I genuinely did not expect to get culture shock. My mom had told me to prepare myself psychologically so had the AIESEC manager in charge of outgoing exchange programmes. I was convinced they were making a big fuss out of nothing. I thought it would feel as though I never left Kenya. After all we were all Africans; we had the same skin colour, our hair was the same texture, we came from the same continent, right? (I’m African yet I had stereotyped myself as an African…the irony.) Let’s just say that I got extreme culture shock, it was even more severe than what my fellow non-African counterparts were experiencing because I was not mentally prepared at all. But that’s why I love travelling so much…it breaks all those mental barriers and opens your mind to new ways of thinking. I’m happy to say that I quickly bounced back from my culture shock and enjoyed my 8 week stay in Ghana. Here are some of the memories I made that I think you will enjoy as well if you are ever in Ghana.
- Eat Fufu
You cannot go to Ghana and not eat fufu! It’s simply unacceptable. When you eat it you should do so at a local restaurant – not at a hotel. It’s not the same! This was quite an experience for me because a lot of West Africans I met back in Nairobi talked about fufu ALL the time so I was super excited to try it.
It comes in a rather large clay bowl, I was surprised that the yam fufu was already in my soup with my two pieces of goat meat (this was a bit bizarre to me). My friend, MJ, told me that if I want to eat it like a real Ghanaian then I should only use my right hand and swallow the fufu…no chewing allowed!!! When you’re done with your fufu and meat you take your bowl in both hands and sip the remaining hot, spicy soup – like a real Ghanaian! (They even gave me a Ghanaian name).
2. Kente Weaving Village
One thing I really admire about Ghana is how well they have preserved their culture including storytelling. Literally everything has a deeper meaning with a story to convey its significance.
The Kente cloth, known as ‘’nwentoma’’ in Akan, is a type of cloth made from silk and cotton fabric, interwoven into strips and is native to the Akan ethnic group of southern Ghana. The legend behind the Kente cloth is that a man named Ota Karaban and friend, Kwaku, from a town called Bonwire (a leading town for the production of Kente in Ghana) had their weaving lessons from a spider as it was weaving its web. They tried to imitate it by weaving a beautiful raffia fabric. Later on, they told their story to the Nana (Chief) Bobie, who in turn passed on the important news to the paramount chief of the Ashantis- the Asantehene. The Asantehene thought it was so beautiful so he adopted the fabric for all Asantis as a national cloth for special occasions like funerals, festivals, naming ceremonies and marriage ceremonies.
The Kente weaving village that I went to is located in Bonwire in the Ashanti region. If you go there to buy yourself some Kente cloth make sure you ask them to teach you how to weave it. They are happy to do it and photograph you while you do it.
3. Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary
There are several folktales behind the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. My personal favourite is about a hunter who once discovered the sanctuary a long time ago. He met a magical spiritual being called Daworo. In the course of the relationship with the mysterious Daworo, the hunter went to the forest one day with the spirit and saw five monkeys gathered around a pot covered with a red calico (a piece of red cloth).
When the hunter asked the spirit about the origin and purpose of the monkeys, the spirit told him to treat the monkeys as his relatives, for one day, the monkeys will be of importance to the people by bringing fame to the area. The spirit also asked the hunter to take the calico home, and when he did, the monkeys followed him home.
As the number of the monkeys increased so did the fortunes of the hunter who then attributed his improved material condition to his association with the monkeys. This led to a symbiotic relationship between the monkeys, the hunter and the people who subsequently settled in the area with the permission of the hunter.
I was surprised at how friendly the monkeys were. One came and sat on my shoulder and ate a banana straight from the palm of my hand. It’s quite common actually – that’s why you need to go visit Ghana and experience it yourself.
The best time to visit is early in the morning or late in the evening. You don’t need to carry a banana with you, it’s covered in the entrance fee.
4. Hans Cottage Botel
If you have ever wanted to touch a crocodile without dying then Ghana is the place for you. I mean it! All the wild animals are friendly. (Please do not attempt this in Kenya because you will be eaten!) Hans Cottage Botel is in Cape Coast and I even saw people take a picture next to the crocodile’s jaws!!! I’m a bit more cautious so the tail was as good as it got for me.
Believe it or not there are even more friendly crocodiles at the Paga Crocodile Pond located in the Upper East Region. Legend has it that a man was trapped against the water’s edge by a lion, when he bargained with a crocodile that none of his children would harm his kind if he would kill the lion. It is believed that the souls of the people of Paga reside in these crocodiles. It is an offence to kill crocodiles in Paga, or eat crocodile meat.
5. Mole National Park
Located in the Northern Region, Mole National Park is Ghana’s largest wildlife refuge. The park is home to a variety of mammals and reptiles including elephants, hippos, crocodiles, buffaloes and a diverse bird species.
When I was there, we had a tour guide who allowed us to get out of the van and take up close pictures of the elephants (they live peacefully with the local community). Please DO NOT attempt to touch the wild animals unless you are under the supervision of an armed game warden.
6. Larabanga Mosque
Founded in 1421, the Larabanga Mosque is purported to be the oldest and most revered mosque of its kind in Ghana. It is just 4km away from Mole National Park and is famous for its striking Sudanese mud-and-reeds architecture. The mosque has an old Quran, believed by the locals to have been given as a gift from heaven in 1650 to Yidan Barimah Bramah, the Imam at the time, as a result of his prayers. The mosque, built with mud and reeds, has two tall towers in pyramidal shape, one for the mihrab which faces towards Mecca forming the facade on the east and the other as a minaret in the northeast corner. These are buttressed by twelve bulbous shaped structures, which are fitted with timber elements.
According to legend, in 1421, an Islamic trader named Ayuba had a dream while staying here, near a “Mystic Stone”, instructing him to build a mosque. Strangely, when he awoke, he found that the foundations were already in place and he proceeded to construct the mosque until it was completed. There is a belief that he left instructions that he should be buried close to the mosque and that after three days, the baobab which would shoot up on his grave was to be preserved from generation to generation. The baobab tree next to the mosque today is reputed to mark the site of Ayuba’s grave.
If you go to Larabanga Mosque, ask the guide to tell you the story of the mysterious stone.
7. Giant African Snail
I thought snails were only a popular delicacy in France until I went to Ghana. I wasn’t really up for the challenge but my Serbian friend, Ana, who was WAY more adventurous than I was, convinced me to have a go at her snails. As she munched away, I only managed to take a tiny microscopic bite of my escargot on a stick. It’s a kind of street food – a lot of hawkers sell them on skewers to drivers and passengers in the hot afternoon traffic.
Here’s a quick recipe on how to prepare them (if eating snails is your kind of thing):
First, they’re blanched and extracted from their shells with a rod or a hammer. Then they’re washed with either alum or lime juice to remove their mucus, and add a bit of flavor. (Apparently, snails raised on a diet of papaya leaves also taste better.) Then they’re sliced, fried until crunchy, and served as a bar snack on a skewer. Feel free to season with a bit of spicy pepper.
Stay posted for part 2 of Things You Need To Do in Ghana.
What’s the most bizarre food you’ve ever eaten? (Leave your reply in the comments section below)