The Ewe Chief, the River Children and the Lion Mountain

As the taxi turned the corner, heavy and slow (as somehow we’d managed to squeeze in about eight passengers into a five-seater (of course, this is Africa)) the Adaklu Mountain first came into view. The air was hazy, heavy and humid, swirling vultures and black eagles the only thing breaking up the patchy white and blue sky, except of course the might of the green mountain.

“I’m gonna climb that,” I thought, as the taxi huffed along the gritty road.

We soon pulled to the side of the one road that ran through this area, at the base of the mountain, in the little village of Adaklu Goefe. I got out of the car, paid my two cedis, waved goodbye to all the random people I’d just sat sweating on, shoulder-to-shoulder, for about ten minutes, and found myself alone again, in yet another place I’d never been… bliss.

Walking into that powerful feeling of unknown is something I’ve gotten very used to.
It’s all around you, everywhere you look – mud houses, grass rooftops, bricks and rubble and dust making up pathways, lost-looking goats and flocks of chickens floating about nonchalantly, tree-types and bird-types you’ve never really seen before, and that huge mountain, which stretches further than your periphery – nothing is familiar really. Even the clothes you’re wearing.

So why is it that you feel so at home?

I took my camera out of my tatty old military rucksack and began snapping a couple of pictures of the village, and distant shots of the few people who were around. Of course, it wasn’t long before I caught peoples’ attention; a few of the village children came running up, giggling among themselves, stopped and lined-up before me.

“Can I take your picture?” I said, in over-pronounced English.

The eldest smiled, nodded, and they all began laughing again, excited to be in a photo, probably for the first time I imagine.

Naturals! I gave them each a lollipop as a thank you, and they all ran off, laughing some more, to go and tell their friends.

As I began walking into the village, away from the main road, I noticed a sign…

I knew I was in the right place.

People suddenly started to appear from everywhere – I was so excited to be in such a beautiful, quiet little settlement, where motorcars only passed through every twenty minutes or so, usually rammed-full with people. I smiled and waved at everyone I saw, got a lot of smiles back, a few “welcomes” as I was accustomed to in Ghana by now, and people soon began inviting me onto their patch of land, or into their homes, asking me to take their photos… I gladly obliged of course! It was an honour and such a thrill. Eventually I was saying hello and greeting every man, woman and child I passed. There was something so alive and sincere about this place, a beating-heart I’d long been searching for on this global pilgrimage

Eventually, bouncing with delight and waving my followers goodbye, I found the place I’d actually come to see – the Children’s Friend Orphanage. I’d come to spend time with the owners, and their family, and learn a little about what they did and what life was like in this remote village.

As you might expect, I was welcomed with open arms by Ethel, Joseph and their family, and their goats, dogs, cats and ducks! I just adored the simplicity of their life…

I got on very well with the family, bonded quickly, and so it fast became a bit of a routine for me – I would leave Ho, where I was staying, in the early afternoon, collect Mary, their youngest child, from school, and then we’d jump in a tro-tro together and come down to the family home/orphanage. There weren’t many other kids around at this time, so myself, Mary and her friends would practice some English together, do homework and then play a few games.

One time I set up my camera on a tripod and timer and we took a few self-portraits. I let young Mary release the shutter, after which we would run back excitedly into the shot and strike a pose.

Little things bring such joy…

Photos copyright Miss Mary Donker!

I sat on the porch one afternoon and sung Mary a little gospel song that I always seem to sing to myself when on the road. His Eye is on the Sparrow. Mary wanted to sing a bit of O Happy Day too, so I obliged.

I noticed a lot of the village children walking on the path just by the orphanage, toing and froing with buckets and bowls of water on their head. Ethel, noticing my interest, told me they were collecting water from the river, to drink, cook and clean with. “Follow them” she said, and so I did, the melody of my song still stuck in my head…

There were a lot more giggles as I made my way down the pathway with the string of children, mostly girls. I asked them if I could follow – they all smiled shyly, nodded and we soon began walking together. I remember they asked me to sing so I did them a verse of His Eye is On The Sparrow. This was clearly an experience that neither party had experienced before.

This was one of those special moments in my life when I really wanted to take every second in and immortalise it in my mind… Luckily I had my camera to help me.

The children were very happy for me to take their pictures. They made the most beautiful subjects. I adore their portraits.

Do I need to accompany such pictures with words?

As we made our way back up towards the village we sang a little more. My spirits were so lifted. I think all our spirits were. With the mountain behind, it really was a picture perfect moment ~ forever immortalised in my memory.

~

The rains hit one afternoon and, from the sheltered porch, I could barely see the mountain in front. Yet still, the river children were making their way up and down that little dirt pathway…

The power of nature once again stunned me.

~

So it’s 6am, you’re blurry-eyed, life is hitting you in the face again. Remember you made that promise to climb the mountain? Now’s your moment. The moment.

I jumped in a taxi as usual from Ho to the village, and found the mountain once again to be obscured from view, but this time by great all-consuming mists…

I walked through the village, greeting the cheery locals in my usual way. The villagers were of course already awake, this being the coolest time of the day.

I made my way to the very centre, along the little winding paths, to the house that I knew belonged to the village chief. He’d agreed to help me find a guide who could take me to the top of the mountain. We met, shook hands in the Ghana way (those who have been to Ghana will know what I mean), he invited me into his hut and we exchanged a few pleasantries, I told him how much I loved the village, and then he said “this is your boy, Charles” handing over this smiling twelve-year-old.

I couldn’t believe this kid was gonna take me to the top! But this is Africa, and this was no fat English kid who probably finds climbing the stairs challenging enough. Apparently Charles had climbed the mountain many times – all the village children do once they’re old enough, and it’s a good way for them to earn a tip.

So me and Charles started our journey. I thanked the Ewe Chief and promised him neither of us would die.

Within minutes we were wading through thick tropical vegetation. The place was so alive! Felt like I was back in the Indian jungle!

Charles began to laugh at my jalaba, and couldn’t believe I was actually going to try climbing a mountain in it. He told me that often when people had come to climb the mountain in the past they’d given up after the first few miles. I was determined NOT to be one of those people… I tucked my jalaba into my underwear to make it a lot shorter and got my James Bond stride on …and probably looked even more like a prat.

This kid was zipping up the mountain! It was so steep and the pathway thick with morning dew, and rains from the previous monsoons, very slippery and actually much more perilous than I initially thought. The easiest way up the mountain seemed to be up a very steep rocky slope… I’m pretty sure I’m the first idiot to climb a mountain in a jalaba and a pair of soggy espadrilles. And probably the most determined too.

Surprisingly I actually managed a bit of conversation on this climb (which was basically just a complete body work-out trying to keep up with this kid who seemed to be running up the damn thing). Charles told me about his father, who had left him at birth, and how he had gone to live at the orphanage after his mother died. He seemed so grown up, so frank and grounded. I just couldn’t believe the level-head he had on those shoulders, the amount of life he had already experienced at such a young age. He seemed so happy, regardless of his past, proactive about school and education, and thankful that he could now live with his aunt in the village with his cousins. He was courageous to me, brave. A warrior. Somehow his talk was inspiring me to be stronger on this climb.

Occasionally we would stop to take in the view. I have to say, we were climbing very quickly. Charles said so too, a quicker pace than most, so I wasn’t a complete leek of a climber it seemed.

We talked about music and Charles soon told me that Michael Jackson was in hell. I asked him why and he told me it is because he changed his skin to white. It was such a bizarre thing to hear compared to the image we have of MJ in the West. Charles asked me a lot about white people and why our skin is so light. He asked me if I was born white or if I changed my skin colour at some point from black. I was just amazed. The differences in our culture really stood out to me at this point, and yet it made me feel only closer to him, especially as it was he, a lad half my age, who was leading me…

We soon entered tropical woodland and I felt instantly at home. Shade, damp earth, little fleeting glimpses of life scurrying past, spirals of light in openings among the tall trees.

Charles, aged twelve. Survivor and warrior of life. An inspiration to me.

I mentioned to Charles that I’d been talking with a guy called Alex down in the village who told me there were lions all over the mountain, even though I didn’t really think this was true. Charles quickly refuted the statement saying his ancestors had killed all the lions generations before.

Funny though, from that point on every rustle among the leaves, every whistling bird, or chattering monkey, became a lion in our minds. Charles had his blade held high, and we both began to creep along the winding pathway, scanning and and talking in hushed voices.

Then with a cry of “God is great!” Charles suddenly started running, saying we’d made it to the top! I ran too. It was euphoric after such an arduous climb, my first mountain climb.

“God is great!” I cried, too, as we made our way to the edge. The fog was still thick which was probably a blessing as, even though I adore nature, I can get a little vertigo in huge open spaces. But this only makes me more determined to let go and embrace heights… After we played around a bit with Charles’ grass blade pretending to be warriors and snapping victorious pictures of each other, I crawled over, sat right on the very edge of the highest peak, looking down and around with wonder at the greatness of our achievement, and of God’s powerful nature.

What a sight!

Africa you blow me away – your beauty in creation, in nature and your great people. Ghana truly restored my faith in earth and humanity during my first visit. It is wild, untamed and free!

Speaking of which… Charles told me that he did spot a lion on the mountain that day after all… although I think this one’s pretty harmless, keeps himself to himself, prefers to be alone…

J x

25 Comments

  1. This is a truly inspiring journey you made. I love the portraits of the children and your journey with Charles. To the top of the mountain! A fascinating insight. Makes me long to see more of this rich globe. M.

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    1. Thank you, M. This leg of my journey was very special. In fact my journey through Ghana as a whole was sort of divine. I don’t know, think I was very lucky, struck gold or something. Other than a couple of minor incidences I had nothing but incredible inspiring experiences. What earth! Hope you get to explore in your time. Jx

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    1. Absolutely! I mean, I seem to go into a different ‘mode’ when travelling, sort of very focused and calm. My focus takes over fear mostly. But I find fear and excitement overlap a lot when experiencing such incredible places as these. I definitely felt the fear peering over the edge of the mountain, especially as the mists parted and I realised how high up I really was… but the fear didn’t stop me, which is rather the point. Jx

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  2. There is a quality in your photos that truly touch my heart. The people of Africa are amazing. I met a man from Uganda this past fall and it was his smile. Oh what a smile. A man seared by violence but a man at peace with the world through his faith in his God. I was afraid to think about going to visit him – until recently. I believe I will go visit next year. That decision is urged on by gazing upon your photos. Inspiring, very inspiring. I believe I am looking forward to going now! 🙂

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    1. Such encouraging words, Linda! You must go if you feel that stirring. It’s funny, whenever I working out where to go next I wait until I get that stirring twisting nervous excited feeling in my stomach and toes – then I know I have to go. That’s the calling… The people of Africa ARE amazing – at least the people I’ve met thus far. Ghana was very good to me. Cannot wait to be back on the Mother Continent soon… Jx

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  3. A gorgeous post as usual! Incredible scenes you portray and connections with the people and land you are in Africa suits you sir!!

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        1. Yes! Booked flights back a couple of weeks ago. Starting with Ghana again. I’ve just got back from Spain and now am focusing on some fund-raising for my orphanage in Ghana. Will finish up in The Gambia. Travelling overland.

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