Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A visit to TK Beads Industries

TK Beads Industry, located about 1/2 an hours' drive from Accra is a glass bead manufacturer.  The whole bead making process is handmade by local Ghanaians.  They have been in business since 1989.

My friend, Jacqueline and I decided to head out on an excursion to check out TK Beads a few months ago.  We left Accra at about 10.45 am and arrived in Amrahia just after 11.15am. 

The sign outside the main gates is faded and I would probably have driven right by it.  Thank goodness our driver, Joseph was familiar with the place and took us right to the main gates.

Entrance to TK Beads in Amrahia

Station 1: clear glass is pounded here and various colors are added to the glass powder.

Different colored glasses collected or donated to make the beads.

Clear glass is pounded and sifted.

Color is added to the pounded glass and the molds are filled.  Dried Cassava stems are used in the molds to make sure holes are in place for stringing the beads.

Lady making sure the dried cassava stems are in place.

The team : )

Ovens used to fire up the glass.  The molds are fired for 15 minutes and then removed to make sure the cassava stems have not been burnt off.  If they are, another is inserted and the mold is returned to the oven.

Bead painting station.

Really enjoyed learning how innovative TK Beads is.  They thread the bead through bicycle spokes to paint and fill fan pipes with paint and the pump needles to paint the beads.

Station 2: colored bottles are pounded and the powder is sifted.  In this station, artificial color isn't added to the powdered glass.

Molds are filled with glass powder and inserted into the oven.

Once the glass is molten, the mold is removed from the oven and holes are poked manually.

Ovens used to melt the glass 

The cooled beads are then washed in a bed of sand and water in shallow rock depressions. 

Beads, beads everywhere!

Ladies are employed to string the beads that are sold in the store.  Price per string is about 5 Cedis (about US$1.10) and each string hold about 50 beads depending on size.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

'Ghana must go' bags

My friend Daniel pulled  me aside while we were walking around Makola market and she asked me ... do you see those bags over there?  They are called 'Ghana Must Go' bags.
This surprised me because I have seen bags like these for sale all over Asia and thought they were made in China.  Daniel then went on to explain that when the illegal Ghanaians working in Nigeria were forced to leave in 1983 within 14 days, they packed whatever belongings they could carry in these bags.
Hearing this, I decided to research more into these 'Ghana Must Go' bags and sure enough, there are many stories on the internet about what happened in 1983.  It was the Nigerian election year and the president in power decided to expel all illegal workers in Nigeria with the hopes of winning the elections.  Many of these illegal immigrants had moved to Nigeria in the 1970s during the oil boom and stayed on. 
When the announcement was made, it caused massive panic.  Not only were they given 2 weeks to leave but also because the government encouraged all Nigerians to turn in these illegal immigrants.  This meant neighbors, friends or colleagues could turn them in.  As a result of this, it caused the roads leading to various border crossings to be jammed up because they were unable to handle the volume of people.  To pack all their possessions up as quickly as possible, these bags were purchased and filled, thus earning the name 'Ghana Must Go' bags.
Back in 1983, there were not too many colors available and most of the "Ghana Must Go' bags then had plaid designs.  Now, these bags come in all colors, designs and sizes, and they can be bought in just about any corner stores along the street.
Ghanaians use these bags to carry everything from groceries to clothes. 

Small bags cost about 6 to 7 ghc, medium bags between 8 to 9 ghc and large ones about 10ghc 
(US$1 = just less than 4 ghc)

 Ladies carrying their 'Ghana Must Go' bags on their head at Makola market

Selling the bags at the Kaneshie market tro tro station


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Field of Flowers

Started work on this quilt in May 2015, when we lived in Ypenburg, The Nederlands.  It is basically a scrap quilt made out of bits of fabric from my existing stash.  Each square measures 3x3" and this includes a 1/4" seam allowance. 

To make sure I was happy with the color gradation, I used my design wall (basically a tablecloth with fuzzy backing purchased in one of the shops at a wet market in Singapore).  Once that was done, I numbered each square with sticky tape, took them off the design wall and started hand stitching them.

Bits of  3x3" square fabric on the design wall...a great help as I tried to figure out how to achieve the right color gradation I wanted to achieve
Most of the hand stitching was done while sitting in the back yard with the dogs enjoying the beautiful spring weather (wish I had taken a picture of this) in Ypenburg.  This took me about a month to get done.

6 piece block all stitched up.
The next step was to decide what I would use for the sashing and border, backing as well as the binding.  After trying out a few different shades of green fabric, I decided to go with a darker green as opposed to a lighter one because the latter did not have the right effect I wanted.

 Quilter topper all stitched up
After finishing the quilt top and binding, I put the piece for away for about a year as I was distracted by other projects.  Finally started hand quilting this when we moved to Accra, Ghana in May 2016. 
At this point in time, I had to decide how this piece would be quilted.  I started off by quilting within each 2.5" square but found that it was not very interesting.  Thanks to Pinterest, I was inspired by a flowery pattern and decided to modify it and use it for this quilt.  As for the binding, I decided to use a dark chocolate brown and have to admit I am very happy with the final outcome! 
This lap quilt, which I have named Field of Flowers (39x54") will always remind me of the spring of 2015 and happy memories of living in the Nederlands.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Exploring Magical Benin

Leaving Accra

We had a relatively early start leaving Accra at 6am to beat the traffic and also because we had a long drive ahead of us (5 to 6 hours) to get to Ouidah in Benin (birthplace of the Voodoo religion and well documented history of the slave trade). 

Roads were clear as soon as we got past Tema and we were happy that the road conditions were good.

Love the contrast between the greenery and the beautiful cloudy blue skies

After about a 1.5 hour drive, we crossed the Volta River near Sokpo. 

Border crossings into Togo and Benin
Instead of crossing the Ghana border into Togo in Lomé, we crossed the border near Kpoglu.  To get there, we headed north at Kasseh (1 hr 20 min drive from Accra) and drove towards Akatsi and Dzodze. This probably saved us quite a bit of time as we were told the border crossing in Lomé can be quite chaotic with long queues.
Once we had cleared immigration on the Ghanaian side, we took a short walk over to the Togo immigration office.

Smaller and quieter border crossing between Ghana and Togo
Both Togo and Benin are French speaking countries and even though no one in the group was fluent in French, we were able to understand what was expected of us.  It is advisable to have a basic understanding in French before travelling to these countries.
The little white hut on the left hand side of the picture below is where we had to show proof of our yellow fever shot.  Once that was done, we walked over to the next building where we all applied for visa on arrival.  This cost most of us 10,000 CFA except for a couple of Americans who had to pay 12,000 CFA.  After filling out our forms, paying our dues for our visa on arrival, having our passports stamped, having our bags searched by customs (about 40 min), we piled back into the van and took off.
Note... photography is not allowed at border crossings

Money changers trying to convince us they had the best rates

Roads in Togo are well paved so the drive across Togo took only about an hour. The scene at the border crossing between Togo and Benin was a whole lot busier by comparison.  There were trucks, vans, cars and buses all lined up to cross the border. 
We got out of our van and joined the groups of people crossing the border at the immigration office. On the Togo side of the border, there were 2 offices we had to visit; one checked our passports to make sure we had our paperwork before stamping our passports while the other office scanned our passports. 
The gate on the Togo side of the border we passed through as we left to head over to Benin

The lineup of vehicles at the border in Togo to get into Benin

Between the Togo and Benin borders, we walked by many stalls along the road.  They sold drinks, loaves of bread (with the word 'love' baked into it), deep fried chickens wings, turkey drumsticks, plantain and slabs of bbq pork.... they all smelt heavenly.  My stomach was beginning to rumble with the wonderful aroma floating by and seeing that it was already about 11 am.... but I managed to resist especially when we were told we were going to make a lunch stop shortly at a seafood restaurant by the beach.

On the Benin side of the border, we had to show our yellow fever vaccination card again as we walked through a make shift container which served as an office.  As soon as our visas for Benin (which were obtained in Accra for 60 Ghc) were checked and passports were stamped at the immigration office, we were on our way to Ouidah.

Stalls line the border crossing between Togo and Benin in No Man's land.

Ladies selling bread and it made me smile to see that the word 'Love' had been baked into every loaf : )

They all smelt so good.. bet they are delicious too.

Slabs of pork grilled over an oil drum that had been converted into a bbq
Lunch stop in Grand Popo, Benin
As soon as we crossed the border into Benin, we met up with our guide Boris.  I knew he was going to be a good guide when he asked what we wanted for lunch and placed our orders ahead of time.  We had a choice of grilled fish or skewered shrimps served with rice, couscous, fries or sphagetti as a side.  To end the meal, we were treated to complimentary pineapples grown locally.  They were beautifully presented and were deliciously sweet.  This whole meal at Saveurs d'Afrique came up to about 4,000 cfa (about US$6.50) per person.

Beautiful setting of the restuarant

Delicious grilled fresh fish with sautéed onions, tomatoes, garlic and chillies. 
Skewered prawns looked just as delicious as the fish

Amazingly sweet pineapples cut up and delightfully presented
Lunch wasn't ready when we got to the restaurant, so we had the opportunity to wander around on the beach for about 45min. We were able to check out the catch brought in by the fishermen.  As far as I could tell, 3 nets had been hauled in that morning.

Fishermen resting after hours of pulling their nets in.

Cleaning out the net before putting it away, ready for their next fishing run

Ladies waiting for their share of the catch

Lots of unwanted jelly fish tossed out onto the beach from the nets

Girl with her share of the catch for the day

In a separate area, other ladies had sorted out their catch according to size and had divided them out equally into piles.

On to Ouidah
There was definitely a difference in the composition of the traffic compared to Ghana... visibly more motorcycles in Togo and Benin.

It was also tomato season and as we drove through all 3 countries, we saw lots of make shift stalls selling tomatoes.  Cars and vans were overloaded with baskets of tomatoes transporting them to various cities.


Overloaded with tomatoes

The Road of No Return
About an hours' drive after leaving Grand Popo, we arrived in Ouidah.  We got out of our van and walked the 3.5 km walk along the somber Road of No Return... one taken by slaves many years ago. 
This final stretch of the long route taken by slaves is made up of 6 stages. The first is located in front of the house of Don Francisco de Souza, a renown slave trader.  Here, slaves were auctioned off to various companies.
Place Chacha, where the slaves were auctioned off

Walking along the last 3.5 km Road of No Return

The second stage of this route is the Tree of Forgetfulness.  Here men were made to go around the tree 9 times while women and children went around it 7 times.  The purpose of this exercise was to make the slaves forget their names and where they came from.  The tree now does not exist anymore but the statue of a mermaid has been erected in it's place.
Prior to being loaded onto ships, slaves were brought to a holding site, the Zomai (place where the light does not shine) which is stage 3 of the route.  The slaves were kept in the Zomai for months to simulate conditions on the ships and also to disorientate them and break their spirits.  The site has statues showing how slaves were bound and gagged in many instances to restrain and punish the strong and vocal ones as well as to prevent them from escaping. 

Example of how slaves were bound and gagged in preparation for the ocean journey

This memorial (stage 4) marks the site of the mass grave where slaves who had not survived the Zomai were buried.

Mosaic memorial about 6 m tall at the mass burial site where those deemed unfit to continue the journey were buried.
Stage 5 of the Route des Esclave is this tree in the Place de Zoungbodji.  Here slaves would go around the tree 3 times to ensure their spirits remembered where they came from and would return upon their death.

Slaves would turn 3 times around this tree in Place de Zoungbodji, to help ensure that their spirits would return to their homeland after their death.
The final stage on the route is the Gate or Point of No Return, where slaves were loaded onto ships bound mainly for Brazil and Latin America from Benin.

A memorial located at the Point of No Return, where slaves had been loaded onto ships bound for the New World.

Relaxing after Day 1
That evening, we checked into our hotel, Hotel Diaspora, Benin. Unfortunately, the area around the swimming pool was under renovation, so we were unable to take a dip.  Sunset was beautiful along the coast though and after freshening up, we were treated to a delicious seafood buffet.

We tried out the local brew with our delicious meal

Our bedroom in Hotel Diaspora, Benin. 

 Breakfast of champions
The French occupied Benin (1872 - 1960) for many years and their influence can still be seen with the numerous bistro style restaurants set up along the road.  They served us a wonderful breakfast with freshly baked baguettes, omelette and coffee sweetened with condense milk, all for about 1,500 CFA. 

Python temple

The Python temple is located directly across the street from the Catholic Basilica.  We were told that these royal pythons are well looked after and revered in Ouidah.  They represent the element of air in the Voodoo religion.  In this temple, there are more than 50 pythons, all well tendered to and are at times allowed to wander around the neighborhood.  If they are found in homes, stores or offices, the pythons are returned to the temple unharmed.

After paying an entrance fee of 1,000 CFA (2,000 CFA for cameras) we entered the grounds of the temple.  Our guide took us over to a sacred Iroko tree where offerings are made by priests in the presence of the client.

Sacred Iroko tree where offerings are made with priest consultation. 
This building houses more than 50 royal pythons.

Mural painted in the python temple

The 2 photos below are examples of the scars resembling the 10 holes on a python's head; 4 scars on the lower cheek, 4 on the cheek bone and 2 on the forehead.  These scars are made at birth.

The Sacred Forest of Kpasse
The sacred forest in Ouidah is a highly spiritual place with many mature trees.  There was a sense of calm and peacefulness as we walked around the park.  We had a guide who showed us around and explained everything to us in detail.  Entrance fee here was the same as that of the Python Temple.

In 1992, Voodoo became an official religion in Benin.  To promote tourism in Benin, statues of the various Voodoo deities were made and put on display by different artists and sculptors both in the Sacred Forest as well as along the Road of No Return. Every year since 1992, the 10th of January has been declared a public holiday for celebrating the voodoo religion.

Pictures of just a few deities from the Voodoo practice found in the Sacred Forest. 

The Sacred Forest is the resting place of the first king of Ouidah, King Kpasse and is believed that the King turned himself into an Iroko tree when he was chased down by his enemies led by King Dahomey.  Many locals and foreigners make wishes while touching this tree in the hope that their wishes will come true.

The sacred Iroko tree where wishes are believed to be granted.
 The Salt Ponds
Salt production in Benin is traditionally done by women and youths.  These salt ponds are located near the ocean where there is a constant supply of ocean water.  Piles of muds saturated in salt are piled onto the sides of the baskets and the water drips down a pipe is collected at the bottom of the basket.  This salty water is then carried into the thatched building, put over a fire and boiled till all the water has evaporated.  What is left then is salt which is harvested and sold.


In the past, wood from the mangrove swamps were collected and used to boil the water for the salt.  Over time, this has caused the mangrove swamps to recede and in some areas disappear causing major problems for the fishermen in the area.

The Foundation Zinsou Museum
This contemporary art museum was opened in 2013 in the historical building, Villa Ajavon (built in 1922) located in downtown Ouidah.  There is a permanent collection of  African art in this museum built up by Fondation Zinsou. 
Afro Brazilian style building, Villa Ajavon converted into a contemporary art museum in Ouidah

A few of the wonderful exhibits on display at the museum. 

Fell in love with the beautiful café.  It was decorated with bright African colored fabric.

Veggie chilli and coucous at the Foundation Zinsou cafe
A visit to the fetish market
To me, this looked just like any other markets except this one had a special section that sold everything a Voodoo priest would need to purchase.  Our guide took us over to the fetish section of the market.

The owner of the stall had carcasses from many different animals.  Most of they were laying there slowly decomposing.  I have to admit the smell at times was overpowering.  Hidden in a corner at the back of the stall, they even had live cats and snakes for sale. 
Our guide explained to us that everything that was on display had no magical powers ... it wasn't until the priest had blessed them and said his prayers that the items would. 



On to Ganvié
Ganvié is a stilted village located on Lake Nokoué inhabited by about 30,000 people from the Tofinu tribe.  This area is believed to have been settled around the 17th or 18th century when the Tofinu people were trying to escape from the Fon slave traders from the kingdom of Dohamey.  This worked out really well for the Tofinus because the Dohamey tribe members were not allowed to of the water for religious reasons and so by settling on the lake, the Tofinus were safe. 
Ganvié is the largest stilted village in Africa and has been on the UNESCO's world heritage list since 1996.  To get around the stilted village and to our hotel, we boarded a boat for the 15 min ride out to Ganvié.  The cost of renting the whole motorized boat is 20,000 CFA or 7,500 CFA per person.  The activity around the long jetty captivated me. 
The jetty from which we caught a motorized boat to take us to Ganvié .

Camera shy ladies on their canoes selling food

 Ladies catching the wind, heading back to Ganvié

The main source of income for the Tofinus is fishing.  As we moved away from the jetty towards Ganvié, we saw that large areas of the lake had been cordoned off to rear fish.  We were told that many of the people were very wealthy as a result of this and were able to own houses on land in the nearby towns which they rented out for additional income.  This does not stopping them from continuing to live on Lake Nokoué.

Cordoned off area in the distance for fish farming

Dried branches are placed in the fish farm as a form of natural habitat for the fish
As our boat made it's way towards the stilted village of Ganvié, we began to see the houses, shops, schools, churches, mosque and even little huts where goats were kept. 

Living on Lake Nokoué


A provision store on Lake Nokoué

Lady selling dried goods like rice, sugar and salt on her boat.

Cute little kid and his family enjoying a relaxing Saturday morning

This area would be equivalent to a market square.  Here the ladies fill their boats up with vegetables, fruits and other essentials and would sell them.  This lady was not particularly happy we were taking her picture.
Beautiful little girls rowing around selling fruits and snacks. 

Neighbors visiting one another.

Visiting one of the homes in Ganvié

We were lucky enough to be invited into one of the stilted homes.  The children were waiting on their verandah greeting us. 


An area below and on the side of the house has been built up enough to rear chickens
As we went through the village, we could see that there were numerous solar panels being used especially at the water pumps.  Even the hotel we were staying at also had installed solar panels.
Spending the night on Lake Nokoué
After a tour of the floating city, our motorized boat took us towards our hotel in Ganvié.  I was very happy we were staying overnight on the lake at the MB hotel.  This gave us an excellent opportunity to relax and experience what it would be like living on the lake.  We were not disappointed and were treated to a beautiful sunset.
No trip is complete without a visit to the local handicraft store.   Shopped with did.... my friend Hilde and I bought some beautiful hand dyed indigo fabric.

The talented potter in Se
After leaving Ganvié, we headed towards the town of Se.  Here, we visited Marceline who has been working as a potter for many years.  She makes her pots the traditional way, ie. without a wheel. 

Marceline standing proud

During our demo, she ground up broken pieces of pottery which was used with the wet clay so it wouldn't stick to the board when she kneaded the clay.  Once she was happy with the feel of the clay, she laid it on the ground, bent over it and started working the clay by walking around it and molded it either with her bare hands or with a rag.  Absolutely beautiful work!  What amazed me was how uniform all her final products were ... made perfect after years of practice.

Talented Marceline also transformed a lump of clay into a beautiful bird right in front of our eyes.  These are sold as a piggy banks.  Unfortunately so she not have any available for us to purchase.  It would have made a wonderful momento.
Possotomè on Lake Ahémé
In Possotomè, we stayed in a lake side hotel, Chez Theo.  The double rooms were nice and spacious with mosquito nets.  We had lunch in one of the stilt cabanas on the lake and found it very relaxing staring out onto the lake watching the fishermen fishing in the distance.   

Love the locally hand dyed indigo fabric
Local fishermen out on the lake.
Zangbeto (Night watchmen) ceremony
A short drive away from Chez Theo, we arrived in the mud village in Bopa. 
By the time we arrived, most of the villagers were already waiting for us in a clearing and as soon as they saw us, they started beating their drums and bells, and singing.  We were about to witness the Zangbeto ceremony.
The first thing we had to do when we got to the site of the ritual was to pay our respects to the local chief.  To do this, we had to touch the ground and then our forehead 3 times.  We took turns doing this and once that was done, we took our front row seats and waited for the Zangbeto to make their appearance while listening to the drums beating and women singing; and watched dancing.
The whole ritual went on for almost 2 hours and during that time frame, we saw 6 different Zangbetos.  These night watchmen traditionally came out at night to patrol the village grounds and to chase away any bad spirits.  In this case, they made a special appearance during the day and it was explained to us that this happens occasionally to help the villages celebrate their voodoo belief and to display the power of the Zangbeto.
My friend Hilde showing her respects to the local chief

Men beating the drums and bells throughout the whole ceremony 

Villagers were out in full force enjoying themselves.

Boy blessing the ceremonial grounds and men carrying a carving meant to represent the spirit of the Zangbeto

Women and men dancing to the beat of the bells and drum celebrating their belief.

The occupants of the grass structure typically go into a trance when the spirit of the Zangbeto take over their body.  These Zangbeto then twirl around, shake and dance around hypnotically with their guides guiding them. 

The Zangbeto and it's guides make their appearance.

Magic is perform in the presence of the Zangbeto.  Here, nuts are smashed and 80% of them contain jewellery either bracelets or ear rings.  These are then distributed to the villagers.

Magic... nuts cracked open and most had ear rings or bracelets in them.

It is interesting to note that a various stage of the performance, the Zangbeto haystack is turned upside down or lifted off the ground showing that there are no humans manipulating the structure and that it is actually the Zangbeto spirit moving it.

Proof that there is no one in the Zangbeto.


Beautiful people of Benin
     Ladies dressed up in their beautiful African fabric.          Man selling jewellery in a trolley.

Ladies selling food at the toll booth.

Cute kids
These 2 little girls were on their way to the market with live chickens in the basket.

Seamstress using the traditional charcoal heated iron.
Love the way this man is dressed.

Many thanks to Jolinaiko Eco Tours for planning a wonderful trip!