Friday, March 18, 2011

Jurassic Park


Now let me start off by saying I feel just a little bit guilty about this particular post.  It’s easy to kick a man when he’s down, you see, and I feel like I’m doing that to an extent.  The man in question I propose to kick is Mr. Asafo-Adjaye Boateng, creator of what I can only assume is Ghana’s first attempt at the post card, which I am simultaneously delighted and ashamed to present today.  And in a broader sense I’ll be kicking Ghanaians around in general, for being unsophisticated and lacking the natural ability for salesmanship, and just missing the point of it all.  But these little post cards are just so delightful, so wonderfully weird and outrageous that I simply must share them with you all.  Please understand my heart is in the right place.  I think.

Let’s talk about post cards for a bit first.  You know, set the stage.  I imagine post cards have been around about as long as tourism.  I mean really, what’s the point of going somewhere exotic, or beautiful, or exciting, if you can’t gloat about it to your friends back home?  And being able to gloat to them while you are still traveling is vastly preferred to simply regaling them with foggy tales of adventures past while comfortably seated back home.  Enter the post card.  Buy it, scribble on it (“Wish you were here!  NOT!  For who would I gloat to otherwise!”), stamp it, mail it, and have another drink. 

I imagine the first group of tourists to a particular location, say Ghana for example, maybe could not find post cards because, hey, no one told the Ghanaians that they were supposed to have post cards at the ready for these eager first tourists.  And quite frankly the Ghanaians are not the wealthiest of people, and you can’t expect them to have traveled much and sent or received many post cards of their own.  But the Ghanaians were a quick study, and rest assured they would come up with something for the next batch of intrepid tourists.

And of course in 2011 the post card has largely been replaced by some sort of combination of the digital camera, the internet, and facebook, (aka the iPhone); but even 5 or 10 years ago post cards were still an important part of traveling.  And the farther and more exotic the locale, the greater the desire on the part of the traveler to send post cards, and the greater measure of joy, envy, and admiration on the part of the receiver to view an idealized and colorful vision of said far-flung exotic locale.

So one can imagine the heightened excitement on the part of me and my fellow Peace Corps volunteers to find wonderful and fantastic post cards upon arrival in Ghana to send back to our jealous friends and fretting family members back home.  But we found something so fantastic, so absurd and wonderful, that it both destroyed the entire concept of post cards, and yet beautifully illustrated how something that seems obvious and simple to us can get so Lost in Translation.  So without further rambling I present the “Please Visit Ghana” Postcard Number 7.


Yes, this is an actual postcard I purchased in Ghana.

God bless them for trying.  Where shall I begin?  First of all, I will give Mr. Boateng credit for choosing a tropical beach backdrop for this particular scene.  I’ll even give him the benefit of the doubt that this particular beach scene may even been from Ghana.  Something wicked in the back of my mind tells me otherwise, though.  The water looks too aquamarine, the sand too white, the surf too tranquil.  But it’s close, and that actually counts for something as you’ll see in a later post.  Although I’ve never been myself, I’m assuming this is a copy of a post card from the Caribbean somewhere.  Let’s choose the Cayman Islands.
 Here is a picture from the Cayman Islands.  Just sayin’


But of course that is the least strange part of the post card.  One can’t help but notice that several items have been overlaid on the beach scene, in order to provide a truly wondrous panorama detailing several aspects of Ghanaian tourism.  The plane, certainly, a nice Ghana Airways DC-10 I believe, indicates several justifiably positive things about Ghana; one can fly there, which is convenient, and Ghana is wealthy enough to afford a state airline, which is a source of national pride and certainly indicates some level of modernity and implied comfort to the potential traveler.  The fact that this is just a drawing of a plane superimposed on a beach scene that is probably not even in Ghana can be overlooked.
In fact if this were an actual photograph, ignoring for a moment the rather arresting dinosaurs in the foreground (oh yes, we will get to them momentarily), I imagine the low elevation and steep left-hand turn of the plane probably indicate that it is in fact about to execute a cataclysmic nose-dive into the surf at post card stage right.  Perhaps the pilot is aiming for the dinosaur.  Point being we should be grateful that this is a staged scene, and in no way indicative of typical goings-on at the beach in Ghana.  And I should know, having spent New Year’s Eve at Busua beach in 1993.  I don’t recall any planes crashing into dinosaurs that weekend.  But I wasn’t the last person awake, either, so, you know, anything is possible.
Now forgetting the airplane, and the beach scene, it is likely that your eyes were first drawn to the two lovely miniature Tyrannosaurus Rex eyeing you with beady-eyed malice and guarding either the throne, or the approach to the beach, or the rowboat.  Now once again, I must put forth a disclaimer stating that I did not travel the entire length and breadth of Ghana during my short stay there, but I can tell you with utmost confidence that I did not see, nor hear of anyone else seeing any dinosaurs while I was there.  One time a baboon crossed the road in front of our bus en route from Accra to my town, Boso, which must have been a fairly rare occurrence judging by the excitement its galloping crossing generated in the entirety of the van, but no actual dinosaurs were to be found. 

Now us sophisticated travelers have an implicit understanding that a postcard is supposed to show the recipient something that you as the traveler may have actually seen.  I can tell you that not only did we not see any dinosaurs in Ghana, not even miniature Tyrannosaurus Rex, but that Ghanaians to a man steadfastly will tell you that dinosaurs actually never existed.  Ever.  Anywhere.  All a hoax.  Ghanaians are by and large a religious lot; they will tell you in no uncertain terms that dinosaurs are a myth, perpetrated by atheist archeologists for the express purpose of driving church membership down and encouraging people to become pagan sinners.  So this is equivalent to someone in the United States putting, I don’t know, a satanic space alien on a post card, but without the irony.  Wait, can satanic space aliens be ironic?  can they be anything but ironic?  I digress. Point being, it is downright absurd and totally nonsensical for a Ghanaian to put dinosaurs on a post card.  Simply wonderful, really.

One more point about the dinosaurs.  When we were in the Peace Corps the movie Jurassic Park had just been released.   I mean, just released.  Jurassic Park came out in the theaters on June 11th, 1993, and I left for the Peace Corps not four weeks after that.  This movie was huge when it came out and we had all seen it.  Fellow Volunteer Jon H_ even had the wherewithal to bring a copy of the Jurassic Park soundtrack with him to Ghana (or perhaps it was mailed to him by his assuredly-movie-soundtrack-loving family at some point), and we enjoyed countless hours under the spell of its sweeping dramatic symphonies.
And as you know, Jurassic Park took place in some tropical paradise, which Ghana came close to approximating in some places.  And this was certainly the only tropical place I’d ever visited up to that point in my life, so, you know, why not?  Perhaps those Ghanaians were protesting just a little too vociferously.  Maybe they were hiding some terrible secret back there in the recesses of the tropical forest.  Or maybe they just thought a little T.Rex would be cool and edgy.  Well done, in either case.

Finally we get to the superimposed throne on the beach.  This is clearly some sort of Ashanti royal person’s throne.  I see the kente patterns, the royal red and gold.  It’s likely that this, finally, is an actual picture of something you could actually see in Ghana.  Likely not on the beach, but still, now we’re getting somewhere.  Personally I’d like to learn more about this throne.  Happily for my mocking post, the back of the postcard attempts to explain everything.  Please read with me the description on the back of the post card here:
 
It doesn’t explain anything about the throne but the description starts out rather well.  Ghana is indeed a land of beaches, or at a minimum a land with beaches.  And the postcard has a beach on it.  So nicely done there.  They start to lose me around the part of the River Volta entering the Atlantic Ocean like a swimming pool.  I never actually visited this particular beach in Ghana but I can fairly safely assume that the effluent of the Volta River into the Atlantic Ocean is probably one of the least attractive parts of the coastline, with the exception of course of the sadly much polluted coastlines contained by the big cities.  Fellow Volunteer Tim D_ lived fairly close to where the Volta entered the Atlantic, in the village of Atiavi on a big marshy flood plain, and I affectionately referred to his site as the Mosquito Coast.  Personally I was fortunate enough to live in the hills where there were fewer bugs.  I’m fairly certain Tim’s house was made of bugs.  Honestly I have no idea how he survived two years in Ghana with any blood left.  I wouldn’t have survived a week down there.  Now truth be told, Tim’s site was on the East side of the river, and there is a rather nice tourist town on the West side of the river called Ada, so the post card is probably referring to Ada and not Tim’s village Atiavi.

As for the magic stool, by this point I’m willing to believe just about anything.  I just wonder how it works.  Does one sit on the stool to evoke its magic powers?  Perhaps it is some sort of Excalibur sort of contraption.  When the right person comes along and sits on the stool, then of course the sea creatures will come and welcome the tourists to Ghana.  It all sounds rather nice.  Sign me up.

Now I must deduct points from the post card description for failing to explain the dinosaurs or the royal Ashanti throne, but I admit that for the most part the back of the post card does Ghana some justice and makes we want to visit.  As for the front?  Why yes.  The front makes me want to visit Ghana too.  Stay weird, Ghana.

And stay tuned for part two of this post as I have yet to present the even more astonishing “Please Visit Ghana” Postcard Number 10.  In due time, faithful readers.  (6/1/2011 here it is!)


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