Beyond Accra: the mountainous, temperate sanctuary of Mampong

The stereotype is that Africa is hot, but Mampong’s high elevation makes the weather cool. There’s no greater feeling than waking up before dawn and feeling the cold morning dew. You literally feel like you are inside a cloud. The droplets that form on your skin are not sweat, but the condensation of the cool morning humidity. At night you definitely want to wear pants and something long sleeved. The environment is known for its biodiversity, filled with a variety of trees and birds. It’s a tropical paradise in many ways.

The Roadside in Mampong

Mampong is in a part of Ghana called Akuapem. Colloquially, people refer to this place as “the mountains”. It’s actually more of a plateau or ridge, and there are a series of towns along the main road that traverses the ridge. Along the 45 minute journey from Accra to Akuapem, there is a 3 mile winding road up the side of the mountain, which provides breathtaking views of Accra.

Akuapem was the first place that Christian missionaries ever settled in Ghana. The first 4 people to reside outside of the slave castles along the coastline in Ghana were from Basel, Switzerland — oddly where I lived last summer. They first settled in Accra, where three of them died of Malaria. The fourth caught malaria too. The local people realized, “This dude is gonna die too, we gotta do something” (direct quote). So they took him to the “mountains” to a town called Larteh, where they knew they would find experts in medicinal plants. They cured him, and he started the Presbyterian church in 1828 which even today is often referred to simply as Basel. Akuapem Twi is it’s own dialect, and this was the first Ghanaian language to be written in order to translate the bible.

Basel Missionaries in Ghana, 1926

The Swiss ambassador, Dr Peter Schweizer, wrote a book about these missionaries. He wrote that the missionaries thought of travelling to Africa, “in response to the call to elevate the uneducated and heathens from their state of ignorance” but were surprised to see well-developed structures with intricate cultural tissues. I myself came with an updated version of this twisted perception of Africa fed to me by American news — everyone is poor, infectious diseases are everywhere, there is no clean water, etc. I did my best to come with an open mind and found most of my preconceived notions to be false.

I don’t think I would have fallen in love with Ghana had I lived anywhere else. It’s not just the cool weather; Mampong was the perfect cultural immersion. I was the only white person in the town. The local Akuapem people exposed me the traditional culture of Ghana: the food, traditions, beleifs, values, and language. They are really the ones who taught me Twi and gave me a chance to practice daily. If I had to buy some tomatoes, I would speak Twi. If I needed directions, I would speak Twi. Everytime I heard a new word, I would try to write it down. I would not have had such an experience in Accra, the modern cosmopolitan capital city where most ex-pats spend their time and where English is commonplace.

Speaking Twi is so important to me, because I truly beleive language is the window into any culture. Learning this languge defintely helped me integrate into the community more quickly. It built trust between Ghanaians and myself. Many obroni come here with a false sense of superiority. Learning the language sends a message of respect.

At first, I was a mini-celebrity in Mampong. People heard there was a white guy who spoke Twi, and strangers would come and want to talk with me. For those people, usually the older generations who don’t speak English, it was their first time having a conversation with a white person. I live for these moments, seeing the shock on people’s faces when I rattle off a sentence in Twi. They get especially excited when I drop a proverb or two. There are a lot of proverbs, there is even a proverb that says “The wise is spoken to in proverbs, not in plain language”. To say I’m sad in Twi you say “me kra su” which literally translates to “my soul is crying”. There is no word for goodbye, instead people often say “wo ne Nyame nko” which means “Go with God”. These little details in the language reflect intricacies of the culture I would have never understood had I never made an effort to learn.

The kids are always interacting with me. “It’s a rare treat for kids to see the Obroni”, a friend told me once. The word Obroni, is derived from “buro” which means “from beyond the horizon” and “ni” which means person, but is often colloquially translated into “white person”. When most kids see me, they yell or chant “Obroni” or “Obrooni maakye” (good morning). I usually just wave or say “how are you” in Twi. A lot of foreigners get upset with kids shouting at them all the time, but I don’t mind, I know they’re just surprised and curious. The only time I was ever bothered was when a little girl said “wo dwene t3 s3 oguan” (your nose looks like a sheep). I’m not going to lie, that girl got to me.

Now that I’ve been here so many times, people aren’t shocked anymore about my presence. When I arrived in Mampong for this trip, the first few days were spent catching up with most of the people in town, giving life updates such as continually disappointing various Ghanaian moms that I’m not yet married. I owe my connection to Ghana to the seredipity of landing in this place.

Began writing to share my experiences in Ghana over the past decade. Originally from Ann Arbor, MI. I obtained a Ph.D. in Biostatistics from Harvard in 2020.

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