Africa | Ghana | Kumale – The big extortion
After 5 hours of a ride, on a road with more holes that tar, we arrived in Kumale, the capital of the province. On the way we passed many picturesque clay villages. The houses of each family are in a circle with a court in the middle. Just to see these villages was worth suffering all those holes in the road.
The type of people around me is starting to change slowly. Already on the ferry many people were looking more Arabic than black. People that are tall and thin wearing long dresses and kafiya (the Arabic turban) wrapped around their heads. People of the dessert. Im sure that back at home each one has a camel .. Generally speaking, the more up north you go the population is more Islamic and desert looking.
The Sahel is the strip of land between the Sahara desert in the north and the wooded areas of the south. What you would call semi-desert. This strip passes in Burkina Faso also that is north of Ghana, so the more north I travel I get closer to the Islamic desert tribes.
A word about Muslims. Before arriving in Ghana, I was a little worried that being Israeli among a population mainly Islamic might be a problem. As an Israeli, I have a kind of recoiling, understandable I can add, from anything Arabic/Islamic. On the other hand, from my experience with the Muslims in East Africa I know that as far as they are concerned the Islam is only a religion to them, as should be, and no politics is involved. Until now I can happily say that I didnt encounter any sign of hostility. On the contrary, people admire Israel. Im still a bit careful because Im entering areas more and more Islamic (the speakers from the nearby mosque are shouting again that Allah is great).
Something I forgot to mention before. Remember Rejoice, the Banana girl? I went with her to buy food. Except the rice and the sauce there was a type of meat I didnt recognize. Of course I tried it. Later it turned out to be a grass cutter. Not bad for a big rat just a little to many bones.
It was so hot last night in the All Hassan hotel I stayed in. The ceiling discharged so much heat that it was impossible to sleep in the room. I went down with my hammock, hung it between 2 poles and went to sleep. The mosquitoes had a 7-course meal on me but at least I managed to sleep. Every time I thank myself for insisting on finding in Brazil my little foldable hammock, made from parachute material, that doesnt take more space that a small rain jacket.
This morning I said goodbye to Yolanda and am now in a small town called Bolgatanga, or Bolga for short as the locals call it. Left my backpack in the local church guesthouse and went for a walk to the villages in the area. Didnt know exactly where I was going. After about 40 minutes walk outside of town, I arrived to an area with many mud villages and lots of baobab trees in between them. After wandering for an hour in between the houses, being careful not to enter private areas, I passed by a huge baobab tree with a few local men sitting under it drinking a local drink out of wooden bowls. One of the men called me and started a conversation. Not more than a few minutes passed until he invited me for Pito, the alcoholic drink they were drinking.
Surprising given how it looked, gray and muddy like the water after you finish wiping the floor, it was really tasty and light. After drinking enough Pito that made me wonder as to my ability to find the way back home, I was invited to the house of John, my new friend. John lives in one of those circular complexes of clay houses. Inside these complexes the family and their animals live. After introducing me to his family I was given a tour of every single house of the complex. What an art of clay building. They thought about everything. Even the houses of the animals were with matching entrances, drainage system etc.
Before I left his wife gave me a bag full of peanuts while I promised to send them the pictures I took with them and of the house.
Sitting here in the afternoon writing to you. 2 girls that pass by start a conversation and after hearing to where Im headed tomorrow they offer to join me. Of course I agreed. Well, than we will meet tomorrow at 5:30 am near the bank they said. 5:30? Are you nuts I said, so they gave in and we agreed on 6:30. As if it helps. What an ability to smile this Ghanaians have and what a capturing smile. I fall in love with them again every time. Lucky they have ears otherwise their smile would have done a full circle.
At 6:30 I was by the bank. So were they. After a short bargain we were on a taxi toward Tongo hills. In order to visit the area one must first go to the chief and ask for his permission. This chief is actually called the king by his subjects. He has 22 wives and about 110 children (I wonder if he remembers all their names). When we arrived one of his wives led us toward his castle which was no more than a circular and high clay hut with a very low door. We left our shoes outside and entered. The hut/castle was empty except for a small stage on which the chief sits, 2 drums (called in Ghana talking drums) and countless animal skulls and hide hanging from the ceiling. Spooky.
While waiting for the chief we received an explanation on how we should behave when the chief enters we must clap our hands 3 times. He will then start with a series of greetings which after each we must reply Na ( I guess Amen in the local language). After the greetings a gift must be presented to him, money will be mostly welcomed. We then can ask questions and ask for permission to visit his land.
After a wait of a few minutes an old man entered the hut followed by 3 young men and after them entered the chief, a very old man leaning on a carved walking stick. It took him about 15 minutes to climb to his place on the stage and another 15 minutes to greet us while all this time we only answer Na and clap our hands (maybe this is where Monty Payton got the inspiration to we are the knight that say Ni).
After giving him a nice sum of money one of the young men turned to me and said that something should be given to the other elder too. So I gave. After asking permission to visit the area the same son said that something must be given, money of course, for visiting the area. So I gave.
After taking a few photos, the chief even asked me why am I not using flash, I asked if I can use my video camera. The answer was positive. When I was done, that son asked for more money. I felt the 2 girls beside me starting to move uncomfortably from the broad day light extortion happening in front of their eyes. So I gave. At this stage we understood that we better not ask anything more or it will cost us. The extortioner son accompanied us as a guide. It was obvious that at the end he will ask for more money.
After about 3 hours wondering around, while on the way more people asked for money but I refused to give, it was time to say goodbye. I gave our guide a small sum of money and then he asked what about the kids referring to a few pests who joined us on the way. I told him to send them to his father because we paid enough already. Despite all these payments it turned out that they all summed up to $3. Funny, no?
Sitting beside me now is a big Ghanaian man, a self-important look on his face, wearing a suit. He is putting on his socks now. They have a Donald duck design on them. Amazing.