Attempted lake crossing

To go to Kumasi from the Volta region in theory there is a route that cuts across the huge artificial lake instead of going all around it. I thought it would be shorter and more fun than by land, but when I arrived at the harbour I realised the enterprise might take much more time than I’d expected.

Besides, everything seemed shrouded in mystery: there were several boats slowly filling with passengers, but their destinations were unknown to me, and everybody gave a different departure time for my ferry. It was when someone finally told be that without any doubt there would be a boat leaving at 3 pm that I knew for sure that there would be none. I would never make it across the lake.

On the other hand, the place was amazing, and it seemed a good idea to enjoy it while I was there. I left my backpack under one of the straw-covered passenger shelters and set out in exploration. For a full hour I forgot about the continuation of my journey, which in any case was already doomed.

The shore was full of movement because of the weekly market, and the fishermen were bringing in their fish to pass it on to the next link in the supply chain. This was represented by the middlemen who sorted it by kind and size, displayed it on tarpaulin under shady palm leaf canopies, and conducted the auction surrounded by the buyers, who would in turn resell it to the final consumer.

But there were also those who processed the fish on the spot. These women, equipped with a sharp knife to scale the fish, disembowelled them and prepared them for drying or smoking. Now, these fish have a bodily feature that becomes a lethal double-edged knife, i.e. a pointed spike that sticks out next to the gills. The women doubled the fish up and pierced the tailfin on their own spikes so that the body set in an arty form. A pitiful fish already disembowelled and curled on itself was gaping for air in the hamper over the bed of its dead companions.

At the end of a concrete landing-stage two long boats were moored and were being loaded with goods and passengers. I suddenly remembered about my luggage, and imagined I’d better resume my journey, this time by land. An ointment seller took charge of me and accompanied me to the shared taxi rank.

The road through Koforidua was not much easier either, and not only because it was long. Saturday is the day of funerals and a funeral is a big deal in West Africa. It is an occasion of social distinction, rather like weddings in other cultures, so people spend lavishly, if they can, to keep high the honour of the family. If the deceased is poor, the burial takes place right away, but if a grand funeral is organised the body is somehow preserved in the hospital morgue until everything is ready. Relatives and friends travel distances to gather, typically from Friday evening until the Sunday thanksgiving service.

Therefore loads of people move around on Saturdays to attend the rites, and you can spot them because of their gear. The women wear black and white dresses, or something predominantly black in any case. For the men it’s often a Roman-style toga that leaves a bare shoulder. Given that they usually like to wear gaudy colours, which incidentally suit their skin very well, it is a shock to see this lugubrious attire, which the dark skin makes even more funereal.

Half the country is in mourning on Saturdays, funeral hold-ups encumber the ways of communication. Street processions take place everywhere, sometimes preceded by a band, followed by the attendees, sometimes announced by the siren of the motor hearse which was an ambulance in a former life. Painted black and with a coffin sticking out from the boot, they are thus given a new role to play in the comedy of life.

My journey was slow, and the more I went on the more I realised I’d never make to Kumasi by nightfall. Besides, the last trotro to Kofuridua broke down on a slope, and the driver got no response from fumbling with the ignition key. He concluded overheating was to blame, so asked all passengers to get off. As I saw the bulky bodies of several women squeeze through the seats, I thought it was no wonder the engine had failed us. Probably it was just down to funeral overeating.