Ghana – Thursday – Akosombo

A fairly early start for our last day in Ghana. Where had the time gone? Today we were going to one of the Volta River Estates Ltd banana plantations which supplies Fairtrade bananas to Sainsbury in the U.K. 80- 90% of the Estates’ bananas  are sold as Fairtrade. The plantation we visited is organic. Like all Fairtrade organisations a premium is also paid by the purchaser which then goes to the community. The workers here make a decision on how to spend it through an elected committee. So far they have built 2 schools, 2 ITC centres, an admin. block for a local hospital and subsidised pupils to attend a local secondary school. The company not only pays a good wage (about 12 cedis a day – roughly £2.50) but also pays any staff medical bills through health insurance. This is extended to dependants as well. The workers also get 21 days holiday a year and are allowed 5 days sick leave. the company also offers training courses in other money-making activities for their staff such as soap-making, batik etc. The men are not so interested in these skills so they are trained in carpentry, driving and electrical skills. As the working day is from 6.00 to 12.00, there is time available for other activities which will bring in an income.

This plantation is 240 hectares in area and we walked down into a small part of it. It was very hot and a myriad of dragonflies flitted along the dyke beside the path. The young banana plants come in from South Africa where they are specially bred. Being organic all weeding is done by machete and cover crops are grown to help store water and fix nitrogen. Irrigation is applied during the dry season. The bananas suffer from disease which turns the leaves yellow, so these are quickly removed. Also the leaves are sprayed with mineral oil so fungus cannot get into the leaf. Blue bags protect the fruit from grasshoppers, bats, snakes and spiders. They also help to maintain an even temperature. All the bananas are picked green and will ripen when they arrive in the U.K.. This explains the comparative poor taste of our bananas.

We went into the packing shed and watched the bananas arrive on great bunches pulled along an overhead gantry from the field by a man on a little engine. we all agreed we’d like that job! Then the bananas are taken off the central stem and are washed and sorted. Any slightly blemished go for local sale in the markets. The bananas are sprayed with a chlorine mixture to seal the ends of the bunches, otherwise they quickly rot. Hands are then either packaged in Sainsbury bags or are put loose into boxes. The bagged bananas are also packed into boxes and everything is then put into a cold store at 19C. We went inside and everyone then changed their minds and said that that was where they’d like to work! Finally after a few days the boxes are loaded into a container lorry. It takes 21 days for the bananas to reach the U.K..It was a fascinating visit and made us realise just how much work and care goes into a comparatively cheap product.

From there we headed back to the Afrikiko and a boat ride along the Volta to the foot of the dam. It only took about 45 minutes, but it was very pleasant . A cool breeze occasionally washed over the boat and, like most rivers, there always seemed to be something going on to look at.

Back at the hotel we got packing and then had lunch. Clearly we were rather early leaving so Nathan put in a few more quick visits on our way to Accra. We walked across the Volta Bridge which was recently rebuilt. Then we stopped at a shopping mall in Accra, equivalent to anything we have in the U.K. and every bit as ghastly. Normally wild horses on bended knees will not get me into  such a place, but I dutifully went and hated it! Finally another craft market where the ‘artisans’ were as pushy as at the first one we visited. We might have bought something, but as we never got a moment’s peace to just stand and look at their wares, we didn’t. I wonder if they will ever realise that their persistence actually puts people off?!

We arrived at the airport in good time and said our farewells to Nathan, Linda and the redoubtable Dominic, who had just weaved us in and out of some appalling rush hour traffic. It was a very straightforward journey home an we were back at High Hedges some 12 hours after leaving Accra.

What a holiday! What experiences we had had! What wonderful people we had met! I would recommend a Traidcraft holiday to anyone who likes something a bit different. So, I dare say we’ll be pouring over the brochure in January and deciding where to go next. Still, we have India to look forward to in February, until then…………..



Ghana – Wednesday – to Akosombo

A good meal last night in an Italian restaurant in Accra. The pizza was excellent and the theatre was pretty good too. A Ghanaian gentleman (no, certainly not that, let’s settle for man) decided that, having eaten his steak he wouldn’t pay for it. He put on quite a show which was ably handled by the staff, although at one point all the kitchen staff appeared, looking far from happy, and had to be pushed back into the kitchen by the manager. Eventually he was escorted off site by the security guard. The manager apologised personally to us, but it was hardly his fault!

This morning we headed towards Akosombo and the dam, but we stopped on the way at Cedi beads, a company which makes very attractive beads out of recycled glass. It is an ethical company rather than ‘Fairtrade’, but was very impressive. People are paid for the bottles they bring to the company, being paid more for the more unusual colours. The bottles are sorted by colour. Then workers break the bottles up and then use a pastel and mortar to grind them into small fragments and even powder. These fragments are then put into moulds, the moulds having been lined with kaolin slip, so the beads come out easily. The moulds are of different sizes for different sized beads. Then the moulds are put into clay kilns, fired by wood and out come the beads some time later. Holes are created using a metal rod before the glass cools. For some beads, made from powdered glass, thin cassava stems are put in the powder and baked in the oven to create the holes. The beads are then smoothed by hand using fine sand and water.

Not all beads are made from bottles. Some very brightly coloured ones are made from antique beads which are no longer wanted. The ‘factory’ is in a lovely setting with three large work areas, under cover but open at the sides. It employs 24 workers. There is a shop and so, of course, we had to stage a retail raid, possibly of more interest to the men than the women in the group.

It was a short distance from there to our new hotel, The Afrikiko Hotel, on the Volta River. It was beautiful and Christine and I were assigned a chalet at the far end of the grounds with a stunning view from our veranda over the river. The place was alive with lizards which skittered over the ground as we walked towards the dining area and our lunch.

The afternoon was spent visiting the Volta / Akosombo Dam. This was quite a thrill for me as I had taught it as a case study for nigh on 30 years. The dam was completed in 1965 in order to provide electricity for an aluminium smelting plant and for Ghana’s own needs. It created a lake of 8,502 square kilometres (3,283 sq mi), which is 3.6% of Ghana’s land area. Lake Volta is the world’s third largest man-made lake by volume and the largest man-made lake in Africa. It put Ghana heavily into debt and the initial benefits were doubtful. 80,000 people lost their homes in the flooding and had to be relocated. The edges of the lake attracted aquatic reeds which were breeding grounds for black-fly, mosquitoes and snails, which are the vectors of water-borne illnesses such as black-fly, mosquitoes and snails, which are the vectors of water-borne illnesses such as bilharzia, river blindness and malaria. A large area of valuable agricultural land was lost beneath the lake. Initially 20% of Akosombo Dam’s electric output (serving 70% of national demand) was provided to Ghanaians in the form of electricity, the remaining 80% was generated for the American-owned Initially 20% of Akosombo Dam’s electric output (serving 70% of national demand) was provided to Ghanaians in the form of electricity, the remaining 80% was generated for the American-owned Volta Aluminum Company (VALCO). The Ghana Government was compelled, by contract, to pay for over 50% of the cost of Akosombo’s construction, but the country was allowed only 20% of the power generated.(VALCO).

Today, according to the official who showed us around many of these problems have been dealt with. Ghana now has full control of the electricity and feeds much of it into the grid. However the rising population means that demand has outstripped supply which is demonstrated by frequent blackouts at peak times. Whatever the pros and cons it was quite something to stand on the dam and watch eagles soaring overhead and below us as fishermen manoeuvred their canoes into place below the dam. There are 6 turbines in place supplying now about 1,020 megawatts, but only 2 were operating at that time of day.

Back at the hotel we enjoyed a swim and then dinner before a good night’s sleep.

dsc_1023Unfortunately the internet access was not too good, so I was unable to blog or indeed check in for our flight. A  young woman at reception offered me the use of her computer for the latter so all was well!



Ghana – update

Unfortunately the beautiful place we stayed at on Wednesday night did not have a good internet connection, so I was unable to blog. Now in Schipol airport awaiting our flight to Heathrow. I shall complete the blog once home so that you have the whole picture. Thank you for sticking with it and for some lovely comments!

Ghana – Tuesday – Accra

A leisurely start, thank goodness. We went first to Trashy Bags, a wonderful company making bags and clothing from recycled plastics. In particular they recycle the small plastic bags which contain pure drinking water and which are sold on every street corner and road junction. This pure water has greatly improved people’s health, but the bags are usually just thrown on the ground after use. They litter the ground, block drains and cause flooding. Something needs doing, but banning them is not the answer because they have meant less disease. Education is the key and so that is what Trashy Bags are hoping to achieve. They also recycle old plastic posters some of which are gigantic that go on metal frames along the roadsides. They often advertise evangelistic meetings or original rallies.

The bags are first washed, then dried in the sun. Then the small bags are sewn together in strips, then the strips are joined to form larger pieces. Templates are used for each item and then the pieces are cut out. The pieces are stitched together by skilled machinists using industrial sewing machines. 70 small water sachets go into 1 carrier bag. The results are a range of bags from wallets to computer bags, from card holders to rucksacks, all made from this recycled plastic. Fabric off cuts are also used to create fabric covers for some items. The range is quite impressive and desirable. At present they don ‘to supply Traidcraft, but we all thought that they should!

One fertiliser company, Yara, has given them hundreds of rejected plastic fertiliser bags and sponsored them to make backpacks for schoolchildren in rural areas. O.K. The company gets some free advertising, but the children get a free school bag along with pens, books etc. Zoomlion, one of the biggest waste management companies in Africa supply them with the plastic bags etc. the end result is that the environment is cleaner, the public are educated when they buy the bags, and employment is created for over 40 people. Needless to say, we spent quite a lot in the shop.


Lunch was in the same place we had lunch the first time we were in Accra. This time they forgot the veggies, so we had to wait while everyone tucked in, then they had to wait while we did! It was very good though when it came.

After lunch we visited the community of Nima, a large shanty town in Accra. We met a young man who guided us through the maze of narrow alleyways and streets. Open sewers empty into a river, making it an open sewer as well. Rubbish is piled along the river bank and any other water course. The smell is pretty appalling, added to by the cows, sheep and goats which are kept on any spare area. These animals are all stall fed, and not with much by the look of them. It is a mixed religious community Moslems and Christians, living alongside each other with no trouble at all. Any incidents that do arise are mainly tribal rather religious. Perhaps the intake of marijuana helps to keep things mellow? The young men, who were savouring their spliffs in various locations, certainly seemed very relaxed!

We visited a school that rivalled some of the state primaries we have seen in Kagera. The classrooms were crammed to capacity (40 or 50 in a class) and the children spoke in French and English, as well as their native tongues. When you are surrounded by ffrancophone countries  it is important you learn French as well. The parents gave too provide books, equipment and uniform, but otherwise the school is free! One side of the quadrangle was just one large room with about 5 classes all learning different things and separated by wooden boards. How the children or the teachers could concentrate, goodness knows. All the classrooms had high concrete steps in case the place flooded which it does regularly in the wet season. It wouldn’t be just water that invaded the classrooms either.

Is this ‘poverty tourism’ ? I suppose so, and yes I did feel some qualms about walking through such desperate poverty in my smart clothes with my Nikon camera swinging around my neck. But people did seem pleased to see us, our guide was being paid and I think we gained insights that could translate into action if we chose. I have taught about shanty towns for 38 years and now I’ve been to one and could perhaps give pupils more of an insight than I did. Perhaps all Geography teachers should go on such a trip? Perhaps such places just shouldn’t exist, because I do believe that their poverty is built at least partly on our wealth?

We carried on through alleyways and into a Main Street where a market was being set up. People seemed generally pleased to see us on the whole, offering their hands to shake, and saying “Welcome to Ghana”. They seemed a little more relaxed about photographs as well, but we still had to be careful. By now we were exhausted as it was hot, noisy and crowded. Luckily the bus was waiting for us at a Catholic Church, where I confess I took a little time out, in the quiet and relative cool of the building. On the altar was a small monstrance standing on an Asante stool. Thus do cultures blend into each other.

A quick visit to the Global Mamas store a stone’s throw from our hotel and it was time for some R & R. We meet at 7.00 for dinner. I think the Italian might get another visit!j


Ghana – Monday

The 5.30 alarm was not welcome, but we had to pack, have breakfast and be on the road by 8.00. Still we managed a last walk along the beach as the sun rose and a leisurely breakfast.image

Our laundry seems doomed to cause trouble and here it was no exception. The night before we had to go to reception to ask for it. They didn’t know where it was and left me sitting in the foyer while they searched. In the meantime the the laundry had delivered it to our room. If Christine had not gone back to the room, for matters of a sensitive nature, I might still be sitting there. Now they couldn’t find the bill! Frankly I wish it had stayed lost, for when they did find it it was very expensive ( by Ghanaian standards).

We drove the short distance to Cape Coast and Global Mamas again. There we were divided into two groups. Our group stayed on the bus and drove for two minutes into a small commercial are. There we disembarked and headed up a narrow alley towards a flat earth area at the base of a steep hill, surrounded by buildings. In the middle of this flat area were two wooden shacks, one clearly lived in, the other the batik workshop. We met Mary, our batik instructor. She had been making batik for 14 years and was very impressive. She had learnt the skill at school, studying visual arts, and then worked at supermarkets to earn money to buy the equipment she needed. Piece by piece she built up the pots, table and stoves she needed until she could start her own business. She rents the workshop from a relative. She started selling her batik to businesses that sell it in local markets, but found she was often cheated. When she heard about Global Mamas she applied to join the co-operative. It wasn’t easy as they have exacting standards. However they were impressed by her craftsmanship and took her on board. She sells much of her cloth through Global Mamas, but still sels some in the market and dyes cloth to order for customers. Global Mamas have helped her grow her business and I’ve her a fair price for all her hard work. They also pay for the calico she dyes for them on a good day she can batik between 60 – 100 yards of cloth.image

It is hot, hard, physical work, all accomplished in a very small space. There was barely room for the 6 of us as well! First she cut off 6 2 yard lengths of calico and gave us a piece each. A vat of greenish wax was bubbling away on a charcoal stove in the middle of the workshop. She asked us to choose 1 or 2 design printing blocks from her large collection. Some were made of latex foam which she had cut herself. Others were made by a professional out of wood. The foam ones looked a bit squidgy to me and I thought I was more likely to mess up with those, so I chose 2 wooden printing blocks. I went last which meant that I had plenty of time to watch and learn. Each block is dipped into the hot wax and stirred around until fully coated. Then the excess wax is knocked off and the block pressed onto the calico which is spread over the table. The foam blocks can be used up to 5 times without rewaxing, but the wooden ones only once. It took us some time for everyone to get their wax printing done!image

Then we had to choose what colour we wanted our cloth. We all opted for blue, in order to speed the process up. Mary made up a mixture of water, dye, hydro (?) and caustic soda, protecting herself with gloves and a face mask. Then she folded the cloths and put them into the dye . She carefully worked the dye in and then put the cloths into the lines outside to dry. They looked a bit green, but once exposed to the air a deep, rich blue colour developed. image

Once dry, the cloths were brought back in and washed to remove the wax and chemicals. Then they were hung outside again to dry. They looked stunning and I felt rather proud of what I had made! It will make a lovely table cloth off which to sell Fairtrade goods.

Nathan and the others arrived and we hthanked Mary and headed off for lunch at a delightful restaurant on a golden sand beach just below the castle. We had ordered vegetarian pizza 24 hours earlier, but they suddenly discovered that pizza was off. Other things we liked appeared to be off too, but we ended up with a very good Greek salad and something else. Fishermen were hawking in nets below us on the beach and boats were sailing past with spinnakers rigged. It was all very idyllic and we were sorry to leave to travel to Accra.image

In theory it should be about 2 hours to reach Accra but the road is not that good and every town you enter the market spills onto the road, taxis and mini-buses stop and there is general chaos. Dominic was brilliant, even taking a shortcut, but it still took  over 4 hours to complete the journey.

Mind you we did stop off at the coffin makers. On the way to see how he made the incredible shaped coffins we had seen on day one. They are actually quite crudely made (after all, they don’t have to last!) but look fantastic once they are decorated. They even have quite an export business and we were shown a catalogue of sorts to get some idea of what they good do. 4 young men sawed and glued away in the open air as he spoke to us.image

We were tired when we arrived at the Urbano in Accra, but decided to investigate an Italian pizza place we had spotted not far away. It was excellent, if a little pricey. I suspect the affigato contributed to my not sleeping as well as I might. Still tomorrow is another day…….

Ghana – Sunday – food for thought

It would be good to say that, as we are a group of Christians, we really enjoyed church this morning, however as we didn’t go, I cannot. Instead the early part of the morning was pretty much what I predicted, a leisurely rise, a dip in the pool, a stroll along the palm-fringed beach, a shower and then breakfast. Ah, breakfast…..cornflakes, hard boiled eggs,mood bread, pancakes and maple syrup (!), muffin and marmalade…..was my lot. Christine had porridge, but there was an enormous array of hot dishes if we’d wanted them. Fresh fruit was on offer and of course fruit juice, which was something called Bissap which Mr Google does not recognise. It was very good tasting a little like very concentrated black currant juice, but with an underlying dryness, if that makes sense. If anyone can suggest what this might be, I’d be interested to hear! Of course, the real excitement was reserved for the coffee which was the proper stuff. For some of us nearly a week without percolated coffee had left us twitching and drooling. Our addiction was at last met and there is the prospect of another fix tomorrow!

I went for a wander after breakfast on the 18 hole golf course. I met the crocodiles, safely enclosed behind a large wall and spent some time photographing weaver birds high up in the coconut palms and a range of other birds I struggled to identify, although kites and vultures also featured.

We drove away about 10.15 and went in the direction of Cape Coast, to the headquarters of Global Mamas, a Fairtrade craft workshop. It was set up in 2003 it’s mission is to create a life of prosperity for women in Africa and their families. The organisation employs 65 professional staff and over 400 craft producers. The women own their own businesses, taking orders for their work from the Global Mamas’ HQ. They then go back to their workshops and bring items back to the HQ for quality control. Only class 1 goods go for export. GM has stores in Accra and Minneapolis, shops they supply all around the world, and an online shop as well. They also look for volunteers with particular skills such as computing, finance and marketing to help them for short periods of time. As a Fairtrade organisation they are ransparent and accountable to their workers. They also offer them a fair price for their products and help them to grow in confidence. 80% of the takings go to the women while 20% pays for the running of the organisation. They hope to expand to other African countries in the future. We are going back their tomorrow to learn Batik (and I dare say, buy some).

Global Mamas had organised a Ghanian cookery course for us, so off we went to a rather unprepossessing area of town where we were ushered in to a very hot shack. It became clear that this was a local restaurant and presence of a speaker a family of four could live in, suggested the place probably hopped. Luckily all was quiet while we were there, apart from the occasional loudspeaker van canvassing votes for the presidential election.

Esi , our Ghanaian Delia, set to work, showing us how to peel and chop cassava, plantain and yam. Then tomatoes, onions and ginger were chopped and the various sauces prepared. I stood by a pan full of Palm oil and fried the plantain. The charcoal fires give out a ferocious heat and the temperature in the hut was hot enough before we started. Esi then set about making fu-fu a mixture of plantain and cassava cooked and then beaten in a pastel and mortar until it submits, rolls over and forms a sort of dough. I drove the pestle up and down while Esi risked her fingers by turning the fu-fu with her hands as I made the up stroke, all the time urging me to go faster. Amazingly she still had a complete hand after several of us had had a go!

The temperature was rising and wonderful smells filled the air, but some were getting hungry. All together it took about three hours to prepare the meal we then sat down to eat. Unfortunately my upset stomach meant that I hadn’t got much if an appetite, but I tucked into the peanut soup which was delicious. The fu-fu went with it and although it is a disconcerting texture, it was actually quite acceptable. The palaver sauce was also very good, but I did balk at the boiled yam. All in all it was very good and we now have the recipes, so be warned, friends, you may be in for a Ghanaian dining experience!

After we had eaten and said our goodbyes it was clear that Nathan was keen to take us on a walking tour of Elmina. Most of us declined, but Christine, being a real trouper volunteered to go along with Louise, while the rest of us went back to the Coconut Grove. Our room had been cleaned and our cleaner had left a work of art on our bed…..beautiful!image

I showered, took some photos and then, when Christine returned we went for a swim. The crocodiles were due to be fed at 5.00, so we wandered over to watch, but by 5.20 it was clear that the crocs. were going hungry. Furthermore cocktail hour was approaching. We’d agreed to meet at 6.00 for cocktails on the edge of the beach. Christine had a piña Colada and I had my first Mojito….it will not be my last! Dinner to the sound of crashing waves, brought the day to a perfect end. We do not want to leave this place, but alas tomorrow we head for the Big Apple (Accra).

Ghana – Saturday – to Elmina

A fairly early start as we have a long journey south to the coast. The stomach upsets seem to be spreading around the group unfortunately!

Suitably medicated we set off heading south towards Cape Coast. We passed through the suburbs of Kumasi and then out into open country with palm oil trees, cocoa trees and bananas. We crossed a range of obviously volcanic hills. Everywhere there seemed to be funerals taking place , marked out by the red and black outfits everyone wears and in one case by the presence of a coffin.

Our first stop was at a village called Assin Monso on the slave river, so called because it was the last place the slaves got a chance to wash before they were taken to the dungeons in the castle at Cape Coast and from there to the Caribbean, or North or South America. Slaves from all over the west of Africa were brought here in chains and made to wash in the river so they could be sold on to the foreign traders.  They were also fed here and grouped by sex and age. It was an incredibly beautiful spot and hard to imagine that at one time it was the site of so much misery. In the compound, which is very wel maintained there are two graves of slaves whose remains were returned in 1998. One was if Samuel Carson the first black man to join the U S navy. He rose to the rank of captain. The second grave was of a woman called Crystal who was a slave in Jamaica. She protested against her treatment and went on hunger strike and died. It was very moving to think that these people had returned to their land.

We moved on to Cape Coast and the castle. Our lunch was in the restaurant alongside the castle and to be honest, was not up to much. I quite liked the spinach soup with hard boiled eggs in it, but to be honest boiled plantain and yam just do not do it for me. Anyway I wasn’t feeling like too much to eat which was probably just as well. On the way in we were really hassled by young man trying to sell pictures and it was just as bad on the way out! An election vehicle drew up outside the restaurant as we were leaving and its amplifier was clearly set to 11 so that we were deafened by the noise. Ghana is certainly a loud country. Last night in the restaurant in Kumasi there were two televisions on, some music from the bar and an unbelievably loud speaker booming out over the terrace outside. Some people were sitting as close as they could to it, without any sign of pain!

We entered the castle and joined an excellent guide who took us around. The first timber structure was built here by the Danes in 1653. In 1663 it was occupied by the Dutch and then in 1664 the British took it over. From 1762 onwards the British extended the castle creating slave dungeons deep underground in order to receive the large numbers of slaves they were sending to the Caribbean and the USA. This was truly a terrible place.

We started in the museum which laid out all the basic facts about slavery and the triangular trade in a very objective way. We next visited the Palaver Room where slaves were bought and sold and the governor’s quarters which had magnificent views over the coastline. It is very picturesque with the surf breaking on rocks below the castle and fishing boats hauled up on the beach while fishermen mend their nets and children play in the waves. Hard to imagine the appalling conditions that existed in the dungeons below. We walked down a slope from the main courtyard into the darkness beneath. Here, in 4 cells, up to 1,000 men were kept. There can barely have been room to sit, never mind lie down. Channels in the tiled floor were meant to take away excreta and urine but these became blocked. In the first barrel-vaulted room the most difficult slaves were kept. Water and food was thrown down to them from above as they sat shackled on the ground. The floor here had been scraped clean revealing the bricks beneath but in the other rooms the accumulation of filth is still there, presumably now rendered harmless with age. From the end cell a tunnel led under the front of the castle to the eastern end, where slaves were led out to the waiting ships through the ‘door of no return’. At that end of the castle was the women’s cell identical to the men’s, but only one room as fewer women slaves were taken. We walked through the door of no return, where the slaves would have been put on board local dug out fishing boats to take them to the big ships waiting some distance off shore. The view of the beach, the boats, and the headland beyond with a rsinbow above it, looked stunning and again it was hard to relate that to these horror of what happened here.

At the end of the tour we were shown the cell where slaves who had rebelled or caused serious trouble were put. It was cleverly designed with three doors. Once all three were shut no air could get in so prisoners slowly suffocated to death in the total darkness. Opposite was the church where the governor and his staff worshipped every Sunday. No more needs to be said.

We fended off the salesmen and got into the bus to drive to our new hotel, the luxurious Coconut Grove Beach Resort. We noted the sign in the car park pointing to the horse stables and the crocdile pond! We were taken to a lovely room within the sound of the breakers on the beach. Furthermore everything seems to work and to be safe. Hot water, a flushing toilet, safe power points, a properly made bed, are all here and it is hard for us to believe that they exist. True it is not cheap – our meal in the restaurant was rather more than we’d paid before, but who cares. Tomorrow we don ‘t have to leave until 10.15 so a lie in, a swim, breakfast and then a stroll along the Palm fringed beach seem to be the order of the day. What could possibly go wrong?image

Ghana – Kumasi – Friday

Awoke today feeling better, but not so wonderful that I was prepared to risk breakfast. Water pressure was very low this morning, so our showers were somewhat limited. Still another couple of Imodium and I could face the world. However you will find that stools figure rather prominently in today’s offering.

First to the Asante King’s palace, now a museum. The British imprisoned the Asante king for 28 years in the early part of the C20th, sending him into exile on the Seychelles. The governor demanded the golden stool from the Asante, but tipped off by someone, they hid it when British troops raided the palace. Not finding it, the troops burnt the wooden and thatch structure to the ground. 28 years later they returned the king to the Asante region and built him a new palace, but the king refused to move into it until the Asante people could pay for it. It was then theirs and no longer belonged to the occupiers! Furthermore the golden stool was retrieved from hiding and is still used in ceremonies today. Unless the king is sitting on it it is kept on its back so that no evil spirits can occupy it. image

On our arrivals at the palace we were shown a short video about the Asante Kingdom and then we met our guide. He was a real character, both informative and very amusing. We went room by room through the museum where we were not allowed to take pictures. Cabinets contained the chief’s guns, a ceremonial axe and some war drums – thank goodness, as the video informed us, the Asante are a peaceful people! We also saw a variety of chairs and stools. I rather list track of the stools, but there is at least a white stool and a black stool, but why I wasn’t sure.

From there we went to the cultural centre and were allowed to wander around through the grounds and, of course, the craft shops. There was an open air prayer meeting going on, so it was unbelievably noisy. I say open air, but it was being held in a church, but so big was the crowd it had spilled out into the grass, in at least 3 directions. Large speakers carried the charismatic preacher’s voice over the congregation and probably half of Kumasi, if it could be given the chance. The preacher repeated key phrases which he then encouraged the congregation to repeat again and again whipping them up into some sort of religious ecstasy. One of these phrases was something like, ” Those who use witchcraft against us …..die, die, die”. This  was clearly not a gospel of repentance and forgiveness and there was little evidence of the ‘peace that passers all understanding.image

We went into lunch in the Kentish kitchen and catering company, run by a charming woman who informed us that she had trained at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London. The food looked very good, but I kept my fast.

Replete we entered a large bowl shaped arena for en exhibition of traditional drumming and dancing. A small group had travelled up from Accra to display for us and very good they were too. We sat on the stage with the, mercifully in the shade. I never understand why at these sorts of things, they always insist that those watching should have a go. Is it that they want us to appreciate how hard it is? I don’t need to try it to know that. As far as I am concerned any form of dancing is well beyond my skill set. Is it that they take pleasure in our humiliation? After all there is nothing more embarrassing than a group of white people trying to find a sense of rhythm. Or is it that they think we want to have a go, so that we can say on our return to Blighty, ‘ I danced with some Asante dancers, you know.’ Whatever the reason, I try to hide away in these situations. This time with only 11 of us that was impossible and I found myself dancing with some very attractive girl who kept barking orders about what I should be doing. At least I didn’t injured her, even though I felt she was asking for it!image

Humiliation over we were given the choice to return to the hotel or walk to the market. As I was feeling better, Christine and I chose the market. Kumasi market is the largest in West Africa an is a full on experience. We walked along roads, competing with mini-buses and cars for the limited space, past stalls selling everything from vegetables and fruit to lumps of rock. The latter are apparently used as charms and to prevent nausea in women…..don’t ask! I quickly learned that photographs were not welcome, except for general overviews. We pushed our way through the crowds and squeezed between mini-buses. We came to a sort of cobbled area which was filthy with plastic bags and other things the provenance of I would not like to guess at. There is no litter problem in Ghana; you just through it on the ground and the problem is solved!image

It was at this point that Nathan told us we hadn’t yet entered the market. We hung a sharp left and headed down a narrow alley where there were clearly more permanent stalls. The first section seemed to consist entirely of ironmongery including rows and rows of gleaming machetes. Then we came to a fish area. The only fish I recognised was mackerel, but there was quite a range, all out in the open. From there an area of clothing and material and then we plunged down another alley into the household goods area. It was unbelievably crowded, hot and noisy. Nathan gad only taken us into small part of the market, but that was enough. Thankfully we climbed the hill out of e maelstrom and to the waiting coach.

On our arrival back at the hotel we found there was no water. Hot, sweaty and in need of a loo this did not go down well. Linda headed off to sorg the problem out and we now have a dribble which means we can wash. I  also had to  persevere to get my washing back. Four goes and someone had the bright idea of looking in the laundry and there it was, not under a stone in the garden, or in a kitchen cupboard – well fancy that!



Ghana – Thursday

I have been accused of being a little scatological in this blog and I fear that this may only worsen with today’s entry. As I said, we had a good meal last night in spite of the frequent power cuts. What I didn’t say was that I had to complete our walk home at double time. I actually had quite a good night’s sleep, but it was clear by the morning that all my troubles were behind me! Christine, similarly felt far from well. Still we managed some try toast for breakfast. St Imodium, the traveller’s friend came to the rescue and we were able to leave with everyone else with a degree of confidence.

We travelled out if Kumasi and headed to a village well known for weaving the beautiful Kente cloth. Kente uses bright colours and traditional patterns to create stunning pieces of cloth using cotton, rayon and even a metallic fibre. Our guide, a student called ‘Cosmos’ showed us how the yarn was put onto a bobbin and I even had a go at it. Then we went to the weaving sheds, some of which are old market buildings.  On the way a couple of men showed us how the warp was created. Then we moved to the weavers and watched amazed as they produced the most intricate patterns from memory at incredible speed. Women also weave, but it is mainly men. The cloth is woven in long strips and is then sewn together to make cloth. The cloth can then be used to make clothes, bags etc..


Shopping was of course, always on the cards and so we were led to two shops selling kente cloth in the main street. Understandably it was expensive, but two of our group bought some. Christine settled for a pair of kente-lined flip-flops. Back at the visitor centre I bought a strip of cloth which I particularly liked.

We moved on to a nearby village, Ntonso, which is  known for printing Adinkra symbols on cloth. Each symbol has a meaning, many of them philosophical. The building where this happened was right next to the local school and we were mobbed by the children again! Our guide showed us how the dye is made, using the bark from a tree which only grows in northern Ghana. The bark is broken up and then steeped in water to soften it. Then the bark is put in a pastel and mortar and pounded to break up the fibres. The fibres are then boiled over an open fire. After the first boiling a red is produced. Further bookings produce brown and finally black. So three colours are obtained from the same tree. The open fire is built between old engine blocks, the only thing that are readily available and which can withstand the heat.image

For a modest fee we were offered the chance to print symbols if our choice on strips of kente cloth. All the women in the group had a go while the men stayed out if it! The results were very pleasing.image

It was about now that I began to feel a little funny ( about time, some might say!) and so I went to sit in the bus. I don’t remember much of the journey home having fallen fast asleep. Lunch was to be at ‘My Kitchen’ about a 5 minute walk from the hotel. I wasn’t up to lunch, so I went back to the hotel on the coach and collapsed on the bed, hoping for sleep. Unfortunately several young Ghnaians have decided to hold a pool party outside our window, so any hope of sleep has gone. The thump thump of Ghanaian pop music plus the screams and shouts from the pool have put paid to any rest , hence I am blogging.

We shall have to see what tomorrow brings!

Ghana – Wednesday – Kuapa Kokoo

Breakfast did not happen at 6.30. The chef had probably fallen on his own can-opener, but a frantic waiter manged to deliver omelettes, barely toast and some cold baked beans by around 7.00. We left at about 7.30 and enjoyed the turmoil which is the Kumasi rush hour. Luckily we were going out of the centre, so our delays were minor compared to those coming in. We were heading north on the main road to Tamale which is excellent. Then we headed off into the middle of nowhere (our guide’s phrase, not mine!). We were visiting the village of Amankwatia and travelling down very narrow, potholed dirt roads to get there. We passed areas of swamp and small cocoa farms as well as the main town of Ofinso and some small villages.

Amankwatia, is in many ways beautiful, in a way that poverty strangely can be. There was a smell of woodsmoke in the air, the houses were mainly wattle and daub but were charming. Women and children sat outside cooking or washing. Mat tables were laid out waiting for the coffee beans. Chickens and their chicks rooted about for grain amongst the red mud. It was peaceful, surrounded as it was by forest and cocoa trees.

Except two things caught the eye and brought you up short. Firstly there were street lights. Tall poles with lights and solar panels on top of them. We learnt later that they had been given by the Cocoa Board and didn’t work anyway. Secondly, up against the forest wall was a large green and cream toilet block, apparently donated by the Methodist church. It looked very new and displayed pictures to show which gender should go where.

The farmers were not quite ready for us so we visited the school at the back of the  co-op’s meeting place. This had been paid for by the FT premium and meant that children no longer had to walk 6kms to school each day. The children all seemed to be doing Science, but the top class were revising for a mock exam. Their teachers did not live locally but cycled in from Ofinso, quite some distance away.image

We met with the local farmers selling to Kuapa Kokoo in the small meeting house, outside on the verandah. Again we had to introduce ourselves and we were introduced to the committee members. As before we opened in prayer, the Moslem members joining in along with the Christians. Then we were free to ask questions of each other.

The cocoa farms are essentially family businesses but the government controls the whole business through two organisations:

1. The Ghana Cocoa Board

2. The Cocoa Marketing Company.

The Cocoa Board sees to the welfare of farmers and their farms. They help farmers get the best yield by researching into new strains of cocoa tree and how best to combat diseases.

The Cocoa Marketing Company oversee the buying of the cocoa and market it. They licence private companies to buy from the farmers. They check the quality of it before it leaves the country so that only the best is exported. The quality of the beans is checked at every stage.

Fairtrade cocoa is organic but certain chemicals are permitted for use . 2% of the profits from Divine go to Kuapa Kokoo who own 46% of Divine.

In this community there are 78 farmers supplying KK . The recorder buys the cocoa from the farmers on behalf of KK. He is elected by them and other communities that he deals with.

There are a lot of women farmers, and KK makes sure that women get a fair deal in all sorts of ways. There is a women’s group leader who arranges special activities for women on Fridays.

The farmers pointed out the benefits of FT to them. As always the most important advantage was that their children could now go to school. FT gives women special training in activities like soap making and Batik so that the family has some income when cocoa is out of season . The farmers are aware of climate change and speak of scorched plants because of the drought and heat. They are now planting trees donated by KK to shade the plants. Every year each KK farmer gets a new machete and a cash bonus depending on how much cocoa they have sold. Each year, on average, a farmer will produce 60 bags of cocoa beans. Everything he sells is recorded in a passbook, so the bonus can be worked out. They also get a pension based on what is recorded in the passbook.


After a photograph we moved into the heart of the village to learn about the cocoa bean processing. The beans are removed from the pods on the farms and are then laid on banana leaves to ferment. They are covered with more leaves and left for 6 – 7 days to ferment. Then they are brought from the farm to the drying tables where they are laid out in the sun for 5 – 7 days to dry. They are turned regularly by hand and small stones are added to the table so that any dirt or fibres are rubbed off. We tasted a bean from the table and it was very good. Then the beans are bagged and sent to the depot.

We  walked up through the village, past the toilet block to a cocoa farm. 1 acre can hold 450 trees on average. The pods are harvested 3 or 4 times a week in the season. The pods can be used for fuel. Some trees still produce pods when they are over 100 years old. On this farm they were only 16 years old. The ground has to be weeded regularly as well as the organic agro-chemicals applied. The pods are cut from the trees by a knife, if necessary on a pole. Then the pods are cut open and the slippery coated beans dug out. We were given some beans to suck on . The White flash around each bean has a very distinctive and pleasant flavour……a bit citrusy perhaps.

Then it was back on the bus for the journey to Ofinso.  We passed through the bustling town and out to the southern edge where the Kuapa Kokoo depot is. Here the beans come to be checked and stored until they can be taken to the port. Samples are taken from each sack and examined by Cocoa Board officials for quality. One does a ‘cut test’ which means that the cuts open 300 beans and looks at the colour  of them. He can then tell which are mouldy and therefore more bitter. Above a certain percentage and the sack is rejected and will be sold at a lower price fifth internal consumption. The beans can also be checked for weevils by the test. A moisture meter is also add to test each sack for humidity. If all is well the sack gets a silver tag on it and can be exported.

Unfortunately only about 30% of what is produced as Fairtrade is sold as such. The other 70% goes to the government for general export. This emphasises the need for us to sell more Fairtrade chocolate!

We drove  back to Kumasi and to our disappointment lunch at our hotel. It was almost ready on time, but was much the same as we’d had the night before. However it was improved by a glass of excellent tangerine juice.

Then it was back on the bus for a 5 minute ride to Kupa Kokoo’s headquarters. We could have walked, but as we are beginning to realise walking is distinctly frowned upon!

I won’t go into too much detail, ad a lot is on their website, but KK was founded in 1993 when the government liberalised the internal cocoa market.there are 100,500 farmers in 6 cocoa regions supplying KK. There are 1,281 active zones with an average of 78 member farmers in each zone. KK offers a guaranteed price of $2,000 a tonne with a social premium of $200 a tonne. This premium makes a real difference to people’s lives:

  • potable water in villages
  • teachers’ bungalows so they stay in remote villages
  • 9 schools have been built by KK
  • books and stationary for schools
  • improved sanitary facilities
  • a mobile clinic which looks after farmers and their families
  • trainng for women in other forms of employment
  • giving extension officers motorbikes so they can visit farms
  • continual monitoring of child labour

and other benefits as well

KK has 6% of Ghana’s cocoa farmers supplying it……about 1% worldwide. But we need to eat more Fairtrade chocolate to make further progress!

We left the offices having bought some KK T shirts and asked to walk back to the hotel. Apparently it was much too far, so we were taken about 500 yards from the door and told we could walk from there! Ah well, better than nothing.

The pool had been cleaned so some of us had a swim and then sat quietly reading. Not for long! What we needed was entertainment, so the faltering sound system in the bar was switched on and African pop music was played at us until we were all driven away.

Later we walked  down the road to a restaurant owned by the Pentacostal church next door. We had been told this was good and indeed it was. Being Pentacostal there was however no alcohol, which upset a number of us, including our two Methodists! Christine and I had pizza which was recognisable as such and quite tasty. The journey home would have been more perilous had we consumed alcohol, so perhaps it was ax well we didn’t . There was a distinct lack of street lights, uneven pavements, gaping chasms in places and the lottery that is crossing the road in Kumasi. We all made it home and headed for our beds. A lie in tomorrow until 7.00 at least!