Monday, November 27, 2006


Cooper's school decided to give the kids Thanksgiving Day off this year and we seized another opportunity to go see Ghana.

We headed pretty much due north, seeking beads.

Ghanaian beads are so cool. They use old glass to make them, and they come in every color, shape and size you can imagine. There are antique beads that are beyond our budget (and probably beyond Ghana's "Export of Antiquities" laws!), and beads that were made yesterday.

Between Kpong and Semanya is a place called "Cedi's Bead Factory" and they give tours to people who are willing to go out in the boonies and follow a deeply rutted mile long dirt road to their property.

Thankfully the Piece of Crap Company Car was replaced this fall by a new Suzuki with some ground clearance (and double the gas mileage!), so it wasn't the disaster it would have been.

We parked under a tree once we got there and were met by a smiling man who said he would be happy to show us how they made beads and answer all our questions. He took us to a table where the many tools needed to make glass beads were assembled.

The process is beyond me, both intellectually and physically, but the gist of it is that they melt crushed glass in clay molds, or use powdered "white glass" and powdered colors to make beads with patterns on them.

There is also a process of smoothing the beads while still warm and lining the molds with a clay powder to prevent sticking and putting a casava stick in the center of the bead while it melts into shape- all of which were things our guide did effortlessly and which we knew would result in goofy looking beads if we tried any of them.

Then, just in case we weren't feeling humble enough, he made a patterned bead while we watched which involved steady hands, four colors of crushed/powdered glass, the complicated pushing around of the ingredients to make diagonals and curves and other parts of the design. He made it look tremendously easy, much the same as Olympic gymnasts and wood carvers do- but we had the sense to understand we couldn't begin to accomplish what he was doing.

From there we went to the ovens. Little half bee hives of wood fire and heat that are filled with bead molds and fanned to a sizzling temperature for about 45 minutes.

There is no chimney on this thatch roofed building, that's just the thatch smoldering from the intense heat below...

Once the beads are removed from the molds...

...this guy works as a human 'rock tumbler' using the stone and sand to polish the beads and make them smooth and shiny.

From there they go to this lady (she has a small toddler who was happily pottering around her feet the entire time we were there) who patiently strings thousands of beads which are then sold in the shop.

The shop contains two foot looped strands of beads in every size (from grain-of-rice-size to about the size of a ping pong ball) and color- both round and cylindrical, loose beads, bracelets, necklaces, and the larger shaped pieces of glass that are holed and used as pendants (fish, stars, circles).

We just loaded up on our favorite colors and patterns and hopefully made them glad they had given us the lovely free tour. We unstrung them all (don't tell the hardworking bead-stringing lady!) and put them in our handmade wooden bowl...
Here is a selection of the beads we got, both patterned and clear, plus the intricately designed large beads...

It is such a neat place to visit- I'm hoping one of my ex-pat friends will want to go see it too, so I have an excuse to go back.

Later this week, I'll give you the skinny on the trip itself- blessedly free from the angst of our previous travels around Ghana!