We arrive back in Accra at the beginning of January from our wonderful, busy Christmas trip to Durban. Read about the time we spent in the bush on safari here and about the South African home comforts and things we bring back with us here.
In the three weeks that we have been out of Ghana, the sky has lost all of its brilliant blue colour due to the trade winds that are blowing into West Africa from the Sahara desert. As if a huge eraser has vigorously and successfully rubbed out every inch of blue, it is left colourless and sandy looking. This season in Ghana is known as Harmattan and is characterised with lower levels of humidity, lots of dust everywhere and dry cooler winds. Seeing this weather phenomenon from high in the sky when our plane was landing was quite something. Visibility was very low and it looked like we were staring at an aerial view photo of the buildings of Accra that had an Instagram filter applied to it, with the roofs of buildings all in monotone and the whole city stripped of brightness. I later read that often flights are in fact diverted or cancelled when the haze is particularly bad during this season.
On our first Friday back Lynn and I set off to meet Hamza who is a Ghanaian tour guide who along with Charles, runs Ghana Nima Tours. They offer walking tours of the Nima neighbourhood in Accra and also trips out of town. We are curious to see the Accra Central Mosque which has totally amazed me whenever we drive by it, due to its colossal size. As strange as this may sound the minarets (the towers designed so that the calls to pray, which are issued five times a day, can be heard clearly by many) of this huge mosque have reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of the big castle at Disneyland, and against the Accra skyline it really sticks out and makes an impression.
This new place for Muslim worship has been funded by the Turkish and is a replica of The Blue Mosque in Istanbul that was constructed between 1609 and 1616. Seeing photos of the mosque in Turkey is a bit crazy as it really does look so similar.
In Accra, building of the Central mosque started in 2012, a year after the opening of the Turkish embassy here. As we approach it on this Friday at lunch time, it vaguely comes into view through the hazy Harmattan air.
We make our way through the arched entrance to the property, in the appropriate attire for a mosque visit with scarves around our heads and covered up arms and legs. It is special to see this gigantic structure in its entirety, as I’ve only ever had a partial view from the car. For every colour that is currently missing in the sky, the exquisite detail and hues that now enter our field of vision, more than make up for it. Are we really still in Accra or somewhere in the East?
Damask patterns in blue, turquoise and red have been intricately hand painted on the domed ceilings and look exquisite alongside alternating bands of red and cream marble in the many arches overhead.
Looking through a window reveals an ornate interior that is yet to be opened to the public but is almost complete. Stain glass windows abound, and hundreds of lights hang from concentric rings of gold.
Pretty arabesque railings line the mosque balcony and we stand there and take in the panoramic view of Nima, one of the most impoverished communities in Ghana. Primitive metal roof tops of varying shades of brown and grey form an almost continuous canopy in the distance, beneath which a flurry of life was revealed on a previous walking tour with Hamza. Smaller mosques are scattered throughout the area and calls to prayer echo from the expanse below us.
Hamza explains the ablutions (cleansing rituals) that Muslims must perform before they enter the mosque and shows us how to clean our hands, mouth, nostrils, arms, head and feet at the taps outside. We then enter the inner courtyard area for the Friday prayers with the women sitting on the left and the men ahead on the right. The floor is covered in colourful prayer mats that resemble a huge rainbow quilt that has been sewn together in the boldest cottons and vibrant patterns.
Although I am Catholic, I believe far more in a religion or way of being that consists of kindness, tolerance and respect rather that any rigid dogma. Just as I had felt a tremendous sense of peace and spirituality in the incredible temples in Thailand, I felt that same calm and holiness as we enter this place of worship.
With my back resting against the cool wall, sitting down for the first hour of quiet I have had in a while feels restful and good. The haunting sounds of Salah (Muslim prayers) fill the huge courtyard and I again take in the beauty of this space where no attention has been spared when it comes to big and small aesthetic details.
I admire Ghana for being a place where Christians and Muslims live peacefully alongside each other respecting their differences while remembering what also unites them as humans. In the stillness I also give thought to those who have felt threatened in their places of worship while in such moments of peace, and I think back to the shock of hearing of the hideous shootings in Christchurch almost a year ago and give thought to those who were affected.
The Arabic sermon delivered by the Imam is afterwards translated into English. I recognise similar content from Christianity and Catholicism, and while of course I know that there are fundamental differences in these religions, I’m also aware sitting there that there is a common humanity present in any gathering of this type – we are all at times striving for a sense of spirituality or an understanding beyond what is in front of us in this life. To remember the essentials of what being a good person and living a life of purpose entails.
Lynn and I leave the mosque feeling lighter, peaceful, and thankful for this meditative experience.