Some of the other interns planned on taking a day trip last Saturday and invited me to go along. Of course I was game, no matter where they were going. Because most of the other interns are leaving in December, they started a bucket list of places they wanted to go before departing Ghana. This list included a trip to Nzulezu, the stilt village located in the Western region.
We met up at 7:00AM to take a trotro to Takoradi. From there we would take another trotro to the village of Beyin, and a canoe ride before arriving at Nzulezu. We were joined by a few students of the University of Cape Coast. It was nice to meet some more fellow Americans. It also meant that as a group of ten obrunis, we would definitely draw some stares.
The trotro to Takoradi was about two hours and mostly uneventful. The road to Takoradi is mostly paved, so it wasn’t too bumpy. Once we made it in Takoradi, we wandered around until we found the correct trotro station to take us to Beyin. Everyone we had asked, as well as the guidebooks, said that the village was very close to Takoradi. They all lied. We were shocked to learn that it would take four to five hours to get there. It was the longest car ride of my life. The roads had potholes the size of craters and I kept hitting my head on the top of the trotro. By the time we made it to Beyin, we were all sleepy, stiff, and starving.
Once in Beyin, we were taken to a small office where we each paid fifteen cedi (About $7.50 USD) for the canoe ride and were introduce to one our guides/rowers, Joseph. We all piled into a hand-carved canoe and began our boat ride to Nzulezu. Despite feeling like a french-fry baking in the oven, I really enjoyed the canoe ride. We passed through fields of tall grasses, marshes filed with lily pads, palm-filled jungles, and finally a large lake. Along the way, our guides explained how the river changed during the wet and dry seasons and pointed out traps to catch fish. Once on the lake, you could finally see a spattering of buildings that make up Nzulezu. Only up close, do you notice the extreme poverty that these people live. Honestly, it’s what I’ve come to expect from Ghana: a gorgeous landscape filled with heartbreaking poverty.
We hoisted ourselves out of the canoe and were allowed to wander around the village with strict instructions not to take pictures of any of the adult inhabitants. It was nice to stretch my legs after a long day of sitting, but I was a little dubious about the conditions of the walkways. There was one main “road” through the village and each branch that extended from it was organized by family. The walkways consisted of bamboo and wooden plants. It was important to watch your step as some of the boards were rotting and there were holes.
The two most important building in the village were the church and the school. Like the rest of Ghana, the villagers are very religious and mixed Christianity with local traditions. The school was just a series of small rooms with desks and chalkboards. It is very hard for the village to attract teachers because most don’t fancy living over a lake. The village also has a fairly large collection of books, most of which were donated by Western tourists.
While at the school, we were introduced to the chief of the village and encouraged to ask him any questions. We asked him about the origins of the village. He stated that the village was built in the 14th or 15th century by people who were trying to avoid tribal wars over gold and other resources. We learned that the village is always moving as the wooden building only last about forty-five years. Therefore, they are always building new structures and shifting the village as the wood rots. I wish I had asked about sanitation and diseases. The water beneath the village was filled with garbage, and it has no real sanitation system. I wonder how often people get sick as they swim in the lake and use it for their source of water.
After answering our questions, the chief asked us to donate money… for the children of course. I felt pressured into giving a few cedi despite the fact that some of the fee for the canoe ride already goes towards the village (We had confirmed this with the chief). The chief recorded the amount that our group donated in a large ledger and thanked us. Only once we were leaving did I realize what a tourist trap the village was. I was bombarded by people trying to sell me souvenirs, miniature canoes and postcards. I left with mixed feelings from the village. While I enjoyed seeing the village and learning about the people’s way of life, I felt uncomfortable with ways money was wheedled out of us. But then again, a few cedi is worth practically nothing to me and can be a great use to them. Thus, the conflicted feelings.
The canoe deposited us back to Beyin and we finally got to eat something! There was restaurant run by a Spaniard where I was able to get my first piece of cake in Ghana (It was REALLY dry). We got into the trotro to ride back to Takoradi and then realized that we were in trouble. Because of the miscalculation of the travel time, it was much later than we had anticipated. We the time we made it to Takoradi, it would be past 9PM. In general, driving at night in Ghana is a really bad idea. There are no street lights, the roads are horrible, and the cars are equally as broken down. There is a high chance of getting in a car accident anytime in Ghana, but nighttime is the worst of all. So we decided to stay the night in Takoradi and wandered around until we found a hotel. We haggled with the owners to get the price down to ten cedi per person. Luckily the bed was big and we fit three people on it no problem.
The next morning I felt pretty lousy due to the fact that I had slept in my contacts. We wandered around again to find a place for breakfast, which is nearly impossible on a Sunday. After a stop at the ATM, we boarded another trotro and headed home. I’ve never been so happy to go home and take my contacts out. My bucket bath felt pretty awesome too! Overall, the trip wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I enjoyed it nevertheless.