Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Prayer Mountain and The Magazine (Week 10)

Abesua Prayer Mountain

View on Abesua Mt.
I have earlier presented bits of the lively and from the point of view of European Protestants commercialized and rather aggressive religious life in Ghana. A deeper look on religion in Ghana was provided by a trip to the Abesua Prayer Mountain, rising from the village of Abesua about an hour north-east from Kumasi. To get there you have to suffer a long and dusty journey that left most of our companionship coughing, wiping our eyes and looking like the results of a horrible spray-tanning accident. It was the first time I’ve cursed the fact that most tro-tros in Kumasi are missing a window or two. In Abasi you will have to pay the offensive fee of 20 cents to get access to the trail leading to the top. Being a Ghanaian mountain, the hike up is actually very nice, done in the shade of dense tropical forest and takes only about an hour.

Village on Abesua Mt.
The Abesua Prayer Mountain is more an escarpment than a mountain which makes it accessible and suitable for human activity. The top of the mountain is actually a flat, rocky plateau that contains several small villages. The inhabited area on the top can be divided into two distinct sacred sites. Both of them offer a good view of the likewise green and flat, low-lying surroundings that challenges the general understanding of this part of the world as being notoriously densely populated.

One of the sites on the top includes a small church surrounded by some supporting services, such as food stalls, bible salesmen and a mini-market, for tourists and pilgrims alike. The second site is more interesting. It can best be described as a camp for pious pilgrims that climb the mountain to pray in peace. Here one can rent a mattress in small, simple cottages. Not other services can be found. The area is dotted by individuals or groups connecting with higher powers in various ways. Members of a group, apparently praying for a recently deceased member, were praying, shouting, crying, rolling on the ground and shaking. Others were of course (us being in the most musical of the worlds regions) singing and dancing. I talked to a man who claimed he had spent already a week alone on the top, fasting and praying and I don’t see a reason not to believe him. According to him, god is definitely closer at the top, especially in the hours before dawn. As we were talking, a lone woman kept on loudly reciting prayers just a few meters from us, as if being in another world.

View on Abesua Mt.
It is curious that the sites at Abesua are not treated as in any way sacred or mystical by the people actually living there. Apparently it is the relative inaccessibility and the need for hiking a distance for strangers that gives the mountain its religious touch.

A blog post such as this will not do justice to the intensity of the atmosphere and the religious life of these people. There is something way more serious, more real and alien in African Christianity, as seen at Abesua. However, at the same time reverends and other preachers are treated as rock-stars in the cities and people keep contesting over me to join the services of their specific church. I have yet not attended a single one and probably won’t. But still, why does it matter in which church I would pray to the same god? Discussions with T-Bone in his T-Mobile (A 30-year old, perfectly kept, navy blue Mercedes-Benz 230CE) revealed that not everyone sees the churches as anything but commercial and hypocritical entities.

The Magazine

North of the city, close to Suame (almost feels like asking the tro-tro to take me home), there's one of the largest business agglomerations I’ve ever seen or heard of. Mr. T, our guide for the day, picked us up at the GOIL (Ghana Oil Company Limited) station at Suame Roundabout in a car with a Polo tag in the rear that definitely was not a Volkswagen Polo (Why on earth would someone want to falsely define their car as one?). Soon, the landscape turned to rust and fumes replacing everything else. So this is The Magazine.

Waste management in The Magazine
The Kumasi Central Market is said to be the largest of its kind in West-Africa. The Magazine is the Central Market of car and metal workshops. This is where the thousands of tro-tros in the city are born and come to die. The size of a decent central European town and hosting thousands and thousands of workshops, this is where anything can be rebuilt or taken apart. We walked for more than an hour in the maze of car-part shops, tool workshops, welding workshops, painting workshops, metal workshops and the like. The small current flowing through the area has to be the most toxic in the world, with paint, oil and other waste flowing amongst millions of plastic bags, cans and barrels. Still a whole family of pigs was happily roaming in the mud. Also inhaling the air feels a bit suicidal with all the fumes of oil, rust, welding gases and gasoline hanging in the air.

Stephen told me not to underestimate the people in The Magazine. They might seem to be mere blue-collar artisans with dirty hands and really resent anything approaching theory, books or academic education, but many of them have made fortunes with their business. This is the only place in the world where I've seen one of those brand new Dodge Vipers driving by.

Waiting to be recycled
The people at The Magazine can be seen to make their fortunes thanks to global production patterns. Raw materials are extracted in Africa, cars and other products are produced and used elsewhere and shipped back to Africa when deemed useless. This could be described as exporting pollution in addition to out-of-date technology, thereby fine tuning the balance between carbon footprints to be just a bit less embarrassing for industrialized countries. In places like The Magazine around Africa these machines get repaired, reused and recycled over and over again. In the middle of an alleyway there's an apartment-size ship cylinder waiting to be melted and transformed to whatever you can imagine.

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