“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list…” Susan Sontag
I had my Accra orientation today. The coordinators of the Foundation took myself and four other volunteers into town today and walked us around areas they thought would be of interest to tourists like us. Of the places that we visited the ones that I think are a must see when in Accra are;
Independence is situated off the coast and across the road from the National Stadium in Accra. It is apparently the world’s second largest city square after Tiananmen in China. It is the spot where soldiers returning from fighting for the British in World War II congregated to protest after all the promises they had been made had not materialised. As they protested the colonialists opened fire and killed three of them. The square was in their memory. The square is used as a place to hold national public events and celebrations such as the Independence Day parade.
It is huge, colourful and very noisy. It sells virtually everything, new and second hand and is divided neatly into sections, each section containing stalls selling the same items. In the snails section I saw the biggest snails ever and I could not stop sneezing in the pepper section. Stall holders shout out to customers as they walk by inviting them to come to their stalls. Some even grab your hand and ask you to look at their goods. They are not aggressive though, if you are not interested, they let you continue on your way. Alongside the stall holders are hawkers walking up and down shouting “pure water”, “one cedi, two cedis”, “pk mentos”, some pulling carts, others with their goods balancing snuggly on their heads. As we wheezed, through we even witnessed a funeral service. Apparently, the deceased was a stall holder on the spot where the ceremony was taking place. I really wanted to capture the essence of the place (the market not the funeral), on film but it is the kind of place where you don’t take your camera out. I did not need to be told. I saw a tourist getting a good telling off for trying to snap one of the fruit sellers.
Jamestown, one of the oldest districts in Accra is a run-down area inhabited mainly by the Ga people who are fishermen. Although the area looks poor and deprived, its inhabitants are apparently the happiest in Accra. They live very simple lives and don’t care about material possessions like the rest of us. The majority are illiterate and believe that school is a waste of time, they prefer to train their children in the same trade which in many cases is fishing or canoe making. Most families in the community live in one-bedroom shacks with no bathrooms or toilets. They have shared public bathrooms and toilets which they can use for a small fee.
But like in most places in Accra, the men just pee in the nearest spot they can find. Crime is also apparently very low in the district because criminals never make it to the police station. If one is caught committing a crime, justice and punishment is dished out there and then. Thieves for example have a tyre thrown over their heads and are set on fire. I am not surprised that the crime rate is low. At Jamestown I felt like a proper slum tourist. The people didn’t seem to mind our presence though, the kids kept running up to the ladies to greet them, the adults just carried on what they were doing. I felt like a voyeur and very uncomfortable.
The Arts Centre
The Arts Centre is not really an Arts centre but rather a market place where tourists go to buy souvenirs and gifts to take back home at ridiculous prices. There is a wide range of items on sale including dresses, handbags, shoes, jewellery, carvings and paintings most made by local craftsmen. Being a place frequented by tourists it is full of hawkers trying to get you to buy this or that.
There is a high concentration of dreadlocked young men in the place, the majority seem to be from neighbouring French speaking countries. Inside the market itself, the stallholders were a little aggressive with their sales techniques. Having said that some of the items on sale are really beautiful, the art and carvings especially.
At the drum shop we were given a fifteen-minute drumming lesson by David one of the drum makers. It was great fun and a made me want to buy a drum there and then which I guess is the point of the lessons. The drums are really pretty though and very reasonably priced. On my next trip I will come with an empty suitcase.
Coffin Making Workshop
The most interesting place that we visited has to be the coffin making place. Death in Ghana it would seem is nothing to be afraid of. People order their coffins in advance choosing the design and getting them made ready for when the time comes. And they don’t go for the conventional wooden boxes that people in most countries get buried in. The coffins come in all shapes and sizes. Apparently one can take up to two months to make but that is not a problem here as it can take months or in some cases almost a year for a person to be buried.
You can go out with a bang in this hammer shaped coffin.
There are places that we just drove past including Osu which is apparently the Oxford Circus of Accra, the National Theatre, the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and of course the beach. These would have been interesting to see, hopefully I will visit them in the next few weeks.