Akweley, Akweley

Day 5 – January 2nd, 2013

It was 6:45 a.m. when my cellphone rang to maximum volume right next to my ears. I mustered all of the forces I still had left from yesterday’s West African dance class only to realize that Part II awaited us in the common room. Sighs. I am really tired. But it will be fun!

After having another amazing breakfast that consisted of home made oatmeal (take that Yale Dining) and Ghanaian bread, our dance teacher, Christopher, had us present the dances we learned yesterday. While everyone danced Bima and Gota to their respective rhythms, I struggled a little – ok, a lot – until I managed to coordinate my hands and feet to follow the drums. We finished our workout session drenched in sweat and sat down in the couches feeling victorious. Christopher, however, quickly used the game of “Kofi says” (the Ghanaian version of Simon says) to inform us that we were learning two more dances. The first one reminded me of childhood games I used to play back in Brazil. It consisted of a clapping game that involved a lot of walking sideways and changing directions of hands. Needless to say, I also struggled through this one. The second one, called Gahu, was created to mock wealthy, pretentious West Africans who went to Europe and North America in the 1950’s. The dance sought to make fun of the condescending attitude the affluent demonstrated towards their own culture upon their return home. In Gahu, dancers imitate the movement of airplanes and dance wearing normal clothes and shoes (as opposed to dancing barefoot) to demonstrate that these wealthy West Africans were the ones who should be ridicule.

drumming workshop4 (small)

After dancing some steps of Gahu, Christopher, Mutala and Isaac taught us some basic drumming. Although the workshop was fun, it was short-lived, because it was soon time for us to eat the delicious food Fausti prepared for us. Under Yaa’s request, Fausti prepared us fufu (a starchy, elastic, puree-like mix of plantains and cassava) together with…(drumrolls)…snail soup. I must confess that the soup was delicious, though I wasn’t a HUGE fan of the snail I ate (sorry Yaa, snails are not my thing). This time Clarey – and not Paul – was the last one of the finish her Fufu. We later learned that Paul and Jiwon made an agreement not to be the last ones to finish their respective dishes again.

 

 

We soon departed for Cape Coast, a coastal city nearby the Sankofa Center. Cape Coast was a well sought-after colony by different European nations. Although the Portuguese were the first ones to arrive there, the British controlled the city for the majority of colonial history. Upon arriving in Cape Coast, Yaw introduced us to our guide, Mr. Blankson, who was also responsible for giving a tour to President Obama when he visited Ghana in 2010. We started our tour with a brief overview of the history of Cape Coast while overlooking the Cape Coast Castle. We then proceeded to see a memorial built for citizens of Cape Coast who fought in WWI and WWII. After that, we saw the memorial plaques for people who were important in Cape Coast history including Queen Victoria. We then saw the Wesleyan (Methodist) Church, that was responsible for a large part of the religious, economic, and political development of Cape Coast and Ghana. The reason why this church was so important was that after services, its members would meet in the plaza in front of it to discuss politics and whatnot. After passing through the tourist information center, we went up a hill to get to one of the many forts that exist in Cape Coast. From Fort Willian we were able to see the many phases of development the city has undergone. What was most shocking for me, however, was learning that although Cape Coast is one of the most important education capitals in Ghana, it still maintains its colonial architecture and lacks many “modern” buildings.

We proceeded to continue our walk through the city, and, after a much needed break for buying water, stopped in front of Chapel Square Mosque, a relatively modest building. Mr. Blankson told us a very interesting story about it: because of its size, when there was a large Muslim convention in the city, the worshipers were forced to celebrate in the streets. This worked fine until it began to rain, at which point they asked to seek shelter in the Methodist church across from them. The church decided to rearrange all of its seating and allowed the Muslims to pray there instead of having to do so in the rain. To me, this speaks a lot about Ghanaian culture and hospitality: Ghana is a lively, welcoming country; one in which all cultures coexist together peacefully and without prejudices. After hearing this story, we moved through the inner parts of town, visiting a fish-market and some popular shopping areas. Our tour ended when we met with Yaw once again. The crew then exchanged money at a Forex bureau and we all returned to the Sankofa Center pleased with what we had learned and experienced.

After dinner, I took a much-needed, invigorating, two-hour siesta while the rest played cards. We then welcomed three refugees from the Ivory Coast who live in the Egyeikrom camp where Isaac has been contracted build semi permanent shelters. While I cannot share their stories here for privacy reasons, I can tell you that it was truly touching to hear their first-hand experiences about the situation in the Ivory Coast and their lives in the refugee camp.

Sometimes unexpected things happen in life. And yet, these gentlemen demonstrated to us that despite the circumstances, they have been able to retain their hope and work towards establishing a better future for themselves and their families.

JP Drechsler

Akweley is a Ga name for a girl. Akweley, Akweley is the title of one of the games that we learned from Christoper. It’s a very interesting and dance-filled name game.

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