What I learned on my trip to Ghana
Upon entering in the district Mpraeso-Kwahu in South Ghana, I was taken aback by the breath-taking jungle skyline. Instead of seeing the “Big Five”, I was surrounded by so much colour from a multitude of lush green trees and dusty sunset-coloured roads, to the patterned dresses of Ghanaian women. In contrast, 7 hours away, in the Gold Coast, there’s much less green and a lot more blue there. This coastal region became the central hub for the Portuguese gold trade from the 15th century and in the transatlantic slave trade too. On the day that I visited, it was stormy and the waves were particularly choppy; how a lot of the slave crossings to the Americas would probably have been like.
Situated on top of a large rocky structure that spills out into the sea, there is a wide, whitewashed castle. It’s difficult to imagine how more than 200 years ago, 200 slaves were trapped in each of its 5 dungeons, who had to try and survive down there in cramped, squalid conditions.
As one of the largest slave-holding buildings during this period, Cape Coast Castle is a must-visit if you want to find out about the important role that Ghana played during the colonial era.
A noteworthy place to visit when returning to Accra airport is Kokrobite. Whilst Cape Coast can tell you a lot about the history of Ghana, the well-known beach resort, with its live reggae and African drum nights, offers an insight into the country’s music scene. The African drum nights are a tribute to the 1950s-1970s in Ghana. This was at the peak of “highlife music” which is a blend of traditional percussion instruments and imported styles. Under the influence of the acclaimed artists, Et Mensah and Alex Konadu, the band sung fast-paced chants and played light drum beats, making for a lively performance which involved them teaching the audience how to dance along too.
Ed Sheeran’s song ‘Bibia Be Ye Ye’ is in fact a modern take on this music style. As well as this song featuring on his 2017 album ‘÷’, he recorded ‘Boa Me’ with the Ghanaian-English artist Fuse ODG, singing in the Ghanaian dialect, Twi, but also customizing it with his own trademark guitar sound. Elsewhere, it is evident that music is celebrated by children too. When the schoolchildren danced at breaktime or after they’d finished their work and were tapping their pencils on the table, they showed that they could naturally follow a rhythm or start a beat.
When visiting schools such as Nkyenenkyene Presbyterian, and especially when spending time at less fortunate schools which have just one classroom to 100 children, it’s hard not to be reminded how lucky we are for having easily accessible resources. The contrast of wealth between mud hut villages that have schools such as these, to built-up and popular areas like Kumasi and Cape Coast, can be observed in any country. However, first-hand experiences of such places offer the most valuable insight into a country’s particular culture. Indeed, it was invaluable to leave my Western way of life behind, for a chance to try local dishes, such as red-red and kenkey, from side road chop shops, and try and adopt a slower-paced life, whilst appreciating the beautiful jungle setting whilst I was there.
I can’t encourage you more to try and immerse yourself fully on your travels, or at least get to know where you live more; it doesn’t matter if you are just starting out at uni or if you’ve lived there for a while now. We could all benefit from learning about different cultures on our travels, or even simply making more of an effort to discover more about where we live now.