Friday, January 22

Wednesday, January 20

OH......GHANA (travel diary 1)


since arriving in Ghana, i've been wafting between different types of awe.
the "art center" kweku always talked about it in DC (it's the place where he built a workshop to work with children) is actually a shanty town of shacks with people living amongst raw sewage, trash, etc. there's no denying they are artists. i've met carvers, tailors, several drum builders, at least 10 drummers, instrument makers, dancers, acrobats, kente cloth makers, mud cloth makers, painters, jewelry makers and more. the days go by so slowly, it feels i have been here for at least a month. on our first or second night, after arriving and getting the lay of the land (the rising phoenix, our "hotel," is a step up from camping with its cold shower drizzle and unkempt mattresses, but is beautifully designed, and features daily rehearsals of fiercely talented acrobats, dancers and drummers), we walked through the art center and i could scarcely believe my eyes - the artists sleep on concrete vats, or hard wooden benches, or dirt floors, as do their children. the children don't have the opportunity to go to school - at very young ages they're helping their parents with work that would make most people grimace. women (of course) carry the largest burden - pun intended - on their heads are enormous metal bowls full of assorted items to sell or carry, sometimes weighing up to 60 pounds. while doing this, their babies are strapped to their backs.

on the third day, we traveled to kweku's home village, N'kaw kaw, which was a 3-hour drive that blew my mind. there is only one road in and out of Accra, and it is full to the brim with roadside sellers in small villages that consist of a grouping of "stores" and "houses" (both usually wood or adobe shacks with some sort of corrugated roof). this slows traffic down considerably - jams can last up to 20 or 30 minutes when you reach a village along the way. also we went the day after it rained and in some parts, the street was nothing but mud and/or muddy water. trucks and cars just slid around - some literally falling over before our eyes. for most of the trip, i was covering my mouth to try and fend off air pollution. we bought strange food from vendors along the way - a corn husk filled with corn meal and groundnuts (which are basically peanuts), and some smoked turkey ... something (feet?) with a separate bag of hot pepper sauce.

in the village, which is a large community of adobe houses, dirt floors and lots of trees, we were first taken to meet the chief's first in command, along with the community's mayor, security advisor, and elders. as we were giving and taking greetings, a group of children came into the space in school uniforms. many had never seen an Obruni (white person) before. they were achingly beautiful. two of them, however, were screaming their heads off, at which point one of the female attendants shoved them at marcia and i. we hurriedly picked them up and tried to calm them. the little girl in my arms' heart was beating as fast as a tiny bird, she was so afraid. the little boy marcia was holding became her best friend by the end of the day.

we walked to the center of the village and there was more greeting and ceremony, along with a community clean up. homemade brooms and shovels were handed out and everyone pitched in to move clumps of mud and trash into piles. afterwards there was an incredible welcome dance by the young men and young women of the village, surrounded by a song and dance ceremony by the women, of which i was allowed to take part. then, our group performed (the group consists of kweku plus 4 or 5 drummers and 4 or 5 dancers). no one in the community had even a single iota of an issue with my inclusion in a performance troupe of all african male drummers. afterwards, i gave a workshop to 8 or 10 beautifully adorned tribal women. it was unforgettable teaching them kuku. later, waiting for kweku and our other host, Issac to finish sending their partings to the tribal counsel (this took AN HOUR), we found ourselves surrounded on all sides by the children. one especially precocious little girl named Dana kept running a finger on the skin of my arms and legs, and getting all of her friends to do the same, to see what an Obruni's skin feels like. i eventually allowed Dana to take my hand, along with several other children, and we walked to meet her mother. i asked Dana how many siblings she had and she said five, "but two are there," and she pointed to the sky. across the "street (dirt road)," someone was playing American R&B (i have heard as much American music as Ghanian music since arriving). I grabbed the children's hands to make a circle, and we danced....pure synchronicity.

we left the village our clothing, books and pencil donations, and they gave us a big bag of fruit.

since that day i have had drumming opportunities everyday - i had a lesson with the master Kpanlogo drummer in the arts center (Kpanlogo is one of Ghana's traditional drums), have taken part in at least four jam sessions - 2 spontaneous, one at the beach, and one a surprise from kweku (he brought the drummers back to the hotel), a rehearsal (we are preparing for a show at some point) and a performance (last night, for a group of European volunteers).

we've also been to a few places outside the arts center and the village. we went to a beach community just inside Accra called Kokrobiter which seemed centered on attracting Obrunis. the most beautiful things were for sale. however, i have scarcely bought anything, as kweku believes wholeheartedly that if marcia or i try to buy anything on our own we will be cheated. so i've agreed to make a list of the things i see that i want to take home. i guess we'll be going on a trip designated just for shopping at some point. whatever happens, i promise to have beads and kente cloth upon my return.

I am now dreaming of teaching drumming to women in the arts center community. kweku's performing group (which now includes me without question), involves 4 or 5 women dancers, all of whom will be involved. God willing (omg i can't believe i just said god willing), the workshops will begin tomorrow.

Africa time is very different from "DC" time.
It's not as though everyone is always late. It's a different concept of time altogether. for instance - sometimes 1 hour equals 4 hours. other times, 1 hour equals 10 minutes. other times, 1 hour equals 1 hour. somehow it eventually starts to make sense. for one thing, the time between 11 am and 3 pm is so goddarn hot and busy, it's difficult to accomplish everything you set forth to do. especially because it usually involves walking long distances, catching taxis or tro tro's (creatively decorated mini-buses), and navigating a range of unexpected circumstances. basically, it is crucial to be flexible if one is to find happiness here.

i should mention i've been sick the past 2 days with what i've been told over and over is common for Obruni's but which to me feels like a volcanic eruption in my intestines. i've taken my ciprho so please don't worry. i'm recovering. typing this email in an air conditioned "internet cafe" (it's actually just a bunch of computers - the only coffee in Ghana is Nescafe) is helping, for instance. i'm not sure if it was the bagged water, the palm oil, or a luke warm plate of food i ate on sunday night, but regardless, i promise to be more careful from now on. know that i'm taking my rest.

i should say more about the FOOD....but i'm not in the mood right now.
i am planning to take a groudnut soup (by far my favorite dish thus far) lesson from Selassie, the cook at Rising Phoenix hotel. so I look forward to sharing that with all of you.

i should say the greatest beauty in Ghana, as I have seen thus far, is in the people.
since my illness befell me, no less than 6 people have ventured out to find solutions. one of the most humorous was kweku, who suggested i pluck a piece of hair out of my head and put it in my mouth, then lie on my stomach. strangely this seemed to work for a short time. when it stopped working, i noticed the hair had fallen out of my mouth.

i will stop now before this becomes increasingly lengthy, but want to thank all of you again for all of your amazing assistance in getting me here. everything i brought with me, i have used. first aid, (i already cut myself twice), all-natural bug repellent, the quick drying towels, the video camera, the amazing back-pack, the rehydration pills, all 3 pairs of shoes, my cliff and luna bars, my water bottle, my multiple travel size toiletries (i thought i brought too much but will have just enough), my mosquito repelling anklet, the list goes on. THANK YOU ALL IMMENSELY for your help.

i hope all is well at home - know that i am taken care of here, wavering between fascination, frustration, sadness, hilarity, confusion...but mostly just awe.

peace and love to you all,
Kristen "Afia" (Friday-born)