Originally published in Public Agenda on August 31, 2012
By Schuyler Durham
After nearly five weeks of assimilating myself to the hustle and bustle of cities like Accra and Kumasi, brimming with commotion and activity, my weekend trip to the Volta Region was a welcome break from my Ghanaian routine. As I watched the urban beauty of Accra gradually give way to the lush greenery of eastern Ghana, I felt as if I was falling into a hammock and taking a deep restful breath of ocean air.
The bus generously loaned to my fellow students and I by the School of Communication Studies Department, University of Ghana, Legon, rolled into the Tafi-Alome Monkey Sanctuary sometime in the early afternoon. As Mona monkeys climbed on my shoulders to grab bits of banana out of my hand, our tour guide explained the history of the forest. The monkeys there are considered sacred and local people believe that they are little manifestations of God. Unfortunately, during the people’s earliest introductions to Christianity, some leaders misinterpreted verses of the Bible in a way that provoked them to start killing off the monkeys. The Mona monkeys were slaughtered in this way for decades, until the community turned back to their traditional ways. Since then, the population of the nearly vanished Mona monkey has bounced back to life. I was glad the people have learned to respect the monkeys because it was one of my favourite experiences thus far in my Ghanaian travels.
Our next stop was the Wli waterfall, the tallest waterfall in West Africa. Butterflies lined the pathway with their vibrant colour variations as we wound our way up the hillside. The waterfall run off snaked through the path and we crossed it on seven different footbridges, each one as picturesque as a postcard.
Once we reached the base of the waterfall, all of us Oregonians jumped right into the water. There was a group of Ghanaian teachers-in-training who took great delight in seeing some crazy obronis strip down to their bathing suits and leap into the choppy pool. They cheered and shouted and sang as we tried to wade as close to the fall as we could. The overwhelming power of the waterfall made it so that, even at 20 yards away, the spray from the fall was blinding. Still, we turned our backs to the mist and sightlessly crept our way toward the wall of water.
After tiring of battling the power of the water, we sloshed up onto the banks and experienced the power of Ghanaian community. The teachers had formed a dance circle with a row of drummers along the outside. The musical festivities were too much to ignore, so we dove into the circle, equalling the enthusiasm that got us into the pool. We danced and danced until our clothes were almost dry, then moseyed on down the path, considering the beauty in both nature and community, feeling like our heads were still up in the euphoria of the Wli waterfall and our new friends.
The next day produced a similar contrast between nature and community’s beauty. We spent the afternoon on a boat zooming up and down the Volta River. The green hills looming over our small boat reminded me of my home in Oregon, United States, though the vegetation was uniquely African. We watched fisherman float by on canoes. Some were avidly working their nets, others stretched out in a patch of shade for an afternoon nap. Our group was quietly contemplative, and we let the hum of the small engine set the tone while we took in the pretty scenery rolling past our vision.
Sometime after we disembarked and allowed our eyelids to be lulled into a short nap like the fisherman, we decided it was about time for another dance circle. Unfortunately, there were no dance circles we could join, so we took it upon ourselves to get one started. The hotel where we stayed had large speakers blasting music, so it did not take long to recreate the energy of the previous day’s dance circle. People from all within earshot came to join us; Americans, Ghanaians, Indians, Germans and others all dancing together. A Ghanaian tried to teach me how to “azonto,” but I don’t think I picked it up as quickly as she hoped I would. Regardless, it was a great way to wrap up our Volta adventure.
The Volta trip was not as factually packed as my Kumasi trip, nor was it as emotionally intense as my trips to slave castles at Elmina and Cape Coast. The Volta trip was beautiful though, and I think the beauty I experienced that weekend was representative of the beauty of Ghana: the beauty of nature and people. Every time I thought I had experienced a perfected beauty in a fluttering butterfly or massive hillside, the next moment would have me lost in the beauty of friendship as I was dragged into a dance circle or friendly chat.
From the Mona monkeys jumping onto my shoulders, to the Ghanaian dancers with their arms around my shoulders, it is clear that the only thing that can match the beauty of Ghana’s nature is the beauty of Ghana’s people.
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