Today all I have planned is to meet with the CB Mensa Headmaster and get the names of the top students from the SHS Academic Master. I take advantage of the spare time and call Mary, a friend of Amber, Spencer, and Adam. I met her once before on that night when it rained really hard and the street looked flooded and the same night we went and ate the fish that I sucked the brain out of for dinner. I tell her that we should do something after I am done at CB Mensa.
After school starts, I walk over to speak with the CB Mensa Headmaster. It was only the assistant Headmaster again, but that will work for this purpose. I tell him that I am already set to run a full program at Antoa JHS and Wonoo. I tell him I don’t want to split half programs between Antoa JHS and CB Mensa JHS, if they aren’t willing to give me the full program time I requested and to work with the form 3’s. I also told him that I am still very interested in working with his school and that I would be back next term. I told him to keep a pulse on our program success at Wonoo and the other JHS in Antoa, so that way we could start next term with the full program. He agrees to everything and is very understanding. I set an appointment to come back on Monday and see what their verdict will be.
Now I’m just waiting for the SHS Academic Headmaster to call me and tell me he is done compiling the names. In the meantime I call Mary. I meet her in the middle of town and we sit down to get to know each other. She seems like a great person and is very serious about her friendship with Adam, Amber, and Spencer. They also only had positive things to say about her. After she tells me her story, I start to ask things about the town. She has lived in Antoa her whole life, so I figure she is a good person to ask my burning questions. There is one building in the center of town that always has a lot of people sitting in front. When I pass the building, I have only glanced over to see mostly older people out front. They seem to be there every time I have passed the building. I’m not sure if they are unemployed, or I just always pass by on their day off. I have been too intimidated to go up and introduce myself to some of them because then I would have to go down the whole line of people and have been a lot there. I take advantage of this time with Mary and ask what those people are doing. She tells me that all of those people have been cursed and are waiting for the team of old women to give them a dish to put on their head and walk down to the river to conduct the reversal ceremony. Apparently, those people in front of that building are from all over Ghana and even the surrounding countries, such as Togo, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and others. Well okay, but if they are just going to the river why is the building so big? She tells me that the building is used to house people coming to participate in the ceremony. The ceremony consists of cleansing in the river, every day, for a week. Then she tells me that we will wait around until they start transporting people and she will take me to see the river. Whoa, wait a minute; I’m not sure that I’m mentally ready to go see this mystical river. I was just prepared to sit on this bench all day and learn about the town. I agree to go down and take a look at the river.
The time came, at about noon, when I saw people with dishes on their heads and old women dressed in black robes following them and chanting. Mary confirmed and said it is time to head to the river. We walk to the side of town that I live on and continue to walk through the buildings. Remember, that the town is basically just two halves of the main road that runs through. I mentally note on the way to the river that next week I will ask Marry to show me the other side of town. Before we leave the buildings I see a big lush forest, exploding behind the town. As we enter the forest, the climate changed drastically. I know it wasn’t the weather changing because I’ve never felt two places, so close with such different humidity levels. It is so humid in this forest that you can just drink by opening your mouth. Okay, maybe that was just my sweat falling into my mouth. What? It has sodium! I don’t want to get hyponatremia. My first aid certificate is about to expire, so I’ll probably get this wrong, but I’m pretty sure that is a salt deficiency in your body. Whatever the name is, I do remember that it has the same side effects as dehydration, but if you drink more water, than you can easily go into shock. That’s why at the Grand Canyon now, the park rangers carry Pringles or other salty snack to give people. It gets better almost instantly. You can probably tell I’m on a rant shortage. Not only would these people not understand me, but they also probably wouldn’t care. So, I’m drinking my sweat and we are now engulfed in forest. Mary told me that the people carrying the bowls aren’t supposed to look at their back, meaning behind them. I was still a little spooked, so I also made sure I wasn’t looking at my back, the blonde and white hairs with the black mole hairs makes it a beautiful sight. Oh, right. The first section of the path was surrounded by a fairly large plot of food. On the right were pineapples. Okay, I don’t know about you, but I thought pineapples grow in trees. Now they’re more like a porcupine bush. Hmm, I forget the Twi word for pineapple. Wait, I’m coming (That’s what the Akan people say anytime they want you to wait, whether it makes sense or not). In Twi, it is mayba. Me, meaning I and ba or bra, meaning come. From now on I will spell the words how they sound and not the actual spelling. That wouldn’t help you much. Pineapple is aboobay. No, not a booby. Get your minds out of the gutter… assuming I’m not the only one. Then, on the left of the path is cassava or banchay. That comes from the roots and looks like a big potato. Ghanaians use that with plantains to pound Fu Fu. They are also a valuable crop by themselves.
We get further down the path and Mary is pointing out different kinds of trees. Wow, some of these trees must be 200 feet tall. They’re no Sequoia, but they might be the biggest trees I’ve ever seen. Maybe they just look like that because the trunks are completely bare, on the biggest ones. It is so different to see a tree with a bare trunk and a big canopy at the top. We keep walking and pass some people harvesting their crops. I first man is very old and looks like he probably lives out here, but for some reason he isn’t drinking his sweat. I shake his hand and greet him. His hand feels like I just tried to shake hands with the bark on a tree. They are by far the roughest hands I’ve ever felt. It feels like he has a handful of rocks. He must think my hands feel like silk. They have an interesting operation going on. After they harvested their palm nuts, they take palm nut trees and tilt them over to cut a hole in them. Apparently the liquid that comes out ferments at room temperature and creates a very strong beverage called palm wine. It is most used for special occasions or for an offering given to a king. The trees were on their side with a jug placed beneath them. Mary asked one of them if we could walk over and get a closer look. After we climbed the hill to the plot, I could immediately smell the alcohol. It actually smelt like wine. It kind of had that dank basement or barrel room wine smell. I look in one of the barrels and the liquid is completely clear and has some suds on the top. It looks like something you put in your dishwasher. We left and continued down the path. The further we go, the denser the forest is getting and the more humid it seems. The next plant we pass is a coco plant. It looks like a small tree with large pods hanging off the sides. The pods look like long flower buds that haven’t bloomed. Mary picked one off the ground and showed me the inside. There are little white pieces all connected together. She pulls one of the pieces off and hands it to me. It’s white and very sticky. Naturally, I put it to my nose to see if it smells like a Hershey’s bar. I was disappointed when it had no smell what so ever. Apparently smashed up and dried and that is when it takes it’s brown color.
After seeing the Coco plant, the forest really changes. It is much thicker now and has blocked off all the sound from the surrounding area. Somehow it feels very peaceful in this part. Mary is telling me that this part of the forest is past where any one can farm or harvest anything in the area. She points to the ground and shows me really shiny objects that look like pieces of glass. They are called gold’s eye and mark places in the ground where you can find gold. Wow, now I really believe nothing is harvested here, if the gold was left alone. After a nice walk through the quiet forest, we start running into a lot of people. They are all heading in the opposite direction in large groups. Everyone we pass, old and young, ask me what I want down here. I felt very unwelcome and frankly like a tourist. I’m not sure I want to go down here to such an important and sacred place, just because I want to see people’s crazy spiritual practices. We push on around a bend with people selling all kinds of things. Then, we reach a big clearing. There is a bunch of people standing in line or sitting in benches around the edges. Mary tells me to wait here. Then she walks ahead and disappears into the crowd. Great, now I’m standing right at the trail neck connecting to the clearing and everyone is staring at me. You’d think I’d be used to this by now, but it just feels different being in such a sacred place. Mary comes back and asks if I’m comfortable taking my sandals off. I take them off and she leads me to a young man who tells me that Adams was his best friend and he would take good care of me.
WARNING: THIS NEXT PART OF THE STORY IS GRAPHIC – I will put a gap and all caps below the graphic part of the story, if you wish to skip that part.
Okay, hopefully those with strong stomachs are still reading at this point. He walks me over through the crowd and cuts me in front of the line. I thought it was a bad enough feeling cutting the people off to get in the Tro Tro, now I’m cutting the line to a place where people curse other people for doing them wrong. Somehow this seems like it’s not a good idea. He leads me through an opening in a makeshift wall. There is another line of people waiting here. He tells me that at all costs I do not take out a camera or cross my legs. Damnit, I knew I shouldn’t have worn a skirt down here. He leads me over to a few rows of benches and tells me to sit down. He said to feel free and ask him any questions about any part of the process. Right after I sit down my leg starts to lift over the other and I smack it back into place. My hand, feeling like it’s possessed, is going for the camera in my pocket! I try to sit there and look natural, so I lean down on my knees to hold them down so they don’t cross and keep them so far apart I’m practically doing the splits. I’m doing well so far, aren’t I? Okay, now I am surveying the area. There are a couple of people on the benches to my left. One of the women is holding a chicken with its legs tied together, hmm weird. Slightly to my left is the line, leading to a small body of water. I’m not sure if it constitutes as a river. Actually, I’m pretty sure it is a large puddle. Anyway there is a man standing in the river in front of the line. He has long robes on and he has a goblet in his hand. The man to his left is pouring something into the goblet and every few seconds the man in the robes is pouring the liquid into the “river.” Right then I take in a deep breath through my nose and notice that it smells very strongly of alcohol. The man must be pouring some sort of liquor into the goblet and river. As this is happening he is also chanting something in Twi over and over again. I couldn’t pick any of the words out. Then, I notice some more people coming in and forming a new line. A few of them also had chickens with their legs tied. The first group left and the two men I described are still there waiting for the next group. They must be the spiritual leaders of the whole operation. The man in the front hands his chicken to the man that was pouring the alcohol. He pulls out a long knife and my eyes grow about twice in size. Oh god this is going to be horribly gruesome isn’t it? Then he uses the 17 foot knife to cut the tie between the chickens legs. Phew, okay I knew they wouldn’t harm the chicken. After all, the Ghanaian are very peaceful people and I’m sure they treat chickens like the Indians do cows. Maybe they use the chicken to bless the next incoming harvest and hope they get their needed level of protein. He hands the chicken back to the person in line and they take a step into the water. They hand the chicken to the man in the robes and he pulls out a very small knife. Wait, they already cut the tie around the legs. They must not have communicated very well. Then he takes the knife and cuts the neck of the chicken. I’m kind of scared, but I also have this boyish feeling of, oooh that’s soo cooool! There is blood shooting out of the chicken like a fire hose. The chicken’s legs are moving so fast it looks like it actual might become a flying bird. Then the man takes the chicken and throws it in the water. The chicken, still very much alive, is pedaling its feet so fast that it lifts itself slightly out of the water. The think that’s the flight syndrome kicking in. He takes another chicken and goes through the same process. Now he throws that in the water and the first one is still moving a little bit. He picks the first one out of the water and to my surprise, its legs were still moving. This is like a super chicken. I guess it still could be alive, it’s not like he cut the head off. Then the other man held the body of the chicken and the man in the robes pulled both legs so they were completely stretched out. He took the tiny knife and cut the legs off. He threw them over his shoulder. Hmm, I thought you were supposed to do that with salt, different culture I guess. Then he cut the head clear off. More blood gushes out. I’m surprised there was any more blood left to come out. Then he takes the wings and cuts both of them off and throws them to someone. Maybe those are for the super bowl wings. Then he takes the stomach and makes an incision the whole length of the body. The assistant puts his hand in the chicken’s body cavity. Oh yeah, the chicken stopped struggling at this point, if you didn’t guess that already. He pulls his hand out and with it comes the intestines. There was a really long piece that hung almost the length of the man’s body. He separates that part and throws the rest in the water. He takes the long hangy piece and throws it in a completely new pile. I wonder what that’s for. Then after that whole presentation is over they take the empty chicken carcasses and put them in a black tarp. The people in the line walk into the water, gross! Then they all line up to have the man in the robes chant to them as he pours liquor into the river. Maybe that is to sanitize the water so they don’t get grossed out by the guts at their feet. I’m sure that’s exactly what they’re thinking. I’m sitting there in complete astonishment. Then someone’s phone rings next to me. Some men run over and start drag her away as they start tying her feet together. I quickly then realize that my phone is on too. I have an obnoxious Spanish ring at the lowest level. The lowest ring level on Ghanain phones is like a bullhorn. This world would end before someone in this culture would not answer a ringing phone. Seriously, in the middle of a meeting presentation the person presenting could just pull out their phone and start talking. Anyway I put my hand in my pocket to take it out and realize they said no cameras. How do they know my phone isn’t a camera phone? Okay, I can’t take it out of my pocket. To cover my leg more I lift the other and bring it… wait I can’t cross my legs! With my hand in my pocket I find the off button and hold it. I hear the noise that it makes when it turns on. Oh great, it was already off. People start to look around for where the noise came from. I try to act natural while it looks like I’m sitting there, playing pocket pool to chicken’s getting their heads cut off. I finally get the back off my phone and pop the battery off. I sit there and watch a few more cycles of the ritual. It was exactly the same every time.
OKAY YOU CAN START TO READ AGAIN – The graphic part is over.
I walk out of the closed off area and the line seems to be gone. I look around to find Mary and don’t see her. Oh great, this better not be a practical joke. Half expecting Ashtin Kutcher to come out, I just accept that I’m going to walk home in bare feet. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at the ritual I had just witnessed. As I get to the trailhead, Mary spots me and gives me my sandals. Wow, no wonder everyone all across Ghana and in the neighboring countries knows about Antoa. This place is crazy, but I love it.
As I get back into town I feel like I have to do something normal to balance my life out. Then, I remember I still need to meet with the Academic Head and get the SHS names. I meet with him and everything goes smoothly.
I finish the night with a few Twi lessons and a good dinner. We had Banku, that food I ate with the big piece of Talapia when I met Mary for the first time. This was much better and much more fresh. I really enjoyed it. After dinner my throat is a bit scratchy. I hope it’s just because of all the spice. I better not be getting sick. Now that I think of it, it’s a miracle I haven’t gotten sick after all the airports and traveling through Ghana I’ve done this past month. Maybe this is a cold, finally catching up with me. I go to bed a bit early to try to let my body heal itself.