Respect. When I walk into a community, that is always on my mind. How can I be conscious and respectful at all times? How can I follow traditional authority? Where is the chief, and how can I meet him?
Today, I meet Nana Adams, and immediately follow through with yesterday’s promise: one bottle of Schnapps. No Schnapps? OK then, Ginger Bitters. Tastes like a bite into raw ginger with an aftertaste of ethanol. 100% terrible.
The day before, I had taken a trip down the beach with a friend from Vancouver to explore the surrounding area. A bunch of us were staying at the Green Turtle Lodge in the Western Region of Ghana along the coast. Isolated from the nearby city of Takoradi and well off the main road, for us this is a beautiful getaway. But just a fifteen minute walk down the beach, at the end of the Bay, is a small community, Akwidaa. It is here that I had met Nana Adams the day before, and promised to come back.
Along the way to visit Nana, we greet 5 fishermen sitting in the shade of their boat, chatting and weaving nets for the next day’s fishing trip. I approach and enter with “good afternoon” (memo aha). I smile and bow subtly in respect, asking with my position if I can approach them in good faith. They nod and I sit beside them, immediately joking. Memo waha, oh ten den, boko. I throw around my handful of Fante words that I know. Here they are Ahenta, not Fante, and speak a different dialect of the Akan language, but my Fante makes me friends fast. I soon learn that 3 of the men are Fante themselves, having lived much of their life within an hour of my home in Mankessim. Sharing understanding of a region allows for connection faster and easier than anything else. We smile and joke.
As we approach the town from the beach, I see a large group of men sitting in the shade of a small wooden structure with a palm roof and open sides, maximizing the shade and the wind for a comfortable place to spend the day lounging. Nana Adams sits amongst the group. We shake hands with smiles and take our seats.
It dawns on me that this is not the first time Nana Adams has interacted with foreigners. Not even close. In fact, this town has spent the last 40 years interacting with the white owners of the local hotels, negotiating land sales and tourist activities. But even more, just beyond the town, sits Fort Dorothea, a lodge built by the German Brandenburger Company in 1683. The lodge was then captured and turned into a fort by the Dutch in 1690. There is a long history of foreign presence in Akwidaa (and a reason that Schnapps is the common request for a drink).
How have these interactions taken place over time? Have both sides shown respect and hospitality? Is that even possible in a colonial setting, now turned into a tourist destination? Should foreigners simply leave the area? What about the fact that global climate change is raising the sea levels and part of the town will most likely go under water in the next 20 years? The answers are not easy, but on that day in January, 2012 Nana Adams welcomed us with absolute love and kindness. And we did our best to do the same.