The VIU research team has been experiencing life in Northern Ghana for the last 20 days.
Our first stop was 7 nights at Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary; a community resource management area (CREMA) where the people of Wechiau and the 16 surrounding communities work together to protect the Black Volta River Hippo populations. Here we did observational and participatory evaluations on all the tourism products within the sanctuary. We also conducted a series of interviews between key groups that contributed to our ‘Cost and Benefits of Tourism’ research.
In Ghanaian culture, visitors of a rural community must greet the chief and ask permission to stay on his land. Lucky for us, the chief of Wechiau was an absolute cutie! We didn’t care about the hundreds of flies landing all over us, meeting the chief was something we had heard about many times before leaving Canada and it was hard to believe that we were living the moment.
We became very close with all of our guides. Agba is a walking bird dictionary. He is able to identify the name of a bird by listening to its call; this amazed me. Bom always with a smile on his face was adamant in telling some of us that we would be bad Ghanaian wives since we can’t carry basins of water on our heads! Every day, our two cooks who spoke no English would try and teach us new words in the local language. This was interesting since we never knew what they were saying or what we were repeating.
I have had many experiences sleeping under the stars back home but nothing like the overnights in Wechiau. It’s not very often people get to sleep under a mended bug net on top of a cow dung and mud plastered roof or a river side hippo hide that resembles your child hood tree house! We battled every storm to sleep outside; we only lost once which ended up being the sweatiest night of my life. Sleeping outside is the only way to stay cool at night!
I have never seen so many goats before in my life than I have up north and in the sanctuary. I was thrilled since I used to have pet goats when I was a little girl, others in the group however got annoyed very quickly. We were all unable to sleep one night because of this continuous noise which sounded like a mixture between crying and a goat giving birth. We later found out that horny male goats make a very similar sound, so who knows! One day, I saw this cute little goat tied to a tree so I went over to see it. Next thing I know the goat is named dinner and I am supposed to be eating it on Friday night for dinner!
Yes, we saw Hippos!!! We paddled down the Black Volta River bordering Ghana and Burkina Faso. Our canoes were long and narrow with a shallow base. My canoe had many small holes throughout so we were constantly scooping out water with a hollow coconut. It didn’t bother me that the boats edge was dipping into the water level; all I wanted was to see the hippos! Our group saw a pod with one adult male, one adult female and 5 young ones. The mother was more interested in showing us her butt than her head. We were all laughing when she started to wag her butt in the air. After a few booty dances we made our way back to camp.
The group visited Talawana School were we rewarded the students with Canadian Flag Pencils and Obama notebooks (Ghanaians love Obama!). After, we asked if the kids liked to play football and of course they all cheered! We then threw out a challenge; ‘Canadians vs Ghanaians, 4:30 PM Talawana field, winner gets the ball’. I’ve never seen such excitement!
We roll up to the field thinking we were going to play a fun game against a bunch of little kids. We were wrong, instead we had 11 buff, tall, shirtless Ghanaian ‘men’ walk towards us in brand new vibrant coloured soccer cleats. Yikes! Not what we were expecting! In Ghana, girls don’t play soccer so the Ghanaian players were looking at us weirdly, it didn’t help that we were wearing our homemade tie die shirts or when Shannon screamed like a crazy lady when running after the ball! Brianne and I basically just ran around the defensive end of the field, flinching whenever the ball went speeding by us or when a buff Ghanaian player would charge with his rippling muscles. I will admit, I was scared. In the end team Canada only lost 1-0 and team Ghana got to keep the ball for Talawana School. The sidelines were packed with people of the community; kids were crowding the goal lines cheering and waving flags made with plastic bags. The football showdown was hilariously fun and is an experience I will never forget!
We left the rural setting with memories of bucket showers, excessive use of bug repellent, alien looking insects, scary latrines, goats and much more. Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary and the people we met throughout our stay will be missed!