I am back in Ghana after a long rejuvenating visit at home. This is our last year in Ghana and I hope to fill it with as many experiences as possible and to share them with you, so watch this space! Continue reading “Cuisine in Ghana”
I am told that British diplomats are taught to ask “How is the development in the north?” whenever there was an uncomfortable pause in a conversation at a cocktail party or official event. They are told that this works in almost every developing country as very often the north is less developed than the south.
After a few days in Arusha, we embarked on our safari. The first stop was Lake Manyara. This park was beautiful, resplendent with baboons, giraffes, impala, elephants, zebras and more. There were even vervet monkeys with bright blue bottoms.
We felt as if we were living an episode of National Geographic. We quickly realised that animals in the zoo are just a shadow of themselves. Out here they were bigger, their coats were healthier and the colours were nothing like we imagined. The animals moved with confidence; it was clear who was in charge.
Lake Manyara is a relatively small park and more like a testing ground for the safari. That said, we had our most exciting animal encounter on that day, a lioness with a cub who growled ferociously at us as we tried to get a better look at her in the bushes.
At the hotel that night, we were asked to sign a release basically stating that we would not blame the hotel if we were attacked by wild animals. Very reassuring. The hotels in these parks run on generators, some wind powered, some fuel powered. They therefore conserve energy by turning off the power between mid-night and 5 am and limiting the hot water availability to certain hours.
On our second day, we headed to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which encompasses the Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti and several places of interest including, the Olduvai Gorge where the earliest remains of man have been found and dated back to three million years; the Shifting Sands (remarkable crescent-shaped mounds of volcanic dust–technically known as barkan–from the Oldonyo Lengai, which collects around a stone, grows into a large mound, and then begins to move imperceptibly in a beautifully symmetrical shape, convex on the windward side, where the wind constantly pushes the fine grains of sand up the slope, and steeper and concave on the leeward side, where the sand topples over the rim); and many Maasai villages where we learned a little about this fascinating group of people.
That night we drove into the Serengeti National Park and topped off our day when we spotted a leopardess and cub just before we headed in for the night.
We spent the next two days wandering around the southeast section of the endless plains of the Serengeti National Park which covers almost 15,000 square kilometers. The word Serengeti is an anglocised version of the Maasai name for this area, Siringitu – “the place where the land moves on forever”.
I developed a love for the quiet giraffe who seemed to observe us with as much interest as we observed them. The baboons did not endear themselves to us, especially when one of them jumped on the back of the jeep and screamed at us. Well, I screamed right back at him and he jumped off and ran. Don’t mess with mothers! Other highlights of our time on the Serengeti included hippos and finally, the tree-sleeping lions, almost close enough to touch.
Tanzania had even more to offer and so we dragged ourselves away from the Serengeti and headed for the Ngorongoro Crater. This crater was formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago. It is 2,000 ft deep and the floor of the crater is about 100 square miles. We drove down into the crater and spent five hours searching for a cheetah. We saw rhinos, beautiful and unusual birds, ostriches, hyenas stalking zebras, a cerval cat, warthogs, wildebeests, buffalo, and more of the usual suspects such as giraffes, elephants and so on. We got so close to a lion we had to restrain the urge to reach out and touch its mane. A few minutes before our time in the crater was up, we were rewarded for our patience as we spotted a cheetah.
We headed back to Arusha that night, but we still had to visit one more of Tanzania’s highlights, Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa and the second tallest in the world. We could not climb it in the time that we had, however, on our way to the airport, we took a detour to the first level of this incredible landmark.
Tanzania also claims the southern half of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake by area, and the largest tropical lake in the world.
I clearly recall two of the fears that I had as a child; being attacked by killer bees and being placed in a situation where I had to eat unusual and unappetizing food. The seeds of both of these fears were planted by movies, the second one after I watched Indiana Jones being presented with a bowl of live, writhing eel like creatures. My horror was so great that, despite my love for travel, I resigned myself at an early age never to travel to Africa or Asia for fear of being presented with a bizarre dish that I could not refuse.
Fast forward to 2011 and I am not just visiting Africa, but living in Ghana! Thankfully, I have always been able to find something familiar on the menu and I have even tried a few new things – banku, kenke, palava sauce and guinea fowl, for example. I completely forgot the nightmare, until yesterday.
I traveled to the Northern Region of Ghana to witness the annual culmination of a very successful programme by the World Food Programme (WFP) to keep talented girls in high school. As a part of the trip, I was taken to see the Chief of a town called Yendi. That experience and the history of chieftancy in Yendi is a story in and of itself. We sat in the room, the chief seated on a high chair with his councilmen seated on the floor in front of him. One of the councilmen said some words over a gold coloured pot. He took some kola nuts out of the pot and passed them out to us visitors. I was last in line and very happy to see that there was one short. However, the gentleman next to me began trying to split his nut into two. He offered it to me.
“Ladies are usually better at this,” he said.
“It’s okay,” I replied, “You have it”.
He whispered to me, “Split it in half and take a small bite”. Then he spoke the words of my nightmare, “It will be rude if you don’t”.
He handed me the nut. I turned it in my hand and using my fingernails, I split it in two. In my nightmares the proffered food was always slimy, even moving and so this was tame in comparison. I also thought of the many books that I have read set in Africa where people seemed to relish these nuts and considered them good sustenance when food was scarce.
‘How bad could it be?’ I reasoned.
I took a small bite as I was instructed. The nut appears firm, but my teeth sank in easily. I sensed extreme bitterness on my tongue. I wish that I could think of something that I have tasted before with which I can compare this taste, but I cannot. I took stock of my facial muscles, praying that my horror was not visible on my face. In my mind, I searched my bag for a tissue, then I realised that even if I had one, I could not spit out the nut. If refusing it was bad manners, spitting it out in disgust had to be much, much worse. And so, I summoned every ounce of the upbringing my mother instilled in me, put on a pleasant expression on my face, chewed and swallowed the bitter nut.
(I have since read that the first taste of this nut is bitter but it sweetens as you chew it. This was not my experience, and I am not sure that I will experiment any further.)
One of my first posts was about the vendors on the streets of Accra. As I am writing this, the streets of Accra are no longer littered with vendors wending their way between cars selling everything under the sun. The government began enforcing the ban on street vending, successfully clearing the streets of hawkers. They have left a considerable void and it is significant enough an event that I will interrupt my discussion on Tanzania to discuss it. Continue reading “The Law of the Road”
On the second leg of our April trip to Tanzania, we left Zanzibar and flew to Arusha, the safari capital of Tanzania. We were immediately relieved by the temperature in Arusha. The city, which has grown from a town to city in a relatively short period of time, is 1400 meters above sea level and the days are pleasantly cool. The growth of the city can be attributed to its proximity to some of Africa’s most famous landscapes and parks, namely Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, Lake Manyara, the Ngorongoro Crater and the Olduvai Gorge. The city is very green and fairly clean, and a nice respite from some of the other towns that we have visited in Africa.
Although my stay in Arusha was very short, I made an effort to make a note of the differences between East and West Africa. I must say, first of all, that I found people to be just as friendly, warm and welcoming as they are here in Ghana, so, so much for not visiting the East for the people.
The scenery about town was quite similar. One thing very noticeable was the use of motorcycles as taxis. Motorcycles weaved in and out of traffic each carrying a passenger tightly clinging to the driver. Taxi stands look a little different as seen below.
I also noted an absence of babies. In Ghana, babies are a standard part of the scenery, perched on their mothers’ backs. At any time, one can spot women selling in the market, working in certain industries and just moving about their daily life with their babies comfortably secured on their backs. I did not see many babies in Arusha and I actually saw a few women carrying their children in their arms, something you would hardly see in Ghana. The few babies I saw strapped to their mother’s backs were tied differently (one strap across the shoulder) from the way they are tied in Ghana.
One of their staple foods is Ugali, made from pounded white corn. I quite liked it, and it is similar to some foods here in Ghana.
Market scenes were also very familiar.
Tanzania is one of the countries that is home to the Maasai tribe. I will talk a bit more about them in a later post, however, it was interesting, even surreal to see them moving around in the city of Arusha, riding their bicycles and moving about their business in their very distinct garb (Shukas).
While in Arusha, we were the guests of a very distinguished Kittitian, Sir Dennis Byron, who is the current president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the next president of the Caribbean Court of Justice. I was so proud to encounter a Kittitian in such a prestigious position and doubly proud when I heard that a Jamaican, Judge Patrick Robinson, is the current president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Kudos to my Caribbean brothers for making a mark in international justice! The Rwandan tribunal is slowly coming to a close (some say too soon), but it has certainly had an impact, not only by bringing those in Rwanda to justice, but by signaling to world leaders that certain actions will not be accepted.
We spent just a few days in Arusha before embarking on the primary reason for our visit to Tanzania, a 5-day safari that would take us to the endless plains of the Serengeti, the famous Ngorongoro crater and much more.
Jambo! I finally made it to East Africa!
Since I read the comment “you visit East Africa for the animals and West Africa for the people”, I have been yearning to visit the eastern shore of the continent. Ghana has its own charms, but the only large animals native to the country are elephants at the Mole National Park which is in the North of the country, a two-day trip from Accra. I also heard much about Eastern Africa and how different it was. I really felt that my time in Africa would be incomplete if I did not sample as much of its diverse culture as I could. Continue reading “Tanzania – First stop, Zanzibar”
It is March, the Harmattan is over and Ghana is hot!!! I know we complained about the Harmattan and the dust and allergies and so on, but the dust brought with it cooler temperatures, especially in the evenings.
The hot weather brings instead a high demand for drinking water. Enter the “sachet water”. Continue reading “Trashy Bags”
If one had to place women, children and men on a ladder of importance in Ghana, it would be exactly in that order. Women at the lowest rung, children above them, pregnant women might fit in above the kids and the men on the top. Continue reading “A woman’s place”
I love going to bazaars in Ghana. Basically each bazaar is a collection of 30 – 40 vendors selling all sorts of wares – beads, furniture, clothes, artwork, books, craft, jewelery, the works. It is normally in the open air; each vendor with a table, under a canopy. There is often music, entertainment and games for children. The result is a colourful, festive carnival-like environment. Continue reading “The Ghanaian Bazaar”