On Tuesday of spring break, Anna, Eric and I headed north to Kumasi, about a six hour drive for an Adventure. Kumasi is the ancient capital of the Ashanti Kingdom, and quite architecturally distinct from Accra. I understand is that before the Colonial Masters burned the city after failing to completely conquer the Ashanti, it was beautiful. They still call it the Garden City, though I feel that’s more historic than accurate (like New Jersey being the Garden State). Its huge and very urban. It has a different feel than Accra, more energy, more activity, and more traffic. Michael Mozley calls it the center of West Africa. It is a vibrant city, the people have a different look and interaction style, and English is not as widely spoken as it is in Accra.
We went to its market, reputed to be the largest in West Africa, and what a great experience. I had wanted to start back to Accra, it was 4pm and soon the streets would be choked with traffic, but Anna was insistent on visiting it. Throughout our trip when I was tired, or worn out and didn’t have the energy to push both of us in a particular direction for an Adventure, Anna would jump in and nudge us at a critical point, and off we would go. I know that when traveling, I find there is a settling inertia, a dampening field that seeks to become a body at rest. That given the choice between doing something unknown and interesting (and slightly dangerous) or going back to the hotel, many choose the latter. Suggestions for doing the unknown feel like clay pidgins, as if someone had shouted PULL! right before I made them, and down they come. But it was Anna who had done the research on Kumasi, and wanted to see certain things, and not others like museums.
So on the afternoon of our last day there, we went to the Market. It was huge, and highly organized in a disorganized way. Unlike Accra’s Mokala Market, which the Rawling’s government bulldozed in an unsuccessful attempt at price controls and then later rebuilt, Kumasi’s market felt still felt organic. The smell, the heat, the smiles, the amazing price of things. I remember from Fox’s Tour de Ghana, in 2006, how he had bought so much clothing for so little. I didn’t get the feeling of inflated prices because I was obrunie, people really just wanted to sell stuff, and so we bought lots of fabric, and walked around. At one point a lady handed me her baby, and I held this precious eight or nine month old. As a pastor I often got to hold babies, but since then I don’t think I’ve held one. It was nice to feel her weight, her smell, the heat babies give off, and to silently pray and ask God to bless her.
At one point I asked Anna if she knew where we were, and she gave me this fearful, “I have no idea” look. I gave her directions to the street where Eric had parked, and so off she went, trusting that they were accurate, and I followed. When we got back to the car, Eric gave us an exasperated, “Jesus!” which is what he says in thanks saved for being from a dangerous situation. I gather he had been praying for us the whole time we were gone.
Then after a bit more exploring, it was off to the Accra road, in search of a “Modern Guest House,” or so the sign said.
We arrived after dark, and in finding the Vernacular Travel Lodge, or rather finding the road to it, and then someone to let us in, I recalled a memory from when I was here 40 years ago. At Christmas break our family and another loaded up the Land Rovers and went on a month long trek up to the north. I don’t’ remember much about it, my sister Sheron recalls the fun she had dancing at midnight in Wa on New Year’s Eve. I remember the dust, and how we looked at the end of the day, dusty, with eyes poking out of encrusted faces. Conditions were much more primitive and harsh in those days.
Dad must have taken me with him when he got out of the Land Rover to look for the road. In the dark its easier to walk the road and direct a car, then pull it out of the ditch. Banging on the gate, and being shown a barely functional room, but nonetheless being grateful, was a share experience for me. I also realized that I’m the same age now my father was then. It feels so circular sometimes, like I’m drawn to reliving a past experience to remember it.
Anna was a good sport about the Spartan lodging I selected, mainly because of price. Inflation has really caused steep price increases in the cost of rooms. What the guide book, now four months old, said should cost $15, cost $30-40, and the rooms were functional at best. Basically bucket showers, and beds, but we slept well.
Over the next few days I’ll write about the rest of our trip as we toured Ashanti villages that specialized in Kente weaving, Adinkra cloth, and woodcarving.