Friday, 2 December 2011

Eco tourism or something close: Nzulezo

I should have written this eons ago but I was having some issues with my laptop and had to have it replaced. Anyway,I was working about 2 or 3 weeks ago and the job involved a  wee bit of travelling around Ghana. Thanks to that I finally got to see Nzulezo pronounced, much to my amusement, Nzurezo by the people who live in the area. I have been wanting to visit the town on stilts for quite a while, so when the business people I was travelling with decided to make a pleasure stop I was all for it.
It was quite an interesting afternoon.  We had to go off the main road  and travel over or about 20km off the tarred road to reach the closest town: Beyin (pronounced Benyiri, or something like that), and then travel an hour by canoe to the village and an hour back. The settlement is a UNESCO Heritage site,I think ( )
Honestly,it was very unsettling for me to be surrounded by so much water but the guys paddling our canoe were absolute darlings for resolutely chatting with me the whole distance to get my mind off the feeling.

Anyway, at the dock was a lovely 'cafe' manned by a spanish man (or so our guide said) It didn't seem like he spoke much English though, so I took their word for it. I loved his elephant sink!!! Genius!
(quick question: why don't Ghanaians think of these things? Such places are 90% of the time owned by a foreigner....????)
(I will explain why he, the Spanish guy, is 'significant' later)
I took all the photos with my blackberry so sorry about the quality.
1. the 'dockside' cafe: Cafe Puerto

2. I love this sink!! 

3.  the bar

4. The 'dock' (you can see the motor boat just beyond the woman's boat if you strain a bit)

5. A man made channel was constructed, reportedly by the government of the Netherlands, to join the natural lake. 

6. The water isn't so deep, about 4 feet.

8. sorry there are so many shots, I found the view breathtaking...or maybe it was just to take my mind off the water,, which was impossible!!  lol.


11. NZULEZU!!! (after about an hour on the open 'sea') (that's a guest house under construction)



14. The Church of Pentecost

15. The School

16. there are a couple of bars and I saw a guest house

18. lured him ,after a long courtship, with Club Orange
Anyway, this is all well and good. but the beauty of the place wasn't what was on my mind when I was leaving it.
On the way there I was made to understand that Nzulezu is being preserved as an eco-tourism site. The people and their dependence on the river forces impresses upon them to keep the balance. They eat and drink from it, and rely on it as a source of transport. The guide/rower was very passionate about it, insisting - when I asked why we couldn't use a motor boat because we were in a hurry - that such activities will destroy the quality of the water which the people in the village rely on for their every need. He further explained that such motorised activity was allowed in emergencies but forbidden on a daily basis.
(here comes the significance of the Cafe Puerto guy)
I had noticed there was a motorised boat at the dock (picture 4) so at this point I asked who it was for and  expected to hear that that was the boat used in emergencies but (BAM!)
I was told the owner of the cafe used it to get to and from his home - which is on the bank of the river directly opposite Nzulezu. (The same man is building the guest house in the village itself as well picture 11 and 12)
I could not believe it (sorry, I am not exaggerating..I keep having these lapses where I forget where I am, ie Ghana, where lighter skins and hair, except albinos, are revered and worshipped). All the passion that the guide/rower had exhibited  vanished completely when I asked why that man was allowed to use  a motor boat since it fouled the water with oil. He seemed rather sad, shrugged and said "You know how things are"

20. someone's limo, latest model ;) 
I was incensed by the injustice of it all. Ghanaians lying down and allowing them to be used as doormats as usual.
This was until I got to the village ans saw this....

 22. (forget that hen though, they even have sheep!!! )

After seeing the kind of damage ,I feel, they are doing to the river themselves, the Spanish man can race up and down 10 times a day and I won't care.
I thought eco-tourism involved low impact visits to fragile or pristine areas, mostly to educate the visitors, raise awareness and funds. It can't be ecological  to dump rubbish directly into the river. Or tip untreated human waste straight into it. Or pour food waste right in there. Or bath into the river. All this must surely affect the pristine balance of the eco system. They probably do not realise this or how far reaching the effects can be.
But as if that was not bad enough, they DRINK from that same river!!!
I believe God takes extra care of us in these parts, otherwise how else would they still be alive?? and seem so well??
The people themselves, are in my unsolicited opinion, destroying the very river they rely on for life...gradually. It was a very big river so it will take some time, but with reports of men having four wives and no source of recreation at night but sex it might not take that long.
My hyper active imagination pictures solar power or hydro-electric technology being harnessed to bring the people a better life. Phones must be charged in town at times! In 2011 that's a bit much, no?. The people have built a school and pay the teacher themselves so they have the right idea about some things. I imagine a proper dock being built and an annual eco-logically friendly regatta being organised, probably sponsored by one useless network or another, to raise funds to maintain the village. Zoomlion (my heroes) could think up some wonderful waste collection or recycling system and the villagers could be trained to maintain it and man the luxury and/or minimalist retreats that will be built there.
Dreamer huh? *shrugs*

It rained as we were paddled back to the dock, and as I tried hard not to panic as my mind conjured up a torrential storm which filled the boat with water and tipped us into the crocodile (yes! we saw a "small" one our way to the village) infested waters. Due to this I forgot about my eco dreams for a while. But seeing the children returning from school paddling their own boats, when I couldn't row continuously for 10 minutes, strengthened my resolve to at least say something about it.
Who knows? Maybe someone will be listening. Maybe someone who can will do something, or tell me what I can do, short of going to pick the rubbish up myself.

[side note: I had no Airtel reception for most of the journey! such crappy service but i had full reception in the village!]

If anyone has visited Ganvie along Lake NokouĂ© in Southern Benin; I would love to hear about it. Is it any different from Nzulezo??

Francis (guide/rower) Nzulezo/ Beyin Amazuri project: 0241152811 
Ps. Just so we're clear ,I listed the guide's number here so you can call him to ask about tours or information or make a donation to the School or some other useful purpose. No disrespect of any sort was meant.
Thank you.