It's a sunny morning when I hit the road, bound for Kumasi, the pride of the Ashanti Region, and the second largest city in Ghana. Over the years I have trod the Accra-Kumasi route so much that the traditional family game on such trips is to guess which town follows which. Nothing like a bit of competitive banter to claim your place in the 'local knowledge' hall of fame. This time though, I'm with my grandmother, and it strikes me that she may not exactly find my little game fun. It means I have to amuse myself on this particular journey, so I settle back to do just that.
Kumasi is about a four-hour drive from Accra. From the capital, the journey takes you through some towns in the Eastern Region, before you enter the Ashanti Region. On the road, you can bet on feasting your eyes on delightful sights: mountains, cows, herds of sheep, fresh produce, amusing names of places in the local language and many other things. It is a treat for the senses.
Along the road, you will see towns like:
Nsawam - home to notable food processing companies and freshly baked bread that is the stuff of legends.
Teacher Mante - I wonder who Mr Mante was to have had a town named after him. I imagine a quietly assertive man who instilled order and drew many to him.
Kyekyewere - Fascinating name. This is actually an Akan word that translates as 'comforting'.
Suhum - a bustling town which used to put some fear in me as child. It could be because in the Twi language, 'sum' means darkness; without light or electricity, and for some reason I thought the name of the town meant the inhabitants lived in pitch blackness always.
Apedwa Junction - clever new road which allows travellers to bypass Kibi, which used to be one of my favourites as a child. I have a vague recollection of a town with trees lining the street.
Osino - from here the Kwahu mountains are visible, looming in the distance, meeting clear, fluffy clouds at its highest peak. Picturesque. Look out for a seemingly happening chop bar, 'Call me madam'
Enyirisi - Believe it or not, Enyirisi is how to say England in the Akan language. Makers of baskets, mortar and pestle for pounding fufu, and other paraphernalia
Jejeti - The phonetics of this town amuses me much. I don't know why. My Turkish Cypriot friend, Cansu, suggests it's because it rhymes with spaghetti. Home to Okumkom chop bar.
Nkawanda no 1 and 2 - I struggled to pronounce the name of this town when I was younger. It sounds like it should be an onomatopoeia.
Nkawkaw - Bustling, hustling, pulsing. The noise! The people! The mountains! Oh, the mountains (Kwahu Beposo)! This town and its environs is party to the legendary paragliding festivities in Ghana during Easter. Nkawkaw lives up to its name - red hot.
After this point, despite my valiant attempt not to, I give in to sleep. When I wake up with a start, we're already on Ashanti territory. It means I miss the huge billboard that bears the words, 'You're now entering the Ashanti Region' or 'Ashanti welcomes you.' The region is home to towns like:
Konongo - After years of believing it as a chid, I know that this is NOT where one goes to get 'ngo' (oil), as those teasing adults would have had me believe.
Kubease - literally 'under the coconut tree' (kube - coconut, ase - under). I scan the horizon expectantly as the car speeds past, but I decide that coconut tree must be more inland than roadside.
Boankra - the site of Ghana's dry inland port under construction near Kumasi, to ease congestion at the main harbour in Ghana - Tema Harbour.
Pretty soon, I see some activity ahead and know before we're close that the town we're approaching is:
Ejisu - this is an extra special town in the history of the Ashanti. Many gazillion moons ago (1900 to be exact), a ferociously talented woman with gum-snapping sass ruled the roost here. Her name was Yaa Asantewaa, and she was the Queenmother of Ejisu. At a time when the Ashanti kingdom was on very shaky ground, what with its king, Prempeh I, and other key figures of his government exiled to Seychelles by the British, Yaa Asantewaa rallied the men to fight in what became known as the Yaa Asantewaa War. She is truly the defining figure of women empowerment at the turn of the 20th century. Check out the full story on good ol' Wiki : http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaa_Asantewaa
Bonwire - further down the road from Ejisu, a little road meanders to the left, leading to Bonwire, the Kente weaving capital of Ghana. Kente is a hand-woven, intimately detailed cloth that is worn on ceremonial occasions like naming ceremonies, weddings and graduation. It forms part of the very fabric of a culture that is colourful, bearing much history and creativity.
The car hurtles down the road, and I feel a whoosh of excitement as finally, finally I glance up and see, 'Stay connected whilst you're in town. Tigo welcomes you to Kumasi.'
We've arrived. This is Kumasi. This is Oseikrom. This is the Garden City of Ghana!