From Lawra to Bolga

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The side entrance to the Palace of the Chief of Wa.

From Lawra I travel to Bolgatonga with the Mission Society friends I had planned on visiting, Dave & Ellen Bartlett, known as the Bolga Bartletts. They came to Wa on the Metro Mass, a fleet of dingy orange buses that go where no other bus dares to go. If their fleet of rattletrap buses have seen better days, it has been a long time since any of those buses have seem them. Dave and Ellen spent 11 hours on one getting to Wa for a two hour meeting. Sue K and I were at the hotel when they arrived, shell shocked, and suffering PTBD, Post Traumatic Bus Disorder.
Since the meeting was starting at 7pm, Dave and I decided to do everything in that the Bradt Travel Guide to Ghana suggested for the city of Wa. Dave is a natural traveling companion, and we worked well together. I could get us into the place, and schmooze the guide, or whoever was standing between us and what we wanted to see, and then Dave would take over and distract him so it was open season on picture taking with a no bag limit. 500 pictures, No-Wa(y)?

The Sudanese Architecture Tour

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Based on the ancient Sudanese architecture, and built between the 14th century and late 1800s, most of what we saw felt very old and somewhat restored, like an old car that looks great on the outside, but when the nostalgia wears off, you miss the modern conveniences.

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Inside the palace of the Chief of Wa

First up was the palace of the Wa Naa, or chief of Wa. Until last year this palace had been closed (with military guard) due to a dispute in the line of succession. Visitors were discouraged, and picture taking illegal. Today, the palace is open but navigating a way in, well…

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The roofline of the front of the palace.

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Later, Dave examines the roof we were just standing on.  Its about a foot thick.

Dave and I find the palace next to OA Bus station. OA is the premium bus line in Ghana. OA is totally worth paying nearly twice the price, for half the suffering; they only go where the roads are well paved. Finding the palace is different than finding a way into the palace. Dave and I sit for nearly 20 minutes spying on to coming and goings of the palace entrance (like two old white guys didn’t stick out). It seems like we could just walk up to main entrance, but the military outpost across the courtyard must be there for a reason we think. There is an old man, a 30ish guy old, and four or five young boys hanging out under the car port awning with us, our observation post.

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Next to where we wait, two goats stand on the grave of a former chief.

We ask the old man and he motions across the parking lot to the guys wearing the AK47s. Dave and I walk across the courtyard and approach the least senior looking officer, and are shuffled up the chain of command. At the top, the BigMan asks our mission and then sends us back across the courtyard to the same guys who had just sent us over here. We again speak to the old man, who motions for us to speak the next youngest, who turns out to be the grandson of the chief. He would be delighted to show us around. His name is Gaddafi.

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Palace overlooks the Grand Mosque of Wa

Gaddafi shuffles us around the palace, including a roof top tour that he was trying to avoid. He walks with some difficulty; one leg being much shorter than the other, so climbing to the roof on under less than ADA certified steps must have been difficult. But I had asked, and he seemed eager to please. We have an entourage, Gaddafi and the small boys, who were just hanging out and now listen to the tour.
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Rooftop Tour

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Inside the Palace Courtyard

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Guest rooms #6 & #7 are being remodeled.  I find it interesting that the rooms are numbered.

I guess I expect the inside of the Palace to be a lot more Palace-like, but instead it is like many of the other traditional dwellings I have seen here, run down and in various states of disrepair.

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Palace Imam.

Traditionally the gift for the chief would have been Kola nuts, Gaddafi says, but these days Cedis is are also acceptable, so we pay cash.
Cost: $3 for the chief, $1.5 for the Imam.

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From the British Archives, taken near Lawra in the 1880s.

This mud and stick Sudanese architecture came to northern Ghana in the 12th or 13th century from the human migration that came from the Lake Chad area.
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From the palace we walk to the remains of 14 century mud mosque, and along the way pick up some Kola nuts for currency, but the old Imam of this mosque prefers cedis.

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The inside of this Mosque is very small, and I have a hard time believing that anyone but the Imam would come here to pray.  I’ve been inside mosques all over the world, and their inside look nothing like this one.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this.

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This is the largest room.

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This small boy, with big shoes is touching both inside walls.

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Cost, a gift for the Imam: $3

From the ruins we move to the similar but still very active mosque in Nokore, via a 20 minute taxi ride.  We have gone from seeing the ruined and rapidly deteriorating unnamed mosque to this magnificent structure:

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The Mosque of Nakore is still in use today.

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Our guide: Tehiru

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Dave says to me: “You are invited!”

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Light in a can for prayers after dark.

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These stairs lead to the roof and were quite challenging.

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We’re all barefoot (as a sign of respect) and standing along the edges because the roof is very hot.

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Sleeping boys.  Inside the mosque is nice and cool.

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Our guide tells us the five triangles are a reminder for Muslims to pray five times, daily.

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Man praying outside the mosque.

Cost for the tour: $10

The Metro Mass to Bolga

That night, the Bartletts and Sue K go to their two hour meeting, and 4am the next morning we’re off to the Metro Mass Bus station. Instead of the 11 hour “direct,” we choose to try the Metro Mass via Tamale (TOM-a-lee), over the new hard road, meaning paved. The Metro Mass, in which mass is pronounced with a long a, like the Spanish word for more, mas, extends about eight fast past the rear wheels, and that happens to be where our assigned seats are…at the back of the bus.
Ghana adds speed bumps to its paved highways, called rumps as they approach a village to theoretically slow vehicles down, except our driver doesn’t slow down like the speed bump try to encourage and hitting it, we, in the last row of seats, are launched to greet the ceiling. Ouch.
After six hours of a ride thrill seekers would pay good money for at Six Flags, we pull into the Tamale. A taxi away, and we’re at the TroTro station waiting for one to head to Bolga. Tros are supposed to be a lower form of transport, but after those last six hours of adventure, I’m ready for anything, anything, else. For me its Metro NO-MAS, thank you very much.

Closing Thoughts

I think about the mosques and palace I have gone inside, how amazing they look on the outside, and how small, or run down they are on the inside.  While it would be tempting to think they are just like the religion practiced inside them, I will not be the one to throw the first metaphor.  I am thankful to have been inside them, had a chance to pray from within them, and for them who follow their path from inside them.
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