Friday, 21 September 2012

The Africa Diaries: The End

(If you've missed any of the previous posts about Africa, then you can find them all here)

Once I arrived back in Ghana (where everyone spoke English again - yay) I caught a bus to a small town on the coast called ... Cape Coast.

You might have heard of it?  It was the largest slave-trading centre in West Africa, and the castle (Cape Coast Castle) was one of the departure ports for slaves being transported to America.

The first thing I did after checking into my hotel (which had a TV AND a private toilet - luxury luxury luxury) was to go on a tour of Cape Coast Castle.

It was horrifying.

The following photo isn't great, but it's one of the 'rooms' that the slaves were kept in - sometimes for many weeks - until the next ship came to pick them up.

There would have been well over 100 men living and sleeping in this room.  Around the sides of the room and running through the middle are trenches.  Very shallow trenches.  These were used to move the waste out of the room.  I'm sure they weren't that effective.

This is the 'Door of No Return'.  It was the last door that the slaves (I don't want to keep calling them that, but I don't know how else to refer to them) passed through before they left Africa.  They would never return to their homes again.  Ever.  Just imagine how that must have felt.  

Ironically the castle was quite beautiful in an old, crumbly type way, and the scenery was, once again, amazing.

It was an incredibly moving experience, and while it was terribly terribly sad, it was also eye-opening.  Sometimes it's worth a bit of grief if it makes you a little less ignorant.

So after that, it was back to town ...

.. and then on to a Nature Reserve for a walk among the tree-tops.

Now I'm not normally that scared of heights, but we were up very very high ...

.. and the walkways felt a little flimsy ...

... and sometimes we were above the tree canopy (that's the tops of trees beneath my foot!).

Pretty amazing views though.

Unfortunately I didn't catch any on camera, but there are some excellent signs in the Cape Coast area.  These are some that I remembered afterwards and so wrote down ...

Virgins Preparatory School

Gaylords Theological College

"Everything But God" Spare Parts

Ah - classic.

And so that was it.  My journey was over.  I caught a bus back to Accra and then flew to New York and then finally back to St. John's.

It was really quite a short trip - only a few weeks - but it felt like so much longer.  And now that I've gone through all the photo's again, and re-read my travel journal (which also dwells on toilets and toilet experiences a lot), the number of memories I have seem to span a year, not just a couple of weeks.

I started this as a bit of tongue-in-cheek laugh at my toilet 'needs', but it's become more than that and has been so much fun to write.  So thank you for joining me in my memories - it's been great sharing them with you.

Me and the boys having a cup of tea

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Africa Diaries: I Predict a Riot

(If you've missed any of the previous posts about Africa, then you can find them all here)

After a day-long journey by car, we arrived in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.  The main (European) language in Burkina is also French, so we were glad to be travelling with Kay and Mikael (Mikael was a local so obviously didn't have the same communication issues that we did).

We found a hotel, booked in (there were Western style toilets - yay yay yay!), met a French woman who was teaching in Cameroon, and went out for a night of posh nosh and good music.  Unfortunately we didn't find the good music (which was a massive shame, since I'm a huge fan of lots of different African artists) but we did find the posh nosh.  We noshed and drank wine (ahh.. wine).  I went to the super super posh toilets as many times as I could without it seeming like I had a bad stomach.  It was a great night.

The next day we parted company, and Allison and I went for our last journey together - to Bobo Diolasso - a small town a few hours bus ride away from Ouaga.  I can't even remember why we wanted to go there in the first place - there were probably some lovely monuments/museums/artifacts that would have been interesting to see - it's just that when we happened to be there, so did a riot.  With riot police.  Right outside our hotel.

To begin with, things looked like this ...

 .. and then 'things' deteriorated quite quickly to this ...

.. and what we found most distressing was this type of thing - where dozens of school children had to run past the riot police and the fires and the danger, just to get to safety ...

... doesn't it make our journey to work/school/daycare/the grocery store/wherever, seem wonderful.  Safe and assured and wonderful.

On the plus side, we met a few of the other people who were staying the same hotel as us ...

... and one of them (the guy with the blue turban) is very very good friends with my 2nd cousin (who I'm not close to, but it just shows how small the world has become).  I also experienced the effects of tear-gas for the first time.  It wasn't that close to where we were, but it was bad enough to cause tears (thus the name - duh) and coughing and general discomfort.

Soo - we did venture out that night in Bobo since the rioting had stopped, and everything seemed calm again, and we 'discovered' a bar with some mediocre music and some truly great interpretive dancers.  We were befriended by a boy who must have only been about 18.  He was very nice, even though he thought I was Allison's mother!  Ratbag.

And that was it.  The next morning I got on a bus to head back to Ouaga, and Allison went on to another town in Burkina where she got caught in the middle of another riot which meant she spent 2 days shut inside her hotel room, hoping she'd make it out alive (which she did).

Once back in Ouaga I caught a plane back to Ghana where I had a few more days of Africa before heading back home to Canada.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Africa Diaries: Dogon Country (below)

(If you've missed any of the previous posts about Africa, then you can find them all here)

All our adventures so far in the Dogon Country where at the top of the escarpment, and now it was time to descend.  To descend down this ...

... over great big rifts that fall down to ... erm, I'm not sure what was at the bottom because it was so far down you couldn't see the bottom!!  And these flimsy looking sticks are what you use to scramble across the big gaps ... 

I was wearing birkenstocks (which were the only shoes I'd brought on the hike with me), and they were totally useless.  They kept falling off and making me slip, so I ended up taking them off.  And while the next picture is in the shade, the vast majority of the walk was NOT in the shade and the rocks we were walking over were hot.  Very very hot.  My feet did not thank me.

But then we reached the bottom and had lunch here ...

... gazing back up the cliffs where we'd come from.

I'm not a big soft-drink/pop drinker, but I have never been as glad to see a coke as I was that day.

We rested for a while, and then continued on.  Not much really happened (to do with toilets or otherwise), so here's a few piccies ...

It was very very cold at night.... and very very dark.  Thus the attire.

Blacksmithing Africa stylie ...

Water collection... 

On our journey through the Dogon Country, we met an amazing Irish woman, Kay, and her guide Mikael.  They were both a lot of fun, and also on their way to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.  We arranged to travel down with them (for a price of course) which was a relief, since neither Allison nor I spoke French very well, so getting through the border without a visa may have been a little bit of a challenge!!

Photo's by both Allison AND Liffey in this post! *very smug photographer*

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Africa Diaries: Dogon Country (above)

(If you've missed any of the previous posts about Africa, then you can find them all here)

Both Allison and I had read about the Dogon Country and how incredible it is, and so had arranged for a guide to take us on a 3 day trek through some of the villages.  

Since I was now an experienced toiletier (yes I realise I just made that word up, but it's my blog so I can if I want!), my initial worries about this trek were now mostly gone.  I still had my toilet paper, but after my desert experiences, I felt like I could handle ANY toilet that Africa threw at me.

Hmmmm.... sometimes it's not wise to think that you're better than a continent.  Especially one like Africa.  She didn't waste any time in laughing right back in my face.

Before we continue, I'd like to introduce you to a very common sight in Mali.  

You might think this is a kettle.  You're kind of right.  It's actually the Malian version of toilet paper...well, more like the contents of the kettle are the Malian version of toilet paper.

So, we'd just started our trek, and had stopped at a very small village for some lunch and so our guide could take a 3 hour nap.  The village was perched right at the top of a cliff.

I needed to go to the toilet, so off I went with my toilet paper and the kettle (I'm not really sure why I even took the kettle with me in the first place - I think I just wanted to 'fit in' with the locals - because my pasty white skin and boring clothes weren't clue enough that I wasn't from around there!).

The toilet had 3 walls, a door, no roof and a hole in the middle of the floor.  I could see through the hole that underneath the toilet was a small 'collection area' that opened out into the open air, so the waste could just run down the cliff side.


And very breezy.

Anyway, I did my thing and then tried to clean myself up afterwards.  (If you're not into toilet stories you might want to skip ahead a little since this is kind of yuck).

I wiped and put the toilet paper down the hole.  I wiped again and went to put the 2nd piece of toilet paper down the hole.  Both pieces of toilet paper flew up into the air.  There was a serious updraft happening and my dirty pieces of toilet paper were flying around the cubicle like dancing puppets with grossness smeared all over them.


I very very quickly finished cleaning myself up and then tried to catch the paper to put it down the hole but it just wouldn't stay down.  Every time I caught a piece and stuffed it down the hole it just came back up again.

Yup, that sound that I'd initially thought was the wind was actually manic laughter... from a very smug continent.

And then I had a brainwave.  I grabbed my kettle, caught a piece of paper and used the water in the kettle to weigh the paper down enough to make it go down the hole.


I disposed of the rest of the toilet paper, checked myself for 'dirt' (there was none - Africa isn't that mean) and left the toilet... a lot humbler than when I'd entered.

So after THAT I was ready to get going.

The villages of Dogon Country are above and below a 150km long escarpment (ginormous cliff face) and are surrounded by nothing but stone and dirt, but yet there is still beauty everywhere.

And lots of lots of gorgeousness ...

And the wind at the top of the escarpment is crazy.  That's not product (or anything else) in Allison's hair!

We were privileged enough to witness a Mask dance that a fellow traveler had organised and paid for.  Amazing.

I really wish you were there to see it too, because while these photo's are wonderful, they don't let you feel the ground shaking from the drums and the pounding of the dancers feet.  They don't let you taste the dirt that's been stirred up into the air from the dancing.  And they don't let you smell the sweat and the dirt and the air and the heat and the ... the Africa.  It makes me cry to remember it.  Happy happy tears.


So once again, thanks to Allison for some of the pictures included in this post (though quite a few of them are mine *smug*)