Friday, October 31, 2014


I just finished reading Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck's memoir of his 1960 circumnavigation of the United States in his truck with his poodle Charley by his side. Steinbeck had a great deal to say about travel in general in this book, and one paragraph in particular seems relevant to our drive from Coconut Grove Resort in Elmina to Axim.
Steinbeck wrote:
Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. . . . [A] journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.

Every day of our Ghana journey was full of surprises. Every day was dripping with its own personality, temperament, individuality, and uniqueness (and perspiration).  A good example was our 160-mile round-trip drive from our lodgings in Elmina to Fort St. Anthony in Axim. That distance in the United States might take one-and-a-half hours one way and contain a few things of interest, but in Ghana every trip takes much longer than expected, which is just fine because there is something new and fun to see around every bend in the road. For example:

As in Kenya and Tanzania, there is a thriving microfarming industry in Ghana. We would drive past six or seven stands like this at a time, all selling the very same thing. Someone needs to teach these farmers about diversification.

Monday, October 27, 2014


Where do you stay if you're traveling in a Third World country far away from a big city and familiar hotel names? Unlike our experience in Kenya and Tanzania, in Ghana there aren't luxury lodges at the end of a three-hour drive in the bush. There are also no safe-bet Radissons, Marriotts, or even Super 8s on the Ghana coast. Foreign tourism just isn't that big in Ghana--and not because of a lack of things to see. We were so glad we had Russ and Shelley's experience to draw from in figuring out our three nights of lodgings on the road. However, I must admit that as we made our way to Coconut Grove Beach Resort, I was feeling just a bit skeptical. "Resort" just didn't seem to be compatible with "Ghana."

What a surprise to check in and find this spacious, clean room with volume ceilings throughout,  even in the walk-in shower:

There was a flat-screen TV, a small fridge, and lots of nice little touches, such as the marigolds tucked into our bath towels:
As lovely as this room was, however, we learned that high ceilings and Ghana heat and humidity aren't a good mix. There was one small air conditioning unit in our room, but it must have been cooling the upper third of the room because it was about 95 degrees with 95% humidity in our room at night, and no, opening the windows wasn't much help. It was a sweat box. The first night, there was no electricity on one side of the room. The second night, we had no hot water.  On the third night we asked for a new room, and they put us in the older section of the resort. Our room there was just as lovely and still nicely appointed, but it had normal eight-foot-tall ceilings, continuously flowering electricity, and unfailing hot water. Best of all, not only did the AC work well, but there was also a ceiling fan. We actually got a little chilled during the night. It was glorious. We wished we had moved after the first hot night.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Our next destination, Cape Coast, was about sixteen miles west of Fort Amsterdam on the Ghanaian coast. A city of about 170,000 people today, Cape Coast was once the capital of what was known as the Gold Coast, but after the British consolidated their power in the region, the capital was moved to Accra in 1877. 

The slave castle in Cape Coast is one of Ghana's most visited tourist sites. Before we entered the castle, however, we stopped at a little batik fabric dying place run by a church member that Shelley knows.  It was an inauspicious location:
. . . for a place that can turn out the likes of this:
Unfortunately, the storm of the previous day had flooded the place, and the owner was busy cleaning up. I would have liked to see her at work making her gorgeous wares. Shelley said she sells her fabric to top children's clothing lines all over the world. It is interesting to think that her beautiful work, made in a hut next to a slave castle, is turned into expensive clothing bought and worn by the children of wealthy first-world families.
I wonder who is happier, the one who makes the cloth, or the one who buys the clothing? This woman was welcoming, cheerfully dealing with the mess made by the storm, and proud of her work. I'm sure she would not be able to relate to some of our first-world angst. On the other hand, I am not so naive as to think I would want to trade places with her.

Her building was right next door to one of the largest of the thirty slave castles on Ghana's coast: Cape Coast Castle. This site and Ghana's other coastal forts/castles merit a position on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The UNESCO site notes: 
The castles and forts of Ghana shaped not only Ghana's history but that of the world over four centuries as the focus of first the gold trade and then the slave trade. They are a significant and emotive symbol of European-African encounters and of the starting point of the African Diaspora.
A metallic bas relief adorns the west end of the castle. (Can you see in in the picture above?) I wish I knew more about this beautiful work of art, which must be of relatively recent vintage.
The tide was out and we started to walk the shoreline in front of the castle, but we were stopped by a boy who told us it wasn't safe for us to go there, implying that the danger was not from unexpected waves but from unpredictable men in the area:

Slave ships used to drop anchor some distance from the shore, sending canoes to shore to deliver trade items like clothing, spices, sugar, and silk, and to collect "goods" in return, including slaves, gold, and other resources. One of those ships was captained by Bob's great-great-great grandfather, who traded at this castle at least once.
Cape Coast Castle is quite large--three stories plus an underground dungeon--and has been well-preserved and carefully renovated twice, once in 1920 by the British Public Works Department, and then in the 1990s by the Ghanaian government using funds from the United Nations Development Program, USAID, the Smithsonian, and other NGOs. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014


On Thursday, May 29th, we started on our journey back in time to the years of the slave trade. First, however, we had to make our way out of a 21st century city full of cars and people.

One of the things I love about Africa is the way women carry things on their head, and for every one woman we saw doing this in Kenya and Tanzania, we saw a hundred in Ghana.
The traffic is pretty heavy in Accra, and we were often stopped or barely moving. Hundreds of vendors--primarily women but with a few children and men thrown in--walked among the cars with their wares balanced on their heads, not precariously perched at all, but as if they were strapped on. When someone purchased a breadstick, a bag of chips, or a bottle of water, the vendor reached up and pulled a single item from her head, exchanging it for payment without disturbing any of her remaining wares.

I finally figured out that the women first place a ring-shaped pad on their heads, then put the load on top of that. The pad makes a flat surface, helps distribute the weight, and softens the load. You can see a cloth ring in both of the pictures above.
Photo from Slate magazine article
Who are these women? Some are in business for themselves, but others are employed by other people. According to this article in Slate magazine, "Young females from the depressed rural north flock to big cities to labor as head porters, or kayayo, carrying absurdly large loads on their heads for as little as $2 a day."

$2 a day? How do they pay their chiropractors?

The variety of items for sale is astounding. Just about everything we would buy in a Wal-mart can be found on the heads of street hawkers weaving through the congested streets of Accra: food of all kinds (nuts, slices of watermelon, fresh fruits and veggies, breads, etc.), plastic bags of water called "sachets," toys, gum and other candy, cleaning supplies, clothing, fabric, pencils, notebooks, kitchen tools, and so on.
Lots of action, lots of color. Isn't that turquoise dress gorgeous?
Typical road sign
After crawling out of the city, we drove at a good speed for several hours towards our first destination: Fort Amsterdam. We missed the unmarked street that led to the fort and had to backtrack. This was our turn off:

We were looking for this:
Early copper plate engraving of the "Dutch Fort of Amsterdam." Picture from here.
Aha! There it is, overlooking the small village of Abandze (which supposedly means "beneath the castle"):
Note the incongruous satellite dish on the black plastic/palm frond roof.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


As most trips are, our trip to Ghana was a huge perception changer for me.

The Republic of Ghana, known as the Gold Coast from 1867 to 1957 when it was a British colony, is a country in West Africa bordered by Cote d'Ivoire to the West, Burkina Faso to the north, and Togo to the east, three countries I knew nothing about (and still know very little about) and could not have pinpointed on a map before this trip. Ghana is just a few degrees north of the equator and has a tropical (read: hot and muggy) climate. The word "Ghana" means "warrior king."
I have to admit that it's taken me a while to get used to the idea that the Ghana coast faces south, not west. Even while there, as we looked out over the ocean at night, I imagined I was directing my gaze towards the the Americas, not Antarctica.

I also used to think that West Africa referred to the entire west coast of Africa.  Wrong. It's only the southern part of the big bump at the top of the continent.
About the size of the state of Oregon, Ghana has about 27 million people compared to Oregon's 4 million. (The two largest cities, Accra at 2.3 million and Kumasi at 2 million, together have more people than all of Oregon.) 

As the first African nation to declare independence from colonization, Ghana had a significant impact on the liberation of other African nations and on Black Pride movements in the United States. During the first decade of Ghana's independence, many African Americans--including Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Richard Wright, Muhammad Ali, and Martin Luther King, Jr.--settled in or made a pilgrimage there, and when they returned to the United States, they brought new attitudes and expectations with them.

As far as West African nations go, Ghana has a pretty strong economy. So how does living in Ghana compare to life in the United States?
Well, according to this site, if you live in Ghana, you will:
 be 8.1 times more likely to die in infancy
 be 3.2 times more likely to have AIDS
 have twice as many babies
 use 98.12% less electricity
 make 96.77% less money
 consume 96.34% less oil (although we would have never guessed that based on the 
           traffic jams in Accra)
 die 17.69 years sooner
 spend 98.87% less on health care
 have an 18.28% greater chance of being unemployed
 experience 12.44% less of a class divide

This is shocking enough, but then try comparing Ghana to other nations, like Kenya, where the likelihood of having AIDS is 3.5 times higher than it is in Ghana and the chance of being unemployed is 3.6 times higher, among other issues.
(Try playing around with this site. It is really enlightening.)

We spent our five days in Ghana on the southern coast. My husband Bob is a descendant of Captain George Cannon, a slave trader from the Isle of Man, and Bob has been researching Captain Cannon for at least the last ten years. Captain Cannon was active in slave trading from 1790 to 1803 and took six or seven slave voyages to Africa during that time. Bob has been able to discover some of the ports where Captain Cannon acquired slaves, facts that had been unknown prior his research, and the opportunity to visit those areas was both exciting and sobering.
Bob and Russ planned a drive that would include six "slave castles," or large forts built by European traders for the purpose of holding slaves until they were loaded into the keels of ships for transfer to the Americas. Captain Cannon had visited at least two of them.

We would be trading our photography of wild animals roaming free on Africa's East Coast for pictures of places where men and women were imprisoned in horrible conditions on Africa's West Coast, a journey from awe to awful. 

The most famous Ghanaian of my lifetime is probably Kofi Annan, who was born in 1938 in Kumasi, Ghana, received an economics degree at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, studied in Geneva, Switzerland, and received a master's degree from MIT's Sloan School of Management. I'm pretty sure that is an unusual trajectory for a Ghanaian, but Kofi Annan is an unusual man. The reason most of us have heard of him is because he was the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations (January 1997-December 2006). He and the United Nations were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for "their work for a better organized and more peaceful world." As Secretary-General, Annan focused on advocating for human rights, containing the spread of HIV in Africa, and strongly opposing international terrorism.  

Since retiring from the UN, Annan has joined a group called The Elders, an organization formed by Nelson Mandela in 2007 and comprising elder statesmen, peace activists, and human rights advocates. The group includes former President Jimmy Carter, several other Nobel Peace Prize laureates, former presidents of Brazil, Finland, Ireland, and Mexico, and other distinguished world leaders. These seasoned men and women work to promote dialogue and human rights around the world.

I heartily recommend Kofi Annan: A Man of Peace in a World of War by Los Angeles Times foreign and diplomatic correspondent Stanley Meisler. Meisler traces Annan's rise to power on the international stage and his impact on the image and influence of the United Nations. Annan was the first Secretary-General to rise up from within the ranks of the UN, and his experience gave him unique insights into how the UN functions.

Meisler does not make Annan a saint. His weaknesses are discussed along with his strengths, but it is impossible not to be impressed by this gentle, honest man. I was especially impressed by Annan's integrity, even when making the right choice was unpopular and had a significant negative impact on how he was perceived in the international community. For example, the G. W. Bush years of war in Iraq (with which he strongly disagreed) were very hard on his reputation. He was disliked in the United States for his opposition to the war, and criticized by the international community for not being able to prevent the war.

I learned a lot about the UN, both its history and its current position in the world, and I will be much more likely to pay attention to its role in world affairs after having read this biography.

Here are a few quotes (not necessarily from the book) from this amazing man:

Suffering anywhere concerns people everywhere.

What governments and people don't realize is that sometimes the collective interest--the international interest--is also the national interest.

If one is going to err, one should err on the side of liberty and freedom.

Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy, and sustainable human development.

Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.

To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


My husband's cousins, Russ and Shelley Cannon, are serving as LDS (Mormon) missionaries in Accra, Ghana. (Russ is the son of the first Mormon missionaries sent to West Africa in 1978. More on that in a future post.) Russ explains what they do like this: "We are Self Reliance Missionaries and run the Accra Self Reliance Center with the help of a dozen returned missionaries ages 24 to 28. These volunteers help us facilitate workshops that help members and non-members get a job, start a business, or get an education that leads to a job. We also have a computer center where people can write their resumes, look for jobs, or write their business plans to start a business.  We spend our Sundays visiting wards and branches around Accra telling them about our Self Reliance Center and teaching Temple Preparation Classes."
Russ and Shelley help administer the Perpetual Education Fund, or PEF, a program that provides motivated people over the age of 18 with a small loan to be used for education and training, which should in turn prepare them for future employment opportunities in their own communities. The money for the PEF comes from donations from LDS church members.

The program is modeled after a similar program used by the Mormon pioneers, the Perpetual Emigration Fund, which helped impoverished converts to the church move to Utah. Once established in their new homes, the recipients were expected to repay the money so that the funds could be used for future emigrants.
Limited funds were available, and one of the ways the Mormon pioneers saved money
was by traveling with handcarts rather than by wagons pulled by oxen or horses.
 Similarly, modern PEF recipients are expected to repay their loans once they procure a job.

Shelley and Russ have loved being part of the pool of "senior" missionaries for the church. There are currently over 88,000 Mormon missionaries serving around the world, and 5,000 of those are seniors. All missionaries, young ones and "mature" ones, go through some training in a Mission Training Center at the beginning of their mission. In Russ and Shelley's MTC group there were senior couples going to Uganda, Montreal, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, New Delhi, Omaha, Armenia, Cambodia, Iceland, Mexico, Nicaragua, Auckland, and China. Wow!

Unlike the young 18- to 26-year-old missionaries that the LDS Church is known for, senior missionaries have a little more flexibility. Russ said, "There is always plenty of time to have fun activities with over 24 couples that are serving in the Africa West Area office and the two missions based in Accra." Lucky for us, they were also able to have some fun with us on a trip along the Ghana coast, a trip we could not have taken on our own and without their knowledge of the Ghanaian world.

Senior missionaries can also choose their length of service--Russ and Shelley committed to 18 months in Ghana, and they'll be returning to the United States in January. Their mission just happened to coincide perfectly with our trip to Africa. While not exactly close to Kenya and Tanzania, Ghana was more or less on the way home, which made stopping there "convenient." I know you'll be shocked to learn that Bob and I were the only family members to drop in on them during their entire mission.

Russ and Shelley live not far from the Accra airport in a gated and very well-maintained complex owned by the church.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


My last night in Nairobi was rough. I was still struggling with a stomach bug, and when I got up in the early morning, I spent about fifteen minutes curled up in a tight ball on the cold tile floor of the bathroom, wondering how I could get Bob to call our trip insurance company and ask for a few extra days in Nairobi to give me a chance to recover. I alternated between that and wondering how Bob would get my body home for a funeral. Would I have to be buried in Kenya?

No, that wouldn't do. I took my next dose of Cipro and pulled myself together. We packed our bags, and at 6:15 a.m. we were making our way down to the lobby. Our cab driver was waiting for us, and we got to the airport with time to spare.

Flying from East to West Africa is a lot like flying from the East to the West Coast in the United States. New York City to Los Angeles by air is about 2,462 miles.
Nairobi, Kenya, to Accra, Ghana, is 2,566 miles. Both flights take approximately 5 1/2 hours, give or take a bit. Like the United States, the west and east coasts of Africa have a three-hour time difference.
That makes the United States and Africa about the same size, right? Wrong. VERY wrong. Africa is about three times the size of the United States.

Like I do so often, I was seeing the world through my Judy Lenses. Don't we often see things as if we are the center and biggest and most important part of the universe? It's always humbling to learn that someone else has bigger problems than I do, or that my part in a project was really pretty minuscule compared to others' efforts, or that I made a Big Deal out of something that was actually a little deal. It's also good to be reminded that my knowledge and understanding gathered from textbooks and limited experience is often skewed.

This is an image that will stick with me and remind me that I am a little piece in a very large puzzle, and that I have a lot to learn:
In reality, Africa is about the size of the United States AND China AND India AND most of Europe combined. Africa comprises 11.67 million square miles to the Unites States' 3.794 million square miles. There are fifty-four nations in Africa (more than a quarter of the world's total 196 countries), most of which I know almost nothing about, and so who am I to pass judgement on how things are done or should be done on that continent? It would take a lifetime of study to even come close to having a basic understanding of African economy, politics, and challenges. A bird's-eye view from the our non-stop flight across the continent didn't enlighten me either because I was asleep before we took off, and, other than a few minutes of semi-consciousness when I had some sips of water during the flight, I woke up not too long before we landed at 12:10 p.m.

During that flight, however, I turned the corner, at least as far as my health was concerned. I had been on antibiotics for twenty-four hours, the magic number. I was ready--more or less (okay, mostly less but a little bit of more)--to take on Ghana.

We breezed through customs and immigration, one of our easiest border transits ever, although we did have to show our immunization forms, which we only had with us because we had been told we would need too show them on our return to Kenya from Tanzania, which we hadn't. I wonder what they would have done with us if we hadn't had them in Accra? Sent us back? Deported us to the United States? Asked for a bribe? Who knows?

Bob's cousin Russ had just arrived and was waiting for us. We picked up our bags and headed outside into liquid heat--definitely a different climate than what we'd been experiencing on the other side of the continent.

After unloading our luggage in Russ and Shelley's apartment, I went to bed and slept two more hours. (It's always nice to immediately contaminate your hosts' bedroom like that.) From that point on, however, I made a steady climb back to good health.

Friday, October 3, 2014


During our trip, one of the women in our group was talking to other tourists at one of our lodges, and she they told her about a bead factory that was located close to the Karen Blixen estate. The day before we got back to Nairobi, she convinced the Powers-That-Be to take the entire tour group there, all 35 of us.

The Kazuri Bead Factory is actually located in what used to be part of the Karen Blixen Estate. The founder, Lady Susan Wood, was born in Kenya in 1918 to a British missionary couple and was educated in England. She eventually married a doctor, and the young couple returned to Kenya in 1947 to start a coffee plantation on the Blixen estate. (As a result of the Depression and falling coffee prices, Karen had sold the property in 1931 and gone home to her native Denmark, never returning to her beloved Africa.)

Susan Wood was quite the woman. She got the plantation going, raised her four children, wrote several books, and helped her husband set up the East Africa Flying Doctor Service, which later expanded to become the African Medical Research Foundation. On top of all that, she worked tirelessly for equality for Africans, especially for African women. In 1975 Susan set up a small business making ceramic beads in a shed in her garden. After hiring two Kenyan women to help her, she began to see the desperate need for employment opportunities for disadvantaged women, and the Kazuri Bead Factory was born. Kazuri is the Swahili word for "small and beautiful." 

Today that factory has expanded to become a manufacturing enterprise of several small buildings and employs anywhere from 200 to 350 women (depending on which website you consult) who are single mothers, widows, and those with special needs. The Kazuri guide told us that the women work 5 1/2 days a week and are paid the equivalent of about $5.00/day, which according to this source is about minimum wage for a basic worker in Kenya. Other sources on the internet say that the women are paid three times the average wage, which makes me wonder if women are generally paid substantially less than men. Women, especially uneducated mothers, have a difficult time finding jobs in Kenya, so getting a job at this factory must be highly desirable, not just for the wages, but because the workers are also provided with free health care in the Kazuri clinic, child care, and credit and savings plans. Kazuri is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization, which is devoted to creating opportunities for disadvantaged producers and workers.

Our tour began in the Clay Processing Area. The beads are made with clay from the Mount Kenya area:
Our guide, a soft-spoken, articulate Kenyan man, explained the clay-making process, which includes squeezing the water out with this mechanical press: