Dear tourist, experience Atiavi too
· And remember her fondly
In many minds, tourism means mega structures such as big national parks teeming with elephants, rugged terrain dominated by High Mountain, and waterfalls churning their anger.
To such people tourism is also synonymous with big hotels, old slave forts, classy night clubs, and sunny beaches. Indeed I have been privileged to visit some of these places. I gawped and went away with no abiding inclination to go back.
I do remember the all-roaring and foaming Victoria Falls and the glitzy all-glass Five–Star Hotel in Kyoto in Japan where there was a notice encouraging the visitor to help himself to everything in the room as souvenirs, except the television and the mirror. I have also spent a couple of days in Toyota’s Nagoya Car Manufacturing plant where new cars rolled off the assembly line faster than one could blink one’s excited eyes.
As I sit behind my laptop to record my recollections, I find no passion to express myself about most of the places that had once seemed breath-taking. Rather, there is something endearing about small towns tucked away in some of nature’s un-spoilt habits.
They are indelibly stamped in my heart and I believe there are tourists of my temperament who would pay any amount of money to visit them. Kilkenny, a rural town of small industries, fertile agricultural land and time-honoured culture is one of such towns. Located in a green countryside of loamy soil and shrubs in Central Ireland, Kilkenny reminds me of Atiavi, a rural town on north-western rim of the Keta Lagoon.
In Kilkenny, I lodged in a pert bungalow-type house on the edge of town and surrounded by small trees where birds chirped all day. It was owned and run by a Madam O’ Shaunessy, a 40-plus woman, of middle height, twinkling eyes and gray-flecked hair done tightly in a pony.
Standing on the porch I could take in the sweeping fields of farmsteads and gentle smokes making spirals into the languid air from chimneystacks of small factories. The lady lived in one room and her 14-year old daughter in the other. The third room near the front door was used for guests.
As soon as I arrived, Madam O’ Shaunessy handed to me a card with “Welcome to our fire-place” printed in Hob’s Lettering and explained that Ireland a fireplace meant warmth and friendship and that was exactly what I should expect.
Thus, I became part of the family and we did everything in common. By the time I was to check out, I knew a bit of Irish folk songs, ate plates upon plates of salmon from the Shannon and oysters from Cork.
I also drank several mugs of their frothy libations. She made sure that they knew my national anthem and the recipes for a couple of Ghanaian dishes.
In the final moment of departure to Dublin to catch a plane to London, the daughter gave me a hug and pressed into my bosom a hand-woven handkerchief and a card printed with the message, “Kilkenny must remain in your hart, and come back again…soon”. Surely, if I have had the means, I would have gone back several times.
Of all the places on earth I will entreat any visitor, Ghanaian or foreign, to go to Atiavi (pronounced Ah-tee-ah-vee) which stands second to none. Water and the people constitute the unique selling point. Yes, wide expanse of water.
Life revolves around the big supernaturally big bowl of salt water called the Keta Lagoon, teeming with all manner of fish.
Atiavi perches on the northern shore and is squeezed in from the west by the largest marsh-land in Ghana full of creeks and streams. This forms part of the Lower Volta Natural Habitat Ecological Zone.
Atiavi offers no waterfalls, mountains or elephants. She offers the bounty of the water that has moulded the life of a friendly people. Their everyday conversation and their manner of walking display fluidity characteristic of water.
The town and her neighbouring communities of Glime, (an island nicknamed Corsica), Agbodekor and Atsime communities are shrouded in greenery.
Mango, coconut, neem and cashew trees give the visitor an impression of a botanical garden. Beyond the town the land is flat and provides an endless vista of green marshland rids, water and water and more water!
The Keta Lagoon is by any standard a massive salty in-land sea that rises from the eye level and rolls lazily as far as to the horizon.
On its other shores are Anyako and Afiadenyigba to the east. Standing on the shore at Atiavi in early morning, the surface of the water is serene, foggy and peaceful. The sight of fishermen in their canoes far away conjures the biblical Sea of Galilee.
In the afternoon you will experience the physical phenomenon of reflection manifested as mirage when a town such as Anyako is lifted right into the lagoon and draws close to you. You may hire a boat and get poled across the lagoon to visit Keta, Kedzi, Anyako and Afidenyigba.
You may assist a fisherman to haul in his catch and share his humour. You may go angling with bait of worms. If you are a bird watcher, get to the islands of the lagoon and hunt for birds’ eggs but do not take them away. In the quietude of midnight, watch the celestial glory of the moon dance daintily across the surface of the water. You are overwhelmed by an inner peace.
The people are Ewes. They are mostly fishermen, sugar cane farmers and great akpeteshie distillers. The abundance of good quality reeds provides material for mat and keviweaving. Kevi, the traditional bag intricately woven by old women, is a precious gift item.
The people speak the unadulterated Anlo. You are not likely to hear much Ewenglish. You will hear a lot of Woezor, Nyebro, Efo and Daavi. Their traditional greetings are long but do not get lost. If you respond, Medekuku Ee or Medekuku Yoo you cannot go wrong. The people love courtesy and Medekuku meaning “please” or “with due respect” shows that the speaker has good home training.
The variety of food is tantalizing. Tilapia from the lagoon or the marshes, crabs oysters, pike, catfish are stewed, fried or roasted and eaten with akple, yakayaka or abolo. For the tourist, dzenkple with crab, known elsewhere as apaparansa is a must eat.
There are a variety of delicacies but dzowe, prepared from groundnut, roasted corn flour, sugar and spices is a delicacy that sustained warriors of old and must be a takeaway for the tourists. It is very filling. As for drinks, kele, the refined akpeteshie distilled from sugar cane juice is king. If you find yourself over-indulging it, the hangover – chaser is a bowl of tilapia soup spiced with cloves. This hair-of-the-dog works instantly.
Deha, the sweet frothy wine from palm tress of sandy soils, is al available. For the teetotaler, there is liha, the fermented but non-alcoholic corn drink. Do riot miss a visit to a local distillery where you will be taught the chemistry of tasting and the local descriptions for flavours.
The Atiavis are fiercely religious. For traditional religion, there are a number of deities of which Hogbato is well-known all over the Volta Region. The adherents are many and they congregate every year to pay their obeisance during the Easter.
Time your visit perfectly and do no miss it. Christian faith is even stronger here with the E.P. and Catholic churches looking after the spiritual needs of the larger number of people. Worship with them on Sunday and you wonder why they sing like angels. Could it be the diet? Maybe!
Drumming and dancing come to the people naturally. Whether in jubilation or in mourning, they sing and dance their hearts out. Some of the great Anlo ballads were composed by the Atiavis. You may learn their songs; they are poetical and full of allegories and idioms.
As everything else in their life, they exude variety. Drumming and dancing can be arranged for the tourists at the community centre. You will be missing something if you do not join the beat. The thrill is that no matter how badly off-beat you are, you will be cheered.
What of accommodation? Do not worry. There is the Kumahor Family Guest House, a modern, 33-bed three-star facility that can be easily upgraded to four-star. Food served here is continental or local. The rates are very considerate. It is the owner’s contribution to the promotion of tourism in Atiavi.
How to get there? Take a car from the Accra Central Lorry Station. It is a two-and-half-hour journey. If you are going with your own car from Accra, drive towards Aflao. At Abor turn right. You are assured of a good, tarred road.
Like all small town tourist destinations, you are likely to get bored after three days. So pack in as much activity as possible and say your goodbye within three days. However, if you are the academic type who would want to study the culture of the people, be prepared to stay back for three more months.
Live with families. Share their culture. If you are simply looking for a place to hide, rest, recollect your thoughts and get charged, you can stay as long as you wish.
Or, perhaps, if you should fall in love with Atiavi and plan a holiday home on the waterfront, a small consideration. Families such as Voegborlo, Abodakpi, Gasu, Gamadeku and Badagbor will gladly do this for you.
Dear, tourist, as you say your goodbye, you will remember Atiavi fondly, pleasantly and sweetly. You will speak kindly about her and you will come back soon accompanied by many more friends. You may top up your Atiavi experience with a shopping spree in Lome, only some 35 minutes drive away.
Big game and awesome waterfalls, she has none. But quiet, serene water and friendly people, Atiavi offers in abundance.
Daily Graphic - page: 7 Saturday, October 10, 2009