West African Nations - 2012

AFRICA’S WEST COAST

A Ten-Country Expedition

AUTHOR: LOIS GRAY

PHOTOS: KAY GILMOUR

2012

March 25 to May 14, 2012

This was a very long progressive feast of five distinct parts.

1. Namibian Land Safari with Africa Easy 2. Repositioning cruise Namibia to Cameroon 3. Small ship cruise to ten countries of West Africa with Zegrahm Expeditions

4. Private stay at a friend’s home in Scotland 5. Elbe River cruise with Grand Circle Travel

This journal deals only with numbers 2 and 3.

Journals of the other portions of this adventure, Namibian Safari and Elbe River Cruise, can be found separately on our website.

Contents INTRODUCTION............................................................................................................................................... 4 THE REPOSITIONING CRUISE ......................................................................................................................... 4 Bar Maids at the Ready ................................................................................................................................................. 6 TRACING THE WEST COAST OF AFRICA......................................................................................................... 7 CAMEROON ..................................................................................................................................................... 8 SAO TOME...................................................................................................................................................... 18 PRINCIPE ........................................................................................................................................................ 26 BENIN ............................................................................................................................................................. 30 Cotonou...................................................................................................................................................... 31 Quidah ........................................................................................................................................................ 34 The Sacred Forest of Voodoo ................................................................................................................... 36 Gate of No Return ..................................................................................................................................... 39 Ganvie – The Stilt City................................................................................................................................ 43 TOGO.............................................................................................................................................................. 48 St. Marie School ......................................................................................................................................... 50 Visit Voodoo Village ................................................................................................................................... 52 The Togo Ballet Company......................................................................................................................... 57 GHANA ........................................................................................................................................................... 58 Shia Hills Preserve ..................................................................................................................................... 59 Aburi Botanical Gardens........................................................................................................................... 60 Krobo area.................................................................................................................................................. 61 Takoradi - Cape Coast Castle & El Mina Castle ....................................................................................... 63 Abidjan........................................................................................................................................................ 72 The River Laundry...................................................................................................................................... 72 French Colonial city of Grand Bassam .................................................................................................... 76 Freetown .................................................................................................................................................... 81 National Chimpanzee Reserve ................................................................................................................. 82 Handicap Soccer Game............................................................................................................................. 85 THE GAMBIA .................................................................................................................................................. 89 SENEGAL ........................................................................................................................................................ 92 Goree island............................................................................................................................................... 93

INTRODUCTION No traveler could ask for more variety in scenery, cultures, ancient & modern histories, modes of travel, peoples, flora and fauna, economies, cuisines, accommodations, arts, religions, governments, sightseeing opportunities, and emotional impacts than we experienced on this 51 day odyssey from Windhoek, Namibia, where we began through Prague, the Czech Republic where we completed it. AS noted, this journal will detail the entertaining repositioning cruise from the completion of our Namibian Safari to the start of our Elbe River Cruise in Germany. We had a delightful stay with a friend at her home in Scotland in between these trips but those details remain private, So after our spectacular flight and drive journey through the unique landscapes of Namibia, we join the Clipper Odyssey to make our way to the rendezvous point of the excited travelers awaiting our sailing adventure up the west coast ofAfrica. THE REPOSITIONING CRUISE Well, we already knew that we love this kind of trip because we have done a few before, but we would never have thought that this one would be such a high spot in this 51 day trip. But it was and there are many reasonswhy! It was six full days at sea--what bliss--even if they did put up barbed wire around the decks and deploy alert watchmen at various points on deck--stick figures in yellow sou’westers and slouchy rain hats. You would have had to be on board to see that these “deterrents” had no legs and that their “arms” were the empty sleeves of the raingear lashed to deck railings. They looked pretty real to us when we were in Zodiacs looking back at the ship. But maybe we just wanted to believe that they would repel would be pirates. And what about those pirates? We had no idea that pirates were operating on Africa’s West Coast as they are off East Africa. However, these fellows are nearly as intrepid and ruthless as their East Coast cousins. They do not venture far out to sea and they have taken no hostages. They usually lay in wait in port while tankers and other vessels sit still until the pilot boat comes out to lead them into their anchorage. When they spot one loitering along, they board it and steal what they can from crew members and take loot from the cargo. To date, no one has been hurt in these forms of armed robbery atsea. Our captain endeavored to avoid such incidents in two primary ways: first, he never came into port until the pilot boat was heading for the Clipper and then he came in very fast, no

slow no wake arrivals for him. His second tactic was to stay out beyond five miles from shore if he arrived in a new country early or if he was notified from port that he could not come in at the scheduled time. The farthest out any pirates had attacked a ship on the West Coast was less than 5 miles out at sea. So our blissful days at sea did not seem fraught with danger or anxiety about possible attacks at all. We just enjoyed being on the comfortable ship having delicious meals, free time to read, going to stimulating exercise classes daily, assembling for some good movies about Africa: “Out of Africa,” “The African Queen,” “White Hunter, Black Heart,” and “Blood Diamonds,” interacting with our fellow passengers and “helping the crew by assuming some of their jobs.” Our Fellow Repositioners: There were 13 of us in all and we were pampered by 72 crewmembers! What a great ratio that was! It was like having our own private yacht and we all enjoyed it as though we were some rich Arab Prince or even an Aristotle Onassis! Some of us had never been on a Zegrahm trip or on the Clipper Odyssey before; still others were old hands at both. But though we were a diverse group in many ways, we bonded with each other very well and began to dread the day when the ship docked in Douala, Cameroon, and the other 78 passengers came aboard! We began to fantasize stories about how we could repel them, by fear of pirates, or tales of how hard it was to “work” on the ship or maybe even by sheer force. We all really were enjoying thisvoyage. We got to know the crew, the Zegrahm staff, the officers and each other under very relaxed conditions and our interactions with all were a great part of the enjoyment. We really did not want this part of our voyage to end. Bowing to reality and recognizing that the others would be coming aboard and there was nothing we could do to prevent it, we decided to show them but, more importantly, other potential repositioning cruise aspirants that it was not all fun and games and relaxation. The staff got the inspired idea of having us all sign up on a list of crew jobs and then be filmed while “performing” those jobs so that a DVD could made for distribution as appropriate. Some of the jobs included swabbing the decks, painting the ship, doing the laundry, preparing food, making up cabins, manning the reception desk, waiting tables in the dining room, serving drinks at the on deck bar, driving Zodiacs, repairing the plumbing, acting as ship’s navigator and plotting the course, and last but not least defending the ship against pirates. Each of us took a job and one of the Zegrahm staff took the pictures and created the hilarious (to us at any rate) DVD. The first night that we had the “interlopers” aboard, the show was on, narrated by Captain Fielding who treated the whole thing seriously as though he really did want to discourage

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any further applicants for repositioning cruises on the Clipper O. He turned out to be a killer standup comedian and the new passengers laughed loudly at our antics. It was a great way to begin the “togetherness” we would assume as the real trip “Tracing the West Coast of Africa” began! Our waters were calm during all 6 days and we were treated to some lovely marine animal sightings as well. In particular, a Sei whale and her calf, hundreds of dolphins putting on a show that Sea World would kill for with precision speed swimming, bow riding, leaping and twisting and turning in the air, everything theme park visitors gasp at and more, flying fish. At one point, when the sea beneath was 1400 feet deep, we were invited to take a swim in the open ocean off the Zodiacs. How many people could boast of that experience? But don’t be fooled: there is nothing as grand as a repositioning cruise on a small ship! And it is so much less expensive than the regular cruises! What a bonus!!!!

Bar Maids at the Ready

TRACING THE WEST COAST OF AFRICA On April 9, we began the Zegrahm trip “Tracing the West Coast of Africa.” This is the day we met the other 78 travelers who had not been on the repositioning interlude just described but joined us and the Clipper O in Douala, Cameroon. However, we had an unexpected maritime lesson the evening before as the ship sailed into the Cameroon Estuary where we would spend the night moored at the city dock. We arrived about 5 p.m. so there was plenty of light to watch the pilot boat lead us through the shallow and tricky route. We navigated that portion of the docking procedure without incident and then a line was tossed from the bow of the Clipper O to a much smaller boat that pulled it to the dock and it was attached to the bollards. Then a tugboat began to push the stern of the Clipper towards the dock with the hope that the ship would tuck in handily between two container ships--the space between them was very small so no maneuvering would be possible. As the tug huffed and puffed and shoved the Clipper ever closer to the dock, there was suddenly a tremendous explosive “POW” as the bowline snapped! Of course, we drifted right past our “parking spot.” Unfortunately, we were called to the Pool Deck for a group photo and never saw how the Captain & the port crew managed to get us into the right spot. We just know that when we were finished with our “close ups” the Clipper was between to the two ships as originally intended. And we had a great lesson in how powerful the snapback on a broken line could be. No one would want to be in its path and luckily no one was. The trip began in the largest city (Douala) of this former German, French and English Colony. This is where the 78 passengers joined the rest of us who had done the repositioning cruise. We were so happy because though we rather “resented” having this big invasion of strangers we knew that among the interlopers were our friends, Micki and Dan. We had not travelled with them in a little while and we were exhilarated to have adventures with them oncemore.

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CAMEROON

Cameroon (named for the large shrimp harvested in the coastal estuary on which Douala is situated) is a large country, fifty-third . biggest in the world in area, with 20,000,000+inhabitants, making it the fifty-eighth largest in the world based on population. Douala is its biggest and richest city; 3,000,000 folk live there. Actually Douala is the richest city in all West Africa. Having attained its independence in 1960, Cameroon has had a stable government, permitting development of infrastructure (roads & railways), an agricultural economic base, and a thriving petroleumindustry. The country has a very young population, with a median age of just 19. Life expectancy is only 55, however. Literacy rates reflect a better educational system than most of the other West African countries. About 76% of the people are literate, able to read and write in one or both of the official languages: French and English. Because it is chiefly an industrial and port city, Douala has very little to attract tourists. What brought the Clipper O was the port and the international airport in Douala. Therefore we were not expecting a great deal from our guided tour of the city. So we were not disappointed! We found the inner city rather depressing and were warned about walking around in the city alone. It looked poor and sad so we thought we understood why crime might be a problem. How shocked I was to learn on returning home that Douala is the richest city in West Africa. That fact did not mesh well with what we saw and felt there.

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The city offered a couple of mildly interesting sites: the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul and the former royal palace.

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The cathedral is used much more regularly than the former palace so it appeared to be in slightly better condition. 40% of Cameroonians are Christian and most of those are Roman Catholic; 40% practice indigenous religions and 20% are Muslim. When we visited the cathedral, it was a Monday and we saw few people other than touristsinside. The most striking feature of the church was the tongue and groove teakwood barrel vaulted ceiling. The Stations of the Cross were in relief and the personages represented looked like West Africans; that was a very special touch actually. The stained glass windows were composed of browns and ambers and fit the atmosphere of the church very well. Outside the church is impressive with its matching tall bell towers on either side of the front entrance. These towers give the building a Byzantine air but the rest of the church is clearly in a neo-Romanesque architectural style. This is not a very old structure, having been built in 1936 by French fathers. It replaced an earlier Roman Catholic Church erected in the 1890s by German Palatine fathers. The Germans left Cameroon after their defeat at the end of World War I and the whole German population was displaced, including German clergy. Now the clergy is almost exclusively Cameroonian. In checking some facts and figures about the cathedral, some naiveté fell away as I read a notice from the diocese written by one of the local priests regarding just how crime- infested the area centered on Liberty Boulevard (the address of the cathedral) really is. Unemployed gangs of young men and boys squat in the graveyard of the church hiding among the trees and shrubs and attack churchgoers and others on the street, stealing whatever they can. They even dare enter the church and rob the worshippers during services. The priest was appealing to the government to do something about this tide of crime rolling over the area. He stated that the government officials seem “powerless” to stop these activities. This note made two things clear to me after the fact: Micki and Dan told us that they were advised not to leave the hotel once they had checked in due to threats of robbery and mugging. The hotel they stayed in was very close to the cathedral. So they took their meals in the hotel as well. Another couple of ladies told us that they had wanted to attend Easter Mass at the Cathedral and were strongly discouraged from doing so. Because they were a bit insistent, two large hotel employees volunteered to accompany them to church and wait for them to walk with them back to the hotel. We made one other stop while on our city tour: the Manga Bell King’s Palace. The palace was puzzling because so much of its decoration appeared to have been influenced by the ancient Egyptians. There were designs of ankhs in the stucco and cartouches hung from the walls. The double crown of upper and lower Egypt was prominent among the decorative features. Hieroglyphics also appeared in the architectural details. The wooden doors that allowed us access into the Reception Hall were filled with carvings of Egyptian themes as well. We were allowed only into the open courtyard and the aforementioned hall. If Douala

is indeed wealthy, it is clear that none of the money is being spent to preserve this palace; it was crumbling and frail looking.

Designed like a Chinese pagoda, the palace was built for King Auguste Manga Ndumbe (King Bell) by the Germans in 1905. When Cameroun became independent, it was used as the House of Assembly. Due to its unique design, it has remains a stopping point on any city tour. Owned by the Royal Bell family, the building now houses Espace Doual’Art, a contemporary art space that hosts changing displays of work from all over Cameroon and the rest of Africa. The art galleries are managed by Marilyn Manga Bell.

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We got just a glance at the local International airport – commensurate in size with the amount of business travel to and from this center of commerce.

As a busy port city, Douala is not a robust tourist destination! And with the crime level at the time, we were relieved that we stayed on board the Clipper the night we arrived and only travelled around in the city with our organized tour of 13 guests and several Zegrahm staff. We were not disturbed at all during our visit but were relieved to be sailing out of the estuary on our way north along the coast to the next country wewouldvisit.

SAO TOME & PRINCIPE

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This two-island nation is the smallest country in Africa. It is composed of ancient volcanoes that have risen from the Atlantic Ocean in the Gulf of Guinea. The country comprises only 372 square miles or about 5 times the area of Washington, D C. It was discovered by the Portuguese in the late 15th century and remained a colony of that country until 1975 when it gained its independence. The country had been operated as a slave labor sugar plantation in the earliest days of colonization; gradually the sugar plantations gave way to coffee and cacao (chocolate) production. When the Portuguese angrily left the islands, they neglected to teach the former slaves and employees how to run the factories which produced the coffee and the chocolate. Consequently, since that time, the factories and processing buildings have become more and more dilapidated. Now only a small amount of coffee is produced and it is more of a tourist item than an exportable product. The remaining chocolate processing plant produces a very tiny amount of high grade chocolate which is largely exported to the EU. Today there is no real industry on either island. Fishing and tourism are the largest areas of employment for the Sao Tomeans. In this hot, tropical and humid climate live 183,176 people whose existence since independence from Portugal has been plagued by governmental instability, though the people have adopted a democratic system. Two coups have been attempted in the past, one in 1995 and another in 2003. At present the government has been elected through free and open voting and seems to be pretty clearly in control and dedicated to improving the lives of the citizens. There may be some economic hope for this small group of people because oil has recently been discovered in the Gulf of Guinea. However, one of our fellow passengers (who works in the oil industry) told us no significant petroleum can exist in or around these two volcanic islands since geologically speaking such formations do not harbor oil deposits. Since oil and diamonds have been the ruination of some African countries (Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire & Liberia) perhaps it is a “consummation devoutly to be wished” that Sao Tome & Principe will not discover oil in its waters. SAO TOME Our local guide on Sao Tome was a Peace Corps volunteer from Massachusetts who had been on the island about 8 months. He told us that while food is plentiful for all on the island, there is little variety of food items. The diet consists chiefly of fish, bananas, fruits, veggies and chicken for special occasions. No beef is available but sometimes goat is. On this restricted diet, Kevin has lost 45 lbs. since arriving. He has enjoyed his stay here so much that he plans to offer English lessons when his stint with the Peace Corps ends in June. (The official language of the country is Portuguese.)

The islands closely resemble Caribbean countries in tropical foliage, rich bird life, the same type of ramshackle housing painted in loud and happy colors, hut-like stalls for selling whatever one can sell to make some cash. No doubt, the slaves from West Africa brought these customs with them to the New World and transplanted their cultures to the Caribbean islands. While we drove around Sao Tome, we kept being reminded of Puerto Rico. If we had been put down on the island without knowing where we were, we could have sworn we were there. Among the places we visited were the Monte Coffee Company where we were sadly aware that the people really need employment to progress beyond subsistence living, but the derelict buildings prove that coffee production is no longer a source of income to the island or the people.

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We had lunch on a former cacao plantation where the main building is now operating as a resort hotel: The Bom Baim Resort was rather pitiful since we could see no evidence of any guests staying there. Our meal was good and the wait staff seemed eager to please. The main purpose of our eating there was to see the various ways bananas are used in Sao Tomean cuisine. We were presented with the fruit sautéed, boiled, stewed--everything but fresh. There are many varieties grown on the island and we enjoyed everything we were offered.

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Later we walked among the crumbling outbuildings enveloped by the encroaching tropical vines, trees, grasses and shrubs. There is no money or investment that will save these relics of an earlier time and we are doubtful that the Bom Baim Resort will last much longer.

One of the highlights of our visit to this rather sad culture was a concert in the Roman Catholic church of “Nossa Senhora de Fatima” (Our Lady of Fatima). The male choir gave us

an enthusiastic and even exuberant performance of hymns and psalms. All twelve were young men dressed in black trousers, white shirts and pale blue ties. They had good voices and were so proud to have an audience to appreciate their efforts. Their church was plain and painted blue and white inside. Though rather small, it held us cozy, happy and moved to hear these young men.

We were also taken to a couple of waterfalls, significant parts of their tourist attractions, but neither was very impressive even though we were told they were in full spate because

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of plentiful rains that had occurred during the week prior to our visit. The settings for both were interesting since they were in what is clearly a more jungly section of the island. The beach town we passed on our way back to the ship was a happy, if poor, place because the villagers were out watching the many children playing in the surf. The water was clear and light turquoise and the gleeful laughter was contagious. As we continued on our way, our Zegrahm representative decided that we needed to taste “the local commodity” which is palm wine. He stopped our van at a roadside shanty and purchased a jar of home brew. Most of us declined even a sip and later we were glad we had done so since those who did venture to sample it ended up quite sick with GI complaints for the next day. The daring ones were lucky in that the next day was a sea day so they had time torecover.

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PRINCIPE The whole island is only 50 square miles of the 372 claimed for the whole country. Even more surprising is the fact that the only thing on the island is the Bon Bon Resort and the hut homes of the folks who work there -- about 5000 people in all. We woke to a very drizzly day when we were supposed to visit this part of the country but it cleared by the time we arrived and began our activities.

The resort is quite nice and gets tourists from Europe, mostly Portuguese and French people. We decided to join the birding group on this day but found it rather unsatisfying because the foliage is so thick and tropical that it was very difficult to see the birds being pointed out. We were happy to see African Grey parrots flying in large flocks over our heads and it made us remember our own two grays, Catherine and Ivan, with pleasure at their antics and ability to mimic so many sounds -- especially laughter and alarms, such as clocks, the burglar system, the timer on the stove and the phone ringing.

The most interesting phenomenon we saw on Principe was a little pool filled with Mudskippers. These amazing fish are fully amphibious and use their pectoral fins to walk on land as easily as they swim. They grow to about 9 inches and have bulbous eyes atop their heads which they can retract into their skulls bilaterally or unilaterally. Face on, their mouths look like nothing so much as a hippo mouth in miniature though the fish sport upper and lower rows of teeth. They are able to breathe on land by skin respirations. They must keep their skins moist so that oxygen can be absorbed through it. They can also retain an air bubble in their very large gills which will supply them with oxygen for a long time. These athletic fish can jump straight up, launching their bodies at least two inches into the air. They dig burrows on the wet sands and pond bottoms where they breed and hatch their eggs for the new generation. They also use the burrows to hide from predators. They themselves are carnivorous and prey upon small crabs and fish, worms, and other water critters. They were fascinating to see especially since we had never even heard about them before.

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Lunch on the veranda of the Resort was quite relaxing and delicious even though it was very hot and sticky. We enjoyed our short stay on this much more prosperous looking “half” of the tiny country. With delicious cuisine, beautiful tropical views, golden beaches, lots of active bird life, an inviting swimming pool, pale aquamarine ocean waters surrounding the resort, and comfortable bungalows, we could certainly understand why European tourists

come here for vacations even though their air routes here are very long, convoluted and expensive. The Bom Bom Resort is delightful and it is what defines this half of the small African nation of Sao Tome and Principe.

An interesting side story we were told once we returned to the ship concerned Albert Einstein’s indirect connection with Principe. When he published his “General Theory of Relativity” in 1915, he had challenged other scientists to disprove or confirm his hypothesis. One of the first scientists to take up the dare was the British scientist Arthur Eddington in 1919. He and his collaborators performed observations of the positions of stars during a total solar eclipse seen in two Brazilian cities (Ceara and Sabral) and on Principe simultaneously. Their calculations were the first confirmations of the “General Theory.” The

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news stunned the world and made Einstein famous everywhere. When asked how he would have reacted had the observations failed to support his hypothesis, he is reported to have replied, “Then I would feel sorry for the dear Lord. The theory is correctanyway!”

BENIN

Though it was the site of a great civilization in the 15 th century (The Kingdom of Dahomey), today Benin is a tiny (slightly smaller than Pennsylvania), backward and poor country with a government that is struggling to improve conditions for its people. With a population of 9,500,000 only 35% of which are literate in the official language, French, it is easy to be somewhat pessimistic about its prospects. Another drawback that is clear in the statistics: the median age of the people is only 17 with a life expectancy of 60. The economy is based on subsistence agriculture, cotton exportation, and a small oil reserve offshore. Independence was gained from France in 1960 after just shy of 100 years under French colonization. Successive military governments governed unit 1972 when a government with Marxist-Leninist principles took over. Representative government was established in 1989 and free elections were held for the first time in 1991. With such a short history of independence and stable government, it is easy to understand why Benin has not progressed very impressively since independence.

Cotonou Strangely enough, however, the port at Cotonou appeared to our eyes to be more prosperous and progressive than Douala’s had struck us. The city is bustling and plagued by congested traffic of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and buses, all battling for space to move. Instead, the traffic stream does not stream at all--it crawls to the tune of honking, the pungent smell of gas and diesel, endless lines of vehicles almost stalled, and the look of frustration on every driver’s face.

To make the scene more chaotic and even more congested, there are tiny ramshackle little huts that comprise most of the commercial activity lining every street. It’s hard to see how the proprietors and customers survive a day since the vehicles crowd so close to them. These conditions would prevail in every country we visited on this trip. Although we failed to find any other Obama Hair Salons!

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The rickety sheds had everything on offer from caskets, to furniture for the living, to clothing, contraband gas (from Nigeria), fruits and veggies. We could only suppose that there is enough cross-buying between these vendors that all could eke out a living. Over all the traffic, squalor, and congestion is the tropical heat which crushes everything beneath it.

A bright note in the rather dismal symphony that is Benin is the colorful clothing both men and women wear: bright floral patterns with loud tropical colors on both sexes. The men’s outfits are usually pants and matching shirts, untucked in for the obvious reason of the humidity. The women wear long dresses of these same flamboyant colors and often add a matching headdress to their costumes. When they do not sport hats/turbans, they fashion elaborate hairstyles to show off their abundant hair. Men, on the other hand, shave their heads.

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Quidah

We drove from Cotonou to the village of Quidah which is a monument to both slavery and the voodoo religion practiced in this part of the world. The village was a center for the gathering of captured Africans to be boarded on ships off the coast to be sold in the New World. There is a small but well done museum with pictures of the types of ships used for transport, drawings of slavers and chieftains who helped provide the captives, typical devices used to restrain the slaves: neck rings, leg irons and hobbles, wrist bracelets. Overall, a haunting reminder of the hateful cruelty and indifference humans can exhibit towards their fellow beings.

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The Sacred Forest of Voodoo Voodoo is another draw which Quidah exerts on tourists. The museum also outlines the importance of this religious practice to West Africans at home and once they were transported across the Atlantic. The religion remained particularly strong among those slaves who were sent to Brazil, Haiti and other Caribbean islands. The traditions and beliefs helped the slaves to retain their culture and their identity in their new and alien surroundings.

The Sacred Forest of Voodoo is also in Quidah and our visit to this mango grove forest included a chance to meet a voodoo priest and two nuns. Scattered among the huge mango trees (unfortunately for me, fully in bloom) were many wooden statures of spirits and deities sacred to the religion. Most of them were quite grotesque in appearance, as if their main function is to frighten the people. Some of the statues look more modern than others since they are made of pieces of steel and other kinds of scrapmetal.

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There were some amazingly large and colorful lizards living in the Sacred Forest and we realized that we understood no more about Voodoo after visiting this site than did the lizards themselves. We do know that this is the most important of the indigenous religions in West Africa and that it has many adherents. Even among locals who have embraced Christianity or Islam, elements of voodoo are incorporated into their new faiths. Gate of No Return On leaving Quidah, we rode towards the Atlantic beside a river named by the slaves “The River of No Return.” That dolorous route took us to the “Gate of No Return” erected on the beach by UNESCO as a permanent memorial to the many who were forced into slavery. It is in the form of a huge sandstone arch with reliefs on both sides depicting men, women and children being led to the ships in shackles. A melancholy site to be sure.

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Ironically, just down the shore from that sad place was the beachfront restaurant where we had our lunch--the Casa de Papa. It was difficult to take in the contrast between the site we had just visited and then this tourist-oriented restaurant where white tourists were being served by Africans. But our guides were quick to remind us that this place offers much prized jobs and brings money into the economy. One thing we noticed along the beach is symbolic of the environmental degradation going on all over West Africa: the destruction of the beach habitat by human activity as well as occasional storms off the Atlantic. The beach itself is being eroded, the native palms trees are exploited, abused and dying. No attempt is being made to replace them with new planting. Cows and goats graze on whatever vegetation is present on the beaches and the areas behind the beach. Whatever this beach was naturally, it will soon be something else quite different. There is just no concern for the environment here; no effort to insure that palm trees will continue to create shade, coconuts, and fronds for human use. Just thoughtless over-utilization of what is there now.

Ganvie – The Stilt City In the afternoon, we boarded small covered boats to reach the “stilt city” of Ganvie, about 8 miles inland from Cotonou on the coast. The city was built in the lagoon about 200 years ago by locals seeking a refuge from the slavers, both native and European.

The homes of the 30,000 residents are built out in the brackish estuary (Lake Nokoue) on pilings. Incredibly, the inhabitants now run three very basic hotels in the town. These are frequented by tourists, particularly from France. Hard to believe but there were 4 hotel guests from France while we were in the city. Though the threat of being captured by slavers no longer exists, people still live here and make their livings from the estuary.

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Canoes, canoes with sails (homemade of many different colors and fabrics), and even some motor-driven vessels ply the waters and fish for their meals and to trade in Cotonou for fruits and veggies.. Some enterprising fishermen even stake out “private” fish farms in the lake where they have exclusive rights to fish whatever swims in these areas.

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We spent an hour quaffing cold drinks in the heat and enjoying a performance of local dance and costuming. How they managed to survive in those heavy costumes is a mystery.

Our ride back to the ship was like a nightmare of the worst traffic jams ever! Even though we had a police escort to expedite our travel, there was no such thing as expediting anything on these roads! We were sometimes stopped cold and at other times our policeman led us into the wrong lane and just opened a space for us. A bus was broken down in one lane and a little further on a truck was burning while the fire trucks had no chance of ever reaching the inferno. We just hoped that it wouldn’t explode while we inched past! The impenetrable traffic might be my most dramatic memory of this country! Commutes take hours not minutes and without a police escort people are probably marooned on these roads for days.

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TOGO

Formerly the colony of French Togoland, the country gained its independence in 1960. It was initially ruled by a military strongman for 4 decades; only in 2007 were free and fair elections held. Since that time, the country has been tottering forward with more democratic reforms and economic development strategies. In Togo, however, nothing moves forward rapidly, especially the traffic. The population of Togo is 7,000,000 people with over a million and a half of them crowding into the capital city of Lome and its environs. Like Benin, Togo is a young country in many ways: median age is 19 here and average life expectancy is 63. The country is slightly smaller than West Virginia and has a coastline of 35 miles. The port at Lome is a very important part of Togo’s economy since it facilitates exports of cotton, copra, cacao, coffee and the products of a small oil refinery. Agriculture is still the major economic activity in the country and the amount of arable land is a surprising 44% of the total. The land itself is composed of gently rolling savannah with low hills and a very low coastline area with extensive lagoons and marshes. A large lagoon north of Lome almost bisects the narrow country.

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There are more similarities than differences among these West African countries and the continued deforestation and desertification is one of the most important of the likenesses. These is considerable poaching as well so the wildlife of the area is threatened by the bushmeat trade and the slash and burn agricultural practices and the cutting of trees for charcoal for fuel. As a matter of fact, if we had not sailed away from Benin, we would have easily believed we were still in that country. Could Lome be lifted up and put down in Benin, it would have fit in perfectly. There were the same roadside stands, hot dusty streets, garbage spread out everywhere and anywhere, a small heavily fenced and guarded section where the government officials and rich folks live, and so many skinny and pitiful dogs poking their noses here and there in a constant search for something to eat.

St. Marie School

First we were taken to the St. Marie School where both boys and girls were enrolled in elementary grades. Two female volunteers had started the school and it costs the parents about $30 per year per student. Very few are able to afford even that modest fee. The children sang to us and danced a bit to the rhythms of the pieces. Some were in uniforms but others were too poor for such garb. Sadly, as the singing went on (we also sang

something to them), neighbors straggled into the courtyard, adults and children watching the “show”—these folks were even more poorly dressed than the students and teachers.

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Our guides told us that the Togoans are apparently very little interested in education for their children, especially the girls. This school is an exception to the rule since it seemed to have more girls enrolled than boys. Our local guide said the big problem is that men take too many wives and there are too many children with no individual or state economic base to support them. However, it must also be admitted that if the men did not marry several women, the women would be in desperate straits. There is virtually no citizen pressure exerted on the government to improve the educational system in the country. Visit Voodoo Village Our next visit in this sad country was to a voodoo village where an important ceremony of some sort was in progress. We were assured that this was NOT something staged for tourists; it is part of village life. As we walked into the village center, we were greeted by rhythmic drumming, sticks being struck on anything handy, chanting, and the slippery whispery sound of feet making patterns in the dust.

When we arrived, we saw the women dancing in their sarongs with white patterns chalky on their dark skins, their buttocks pushed backward and their shoulders forward shrugging in unison with the insistent rhythms around them.

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Of course, we had no idea what the words in the chants meant and could not decipher the significance of the patterns on the dancers or the paintings on the back wall of the dance floor (open on the other three sides). Even more mysteriously, a “spirit” figure emerged

from the forest surrounding the village square leaning heavily on a crude cane and keeping his face hidden behind an intricate headdress. He limped along and made unreadable motions with his arms. A statue accompanied him, held aloft by a young female dancer. Then child dancers, both boys and girls, followed and repeated the same foot patterns that the adults had been executing. A nearly naked man came next and his contribution was playing with fire. A last a live chicken was brought forth and someone, probably a voodoo priest, slit its throat and cast it to the ground where its blood seeped into the thirsty red dust. This was said to be in honor of the “forest spirit” and we were assured that the chicken would be cooked and feasted upon by all the villagers. I still hated the whole experience. The music changed after that sacrifice, composed of clanging metal objects and the by now monotonous drums. I suppose it was meant to be hypnotic to the onlookers and dancers and I guess it was since the dancing was continuous.

When we left the village, the ceremony was still ongoing even though the heat had become more and more oppressive. Everyone, including us, was sweating heavily and as we oozed our way from the dancing and out through the village to the highway, we did notice that the place was clean (no garbage anywhere) and that most people were participating in the ceremony. Perhaps the occasion prompted the cleaner surroundings or perhapsnot. After our visits to various Voodoo Villages, the magical forest, and hearing lectures on the indigenous practices, we felt that though the religion helped the slaves survive in the new world and kept remnants of their cultures alive, on the whole it is not a benign philosophy 55

since it rules people by fear (but then many religions do that too) and keeps them so tradition-bound that they are unable to progress beyond a primitivism that retains women in secondary and submissive roles and prevents all its practitioners from seeing the positive aspects of science, medicine, education, and knowledge ingeneral. We skipped the visit to the Fetish Market because we knew what we would be seeing there—animal parts supposedly able to cure impotence and other “health” problems, charms to ward off or inflict bad luck, and bushmeat for sale. Of course, we are not supposed to believe that these animals were poached from the forest preserves. Too gloomy a prospect to consider that visit.

The Togo Ballet Company That night onboard the ship, a much more positive aspect of Togoan culture was presented to us. The Togo Ballet Company came aboard to perform for us their native dances— spirited and energetic and just plain fun. A happy ending to a depressing visit to a struggling country and its people.

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GHANA This is the first former British colony that we visited and it was also the first in Sub-Saharan Africa to gain its independence and that occurred in 1957. Though it went through some troubled times with military coups and strongmen governing, since 1992 it has had a relatively stable government and counts itself a constitutional republic. It has free and fair elections every 5 years and the government is trying to create a strong economic base for the country through its natural resources of gold, timber, industrial diamonds, bauxite, rubber, fish, petroleum, silver, salt and limestone. Like the other countries it is hot and dry in the north and hot and humid in the south. It is a relatively flat country with most people involved in subsistence agriculture. The population is 25,242,000 people with a median age of 21 and a life expectancy of 61. The literacy rate for these people is 58% able to read and write English, the official language. The problems facing this country are the same as those facing the other ones already discussed: deforestation, overgrazing, habitat destruction, and significant poaching. The government is working with international organizations in an effort to create economic stability and create investment in the infrastructure and development of the country. Though Ghana has the same little huts along its highways and byways, we noticed immediately how much tidier everything is compared to the former French colonies. Efforts are made to keep the streets free of garbage and trash, the little huts are brightly colored and most are labeled with religious names, such as God’s Own Barber Shop, Heavenly Devotion Beauty Salon, God Will Help Us Fruit and Vegetables, The College of Theology and

Computers. These signs are also seen in the names of schools, public buildings, painted on boats and taxis; so we presume this is a reflection of the Evangelical Protestant religious majority in the country (more than 69% of the country are members of these denominations). There are about 15% Roman Catholics, 16% Muslims, and the rest are adherents of the indigenous religions. Accra is the capital city, the main port, and the center of government and all its agencies. It has a population over 4,000,000 people and suffers the same crowded conditions as all of Africa’s fast growing cities. Shia Hills Preserve We were able to get out into the countryside in Ghana for a visit to the Shia Hills Preserve where we saw a new (to us) species of antelope, the kob. He is a large animal with a unique courting and breeding pattern. The males establish a “lek” (like grouse in the US) where they surround themselves with the females they have been able to round up and then challenge any male who tries to enter the area. A male will fight to maintain his position until he is beaten by a younger and stronger rival. A male usually manages to stay in control about 3 years at most. Seems Mother Nature wanted to insure fresh infusions of genes into the population.

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The kob is a floodplain antelope. Males weigh about 200 lbs. and stand 40 inches tall, while the females weigh about 140 pounds and stand 36 inches. Both sexes have S-shaped horns which are heavily ridged and measure from 16 to 27 inches in length.

In Shia Hills most predators have been eliminated so the kob is flourishing here and may end up overpopulating its

territory because there is no populationcontrol.

Besides wonderful birding in the Preserve, there was another feature of interest--caves where native peoples lived to hide from slavers. The caves are natural formations and there is still evidence of human habitation in them--soot from cooking & warming fires, pictures etched in the walls, and various kinds of debris like bones, seeds, andshells. Aburi Botanical Gardens When we left Shia Hills, we were driven to an inner city preserve called the Aburi Botanical Gardens. Most of us were interested in the birds and mammals that the Garden shelters and we were not disappointed. The photographers had ample chances to film birds around a large lake area where there were feeders and plenty of cover for shyer creatures. The green turaco excited the most interest among the photographers and most were able to get good pictures of this rarely seen bird. The Gardens also were home to three varieties of monkey, all of which we were able to see and “shoot” for later viewing at home: the green vervet, the red colobus, and the red patta monkey were all active and easy to see and document. We stood about watching and laughing at their antics for a long time.

Krobo area Our next activity on this day in Ghana was a visit to the Krobo (name of a tribe) area to see an example of a commercial recycling activity. It was started by one family and has resulted in jobs for many people, a fairly high standard of living for the family, a business which caters to tourists and helps the local peoples. This little miracle is called the Cedi Bead Factory.

The grandfather of this family developed a process for melting down old glass bottles, shards of colored glass, and other waste glass he could find. After reducing the glass to powder, he added water to mix the powder and then used molds to shape various sizes of beads. Then the molds were fired in a very hot kiln, made from old termite mounds (talk about recycling!) to create multicolored and patterned beads based on the colors in the original glass bits used.

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