Thursday, September 11, 2014

Waking the dead

Before leaving home, I made a list of to dos for my time in Ghana.  On the list is a goal of visiting all ten regions of the country.  So far I’ve made it to Cape Coast twice to visit landmarks and friends.  A couple of posts ago I mentioned my friends in Cape Coast inviting me back for their annual Fetu Afahye festival.  Their stories about Orange Friday and the lively crowds convinced me to hop a bus and take part in the excitement.  And according to the locals, I witnessed real spirits awake from the dead.  Here’s what I captured during the 2014 Fetu Afahye festival.

On Friday morning I didn’t want to get out of bed for anything.  I usually like to get eight hours of rest, but that didn’t happen the night before, so I was pretty groggy.  On top of that, I was rushing out of the hostel to catch a van to Cape Coast in the neighboring town of Kaneshie, so I didn’t get much of a breakfast either.  Fortunately, after my friend dropped me at Kaneshie and helped me find a van, I was able to grab a bite to eat.  I mentioned previously that squawkers constantly fill the streets selling everything imaginable, from toothbrushes, to toy trucks to coconut scones.  As I was sitting in the van waiting for it to fill with people so we could be on our way, women came by balancing bowls of peanuts, watermelon, and other tasty looking goods on their heads.  When a woman came by selling paw paw (or papaya), I knew I had to have some for breakfast or either be really hungry for the next three hours.  One of the passengers helped me hail her in Twi (the local language), and about five minutes later I had delicious papaya to eat for breakfast.  Pretty soon the bus filled with passengers and before I knew it, we were on our way. 

A few years ago when I studied in the Netherlands, Africans had told me that fruit in Africa is the sweetest I'll ever taste in my life.  And they were right.  It's always so fresh, so sweet, and so delicious.  I really believe I could live off of papaya if I had to!  September 5, 2014
Around 1:00pm we arrived in Cape Coast.  Finding my way to the hotel was easy thanks to a taxi driver who greeted me before I could step out of the van.  The ride up to Mighty Victory Hotel was easy and comfortable, as people lined the streets in anticipation of the Orange Friday activities.  The hotel was just as my travel book suggested: quaint and clean with crisp white sheets and staff who smiled.  I had spoken with the hotel manager a few times before about accommodations, so I immediately recognized him by his voice when I checked in.  He welcomed me to the hotel and told me he was glad I could make it.  Shortly after settling in, I called my friend to let her know I had arrived.  

We agreed to meet that evening so I could have a few hours to rest.  As we made plans of where and when to meet, soft melodies of Ghanian music rode on the wind through my bedroom window.  By this time my stomach was singing a song of it’s own so I headed down to the hotel restaurant.  What a relief it was to see a full menu that included freshly squeezed orange juice, grapefruit and apple juice, toast and jam, sausage and peppers, and other familiar foods.  Being a breakfast person, I requested crepe pancakes with jam, sausage and peppers and a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice.  Not long after I placed my order, the server brought out a tray of hot food that was absolutely flavorful.  As soon as I took my first bite, I knew I’d be eating there again.

Another wonderful experience I had at the hotel was taking hot showers.  In the bathroom there was a glorious rain shower that poured out a constant flow of boiling hot water.  I’m pleased to say that I took two hot showers a day and enjoyed every minute of it!  Really reminded me of home.  Likewise, when I took a nap or went to bed for the night, I had a sound sleep.  I thought the music outside my window would keep me awake, but I drifted right off to sleep every time I went to bed and did not want to get up!

Mighty Victory Hotel, September 7, 2014
Hotel room, September 6, 2014
Around 6:00pm Gloria and I met up to take part in the Orange Friday parade.  She introduced me to her cousin and the three of us made our way to the junction and on up the road.  We fought the flow of the crowd as people dressed in all orange and funny costumes headed toward Victoria Park.  I hadn’t been in a crowd that huge in a long time.

Orange Friday, September 5, 2014
The people were moving so quickly that the photo became blurred.  An beautiful effect, September 5th, 2014

Louisa and I having a laugh before Gloria and I went dancing, September 6, 2014

A Ghanaian having fun, September 5, 2014
Lively Cape Coast at night, September 6, 2014
The next morning the internet was still down, so the hotel driver took me to an internet cafe so I could check my email and make the week’s blog post.  While we waited for Gloria to call me so we could meet up for the big parade, he took me around the city to see some of the festivities.  Just as on Orange Friday, people lined the streets selling food, waving banners, and having a good time.  Gloria explained to me that the Afute Afahye is a time for people in Ghana to pay homage to their ancestors.  The festival begins with the local chiefs staying up from Monday evening to Tuesday morning pouring libation to summon the ‘Gods’ and their ancestors.  From that time on until the end of the festival, the people believe the spirits of their ancestors can enter any person at any time and make them behave in strange ways and do strange things.  At one point as we walked down the street to Victoria Park, we were halted as the crowd began pushing and shoving.  I wondered what was happening.  Gloria explained that the ancestors had entered someone in the parade and the people were running in the opposite direction so the spirits would not enter them.  I asked Gloria if the people are so afraid of the spirits, why do they continue to hold the festival.  She said it is a sign of respect to their ancestors who came before them and protected them.  I then asked her why people don’t just pray to God for thanks and protection.  She said people pray to God as well, but the “ancestors were there before God.”  I had never heard this concept before and was quite surprised and perplexed.  Culture shock is around every corner.

A dancer representing his tribe, September 6, 2014
A costume representing a crocodile, September 6, 2014
If you look closely, you'll see that the woman in red is being held by the women with the yellow headdress.  According to the locals, the woman in red has been possessed by the ancestral spirits and she could easily hurt herself if she walked on her own.  In order for the spirits to release her, they pour libation in the ground to please the spirits, September 6, 2014

Gloria and I at the festival, September 6, 2014
Ghanaian president John Dramani Mahama, September 6, 2014

The only female chief I saw in the parade.  Gloria said she's also a professor at Cape Coast University, September 6, 2014

Chiefs, their subjects, and onlookers line the streets, September 6, 2014

The festival lasted from noon to about six 6:00pm.  Chiefs from all over Ghana came to take part in the ceremonies.  Drumming, singing, shouting, and dancing could be heard from miles away.  Even the president of Ghana, Mahama, made an appearance.  By the end of the day we were all tired and sweaty, but happy.  Experiencing the festival gave me a first hand look at Ghanaian culture.  Gloria told me I was very fortunate to be in Ghana at the time to experience the festival.  I agreed with her that it was special and I had never experienced anything like it in my life.  Although I had a blast, I was happy when Sunday morning came and the hotel manager gave me a ride to the Ford Station.  This time the van filled quickly as Ghanaians and international students loaded up to head home for the week to come.  As I sat in the van thinking about the weekend’s events, I began thinking about classes, too.  The first week of school is currently underway.  I’ll discuss what my first week and giving my first Rotary presentation was like in next week’s blog.  For now, it’s off to read Chapters 1, 3, and 4 of my textbook on Research Methods (yikers!).

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post and loved the photos. A little culture shock can be a good thing.