Monday, January 6, 2014

Aburi Botanical Gardens

By Sarah Kramer

As a first-time international traveler, the most surprising aspect of traveling to Ghana this month has not been the traffic, the multitudes of people in the street selling goods or even the way that people respond to me because I’m a young, white female. What has truly shocked me the most is the trash. There’s trash everywhere. It’s in the streets, it’s on the beach, it’s in the ocean, and it’s scattered across the landscape in every corner of the city. 

There is no form of proper waste removal, so when trash is ‘disposed’ of, it is merely burned. Nearly everywhere we have traveled to in our time spent here we see multiple fires from our seats on the bus where trash is being burnt. Not only is this practice unhealthy for those who are breathing in the smoke, but also it’s environmentally unsound. I have been in Ghana nearly a month now and there has not been a single day that I’ve witnessed a blue sky. The horizon is a thick haze of smog, making it impossible to see the beauty in the sky that lies beneath it.

Today a few colleagues and myself traveled to the Aburi Botanical Gardens in the Eastern Region of Southern Ghana. We were scheduled to visit the Gardens previously in the trip but plans were changed and we were unable to go. This morning after learning that we had a free day, we decided to go to the Gardens in order to experience the beauty of the natural landscape.

After exiting the bus I commented on the feel of the air. It felt different there. I felt that for the first time since arriving in this country, in the midst of the gorgeous trees and other plants that I was breathing in fresh air. We met up with a tour guide who led us through the Gardens. He explained the various trees and plants informing us of their history and medicinal value. After the tour we were able to roam the gardens on our own, taking more time to breathe in the air and absorb the beauty.

Shortly before leaving, we noticed smoke coming from across the way. A fellow photographer and I followed the smoke. Although I knew it was trash burning as we made our way to the fire, standing next to it with my camera in hand upset me. At this point I’ve seen my fair share of fires in Ghana, but there was something about standing in the middle of it, breathing it in and letting it sink into my clothes and skin that made it an experience that I will have a hard time taking my mind off of. 

As I photographed the fire I noticed beer cans, plastic bags, wrappers, flip flops and even a bag full of feces. The strangest thing was that as we photographed, no one took mind of us or of the fire. This is not an unusual occurrence to the locals here. The fact that it is not unusual in itself seems wrong. But here I am in the middle of a beautiful garden, photographing a fire that no one else seems to be taking notice of.

To me, the images that I made of this fire are disturbingly beautiful. The way that the light filtered through the smoke was striking. These images are a metaphor of beauty within a troubling practice. 

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