The antelope God


Lake Bosomtwe

We are awakened by bird call. I try to identify the culprit but, though I can tell which tree the call is coming from, the bird is concealed. And so we rise to see the aftermath of the storm – bits of trees everywhere. Not big bits, but lots of ‘em. We breakfast (more very fine eggs: the menu promised “Ham and eggs”, or rather to be completely accurate “Han and eggs”, with toast, butter and jam. Butter and jam are absent, and the “Han” is hiding under one of the eggs - a wafer-thin piece the size of my thumbnail.) After breakfast we head for the private lakefront beach which the hotel owns.

The hotel dog adopts us as we cross the road, and charges about excitedly. He’s digging holes, rolling in the sand, viciously attacking dead palm fronds, and nesting in the fisherman’s nets. He charges towards us, skids to a halt, runs away, repeats the process. I find a nice stick for him to play "fetch" with, the handle of a dead tennis racquet. I fling it as far as I can, Dog watches it go, and looks pointedly at me as if to say “YOU threw it. YOU go get it.” Maybe “fetch” isn’t a game Ghanaians play with their dogs.

The view from the waterfront is spectacular, Damn, I think, something that makes a hole in the ground five miles across must’ve made a helluva noise. The water is fresh and clean. We contemplate a swim, but we’re not entirely sure what lives in the water. Drawn up close to us is what I would describe as a plank, about eighteen inches across and eight foot long, tapered at either end and painted white. Yelbert assures us that this is a fishing boat. Basically, you sit astride it with your legs in the water, and paddle out to where you’ve left your fishing nets. We ask Yelbert if he’s ever done this, but he also agrees he’d be nervous about having his legs dangling in unknown waters – who knows what’s down there?

This prompts me to ask, is the crater in the path of previous river channels? If not, how did the fish get in there? God must have put them there, suggests Yelbert. I wonder whether there are any unique species here. I don’t have an answer to this one yet. I have since discovered that this is the only naturally-occurring lake in the Asante region, and that it has no river inlets or outlets. The size of the lake, which has varied widely over its history, is dependent entirely on the relationship between rainfall and evaporation. So where did the fish come from?

Incidentally, this is where we see the grasscutters being bred for the table. They are living in what looks like a large garden shed.

We pack up and head out along a path which, while rough, doesn’t seem anything like the hell-ride we came in on. We drive further around the lake to the next village, a dry and dusty place. We learn that it has a population of just a few hundred people. There is an information hut which is surprisingly well kept, and covered with posters about the lake and the crater which contain hugely detailed information which a geologist would find fascinating, but which is far too technical for me. We negotiate a boat ride, and Paul our guide also persuades us to donate 60 cedis to a project to seed the entire shoreline with coconut palms. The reason for this is that the main local crop is cocoa, which has roots that spread quickly and which take up a lot of water – so much so that the lake, after centuries of expansion, is now beginning to recede. The palm trees will help prevent the cocoa trees from getting too near the shore.

Obo village on Lake Bosomtwe

We are obviously the most exciting thing to happen here in days – a bunch of lads, maybe 8-15 years old, gather around. One wears an England football t-shirt, which he is anxious we should notice. The boys insist that while we are out in the boat, they’ll give the car a good wash. True, it does need it, but we’re going to be trekking through miles more dust before we get back to Accra, and thus it’s a little pointless. As you'll see from the picture, there's plenty of dust right here in the village, even. But we don’t have the heart to turn them down, and when we return from the boat trip, the car is positively gleaming. We give them a few cedis for their sterling work.

As we board the boat, we see another “fishing boat” nearby. This makes the first one look like the Queen Mary II. It obviously was a plank at one time, but it has seen better days, and is now warped, mis-shapen and worn in various places, with just the vaguest suggestion of paint still clinging to it. To be perfectly honest, it's a stick with pretentions. Maybe this is why the locals don’t play “fetch” with their dogs – they’re afraid they’ll bring the boats instead. Nevertheless I'm sure it still floats and no doubt does the job for which it is intended.

Later I learn that only wooden boats are allowed on the lake, which is considered sacred, and not to be touched by iron. There are two legends about the lake. Someone told Liz that the name of the lake means "Fetid Antelope", but I think they were joshing. It apparently means "Antelope God" - one story has it that a hunter wounded an antelope and chased it to finish it off, but it jumped in the lake (which was much smaller then) and didn't die. The other has it that a god called Twe emerged from the lake and fathered the first Bosomtwe man, or rather the first man with the Bosomtwe ntoro, which means something like "the male spirit of the people". (Twe seems to mean "antelope").

Our excursion boat is a little more seaworthy, but still appears to be the result of years of random patching-up with whatever materials are to hand. Our guide would be happy not to give us lifejackets once we assure him we can swim, but Yelbert insists we wear them, afraid perhaps of returning to the Boss without Liz.

Lake Bosomtwe excursion.

From the water we see more muddy villages, and also some impressive houses here and there. Somewhere nearby, overlooking the water from the ridge is a fine place called the Presidential Rest House, although I don't know if this is tied to the job, or a place that belongs to the previous incumbent. The surrounding hills are misty with distance and covered in trees of various sorts. It is a beautiful setting. Here and there, a hundred feet or so from the shoreline, are tall trees, mostly dead now, which have been submerged over the years as the lake expanded. One of them has a new young tree growing from its jagged top. This seems symbolic of something, though I’m not quite sure what.

After the tour, we move on, having admired the thorough job that the youngsters have done with the car. We are not intending to do any more touristing, other than looking out the windows, before we get back to Accra. It's quite a long journey.

It’s Sunday, and attending to us has kept Yelbert from his regular churchgoing, so he tunes into a religious broadcast in which an enthusiastic lady drones on about faith, death, the afterlife, God’s grace and… I don’t know, that’s when I fell fast asleep until she’d done.

Ever since our insistence on using the GPS landed us, no, “stranded us” in the middle of Kumasi market, Yelbert has had no time for our directions. I point out that we seem to be heading north towards Kumasi once again, whereas Accra is south, but what do I know? Sure enough, 40 minutes later, after asking directions from a local, we turn around and head south.

Incidentally, unlike the classic Brit or US male driver, he is not averse to asking for directions. At times, he stops every few minutes, and carries on a conversation in Twi to determine which way we should go. Suggestions from me, Liz, or the GPS are treated with the contempt they deserve.

Actually, I don’t speak Twi, so maybe he’s just telling the locals about the crazy oburoni in the back who believes a satellite above can show you the way home...

Passing up the roadside offers of bush meat, we decide we need a quick trip to the supermarket before returning to the apartment. As we leave the supermarket, we discover that it has started raining. And when I say “raining”, I mean that someone has just opened up a huge tap in the sky (that’s a “faucet” for US types), Although the rain started just minutes ago, it’s already coming through the front door of the supermarket. A lady worker is busily trying to sweep it back out, and mop up where arriving customers are leaving a watery trail. A team of supermarket employees with huge umbrellas are ushering customers to and from their vehicles. Even so, being exposed to the torrent for no more than two seconds as we get into the car, we are thoroughly soaked. Driving home we realize that Accra is not quite as flat as it looks. Everywhere there is the slightest inline, the road becomes a stream and the gutters a raging river, gushing up into the air every time there is the smallest obstacle.

Shops and dwelling are already being flooded. When we reach the apartment, our area is not so badly affected, but a little later the news informs us that most roads in the city are now impassable. Liz says that, so long as it stops raining, everything will be fine tomorrow, the water simply evaporates as soon as the sun comes out. Aware of the dreadful floods last year, which took many lives, I’m not so convinced. But the rain stops and the next day everything has returned to normal as she predicted. Well, not everywhere, but I’ll tell you more about that in the next episode.