16 June 2012. Climbing Mt. Afadjato, Volta Region.

Written by Emma, posted using Sarah’s wordpress account, on Danish’s computer. GO TEAM!


I’ve been watching out the windows of the bus longingly towards the mountains. Beautiful, harsh, cutting up out of the otherwise flat spans of land… They’ve been calling to me. Today we climbed a mountain. I was stoked.

As a group we had breakfast and left the hotel a bit before 8. It was probably a 45 minute drive (on more bumpy dirt roads navigated superbly by Uncle John, A+) to get to the base of Mt. Afadjato, which is supposedly the highest mountain in Ghana at… correct me if I’m wrong, somebody, but maybe 864 meters? I think it’s something like that. We were a little confused though, because there was definitely a higher peak within sight…? We never really got a clear answer to that question. Anyway, I definitely underestimated the legitimacy of the climb from the base of the mountain. It was good and challenging (and sweatier than I expected) ascending the steep, rocky, rooted path to the top, which opened up to a partly cloudy sky and a complete panoramic view of the area. The first few of us that made it up had some blissful moments of having the view all to ourselves before a large group of Ghanaian college students joined us. They sang and danced and took pictures with us. I was halfway annoyed and halfway amused: the former because I wanted space and quietness to view the beauty beneath us peacefully, and the latter because it’s hard not to find some enjoyment out of other peoples’ obvious enjoyment. I mean, they were just out having fun, too, and that’s awesome. Why not go climb a mountain with your morning and see something beautiful? That’s awesome. They were cool.

The best part of the whole thing, though, was the descent. Sarah and I ran down the steep path, rock-hopping and jumping over roots and sliding on the mud but staying balanced… it was crazy and exhilarating and I loved it. I loved it so much.

We left on the bus, gross, sweaty, and happy. I was sad to leave. The Volta region, in all its beauty, is probably my favorite slice of Ghana that I’ve seen. Hopefully I’ll see it again.


Cooking with Clara – June 7th

By Sarah Ludwig

Although the morning had already begun with the fascinating and exhilarating experience of the shrine, Cooking with Clara topped off the last day of the Big Trip like a delicious piece of fresh ripe mango. (nom. My favorite.) After leaving the shrine, we drove to a market in Kumasi and divided into pairs to find the ingredients for our mid-afternoon feast. Roderick and I didn’t have any trouble finding 2 cedis worth of chicken spices and a packet of iodine (salt), while everyone else brought back chicken, fish, cabbage, carrots, rice, tomato paste, tomatoes, cassava, ground nuts, ripe plantains, unripe plantains, potatoes, beans, red palm oil, vegetable oil, avocados, onions, garlic, mangoes, pineapples, cucumber… and probably some other ingredients I’m forgetting.

After packing our purchases into the bus, we drove to Clara’s apartment – down a dirt road carved into bumpiness by rainwater, wedged between rows of one-story homes and shops, and finally out of the bus and into a side alley. The alley opened into a sunny concrete courtyard closed in by rooms owned by Clara’s family (called a compound). We began cooking immediately; some people fetched water in big plastic buckets (3 fills for 20 pesewas – carried on one’s head of course! Like real Ghanaians!) while others set up the charcoal-fired stoves by fanning furiously with woven palm-frond fans. Clara, our task master and ultimate authority, set us to various tasks including: chopping carrots or potatoes, mashing onions and garlic, frying plantains, boiling chicken, and sautéing ground nuts. Our multi-dish meal came together slowly, and as people finished tasks and moseyed around, a crowd of children gathered to watch ‘the obruni’ cook. While the afternoon wore on to the sounds of Uncle John pounding fufu, we snacked on salted cucumber and Randy and Weston amassed their own crowd of mostly boys for a dance marathon to the rhythmic cries of “Azonto! Azonto! Azonto!” (the popular Ghanaian dance). Meanwhile, Emma and I tried to teach a game to the younger girls, but their limited English vocab and our limited Twi vocab unfortunately barred the exchange.

Finally, dinner was ready!!!! Well, it was both dinner and lunch, so perhaps I’ll call it linner 🙂 Our feast consisted of a ton of 100% homemade Ghanaian dishes, namely: fufu and groundnut soup, jollof rice, plain rice, red-red (beans and fried plantain), grilled chicken, grilled fish, chicken soup, fish soup, avocado salad, chips (aka French fries), kelewele (mashed ripe plantain mixed with groundnut paste), and sautéed vegetables. As the sun set and we reclined on the porch with enormous food babies, I couldn’t help but feel that this was the best day of the trip. Thank you, Clara 😀

Beautiful Anane

Greetings to all followers of Duke in Ghana 2012.

I’m sure you’ve heard the Whitney Houston clichéd lyric , “Children are our future, teach them well…show them all the beauty they possess inside.”  After visiting Accra’s Anane Memorial International School, I understand this phrase is prominent and very true.  D.I.G students 2012, were introduced to beautiful primary aged students that gave the most culturally inviting Akwaba (Welcome).  This school is for primarily underprivileged students; each student is given a uniform and a free meal, along with a free education.  All students are required to learn English and French in preparation of success.

Walking through the Nima village we followed the charismatic sounds of Ghanian drumming.  Upon arriving to the school we walked into an auditorium where we were greeted by the thunderous roars, cheers and screams of the school children. Their excitement of experiencing a new people was definitely demonstrated. We sat facing the audience of students that were neatly dressed in their purple coded uniforms. Admiring the smiles of the children one couldn’t help, but returning the gesture. I promise by the time I left the school my cheeks were sore and I  think I created a permanent dimples in my cheeks.

The ceremony began with an oral welcome by the school’s nurse.  She then introduced  a group of students ages 11-13 gave several dance presentations. The passion in the face of the students was very much evident.  They moved rhythmically to the pounding of the drums. Each hit of the drum changed the choreography.  These students demonstrated the ability to learn and perform  a choreographed dance; they flowed together and each step was executed with dignity.

We also had the pleasure to hear students ages 5-7 recite intricate poems not only in English, but in French as well.  Before the program ended, the students invited D.I.G students to dance with the Anane students.  This invite created a community amongst all of us students.  Anane students are children I look forward to seeing in the future.

Chasing Waterfalls

At the base of the Agumatsa mountains, we hiked through trees, over rivers, around ‘river ants’ , centipedes and lizards. The journey was not in vain. The path lead us to the most exquisite waterfall I have ever seen. The Wli Waterfalls fall from a height of over 70 meters and is the tallest in West Africa. As I peered up at the lower falls of this beast I was in awe. I have never in my life seen a waterfall as magnificent as this one. For me, the cascading water emits power and majesty. From afar it is a beautiful painting of falling water but at the base of the waterfall it is a relentless, forceful, avalanche of water. The mist from where the water hit the lake below covered a wide circumference around the base. You could feel the mist from very far away.

A few of us venture into the waters, some making it farther than others.  I rushed into the water feeling the rocks below my feet.  As soon as you step into the pool of water at the base you are hit by mist being ejected by the waterfalls’ impact. It felt amazing! Every step towards the falls was met with more resistance. As I got closer to the waterfall I looked up and could see the water plummeting from the sky. It was an incredible view.At one point it was necessary to turn around in order to keep getting closer to the falls. This is because the water being shot down on us became too intense to open our eyes  There were waves in the water but that wasn’t what pushed you around. The wind and water spraying was so forceful it felt like a blizzard. The water was like microscopic pins piercing your back. Every few seconds a huge gush of water would drop on you or blow you off balance. It felt so powerful and destructive yet alluring and peaceful. When I was very close to the water I could barely turn around and face the water let alone open my eyes to see it. I backed up a bit and cuffed my hands over my eyes and tried to look up while blocking the front part of my face. I managed to see the water like this for a few seconds at a time before a gush of water hit me in the face.

Being right up under the waterfall like this was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. As the water engulfed me I was motionless and in awe of its power. The unrelenting water forced me to stop and just think. I don’t believe I’ll ever forget being under this magnificent waterfall. I hope that I can visit more waterfalls in my lifetime, all over the world. They are incredible masterpieces.

Journey to Keta ll

Journey to Keta ll

Slave Fort in Keta, Ghana

5.12. A.E. Woods Valdés, Ghana

Keta, the present day ruins of an 18th Century “prison” according to my guidebook.  The bus slows down to make several tight turns through the well populated main street that still hosts large pools of water from the previous day of heavy rain.  As it waddles along I notice that when the soil is wet it really looks like red clay.  I want to get out and touch it, maybe even taste it.  The humility of the forte takes me by surprise.  I had read about this, but as we arrive my first response is, “Why are we stopping here?”  There is no announcement or welcome, we just get out of the bus and start asking, “Where is the ladies room?”  I meander over to a noticeable overhead, hand paint sign that reads (in neat blue, black, red and green block letters):










I snap a picture but I do not really read the sign.  So, this is Keta.  It feels good to be outdoors and so close to the ocean.  It is easy to avoid the unadorned entryway and follow the sandy path around the structure of the fort and directly to mother Yemaya, the sea.  I go to her and pay tribute first.  She watches us and rushes forward with her marine embrace then retreats…from her our journey begins.

Inside the fort, some moss and weeds persist through the mostly cement walls and paths. Our guide waits formally and patiently for us to gather into a circle around him.  Together we are 17.  He is one.  Discretely, Clara lets me know the admission price for the group and that I can add one cedi (.50¢) per person for picture taking.  I nod yes to everything and try to be as still and attentive as my students.  I feel restless, feel like pacing.  I have been to Goreé Island, the slave castle in Senegal; I remember the tension in my body well.  This is what, in dance, we call a kinesthetic reaction.  I subdue my instincts to move and focus intently on the male guide.  I try to decode the design on his Kente cloth shirt.  I don’t seem to have the key.  I feel disoriented, out of time.  The guide speaks softly like our lecturers at the University of Ghana.  We shuffle in a little closer.  There is heat within our circle.  I look around at everyone’s faces.  There seems to be an unspoken consensus that listening to words is important to us and that they hold the key. 

We get quieter and quieter.  Finally, our guide narrates dates and facts about the Danes and British and people take notes.  This is a busy and safe activity.  We are then informed that we are standing in the women’s half of the forte.  People look around for some sign of distinction of femininity.  As our guide walks us about 10 yards away to the women’s bath, I respectfully insert that the students need to take field notes, white heat note, directly after the tour. 

In a narrow, open-air corridor barricaded on three sides by tall cement walls, we see the baths.  They are really three rough-hewn hollowed out cement blocks about three feet deep and wide. They offer no incentive to get in and bathe your naked body.  We are told that female Africans were taken here to bathe while the Governor looked on from high. He would watch then choose which women to have sent up to him for forced sex and impregnation.  From his vantage point, it was possible to see the development of a child inside the woman’s womb each time she bathed.  Eventually a child would be born.  Without fan fair the guide continued to explain that the women were sold but the children were raised and remained in the fort to eventually assist with the business of trading human beings.  At this point I saw pens and pads begin to dangle uselessly at people’s sides.  How does make note of this? 

The walls looks smooth and cool but we feel heat and humidity.  We are not suffering because it is an overcast day and we know there is a breeze out there somewhere.  With little pause, are headed into a small women’s cell. I enter last and chose a spot to stand near the narrow doorway.  The 17 of us look crowded and uncomfortable.  More history and a few more notes taken: unruly women were chained to a thick hook embedded into the center of the cement floor, over 100 women occupied this cell, it did not have ventilation until the British bought it from the Danes, the women would fight if the door was opened so water was thrown on the floor to be licked up.  I begin to block out the lecture with white noise. It is a defense mechanism.  I pull out a hand fan from my shoulder bag.  I cannot get enough air to breath but I do not think it shows.  The quick flutter of my fan testifies to my restlessness and to the heat.  I am the first one out.  Yes, I need to take picture too. I return quickly to do my documentation chore.  I do not want to regret it later. 

We move through a few other cells. This was one of the smaller forts that was not included in any renovation project. I am glad. We need to see it damaged by time and the sea.  I noticed students become solemn.  What can be experienced here reaches across constructs of nationality, heritage, religion or language.  I am glad we have come here first.  Someone says, seeming to himself, “this is disturbingly atrocious.”

Finally we are out on the seaward side of the building.  One by one, we have to climb up chunks of stone that we were told used to be a wall built to muffle the sounds of screams.  We climb.  How powerful we begin to feel.  It looks like we are each crushing something that needs to be crushed.  I take big hard steps.  At the summit, each person as to reach back and help up the next person.  We seem unified and concerned for one another.  I like that.  We huddle on a platform on the second story of the fort then spread out and begin snapping pictures of the sea.  From up here the sea breeze cools and sooths me.  Something shifts and I can now breathe easy.  The color of the ocean is aqua marine, light blue-green, almost surreal.  We are now completely detached from the darkness below.  The relief is short lived as we recognize we are on the balcony of the Governor’s quarters.  So this is what is feels like to be above it all.  The guide still has a few more notes for us but people begin milling about.  He seems at ease with us and allows us to gaze out at the see or to just keep milling. 

I make a point of listening to and watching the students.  I know this is not easy.  Some want to be alone, others want to be with someone.  I trust their resiliency and their ability to be profound but we will have to process this later…together.  Contemplation, prayer, anger, numbness, confusion, incomprehension, fear and other things are expressed in field notes that they would write over the next 20 minutes.  For now, I see faces that want to know.  Like me, they want the key to how, why and why wasn’t I told.  In a sophisticated, information/media saturated society, we still have some ancient excavating to do.  What we are looking for cannot be touched or displayed, it will be witnessed in our behavior as human beings together.  We cannot be distracted or removed.  As we disperse and eventually go back to safe places where we can sequester this awakening, should we chose, I hope we see that we too are part of the renovation of the human spirit.  From here our journey begins.

So, it is time to leave Fort Prinzenstein.  I feel assured that writing field notes directly after the tour helped people express themselves and bring closure to the moment.  For now, we need to pile back into the bus and look forward to lunch, a boat ride, the beach and the hard, crashing waves of the Atlantic, and a surprise birthday cake for Andrew.  “Wo tirinkwa” to you!

Andrew’s Birthday

Journey to Keta I

Saturday May 26, 2012, Travel in Ghana

Assnt. Professor Andrea E. Woods Valdés

Journey to Keta

 Africa becomes more and more beautiful to me each day.  At first my gaze was veiled by opinion, comparison and expectation.  I have been here before. This time however, I am more relaxed and tired.  The land is beginning to speak for itself along with the sky, the red soil of Ghana, the myriad shades of green and of course the people I meet and see.

Today is a field trip with my class of 12 students.  Our bus driver has us headed East to the small port city of Keta.  Preferring to let the adventure speak for itself in the present, I have read very little in advance.  Clara, our assistant and guardian angel, suggests I let the students do the same.  The energy in the small bus is high.  Did everyone have sugar for breakfast? We are all excited to be moving, traveling.  As we leave by way of Kwame Nkrumah Motoway, the velocity and closeness of Accra give way to open sky and space.  Our bus speeds along what becomes only a two lane highway dotted by small pyramids of light green melons every 50 yards or so. From the bus window, they are perfect and round.  Sometimes I see the vender standing or sitting nearby, sometimes I do not.  My eye is repeatedly caught by a bright red slice balanced on the edge of each melon pyramid; a sample display of delicious potential, a flame of sweetness that makes my bottled water seem useless.  We speed on and on. 

On both sides of us, tall, brick-colored termite hills of complex and curious architecture emerge from the earth.  One manages to envelop the entire base of a tree until it becomes more termite thill than tree.  We are moving too fast for a still photo to mean anything.  I just watch the variations of scenery as we wiz by.  The bus slows down whenever we approach a tollbooth, customs, a town, or a speed bump.  Motorcycles, trucks, cars, vans, bikes and professional cyclists all share aspects of the road and its margin.  To the right of the white line there is a good amount of respect shown for stopped cars, animals and people.  That slender track of land seems orderly, as if it has a code of rules all its own.  I feel good, I feel safe. When the bus comes, what I think is too close to something or someone the miracle of timing quickly weaves everyone into the right place. 

I cannot exactly be still but my eyes are learning to listen a little bit better.  We have been driving for two hours.  Soon we will arrive at the peninsula and I imagine the landscape will appear as new to me; lagoon to the left, sea to the right.  Already the road has left behind most pedestrians and the few cars still traveling are flanked by the forever green. 

I am curious.  When the land speaks to me I want to be prepared to say something back. Even though I might only sigh or exhale I think it will understand me.  I am content to wonder and to wander and not to know everything.  Each time we transverse a small town, I see dancing, I see color, I see community, I see my curiosity reflected back at me.

From my seat near the front of the bus, I look behind me; heads are nodding softly.  With no radio playing, my body tunes into the strong vibration of the road beneath me.  It creates a kind of silence.  Just as that thought enters my mind, one girl shouts into her little cell phone, “You did what!?”, “You did what!?”  I decide not to be agitated. All the better, as I realize her Ghanaian Mom wants to know what time she will be home for dinner.  A reminder that life goes on around us as we head up this road to the sea.