Today was my favorite day yet. Julia and I had breakfast at 7:00a, which has become our routine, usually toast, a fried egg and watermelon. The bus picked us up at 8:00a, and after a brief stop at the Aya Centre, we headed toward the town of Aburi. It’s located about a 30-45 minute bus ride up a mountain from Accra, and many people go there for vacation because of the cool(er) air, lack of mosquitoes and lush greenery.
It was absolutely beautiful, my favorite place we’ve visited so far. But more significantly, it is drenched in slavery history. Our first stop was the Fredericksgave Plantation, a Danish plantation on top of the mountain where Ghanaians were exploited and enslaved, even after slavery was “abolished.” We stood in the basement where slaves were held, 30-50 of them at a time. We could fit just 18 of us comfortably. It was chilling.
In 2004, a project in collaboration with researchers from Denmark and Ghana to excavate the historical site and establish a museum there. They worked closely with the local people living in Aburi, which I thought was really important. Our tour guide, Daniel, told us that the Danish man that helped lead the excavation project died two years into the project. The locals conducted a funeral service and buried him on the site to honor him. I was blown away by this, how history recycles itself in a way that is overcome, through small, powerfully compassionate steps like this.
We took the bus a little way down the mountain to Aburi’s Botanical Gardens. I don’t have much experience with botanical gardens, but I feel like this one will be hard to beat. Our guide, Maxwell, took us on a tour that lasted about an hour and a half, but he didn’t just point out and name the trees and plants. He showed us the purpose of each plant we came across and how the Ghanaian people have used them as resources. He cut a piece of the trunk of a tree that is used to make cinnamon, and we tasted it. It tasted like Christmas. I smelled incredible jasmine flowers. He pulled off some fresh leaves from a tree that he said women in the northern part of Ghana use to crush and apply as lipstick – the leaves are green, but when you crush them, it turns a bright orange-red. I applied it on my lips and loved it.
This is an original nutmeg seed. Professor Sandberg said she brings the nuts home with her to the U.S. and just one will last her a year’s supply of nutmeg.
There were many mimosa trees, and Maxwell pointed out how if you touch them, the leaves will recoil. They’re an invasive species at home in Alabama (and maybe other regions of the U.S.), and I’ve walked by them and noticed their pink flowers for years, but had no idea they were capable of this.
The last tree we visited was carved by an artist that we met at lunch. I bought some of his small ink paintings at lunch but had no idea the extent of his artistry. He has worked on this piece for five years, and he told us he still isn’t done and wants to add a bench that encircles the trunk for people to sit on. He told us it represents the struggle of life: some end up on top, the rich and royal, some of us climb from the middle, and some of us are stuck at the bottom.
Overall, the tour was beautiful, and refreshing, and probably my favorite experience since being in Ghana (at least, so far).
On our way down the mountain, we stopped at a wood-carving market. I have never seen vendors so aggressive. We were the first to get there and there were probably 40-50 different small shops (picture a flea market) that sold virtually the same trinkets. Andy and I went together, because all the vendors were yelling and calling us to get our attention (and money) and it was a little intimidating. I bought these beads, to wrap around my wrist and ankle. Andy got a similar one to use as waist beads, which is a Ghanaian tradition for girls to wear under their clothes from a young age. The idea is that it represents purity until marriage, and that no one except your spouse is supposed to see your beads. The lady that sold it to her actually pulled on her shorts and tried to stuff the beads down them. It was hilarious.
On our way back to Accra, we stopped at a fruit market. Before our bus had even stopped, women carrying baskets of fruit RAN over to the bus and crowded the door. Winnie had to yell at them to move out of the way so that we could get down from the bus. Once a few of us finally were able to get out of the doors, they all crowded around us, shoving their baskets in our faces. I got an orange for 3 GHC (about $.75). I asked for her to cut it into four pieces, and before I could even bite into it, its juice was dripping down my arm. It was so delicious, the best orange I’ve ever had. Sitting in the back of the bus, I know the women selling fruit were watching me gnaw on it through the window like some kind of animal, but I didn’t care. It dripped all over me, but it was totally worth it.
In the evening, back in Accra at our home stays, Julia and I ate peanut soup that had chicken and tomato in it, over rice. I’ve never had anything like it, but it was both of our favorite meals so far.