Thursday, April 30, 2009

Beware of Bats!

I love bats. I find them to be delightful, quirky creatures (you know, mammals who try to be birds) who have done a lot of good for the world (eating mosquitoes and inspiring submarine technology, for instance). However, they can be very tricky sometimes. A word of warning: Beware of bats that trick you into thinking they’re shooting stars. Sometimes, the bats fly low enough at night to have their bellies lit up by the street lights, and it’s quite deceiving. I’ve seen several. It’s like, you go to make a wish, and the “star,” instead of burning out and disappearing, continues flapping across the sky and out of sight. You feel kind of stupid when you wish upon a bat.
So, although I (unwittingly) wished upon a bat on Sunday night more times than I’d like to admit, I did see four genuine shooting stars. Lucky me! Four wishes in one night! (If you’re wondering what it was I wished for... ha! Yeah right! I’ll never tell. They were good wishes, and if I tell they won’t come true.) That may seem like an exaggeration, but I really, truly saw four shooting stars. That’s one of the advantages of spending the night on the roof in a very small West African Muslim village, sleeping under the stars. You can see soooooo many stars it borderlines ridiculous.

The other advantages are that it’s MUCH cooler on the roof (the guest rooms don’t have fans), and also, it only costs Gh¢5.00 per night (about $3.75 USD). The price included a meal of rice and stew, but the proprietor of the Salia Brothers Guesthouse, Al Hassan, also shared his tisert with us. (Tisert is ground maize that has a texture similar to dough.) There were eight obruni girls, volunteers or students from Europe and America, and we all squatted around a big bowl of tisert and soup, eating with our hands like Ghanaian women do. All that food and a night under the stars for the price of a frappechino! On top of that, we had a session talking with a “rural intellectual.” He was Al Hassan’s uncle who happened to be visiting that night, the village sage whose words of wisdom were translated from the local dialect into English by Al Hassan.

Larabanga is a small village in the Northern Region of Ghana that is mostly known for two things: Its famous mud and stick mosque that is disputably the oldest existing building in West Africa (allegedly built in 1421 after the village’s first chief threw a spear from a “mystic stone” that landed at the site of the present day mosque. The mosque’s foundations had miraculously appeared, and the structure built on top still stands to this day. It is truly a gift from Allah, although unfortunately, because I’m not Muslim, I was not allowed to enter.) AND Larabanga is known for being the entry point for Mole National Park.

I say the best part of Larabanga is the Salia Brother’s Guesthouse. Oh, it’s not five-star by anyone’s standards. The little room I shared with my travel buddy, Molly, was painted a cheery bright blue. Just look up. Our ceiling had character! It consisted entirely of tree branches laid across the bigger branches that stretched from wall to wall. There was also a bed with a dusty white sheet and a table covered with an orange cloth. The shared shower and toilet were tucked away in a corner of the compound. The shower was just a little shower-sized room with a bucket of water and a hole in the wall near the ground for the water to drain outside into the gutter... but that’s almost normal for me. The “toilet” was a room about the size of the shower with a deep square hole and a little trash can for the used toilet paper (for clean toilet paper, ask Al Hassan, and he’ll let you borrow the roll).

But the view that night... the view was much greater than five-star! Five million stars is more like it. Al Hassan carried our mattresses up to roof, and that was where we slept. We had to climb up a rickety ladder that was really just an enormous tree branch resting against the wall that had been carved with grooves for stepping. It was difficult to climb up, and even more difficult to climb down, but I managed it several times without falling once. The sky was so beautiful I didn’t want to close my eyes, so I lied awake for quite a while. The moon was nowhere to be seen, which normally makes me lonely, but that night, I was secretly grateful for the new moon, because without the moon the millions of stars shone that much more brightly.

Sleeping under the stars, caressed by a cool West African breeze, was such an incredible, unforgettable experience! Not only did I get four real wishes (wishes on bats don’t count), but also I had a very nice chat with God; it was one of those delightful spiritual experiences as well. And as my sleepiness took over and my eyes resisted staying open, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was what marriage is like; you know, falling asleep every night with a smile on your face, smiling because the last thing you see before you sleep is the most beautiful sight imaginable. When I woke up in the middle of the night, all I had to do was peek open my eyes, and there it was, my sky with the stars, shining their comfort. I’m thinking I’ll have to end up with someone pretty freaking amazing if he’ll ever hope to make me feel like that night in Larabanga.

But yeah, those tricky bats. Beware.


JMJDave said...

Awesome Kate! What a great experience! I love marveling at the multitude of stars when I'm in the mountains, but it must be even more amazing viewing them with perfect vision on a dark night while comfortably laying down on a mattress…
You are one lucky girl!

Laura said...

Oh babe. How lovely. Look at you, traveling alone around Africa as an obruni girl. You've got guts, yes-sireeee. I'm so proud of you, miss you very much, and I am even slightly- no, very- jealous i must say, but that is trumped even more-so by my happiness for you in all that you are writing about. You don't know how happy I am that you finally had the allowance of time, effort, and health (and, since money isn't an issue--pshh)to do this.
Oh, and in case you doubt yourself, it is DEFINITELY going to take some special man to win your wild heart.
luv uuuuu