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Archive for February, 2011

More Guns, More Drums, and even more Dancing Horses!

When I heard the streets would be filled with twenty thousand people it didn’t quite register what kind of experience it would be. Twenty thousand almost feels like an understatement for the experience of the ‘Damba’ festival in Tamale. Celebrated by tribes in the northern region of Ghana, it is a time of music, dancing, gunshots, and screaming as all the sub chiefs of the surrounding villages come to greet the main chief of the city. Ghana still holds traditional chieftaincy positions which hold power similar to that of the local politicians. The chiefs respect the politicians and the politicians respect the chiefs, and my experience of this amazing day was a typical insight into the ‘raw-ness’ of traditional Ghana.

With the conclusion of the Muslim mid afternoon call to prayer, people started filling up the streets, attracted by the bangs of the guns and the rhythm of the drums. Fortunately I arrived at the Chiefs palace (mud huts in the middle of the city) early where I met one of the sons of the main chief. He was happy to give us a guided tour of what was happening, and even took us into the palace where we were sat in a small room to meet with the chiefs sisters and two of his four wives. It’s a real experience when you are sat in a small room, full of old Ghanaian women laughing at you, smiling at you,  and greeting you in their local tongue. You can smile back and even laugh back, nodding your head and repeating ‘Naaa’, which is a positive answer used to return the greeting.

Anyway, soon after we were amongst the crowds, watching these chiefs dancing, and musicians swaying with the music they repeated over and over. Guns started sounding, these huge rifles that shake the ground below you, and a man tries controlling the crowd, pushing them back, but the crowd kept on growing. Sub-chiefs entered the city on horseback, with their entourages of hundreds, all carrying rifles, and guns, axes and all sorts of things; screaming, shouting, laughing, dancing, the crowd swayed this way and that. I had never witnessed such a huge number of people. As far as the eye could see the roads were packed. It truly was an experience.

Among the entourages were the young, often with drums of their own, beating away. The old, wearing traditional smoks which when they dance it twirls and flicks into the air. The horses danced through the crowd, and occasionally jumped at the sound of gunshot, and it was more than once that I jumped at the sound as well. There were even some men carrying snakes over their shoulders.

A festival  is a great opportunity to witness the spirit of Ghanaian hospitality. I met a man and his brother, who with no reasoning whatsoever made it their mission to get me the best spots amongst the crowd, to ensure that I had enough space, and rite of passage through the masses. They guided me for about three hours, until the time that I had to leave. It is a common experience in Ghana, to be approached by someone who just wants to help you, to guide you, and sincerely be your friend. It’s my western mentality that puts the idea in my head that these people want to get something from me, but my experiences with people here, are teaching me to befriend first before I judge, and to speak to people with an open heart to receive what they want to give to me.

By the time the festival finished it was already dark, and now the sub-chiefs and their entourages were beginning the journeys back to their country villages. They all walked a few hours to get to the city, and now the journey back will see them home late in the night. But they continue to have their drums, their screaming ladies and the hundreds of followers to keep them company on the road. What a day!


A Record Breaking day!

I’m in a mood to break records. This is officially now my longest stay in an African country, and from here on out I’m breaking that record every single day. I can wake up each morning to know that I have achieved another personal best!

Another record which we’re about to break together is the 1000 all time views of my blog…just a few more are needed. Thank you so much for the support everybody. I’m actually amazed that something I started as a small project to keep others informed of what I was going through, has turned into a platform of support. Because of my blog, my creativity is being tested. Creativity of photography, creativity of writing, and creativity of thought. I hope I can continue to entertain you all.

So, we’ve covered the longest stay in Africa, and we’ve covered the 1000 views…Ah! I have another record. Today I went to the hospital for a blood test and it turns out I have Malaria and Typhoid fever. Oh boy. That’s a first. As well as my Larium has been treating me, with all those dreams, it couldn’t prevent everything…well at least it softened the blow. I’ve been coping with a headache, and muscle aches for the past 6 days, so finally I took the test and received a large amount of pills to take me through the next few days. I’ve been lucky not to get really sick, but it still limits the amount I can do. However, after all the rest, and hours of staring at the faded blue walls of my room, I was grateful for a motorbike ride to the hospital where I realised where I was again. I’m in Ghana, and there is so much for me to experience here…including the sickness!

Guns, Drums and a Dancing Horse!

The sound of traditional Ghanaian guns is phenomenal. Used as part of their funeral ceremonies, they literally shake the earth with their power. You would expect such a sound to come from something much larger than a rifle, but the sound is true, and it left my ear temporarily deaf. Today, I was fortunate to experience a traditional Ghanaian funeral. Unlike Europe, funerals in Ghana are a time of joy, with music, drumming and dancing from dusk until dawn.

I arrived to feel the shake of the rifles, loaded with gunpowder, and to see large crowds gathered. The buzz in the atmosphere was infectious, and all of the local people were happy to share their culture with me, guiding me to the spot with the best view, and telling me what was happening. As tradition goes, the eldest son of the family rides around the family home on horseback, while in front of him, another rider dances with a horse. When I say dances with a horse, I mean the horse was dancing! It was impressive, and at one point I had to jump out of the way as it almost rode into me.

The sight of this horse rider, mixed with the sound of the guns shaking my heart, and the rhythm of the drums really got me excited, and within half an hour I was in the middle of a circle dancing, much to the amusement of all the locals. The musicians came and played in front of me, while I shook my hips, and moved my arms… I didn’t really know what I was doing, but the people seemed to like it, and, as is custom, people came and put money in my hand as I danced, which I then passed on to the musicians. I was reflecting earlier this week, how difficult is to remove myself from my British, conservative mannerisms which stop me from expressing as much as I want. The desire to get up and dance has always been there, for example, in the church services here, I want to jump up and down with my hands in the air, but something inside always stops me. A fear of embarrassment? Is it me, or the result of my cultural upbringing? This was a good chance to practice that free expression, and I enjoyed it.

Somehow, it was very liberating to experience such an event. The Ghanaian people are so open with their culture, and love to share it with foreigners. Even when we are too shy to dance.

Sheep are smarter than goats…

One of the first lessons you learn here in Ghana, is that you are so limited in what you can give. It is my naivety that let me come to Ghana with noble intentions of alleviating poverty and improving lives. The reality is I am here to learn, and my input is very small in the scale of things. My goal cannot be real change, for that takes years, even decades, but the small steps that I can contribute will hopefully make some difference for those who are giving years to the cause.  The highlights in my stay have been the After School Programmes(ASPs) with children,  where I feel I’m able to give the most. We’ve been restructuring the ASPs and organising the children into smaller groups, so they can be better organised. As active as I can try to be, there is always ‘down-time’. The time when I have finished whatever task I’m working on, and am unsure of what to do next. Although it can be frustrating to have such a time, it has been useful.

I have been able to observe things and reflect upon them. For example, watching how the schedule of the day runs its course; children go to school and return in the afternoon; workmen start their hard physical labour, not stopping when the sun is at its highest; mangos grow on trees, getting bigger each day, and the Guinea fowl roam the roads making loud noises.  I also now know that goats are dumber than sheep when it comes to crossing the road, often choosing the most inappropriate and dangerous times to brave the traffic. I have feared for my safety more than once because of a goat crossing the road. Ghana is so different from Britain. Everything is different; the animals look different, the trees are different, the smells are different, the foods are different,  traditions, cultures, lifestyles, all different. Yesterday I rode past fields of scorched earth where a wild fire had been passing through, a few days before that I was given a freshly fried rat to eat, and I haven’t experienced rain since I left the UK.

Anyway…I’m now twenty days into my journey, and as lucky as I have been to avoid all the common illnesses associated with Africa, I have been unlucky enough to catch a common cold. A weekend of rest ahead of me should sort me out just fine.

My host family got a puppy!!

Capturing confidence…

Confidence is something I always find wanting in myself. Though greatly improved through my experiences over the last few years, I constantly come across situations that require confidence. Today, Saturday, I decided to go for a bike ride into the country. My purpose was to take photos, and it was in this that my confidence was tested. Packing enough water to survive the trip, I set out on my mini adventure. A 40 minute bike ride found me in the middle of nowhere. I was in one of those rare places where you can’t hear any civilisation. No cars, no factories, no buzz of electricity…just the wind, and the squeak of my bike, pressing on through the dirt roads. Maybe it’s not as rare to find it here in Ghana, but there is a feeling of freedom that comes with the silence.

As I passed through savannah land I stopped to admire the view, the sound and the smell. Flies fiddling with my ear, and sweat on my brow. It was nice to take pictures of the silence…but it wasn’t satisfying enough. I wanted to photograph the people, the culture and lifestyle. In the distance I saw a lady sifting sand from hay, and another lady carrying a pot on her head. This time I was on my own, with no one to translate for me, and these country people don’t speak English. It took a few minutes of standing under the sun, thinking of the possibilities before I decided to brave the culture clash and go and ask them if I could take photos of them. Success!!! Confidence boosted, and a great few hours out!

My activities this week have gone beyond the conscious world as well. Because of my Larium, anti-malaria medication, I have been having dreams every single night!! Sometimes more than one. I have been swimming in some huge pool with friends, climbing mountains and taking some incredible photos of nature in Finland, even sailing a sand ship through Ghana!!! Going to sleep is an exciting prospect, wondering what adventures I will have during the night. Take care everyone!

Here is a panoramic view of the countryside. Click on it to see the large version:

Click to see full size version.

“Desseba!” – “Naaaa”

Having the wind flow through my hair is an experience I’m fond of. Somehow, it’s always new. I seem to only take notice of it when I’m exploring, and it brings with it new air and new smells. This week I noticed it while riding on the back of a motorbike; travelling through the Ghanaian countryside to rural villages of mud huts and straw roofs. I looked up to the sky to see an eagle circling above, and herds of cows in the distance with farmers guiding their way. The wind, causing my hair to stand up straight, made the speed feel real.

This week has been one of discovery and orientation. Figuring out where I stand in all of this, and where I’m going. I was officially introduced to all the staff of CPYWD, and was able to be involved in some of their after-school activities which is at the core of their programme. One of these After School Programmes (ASPs) was in a rural community where 79 kids attended. I could hear them shouting ‘Siliminga! Siliminga!’ as I arrived into the village, meaning White man! White man!, and they came running up to me smiling and laughing. Simple games, both modern and traditional were played, and all the kids joined in enthusiastically.

The work of CPYWD in the past three years has helped in several communities through organising fun activities that bring children together to learn through play, and I can see firsthand the results of their labour. More children are attending school because of the efforts of CPYWD and so creating more opportunities for them and their communities to grow in the future and move out of poverty. On personal reflection I’ve been able to learn a lot this week through small observation. Past experiences in Africa have left me thinking that this is a place that is dangerous, hostile and intimidating…but since I’m now living in Ghana I’m seeing a side that is a bit different. I’m watching Ghanaian TV, where they show African dramas, and political debates. They keep up with Premier league football, and make African versions of shows like ‘Deal or No Deal’. Everything has its own African touch but you get a different impression on a fast paced, three week service projects where you are being rushed here and there to forums and physical work, and you’re still taking in the environment that is so new and strange. In this week I’ve been able to slow down and observe life in Ghana a little more intimately. I’ve been enjoying the sound of ‘Desseba!’ and the reply of ‘Naaaa’, which is the way people greet each other in the local Dagbani language. I really look forward to discovering more.

I’ve also been a reading a book entitled ‘How to Change the World – Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas’. It’s a fascinating book about people who have changed something in society to help people. They are the kind of people that work without thought for wages, or fame but sincerely work for the greater good! They dedicate years to their cause, coming across obstacles and pushing past them, again and again, until the goal is achieved. It’s a very appropriate read for someone going into development work. It makes me evaluate what I’m trying to achieve in my life. Anyway, I’m only 21…still a long way to go.

My Host home.

I want to keep practising my graphic work, so this is a little video I created. It took about 4 hours spread over two nights, and almost as long trying to upload it. Enjoy!