Sunday, 22 May 2011

Not Black Not White

21 May 2010
In the country of black people, a person like me, who does not belong to that race, is an attraction. I am some body to be curious about. Leaving the country for the first time and being in the land of people who look entirely different from the race in which I am born, it was very difficult to digest the idea of being an object of curiosity in the initial days. When I arrived here in Bongo, small kids, men and women used to come near to the house trying to have a peek and see how I looked. Majority of the local people have seen white people in their lives. It is not a novelty for them but when some person comes and lives in the town of the size of Bongo, it surely is a big attraction.
Initially I was always irritated being called as a White Man. When they say, Solemiya, the Gurune equivalent, for the term White Man, it does not sound strange, as it always sounds as if they are calling me a foreigner or non-native. I resent being called as White Man. I am proud that I am an Indian and in India, we call white skinned people of European race, as whites. I always want to tell people loudly that I am not one of them, I am an Indian. I don’t hate Whites but it is out of my pride being an Indian. Eventually I learned seeing Indian and the Indians in the global perspective and I am no longer too proud about my nationality but I will still like if they call me an Indian rather than white.
Here in this Northern part of Ghana, there are not many Indians around and not many people have seen Indians. After seeing me, many times I realize that people know that I don’t belong to European race and don’t belong to African race either. I always have fun with the people when they try to guess my nationality (or race).
Once in Bongo, near lorry station a group of youths was hanging around chatting and looking at people passing by. After looking at me, one of them started to call me, “Hey Chinese!”. I stopped and said to them, “I am not Chinese.” They looked puzzled. “Then you are Korean.” “No.” I said to them. It seemed that they wanted to poke fun at me, but with my answers, they got confused. Their guesses further included Japanese, Cuban and Lebanese. I think those were the only non-white non blacks, they had seen in their life. There are Japanese, Korean and Chinese companies doing their businesses in Ghana. Chinese can be seen these days commonly on the road construction sites, since many Chinese companies have got contracts for road construction. There is a huge Lebanese expat community in Ghana and majority of them run shops and trading businesses and have their existence in almost all the towns with substantial size and potential for businesses. Cuban doctors have found their way in the Ghana’s health systems and they can be found in smallest of the district places doing service in the government hospitals. The group of youths was very much surprised to hear that I was an Indian. We had a hand shake and I went away afterwards.
Cubans and Lebanese people look very similar to Indians since most of them have darker shades which are similar to Brown colour of average Indians. What I don’t understand is how people can call me Chinese. Chinese action movies full of martial arts are very much popular here. Once on the road one man came across and started making some hand movements in front of me. I laughed and told him that he is better at Kung Fu than me. We greeted each other and he went away. Twice I have been asked wwhether I know Karate and whether I could teach it to people. I think that they have this vague idea that I am not a European white and of course not a black African by race and I am coming somewhere from the East. Majority of the people here are very poor in Geography
Once I was passing on the road and I heard a loud call, “Hey Fulani”. Then I heard the call of other man, “Hey, India.” I turned back and looked at them. The two men were debating amongst themselves whether I was a Fulani or an Indian. They were laughing and told me about their guess game. I congratulated the person who won. I always appreciate Ghana for friendly and jovial people. However, being called as a Fulani in Ghana is not considered good. Fulani is a Sub Saharan nomadic tribe which is engaged in cattle herding. Farmers don’t like Fulanis passing through the village. They say that Fulanis with their huge herds of cattle strip the land of vegetation,. People are also suspicious about them for robberies and petty thefts. Fulanis are somewhat fair and with short stature. Except for their curly hairs, they look very much like Indians.
Once in Bongo, I was buying some food at a stall with my friend Joshua. An adolescent school girl and her mother were talking with each other in Gurune and then they suddenly started laughing. I heard the word Solemiya, being used in their conversation a number of times. I asked the girl what they were talking about me. I was sure she could speak English seeing her school uniform. She just kept giggling and did not say anything. Afterwards Joshua translated their conversation to me. The mother was telling her daughter that since my skin colour was very much like her daughters, she should think of proposing marriage to me. The girl was very much fair coloured which was almost like the skin colour of the average Indians. I told her laughing that first she should complete her education properly and then I would help her find a good husband for her since she was too young to marry me and I did not want a second wife. With the black African race, we in India, tend to think that they are very black in colour but there are many shades in their colour.
It has been really very much interesting to know how people try to stereotype the nationalities by the skin colour and how misleading that can be in this world coming closer day by day.

Story of Big 10

1-20 May 2010
Yesterday, I went to Bolgatanga to meet some friends. I had some spare time and so went to an internet café after finishing all of my work. I frequent this internet café a lot. The owner of the café knows me. A solemiya (white man) in the land of Black people, where there are not many non-black people, cannot go unnoticed for long. The reasons for which I frequent that internet café are: 1. it is handled professionally. 2. It is air conditioned. 3. People who are managing it do not have a habit of overcharging to the strangers (They call the non-natives who are not living in the area for long time as strangers.) 4. It has relatively high speed connectivity.
Most of the people call the owner of the place as Big 10 or Biggy. It is the same name as that of the internet café. I don’t know his real name yet. When I first met him, I could guess that his accent was not Ghanaian,. One day, while sitting in the café, I heard some conversations between the people and came to know that he is from Nigeria.
So yesterday, when I reached the café, the attendant told me, “Boss! Lights went off, just 3 minutes ago.” I was disappointed but I liked the way the boy who managers said it. “Boss!” that’s an expression used in Mumbai lingo and something to feel at home about. Then the way he said it “3 minutes ago”, that’s something very precise to say, very rare in this part of the world. The boy offered me a chair to sit, since I decided to wait for some time and see if lights come back again in short time. I was sitting outside in the yard in the cool air and did not know how to kill time. I played some games on the mobile phone, but since lights had gone off, it was not a wise thing to do, since these games consume a lot of power in the battery. I stopped. An insane person came near me and started to talk with me. That was not a good way to kill the time, but somehow, he went away himself without bothering me a lot.
Then Big 10 arrived on the scene. He never talks like average Ghanaians. He says directly, whatever he wants to say and that is period for him. He is not a great conversationalist. After usual greetings, I thought he would engage himself in something, but since lights were out, he had nothing to do and he took a chair and sat beside me. I started talking with him. I had to do it, because just sitting there with empty mind amongst the people was not possible for me since I am not a Yogi. I asked him straightforwardly, “I heard that you are from Nigeria. What brought you here in this northern corner of Ghana?” He started to tell me his story.
I wanted to earn big money and make my old man proud of me. I had planned to go to Italy. We were in a group, all who had set off from Nigeria. We first went to Togo and then entered Burkina Faso and went further to Mali. There was some train which went from Mali to Senegal. In Senegal, there were many routes to go further to either, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia or Morocco. We had decided to go to Tunisia and then further we were to be taken to Italy. But on the Algerian border, they checked us. Many of us did not have right papers and we were just not allowed to go further. I did not want to return home like many people from the group had decided. We spent some time in Bamako, the capital of Mali on deciding what to do further. I could not come to any conclusion. My cash was getting depleted day by day. With nothing to do, I just went back to Lomé, Togo with the group. They went further home to Nigeria.”
I was determined not to go back home till I got big money. I came to Accra and started to do barbering. After working there for an year, I could not earn much and was frustrated. That is when I met a man from Bolgatanga, who offered me to give a place for setting up a shop. That was year 1996, when I came to Bolgatanga. Mine was the first barber shop in Bolgatanga, which used electrical razor machine. It was an attraction. Then my shop was at the same place as it is located now. The people visiting the office of the Member of Parliament upstairs started to come to the shop and they kept on coming back. Apart from barbering, I tried to do lots of other small petty businesses in the free time. I had understood the importance of Information Technology and the way it was going to change the world. I tried to learn computers and bought one computer and started first internet café in Bolgatanga. Initially, I though not many people would come to the café but there was constant flow of customers, so I bought some more computers and then renovated the place and got it air conditioned. It is doing well these days in spite of the competition from other internet cafés in the town.”
He was speaking in his way in small sentences and non-continuously. I was asking him questions and he was answering them. I further asked him about his family. “Now these days I go home and visit my father once in a year. I have a family here. I have two children. I was not getting well with my first woman. I have one son from my first woman and other from my current woman.” “Do you want to go back to Nigeria or do you want to settle here in Ghana?” I asked him. “You know, we have a belief that you always have to be near your forefathers. So though my woman is from here, I shall take her back to Nigeria. She has to come back with me; she cannot remain back here. I shall marry her one day.”
Many people were passing by and greeting him while we were chatting. He stopped one orange seller and offered me an orange. While eating the orange, he said, “Do you have more questions. Ask them.” It was as if he wanted to talk more but could not do it without my questions.
Why have you named your shop Big 10” I asked him. I always get intrigued by this name. It is an exception to all the Ghanaian shop names I have ever seen. Most of the names of the Ghanaian shops are funny and always have something to do with God. (e.g. Allah The Merciful Fashion Shop Or, Who Can Say No When God Says Yes Electrical Shop.) “You know that in Nigeria, we always think of becoming big. If you are poor, you are nobody in Nigeria. So I have always thought Big and I always wanted to be number one in whatever I have been doing. So I thought of naming it Big 1 but then thought that addition of a zero to one makes its value 10 times bigger. That’s how it became Big 10.”
He was in full mood for talking. The lights had not returned yet. I had started thinking about what more questions I could ask him, but one of my friends called me as we had decided to meet in Bolgatanga and it was time to go. I had to take his leave and go off. I think that I shall never forget this story.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Ghana Wildlife Tour V- Sacred Grove and the Journey Back

30 March 2011
We decided that it was going to be the last day of our tour. We had been on the move for more than 8 days. We had not really decided whether we shall head back to our respective bases or spend one more day in Techiman. It all depended on the time which we had with us to spend to reach Techiman. Our flexibility was the advantage in this tour, as we moved from one place to the other with our backpacks in public transport. My bag was getting torn and the opening was becoming bigger and bigger every day. I took that as an omen to stop the tour and go back to Bongo. Also there were restrictions of the budget and pressure to start on work again, since my day to go back to India was coming near as the time passed.
We started early in the morning from Boabeng, when we were told that we would be able to get a tro tro to Nkoranza. We waited at the main bus stop for some time when the vehicle from the monkey sanctuary came to that place. The kind driver gave us a lift to one other bigger town nearby from where there was more possibility of getting some shared means to Nkoranza. We got a one immediately after reaching that place and the taxi driver continued all the way to Techiman. We had saved on time and we had some time in hand before heading back to our base destinations in the afternoon.
The likely tourist spot which we had identified for the morning, if we saved on time, was Tano Sacred Grove. It is situated just 9 km north of Techiman on the main highway to Tamale. When we reached there and asked about the visitor centre, we we were told to sit in a hut for some time till the guide arrived. We were not sure how much time it would take and whether that guide would arrive there in the first place. We flipped through the visitor book to find out that we were some very rare Indians to visit to this site. We found only one Indian whose name was entered in 2009. It is such a shame since there is huge Indian expat population in Ghana and they can be found in majority of the big cities here including Techiman.
The guide arrived at last and we started our walk towards the sacred grove. The sacred grove is a forest protected by local communities. It is believed to be an abode for the spirits of the ancestors. Like Boabeng Fiema, it also protects very old huge trees and good wildlife. After entering into the forest, we came across huge colonies of bats. The guide made some sounds and suddenly bats started to fly around. I also got hit by some bat shit. They were every where in the sky. Then he took us to a cave which is very sacred sight of worship for local Bono people. The Tano River which flows through the sacred grove is considered holy and only traditional priests are allowed to go their.
Bat Colony
The legend goes that people from so called Akan ethnic group came from the north and settled first in the area near Tano river and started farming around. As the population grew there were waves of migration southwards from Tanoboase village. First group settled near the coast and became known as Fante. The next group went towards south east and became known as Achims. The third group settled in the neighbouring forests to the south and became known as Asante. The people who remained in the region are known as Brong or Bono people. All these tribes form the ethnic group called Akan and they speak different dialects of the common language called Twi. Though they share common ancestry, there have been wars in different tribes of Akans over the control of the territory.
The sight of the current sacred grove came into existence after the successful defeat of Asante who had attacked Bono territory of Tanoboase. At the centre of the grove is high ground with huge but beautiful granite rocks. Local Bono king took the shelter in this hillocks and caves in the rocks and used the base to protect and eventually defeat Asante attackers. After their successful victory, the area around Tano River was declared as a community protected area. It is spread over 2000 ha. There is a protection committee which patrols the area for encroachers and hunters. There is a huge diversity of plants with some having important uses in the traditional herbal medicine. Only traditional healers are allowed to take these medicinal herbs from the forests.
In the rock formation, there is a beautiful sight where they hold rock climbing competition and in the old times it was used for winning wives, where the winner would be married to some selected girls. After seeing those granite rocks we were bit scared about how could we climb them, but it seemed very easy once we started on it because it was possible to have a proper grip while climbing or descending these rocks. There are a number of caves in the rocks. One cave in the upper part of the hillock was used as a prison. One cave in the lower part has been used as a shrine and it is also a sight for determining the time of start of rainfall. There is a spot in the cave where water is supposed to come out of the ground just before the rainy season. We saw an earthen pot with its bottom cut out, placed at that spot. The belief goes that if that pot gets filled with water and overflows with the water coming from the ground then there would be rainfall. We found that the pot was dry as the wet season was nowhere nearby.
Tano Rocks
We were informed about possible village tour but we had declined the offer since we did not have much of time and we did not find appealing since we have been living in the village. While returning from the grove we could get peek of a local industry however. It is mostly run by women. They were making Gari. It is made from cassava. Cassava was first cut into small pieces and by putting through a press, water is removed from it. Then these pieces being were roasted on an iron sheet and finally ground in coarse granular form. Cassava tubers after harvesting can not be kept for long, but we were told that Gari can be stored in dry conditions even for 20 years.
After finishing tour we hurriedly settled our expenses and rushed back to Techiman. It was 12:15 in the afternoon when I got down at the Tamale station. The tro tro for Tamale had already left and the hole in my bag had widened. That was the sign that I had to rush back without spending much time here and there. I found the shared taxis to Kintampo. After an hour I was in Kintampo. I was not sure where and when was I going to reach, since I was not able to do any forecasting about time. Fortunately I had places to stay in Tamale and Bolgatanga if I would have reached these places very late in the evening. I got the ticket for tro tro to Tamale and waited there for about half an hour and started for Tamale. With all rushing here and there in the morning and walking in the forest, I was tired. The seat in the tro tro was not comfortable and my back had started paining. I wished desperately for the end of the journey. But after Tamale there was still three hours journey to Bolgatanga. I safely arrived in Bolgatanga but with a widened hole on my bag at around 8:45 pm. I thought I would have to stay somewhere in Bolgatanga that day but just thought of checking at the Bongo taxi station.
I found one taxi parked there but the taxi driver was not around. There was a group of 10 people with their luggage already waiting for the taxi. After a while taxi driver came back. Abdul, the taxi driver knew me and gave me a seat. But the group started to argue with the taxi driver since they had been there waiting for the taxi before I arrived at the scene. Abdul requested me, “Doctor, can you adjust these people in the taxi.” Yes, sometimes I am called as Doctor, since they think that I look like those Cuban doctors in the government hospitals. I said yes, because I was not going to charter it anyway. Thus Abdul skillfully adjusted 10 people in that small Peugeot taxi. Two people in the front seat at the side of the driver, 4 adults and 1 child in the back seat and 4 people in the back carrier. Their luggage was tied on the top. Then started my journey for the last leg of 15 km of dirt road to Bongo.
After arriving in Bongo safely, I called Rahul to ask his whereabouts. He is theoretically near to his place from Techiman than me but his tro tro had got broken down in Kumasi and he had to return to Kumasi so when I reached my house he had not even reached halfway. I was lucky. I had reached back safely with a torn bag through 4 tro tro hops in 9 hours.

Ghana Wildlife Tour IV- Sacred Monkeys

28- 30 March 2011
We had not given proper thought to the next leg of the journey. We were sure about spending some more days touring but were not sure about where to go after seeing hippos and elephants. The guide book came handy about planning our tour further. We zeroed in on Techiman, since it was the town with access to some forest based ecotourism ventures and also connected to the northern as well as southern part of Ghana by public transport system. It was convenient for Rahul to go to his place in the south as well as me to start my journey northwards to Bongo.
We started for Buipe, a town on the bank of White Volta and infamous for getting flooded every year. This is the place where our fellow VSO friend Cush lived. We enjoyed her hospitality and were fed with local Ghanaian cuisine by her. We also got an opportunity to see her workplace where they produce sachet water and process Shea butter in highly mechanized plant. Next day we headed to Kintampo very early in the morning.
Kintampo is a major town after Tamale and an important transportation hub. The major attraction at Kintampo is the waterfalls. There are two waterfalls there, of which we visited the one near to the town and also considered as major. They have created a picnic place near waterfalls. It is a system of three waterfalls where a small river falls off the cliffs at three places, which are very near to each other. The first waterfall had height of approximately 3 meters but it had an interesting features. The water had created a hole in the rock cliff and the water was falling off the cliff and then it was getting disappeared in rock crevices, before re-emerging after about 20 meters. The so called second waterfall was nothing but water falling from some small rocky surface and I did not understand why was that called a waterfall. The third waterfall was the biggest. The water was falling off the granite rocks having an interesting layered structure which I had never seen before near any waterfall. Generally at the waterfalls due to force of water falling down, rock surfaces tend to be very much smoothed. I enjoyed bathing under the waterfall.
Kintampo Waterfalls
After Kintampo waterfalls, our next goal was to reach Boabeng Fiema, the place famous for sacred Monkeys. We got to know from the book that one has to go there via Techiman and a town called Nkoranza. We found that there were direct trotros to Nkoranza available from Kintampo and we were lucky to get a one immediately after we reached Kintampo. The road to Nkoranza was a completely dirt road and passed through gently sloping hills covered with lush green vegetation. We were passing through forests and farmlands. I realized that Kintampo is a town that lies on the boundary of Ghana's North and South. The flat dry brown savannah plains in the north of Kintampo had given way to gently rolling forested hills of the south. And So had the culture and language. Dominance of Islam had given way to Christianity and northern languages had given way to Twi, the language of Akan ethnic groups from the south. Interestingly we learned from the guide book, that Kintampo is also the site for geographical centre for British colonial Gold coast, known today as Ghana.
While keeping ourselves busy changing trotros and to move as fast as possible, we had not taken any proper lunch and we had to keep our hunger out by eating Bofroot and boiled eggs sold by women on the streets. We arrived at Boabeng village at last and the driver of our shared taxi guided us to a spot and rushed further to Fiema where these taxis end their journey. We were introduced to a guide who claimed to be an official guide but then he asked if we would like to visit the office to which we answered “yes.” He took us in the forest and we came across large groups of monkeys, which were really beautiful. He called an official guide from the office, showed us a way to follow and went away. The forest had plenty of huge trees and it was very easy to get lost if we had gone on some trails which were starting off the main road. To our relief, we came across an old man on a bicycle who introduced himself as the official guide and took us to the office. We were surprised to find really helpful desk clerk, clean accommodation and a beautiful campus with Mango and Magnolia trees. The accommodation was not expensive at all and we immediately decided to stay there instead of heading back to Nkoranza or Techiman for the night.
The walk in the forest took almost two hours. Our guide, Edmund, an old retired tro tro driver, was a thorough gentleman who gave us a very informative tour of the forest. The monkey sanctuary is a community effort to preserve the forests and wildlife in this area. The belief in this area is that the local Bono people who first settled there were turned into monkeys to protect themselves from the war and they are considered as ancestors of the people in that area. There are ancestor worship rituals and monkeys are considered sacred. They have also created a cemetery for the monkey which they find dead. The monkey fetish priests, after their death, have also been buried in the same cemetery. The monkeys and their forest habitat are protected by the communities of Boabeng and Fiema, and the area has been converted into a sight for ecotourism.
The brown Mona monkeys live in a big groups of 20 with one or two male patriarchs with their number of wives. They are considered as male monkeys and they are really aggressive and easily visit the surrounding villages and steal food from the kitchens. Since they are protected and worshipped nobody harms them. The other species, called Colobus monkeys, is beautifully coloured in black and white. These are shy and considered as female. The species is. These monkeys do not leave their wild habitat and do not like to go near the humans and could not be captured in cameras easily.
Mona Monkey

Apart of monkeys this small area of 4.5 square kilometres protects huge diversity of birds and plants. We could see some beautiful birds there. A sacred river passes through the forest but only fetish priests are allowed to visit that part of the river in the forests. We could here the running water from the river at some places. We came across a huge Ficus tree which had spread over a large area. There was also an interesting formation of woody Ficus climbers where they had entangled one large tree which eventually became dead and was rotten away leaving behind the Ficus tree cage. Many of the trees in the forests were 400 years old and had huge diameters ranging from 1-2 meters.

Inside the Ficus cage

After the tour, we checked a souvenir shop in the village where they were selling wood carvings and I could not resist buying two beautiful wooden masks. We strolled on the main road near visitor centre where we were staying. The main objective of stroll was to find cashew apples. I had seen many cashew trees while on the way to the village from Nkoranza. Then I had realized that I had not eaten them this year and I would be missing them badly. We found some really sweet cashew apples and mangoes directly off the trees. It pleased our taste buds as well as spirits. Afterwards the cook in the centre served us nourishing and delicious spaghetti with tomato sauce and more mangoes, but this time beautifully cut and arranged on a plate. It was already very dark and time to go to bed and have a nice sleep in comfortable bed.

Ghana Wildlife Tour III- Elephants of Mole

25- 27 March 2011
After hippos, it was the turn of elephants to give us a sighting, for which we were heading to Mole National Park. We took the Metro Mass bus going to Damongo and got down in the village of Larabanga. We saw the mosque, which is claimed to be the oldest in Ghana, just on the road. Last time when we had visited the village, we had paid 2 cedis each just to see the mosque. I started joking with Rahul and asked to give me 2 cedis since I showed him the mosque on the road. As we got down the bus, two guys came and greeted us and then started the haggling for taking us to Mole on their motorbikes. We tried to reduce the prices in vain. The guy who was taking me on his motorbike was riding very fast and seemed to have no proper control over his bike. I had to tell him a number of times to reduce the speed. At last we reached there safely and since we had escaped the Easter weekend rush, we got the accommodation in the dormitory.
Rahul was in touch with Osman, who works as a ranger guide in the park, and he has become friend with us during our last visit to Mole. He had told Rahul that the sightings of elephants were very common and the time for going to Mole was just right. We were very excited hearing about this from him. After reaching there, we met Bas and Jeanin, a VSO volunteer couple from the Netherlands. It was evening and the time for the animals to come to the water reservoir near Mole Motel where we were staying. There were many bush bucks, kobs (both are in the family of deer) and a variety of birds but no elephants near the reservoir. When Rahul went for the the observation deck, I could not resist the swimming pool and spent my time relaxing in the pool. These are some of the pleasures which are not easily accessible to me even in India.
Next morning, we met Osman at the information centre. Osman was very happy to see us and he kindly offered some porridge which he was drinking. We went for the morning safari with him and some other tourists. He took us on walk to the water reservoir and they were just standing there as if they were waiting for us, three giant elephants with their huge tusks. All the three were fully grown males. They wanted to get into the reservoir but stood still after they saw us. The other groups of the tourist were also brought at the same spot from different trails. They were being photographed from all the angles. From the way they kept standing there without reacting to the movements of the tourists, it seemed as if they were domesticated, but of course they were not. After a while they seemed to become eased and started moving their ears as if they were fans for the body. Each was standing by keeping its body in different direction and keeping close watch on the movements of the people around them. After some time they might have realized that there was no harm from the people who were watching them from the distance. They moved into the water and started wallowing in it. The lone crocodile on the bank of the reservoir ran away after seeing the elephants coming towards it. It would not have done so if it had seen us entering into the water. Poor humans!
We spent some more time walking around and came again to the opposite side of the reservoir when the elephants had came out of the water and their bodies were now looking black after becoming wet. They had started munching on the leaves which they were plucking from the huge branches they had cut from the trees. We returned back to the Mole Motel all satisfied with the sighting of the elephants. As against the last time, we did not see many bush bucks and deer. I was told by Osman that since it was dry season they had moved to other grazing areas where more grass was available. Seeing elephants in wild from such close distance was the most memorable part of this trip.
African Elephants in Wild
In the afternoon we went for the vehicle safari. This safari did not give us any sightings of the elephants but we could visit some far off wildlife trails and came across a violent fight between two bush buck males over the territory and sightings of some larger birds of prey. All in all, it was a good trip.
In the evening, Osman invited us for the dinner and he had cooked very tasty Jollof rice especially for us. I don't know when I shall be able to meet him again and don't know what to say about such hospitality and friendship at such unexpected places.
The day had finished and so was our trip to Mole. We started for Tamale in the next morning and it was Raj's house which gave us shelter and the hospitality for the day. It was the day for rest, laundry and make oneself prepared for the next leg of our journey.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Ghana Wildlife Tour II- Hippos of Wechiau

24- 25 April 2011
In the Upper West Region, we came across a new word for white man. After getting used to being called Obruni (Twi word used in the southern part of Ghana) and Solemiya (Gurune word used in the Upper East Region), it was the time for getting used to being called as Nasala. It is used in Wala and other languages in the Upper West region. We had to wait for almost three hours in Wa to get our tro tro for Wechiau getting filled with people and at last we started for Wechiau. Though Wechiau is a comparatively bigger town and a district place, it is very remote and one has to go on a dirt road for almost 40 km which took almost two hours to reach Wechiau. In contrast to the Upper East, we found that not many people could speak or understand English here and we had to ask the same questions to many number of people to get them answered.
Wechiau has an old mosque which is similar to the one seen in Larabanga. We could see it just on the road and not really see it from close as there was some cultural program happening near it and we were in a hurry to reach camp site as early as possible. After reaching visitor centre, we were introduced to the facilities of ecotourism developed in Wechiau by our guide Bom Rashid. It is a large region consisting of about 20 communities which are under Wechiau traditional area. The chief of Wechiau called Wechiau Na heads the ecotourism committee. The committee has protected the forests and wildlife in their area. There are guards for patrolling and trained guides to take the tourists around. The area is known as Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary. I think it is one of the finest examples of how a forest over a large area can be protected through community efforts. The income received through ecotourism activities is used for various community development activities. The venture has received support from Peace Corps and Calgary Zoo in Canada.
We opted for canoe safari for seeing hippos and a birding safari. After paying the fees, we were taken to the camp site, which is about 19 km from Wechiau and near the river bank. It was a costly affair, because we were just two of us and we had to charter a tro tro. The village at the camp site does not have any electricity supply or mobile connectivity. The village is not served by any public transport as well. Of course there are many such villages in Ghana but it was my first time going to such a location. It gives you a feeling of complete remoteness. It meant that the canoe rowers could not be informed in advance and we had to wait a long time till our guide located him. He then refused to take us on the Safari as he had complaints against the ecotourism committee for inadequate payments to him. The other canoe rowers had gone out somewhere and not available. Later somehow he agreed and we went for the canoe safari.
At last we could see them, the hippos. They were swimming in the river water. They keep wallowing in the river water throughout the day and become active during the evening when they start grazing and come on the ground during the night. There are around 20 hippos in Wechiau. First we saw their ears poking out of the water and then we waited there patiently, when we could see their movements. They were total four of them. We could not go near them, but maintained a distance of about 50 m from them. They are known to attack the people if they go near them. The interesting fact about them is they are completely vegetarian. Apart from seeing hippos, the beautiful scenery on the river was also enjoyable. The Black Volta River, in which we were canoeing, had greenery all across its banks. We could see some birds around. The blackish green water in the river was flowing slowly. On the other side of the river is Burkina Faso. It was funny feeling of getting in waters of another country to see hippos. At last I had crossed the border and entered in Burkina Faso in some way. People were fishing in the river and crossing the river in their canoes without any control. What a peaceful cross border life they are enjoying. I don't think if I can do that on any of the borders of India.
Hippo Yawning!
We returned to the camp site all hot, tired and sweating and it was most enjoyable to have bath with cool water in a bathroom with no roof. One has to buy one’s own food while going to Wechiau and there is no food service available. We had bought some bread and boiled eggs which we found on the street of Wa. It would have been really nice to take something which we could have cooked there since there were facilities available for cooking such as a coal stove and utensils. Apart from Rahul and me, there were two Dutch girls, with whom we talked and passed our time by eating the pineapple which they had brought and shared with us. After a while it was night and it was the time to go to sleep.
Bom, our guide, arranged the beds on the roof tops. With proper arrangement of beds and mosquito nets and blankets, we were all ready to sleep but I could not since I was seeing the open sky, clouds, stars and the rising moon. I had never felt so close to nature before. After midnight it became very cool and we had to get our blankets on. It was too cold for a summer night in this northern part of Ghana. Somewhere in the night, I climbed down the ladder of the roof to urinate. For the first time I have been here in Ghana, I shivered in the summer. Somewhere in the midnight Rahul heard some animals and woke me up saying that hippos have come near the camp site. I broke out laughing after hearing those sounds. They were goats making some funny sounds. I have heard them making those sounds many times before in Bongo. I could say then that I was more experienced than him in such matters.
It was morning and time to use the latrine. It was still somewhat dark and I could not see properly in the toilet room. After sitting on the toilet seat for some time, I sensed some insects walking on my legs and after some time I got bitten by them on the crotch. They were red ants. So I had now another experience of being more close to the nature. It was nothing serious and the pain receded after sometime. We ventured out for the birding safari. We did not have any food left but fortunately there was a shop in the village and we could find some biscuits. The Chinese biscuits had made their way in this remote corner of Ghana. I hate the sight of Chinese food items since I have read a number of stories about the adulteration and use of synthetic materials which they use in their food stuffs. But I should say that we did not go to the safari with hungry stomachs, because of their availability there at that shop.
We saw many birds, some of them were really beautiful but certainly could not be captured in the old clapped out camera of mine. The names of the birds were also not easy to remember. The most memorable part of the birding safari was having a dip in the black Volta. Feeling of swimming in the slowly moving water of the river and sight of the cool, green river bank was really surreal. Our guide Bom had told us about the presence of crocodiles, so there was a small piece of fear lingering in the mind. But that made the dip in the river more enjoyable and memorable as it gave a feeling of doing something adventurous.
Human life on the Black Volta

After that dip we started for returning to Wechiau and further to Wa. The Dutch girls had came all the way from Wa to the campsite in a hired taxi which had gone back. They had not done any arrangement for return to Wechiau. We had to wait for them to return from their canoe safari. After they returned we made them hurry up since we had to reach Wa in time and catch the bus going near Mole National Park. The girls did not take much time to get prepared and we were on our way to Wechiau. In Wechiau, we could eat some breakfast and as the tro tro become ready to move, we were also ready to move to Wa. We helped the Dutch girls by taking them to the bus station as they wanted to head back to Accra. They were in the profession of journalism, which makes it clear why they could get prepared in such a short period of time and why they could make a 9 hour crazy journey from Kumasi to Wechiau the day before and again heading back to Accra the next day by making a 14 hour journey. All for the two hour canoe trip to see hippos. We thought we were crazy to spend more time in moving from one place to another than actually spending the time at the locations. But here it turned out that we were just crazy small.

Ghana Wildlife Tour I- Jirapa

21 March -23 April 2011
It has been more than a month and I have not written anything on the blog. In spite of the fact that I did not write anything, life has been very interesting and enjoyable here. After touring around and seeing some more of Ghana, I thought that it was enough of the rest for the blog and I should start writing again.
This was my first time where I did not do complete planning for the travel in advance and kept it very lose. Surprisingly it was very good in spite of not having much of expectations about the travel. It was Easter and most of the volunteers had already travelled to various destinations. We, me and Rahul, decided to take a cooler approach and went to the locations when there was least possibility of finding the places crowded.
Our first destination was Jirapa in the Upper West Region and main objective of visiting that place was meeting Rose, Aaron, Noriko and Cath, who live there. They are all VSO volunteers and good friends. Since it was difficult to catch the early morning bus to Wa, the capital of the upper west region, I had to come to Bolgatanga a night in advance. My very kind friend Alice provided me shelter for that night and in spite of having malarial infection, cooked for us and we had a nice evening with film show on her projector, where we watched Da Vinci Code.
Next day even before the crack of the dawn at 4:00 am, I started for lorry station where I waited for 2 hours for the start of selling of tickets for the only one bus available from Bolgatanga to Wa. At last the famous orange coloured Metro Mass bus was parked in the lorry station and they started issuing the tickets. My plan of starting on the second day of easter had gone well and I ended up having to stand not for long in the queue and getting a seat in the first half of the bus. A catholic nun was sitting besides me and I found it funny that she was more impatient than me about bus not starting. The bus at last started at 7:00 am, when the driver realised that they did not have enough fuel and they headed for the filling station. The journey lasted for 8 hours on the dusty and bumpy un-tarred road that passed through forests and very small villages. It was tiring and boring. After reaching Wa, the sister sitting besides me helped me by finding one lady who was also going to the town near to Jirapa. The lady accompanied me during the 10 minutes walk from Metro Mass bus station to the central lorry station and also showed me the location of the trotros to Jirapa. I highly appreciate the kindness of the people here in Ghana and will always remember it.
After another monotonous journey for one and half hour, I reached Jirapa. Rose picked me up from the road on her motorbike and took me to her house. I met Rahul in her house, who had already arrived there in the morning. After taking nice lunch of Khichdi prepared by Rose and taking a refreshing bucket bath followed by rest, I was all ready for the next action. We had a pleasurable evening with chat and card games with Aaron and Noriko. Aaron is a volunteer from Australia and Noriko is his girlfriend. After a while it was time for Church. It was Easter and Rose, being a devout Christian wanted to go to church. I and Rahul also accompanied her to the church since it was an opportunity to see something new. I had never attended any big church service before and it was a special mass for the Easter night, so a great opportunity to experience some Christian and African culture.
When we reached, the service was already begun and it was full with people. Some of the nuns after seeing us made some space for us on the benches. The church service was all in the local Dagaare language. There were lots of songs and dancing. The music, which was played using the traditional instruments, xylophone being one of them, was really enchanting. Somewhere in between there was a small skit presented by school children about resurrection of Christ. The church priest baptized to some people and they were announced to have become Christians. Afterwards there was sprinkling of holy water. Rose told us that there would be some candle light march but since it started raining, they might had cancelled it. It was already past midnight and we were feeling sleepy by that time. It seemed that the function did not have an end. As the rainfall started to recede, we left the church.
Rose's house does not have water supply connection and she has to buy water. There was not much water left in the house. Aaron's house however has water supply connection and he kindly allowed us to go there and take bath. After some more early morning chatting over Japanese green tea, we left Jirapa for Wechiau. With some catching up of sleep and refreshed bodies as well as minds we were excited and very much looking forward for seeing Hippos in wild, which we had seen only in zoos and on television before.