Surviving the Sun in Accra

My Adventures Living & Working Abroad in Ghana

Archive for August, 2008

10. Pictures: Field Research


Supporting Women Has Literally Never Been So Sweet

Well, after months of searching, I FINALLY established a contact with a woman who works for Kuapa Kokoo. For those of you who don’t already know, I spent about four months in 2007 researching fair trade coffee and cocoa… and let’s just say I may have developed into a minor obsession with a particular cocoa farmers’ co-op (*Remember Divine Chocolate in xmas stockings?). Being said, that co-operative is Kuapa Kokoo, which coincidentally happens to be located in the very country I’m currently residing in, Ghana!


When I first found out I was accepted for an internship in Ghana, I made a pledge to myself to track down a Kuapa Kokoo cocoa farm at all cost and I am happy to say, two weekends ago, I accomplished it.


Mabel is a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend… well let’s say for simplicity sake that she is an acquaintance of someone and now a very good friend of mine. I was hesitant after calling her at first because I was not sure that either of us knew what to expect or what we were to do at the cocoa farm, but with a leap of faith and Collin and Theresa in tow, I caught a bus heading north to Kumasi.


In typical Ghanaian fashion, our 11am meeting turned out to be closer to 1pm, but Mabel and her driver picked us up at our hotel and we drove to the village of Bipoa. After a quick history of cocoa farming in Ghana and the formation of Kuapa Kokoo in 1993, we reached the town and met with the local women’s society. Driving up the main drag, the driver honked his horn in three quick blurts, representing the motto ‘Pa, Pa, Paa’ meaning the best of the best of the best. To me, this seemed legitimately as cool as the bat symbol and actually worked to call Kuapa Kokoo members from their homes.


The women’s society all came out to greet us (regardless of our very short notice) and Mabel translated their greetings and explanations about how Kuapa Kokoo has improved their lives. Before we headed to a local cocoa patch, the women all sang and clapped for us. Not only were we able to see the growing process of cocoa that afternoon, but we also fortunate enough to experience first hand the benefits of fair trade social initiatives. The women were so empowered and felt such success through Kuapa Kokoo that it would be hard to ever second guess the achievements of these fair trade farming communities.


Although we only had a short while to visit with the farmers in Bipoa, I was an experience I would never give up and was well worth the two day trip. Kuapa Kokoo has half ownership of the Day Chocolate Company, makers of Divine Chocolate, which is produced with Ghanaian cocoa from these very farmers. Supporting women has literally never been so sweet 🙂





*Side Note: In local dialect, Twi, Kuapa Kokoo means ‘Good Cocoa Farmer’

Weekend Hike in a Semi-Deciduous Tropical Rain Forest

This past weekend was a breath of fresh air (literally) for us here in Ghana. Saturday Collin and I met up with our friend Emma (who we went to Togo & Benin with last weekend) and we caught a tro-tro heading NE. By noon we met up with Theresa in Hohoe, where she had been stationed all week doing workshops with FIDA. After a very generous ride from the FIDA driver, we arrived at the hamlet of Wli (pronounced ‘vlee’). After checking into local accommodations (<$4/each!), we headed out on our first hike of the weekend.


The hike was unfortunately a lot less strenuous than we had all hoped for, but turned out to be beautiful none the less. The trail led through stunning foliage and a plethora of colourful butterflies set in a mountainous background. The main draw to this specific hike was the end destination, an absolutely gorgeous waterfall named Agamatsu Falls (or Wli Falls). We all enjoyed the scenery on the hike up, but the waterfalls absolutely took my breath away. Unfortunately I don’t know the specifics on the fall such as height, water source etc, but I did take some pictures (which really does not do it justice).


Our second day we travelled south to a lodge located near the hamlet of Fumé. Again, after checking into new accommodations, we headed out on another hike. This one was considerably more difficult than the last and actually had ropes in areas where you needed to scale the rock walls. It was well worth it though in the end when we arrived at a second waterfall that was very secluded.  We all took the chance to go for a dip and the water was extremely refreshing in the heat of the day.


Unfortunately for us we didn’t have more time and had to head back to work the next morning, but our time in Volta was definitely revitalising. It was great to have a few days to get some exercise and get out of the ciaos that surrounds our lives living in Accra. Hopefully if all goes as planned, we will be heading north again this weekend to Kumasi to visit some cocoa farms. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!




2 Visas, 9 Times through Customs, 11 Stamps & 3 Countries in 3 Days

This past weekend was hands down one of the best so far on my adventure to West Africa this summer. After packing in the dark on Thursday night (loosing power is no anomaly around here anymore), Collin and Theresa and I headed out first thing Friday morning. We met up with a new friend (Emma) and hitched a tro-tro to the eastern border town of Aflao. Once in Afloa, we went through our first of many rounds of customs and walked across the border into Lomé, Togo.


Lomé is far from Accra in every sense. There are sidewalks without people hawking wares, streetlights (although I’m not sure they are actually used), very few vehicles aside from motorcycles/taxi-motos and GARBAGE CANS — What a revolution! This capital city is located on the ocean, similarly to Accra… however Lomé hasn’t turned its back on the water the way that Accra has. In Accra, the downtown core faces away from the ocean and the beach is filthy with garbage and fecies. In Lomé however, the main street runs the length of the water and the beach is littered instead with incredibly fit people out for runs.


Most of our time in Lomé, aside from riding taxi-motos, I’m a bit ashamed to say, was spent eating! After living in an old English colony for the past two months, travelling into an old French colony was sooo amazing. Three words: ‘French-Bread-Everywhere!’ …enough said. Oh, and though I’m not much of a coffee drinker, the rest of my crew couldn’t get enough of real coffee instead of the instant Nescafe that plagues Ghana. After a supper of homemade pesto gnocchi and dessert crepes, followed by an evening at our hotel listening to live music, we hit the hay early. I was truly disappointed in the morning when we decided to move on to Benin but also interested to see how another old French colony would compare with Togo.


And oh how there was a lot of compare and contract! After only a couple of hours in a bush-taxi, we hit the Togo/Benin border and went through yet again more customs. Arriving in Cotonou, Benin near noon, it was quickly apparent that this city is by far the most chaotic, insane and crammed city I have ever been to. The streets are literally swarming with cars and motorcycles and you really expect to see an accident every 30 seconds. Unfortunately, we had no idea where we were going and were dropped off at a pier beside a fish market. Although it was interested, it was definitely not where we were supposed to be, but we had no idea how to get to an area with taxis. Luckily for us, we met a very nice local who led us, with all of our bags, through the winding alleys of an enormous market to the other side. The market was so organized and structured and can’t be described as anything else than absolute organized chaos. The aisles in this market were twice as wide as those in others, and were even paved. Shops were crammed together in an endless line of umbrellas, scrap wood and sheet metal, but each area of the market was designated for a specific item (example: fabric section, men’s dress shoes etc).


Cotonou is the capital of Benin in every sense but name, and it a relief to escape it as we headed to Ganvie. In Ganvie, we spent the afternoon touring a stilt village which houses more then 17,000 people floating in the middle of a lake. Ganvie is claimed to be “the Venice of West Africa”… and I’ve been to Venice… and other than the whole stilt idea, they couldn’t be more different. The romance and crumbling architecture wasn’t exactly there… instead it was replaced with shacks and fishermen and the most lively funeral procession I have ever seen. It was held as a celebration with loud music and women dancing in bright African fabrics on wooden boats paddled along the canals. There was a floating market area where we bough bread and even a floating mosque. *Oh, and did I mention that there were no pigeons? Venice should take note of this!


After a very arduous trip involving an argument in French with a taxi driver who was trying to take advantage of us because we are foreign, we finally arrived at our hotel in Ouidah (a town 45 minutes away) and thankfully, notably smaller than Cotonou. Sunday morning we went for a walk along “le marche des esclaves” which was one of the dominant slave routes which were used during colonial times. All along the walk towards the beach, the road was dotted with voodoo shrines. Voodoo, in its original sense (not the Hollywood version), is the primary religion in Benin and originates from ancient nationals of the country, later spreading to Columbia and Haiti through the slave trade. The voodoo statues mark different aspects of voodoo life and there are a number of snakes and animals included.


By early morning, we had to begin making our way back home, so we caught a bush-taxi to Lomé and stopped for lunch with a group of travellers we met in Ouidah. After one more delicious French style meal, two scoops of sorbet and a chocolate-filled croissant for the road we caught taxi-motos to the border and walked through customs for the second last time before arriving back in Accra.


All in all, the weekend was amazing but very rushed. It was a great opportunity to experience other countries in West Africa and see the contracts between the different results of English and French colonization. It was refreshing to speak French again, eat pasta and French bread, ride taxi-motos everywhere with the wind in my hair, and take a break from the constant yelling of people hawking goods on the streets of Accra. It was great to see, but I’m happy to be back at home in Accra. It’s hard to believe that in less then five weeks I’ll be boarding a plane to head home to Canada.