I can’t swim. That is why this was a bad idea – a bad bad idea. I tottered into TJ’s boat, which also wobbled on the shallow waters of the bank. This simple green vehicle would lead me to my demise, I was certain. Flipa was all set, waiting on a seat in the middle – life jacket as a support system, Canon in his hand. TJ looked on from the stem, unbothered by the nervous diligence in my eyes as I lifted my left foot in, then my right – he obviously sees this everyday: scared city people whose only connection to nature are NAT-GEO documentaries and genetically modified lettuce in salad.
I’m going to die! We are all going to die!
Once in the boat, I sighed, picked a life jacket too, and wore it without help. I sighed again, reassuring myself. Should anything happen, this life jacket would keep me afloat long enough to recite a final prayer. “You dierr you be fearoo oo,,” Flipa joked. I responded with a smile composed of discomfiture.
TJ started the boat: our twenty-minutes on the Volta had started. My breathing normalized gradually, and only then did I properly take in what magnificent panorama surrounded us. On either side were miles and miles of trees planted by the rivers if water, not by a man’s hand, but by a creator’s. The sky above was pure, and so was the water we floated on. Naked children dived and splashed, laughing and cheering. Nearby, a boy flung a net from a little canoe, and watched it submerge. He waited a few moments and began to pull. Canals appeared every few meters, and long coconut trees shielded small mud houses to the left. A bare-chested man made his way out unto dry land with a bucketful for a late afternoon bath. A boat carrying school children passed us by. “Time Changes”, the inscription on the side read. In Ghana, boats, like trotros (privately-owned, shared minibuses) are incomplete without inscriptions thus – truisms, Bible verses, epithets, etc. Ours was marked with writing too, but in an indigenous tongue – maybe Dangbe, maybe Ewe. A speedboat whisked past, and dissolved into an obscure frame in the distance.
Right in the middle of the river, a bird held a pensive posture on the end of bamboo poking out of the waters. What could she be contemplating? Where was her family? The boat inched closer, and I remembered a similar scene from Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. The bird flew off a second later, leaving me with these internal thoughts –but Flipa managed a photo.
I rolled the sleeve of my shirt, and dipped a full hand into this peaceful flow. I felt the waves massage my fingers and wrist. The river looked so pristine, with it came an irresistible urge to drink a handful. Plants almost peered out the water, and a close look revealed their outlines deep down in the river whose bottom you could almost see.
I scooped some water as my hand came out, and washed my face. I imagined us at 9 pm –a brilliant moon bouncing off these sparkling surfaces, a thousand stars dotting the sky above. This is beautiful, I thought, and just by the way Flipa smiled at the photos he was making, I knew he was thinking the same thing too. I turned to TJ: “late night rides must be something”. “Aane”, he replied in Twi, betraying a heavy southern accent. “Movie makers usually book us at those hours”, he went on, smiling.
There’s boundless beauty in the unassuming landscapes of Ada. If you refer to Ada as a woman, it would be because of how beautifully her contours are intricately woven. They make for an interesting all-day, all season gaze. There she stands –majestic queen of the Guinea coast, a prized tourism stop, rare sanctuary of tranquility, and a perfect spot to rekindle rapport with nature.
Ada rests calmly on the capital’s periphery, off the Accra- Aflao motorway. A two-hour trip at most, it has over time, become a regular holiday destination for dwellers of the city. Accra’s tempo is that of constant briskness, and its atmosphere is regularly filled with the tensions of daily hustle. On the other hand, Ada breathes a peaceful, majestic breeze. This air –it seems –can drown a man’s sorrows and ward off evil spirits. That is why as often as one can, he seeks respite there. Chalets and inns abound in the town…so do little islands.
In recent years, the Aqua Safari Resort, because of its stately architecture and arresting monuments, has made it a tourism piece in itself. What’s more? Donkeys take shade in pens outside the grand gates, a century-old tortoise treads the same compound as holidaymakers, little colorful fishes dash back and forth in an aquarium near a large entrance, a peacock screams in a corner far off, pelicans cruise in a small fenced pool which is fed by a waterfall to the back, and guinea fowls peck at food in front of them. Bliss!
A dozen other retreat centres deserve mention: Maranatha, Tsarley Korpey, Dreamland, Manet, White Sands, Sunset Beach, Ocean Green…These venues constantly welcome wedding/honeymoon parties, corporate retreats, showbiz events and so on.
Ada’s sands and resorts may be its main attraction, but the entire town is founded on powerful historicity of commerce, slavery, colonialism, and a tricky war against erosion. Because of its strategic setting both by the Gulf of Guinea and the bank of the Volta, it offers coastal sights and riverfront landscapes all at once.
A simple folk, Ada peoples primarily engage in fishing and small-scale farming –mainly mangoes, watermelons, onions, and tomatoes. Like the rest of Ghana, it is regarded highly for its hospitality, and its full spirit felt in early August, during the annual Asafotufiami Festival. It welcomes people from far and wide (natives and observers alike), and exhibits centuries and centuries of carefully-preserved heritage. Wars are a primary aspect of the origin stories of many ethnic groups in Ghana –the other being migration. Asafotufiami remembers the efforts of founding fathers in guarding the territory/ dignity of the Ada peoples. Look out for the special riverside sports contests which include Tug of War and canoe racing, as well as the symbolic musketry firing by selected youths.
Ada straightaway makes it unto the list of key places to sample in Accra. Indeed, it is why a list like that would be instituted at all. And this is due to captivating stories passed down from generation to generation, and a million glowing testimonies of tourists who have traveled that stretch.
Saturated with these tales, unable to contain our curiosity, photographer Eben Yanks (also trading by the alias Flipa) and I traveled the town to confirm for ourselves what was rumor, what was reality. We made the Ada voyage on a Saturday in April, and so were greeted by calm streets instead of the clamor which characterized the annual August exodus. We wandered, two travelers with inquisitive eyes –a camera hanging from his neck, and writing materials in my possession.
We were instantly recognized as visitors. We could tell by the long gazes we encountered, and the extra detail we got when we requested directions to a chief’s palace, or to the beaches.
Earlier in the day, four boys ran up to us at the Aqua Safari signboard by the junction where two roads spread around a government school park. They were dressed in old t-shirts damp from morning play, and one rode a bicycle. They came from down the road, where a small crowd had gathered outside the walls off a house. From the way they marveled at Flipa’s camera, it is clear that the taping device is what had attracted them to us in the first place. They giggled, and made to touch it —revealing healthy eyes and missing teeth. Flipa captured their smiles, and showed it to them. This was met with louder giggles of wonder —interesting reactions which invoked smiles from our own cheeks too. One of them, pointing in the direction they had come from, dashed off —not in escape from something, but with expectations of being followed. His friends did, beckoning us to come along. We obeyed. As we approached further, we heard singing and drumming, and noticed blue branded canopies erected in the house. A durbar was in progress. The chief of the Ada community of Pedoatorkope, was receiving an old friend, we were told. This friend, Promasidor Ghana boss Dirk Lareanmars, apparently makes this high-profile visit annually, bearing many gifts with him for Nene Pediator IV and his subjects: a fibre boat, building materials, laptops, printers, hospital supplies, sports items, food items, etc.
The bond between Lareanmars and Nene Pediator IV has so blossomed over several years that the former was recently installed Development Chief of the area. The visit was treated as a festivity, judging by the pomp and pageantry before our eyes. Every significant dignitary from Pedoatorkope was present: from the fire department, to law enforcement, to education.
As is his nature, Flipa swiftly disappeared into the crowd with his camera —only flashing my eyeline occasionally, contorting his body in one way or another just to get the perfect angle. These images would be the main subject of discussion on our way back. The boys too had vanished into the growing multitude.
Chalk-smeared teenage dancers froze mid-air in traditional dance, shrill chants from young singers permeated the gathering. Young boys conjured spiritual melody with sticks from congas. An infant looked on from beneath the fiber boat for donation, and both regent and his guest of honor looked on with pride.
Flipa returned to me by the gate after the event, and I saw one of the boys running gleefully out, munching at meat pie he had been served at the durbar.
By evening, when we made back for Accra, we already knew we would return to this land of lush sands and clear skies this August for Asafotufiami. Our legs were tired from hours of roaming about, but our eyes were grateful, for they had been treated to extraordinary vistas. We hailed a trotro at the junction where the kids had met us. The bus made a stop by the Kasseh market to load more passengers. Hawkers circled, skillfully canvassing an assortment of desserts. We bought Suya, and happily chumbled these spicy swish kebabs as we waited for the the trotro to fill up. We downed it with sparkling drinks from a hawker. Accra lay ahead, and as we departed, the corner of my eye captured one last sight: a lovely, lovely orange sunset.
Ada serves up a plate of understandable look and feel that breezes through so many emotions – a town draped with so much of what nature has to offer – and a people blessed to be carriers of its many offshoots; panache, grace, divinity. Even as she grows, Ada exposes how beautiful it is to age with grace.
More images courtesy Eben Yanks/ ENEWSGH: