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hello, old friend REUNION IS BITTERSWEET Peace Corps stint forges lasting bond
Forty years later, return to Ghana is bittersweet

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Date published: 8/31/2007

BY FRANK DELANO

DENU, Ghana--"Frank Delano! Kojo! Forty years! It's a miracle!" my old friend yelled over and over in my ear as we embraced in July.

The jubilant welcome came from Gilbert "Bobbo" Ahiagble (ah-hee-AHG-blay).

Seeing Bobbo again came at the bittersweet end of my three-week assignment to Ghana's beautiful and historic coast, from Prince's Town near Ivory Coast to Denu near Togo.

It was my first trip back to Denu, where I served as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1967 to '69. I soon learned that 40 years have brought many changes to Ghana, Bobbo and me.

I was 22 when I arrived at St. Paul's Secondary School. Bobbo was a year older. He was in his last year at the boarding school for boys.

In one respect, he was different from a lot of his classmates. Many of them had dreams of going on to American or European universities and becoming doctors, scientists or engineers.

Bobbo's plan for his life was simpler. He wanted to be a kente (KEN-te) weaver as his family had been for generations.

Kente is the beautiful, traditional cloth of Ghana. It is woven by hand in long, narrow strips on small looms built of sticks set in the ground. The weavers then cut the strips and sew them together.

The cloth is Ghana's time-honored formalwear for ceremonial occasions. Women wear two pieces, a wrap-around skirt and a top. Men wear a large cloth draped over one shoulder like a regal Roman toga.

By any measure, Bobbo's career has turned out successfully. He has traveled often to America, Canada and Europe to demonstrate his craft and sell his colorful cloth. He has even been the subject of a book written by an American friend.

Because of his travels, he knows the United States better than most Ghanaians.

"Everybody in Ghana thinks America is a great place. They can't imagine all the hassles about living in America. You tell people in Ghana that there are homeless people in America and they think you are telling lies," he said.


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Reporter Frank Delano revisits Ghana, where he served in the Peace Corps 40 years ago, and reports on Prince's Town, Fredericksburg's new sister city.

SUNDAY: Sister cities Prince's Town and Fredericksburg are worlds apart. MONDAY: 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. YESTERDAY: What is the future of the sister-city relationship?

TOMORROW: Remembering Prince's Town's Golden Age, and a photo essay on a traditional burial. in TOWN & COUNTY. To read previous stories, go to fredericksburg.com
ON THE NET >> For video and more photos, or to order photo reprints, see fredericksburg.com.

GETTING THERE

Get inoculations and malaria pills. Apply for a $50 tourist visa from the Ghana Embassy in Washington. Fly 5,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Accra (ah-KRA), the capital of Ghana. Don't worry about the language. English is spoken everywhere in Ghana.

IN ACCRA Enjoy the confusion and energy of this city of 2 million. See capitalism at its crowded best at the Makola Market. Negotiate prices of everything. Savor keliweli, plantain grilled with spices by sidewalk vendors. See the new $112 million U.S. Embassy, but no photos are allowed. Take taxis everywhere.

IN PRINCE'S TOWN From Accra, drive west 164 miles along Ghana's gorgeous and historic coast. Turn left at the sign for Prince's Town, "the most beautiful sea shore in West Africa." Continue 11 miles on a mostly unpaved road. Four-wheel drive recommended. Stop at the beach in the center of town. Fort Gross-Friedrichsburg is at the top of the hill.

WHERE TO STAY Bare-bones rooms with cots are available in the fort for about $2.50 a night. The fort's caretaker can arrange meals, as well as other accommodations at private beach houses nearby. A new guest lodge in town may open soon.

EATING AND DRINKING Pineapples, mangoes, bananas, plantain, oranges, papaya, cassava, chicken, goat, fish, oysters, cockles and lobster are available most days in Prince's Town. Everything is fresh and local. Drink only boiled or bottled water, sodas, beer or coconut milk.

THINGS TO DO Learn about the fort's long, fascinating and terrible history. Ignore the bats when you enter the dungeon. Thousands of people were imprisoned there on their journeys of no return into slavery. Ask about local heroes John Conny, Anton Wilhelm Amo (1703-59) and Kwame Nkrumah (KWA-mi, in-KRU-ma) (1909-72).

Walk the endless beaches. Surf or swim if you dare. Take canoe rides on the Nyila (na-YEEL-a) River and the Ehunli (eh-HOON-lee) Lagoon.

Look for monkeys and crocodiles.

Hike two miles to the fishing village of Akatekyi (aka-TESH-ee). See giant dugout canoes beside houses on the beach.

Buy fresh or smoked fish or loaves of delicious bread baked in big clay ovens.

Make people happy by learning to say hello, goodbye and thank you in Nzema (EN-zah-ma).

TABOOS Eating with your left hand. Fishing on Tuesdays. Going into the lagoon on Thursdays. Entering the sacred grove beside the lagoon at any time. Harming or killing crocodiles.

BEST CONVERSATION STARTER "Do you think the U.S. will beat Ghana the next time?"

RECOMMENDED READING "Ghana: The Bradt Travel Guide" by Philip Briggs.