Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Discover the Unexpected

The Bradt guide on Ghana lists Nzulezo, the stilt village, as one of the things to see in the country, saying its readers called it the highlight of their trip. Not far from Takoradi, the pre-colonial village was built over 600 years ago, but no one really knows why. It is built on top of Amunsuri lake, with stilts supporting the structure. One legend says that the original inhabitants were refugees from what is now Nigeria, who went there to escape from an enemy tribe. When I was in Morocco, I visited the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, which, like Nzulezo, is built on the water. The mosque was built according to the Quran, which says “the throne of Allah was built on water.” According to the Wikipedia page on Ghana, Islam spread to Northern Ghana and Nigeria during the 13th century. It seems likely that the south was still void of Islam 600 years ago, and Nzulezo has no mosque (I asked!), just three Christian churches. This said, it’s a cool kind of coincidence, and I like to think there is a spiritual aspect to building above water.
The only way to get to Nzulezo is by canoe from the town of Beyin, through the Amunsuri wetlands, which is the largest conserved wetland in Ghana. The canoe ride is striking. The wetlands are lush and green, lily pads, palm trees, and apparently crocodiles, all in abundance. The water is black and reflective, making for some stunning photos. Once we arrived at Nzulezo the uniqueness and intriguing architecture of the village was striking. A tour guide showed us through the homes, pointing out the schools and churches.

It quickly became clear that the romanticized and beautiful image we had of Nzulezo from my guidebook was very one-dimensional. Because of their location on the water, so much has to be imported, which is expensive and unsustainable for the growing population of 500. Their main income is from distilling akpeteshie, a gin made from palm, and from tourists, who pay upwards of 15 cedi to see the town and are encouraged to donate to the school. A diet of mainly seafood creates malnutrition, and they lack a medical clinic. The same water is used for drinking and disposing of waste, so disease is common. Although I have a couple of picturesque photos, there are also a few cluttered with litter and waste. They have a primary school, but no junior high, so students must take the 1-hour boat ride to attend school. The community is poor and restricted by their location. Would life be easier on land? As an outsider that spent only an hour at the village, I can’t really say, but it seems like a balance between tradition and practicality is the trick.  
The more I travel and the more I ponder, the more I realize nothing is one-dimensional. No one is just poor. Nothing is just beautiful. Nowhere is just dangerous. So much of our impressions before we see a place, or even after we do see a place, is based off common belief. For me, it is the discovering of the unexpected that makes these travels so incredible and worthwhile.
Until next time,

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