Eulogy for my Backpack

RIPpack
RIPpack

He was a friend and trusted accomplice. Together we trekked across striking wilderness. We conquered smelly and unnervingly crowded Ghanian marketplaces. We cuddled together for many nights alone in our tent on the Antarctic Peninusla, shivering and serenaded to sleep by calving glaciers and unforgiving winds. He straightened me out, supported my crooked spine for endless miles and embraced me like no one else could. He would swell with the excessive baggage I asked him to carry as a backcountry novice without complaint. The very first bit of outdoor gear given to me years ago, he has since sparked a commitment to independence and self reliance. He fostered my confidence to walk long distances in any direction.

Over the years, we became worn and ragged. Yet he continued to support me as I gracelessly fell and bellyflopped in bogs, snow and love again and again on continent after continent. Tossed in the back of public transport with all its pointy edges, he ripped and frayed. This last month I sent him off to the factory for repair. Weeks later I was called with the unfortunate news... big red was beyond repair. Osprey unsympathetically cut a history of ties and sent a  new pack in his place.

Now, an alien sits on my bedroom floor emulating the curves and colors of my former friend. He beckons for adventure, eager to be crusted in sea spray and caked in mud. I miss my old backpack. He was a monument and reminder to past lives. One of the only bits of consistency that loyally followed as I trammeled across the globe. But a decade of loving, leaving and letting go has calloused my nostalgic nature- at least on the surface.  I am ready to wear rugged and dirty this new pack but I must first thank my original friend for the memories and loyalty. Thank you for fostering this lifetime of adventure.

Rest in Peace dear friend. You will be missed and never replaced.

Forever yours, Your frayed friend Bethany

Into the Rainforest

Posted by Lynsey Rimbault (excuse the un-American english)

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DSC_0090 (1500x994)

On Friday last week Bethany and I headed off for our first adventure in Ghana, a trip to the steamy rainforest of Kakum National Park! After about three hours, a mini bus and a taxi we arrived at Kakum. Once there we conducted interviews with the park manager and assistant park manager (we had to somehow justify our adventure!) and then into the rainforest we went. There are basically two accommodation options in the park, either the 20-or-so-metre high tree house or the dejected looking campsite. The tree house would have been great but on the two nights we were there it was filled with girls who screamed at the sight of a mouse and Bethany and I are much too hardcore to be hanging out with girls like that! We opted to break the mold and sleep in the forest with no guide and in whatever spot looked like a cosy home for our snug two man tent.

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DSCN4274

The trees in the forest are unbelievably tall and straight, they seem to go on uninterrupted forever. There are cool spikey trees with defenses that look like rhino horns spiraling up, getting smaller as they go, and on a hike we did we saw the biggest tree I can possibly imagine, the base was so wide it took five minutes to walk around! Many of the trees have angled bases that look like the sails of a ship.

At night the quiet rainforest comes alive with an incredible chorus of insects, the howling of monkeys and the shrill trilling of bush babies that sound as if they have been wound up (Click here to hear the forest at night). We went hunting around for cool bugs and I found a giant one that looked like an alien praying mantis. We were up close taking photos of it and it darted forwards making us squeal in fright, its movements were so un-bug-like! Bethany spotted a moth with glowing red eyes and after that we noticed that lots of moths had them. On our second night we went on a night hike with a wonderful guide who searched the undergrowth and tree tops for monkeys and pangolins, unfortunately they stayed hidden! We saw bush babies, a toad, snails, some type of squirrel and a massive rat.

Ghana (104 of 140)
Ghana (104 of 140)

The star attraction of Kakum, that has made it the most visited park in Ghana, is the canopy walkway. It was built in 1993 by two Canadian climbers and six Ghanaians and seven long suspension bridges link six tree top platforms. The canopy walk is visited in droves by tourists and groups of school kids and you can hear them shouting with excitement and fear all day long! One of our lecturers described it as the least peaceful rainforest experience he had ever had. Luckily we were forewarned and managed to organise our visit for 6am on Sunday morning. Our guide met us on the path near our tent and we took the twenty minute walk to the start of the canopy walk. Luck was with us and we were the only people there! The morning was cool and misty and as we tiptoed along the first bridge we felt like we were walking on clouds. The first bridge starts out relatively low, but by the third bridge the forest floor is forty metres below and the views are absolutely incredible. The majority of tree tops were beneath us and it was amazing to see the canopy from above, but the tall trees were all around as we floated through the air. About half way through it started to rain, which made the whole experience even better. I don’t think it would have been possible for us to love it more, we wanted to stay forever.

Our Kakum adventure was the perfect break from our research and we came back refreshed and ready for Monday morning!

The Sounds of Sunday

I woke up at about 5am this morning to the sounds of honking, hooting, drum beats and gospel. At first I wasn’t sure if I was awake or dreaming about Jesus’ handiwork but the blaring of a megaphone quickly settled this internal dispute pretty quickly. Apparently there is a soccer (football from here on out- sorry Brady) team match and the morning of they go door to door chanting for support. This mixed with Sunday being a holy day meant for a rather noisy start to our time in Assin Fosu. I only wish I had whipped out the Dictaphone to record these noises so I could set them as my alarm for forever.

Lynsey and I attended church this morning. I am positive that there is not a church anywhere else on the planet with more finely dressed attendants. The dresses the women wear would make my renowned seamstress of a grandmother blush. The most brilliant, colorful and detailed fabrics pieced together in beautiful detail are perfectly fitted to each individual body. ‘Sunday best’ is to be taken seriously and every dress seems hand-designed for each woman and child- apart for the handful of girls wearing Disney princess Halloween costume dresses (a phenomenon I think graces churches across the globe).

The church was sweaty, hot and across the street from an active oil palm processing plant (I hope to photograph soon). The noxious fumes and smoke from the processing plant hangs in the air and burns the lungs and the woman hard at work never flinch (photograph below of the plant). ‘You are welcome’ (Akwaba in Twi) is said constantly in passing and ‘good morning, how are you’ in perfect form. Chants of ‘obruni obruni’ follow us wherever we go (slang for whitey) and the communication barrier means we are often laughed at. My cheeks are strained from smiling so much with people instead- the universal language of joy, happiness and assurance. Hear a snippet of the sermon at the Methodist Church in Assin Fosu

Everything happens by the roadside

Today Lynsey and I were driven from Accra to Assin Fosu. The streets of Accra are like a mobile, living, breathing flea-market balanced on the heads of perfectly-postured people. Everything you could ever imagine is sold from bags of drinking water and snacks to stacks of bibles, toy planes and foam childrens building blocks. Toys I haven't seen sold in twenty years available directly from the comfort of our bakkie (South African for pick-up truck- Lynsey's lexicon). On the the pike in Taxachusetts, I imagine traffic sitting bumper to bumper filled with frustrated Bostonians waiting to pay those ever increasing tolls, road signs warning of the effects of drunk driving dot the highways.  Meanwhile... Lynsey, Eric, Joe and myself sit in traffic waiting to pay our highway toll leaving Accra, Ghana. Head-carriers weave in and out of traffic -a small army of thrifty salesmen- and we could turn to our left and buy a 6-pack of cold beer if we so chose. This is the start of a wonderful adventure- Lynsey and I are off to 'the field'.

The saying 'started off on the wrong foot' could only apply to the beginning of our work in Ghana if we were talking about an octopus- eight wrong feet I think should do the trick.

1. Our bus driver to Heathrow was a horrible twit

2. The woman who issued us our ticket (emphasis on the non-plural) to Accra through Lisbon woke up on the wrong side of a bed dangling from a tree above a pool of starved emaciated leeches. She claimed she could only give us a boarding pass to Lisbon and that we would need to pick up our second boarding pass through to Accra at the Lisbon airport but ensured us our bags were checked to Ghana...

3. Flight is delayed on the runway for an hour and a half.

4. Lynsey is a vegetable and TAP Portugal has no vegetarian meals. The air steward told us he'd see what he could find (to replace the chicken salad sandwich I enjoyed)... he came back with a ham sandwich because in Portugal ham is not a meat...

5. We make it to Lisbon, a bit rushed. We meet with the transfer counter he tells us to go driectly to our gate. A drunken angry lady holds up the line at security, we make it through and check out the departure screen and our flight says 'final boarding' so, Lynsey and I- sweaty stinky, exhausted, hungry hopeless travelers sprint at top speeds through a seemingly endless hallway, past other gates and onlookers until we finally make our gate where we are met by a line of  about a hundred calm, cool and collected passengers waiting to board laughing  at the two exhausted sweaty white girls who ran at top speeds just to stand still.   The woman at the gate then proceeds to yell at us and carries on in portuguese about how we were supposed to go to the transfer desk and that it is too late to give us our tickets and this that and the other, we think we are not going to Ghana... finally we are given the go-ahead and again, we sprint at top speeds down the stairs to make the plane and BOOM we are greeted by a trolley filled with calmly waiting passengers staring at the two girls who are responsible for making them wait... Oh, and this plane also surprisingly doesnt have vegetarian food either- Lynsey ate four rolls instead.

6. We make it to Accra and surprise surprise, our bags do not. And isn't it grand that TAP Portugal only flies here every other night and so we are bag-less for 2 nights. Good thing Lynsey and I packed really responsibly and brought nothing in our carry-ons but electronics and reading material. Needless to say we washed our panties and t-shirts in the sink of our hotel and hung them to dry each night. Lynsey slept next to me wrapped in a sheet cocoon and we had to meet government officials from the Wildlife Division and apply for research permits dressed like smelly tramps. If you want to hear the story of how we surpassed security to reclaim our bags- you'll have to buy us a beer and ask in person.

7. Lucino, the laptop Luke lovingly lent us for our fieldwork did not survive its first night in Ghana. This is unfortunate and meant we had to buy a new one-which is slightly more possible than impossible in Accra for a good price.

8. Ooh, what should the final wrong foot be on this Ghanaian octopus of troubles- it could be any number of small misfortunes but no, lets stop with the negativity because despite all these impediments Lynsey and I are bursting at the seems with joy and love and excitement for this month! Our supporting NGO, Conservation Alliance have done everything in their power to make this research a dream and the Ghanaian hospitality more generally, is unsurpassable.

So Lynsey is asleep nestled adorably beneath her little mosquito net in our lovely little room in Assin Fosu and the voice of a little girl singing just waltzed past our window. Let me tell you just a little more about getting here from Accra. You will have to wait for another time to hear more about our place in Assin Fosu, this community and the life we will lead for the next four weeks. .. You will also have to wait to hear more about our research (partly because I'm not sure we understand it either.. )

I'm going to try and piece together the sights and thoughts I jotted down in my journal during our trip to Assin Fosu (if I can decipher this horrid writting).

Now, I understand why people in England call mini-vans 'People-carriers' and Malaysians 'People-movers'. The amount of people stuffed inside these cars is utterly remarkable. It seems like the energy of this country streams from roadways- like arteries. Perhaps this is just because I have spent too much time in Ghana thus far on the road but seriously.. I think I've seen just about everything people do, happening plenty on the side of the road. People bathing, entire malls balanced on heads, lots and lots of bedframes for sale, lots of grilling (more on whats being grilled later...) and you can even buy a casket from the side of the road.

After leaving the major streets in the Greater Accra region and entering the more rural areas of Ghana, the sights and sounds changed dramatically. The items sold on the roadside changed from car covers and toliet paper to fruits, vegetables and smoked 'grass-cutters'. Grass-cutters are a c like rodent that are apparently a delicacy here. They look sort of like an over sized less-attractive version of the American opossum (for those of you shaking your heads baffled trying to imagine a less appetizing or attractive version of an opossum, this is precisely the point). I literally saw a man pick up by the tail from a grill a completely flat, hard smoked grasscutter. Its head and extremities were intact but its body was as flat as a board- roadkill perhaps, something I imagine Cletus the slack-jawed yokel from the Simpsons would eat on a bad day.

I saw an elderly man facing away from the road sitting on a box, playing an old trumpet to an audience of nobody and this is just one of a hundred thousand tiny beautiful and curious narrative I saw flash by my window in an instant. There are a lot of people napping on the side of the road, next to their petty trade shops. Everyone and everything seems exhausted from working so hard in the humid west African heat- even our horn sounds utterly exhausted. This makes sense because people in Ghana honk for every reason you could imagine- they honk to just remind you they are coming, to tell you to get out of the way, inform you they are passing, just at normal intersections.. we didn't honk at the baby goat we almost squashed though.

Oh I'm overwhelmed with things to share and say but i'm tired and need to sleep. We are going to church tomorrow with Alex, our new friend who is helping us do our research. My head is thumping with the sound of Ghanaian music- by the way there wasn't a single advertisement on the radio all day.

Till next time,

An utterly gracious and overwhelmed Yaa-Bethany (one of the two obruni I have seen my entire trip thus far in Ghana.. this number includes Lynsey who is an obruni i've seen quite a lot of this trip.. but we'll just count her as one)

ps. In Ghana, the day you were born on carries importance and your first name reflects this. I was born on a Thursday which means I am Yaa, men born on a Thursday are Yao. Lynsey was born on a Monday and her name is too hard to spell but its something like Adwa- Lynsey. Our computer was born on a Friday and so her name is Afia.

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015 (1024x678)

p.p.s. I will post pictures soon I swear,