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Seamstress at Amani ya Juu

Six Arts and Crafts Hotspots in Africa

Although I generally avoid shopping, I love to buy things when I travel — especially in Africa (which is most of my traveling these days). So when Afristay asked me to write a post about traveling in Africa, I decided to take a look back at some of the best arts and crafts I’ve found in my explorations around the continent. I’ve been to 13 African countries and I’ve come back from every one of them with something amazing. But for brevity’s sake I’m limiting this list to six favorite spots in five countries. African Arts and Crafts: My Top Six Picks 1) Teyateyaneng, Lesotho Teyateyaneng (or TY for short), a small town about 30 minutes from Lesotho’s capital city of Maseru, was one of my first African craft discoveries. There are several weaving cooperatives in TY, in which groups of women work together to create Basotho-themed mohair tapestries. I love the tapestries themselves (I have three), but I also love watching the women make them. My favorite place to visit is the Elelloang Basali Weaving Centre, which I blogged about here and here. Marosa, one of the weavers at Elelloang Basali. The weaving center is lined with recycled cans. Alina with […]

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Fantasy coffin-maker with cell phone coffin

The Fantasy Coffins of Ghana

Yesterday I was taking pictures in a cemetery and I got into a conversation about coffins. And suddenly, I remembered: In 2014 I met an artist in Ghana who builds “fantasy coffins” that look like cell phones and minibus taxis and crabs and three-headed dogs. And I NEVER BLOGGED ABOUT IT. The coffin artist and his Samsung coffin. Sadly, I’ve lost my notes about the visit and I don’t remember his name. But I’m grateful to him for allowing me to take photos in his shop. How is it possible that I visited a FANTASY COFFIN SHOP nearly three years ago and never blogged about it? I suppose I was busy back then, and I wasn’t happy with the photos I took of the coffins. Nonetheless, this is inexcusable. A full-body shot of the Samsung coffin. The quick back-story: I was in Ghana visiting my friend Michelle, who lived there at the time. We were on the road, headed back to Accra from the Cape Coast, when we spotted Serious Wood Works. I asked our driver to pull over. A crappy cell phone photo of Serious Wood Works. Fantasy coffins have been a thing in Ghana for the last few decades. The outlandish coffins evolved through the […]

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Pop-Up Travel: Quirky Jewelry Shopping in Accra

Shockingly, my whirlwind trip to Ghana was nearly a year ago and I did a few things there that I still need to tell you about. My visit to Hakim Jewelart in Accra is one of them. I’m not sure how my friend Michelle, who I was visiting in Ghana last August, originally discovered Georgette Hakim. But I’m glad she did; our visit to Georgette’s unlikely jewelry-making operation was one of my most memorable experiences in Ghana. Georgette — who was born in Lebanon but spent her entire adulthood in Ghana — has been selling handmade jewelry in Accra for decades. Georgette is close to 80 and her husband, who ran the business with her, died some years ago. Georgette has no plans to retire anytime soon. Georgette presides over her incredible spread of silver jewelry. See the bracelet in the lower-left corner of the red box in front of Georgette? I bought that. All of Georgette’s jewelry, with the exception of the intricate Ghanaian glass beads, is made on the premises in the small workshop next to the showroom. Most of the jewelry is silver, with a bit of gold mixed in, and most of it is designed using West African Adinkra symbols. Georgette sells her jewelry […]

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Pop-Up Travel: Cane Rats in Ghana

Warning: This post contains graphic photos. I have a lot of unfinished blogging business from 2014. I still haven’t shared everything from my most recent trip to Brazil, nor from my Zimbabwe trip before that nor my Ghana trip before that. I hate to think about all the epic experiences and photos from these far-flung places that I haven’t shared on the blog yet. So I’ve decided to start a series of pop-up travel posts in which I’ll quickly share a photo or memory from a past trip. Here’s my first pop-up travel post: Giant cane rats for sale on the side of the road in Ghana. Mohammed Tahiru holds up two cane rats: one fresh and one smoked. My friend Michelle and I saw quite a few people selling cane rats along the N1 highway between Ghana’s capital city of Accra and the town of Cape Coast. After passing the first couple of guys, standing on the shoulder of the road holding the rats up by their tails for every passing car, I finally worked up the courage to ask our driver to stop. Mohammed (above) and his colleague were happy to allow me to take a few pictures in exchange for a polaroid portrait and a small fee. Mohammed is […]

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Snapshot from Ghana: Inside the Dungeons of Anomabo

There’s a lot I could say about my tour of Fort William, previously known as Anomabo Fort, on Ghana’s central coast. But this photo tells most the story. Tour guide Philip Atta-Yawson in a slave dungeon at Fort William. Philip is pointing to the hinge in the floor where people were chained.  During the 17th and 18th centuries, Fort William was a “slave castle” — a place where human beings were bought and sold before being dragged onto the beach and loaded into ships bound for America. The fort later became a prison and is now a museum. Philip Atta-Yawson is the tour guide at Fort William; he lives inside the fort. I found Philip to be just as fascinating as the fort itself, if not more so. I was impressed by his ability to explain the fort’s brutal history in very few words. Philip lets the dungeons speak for themselves. The inside of the fort is haunting. The view from the roof is literally a breath of fresh air. Anomabo village from the roof of Fort William. I didn’t visit Elmina Castle or Cape Coast Castle, the two larger and more well known slave castles in the area. After visiting to Fort William, my friend […]

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Ghana’s Panoramic Beaches

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently had the chance to try out a panoramic disposable film camera. I shot most of the panoramic film during my trip to Ghana in August. I still have many interesting photos and stories from my Ghana visit and I’m going to share them here are there over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, here are a few panoramic glimpses of my first trip to West Africa. The view from Escape 3 Points, an ecolodge near the village of Cape Three Points. I really enjoyed my stay in this remote part of the world. Cape Three Points is at 4 degrees latitude and 2 degrees longitude, the closest land point to the geographic center of the world. Beach near the town of Akwidaa, not far from Cape Three Points. I love the grainy, scratchy effect of this film — it matches the weather conditions that I experienced in Ghana. I was there at the end of the rainy season and the weather was unseasonably cool (i.e., not a boiling sauna). I hardly saw the sun during the six days I was there, which was frustrating in some ways but also saved me a […]

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Reflections on Being a Tourist in the Developing World

We wander down a cramped street in Anomabo, a fishing village along the coast of Ghana. It’s late afternoon and the street is teeming with people, eating and drinking, buying and selling, calling out to one another and to us. We’re causing quite a stir. “Obruni,” the local term for “white person”, echoes up and down the street. The sun breaks through the clouds, tinging the street with an eerie golden glow. We pass a group of children playing in front of an ancient blue house. Everything here feels ancient, or perhaps timeless; it could be 2014 or 1714. The kids are bathed in light, skipping rope, their shadows dancing on the wall behind them. I feel desperate to take a picture — to capture this place that is unlike any place I’ve been before. I turn to Atta, the guide who just gave us a sombre tour of the historic slave-trading fort in Anomabo. “Could you please ask the children’s mothers if it’s okay for me to take a photo?” Atta addresses the group of women gathered next to the kids. A rapid-fire conversation ensues. “They say it’s okay,” Atta tells me. I’m not so sure though. One of the women stands up and begins to yank the children by the arms, […]

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Cats of Ghana

Ghanaian cats are special. They’re tiny, almost kitten-like, with huge eyes and ears. They materialize out of nowhere, hop lightly into your lap, and curl into a purring, sleeping ball before you even realize they’re there. A typical Ghanaian kitten-cat. This cat likes to talk. This one lives at a lighthouse and hangs with goats. (I could write a whole post “goats of Ghana” too, as the goats here are equally amusing.) I dig the scrappy quirkiness of these West African felines. I wish I could bring one home with me but the Melville Cat definitely wouldn’t approve. I have much more to say about Ghana and I’ll probably have more cat photos too. My trip is only half over. The rest will have to wait. Three Ghanaian cats, all in a row. 

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