Tourists who have walked on the cobbled streets of Cape Coast in Ghana will be familiar with a certain white woman who lived among the natives like one of them. So enamoured was she of the African way of life she adopted Ghana as her country and changed her Germanic name to Akan name.
Edith de Vos had lived in Lagos, Nigeria, but she insists, “I didn’t like Lagos much.”
Her Baobab House, a stone throw from the famous Cape Coast Castle, has a vegan restaurant, a souvenir shop and accommodation for tourists in the city.
If she were privileged to ask God for just one thing, De Vos, a German nationality, would ask to be transfigured into an African.
Here is an excerpt from one of our early encounters.
The last time I met you on the street, you told me you are a German.
Yes, I am.
You haven’t told me your name?
My name is Maame Adjoa
I mean your German name before you acquired Ghanaian one?
What part of Germany are you from?
Originally, I am from Belgium. I can call myself a Belgian with a German passport. But I grew up in Germany. Most of my youth was spent in Cologne. But now, when I go to Germany, I am in Germany South West.
What do you miss most about Germany?
When I am here, I am here; when I am there, I am there. When I am in Germany, I sometimes miss Ghana than I miss Germany when I am here. Only right now I am fighting with some basic things that make my life difficult.
What was your occupation back in Germany?
I was a teacher in Germany. I wanted to live in a country with Black people. That was my main motivation–to come to Africa. I asked for my early pension to go and live in Africa. I didn’t have any plan on what I could do. I just wanted to experience the African life. I came 14 years ago, somehow casually, to Ghana.
Something must have inspired you to want to come to Africa, perhaps a movie you watched?
Thirty years ago, I was in Central America for one year and from there I got to know about Black people. I realised they have something that I don’t have. It was somehow fascinating to me. I am a different person when I am with black people.
Different in what sense?
I am livelier. The lifestyle, of course, in Central America is different from Africa, but in general, I think I am struck most by the way of not complaining about everything here. When I go to Germany, I see they have everything, yet, they complain––life is never right, never true, never good––they complain about everything. But here, Africans give it to God. They think things will be alright. This is the main attitude of how people live here and this really fascinated me. In the course of the years, I find it also difficult to deal with it.
What was your first big shock when you came to live in Africa?
If you come from Germany, the colours are not very brilliant. When I go to Germany, at the airport in Frankfurt, I see everything as grey, brown, black and white. Everybody dresses in subdued colours. In fact, there are hardly colours. In Germany, people like to wear black or grey. But Ghanaians like brilliant colours. In the beginning, it was difficult. But I have learnt to dress colourfully. What I like about Ghana is that the women still dress in their traditional way. While students at the universities go more western, people living in the countryside, especially in villages, still use wrappers. When I go to official meetings, I see women in kente dresses and men with clothes. I like this traditional way of doing things. I am a bit worried that it will disappear because of the influences of the Western culture.
Before your trip to Central America, did you ever have a premonition that you could end up in Africa one day?
No, I was more dealing with South Americans. I was always interested in developing countries as a student. I was in the Injun Movement and I supported Indians in South America to help them.
What took you to Central America?
Just the interest in the Indian culture. I wanted to go to South America but I had a two-year-old daughter with me and I couldn’t get her the necessary vaccination. That was why I went to Central America. My sister was in Jamaica at that time. I went there for six months
I see non-Africans around the Baobab House, do they work here?
They are volunteers from Germany. We have four of them. They run the Baobab shop. They come for one year. Every year we get new volunteers from Germany sent to us through a German programme that dispatches volunteers abroad.