By Aba Afful
Travel is like knowledge. The more you see, the more you know you have not seen.”
The above quote from American journalist and author Mark Hertsgaard helps me to reflect on my experience with mountains in both Ghana and the Appalachian region in the United States. In early January, as I drove from Washington Dulles International airport in D.C. to Johnson City, Tennessee, the vast mountain ranges on either side of the roads caught my attention throughout the journey. I was blown away by the epic scenery of trees and mountains. The Ghanaian in me exclaimed, “Wow, this is so much space, land and mountains!”
Out of the many reasons I chose to study internationally, one that is close to my heart is the opportunity to see other parts of the world. A dream of mine is to visit all continents of the world before my last day on Earth. This journey began with me stepping out of my beloved continent of Africa to begin my master’s degree in Brand and Media Strategy at East Tennessee State University. Though my main reason is to pursue this unique master’s program, I am intrigued by other fields and enjoy exploring whenever I have some downtime. I studied a bit of Geography as a high school elective in Ghana. When I realized I’d be working with the Department of Appalachian Studies as a graduate assistant during my master’s degree, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to brush up on my knowledge and reaffirm my enthusiasm for the field.
Ghana’s geography is diverse, encompassing low hills, plains, rivers, and the world’s largest artificial lake, Lake Volta. The nearest coastline to where I come from is made up of mostly low-lying, sandy shores backed by scrubs and plains, with several streams and rivers. The northern areas of the country consist of high plains. The Ashanti uplands and Kwahu Plateau can be found in the southwest and south-central parts of Ghana whereas the hilly Akwapim-Togo ranges can be located along the country’s eastern international borders. This is also where Ghana’s highest point can be found — Mount Afadja, which is 2,904 feet (885 m), according to Wikipedia.
My high school was in Mamfe in the Eastern region of Ghana, very close to the beautiful Aburi and Akwapim mountains, which are a famous area in the country. Moving for school was often an adventure because of the completely different environment from my usual city life. Upon entering the region, we could feel the landscape changing beneath the wheels from a low-level plain road to a very mountainous region with all its twists and turns. The weather was much colder from Aburi through to the Mamfe area. Visibility was often poor due to heavy fog. The most beautiful part about these journeys was the numerous trees and the green, hilly terrain that gave the atmosphere a breeze of life and freshness.
During my high school studies, my geography class embarked on several visits to geographical sites in the Akwapim area. The most memorable was a field trip to Boti Falls, Akaa Falls, and the Umbrella Rock in the Yilo Krobo District in the Eastern Region of Ghana. There is a myth that the Boti falls, which is a twin waterfall, stems from two rivers — a male and a female — and that rainbow forms when they merge. The umbrella rock (a huge rock in the shape of an umbrella) is found at the same site. Its overhang is large enough to cover about 12 to 15 people. The most interesting part of this scenery is the long, tiresome trek to the rock and the falls.
According to Wikipedia entries on mountains in Appalachia and those in the areas where I lived in Ghana, the higher ranges found in Appalachia, such as Mount Mitchell in North Carolina at 6,684 feet (2037 m), have much greater elevation than those in Ghana. Mount Afadja, for example, is less than half as tall as Mount Mitchell. Located in the Agumatsa Range in the Volta Region, Afadja’s name is derived from the Ewe word, “Avadzeto or Afadjato,” meaning “At war with the bush.” This mountain is home to over 300 butterfly species and 33 different mammal species, according to the Wikipedia entry. While I never had the chance to visit Mount Afadja, I have heard and seen the excitement from many of my friends’ photos and those of tourists who visit the area and accomplish the feat of hiking all the way up. It has always been a thrilling idea and a journey I’ll one day love to embark on — possibly as part of a summer program with members of the Department of Appalachian Studies at ETSU.
Mount Edouka, according to Wikipedia, measures 2,542 feet (775 m) and extends to Badou in neighboring Togo. It has numerous animals including snakes, birds, lizards, and monkeys. The Atewa Range remains the only evidence of the Cenozoic Peneplain that once covered the central part of Ghana. This is where the richly popular Mount Atiwiredu, noted for its bauxite, gold, and diamond deposits, is located. According to Worldatlas.com, the range is home to several bird species such as the common bristlebill, afep pigeon, the blue-headed crested flycatcher, and 17 rare butterfly species including the Papilio antimachus, which has the widest butterfly wingspan in Africa and one of the largest butterfly wingspans in the world.
Other notable African mountains include the Kwamisa, Pakesie Bepo, Eteblea, Foto, Sassaboula, and Bepokaw, all of which serve as home to a wide range of fauna and flora with significant levels of human encroachment in these areas. The ranges in Ghana and those in the United States may be different in terms of their sceneries but one thing that surely remains constant is the immense beauty of nature they exude. Perhaps even better is the strong connection that binds the people who call these places home. As I continually adapt to the welcoming climate, culture and academic life in East Tennessee, I remain inspired to further explore the highland regions of Appalachia and Tennessee and embrace a new life-changing perspective I can truly appreciate when I do return to enjoy Africa.
Aba Afful is the graduate assistant to the ETSU Department of Appalachian Studies and master's candidate in ETSU's Brand and Media Strategy program. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the Ghana Institute of Journalism in Accra, Ghana.