Takoradi, Village Weavers and a Huge Ugly Duckling

Takoradi BeachWe spent last weekend in Takoradi, a beautiful coastal city about five hours west of Accra.  When Elder Ronald Rasband came to Ghana last month, he divided the Takoradi Stake, so Michelle and I headed out there to help our recently called regional auditing leader in that area train the two newly called stake presidencies and their auditing teams.

With just under half a million people, one fifth the size of Accra, Takoradi has a considerably different feel than the national capital, more like a grand old dame who has DSCN1011seen much better days, but still fondly remembers them.  There are several very nice local hotels, including a Marriott, a surprising amount of international commerce and more evidence of a growing economy than you see in Accra’s mix of stagnant poverty and the bloated public sector, generally mired in its entitlement mentality.  I assume that problem holds true for a quite a number of national capitals.  Takoradi seems to have a much higher living standard than we see in most of Accra and the outlying villages. One quick sign of the difference was the comment of one of the Takoradi stake presidents that he is encouraging members who can, to pay tithing with checks instead of cash, a concept not even imaginable in most of the rest of the country.

During most of Ghana’s colonial period, Takoradi, with Ghana’s first and westernmost deep water seaport and rail access to extensive timber and mineral resources, served as the West African headquarters for many British firms.  Its plentiful beaches, temperate climate, slow-paced environment and cheap, abundant local labor for housekeeping duties made it an inviting foreign posting during that era. Sister Peine, a recently arrived senior missionary who is the wife of our Area Mental Health Advisor, was born in Ghana, since her father worked for a British lumber company based in Takoradi for the first decade of her life.  They moved back to the states shortly after Ghana was granted independence in the late 1950s and this is her first time back.  It has been interesting to get her perspective on how things have changed, fifty years into independence.  Her former home is now an operating bank on the Takoradi waterfront, but most of the other landmarks she remembers have fallen into disrepair.

Even so, Takoradi still has semblances of its privileged past, with many large estates surviving in varying stages of maintenance, signs of recent economic growth and a nice scattering of more upscale residences.  With the gentle breezes, the sandy beaches and the smaller size, it has a cleaner, slower paced, more upbeat feel.

After arriving, we settled down in our hotel, and noticed a lot of loud noise coming from either side of the hotel.  On the one end, there was a construction project underway that thankfully, closed down for the weekend. From the other direction we were getting a bright, but incessant chattering that kept going for the next couple of days.

DSCN0970It turns out that there was a massive, hundred foot tall tree next to  that was the home of several hundred Village Weavers.  Weavers are stocky birds about 6-7 inches long that nest in colonies in a single tree.  Each of the males builds 3-5 coarsely woven nests from green strips of reeds, grass leaves or palm blades and once completed is a kidney-shaped structure with a large entrance on the underside.

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After completion of the nests, the male will defend his small territory around his nests, striving to attract females to his nests. Once she accepts, he adds a short entrance tunnel, while the female lines the interior with soft grass heads and feathers. The female usually lays between 2-5 eggs, which are incubated for about 12 days. The male assists in feeding the chicks for the three weeks before they leave the nest.DSCN1089

We arrived in the evening, with the sun setting behind the tree, so we only saw silhouettes, but caught occasional yellow flashes of the birds.  The next morning, as the sun came up, the tree was fully lit, displaying their brilliant yellow bodies and wings during the morning frenzy while they were feeding their young.

We noticed that there was very little activity on the far right side of the tree, where an apparently Ugly Duckling member of the brood was perched. Like the adopted swan in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale, this ungainly interloper was a bit larger, had quite different color and markings and didn’t seem to be fully accepted by the rest of the colony.

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Actually, the intruder hawk seemed to be genuinely uninterested in the rest of the occupants in his tree, and busied himself preening, luxuriating in the morning sun and occasionally quizzically surveying the beehive of activity going on around him in the tree.

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The weavers evidently got used to his presence and the tree came back to life as they busied themselves with their morning housekeeping and feeding chores, oblivious to the massive, red-headed carnivore stepchild parked in the middle of their town square.

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