Author Topic: West Africa - images posted in Africa album  (Read 1156 times)

Cindy Miller Hopkins

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West Africa - images posted in Africa album
« on: May 19, 2010, 05:02:38 AM »
Toto … we’re not in Kansas any more!

We have been very lucky over the years to travel to some pretty exotic locations … Easter Island, Tibet, the Amazon, and deepest Panamanian jungles of the Darien. We’ve traveled well above the Arctic Circle within 1,200 miles of the North Pole and just as far south to Antarctica. These places by most standards are certainly remote, hard to get to, and not universally visited. BUT we have just crossed over, at least for us, into a whole new category of “exotic.” For the past few days we have been in West Africa, specifically Benin, Togo & Ghana. These countries are in the infancy of “tourism.” They are the birthplace of slavery, voodoo and … credit card scams. Here in Africa it’s said that elephants can smell a watering hole over 30 miles away. Apparently, the same goes for the locals when it comes to an unguarded credit card number!

We started in Benin, where the slave trade all started. Benin has a tragic and sad past to be sure. The local chiefs, in cahoots with the Europeans, figured out that selling their own people would be highly profitable … and that’s just what they did. Herded like cattle, they walked their neighbors down the “road of no return.” We passed a market square where they used to make the “merchandise” walk around a large tree three times. The first circle was to give you time to forget about your home, the second time around was to forget your family, the last … forget about yourself. Once past the tree, you were never coming home again. The long road spilled out onto a wide beachfront where they loaded the slaves onto ships headed for the New World. A memorial archway marks the spot on the beach of the infamous loading area. We also visited a floating town built over a shallow river system. Apparently, back when tribal chiefs were “hunting” for slaves, the warriors could not swim. Desperate families fled to the river systems where they hid out from slave traders, eventually making permanent homes for themselves and saving generations from slavery. The ‘floating” towns still remain.

Togo is all about voodoo. Christians & Muslims alike all practice voodoo. In fact, on Sunday you can go right from church to mixing up a spell in your iron pot at home. Nobody names a child, enters into a business deal, or gets married without consulting some sort of voodoo god or the use of fetishes. No visit to Togo would make sense without first visiting a fetish market. This truly bizarre and creepy market was filled with all the “ingredients” needed to contact the god of your choice, cast spells, and perform voodoo. Everything from rare wild cat hides, to dried turtles, snakes, frogs were available. Gruesome dried monkey heads seemed to be a popular item, as did wooden voodoo dolls pierced with nails & spikes. After our visit … and quick round of prayers said under my breath … we got back on the leaky, HOT bus with no AC. It did have a PA system at one time, but the speakers had long since been stripped out by thieves leaving only dangling wires. The “leaky” part was soon to be quite important as we are in the beginning of rainy season … and when it decided to rain it came down in Noah worthy deluges, IN and out of the bus. The good news was it did drop the temperature from 96° to a tolerable 85° with 99% humidity! Besides lots of voodoo & snake worship, there was plenty of graphic sexual imagery around. At least at the wood carving school they did put a condom on one particularly large carving! We made a stop at a bush school out in the countryside, but it was raining so hard we could hardly walk against the driving rain, so the photos are less than I hoped for. One bright spot was a visit to a remote town where we were visited in the traditional way … the village chief (aka king or ruler) greeted us with a small welcoming ceremony (which thankfully did not include killing anything) followed by some dancing and singing by the entire village. By now the rain had thankfully stopped as the townspeople had dress in their best attire, which ranged from beautiful batik gowns to just clean underwear. It was here that Lee, in my opinion, got the best shot of the day of a colorful old woman. The villagers were watching us as much as we were watching them, as most had never seen a tourist or white person before. The kids LOVED seeing their faces in on the backs of our cameras and when asked (in French) if they knew what a camera was, only a few said yes.

Ghana was by far the most developed of the three countries. Having the most stable government, for now, helps Ghana develop much faster than the others. While still remote, the cities had good infrastructure and a lot more cars … which spells TRAFFIC. Our bus was over an hour late picking us up because it was stuck in traffic, so we were assigned a police escort to get us to & from our venues. With lights flashing and sirens blaring off we went to blend in with the locals … ha-ha. One of the funniest places we visited was a wood carver’s home who specialized in “unique” caskets. I know … that does not sound funny, but he carves & paints caskets in all sorts of funny shapes. There is the fish or crab casket, for fisherman … beer bottles, for those who loved to drink when they were alive, and my personal favorite … a coffin in the shape of a pack of cigarettes! He even had little wooden sample sizes to show off his work. Well, all it took was for somebody to offer to buy one of the samples (a Guiness beer bottle) and the buying frenzy was on! This guy priced his hand carved samples for a mere $25 US and sold almost every one he had … the parrot, an airplane, and yes even a cell phone! The only remaining samples were a chicken & a banana … yes, a chicken coffin ... go figure??? I think he is now going into a NEW business selling miniature coffins which will now be used no doubt as jewelry boxes back in the US. OK, granted … it was a very unique & tempting souvenir but once he sold the pineapple that I liked to a woman from Europe, I stuck to just taking a photo ;) I did wonder what I would look like stretched out in a giant camera? Hummmm??? … I think I’ll pass. We were then taken to some nice monuments, the national museum, a handicraft market, and had a nice lunch at a beachfront resort where we were treated to some folkloric dancers …. nice, but not nearly the same genuine experience we were fortunate to experience in Togo.     

 

keithsnell

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Re: West Africa - images posted in Africa album
« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2010, 08:21:14 AM »
Hi Cindy,

WOW!  Thank you for sharing your adventures.  I enjoyed reading about your trip, and seeing the images you posted in the gallery.  I do like the image of the Togo village woman.  She looks very serene.  The "fetish" images were remarkable too, but not quite as pleasant to look at.  :)

It was interesting reading a different perspective on the slave trade too. 

It sounds like it was a fascinating journey, but I'm sure in some respects you are glad to be home.

Thanks again for sharing your adventures!

Keith

Cindy Miller Hopkins

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Re: West Africa - images posted in Africa album
« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2010, 10:58:44 AM »
I'm not home yet ... in fact I'm on my way to Gambia now. I won't be home for another 2+ weeks. I sent the images from here  ;D
Cindy

keithsnell

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Re: West Africa - images posted in Africa album
« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2010, 11:01:38 AM »
I'm not home yet ... in fact I'm on my way to Gambia now. I won't be home for another 2+ weeks. I sent the images from here  ;D
Cindy

Even more impressive!  Thanks for thinking of us while you are on the road.

Keith