Saturday, July 17, 2010

Monkeys and an Angel

Thursday, July 15, 2010

We left Ho this morning by way of Pastor Thywill's home. He is in 9 days of fasting and mourning for his wife; we did not stay long but we wanted to tell him we appreciated the use of the house for the team.

After fueling the bus and car, we were on the road to Logba Tota -- one of my favorite places on earth!

Every year we wind up our trip by a visit to the mountaintop village of Logba Tota. It is a wildly beautiful and spiritual place. As we made our way through the countryside, I noticed men mowing the shoulders of the road with machetes -- back-breaking work, for sure. Fields of corn and cassava dotted the hills.

As a surprise, Chief Takyi arranged for us to visit the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. We turned off the main road and drove 5 km on a rough, dusty road through bush that was taller than the bus. At last we entered a clearing by a sign "You are entering the Monkey Sanctuary."

We gathered together as a young man introduced himself as Emmanual and said he would be our guide for the hike into the jungle. We began to follow him down a narrow path. We had not walked very far when he showed us a "strangling tree" -- a parasitic tree that was literally strangling a palm tree by growing around and over it. It almost looked like a giraffe's neck, along side the palm.

We followed him further into the jungle, listening as he explained the history of the village and the Mona Monkeys that safely live there.

The Tafi people migrated to this area from the Central Regino of Ghana by the Volta River. They were considered to be fierce fighters, and brought along their idols to worship. They built a shrine to the idol, then when they went to war, they'd leave their belongings in the forest at the shrine. Whenever they won the war, they'd find all of their belongings in the forest, safe and secure at the shrine, being guarded by the Mona monkeys. They decided that the forest was sacred, and made it a preserved sanctuary. The only trees felled were those needed to be removed for a roadway. The monkeys were not to be killed because they were considered messengers to their god.
In 1908, Christianity was introduced and they did away with their idols. Some monkeys were killed; some trees were cut down. In the 1980's, John Mason visited the area and began researching the monkeys. He advised the people of the benefits of conserving the forest and protecting the monkeys. Some non-governmental organizations got involved, creating an official sanctuary of 80-90 acres in 1996. At this time, five colonies of monkeys live here -- the total number of monkeys is about 300. Each colony has a leader.

As we followed Emmanuel deeper into the jungle, he began making a shrill noise to call the monkeys. Before very long we heard a rustle over our heads -- and suddenly there were several monkeys in the trees by the path! Their leader, Commando, was a HUGE fellow, and he kept his distance from us humans. Emmanuel gave us banana halves and we held them up for the other monkeys to peel and snatch the fruit from our hands. It was SO MUCH FUN!!! We laughed and took photographs until our bananas ran out. Then we heard a deep grunt: Commando was telling his "family" it was time to move along. And just as quickly as they arrived, they left us.

This was absolutely one of the coolest "treats" I've ever experienced! I want to return to Tafi Atome again!!

We boarded the bus and drove back out to the main road -- but crossed it: we were on our way up the mountain! Up, up, up we climbed; my ears began popping. About halfway up, the temperature noticeably dropped. The Kofi manuevered that huge bus around all of the hairpin turns -- except the final one up the driveway to Fount Hill, where we would spend the night. So all of the luggage had to be off-loaded at the base of the hill and we carried our belongings the last leg.

The views from Fount Hill are indescribable -- breathtaking African vistas; in one direction you can see Lake Volta in the far distance. Look in another direction, and you see high, rocky bluffs. Still another direction reveals the town of "upstairs" Logba Tota. Chief Takyi's family owns Fount Hill. There are two houses at the top of the hill; one is new this year and has three bedrooms with private baths and a living room. I learned it was built in just 3 weeks' time when family members needed a place to stay when their beloved aunt passed away.

We enjoyed the scenery, had some dinner, and then walked down the hill and up into the town for a worship service in the center of the village. The area was lit by some really bright fluorescent bulbs (we all know how stage actors feel -- we couldnt see a thing because the lights blinded us!). The drumming and dancing was rhythmic and many of us joined in the dance. Pastor John brought a message, translated by Pastor Bertrand; later Pastor Frank also spoke to the worshipers.

As the service ended and we started back to our home for the night, I saw my friend Agben. I always look for Agben; I met him at my very first visit in 2001. He has Downs Syndrome, and is in his late 20's -- Pastor Bertrand is his brother. We'd brought him a bouncy ball that lit up when it hit the ground. The pure joy on his face makes me smile, just remembering ....
He hugged me really tightly, and held my hand while we began to walk toward the house. When he left, he smiled again, then shyly gave me a kiss on the cheek. My eyes filled with tears -- what a sweet and gentle soul Agben is. I know that one of these days, I'll make that trek up the mountain and he will be flying with the angels. But for now, he's an angel here on earth and I am honored to be his friend.

Later that evening as we lay down to sleep, the misty fog turned in to a gentle rain, pattering on the leaves of the trees sheltering our Team 2010 in the house on Fount Hill.

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