Life on the Volta River

mapOn the last Tuesday of February, we took a mid-week Preparation Day (since we spend most Saturdays on the road in training or doing financial reviews, we grab an occasional P-day whenever we can fit it in) and went with a guide, four other missionary couples about two hours east of Accra to a small town near the point where the Volta River empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Volta and its three tributaries start north of Ghana in Burkina Faso and run the length of Ghana south to the Guinea Gulf.  The river system drains an area the size of California and contains Lake Volta, the world’s largest reservoir, built in the 1960s which is half again as large as the Great Salt Lake.  At the mouth of the Volta, 250 miles downstream from the dam, it discharges 42,000 feet per second into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a pretty impressive river.

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Michelle at the mouth of the Volta River, river on the left, Atlantic Ocean on the right.

When we arrived at the village on the shore of the Volta, our party boarded a large canoe fitted with an outboard motor and headed a few miles downstream to a sandbar where the river empties into the Atlantic and pulled over onto a sandbar, about a hundred feet wide that straddles the Volta and the ocean and spent aIMG_3081 while relaxing on the beach.  It was interesting to watch the slow current of the broad river on the one side of the sandbar and the gentle ocean waves lapping at the sand on the other.

We then re-boarded the canoe and motored several miles upstream.  It was interesting to watch the various scenes along the shore.  The east bank of the river was mostly pristine dense vegetation, while the western bank was lined in several areas with swarms of oceangoing fishing vessels, most of them simply varying sizes of canoes, interspersed with occasional modern commercial ships.

Volta Riverside home 1

Likewise, the western shore was dotted with varying types of riverside habitations.  At one extreme were the opulent estates where wealthy Ghanaians escaped the congestion of the city to relax and enjoy the lush, serene river views from their decks, porches and docks, with gentle breezes drifting inland from the nearby ocean.

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Volta River home with its own amusement park and water slide
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Bath time on the river bank

For kicks, the wealthy can always rev the huge engines on their out sized powerboats, plowing broad wakes across the broad Volta, disrupting the local fishing vessels and washing up waves on the local children playing or bathing along the riverbank, where local villages, feature much more modest residences.
These villages typically have small shacks with walls fashioned from mud bricks and roofs made from either thatch palm fronds or irregular sheets of corrugated metal.  But regardless of the size of the home, Ghanaians all cherish the mighty Volta.

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Remote villages nestled under the palm trees along the Volta River
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Island recharging station for Empower Electric NGO

For the final leg of our journey, we headed upriver a couple of miles to visit a small village located on an island in the middle of the Volta River.  Our guide for the day-trip as the project director for a Ghanaian NGO that provides electricity to about forty-two schools in remote locations across Ghana in villages that are off the electrical grid.

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Generating electricity on the island

The electrification project started with playground equipment built with embedded dynamos that convert the unbounded youthful energy of a schoolyard into stored energy that lights the homes where the families live, allowing the kids to study after the sun goes down.  The system collects energy from a playground merry-go-round, a few recently added windmills and solar panels and feeds it into batteries the size of a traditional car battery.  In addition to providing simple electricity for the school itself, the batteries are then leased to families living on the island and provides them with simple lighting for several rooms in their homes, recharges their cellphones and powers their radios for about a month before needing a recharge at the central location.  It was fun to see a creative solution to provide technology innovations to meet fundamental human needs in a remote pocket of the world.

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Nature’s energy drink

DSCN0112At the end of the day and after several hours in the sun, Michelle claimed that her body was screaming for an electrolyte infusion and bemoaning the fact that there is no generally available Gatorade in Ghana.  Our guide ushered us over to a shaded area where we procured some local produce and discovered that the locals have amazing age-old solutions to challenges that our “civilized” world continues to spend boatloads of money trying to resolve.   It turns out that the vitamins and minerals in a water and the soft inner flesh of a freshly picked coconut provide exactly what an exhausted body in the tropics requires.  And it helps feed local kids instead of a Madison Avenue ad campaign. Not a bad way to close out the day.

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One thought on “Life on the Volta River

  1. Pickled coconut? Who’d uv thought? And how can the product of a mere tree, enhanced by a simple pickling process, ever compare with flavored slops emanating from the stainless steel outlet ports of mighty beverage factories, where tons of lovingly selected chemicals are dumped into vats of (pure?) water, strenuously processed, and then disgorged for all to enjoy —at suitable commercial rates, of course.

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