Monthly Archives: November 2013

Kakum Canopy Walk & Cape Coast Castle

The Canopy Walk at Kakum National Park and Cape Coast’s Castle might be two of the most touristed sites in Ghana, but for good reason. A few weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to hop on a bus for  a daytrip out there with the British contingent of visitors to Adidome, you can bet I took it.

Kakum National Forest

West of Accra, past the heavy traffic, the coastal road passes palm trees dancing on beaches, then plunges into dense green. Thicker palm trees, stands of tall and tangled bamboo, and street vendors selling big yellowed cocoa pods and bottles of palm wine line the roads. When it rains, it really rains. Orangey mud sloshes down the edges of the streets in near-rivers, “like in Jurassic Park,” says one of the Brits. People walking alongside grab giant palm leaves to use as makeshift umbrellas. The ever-present goats huddle miserably under any shelter they can find. (Who knew goats hated rain?)


Then you reach Kakum National Park. The Rainforest. I hadn’t realized how accurate those zoo exhibits were. The trail is edged by thick, tangled greenery. The humming and chirping of bugs is loud in your ears. But the trail is rocky, slippery, and uphill. I kept wanting to slow down so I could take it all in. Given more time, I would have taken a slow amble through the trails. But this time there was a destination: the rope-bridges of the Canopy Walk.


We climbed up and up, until we were at the tops of the tall trees. Seven somewhat-rickety wooden, net-lined bridges span the gaps. The views are amazing. Mist and green as far across the gently rolling hills that the eye can see. It really feels like African forest. Tarzan kept coming up in conversation, because this was the sort of place you could picture him swinging on the vines. The rope-bridge adventure itself was a bit nerve-wracking, but very worth it.


Cape Coast Castle


I love castles and coastlines and history. But I found this white-washed, 400+ year old castle quite disturbing. This castle was one of the major slave trade ports of Western Africa. The last place on the continent that many Africans were held before being sent across the oceans into slavery. I was glad to visit, but found this experience of such a dark story in history quite dark indeed – in more ways than one.


The sun was beginning to set as we arrived. Though the sunset over the coast was beautiful, it took the light with it. I’ve never been a fan of closed-in places or places that there have been a lot of death, and that is, of course, exactly what Cape Coast Castle contains. The slave dungeons are awful, especially at dusk, and gave me a creeping feeling down my back. The church that sits above one dungeon is disturbing in a different way. And even the governor’s fancy home above it all, such a contrast to the living situations below, is creepy in the darkness.


The Door of No Return, that very last place the slaves would see, could have been the worst of it. But through the door, colourful fishing boats were beached for the night, and fishermen were mending their nets. And the opposite side of the door is now marked Door of Return, since the remains of two former slaves were brought through the door again about five years ago. Cape Coast Castle comes with a message: a clear ‘never again’, but also a somewhat out-of-place reminder of hope, and that things can change.


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Aha! Drinks in Ghana

I have a post on food, so it is high time for drinks. There are some interesting ones. And yes, aha means “drink” in Ewe.

No surprise, water is vital. The tap water isn’t drinkable, nor even always running. Most of the locals don’t use bottles though; they use bags: approximately hand-sized baggies of water. They’re mostly made and factory sealed by the same companies as the bottles, just cheaper and easier to find. You’ll see head porters everywhere selling it, often crying “PURE WATAH!”

I’ve been sticking to bottled water. I haven’t quite mastered the art of nipping the edge of the bag so it makes only a small hole, and doesn’t get all over you and into the dirt. Plus, I don’t trust carrying a stack of bags in my purse for the day like I do with my bottles. It’s make for a lot of water-bottle-case-buying, but it’s also helping out! Right? Since, you see, everyone reuses bottles to sell other things (I’ve seen juices, motor oil, tomato sauce…), someone always shows up to take away my empties.

Image“Tea” is super common. But the word seems to refer to anything you mix or steep into boiling water, and to which you usually add sugar and/or milk – which is tinned, evaporated milk (unless you happen to have gone to the big supermarket in Accra to get shelf-stable milk cartons imported from Europe. . . ahem). So that could be:

– Instant Coffee – AKA Nescafe (and there doesn’t seem to be any non-instant coffee – fine by me, I don’t drink any!)

– Milo – a choco-malty energy drink like Ovaltine with a boost

– Tea – Lipton’s or imitation Lipton’s is most common, but I’ve also found (bagged) Earl Grey and Rooibos (non drink-related, but I’ve also got some tasty South African imported rooibos, rooibos-honey, and rooibos-lemon yogurt right now – yum!)

The juices are delightful. The INVTC Catering class makes some great fresh pineapple and orange juice for quite cheap, and I’ve also had mango elsewhere. There’s also “sobolu”, a dark red, almost-berry-like drink with a surprise – ultra spicy ginger. Pineapple juice also sometimes gets the spicy ginger treatment. And then there’s that corn drink I haven’t been brave enough to try. It’s made from dried corn (“maize”), and looks like slightly yellow milk. Hm. Some day?

All the juices can be made into “ice cream”, which is basically frozen juice in a baggie. I really haven’t mastered nipping a hole in the bag to get ICE out. But I was great entertainment for everyone around when I tried and ended up with bright orange mango fingers. At least one woman recorded me with her cell phone while I made a big mess. So that’s out there.

There are also “minerals” (which I’d call pop). Coca-Cola is everywhere, plus its siblings Sprite, Fanta Orange, and Fanta Lemon. And the semi-fizzy Malta drinks are all over too. They are somewhat sweet and malty, with a reputedly higher nutritional content than the usual soft drinks. Someone described it as “non-alcoholic Guinness”, but I’m not sold on that description. They’re quite nice!

Speaking of Guinness, much of Accra seems to be sponsored by them with billboards, bar signs, and painted walls everywhere. Guinness Foreign Extra is served in pretty much every bar or spot. Then there’s the Ghanaian beers which all have names that seem like they should be shouted (or at least written in capitals): CLUB!, STAR!, STONE!, EAGLE!! The first three I’ve tried  – all quite similar pilsners, a la Steamwhistle – but Club is my favourite so far. I have yet to try Eagle, which is newer (the signs all say “Eagle has landed!” – heh), and it’s made of cassava, which sounds interesting.

Bitters seem to be hip by the number of signs advertising different types, but I haven’t seen what they’re used in. Schnapps is apparently the traditional gift for a local chief or for a traditional religious shrine. West of Accra, I tried some handmade palm wine off the side of the road (in a reused water bottle, of course). Quite tasty. Even tastier when mixed with Guinness, as recommended by a local. I also know a few people whose employment here in the Volta region was distilling sugar cane – perhaps like rum? – but I have yet to see any of that handmade liquor. Perhaps it’s time for another road trip. . .


A drink out of a BIG bottle of palm wine on a rainy rainforest day.

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Me Vebe Srom

“I’m learning Ewe.” Though I’m sure an Ewe-speaker would correct my spelling of the post’s title). I’m still working on my Ewe even though I’m in the capital of Accra this week where Twi is the main language, with Ga spoken in some areas too. One language per trip is already enough!

I’m learning by collecting words and phrases directly from people and anywhere else I can get them. I’ve created an Excel doc called “Jessica’s Ultimate Ewe-English Language Guide” that has over 300 entries now. I sometimes make it into pseudo-flashcards, by blacking out one column. So far, I’m doing pretty well with the language thing. But there’s still a long way to go.


Ewe Learning Story #1

You know that “DUDE”/”SWEET” tattoo scene in the movie Dude, Where’s My Car? (if not, YouTube is your friend) – well I had a similar moment.

One Woman: [unintelligible word]

Me: What does that mean? Nya ma se egomeo [I don’t understand]

Another Woman: Well done!

Me: Akpe [thanks] but what does [unintelligible] mean. Nya ma se egomeo.

Other Women: Well done!

Me: THANKS but what does [unintelligible] mean?

(And yep, it meant “well done”)


I read somewhere that Ewe is a tonal language – intimidating! But I’m not sure I would actually agree. Sure, for example, the words for 3 and river, and the words for 4 and coconut are the same but pronounced slightly differently. BUT I think that if written with all the proper Ewe letters/accents, you’d be able to see a difference. Does that still make it tonal? Hm. . .


Somewhat disturbing example of written Ewe, but I DO work in social services after all. This says “Domestic Violence is a Crime: STOP IT!” 

People seem to write Ewe two different ways: a) using only letters we have in English; or b) using all the extra Ewe letters. I’ve stumbled across at least 4 extra letters:

1) An “o” with a gap on the left – it makes kind of an “ohn” sound (but using English letters it seems to be just written as an “o”, which isn’t quite right)

2) A fancy “f” that looks like cursive writing or the forte symbol in music, and makes a “p” sound (using English letters it might be written as “f” or “p”, so you sometimes see the same word spelled differently)

3) A swirl, that looks like the top of a tornado (yep) or like the @ symbol without the “a” in it – pronounced a bit like a “w” (maybe…)

4) A vertical… er… fish. Like a Jesus fish, but without the final line closing the tail. This seems to make an “hl” sound.


Ewe Learning Story #2

I was practicing body part words with the Beading class, and they introduced one to me that I just could not pronounce. I think it’s written “a-swirl-swirl-a”. So I kept trying and trying, and pronouncing it terribly, and everyone was giggling (from my bad pronunciation, I thought). So finally I say: “Hey, what does this word even mean?” And like 4 women shout “Penis!”. Great.


Then there’s pronunciation. A “kp” in the middle of a word is the bane of my word-saying. Unfortunately, it’s in the middle of one of my most-said words, “thanks” (akpe). It’s kind of like “ack-buh”. Except not quite. That “p” sounds like a hard “b” mixed with a slight hint of “f” and almost a mouth pop. I read it described somewhere as explosive. Hm. Even more thrilling is ekpekpem, or “it’s heavy”. This one sounds like “eh-bug-bum” with double mouth pop action. Super tricky.

Being in an “English speaking country” in a place where most people aren’t fluent in English is somewhat strange. Odd that I, as a foreigner, can understand all the signs and government-workings and such, but the locals might not be able to! One boon for language learning though, is that for certain things, the Ewe-speakers mostly use the English. Things like numbers, days, and colours (which may not seem as useful, but keep in mind I work with beading, dyeing/fabric, and soap-making). It also makes market shopping and community meeting-planning, among other things, much simpler.

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