This is a five-part-story series on traveling to Morocco—Senegal—Ghana, part of North and West Africa

Our next stop was to Accra, Ghana’s capital, where we stayed the last three remaining days of our 16-day trip. Too short of a time to really experience all that this country offers but enough to walk away with a deeper understanding of West African culture and its connection to America’s African diaspora. Driving through Ghana’s Cape Coast, you get to see the contrast between the natural beauty of this country and its people…

 First … A Bit of History

Ghana is the second-most populous country in West Africa with nearly 31 million residents having its own share of beaches, tropical forests, rolling hills and bustling cities. For centuries, several European countries colonized Ghana, finally declaring independence in 1957 becoming the first colony in West Africa to achieve sovereignty.

Ghana is the third largest U.S. export market for goods in Sub-Saharan Africa consisting of  agriculture, mining, oil and gas production. While Ghana is experiencing one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, it is still underdeveloped, where poverty remains a major factor affecting the future of generations to come.

What We Did in Ghana

We started the evening by meeting with several young Ghanian artists who are taking part in a residency program that we would like to replicate in the US. The next day we attended the city of Accra National Museum not as sophisticated as the museum in Dafar, although plans are underway to build a huge museum.

 The most impactful day for me was the drive through the Ghana-Cape Coast border to visit the Elmina Castle, a slave trading post that ferociously fed the Atlantic slave trade (more about this port at a later story). Getting to and returning from the castle was a profound experience for me. A two-hour drive through shanty towns where you are just overwhelmed by the underdevelopment and poverty of the coast.

I was saddened by the homes and storefronts that were clearly self-constructed, dilapidated, and small. It’s hard to envision these homes having plumbing and access to water. The living conditions on the Cape Coast are harsh and massive. We drove through so many similar communities, witnessing the same conditions repeatedly as we approached the castle. Getting there, we came across a tribe of Africans with painted faces dressed in white robes playing drums and stopping cars on the road asking for money. We quickly gave them some dollars and pushed through. I was so freaked out by the experience I could only take one photo (and not a good one). Believe me, this experience will  be seared in my memory for a long time.

Interestingly, just about everything is sold in the outdoors. You barely saw buildings, even for industrial goods. All lined up nicely near the road, from tires to cement blocks to machinery.

As we approached several small communities on the roads, you are awed by the entrepreneurial  spirit of Ghanaians trying to sell you their wares. In many cases, it was both adults and children. A way of life where every day hawking their goods is how they can feed themselves.

Head Carrying Loads… a cultural phenomenon

 Since ancient times, men and women have been balancing loads of goods on their heads. In Africa, the practice has persisted similar to other third world countries. In Ghana, it is almost an art. You become mesmerized by the loads perfectly balanced on women’s heads effortlessly carrying up to 20% of their body weight without using their hands. African women are taught to balance loads starting as young as  6 using a rolled piece of cloth to keep the load from hurting their heads.

I took many photos of this rather unique cultural phenomenon. I found it intriguing to see women colorfully dressed, sometimes holding a child on their back while carrying a load on their head with such perfect balance. This experience will also stay with me, as I found it to be both hypnotic and profound.

 Ghanaian Textiles and Fashion  

Ghanaians are known for developing their unique art of adinkra printing. In fact, the Kente is the traditional or national cloth of Ghana and the most famous of its adinkra prints as it is linked with their history. Some of my photos include Ghanaians dressed up in traditional clothes with women in headdresses. These African prints are also very popular in the US and the Caribbean. In fact, many international designers have incorporated African prints into their clothing lines. We visited a Ghanaian designer, Kwaku Bediako who designs both traditional and modern style men’s clothing, having many African American celebrities as clients.

 The Makola Market Place

 One of the most intense and mind-blowing experiences on this African trip was our visit to the Makola outdoor market with our driver who, if not for him, we may still be lost there. Makola is one of several outdoor markets in Ghana that could put Walmart out of business. The first market that we visited was not as crowded. Makola was different. It was hugely massive, confusing, and not easy to navigate. The pavements and streets are clogged with vendors selling everything from food to household items and clothing.

A good amount of the vendors are women and the buyers come from all over the city to find what they need at bargain prices. Anything a  household can possibly need can be found here for pennies. This is not where tourists usually go to shop. The two of us (not the driver) were the whitest folk in the entire place. After a couple of hours of shopping and pushing through crowds, it was time to head back to the hotel. Next day there was a bit more shopping and then a night flight back to the Morocco’s airport to make it back home.

 Final Note

  As always, I tried to provide a collection of photos that are part of the story for you to enjoy. They generally are in the same order as the narrative. I look forward to sharing at last one more story as part of this series on Africa. Next, Africa’s notorious slave ports… a conscience visit.

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