Back to Kumasi

Standard

Recently I tweeted my love for the city of Kumasi, which is not only the heart of the Ashanti region in Ghana, but it is also the cultural hub of the entire country.Ā I love Kumasi because I love the bustling atmosphere that isn’t too frenzied. I love the fact that I can buy handmade beadsĀ and coconut and fruit anywhere on the sidewalks of the main streets. And I love the fact that there are sidewalks! I love the trees and the hills and the colourful colonial buildings. I even love the huge Kejetia tro-tro station and market, which once intimidated me, but now I think of it more as a playground for adventurous shoppers.

Despite the traffic, I was happy to be back in Kumasi

Despite the traffic, I was happy to be back in Kumasi

This weekend, since I’d decided I hadn’t spent enough time in the city on my first visit, I decided to head back. Looking through my guidebook and speaking withĀ other volunteers who had spent time in the area, I realized that there was more I wanted to see. So onĀ Saturday I got up early and took a tro-tro in from Bibiani. I arrived much too early in the day to visit a museum first-thing. To kill time and to re-acquaint myself with the city centre, I walked through the streets and the little markets as vendors set up for the day. Then I trekked over the Cultural Centre to visit the stores I’d missed last Sunday, when they were closed for church. The first customer of the day, I wandered through the craft stores, chatting with artisans and artists along the way. In the end, I bought a beautiful painting, as vibrant as the city in which it was purchased.

Inside the Kumasi Fort

Inside the Kumasi Fort

Continue reading

Culture Shock Is So Real

Standard

I’ve been hesitant to write this post because, well, admitting to struggles makes you vulnerable and I like to avoid that in public spaces like a blog. That said, I think it’s vitally important that we share our experiences so that others going through the same thing can read, relate, and not feel as unusual. I’ve been lucky enough to have access to blogs by people in my program at my university who have also completed their co-op placements in Ghana. Reading through their experiences as I experience similar things has been so helpful, reminding me that adaptation is a process and that this process is completely normal. So, to start things off, many thanks to Becky andĀ HeatherĀ (whose new blog you can find here)Ā for not being creeped out by the fact I’ve read every single one of your old blog posts from your time in Ghana.

When I stepped off the plane almost six weeks ago, I of course assumed I would experience culture shock to some degree. I’ve experienced it before for example when I was in Italy with my family, in Scotland on exchange in high school, and I would say even when I moved from my hometown in rural Ontario to Scarborough for university. But my time in Ghana so far has definitely been the strongest culture shock I’ve experienced. I expected that, but expecting something and being prepared for it are two very different things.

People ask me here all the time what the differences between Canada and Ghana are and I haven’t come up with a better answer than, “Pretty much everything.” When I first arrived, I felt so visually overstimulated. I remember looking out the window of the WUSC Ghana truck at Accra, mesmerized by all this new visual information. It took me almost a week to bring out my camera because I wanted to digest my environment with just my eyes before I began to document it through a lens. Continue reading

Snippets of World Cup 2014

Standard

Ghana is most definitely a soccer nation. Everyone plays from a young age and when they don’t have a soccer ball available they kick around anything that remotely resembles a sphere. Ghana’s love of the ‘beautiful game’ has become especially obvious to me over the past couple of weeks during the World Cup finals in Brazil. All televisions and radios are tuned into the games and the replays and the analyses of the games and the replays at all times. You can buy a World Cup soccer ball or a knock-off Black Star jersey pretty much anywhere in the cities. And the government has urged industry to conserve electricity on days when Ghana is playing so the lights don’t go out. Since the World Cup started, I’ve watched a game or two (or three…) almost every day so far and every time it’s a fun and exciting experience.

In the cities, most bars and restaurants show the World Cup matches projected onto walls and screens outside. In Bibiani, there are only a couple of places that do this and there is only one close to me. Biggie’s is a restaurant that serves local and continental food but, most importantly, they have a generator so even when there’s no power, everyone can still watch the soccer match. During this year’s World Cup, I’ve been there almost everyday, except for when I’m travelling, often drinking water or a Coke and yelling at the players and the referees like the rest of the audience.

Often, the commentators from a local radio station are there, too, shouting what’s happening in the game into their cellphones in Twi to be broadcasted all around. These commentators amaze me with all the statistics, dates, and facts about the players they have memorized, tidbits that they use to fill the time when the ball isn’t in play. During the Netherlands vs. Spain game, they interviewed me, which wasĀ hilarious to me since I am definitely not a soccer aficionado, nor was I the most die-hard fan in the crowd. But I must’ve said the right things since I’m now a fairly regular half-time contributor. Everyone listening in the district gets to hear my thoughts on the latest goals, fouls, and even the jersey designs. Strange and surreal to think about, but fun, too!

During the first game of the Ghana national team against the United States, there were almost a hundred people at Biggie’s cheering on the Black Stars. It was complete pandemonium from the beginning, especially after that very quick goal from the United States. When the Ghanaians finally responded late in the game, the roar of the crowd was intense. Fans not only jumped out of their chairs but also jumped around the whole restaurant patio. Some broke into song, some danced, and many praised God.

But this celebration was nothing compared to the ecstasy and intensity of the celebration afterĀ Ghana’s goals against Germany last weekend. I was in Kumasi with some friends at the timeĀ and we decided to go to the beautiful Golden Tulip hotel to watch the game. We hurriedly ate dinner at the (surprisingly mediocre) restaurant and raced over to the outdoor pavilion where the game was being projected onto a massive screen on the stage. We watched the entire game on our feet, yelling and cheering with at least three hundred Black Star fans. A camera crew from aĀ local television station was there and they seemed quite amused by theĀ obrunis getting so into the game. I’m sure there’s footage of us dancing and celebrating somewhere out there…

The game that night was brilliant and thrilling so the atmosphere of the crowd was electric. Each Ghanaian goal was met with a party and each near-miss (and there were many!) was met with fans dramatically throwing themselves on the ground in desperation. No one expected the team to play so well against the Germans but they played marvellously and neutralized their powerhouse opponents with much better playing than in their game against the United States. Though they tied, everyone here considers it a win, since the game seemed to be a sign of better things to come, perhaps a stepping stone for a win over Portugal in their last game of the group stages this evening. I’ll be at Biggie’s watching and cheering on my adopted team, with my Ghanaian flag draped around my shoulders.

Oh, hello there, Rainy Season

Standard

Last Sunday I learned the true meaning of the term ‘rainy season’. I just got off the tro-tro from Kumasi to Bibiani when fat raindrops began to fall from the sky. I knew it was coming because I’d seen the clouds become thicker and darker as we drove into the Western Region. When we stopped at one village to let someone off, it was both raining and sunny, resulting in a strong rainbow whose colours contrasted happily against the grey sky. I excitedly snapped a couple of photos, to much confusion from my seatmate on the tro-tro whose face seemed to say, “Um, haven’t you seen a rainbow before? Jeez”. Yes, of course I have, but this is the first I’ve seen in Ghana so I had to document the moment, okay?

Rainbow!

Rainbow!

By the time we arrived in Bibiani, the sun had been completely blotted out by the clouds and the wind had picked up significantly. The first raindrops fell just as I jumped out of the tro-tro and I raced to a shade tree to protect me from the rain at least a little bit while I furiously searched for my umbrella in my backpack. As the rainĀ fell harder and harder, I realized with a sinking feeling that this wasn’t aĀ single passing cloud likeĀ I’d hoped – this was a full-on, thunder-clapping, dramatic-lightning summer storm. And I had to walk home in it.

Continue reading

Snippets of Kumasi

Standard

Kumasi is a city filled with amazing things to see and do. It’s colourful and musical and it’s busy and bustling, though not quite was hectic as Accra.

Drums, cloth, and colour in Kumasi

Drums, cloth, and colour in Kumasi

There are plenty of opportunities to learn about the culture of the Ashanti kingdom, which is the most influential culture in Ghana. And everywhere in the city, you can see legacies of British colonialism, especially in the architecture.

Colourful, multi-storey buildings in central Kumasi

Colourful, multi-storey buildings in central Kumasi

There are old army barracks that are now houses and the Kumasi fort, which is now a military museum. Even the king’s palace is a colonial-era building. Many of the colonial buildings, especially in the heart of the city, are much taller than what you would find elsewhere in Ghana.

It’s amazing how much there is to do here, but we managed to see and experience a lot in just a few days. Here’s some of what IĀ did on my first weekend in Kumasi:

The Kumasi Central Market

On Friday afternoon, after meeting up with some friends from Accra, I headed into the urban jungle of the largest open-air market in West Africa.

The entrance of the market.

The entrance of the market.

Continue reading

St Peter’s Cathedral

Standard

Last Friday I accidentally visited a cathedral.Ā I spent this weekend in Kumasi – one of the largestĀ cities in Ghana, located in the Ashanti Region – with some friends, other volunteers with WUSC Ghana who live in Accra. Early in the morning, I took a tro-tro from Bibiani to Kumasi but I arrived much earlier than the others since my trip was several hours shorter. To kill time before they arrived, I planned to visit the palace while I waited.

The cathedral from the front

Clearly not the palace… But it was a fun little adventure discovering this cathedral

I had asked the tro-tro driver to where I should get off to get to the palace and, once we got to one of the tro-tro stations in Kumasi, he told me to follow him, that he would take me there. (Traveling in Ghana is often ridiculously easy since Ghanaian people are so helpful!) The driver jumped out of his tro-tro and proceeded to walk very quickly away from me, out of the station. Startled by the chaos of the station, I nonetheless raced after him, desperate to keep up as he navigated the busy streets and small alleyways with ease, dodging vendors and carts and so, so many people. Continue reading

A Little Love Letter

Standard

My beloved Birkenstocks,

I’d like to take this chance to apologize for neglecting you during my first few weeks in Ghana. I was naive in thinking I could live without you. Your absence only resulted in trouble afoot.

I strayed, I know, but the fetching style I got from the gold ballet flats was as unsatisfying as a year without food. You see, while others might seem perfect in their delicateness, it is merely a disguise for their weaknesses. They couldn’t stand the rocks, the mud, the long walks here and there. They were nothing like you. I had no choice but to give them the boot.

With feet butchered by sandals I’d bought in the markets, thick with blisters, I stumbled back to you, begging forgiveness. I know you were skeptical – how could you not be? – but I thank you for giving me this second chance. Your strong hug is a welcome memory of a time not-too-long-gone when you and I were inseparable. I hope we can rebuild this relationship, one step at a time.

You must know that I am sincere in my apologies and in my love. You are beautiful in your sturdiness and strength. You give me hope and support, two feet to stand on. How could I ever have settled for anything less?

Yours forevermore,

Katherine

Reunited & it feels so good

Reunited & it feels so good

(Pssst – I’m heading to Kumasi this weekend &Ā I’m staying at a place with WiFi so stay tuned for travel posts!)