Kakum Rain Forest

(Kakum rain forest)

For most MPAGErs, the Discovery Channel was the closest they’d ever been to a rain forest.  That changed last Saturday.

Students arrived at the Kakum National Park, a government preserved luscious rain forest north of Cape Coast, around noon.

(Entrance to the rain forest trail)

Kakum was established in 1932 and officially opened in 1994. The park attracts thousands of tourists each year due to its exotic and rare population of plants, butterflies, birds, and elephants. Kakum’s largest attraction is the canopy walk.

The canopy walk is a world famous attraction that allows visitors to walk across a suspended rope bridge on the rain forest’s canopy (100 feet in the air).  From the treetops, students would be able to see the rain forest from the perspective of the forest’s climbers and flyers.

(Borley Quaye makes her way across the rope bridge)

Students clamored along a stony path led by a Ghanaian tour guide. Warm rain poured from perfectly clear skies, but everyone was determined to finish the hike and reach the canopy walk.

“This is really about to be a spiritual experience for me I guess because I’ve never done anything like this before,” said Roman Johnson as he hiked to the canopy. “And we’re so closely in tune with nature.”

The forest was teeming with life. Thick tangles of vine hung low from skinny and thick branches. Fat, ancient trees poked the clouds. Frogs croaked, birds chirped, and the wind sang. After 45-minutes, MPAGErs arrived at the beginning of the canopy walk.

(Entangled vines in the rain forest)

 “Pray for me, “ Khadijah Aleem told the camera before her first step.

A narrow opening only permitted four students to stagger across the bridge at a time. Miles of forest stretched in each direction and with each step or gush of wind, the bridge swayed.

When students finished the daunting canopy trek, their stomachs were growling. Before visiting Kakum National Park, students purchased a ram from the community to barbecue. On the way to the MPAGE house, the bus stopped by the market and students picked up some condiments to accompany the barbecue Hajj prepared.

(Emmanuel Saint-Ange poses with dinner)

In the evening, MPAGErs enjoyed a family feast of rice and barbecued ram seasoned to perfection with Hausa (a West African tribe) spices.

Written by Kwabena ‘Kobi’ Ansong

August 4, 2012, Accra, Ghana

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Gamao…Again?

(Emmanuel Saint-Ange is made a chief of the Asona clan)

On Day 20, MPAGErs returned to the Gamoa community. Earlier in the trip students went to Gamoa and were initiated into clans in a grand ceremony that involved the chiefs, queen mothers, and the whole community. On this visit, students came back to their new families and learned about their customs, history, and day-to-day lives.

Returning to Gomoa East was an unforgettable experience. We began with meeting the paramount queen mother of the Gamoa community. She hosted us in her palace and taught us more about her life and daily activities. Nana (queen in twi) was a queen mother since the age of 12. She inherited the throne from her grandmother and has served the Gamao people for 30 years. She outlined to us her strict lifestyle that she had to follow as royalty, which includes shaving her hair and leading a modest lifestyle.

(Paramount queen mother and her linguist address MPAGErs in her palace)

The village believes that the ancestors choose who should be the queen mother. During our conversation, people continually interrupted to seek guidance from their queen. Queen mother is no empty title; I witnessed the realness with my own eyes.

After our conversation, we toured the community. In the midst of all this, I snuck away and found my family, the Asona clan, and met my chief and queen mother. They took me to our house, gave me a new name, and crowned me as a chief. He said the ancestors told him to choose me. He then told me that I could have all the land I want and become chief if I ever returned.

(Children on Gamao community look on as Emmanuel is enthroned)

This was the greatest feeling I had. Since coming to Ghana it has really felt like coming home. Ghanaians have given us the warmest welcome our 3entire journey. When we first came, two Ghanaians told us that this was our real home and while we were still in America, they were taking care of the land until we come back. The statement was only words, but the sentiment is shown everyday. Ghana and Gamao specifically will always be a part of my heart.

Written by Emmanuel Saint-Ange

July 26, 2012, Cape Coast, Ghana

Midterms in Ghana: Photo Essay

Thousands of leagues across the sea and MPAGErs still can’t dodge the infamous midterm exam. Day 18, July 25th 2012, students trudged downstairs for the infamous midterm. The multiple-choice exam accompanied with eight essay questions had MPAGErs up all night and exchanging notes. The exam addressed an array of topics covered throughout the entire journey such as: W.E.B. DuBois’s African ideologies, history of the Asante people, Kwame Nkrumah’s legacy, and much more. 

(Students make final preparations for exam in Cape Coast home living room)

(Borley Quaye marks answers on her exam)

(MPAGE enjoys lunch at a beach front restaurant called One Africa after exam)

(Brandon Bates relaxes in a hammock in front of One Africa)

(Beach view from the restaurant)

(Khadijah gives the camera a huge 21st birthday smile)

Written by Kwabena ‘Kobi’ Ansong

August 4, 2012, Accra, Ghana

A Game of Borders

(Ghana, Togo, Benin map)

MPAGErs weren’t settled for twelve hours before hitting the road again. At 10am Sunday morning, students left their Accra hotels, and started an eight-hour eastbound trek across Ghana, through Togo, to Benin’s Songhai Centre, one of the world’s leading sustainable communities.

Snoozing students jerked awake the whole ride. The van bumped along a bumpy road carved in vast savannas decorated with wise-looking trees. Four hours passed until we reached the boarder.

Togo wasn’t too happy to see us. The photographer/videographer, Abdul, was almost arrested for filming. He was forced to erase all footage from that day and they even tried to apprehend his equipment.

Students sat in the stuffy van for almost two hours while Togo officials demanded bribes and extra unnecessary documents, but alas, MPAGErs were permitted to enter Togo.

Racing to reach Benin before sunset, there was little time for a proper lunch. Instead, MPAGE site coordinator, Umar Mohammed, purchased a bag of street fried lamb and three loaves of bread. MPAGERs feasted on the race to Benin.

Benin’s boarder officials loved MPAGE as much as Togo’s. They refused to accept the entry documents, even though a Benin ambassador in Ghana approved them. Umar went back in forth with the officials for three hours, but they wouldn’t budge. They ceased the group’s passports and ordered Umar to return tomorrow if he wanted MPAGE to enter their country.

(Togo-Benin boarder)

MPAGErs settled at a Togo hotel close to the Benin boarder. The small beach houses were modest and comfortable and students were exhausted.

(Main building of the Togo hotel)

The next morning, students awoke refreshed and ready for another battle. During breakfast, a meal of omelets, crepes, and tea, an entire fishing village scrambled across the hotel’s beach. What are they all doing? every one wondered.

(Local community fishes on the beach)

They were fishing. Dozens and dozens of men, women, children and the elderly filed along a netted rope over a 100 yards long and heaved with all their might.

MPAGers shuffled across the beach to get a better look. Before long, students were yanking the endless rope too. There were no cheers, curious looks, or smiles from the villagers. They accepted students like they were supposed to be there and even started giving instructions. Students tugged and sang in rhythm with the people. Nearly 45 minutes passed before the net was finally ashore.

(Research intern Robert Shannon and Mohammed Joseph tug on net)

Hundreds of pounds of fish flittered in the net. There was tuna, squid, stingrays, and countless other kinds.

(The fishing net once it was ashore)

Bright, triumphant smiles shined on everyone’s face.

Next stop—round two with Benin’s boarder officials. When MPAGEr’s arrived they made even more unreasonable requests and it became apparent that visiting the Songhai Centre was not going to work out. So, MPAGErs packed it up and returned home, Ghana.

Written by Kwabena ‘Kobi’ Ansong

July 26, 2012, Cape Coast, Ghana

The Akwaaba Dinner: Photo Essay

On Day 14, July 21st MPAGErs attended the third annual Akwaaba Dinner hosted by the Diaspora African Forum a sanction of the African Union (AU). The AU is an organization that assists African-Americans who yearn to be a part of their roots. The dinner was a fanfare with many prominent Ghanaian and African American guests including Ghana’s biggest television executives Kwam Ansah, Ghanian starlet Ama K. Aberese, amongst chiefs, queenmothers, and several others. Below is a photo essay of the extravaganza:

(Borley Quaye, Brandon Bates, Kamau Grimes, Khadijah Aleem, Emmaniel Saint-Ange, and Roman Johnson outside Gala)

(Frontal view gala dinner)

(Gala’s honorees)

(Brandon Bates is honored with bearing the candle during closing ceremony)

Written by Kwabena ‘Kobi’ Ansong

July 26, 2012, Cape Coast, Ghana

Pan African Student Summit

(2012 Pan-African Student Summit banner)

On Day 10, July 18th, for the first time in MPAGE history, students arrived at the annual Pan-African Student Summit located at the Sankofa Beach House in Accra. Masao Meroe, an African-American attorney who relocated to Ghana with his family over two decades ago, founded the program.

(MPAGErs arrive at the 2012 conference)

The Sankofa Educational Foundation of Ghana organizes the Pan-African Student Summit each year with the purpose of connecting students from Africa and its diasporas. This year, the unique program united about 40 students from the United States, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Brazil, Togo, Ghana, amongst other African/African diaspora states.

Students were heartily greeted by the summit’s directors when they arrived. Dinner was served and students participated in an icebreaker activity with their new colleagues. At the breakout meeting, students were informed that they were to begin each morning at 6AM with Yoga before each day’s sessions.

(Albert Brady participates in icebreaker) 

The Summit shed light on a vast array of topics that many MPAGErs never considered. Topics included: bio-diesel, the detrimental oil industry, entrepreneurship, investing, and many more.

(Clark Atlanta professor, Dr. Myron Williams does a bio-diesel demonstration) 

On the summit’s final night, every student was instructed to make a creative offering in the form of dance, song, skit, or etc. Two Ghanaian students, Adwao and Sheela, perfomed a ceremonial Asante dance, Beninese students demonstrated Capoeira, a martial-arts inspired Brazilian dance, while MPAGErs performed the Morehouse hymn and a play written by Emmanuel Saint-Ange.

MPAGErs left the program with empowering knowledge and a slew of international connections.

Written by Kwabena ‘Kobi’ Ansong

July 26, 2012, Cape Coast, Ghana

The Land of the Golden People

(Khadijah Aleem and Borley Quaye on the van heading to Kumasi)

MPAGErs spent day’s 9 and 10 in Kumasi. Kumasi is one of Ghana’s largest and most developed cities. A forested region four hours north of Cape Coast and Accra, Kumasi is home to the famous Asante people.

(View of Kumasi from the hotel balcony)

Our one-day trip to Kumasi was jam-packed with a variety of interesting events. We shopped at Kumasi’s annual cultural art festival, toured the Manhiya Palace Museum, and visited renowned Islamic Suffi leader, Sheikh Ibrahima Nyass.

To my delight our first stop was shopping! At the market, I purchased Ghanaian waist beads, bracelets, and necklaces for my friends. The market had many vendors selling items such as traditional African attire, shoes, purses, paintings, jewelry, and wooden carvings. I enjoyed the market and I was very satisfied with all my purchases.

(Khadijah Aleem inspects waist beads at the cultural arts festival)

(Brandon Bates does a little shopping at the cultural arts festival) 

The next morning we visited the Manhiya Palace Museum. The Manhiya Palace Museum holds several ancient Asante artifacts and it is next door to the Asante king’s actual palace. During the tour, I learned so much about the Asante’s fascinating history.

In 1907, while Ghana remained a British colony, Governor Arnold Hodgson demanded the Asante’s golden stool. The pure gold stool symbolically holds the Asante’s spirit and physically sits the asantehene, or Asante king. It is commonly believed that if the stool is lost, the kingdom will collapse. When the Asante learned about their colonizer’s unreasonable request, King Prempe 1 and his mother, Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa hid the stool in a nearby village. The king was held prisoner for over 20 years and his mother died in custody, but they never revealed the stool’s whereabouts. When King Prempe was finally released, his stool and kingdom awaited him

In the Asante tradition, the next king is usually the nephew of the previous king, and queen mother is appointed by the king.

The tour at the Manhiya Palace gave me a clearer understanding of the role of kings and queen mothers in the Asante kingdom and Ghanaian culture. I absolutely admire the level of respect the members of the Asante kingdom have for the kings and queen mothers.

Our final visit was to Sheikh Ibrahima Nyass’s mosque. Ibrahima Nyass is a well-known sheikh that practices suffism. As a Muslim, I found the visit to be very insightful because I knew nothing about suffism. I learned that to be a suffi you must be an extremely diligent scholar in your religion. Suffis are solely dedicated to the belief that all things that happen, good or bad, occur for a reason and are divinely inspired. The value is in what you are able to take away from those experiences.

(Sheikh Ibrahima Nyass bids farewell to  Khadijah Aleem) 

I would have to say that going to visit the sheikh was the most spiritual aspect of this trip.

Written by Khadijah Aleem

Accra, Ghana, July 20, 2012