My apologies to you all – I was actually headed for Kumasi, not Medassi (which city does not exist except in my befuddled brain). Kumasi is the ancient capital city of the Ashanti empire, which (before British colonization) covered a far bigger territory than Ghana. The Golden Stool (which symbolized the high chiefdom) was located in Kumasi, and five lesser stools were located in surrounding villages.
A word on stools. Elaborately carved stools, rather than thrones, symbolized the chief’s seat of power. They’re beautiful and I wish I could take one home with me (or, more accurately, that I had any space to display such a thing) – they usually have some kind of symbolic figure carved into the stool, either adinkra symbols or some kind of animal/human figure – I saw a beautiful one yesterday with a man kneeling on all fours supporting the seat, looking out at the beholder.
At any rate, because we’d missed the government bus to Kumasi, we wound up taking a private bus instead. This differed very little from a tro-tro (crowded, hot minivan) except that instead of taking us the customary short distance, it took us the entire long haul from Accra to Kumasi.
Leaving was interesting. The bus filled up around 9:30am and then a little game of Rush Hour ensued. (If you aren’t familiar with Rush Hour, it’s a game where little trucks and cars are jammed into a 10×10 grid and your job is to move the trucks and cars around until the little red car at one end can safely exit. This can be quite involved, it’s a fun little solitaire puzzle.) The minivan was parked in on all sides – two minivans to either side, a barrier to the rear, and a big yellow bus in front. Much banging, shouting, and honking ensued, at the end of which the yellow bus (which had also been parked in) managed to back up 8 feet – just enough for us to move forward – straight into the face of another minivan which was also parked in. It wasn’t until about 10:30 that they finally got the mess disentangled and the minivan out of the station.
Shortly after we left, the driver took a left turn at a major road, three lanes on each side with a divider down the center. I watched with some interest as he proceeded to head the wrong way down the divided street, straight into oncoming traffic (which hastily made way) and the wrong way up the offramp to another major street, cars scattering around us, to take a left turn at the intersection, and (fortunately) onto the correct side of the street. Nobody seemed particularly upset or alarmed by this, so I can only conclude it’s a commonplace occurrence, Heaven help us all. (I wasn’t particularly alarmed, being near the back of the minivan and hence unlikely to get killed in a head-on collision. Besides, having seen how drivers make left turns in Cambodia, I don’t think any kind of driving could terrify me more.
Amusingly enough, I had my iPod on at the time, so the driver was driving the wrong way to the accompaniment of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”.
After arriving in Kumasi, we sat down and had a quick lunch, in the course of which I finally got to try my grasscutter (nutria rat). The first piece I tried tasted a bit like goat, with a very faint odor of, well, shit, but I finished eating it anyway, mostly out of politeness. (If you’ve just insisted that you MUST try a particular food, it behooves you to at least eat the damn thing.) Fortunately, my second piece just tasted like goat, not bad at all. I ate it with fufu, a common food in Ghana – cassava and green plantain (or yam, or maize) pounded into a smooth paste with a giant mortar and pestle, then cooked. Fufu is smooth and a little sticky/gummy, and is eaten with the fingers, usually liberally doused with some kind of soup or stew. I only ate about half of it, as I wasn’t particularly hungry and wasn’t overly fond of fufu or the soup.
After lunch, we dropped off our bags at the hotel, and then went out to see the brass-workers at Kokofrom. Very interesting – they use a lost-wax technique to mold their figures. First they form a positive image out of beeswax (which is kneaded in warm water until it’s soft). Then they dip the wax image into a slurry of charcoal, water, and clay. They let it dry, then carve away a tiny bit of the charcoal and attach a string covered in beeswax. They then dip it in more charcoal and clay mix, and add other figures until they have a conglomerated mass of multiple figurines, about the size of a baseball. After that they cover the outside with a mix of palm fiber and clay, forming a vessel with a flat bottom, with the strings covered in beeswax meeting at a point at the top of the vessel. They bake the vessel upside down, and the beeswax melts and runs out the bottom, leaving a negative mold.
Then they buy brass at the market and reduce it to a fine powder. They make a crucible out of palm fiber and clay, add brass, and attach it to the top of the mold, so the thing is a single piece with the mold, inverted, at the top, and the brass crucible full of powdered brass on the bottom. Then they take the whole thing, put it in a charcoal fire stoked by a blower, and wait until they see a blue flame dancing up from the fire. That means the brass is melted, and they carefully invert the mold, sending molten brass pouring down into the charcoal-clay mold.
After it cools, they take it out and polish it up with a file and some lemon juice (to brighten the brass – the ascorbic acid in lemon juice is an antioxidant and takes some of the tarnish off brass), and presto! a brass figurine. I took lots of photos, and will probably put the process up on my website once I have time.
Then they took me into the showroom, where I bought two strings of lovely brass beads and a brass lion. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with a brass lion, but I liked it, and it’s small enough to go into my display cabinet, so I bought it. I’ll post photos later. (I also got a photo of the traveling tiger meeting the brass lion – very cute. The little traveling tiger has been living in my daypack (tethered so he doesn’t wander off), head sticking out of the zippered pocket, and has been having a grand old time wandering around Ghana with me.)
After that we wandered around the village a bit, and had drinks at a “restaurant” (a little bamboo shack in the village). The kids kept coming by, peeking at me, and then running away – I guess they hadn’t seen many (any?) Asians before.
After that we went to dinner at an excellent Chinese restaurant within walking distance of the guesthouse. By then I’d reached the point where I’d rather die than eat more Ghanaian food – it’s all I’ve been eating since getting here, and I suspect I’m suffering from culinary culture shock. It was very expensive by Ghanaian standards – $22 for the two of us – but I would have paid just about anything for familiar food, so I figure it was a bargain. (Btw, to put things in perspective, $20/day is what a good guide typically gets paid, and $20/month is the median income in Ghana.)
Tomorrow we’re going on a blitzkrieg – Internet cafe, followed by a visit/demo with an adinkra (stamped cloth) maker, followed by a tour of an Ashanti weaving village. Day after tomorrow, we head north to Tamale (pronounced TAM-a-li, not “tamale” as in the food) to visit an assortment of villages, craftspeople, crocodiles, etc.