PHOTO ES­SAY

Ply­ing its way north on Ghana’s huge, man-made Volta Lake, the Yapei Queen ferry hosts its own ecosys­tem as crew and pas­sen­gers trade, eat, sleep, get a hair­cut and shoot the breeze on the two-day voy­age

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - Text by Billie A. Mc­ter­nan and pho­tos by Ruth Mcdowall on the Yapei Queen

A queen serene The peo­ple who travel and work aboard the Yapei Queen cargo ves­sel on Ghana’s Volta Lake

Ev­ery week the Yapei Queen chugs out into Volta Lake, its crew and a smat­ter­ing of pas­sen­gers ready to take the two-day trip to Ghana’s north. With a length of 400km and a sur­face area of 8,502km2, the Volta is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. In 1961 Ghana’s first pres­i­dent, Kwame Nkrumah, am­bi­tiously com­mit­ted to de­vel­op­ing a lake from the Volta River. It would serve a hy­dro­elec­tric dam at Ako­sombo that would bring elec­tric­ity to homes across the coun­try and the re­gion. In do­ing so, how­ever, Nkrumah made a sac­ri­fice that would po­ten­tially tar­nish his image as man of the peo­ple, and lit­er­ally di­vide the coun­try. The project meant dis­plac­ing close to 80,000 peo­ple from their homes, their land, their com­mu­nity and their her­itage. Branches of long-lost trees poke out of the wa­ter, re­mind­ing peo­ple of the life they lived more than 50 years ago. Though the ship is for cargo, a steady stream of pas­sen­gers pour in at each of its stops, from the port in Ako­sombo through to Kete Krachi in the Volta Re­gion and fi­nally Yeji in the North­ern Re­gion. Along the way, women from the mar­kets in the south dis­em­bark and head in­land to buy yam from the farm­ers ready to greet them. Salomey is one of those women. “This is our weekly work,” she says. Salomey took over the busi­ness from her mother who, while she is away, watches over her chil­dren. She hopes that her chil­dren will con­tinue with their ed­u­ca­tion and fol­low ca­reers in other fields. Glo­ria and her daugh­ter take the ferry to avoid the chaos of the road. The trip is a day longer but with views of the sur­round­ing moun­tains and the still­ness of the lake it’s well worth it, she says. The cook and her helpers aboard the Yapei Queen start pre­par­ing the morn­ing’s meal. A mini mar­ket at the foot of the gang­way pops up. The cap­tain and his crew are well known in th­ese parts. An en­tire econ­omy is built around the ferry and its weekly trips. Wis­dom, the ferry’s cap­tain, beams from the bridge with pride. With his crew of 10, he is charged with re­mem­ber­ing ev­ery – seem­ingly – mi­nor turn and dip in the lake in the ab­sence of a radar or eco sound, as the glow­ing lights from the nearby vil­lages pro­vide the only land­marks at night.

TA K E I T S L O W A jour­ney on the Yapei Queen of­fers some of the most beau­ti­ful views of Ghana’s green and fer­tile Volta Re­gion, with moun­tain ranges, small is­lands and islets along the way.

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