We have the beach ahead. But the coast of yellowish sand, plentiful, which extended for several tens of meters from the dense coconut grove to where the waves ventured and which had attracted us there, was reduced to a poor sample, intersected by dividing strips of black stones.
Busua was no longer what she had been. With no reason to linger there, we continued on to the nearby fishing village of Beyin, an assorted agglomeration of houses arranged between the seaside and the riverside road where the road section of the trip would end.
Along the Beyin Channel
Blay Erzoah Ackah David, the host and guide, identifies us on arrival. Give us a shy welcome to your land. Then, it prepares us for the river journey that awaits us. It takes us to a narrow canal nearby where we board a wooden boat.
We immediately started walking along the channel, first along a vast expanse of soaked grass, however, tucked into a denser palm grove, much darker, with a kind of bamboo dike, installed so that the natives could delimit the circulation of the fish.
That dreary section, cramped by vegetation, lasts as long as it lasts. Without expecting it, the light returns.
The channel reopens to a dark green lagoon that reflects the overhanging leaves of raffia palms and a nursery compartmentalized into several corridors of stakes. Almost immediately, it passes into an aquatic expanse of shimmering waters, the same gray as the overcast sky.
The Always Unexpected Lake Amansuri
By that time, we were in the middle of the lake. Paddle after paddle, we enter the great Amansuri marsh, an ecosystem of swamps, mangroves, floodplains and sandy coastline in the extreme southwest of Ghana, with the Ivory Coast a mere 40km away.
For a time, we see only the verdant shores, a few wading birds, and a canoe or two that plowed in the distance. That is how it is, until, almost fifty minutes after boarding, we glimpse a trio of wooden dwellings lined up against the palm trees on the bank.
We get closer. We get around them. We noticed that these three concealed many more, lacustrine, almost all colored, connected by geometric passageways made of aged boards.
"Welcome to Nzulezu." shoots Blay Erzoah busy with docking and landing.
A Strange Palaphytic Domain
We went up to an immediate walkway. We traverse it to another perpendicular. Blay Erzoah takes it, aimed at the opposite end of the village. We, give in to curiosity.
We drift along other paths and inaugurate an exploration as irresistible as, we soon learned, taboo. “The village chief is waiting for us!” informs the guide. "First of all, we have to salute him."
Blay Erzoah leads us to a simple communal building. Inside, the community leader greets us with a new welcome. He makes us sit down and opens a thorough presentation of Nzulezu, the stilt village where his community of nearly six hundred people has long lived.
He describes a belief long popularized in those parts of the Jomoro district: “We still believe that our ancestors arrived about 500 years ago from Walata (part of present-day Mauritania), one of the first cities in the provinces of Western Sudan, which was part of the ancient empire of ghana.
It was founded by fugitives from a tribal war that raged in this territory and who were looking for a place where they could settle. We believe they were guided by a snail. The snail is the totem of our community and we have a sanctuary in its honor.”
The Lacustrine Beliefs of Nzulezu and Amansuri
It is here that most of the chief's foreign interlocutors gasp in disbelief at the imagery of the fleeing crowd following one of the slowest creatures on Earth. We do not escape the rule. Unlike so many others who exasperated the patriarch, we chose not to question the narrative.
Until recently, three churches disputed the traditionalist faith of the villagers: one Catholic, one Methodist and one Pentecostal. The building of the latter was, however, washed away by one of the last floods.
Subtly and as is its function, Christianity brought to them during and after the colonial period challenges belief both in the unusual divinity of Nzulezu and in the sacred status of Amansuri.
According to tradition, if a woman is menstruating, she cannot cross the lake. And even today, the people of the village are afraid to leave for other parts, aware of the prophecy that an excessive stampede will give rise to a catastrophe that will annihilate the remaining population.
Nzulezu's Peculiar Ways
At the same time, the natives believe that the Amansuri protects them from any bad intentions, that whoever tries to cross it with bad intentions will not survive the crossing.
The chief's dissertation drags on, only slightly faster than any gastropod. Go through several other topics.
Its end is precipitated by the noise generated by the devilish students of the school next door, who find themselves between classes and fill the labyrinth of boards and bamboo cane with tumults and the brown and bright yellow of their uniforms.
As is to be expected in these situations, even more so for Ghanaian children and teenagers, its restless troupe challenges our photographic purposes with pranks, poses and clumsy warrior movements.
Truth be told, the inhabitants of Nzulezu in general aren't exactly kind to outsiders. As a rule, those who come from abroad arrive guided by guides from Beyin or from other places, and visitors staying in the village are rare.
Accordingly, the natives dislike the fact that the village profits almost only from 20 Cedis tickets (under €4), much less than the small “agencies” installed on the coast.
Walking on Stakes
Thanks to the boss who stays in conversation with Blay Erzoah. Rather than being intimidated, we inform them that we are going to take a walk and return to investigative mode.
As is characteristic of Ghana and West Africa, along the 600 meters of the main walkway, but not only, women help each other to beautify their hair, installed at the doors of small houses, where daylight helps them to manage the combs and other tools that shape fashionable hairstyles.
Some of the “clients” breastfeed their newborn children at the same time. This way they keep part of the children in their care quiet and allow the on-call hairdressers to take care of their abundant hair. One, in particular, turns a neighbor's cashew hair into cornrows.
And he does it with a sleeping baby in a yellow yoke on his back.
In an alley closer to the lakeside, a couple is washing clothes in bowls full of soap. And to extend it. Part of the garments on a long, gaudy clothesline, from which a quilt stands out with the gaudy patterns of this still so tribal confines of Africa. Another part, simply stretched over the striated floor of the village.
We passed a young woman who had set up a store selling green-peeled oranges. With bodies once again dehydrated by the tropical heat and the salt and spicy of the inevitable fufu – the manioc porridge that the Ghanaians accompany with fish, meat and a lot of piriri – we face its stand with relief.
We bought them some of the citrus fruit. She serves us some at the time, not bothered by the photographic plot in which, without waiting, she finds herself involved.
Oranges turn out to be much more succulent than we might suppose. And the juice excites us as much as the open smile with which the salesperson reacts to our satisfaction.
In certain houses and small businesses, however, there is little or nothing to be done. Women rest or laze slumped on the floor with lazy children within reach. Others talk sitting at the end of walkways, with their feet dangling over the lake.
A Submissive Life to the Lake
A tiny portion of homes are equipped with satellite dishes, which does not necessarily guarantee the company of television. Getting electricity to these wet and marginal stops is not on the Ghanaian authorities' to-do list.
Since the village generator – or any other private one – runs on gasoline and fuel is prohibitively expensive, watching TV on a private TV is a rare luxury.
As is the refrigerated freshness of the beer in the local bar, fortunately underrated compared to the local palm wine (said to be one of the best in Ghana) and the akpeteshi, a kind of gin that the natives have been improving for a long time.
Nzulezu's food and livelihood depend mainly on fishing and on vegetables and tubers grown in small gardens around. From the moment we docked, several of the men had been fishing in the lake in traditional canoes dug out of single logs.
In the Taste of the Monsoons
The configuration of the village, like fishing, depends on the season. We were still in the rainy season. The water completely enveloped the stilt fort, supporting large colonies of amphibious plants that dotted the otherwise dark stream in deep green.
From November to March, however, the rains are rare. Annual drought makes the flow decrease. It exposes the village's stilt forest and grants temporary use of land that, at that time, we could not even conceive. "See that section over there full of water lilies next to the school?" makes sure Blay Erzoah.
“Believe it or not, there is the football field. The kids at school play there every day. Now, only if it was water polo.” It's another reason why we see them all over the place, given over to the most adventurous adventures they remember to invent.
In the middle of the monsoon, Blay Erzoah sees the dark clouds descend and promise the usual late afternoon deluge. Accordingly, we rushed the reloading and navigation down the channel, back to Beyin and the outskirts of the Great Atlantic.
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