Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ghana 2017 - Day 8. A day at the beach

We are staying at the Axim Beach Resort, a delightful cluster of bungalows sitting on a small bluff overlooking the Atlantic. I woke early and donned my swimming shorts, and thus scantily attired went down to meet four of our early-riser students down at the beach. To the right of us the waves were breaking loudly against a rocky outcrop of metasedimentary rocks, whereas to the left a mile of sandy beach got lost into the horizon. I started wandering, crossed a couple of streams, and eventually came to the mouth of a river that in my imagination would have been most alluring to Fernão Gomes and his crew, who in 1469-1472 explored reached modern Ghana and settled in A Mina (the mine), later renamed Elmina. They had finally reached a country with an abundance of gold, hence the historical name of "Gold Coast" that Elmina would eventually receive.

The hotel grounds themselves are very beautiful, and imagine my surprise when I saw in them several walking trees, of the type I had only seen in the Amazonian jungle. This peculiar tree does not have a trunk that extends into the ground. Instead they are supported by a tepee-like scaffolding of roots that rise maybe a meter out of the ground before meeting the uplifted trunk. When the tree gets overshadowed by another tree, the roots on one side rot and break, whereas the ones on the other side grow longer, effectively allowing the tree to shimmy sideways to look for more sun.

Speaking of trees, I have been on the lookout for baobab trees, which grow incredibly fat and support but a small canopy well above the other trees. I have seen a couple of giants that in my imagination could be young baobabs, but I am still unsure.

After our delightful interlude at the beach we got back on the bus for the 6 hours ride back to the university. We were not looking forward to the long ride, but I entertained myself by looking in detail at the towns we passed by. For example, at regular intervals I saw small carpenter shops displaying coffins for sale, beautifully adorned with mirrors, brass fittings, or windows.  It is also interesting that each town has a tiny mosque (not more than one room with a minarete that is barely 3 or 4 meters tall). Ghanaians are largely Protestant Christians (80%), with minorities of Catholics, Muslims, and Traditionalists. The revival spirit is strong, so many businesses prominently display quotes from the Scriptures, and there seems to be revival and healing meetings happening all over the place and at all possible dates. Business names that made me smile included the Be Humble to the Lord barbershop, which in the sign included three men bowed in prayer with perfectly trimmed heads, or the In Him is Lite general goods store.

Most businesses have mundane names such as Tina’s Hair Salon, but now and then you come up with a jewel such as the Pearls of Wisdom academy, the Been There hardware store, or my personal favorite The Last Stop clinic. I wonder, is it the Last Stop because you are sure to be healed, or because from here you will be certain to go to a better life?

I have become an expert at shopping from the window of the bus. At any point where the bus has to slow down, such as at a busy intersection or a toll bridge, swarms of women cluster at the sides of the bus, offering goodies from huge pails balanced on their heads (have I already mentioned that women here have a superb sense of equilibrium and poise, and like carrying heavy burdens precariously balanced on top of their heads?). The trick is to have 1, 2, or 3 cedis in your hand, and on conducting the transaction in the bare few seconds before the bus speeds up. So far I have bought fried plantains, grilled shrimp, and sugar cane, but I was too slow to get a grilled squid L

There are all sorts of fruit being sold on the sides of the road, including big mountains of oranges, coconuts, mangos, and watermelons. An old man tending to the sale of his watermelons advertised his wares by sitting stoically in his stool, balancing a watermelon on top of his head. Speaking of old men, in this society we get all types of perks, such as being the first to be offered food, and having the right to pick the best morsels. Nice!

We finally made it back to the university, tired from the long bus ride, but very thankful to Auntie for having arranged such a treat for us. I have already said that the whole nation seems to be imbued with revival Christian fervor, and the university students are no exception. To judge from the signs all around campus religious clubs seem to be the most popular type of organization. Taking further consideration that today is Friday, I should not have been surprised by the number of students chanting in religious rapture, but when I came to a group that was speaking in tongues and wriggling on the floor, I thought it was time to cross the street and hurry back home.

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