Day 2 (continued)
Did I brag that it wasn’t humid in my last post?! I spoke entirely too soon! Jokes on me!
Based on the events of yesterday, I have a lot to write. Obviously, this blog is a personal way to document my experience and I do not expect you to read every last detail, unless of course it interests you. I’ll start by mentioning that for some reason, the days just seem to last longer here. Not that the sun is out any longer, because it gets dark early around 7:00pm and then the mosquitoes begin to emerge (I just took a break to re-apply deet). Maybe it’s the simple fact that I feel like I’m on vacation right now, soaking in old sights that haven’t changed at all in eight years, as well as the smells and sounds of an environment that is not nearly as shocking the second time around. I remember being in college and the initial mind warp of the landfill that is the National Cultural Centre (Arts Centre) where my friend Rahman works, the loud and aggressive tone in which Ghanains speak (even though they mean nothing but love to one another), the street hawkers balancing goods on their heads, the young children wandering alone in their underwear and stained t-shirts, the incessant honking of car horns, black exhaust pouring out of tail pipes and the headaches that ensue as a result, the open sewer systems and the oppressive heat/humidity. Yes, this is Ghana! And, I came back to relive it all over again!
Rahman near the Arts Centre
I’m going to write yesterday (Friday) off as ‘training day’ in Accra because it isn’t until you travel outside of Osu (the “fancy” part of town where I am staying) that the city starts to reveal itself. Yesterday I spoke of sheer bliss; the excitement that comes with a successful arrival in a completely foreign place, things just working out and the overwhelming sense of national pride for the Black Stars that people flaunted everywhere in anticipation of the BIG GAME. Is it possible to have a denial day in Ghana? Certainly. But, I hope that is not the reason why people travel here. Based on many interactions with obronis (white people) over the past few days, I am learning that Europeans, Americans, Canadians and Australians are here for one of two reasons – to give back by volunteering (I’ve already met upwards of 20 volunteers in my two days here), or from what I am gathering, to start new businesses here, not necessarily for the sake of boosting the Ghanain economy as much as being able to hire cheap labor. At the same time, I did speak of the man who I met on the plane yesterday who was simply vacationing here so I guess it is possible for someone to spend $1700 on a flight just to hang out. In any event, a World Cup loss yesterday meant back to reality for all Ghanain’s today and life resumed as normal, without a championship soccer team, and the aftermath of what to do with the excessive inventory of jerseys, flags, horns, hats, and soccer balls. I envision coming back 10 years from now and still seeing an overabundance of these souvenirs because there just aren’t enough people or tourists to buy.
Despite the aforementioned, Rahman and I had another wonderful day in Accra, accomplished everything we set out for and as I sit here unwinding under the stars in the Paloma hotel tiki lounge, it’s just another Saturday night in Accra, with people pouring into our hotel sports bar and others just relaxing while sipping a Star beer after a steamy day in equatorial Africa.
Tiki bar at The Paloma Hotel
I have a feeling this will change as I forgo the hustle and bustle of city life and enter the rural work world tomorrow. I am happy to report that I spoke on the phone with Mr. Boateng, the head master of the school I will be arriving at on Sunday. He is incredibly nice and I received clear instructions on what to do upon arrival in Kumasi so I’m feeling good about things related to my volunteer position.
After I left the hotel this morning, and after some debate about what to do with the day, Rahman gave into my pressure to visit the Arts Centre. It would be the same as someone begging you to take them to your place of work on your day off. Not exactly your top choice of things to do. Plus, I think he might have been embarrassed because the Arts Centre is in even more disrepair that it was back in 2002.
Cow hides drying at the Arts Centre for drum heads
But, when I mentioned wanting to play the drums, he agreed with the decision and told me that he would call the master drummer of Accra to teach me a drum lesson at the Arts Centre. We cruised around the Centre for a bit while he made a few phone calls. Within the hour, as the sun reached its peak and gave way to heat and humidity, Bongo Man arrived.
“Bongo” as he is known to most people in Accra is an accomplished master drummer who studied at the Kokrobitey Institute of Music and Dance (apparently he was performing there when we went to see a show in 2002). We grabbed a few djembes and a palongo drum and headed down to the beach for the lesson. Erase any mental images of waves crashing, swaying palm trees and coconuts, the smell of salt water and white sand, then replace it with mountains of trash, the smell of raw sewage, plastic bags blowing in the wind, goats eating the trash, and the fact that it was high noon and nearing 90 degrees. Had I not spent a significant amount of time here in 2002, I might have passed out or turned right back around based on the sights and smells of the Arts Centre, but I knew what I was getting myself into and found it easy to stay focused on the fact that I was about to learn some new djembe beats from a master drummer (the title of “master” is not thrown around here) named “Bongo Man.”
We perused around and Bongo spoke with the owner of the “spot” (a spot is similar to a refreshment hut) near the beach so we scored a nice spot under the shade of a banana leaf tree and the lesson began…..overall, an amazing experience and worth the $35 dollars for a 1.5 hour private lesson.
We sat under this tree
The view from where I sat for my lesson
me and Bongo
After the drum lesson, we walked back to Rahman’s shop and said our goodbyes. I met a few other volunteers who were out shopping (although sadly they were few and far between at a place that is teeming with incredible art and culture) and learned that they were volunteering here in Accra at an elementary school. Off to the Accra Mall which Rahman was very excited about. He likes to show off the nice establishments in Accra. We took a taxi and $4 and 30 minutes of direct inhalation of exhaust later, we were across town and a far cry from our previous destination. I got out of the taxi and a wave of nausea hit me. Worried that this would turn into something worse, I began gulping water and took a much needed bathroom break. We walked past the Nike store, Apple store and a number of modern clothing stores before stopping for lunch in the outdoor food court at Frankie’s.
After eating I began feeling better but knew that the heat and exhaust had gotten the best of me. Rahman was more than willing to chill out while I decompressed and in a mere hour, I was back to my old self. We took a taxi back to the hotel, watched some soccer and eventually had dinner. Over dinner I listened to his story, which I had hear snippets of in 2002 but had never really opened up my ears and heart long enough to really absorb.
Here is his story: Rahman has 14 brothers and sisters. His mother (then about 20 years old was forced to marry his father (who was literally 70 years old when Rahman was born). Rahman’s eldest sister is in her 70’s now if you can grapple with that. His mother had Rahman and three other children before fleeing for Nigeria with her youngest three. Rahman’s mother allowed him to decide between Nigeria and Ghana. Because he was happy and successful in primary school, and going to an expensive private school paid for by his relatively wealthy father, Rahman made the decision to stay in Ghana. His father passed away two years later and at the age of 12, Rahman was left on his own to fend for himself. Since he was the 10th child, he received no money from his father’s death and could not afford school. He had done so well in the past that his head master agreed to support him though school and he graduated from high school with high honors on a scholarship. Due to the fact that he had no support of money of any kind, he could not afford college. He’s 32 now and since high school, has worked as an independent artist despite being incredibly intelligent, soft spoken, motivated and great with computers. No money equals no opportunity here. He is part of the greater rat race of people with high school degrees and absolutely no money to further their education. He is waiting patiently for his big break and although I have paid for a few of his college classes, he still needs to take a few more at $600 a pop to get his IT certificate and potentially land a career. When he tells me this story, he does not seem to be looking for sympathy and he certainly is not begging for money. He has a positive outlook and more than anything, wants to earn enough to one day get his mother and siblings back to Ghana from Nigeria. His mother and siblings are eagerly waiting for him to earn $1200 so he can secure an apartment for the five of them for one year. Then, he says, they can all get on their feet and start a new life together as a family. Unfortunately, these are merely hopes and dreams. Heavy stuff.
It’s now Sunday morning and I’m waiting for Rahman to get to the hotel so we can head out to Kumasi where I will be volunteering. Bye to Accra for now! I have a feeling that wi-fi Internet access will not be as readily available but I will do my best to update as soon as possible.