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city ties can fredericksburg help Prince's Town? Sisters, worlds apart About the series ABOUT GHANA Prince's Town Coming up

August 26, 2007 12:35 am



Many homes are falling apart because their owners cannot afford to maintain them. 0826ghana3.jpg

Dugout canoes are a common mode of transportation on the lagoons and rivers around Prince's Town. 0826ghana4.jpg

Their dark shoulders decorated with stripes of white clay, young women dance at a town gathering. Residents are poor, but proud of their heritage. 0826ghana2.jpg

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Fredericksburg's new sister city, Prince's Town, is a poor and remote village on the coast of Ghana in West Africa, but its residents are unfailingly kind and friendly. 'My friend, my friend,' children cry out as they greet strangers.


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PRINCE'S TOWN, Ghana--It is simple to list the similarities between this town by the sea in West Africa and its new sister city of Fredericksburg 5,000 miles away.

There are none.

The city in Virginia and the town in Ghana have almost nothing in common aside from their sister-city proclamations of last year.

By Fredericksburg standards, Prince's Town is remote and poor almost beyond belief.

Many of Prince's Town's 3,000 people make less than Ghana's average per-capita income of $450 a year. Most people in Fredericksburg make that much or more each week.

Prince's Town lies 164 miles west of Ghana's capital of Accra on a palm-fringed coast dotted with old forts and castles. Europeans seeking African gold and slaves built the forts centuries ago.

The main coastal road is paved, but the branch to Prince's Town is not. The 11-mile home stretch is variously bumpy, dusty, steep, muddy, slippery, submerged and occasionally impassable.

Prince's Town has electricity, but not much of it. Like the rest of Ghana, the town is subject to rolling blackouts. Droughts have drawn down Lake Volta, the source of most of the country's electric power.

Many houses in Prince's Town have electric lights. Some even have televisions with antennas mounted atop tall bamboo poles. A few houses have small refrigerators.

But the single transformer that serves the town is not sufficient. Street lights trip the breaker. What power there is is single-phase, not suitable for running motors.

Internet service in Prince's Town? Forget it.

Prince's Town does not even have land-line telephone service. Cell phone users can sometimes make a connection from the tall battlements of Fort Gross-Friedrichsburg on a rocky ledge by the sea at the edge of the town.

two princes, two towns

Germans built the stone fort in 1683 and named it after their Brandenburg prince. Fredericksburg was named in 1727 after his cousin, an English prince.

The mutual desire of Africans and African-Americans to reconnect their heritage after centuries of separation led to the sister-city relationship between the disparate places.

Historians estimate that 677,000 people from the Gold Coast, Ghana's name in colonial times, were sold into slavery in the 18th century. Their journeys of no return led many of them through the dungeon of the fort at Prince's Town.

The dungeon's outside door is now unhinged. The dark, low-vaulted cellar is full of bats.

The fort offers a bird's-eye view of the weather-worn town below. Most of the houses are one-story. The mud walls of some of them have collapsed because their owners cannot afford to maintain them. The streets are mostly winding, sandy paths.

The drab, squalid town sits amid tropical splendor about 300 miles north of the equator.

Great breakers crash on wide, white-sand beaches as far as the eye can see. On one side of town, two sluggish rivers, the Kpani [ka-PAHN-ni] and the Nyila [nah-YI-la], join just before they reach the sea.

On the other side of town, mangroves surround the deep Ehunli [eh-HOON-li] Lagoon, where crocodiles, reportedly docile, are protected as sacred beings by fetish priests and most people.

However, there's always trouble in paradise.

A disease has killed many of the coconut palms from which families in Prince's Town once derived substantial income.

Farms outside of town, where residents head most mornings by foot or dugout canoe, are being gobbled up in 99-year-long leases by a giant rubber plantation.

Gold mining threatens a nearby national forest reserve.

finding new friends

The list of things that Fredericksburg has and Prince's Town lacks could fill this paper. Unlike in its sister city, there are no fat people in Prince's Town.

Children in crisp, clean uniforms attend the town's primary and junior secondary schools for the first nine years of their education.

But teenagers must leave town to find higher schooling elsewhere. Most of them will never return to live in Prince's Town because the town has no jobs to offer.

The nearest hospital is more than an hour away, assuming a sick or injured person can find transportation to reach it. There is no rescue squad. No post office. No fire department. No police.

There is virtually no crime, either. A thief can expect to be nabbed and beaten by villagers and held for hours until the cops show up from a station 20 miles away.

Young children wander in perfect safety throughout town accompanied by goats, chickens and dogs.

There is no traffic to speak of. Few people own cars. The town's annual traffic jam occurs in October, when hundreds of people with ties to the town come home for a festival.

But judging Prince's Town by the things it lacks somehow misses much more important points. After all, there's more to life than just things.

The Prince's Town people are unfailingly kind, hospitable, friendly, courteous, well-mannered, dignified and quick to smile and laugh.

They are as proud of their own long, rich and complex history as Fredericksburg residents are of theirs.

Prince's Town's leaders recognize the town's shortcomings and are earnestly seeking, against all odds, to find ways to make life better.

Because of the sister-city relationship, everyone in town now knows the name "Fredericksburg, Virginia" [FRED-er-reeks-burg, ver-GEE-nee-a]. Even the children.

As new and ill-defined as it is, the sister-city relationship shines like a faraway beacon of hope for the people of Prince's Town, a tenuous link to America and better days ahead.

"My friend! My friend!" the children cried when they ran to welcome an American stranger, their hands outstretched in greeting.

"My friend! My friend!"

Frank Delano: 804/333-3834

HOW DO YOU SPELL IT? The name of Fredericksburg's sister city in Ghana has several spellings. Is it Princes Town, Prince's Town or Princess Town? In my recent conversations with well-educated English-speaking natives, all agreed that the name means "the town of the prince" and that the name should be written "Prince's Town."

In this case, the prince was the Great Elector Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenberg, who authorized the building of the fort in the town in the 17th century.

When I was there, banners strung over the street welcomed American visitors to "Prince's Town." John Atkins also called it "Prince's Town" in his 1735 book "A Voyage to Guinea." So that's the way I'm spelling it.

But it is "Princess Town" on a road sign, an environmental report, the Web site of Ghana's Ahanta West district and signs at a school and health clinic in town.

My host Alfred Kaku Aluade Acquah said, "'Prince's Town' with the apostrophe 's' was the way we were taught to write it in school. Princess Town is a spelling that has come lately."

Nevertheless, a few days later Acquah wrote out a receipt and spelled it "Princess Town."

--Frank Delano

Frank Delano visited Prince's Town, Fredericksburg's new sister city, during a July trip to Ghana, where he served in the Peace Corps 40 years ago.

TOMORROW: Sister-city relationship shines a beacon of hope into Prince's Town. Tale of two soccer balls illustrates town's need, and obsession. TUESDAY: Spotsylvania man leads effort to protect villagers from malaria. WEDNESDAY: Profile of Fredericksburg's Pamela Bridgewater, ambassador to Ghana THURSDAY: What is the future of the sister-city relationship? FRIDAY: Forty years later, reporter's return to Ghana is bittersweet. Read Frank Delano's account in LIFE. SATURDAY: Remembering Prince's Town's Golden Age, and a photo essay on a traditional burial. Find both in TOWN & COUNTY.

LOCATION: West Africa SIZE: Slightly smaller than Oregon CLIMATE: Tropical POPULATION: 22.4 million RELIGION: Christian, 63 percent; Muslim, 16 percent; and indigenous beliefs, 21 percent LANGUAGE: English (official) and African languages including Akan, Moshi-Dagomba, Ewe and Ga GOVERNMENT: Constitutional democracy. The president and vice president are elected on the same ticket by popular vote for four-year terms. So are members of the parliament. CAPITAL: Accra

TIME DIFFERENCE: Five hours ahead of Washington standard time

INDEPENDENCE: March 6, 1957, from the United Kingdom EXPORTS: Gold, cocoa, timber, tuna, bauxite, aluminum, manganese ore and diamonds CURRENCY: Cedi PHONE LINES IN USE: 2.8 million INTERNET HOSTS: 380 INTERNET USERS: 401, 300

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