Sunday, 10 January 2010

Adventures in the North

Hi everyone! Back again, and writing from the North this time.

Yesterday was our day off from work, so we took a group field trip to some interesting places. Here's the rundown:

The first stop was the Zenga crocodile pond in Paga. Basically, it's a giant pond with a dozen or so big crocodiles living in and around it. The crocodiles aren't exactly tame, but they have a symbiotic relationship with the pond facility, which is administered by some sort of USAID-backed community organization. The way it works is that you need to pay an admission price of about $2 per person (not cheap by local standards) and buy a couple of guinea fowl to feed the crocs. Perhaps because they associate visitors with impending guinea fowls, the crocodiles are not very aggressive and are happy to let people hold their tails and pose with them (from behind the croc, nonetheless). But seeing the main croc eat the fowl we bought was a reminder that they are quite deadly creatures. The croc snapped its jaws on the guinea fowl three times (while it was still alive) and then swallowed it whole -- total time, 4 seconds tops.
Here, Noam Chompsky the crocodile:

I also took a ride on a horse while I was there. The last horse I rode was a stubborn old nag and refused to gallop or go where I wanted it to. This horse, however, was very good and responded to all my commands which made me feel cool.

After Zenga pond we crossed over into the no man's land between Ghana and Burkina Faso. Like most African land crossings, there is a strip of land several miles long between the customs checkpoints, which is theoretically neither under Ghanaian or Burkina law. We hung out there for a little bit and took the obligatory pictures of ourselves next to the "Welcome to Burkina Faso" sign. But to be honest, there wasn't much to see there, with the sole exception of an ancient Yellow Bird schoolbus which had been loaded so high with goods that it doubled the height of the vehicle. I spoke with the owner and it appeared that he was transporting dry goods and skins down to Ghana.
"I've got my car, it's as big as a whale..."

The last stop on the tour was Pikworo Slave Camp, a infamous site in the long slaving history of the Gold Coast. In the 1700s, at the height of the Atlantic slave trade, Pikworo was one of many facilities where newly-captured slaves were sent to be processed and broken before being sent to be sold somewhere else. Although the camp didn't have any structures left over from its slaving days, I found the site overall was more impressive than the Maison d'Esclaves in Senegal or other more famous slave-trade sites. Our guide told us about the musical performances that were common at the camp; apparently the slave-masters would provide gifts to the slaves so that they would perform a drumming and dancing celebration in order to lift the spirits of the captives. Different tribes would be expected to perform different nights, and the non-performing groups would simply dance. A group of local men gave us a typical performance by banging on a big rock with smaller rocks. Sounds simple, but the sound was actually really amazing. I have (of course) a video of this too, which I'll put on my youtube account at some point.
The scorching heat at the slave camp: not a good place to be tied up outside.

The greatest highlight of the trip was a spoken-word performance by Victor, my roommate here in Ghana. Obama visited the camp during his recent trip to Ghana, and Victor wanted to comment on the meaning of the visit. His performance was one of the most impressive and moving things I've seen in some time, and I fortunate to capture it on my video camera. I'll post a link to youtube here when I manage to upload it.

Our motley crew wrapped up Saturday at a nightclub called Soul Train, likely named after a popular American TV show that I've never actually seen. The club was pretty cool -- $3.50 entry, popcorn available (!?), free Guiness can with entry, and a musical selection that drew heavily on Ghanaian and Nigerian hits. I followed the signs to the VIP Suite and went in, but it turned out to be a dark room with three guys drinking beer, rather than what one might expect from a special facility for the most privileged club-goers. I also saw an Usher-esque dancer who had some of the slickest moves I've ever seen by a non-professional dancer. He also thought he was pretty hot stuff too, since he spent the whole night dancing in front of a mirror.

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