright blue light fall from the sky. As I understood it from the guide, this light led Mr. Appaw into virgin forest, where he discovered a message from the Virgin Mary. Indeed, she’d sent him to this planet to spread a holy message, to lead people to heaven by helping them break free of the cycle of reincarnation that traps sinful souls. Since then, he’s has built up an impressive meditation centre in the woods, complete with towering statues of Mary and Jesus, prayer grottoes, and a crucifix that overlooks a beautiful wooded valley: all designed to help Mr. Appaw fulfil his role as the Bearer of the Vessel and Neutral Messages.

As I gazed out over the lush green forest from a precipice upon which a large crucifix stood, I was filled with the beauty of the Volta region of Ghana – the rolling hills and ancient trees and blue sky, without a sign of human intervention anywhere, inspired something akin to a spiritual experience. Perhaps there’s something to Mr. Appaw’s centre and teachings after all? Perhaps they should pass the sign-up sheet?

Alas, tempting as it was to stay and discover the Vessel and Neutral Messages, we needed to leave, needed to move on. We were, after all, travelling – not seeking spiritual fulfilment (although I suppose many people would argue the former leads to the latter), which would certainly come another day when we were feeling less transient. Plus we needed to get to Accra, where we’d be greeting 23 fresh-faced EWB volunteers the next day.

We pulled away from Kpandu in the most beautiful tro-tro I’ve ever seen – working speedometer, uncracked windows, seat-belted driver, 3 people per row in a vehicle designed for 3 people per row – and I was reminded again that my generalizations about anything Ghanaian (be it tro-tros, the food, outgoingness, etc.) are just that: generalizations. They’re intended to help me, in all my limited capacities, navigate this strange and foreign cultural terrain, just as I’d been navigating its physical terrain the past few days. But I need to remember that my observations are not rules – the only rule being that exceptions are bound to appear, and that your heart and mind should be ready for this. I hope that, when I leave Ghana, I’ll have kept this rule paramount in my mind, and that I’ll have spent my time here being amazed at the diversity of experiences (both positive and frustrating, although perhaps the line between the two is blurred?) that are open to those who seek them out.

We were finally driving into our destination, but the only thing I could think of was what lay beyond.


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Doctor Fish said...

We better beat the US today!! GO GHANA GO!!!!

Doctor Fish said...

We did it Luke, we won! BRING on Brazil!

Laura said...

wow, luke! great story!! any plans for a book in the works?
i'm glad you're having such an eye-opening time.

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