2005-12-24 Too Much To Drink
I tend to have very few preconceptions of anywhere I'm travelling to. I don't like to read up all the ins and outs of a place before I get there, it ruins the surprise like an annoying film trailer that tells you the whole story before you reach the cinema.
My knowledge of a place before I visit it comes along the tarmac or piste. People stop to chat and ask where I'm going. In Morocco one might ask " Where are you going next?", "Mauritaina, do you know how it is there?" I would ask. "Watch out for the Mauritanian's they are very crafty" they might say. In Mauritania hardly anyone has the time or inclination to be crafty, it's just too hot and dry to expend any effort than absolutely necessary, raising a glass of mint tea is about the most any man has the time for there. The Mauritanians would say "Be very careful in Senegal, its not like here, that is black Africa you are going to, they will eat you, eat your money". Ofcourse in Senegal the people are probably the most hospitable, generous and sensitive I have met in West Africa, yet they would still be wary of Mali, "Oh those Malians are very dangerous with their powerful marabout and witchdoctors, don't talk to these people, and don't drive at night there are bandits." I didn't get to meet any witchdoctors or bandits, the Malian douanes or truck drivers on the road saw to it that I was never without shelter. It was in Mali that I met my first Ghanaian, a truck driver who was extremely shy to speak with me and gently offered me his address in the Volta region. However, all the Francophones would say without a doubt "Faire attention avec les Anglophones. Ils aiment troupe d'argent, c'est pas la même la bas, très dangereux." If my timid Ghanaian truck driver was anything to go by then there was probably nothing to worry about. "It's just like all the other places before, people get their knickers in a twist about what they don't know" I thought. Yet there was a glimmer of doubt in my mind, The Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria looming up as great examples of English colonies gone wrong. Before I came to Africa I had no idea where Ghana was, it could have been in the Caribbean for all I knew, Ghana meant nothing to me, or millions of other Englishmen.
My first taste of Ghana was the immigration and customs officers. The difference is remarkable. Suddenly I'm faced with forms to fill in, procedures to follow, staff all wearing smart matching uniforms with a general air of superiority. It was a far cry from the slack happy-go-lucky of all those Francophone officials behind me. To my horror the customs decided that they couldn't let me in with my bike without a carnet du passage. I revolted "That's ridiculous, how can I come through all these countries and not obtain a temporary permit that every other country in the world operates?" They were giving me the cold shoulder treatment, carrying on with their work as if I were not there. So I sat and waited, it's the only way. Eventually a string of debate reared up around the heavy desks that surround me. I couldn't tell what they were saying in Twi, but I had a notion the stone was finally beginning to roll off its resting place. Finally one of them beckoned me over with a twitch of his fingers. I came and sat at his desk. "You know the system we operate here is a remnant of your own English system that your people left behind, so we are only practicing what you gave us" he said with a certain respite. "Oh shit I'm going to get a lecture, I don't care as long as you give me the paperwork." I thought. He then sidled up to his demand "So we can do something for you but you have to pay, its not a normal thing that you ask". "Of course I have to pay, that is only right" I blurted with much relief and a little concern as to the price I would be asked. Then followed a series of signatures, stampings and other dotting of Is and crossing of Ts, all at the peril of each officer disappearing out of the office for some other pressing task. It all came back to my man who took the standard fee and nothing more, but settled me down for a lesson in international aid. "So what are you actually doing in Ghana?", I don't know why I changed my story from games explorer to filmmaker for NGOs, but I did. That really set him off. "Did you know that only 4% of international aid funding actually stays in Ghana?" I had to admit I didn't. "One day I will be president of this country and then things will change you will see". Wow this guy is really hard core, I glanced at his badges, desk and office, but didn't see how he was going to make it to the presidential seat. I wished him luck. Before I could go though another officer was on my tail and wanted to search through my baggage and call my fictitious employer. He soon gave up with the bad phone connection and my sacking cloth bags, it was all too ridiculous.
In Tamale I stopped for a couple of days with Peter Lovett, shea butter tree lover, whom I was handed down to from Justin. Peter was drinking a lot and poured his life story to me. I later discovered it was something he did often much to the dismay of his wife Mariama. Their children, Suzie and Niki are 2 very beautiful sparkling bright children who could certainly do without all the parental bickering.
Now I'm in Accra, at Romana's place, an orphanage under construction. The place looks more like a concentration camp from the outside with all the barbed wire and heavy steel gates. Romana is an increadible woman, who has created a mountain of work for herself. She's the foreman, administrator, educator and provider to her orphanage and 3 of her own children who are coming to terms with life, plucked from Notting Hill and plunged into East Legon. Tomorrow is Christmas day that I will be spending with US missionaries and after that I have to find a way into Accra's business life and get myself some work.
Peter invited me to stay at his flat in Asylum Down, a nice part of Accra, relaxed, not too busy, local people but littered with over zealous churches. I thought mosques were bad, but this is much worse. Live bands bashing out monotonous tunes to the screams of apparently singing preachers throughout the day and night. There is no knowing what god would make of this racket, truly disenchanting. I can't complain too much, Peter is only charging me two thirds of the rent for a place he is in less than a few days a month, in an area that is close to everything I need and not living like an aid worker in the white prison style walls of Cantonments. There's beer in the fridge and plenty of beer at plenty of bars all over town. There are as many bars as there are churches, there is probably a business model for amalgamating the two. In fact I'm actually quite disgusted with the amount of alcoholism. After a year and a half of living in francophone Islamic countries, I'm finding the site of debauched drinkers quite depressing. This is surprising since I come from one of the worst drinking deluges of the world, London. That's it! The beer, the bad bread, milk in tea, churches, pompous officials, 1950's style school uniform, they are all screaming English culture at me. People in this city generally don't smile or talk too much, I've had better conversations with my broken French in francophone cities than I can have in English here. I'm negative about life here, it reminds me too much of London, miserable, selfish money grabbing people instead of the generous smiling peoples of the north.
2006-01-05 Is The Journey Over
This is the question I'm often asking myself since cash is in short supply. I've had to borrow money a couple of times now ad am fortunate enough to have received a few punds from my aging grandmother. I left Ouagadougou prematurely, in fact the shortest stay in any country on my journey, Had I not the worry of financing my mission I certainly would have stayed longer, if for the romance with Halimata and Catrina alone. Now I'm here in Accra surrounded by all things English and ever so London it makes me shudder. I don't care what all the ex-pats here tell me, Ghana is definitely not as friendly as any of the West African countries I have already visited. I f I manage to continue to Nigeria, I will see this as a good period of adjustment. Peoples faces are generally sour and few have the common decorum to just say hello, as they did in other capitals of Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali and Burkina. Accra I a boom town rigt now with the overflow of business that would normally have gone the way of Ivory Coast. With business and money comes all the worst aspects of human nature and so Accra presents itself as the future of African lifestyle if it is allowed to realise the 1st world status that it yearns for. Perhaps it is just as well, after all that's what I'm here for, work, money and a chance to continue with my dream too. Peter is hooking me up with all sorts of people and is generally helping to put me on the right track. I'm grateful for his continued thoughts in my direction.
2003-03-05 Work At Last
A few days ago a godsend message came to me by sms. The job I had been chasing for the last couple of months finaly came through. I jumped for joyo and sped around town on my bike that evening with rejuvenated vigor. Simultaneously my films have been invited to play at the Environment Film Festival of Accra. Up until now I was becoming as depressed and overdrawn as my bank account, no joke. Now on the team with WATH (West African Trade Hub) I am somehow back in the real world. Pressure to perform and bring a film in on time for a deadline, seems crazy for an African project, but why not? J
Leaving the local sports bar, Champs, late one night with Fati I asked her home. She said yes, but later felt she wanted to go home. I was too tired to drive, so walked her to the taxi rank back on ringroad. I don't like walking this way, especially not at night and particularly not over the footbridge that spans the open sewer. Leaving Fati in the cab I was making my way back to the house I heard footsteps coming up behind me quickly as I got onto the footbridge. My back pocket wallet chained to my belt was taken in a second, I turned ducked a feigned punch to the face and ran back off the bridge. At this point I realised the man was running off with the keys to the flat too. Suddenly a rage shot up inside me, I charged screaming obsenities as I ran towards him. I could see he lost heart with his aim to run for the main road, he took the money and threw the wallet back at me. He then ran past me, for a second I had an absolute gem of an opportunity to push him into the open sewer, but I didn't. I was just so glad to get my wallet and keys back and who knows maybe the guy had a weapon too. Fati called me asking if I was alright, she had heard it all as the taxi left. I agreed to see her tomorrow, but on no account would I entertain her late at night if she wasn't going to stay. Just as I was thinking to walk home across the bridge a little group of "concerned" people arrived. "I saw him, I think I know who it is, do you want me to bring him to your house", of course not you blithering idiot take him to the police. Another said "why didn't you take a taxi home", that really got my goat especially coming from the guy who seemed to be around the whole time it was all happening but did nothing to help, "because I fucking live here, only 100 meters away, that why". However, that was the last time you caught me walking the streets at night, drive only. It could have happened anywhere of course, but it was just yet another blemish on my stay in Accra.
The next night Fati decided she would stay and watch a film at the flat, but in the next sentence she said "then I will go home", I walked her straight back out again. I was really angry. "Pourquoi to a fâche avec moi? Tim, pourquoi?" she whimpered following me in hurried broken step down the street to the taxi rank. I didn't say anything, she knew only too well why I was angry, why on earth should I allow someone to let me walk the same path of last night. "Goodbye and don't call me again, you are a threat to my security" I said as I firmly shut the door to her taxi.
She did call again but I didn't answer.
2006-09-27 African Legends By Starlight
With only one day left on my visa and the bike not functioning I find myself chartering a taxi to take me to Togo in order to extend my visa. The driver couldn't believe his luck, all that cash, one passenger. I don't think he'd ever left Accra, the LPG gas leaking into the car was not the only problem he was having, the car stopped because his spark plugs were rubbish. He changed them for more old rubbish plugs and it got going again to a rough start.
Sitting in the taxi I'm thinking of Alice. I met her just 4 nights ago at Big Millie's, the hobo beach joint for rastas to mesmerise young white girls with their seemingly endless knowledge of meaninglessness that often comes in the form of drum beating, that never seems to be in time with anything but their own disorientated ideology. I digress. I was talking to ex-pat, biker Geoff and his Ghanaian wife Fidelia, about how frustrated I was with not being able to meet a nice Ghanaian girl, when there she came, Alice. I had noticed a girl gently hovering in the background that night, but finally when the power cut "lights out", we all moved to the beach where rastas are inevitably found jabbering on their drums. One came to me to ask me about my wife, pointing at this timid girl in the background. I looked at her, then him, and shook my head. I turned back to see her again, a little lost, certainly alone and definitely pretty. So I asked her, "are you Ghanaian?" "Yes", her answers were short, so I had to do the legwork for now. Before long we found ourselves sitting on one of the pirogue fishing boats telling each other African tales of old under the light of the stars and only the sound of the waves lapping on the beach to keep us company, that is of course until a rasta feels it necessary to come and oblige you for something, a cigarette or whatever. I was struck by her beautiful voice and the certainty in which she spoke. So many people here have nothing to offer in terms of conversation, so it was a real bonus that this beautiful dressed princess was sitting beside me with something very interesting to talk about. All the elder ex-pat men here don't have the faintest clue what I'm on about, they all think I'm mad when I say I'm looking for a girl who I can talk to. One day they'll realise why its important, or perhaps they wont and just continue frequenting the prostitutes of all the nightclubs and bars in town. I walked her up the hill to my place "would you like to stay here tonight or shall I walk you home?" "It's better I go home alone, it's safer" she was thinking of my security rather than hers. She was hesitating, ready to go but waiting for something. I took the plunge and swept her off her feet, holding her in my arms and held her close enough that I could kiss her. She didn't resist, she wasn't scared, she trusted me. I let her down and promised to see her soon.
The very next day I went to visit her at her work place, Je Suis Afric, the boss was a colleague from WATH, it's a small world. It was a bit embarrassing for her, but she was pleased to see me. I'm in touch with her now, sending the occasional sms to see how the land lies.
2006-09-29 Stuck In Lome
I've been stuck in Lome for some days now since the Ghana embassy doesn't want to issue me with a new visa until I've been out of Ghana for at least a week. I went back to beg, and was given assurances to return the next day, so there is hope yet. I made a new friend at Le Galion, a big German guy, Thomas, who has troubles with his export business, but was determined to sho me a good time in Lome on a Wednesday night. First off was the English pub The Kings Head with a snooker table and a rather odd collection of people there including George Bush, not the devil but another guy of the same name. Thomas likes to rant, and I can't stand ranters for too long, probably because I'm a bit of a ranter myself. Apparently Thomas once player alongside Germany's bastion of football, Klinsman. Sadly Thomas gave up his football career due to an injury. Next up a huge club, possibly the biggest in West Africa, Privilege, an 80's styled every wall is a mirror décor. If it were a Saturday night each mirror would be occupied by a slender scantily clad girl mesmerised by he own slinky movements. Unfortunately, being a Wednesday night this was not the case, just a handful of prostitutes rattled around within these confines of the club. Thomas seemed to know all of them, the bar girls, and the bouncers. I was feeling the whiskey weigh me down, but Thomas would let me leave without him, he took me to another smaller club where I finally left him to drown in his own rantings.
With extra time waiting for my visa I had a good opportunity to go shopping for Alice's gifts, cute dresses, nice lingerie, my god the number of women's shoe shops in Lome, its like something out of a Monty Python movie or something.
2006-10-29 One Bed & A president's Son
My time flies, whether you're having fun or not. I've been here 10 months, Peter's contract for the flat is up and I'm out. In my desperate search for new quarters, Seku Nkruma, son of Nkwame Nkruma, the first president of Ghana, offered me his place to stay. Seku had moved back to Ghana recently and in my brief assessment of his character I detected an incredibly naive man of year greater than mine. I couldn't fathom how he had been living all this time, but his concept of life is so entrenched its surprising he can get along with anyone at all. I was a little wary, but I had no choice but to move into his empty boy's quarters adjacent to his virtually empty main house currently doubling as a failed art gallery. There was no security, no one to look after the place, it was surprising worse things hadn't befallen his home after thieves broke in to take his light fittings. Our mutual friend Raja offered to arrange for a bed to be brought from his family home to Raja's office where I would collect it and take it to Seku's. I arranged with Seku to meet at his place at 6pm. I was there on time with the bed, Seku was not there. I called and called. Raja thought I should just leave the bed somewhere unseen and come to meet at the bar. I didn't hear from Seku until I called him again the next day. Seku was furious with me and asked that I remove the bed and terminate my proposed stay. I apologised and pleaded for his mercy, but he wasn't having it. Raja was shocked and thought it a might severe. It hindsight it was a good thing, if I had actually moved in with such an erratic and reactionary character, who knows what might have happened.
Alex came to my rescue. Living in Asylum down he and Yacine were my first friends in Accra. Although I was more a close friend of Yacine, Alex was happy to have me at his clean lined well kept flat. Alex provides satellite Internet connectivity to much of Ghana's big businesses and has being doing so for the last 8 years or so. He's a highly strung businessman, so we all have to forgive him for his alarmingly impatient outbursts. The Apple Macintosh crazed Alex and his sausage dog Strudel are forever emblazoned in mind.
A week after moving in I fixed my bike! Some 6 months the poor thing had been sitting idle. In the end it was just a build up of deposits in the carburettors, a common ailment of many vehicles in Africa, but it wasn't until this 4th attempt of cleaning them that I finally thrust compressed air down each and every possible orifice. Oh what joy, what pleasure, I have to thank Paul Shorrock, ex-pat Brit Marketing Director of a show homes and construction company, Trasacco. I had met Paul almost in my first month of being in Ghana, but it wasn't until he called me to do a film job that I got to spend time with him. Paul is a very chirpy chap, who probably gets up to as much mischief as all the older ex-pats, they probably do it ensemble anyway.
It was around this time that my life was forming a pattern, working during the week with Alice at home cooking, dashing to Kokrobite on weekends to swim and to dance to the intolerably predictable song set of the live band at Big Millies. With the bike working life was moving much faster. Its incredible how a motorcycle can change your life, especially when filtering through Africa's stupidly dumb traffic congestion. I normally plan to achieve roughly 2 important things a day in West Africa, invariably you'll be lucky to achieve 1. However, with a bike I can go to 4 or more and complicated tasks too.
Toady; 1. Convince the head of legal at Ecobank to verify my identy for a trust fund in the UK. 2. New bike insurance including CEDAO Brown Card for other countries outside Ghana. 3. Extend motorcycle permit at Customs & Excise 4. Deliver digital cut of work in progress for Paul at Trasacco Valley, a distance and traffic heavy. 5. Design trousers on paper and drop off to my tailor. 6. Reach Kokrobite before 3pm to see Alice wet and sleek in her bikini at the beach.
I managed all but the most important last task, Alice was already at the hairdresser braiding a "Candy Candy", my favourite style done without those monstrous hair extensions the girls here love so much. Alice is the picture of cuteness and wholesome living with her hair in this village style braid, all-natural.
2006-11-28 Togo & Back
Alice was eager to join me in yet another dash to Togo for my visa extension. So for the first time I took a girlfriend on a small adventure, crossing a border and doing the journey together. We were stopped by the police, nothing new there, but instead of the usual banter there were now intrigued comments towards the relationship between Alice and I. "Oh is this your girlfriend?, ...make sure you look after her, she is my Ghanaian sister." I rather liked the compassion for a young girl fearlessly riding on the back of an obruni's bike to another country. In other circumstances I might have said "piss off, it's none of your business" Alice and I smiled and laughed all the way to Lome. Alice was really impressed with how little traffic there was here compared to Accra, "Wow! Its really moves here, Tim!" "It's because there is less money here, not enough to buy so many big fat 4X4s, so everyone is on a 100cc motorcycle" I explained. We ate well and were soon asleep in our curte but hot mosquito ridden room at Le Galion.
The days are packed when your flying on a Thunderbird with a girl like Alice. We squeezed in shopping, a visit to the embassy and much more than usually possible in the average African day. Thomas would had to agree, 2 things a day is usually the most you can expect, but 4 that's really pushing your luck.
Alice was having a great time, and I was enjoying every minute of her happiness. It's difficult to imagine Alice every being unhappy, but sometimes its nice to imagine that I might have something to do with making her smile and laugh so. We are very honest with each ther and we know we love each other. I can't keep my eyes off her slender exotic body and her beaming smile of pure unadulterated glee. She loves to dress her hair o-natural, as I like it and clothes herself to please me as much as herself. She delights in any pleasure she can give me, especially in bed, and I've learnt how to flick her switch, which is an amazing internal affair, nothing like other girls I've known. So I'm happy of course, but saddened at the same time, leaving her is always in the back of my mind.
Re-entering Ghana was not so easy this time around. Only 30 days on the visa, Alice was convinced I should let her beg the immigration officer to extend it further, but I just didn't want any trouble, you never know which way these people will crumble. The customs had changed their minds about which type of document I should be allowed to use for my motorcycle. I was not supposed to have one of their ECOWAS temporary permits since the bike was not ECOWAS registered, but instead I should do a temporary import of an ECOWAS vehicle. Bonkers. Luckily I had got to know Mr Philip Mensah, Legal Director at customs head office. The big guys here knew his name well, the name dropping sped me through with only a measly 250,000 cedis to pay as deposit instead of giving away roughly the same money for the previous permit, but it still took 3 hours of typing, signing, stamping and generally shuffling around between lots of poky little offices. Even though I'm sure the've seen global travellers like me before, eyes still pop open to hear my voyage so far. England to Ghana by bike is still very difficult to compute. "Why, what, you mean you put it on a plane to each country?" "No", with my arms out twisting my wrist back for imaginary throttle, "driving!"
The drive back was tough with a strong side wind, but I was determined not to allow these officials steal an entire day of swimming at kokrbite beach from us. Thankfully we got home in one piece no thanks to foolish tro tro (beaten up vans turned into public transport) drivers who don't know how to overtake. When one of these unwieldy lop-sided jalopies intends to overtake its equal, an eon elapses as it passes the other, with absolutely no regard for what is coming the other way, round a corner or over a hill or any other unhinged place to make such a manoeuvre. Its scary to say the least.
We jumped in the sea, Alice gave me an idyllic Thai massage in her sexy silver swimming costume for all to see, especially those jealous white girls who can't get truly happy with the local guys so easily. Then to round the day off, pasta at Franco's. Alice worked at his restaurant once and really knows how to make a good pasta and pizza, she picks up everything very quickly and is very passionate about everything she is involved in. That's my girl J
2007-01-04 Zion In Kwamoso
Alice and I passed the New Year with much love and affection. Alice looks stunning in the new clothes I had sent from the UK. In her first outfit, "I'm the pink lady" she shrieked as Alice sprinted along the beach in her pink bikini, pashmina, choker necklace and belly chain. All eyes were on us as she pranced and danced through the seashore. Then at Anita's xmas party Alice wore her silk mocha baby doll dress and sparkling choker, bracelet, earrings and hairclips. Again all eyes were on Alice as lit up the room with her sparkling smile. However Alice was not her normal self that evening, a little under the weather from a small throat infection. Xmas eve Alice turned heads in her gold baby doll and sparklies, amazing. Ynna's jaw dropped in disbelief, how could she have employed this film star beauty to be her waitress without knowing it? Next up the sexy silver bikini posing on the rocks and along the beach. Rastas lurked in the background trying to look like they were not concerned. For New Years Alice wore her black baby doll and just as on all the other nights eyes feasted on Alice's presence. At Big Millies beachside dance dressed in our casual campers, Alice bounces about, a cocktail dress princess. My princess.
I'm writing from the Volta region. This it's the first time in over a year of staying in Ghana, that I'm actually visiting somewhere outside Accra. Alice and I are on a quest for gameplay together. We are hunting down anything we can find on Ampe. We are currently at Wli falls, a spectacular waterfall backing onto the Togo frontier. We didn't find anything special here or at the monkey sanctuary but were directd to go back over to the Akuapem region where it was certain we should find all there is to know about Ampe.
After a little while of twisting and turning through the valleys and steep mountain roads we finally came upon the village of Kwamoso. Alice explained why we were there and we were immediately taken to meet the somewhat shifty reverend of the Zion Ministries church. If I should interview anyone, just for the fun of it even, it should be this man. His low sly gravely voice opens and closes only to affirm his lordly position. "Mmmm Yeeees, we know you white people very well, you are welcome, you will be very happy here...we know very well what you white people like to eat, we will look after you." Then his eyes would slither over to Alice, I saw him devour her with his eyes. "And who might this young lady be?" It was a little uncomfortable spending time with the reverend, but as soon as a price had been agreed, in terms of sacks of cement, Alice and I found it easy to joke about the reverend. Alice now does an excellent impression of his slow calculating voice and mannerisms. We suspected that the reverend would pocket most of the money for himself leaving little for auntie Gifty, our host and cook. We learnt later that the reverend had been a powerful man across the area with his new church, but when peoples prayers didn't come through after dashing out so much cash to his "ministries" then it is fell out the bottom. He has a nice car sitting stagnant on bricks collecting dust, lots of property for his new venture, a school, puts on the occasional event in his compound and has the occasional blue eyed white volunteer arrive to help with construction or schooling in the village. He was very proud to show us all his paperwork regarding these matters as if it would impress us to give him more money for our stay. Alice wouldn't have any of it and got the price down pretty low.
Patrick is our local helper here and has become part of the research team and film crew. I'm back in the business of making my own films, it's an adventure, with new faces and with Alice by my side, a new approach. What a great way to start the new year.
2007-01-05 Interview With Rose Animah
As luck wold have it, and I have a lions share of this commodity, an ancient Ampe champion was to be found living in Kwamoso, Rose Animah. At around 100 years auntie Rose remembers much about those days that she played Ampe, and she literally jumped with joy, clapping and singing when she began to relive those former years before our very eyes. The last time she had played Ampe in its traditional form was between 60 and 70 years ago. In those days team leaders would organise competitions between the girls of local villages and towns. Girls and women used to play from ages of 15 or younger to as old as 50 or more. Rose herself said she had won around 5 championships in those years of her prime. She couldn't describe her winning technique in great detail but it was sufficient to say she would use her clapping and leg movements to trick opposing players. Rose was very adamant that we should know there were no prizes of material gain at these competitions, it was enough to be known as the winner across the locality, a pride in place. Rose described the costume that girls should wear; a short skirt wrapped from the best material each girl could from her mother. The Okpeng style was certainly going to be attractive for men , but Rose insisted that this was not the purpose or intention of the girls to perform Ampe, there were strict codes of conduct for couples to follow. However, men are the same the world over and throughout the ages, young girls jumping in short skirts, please, if that isn't going to raise eyebrows and other features of men, I can't think what will. I had hoped that Rose could tell me of some interesting songs that would accompany the game, yet she claimed, in this region at least there no old folk tales or things of that nature to accompany the game. Songs if there were any would be taunts and declarations of superiority, but never insults. Rose again was very particular about the general attitude that girls had towards each other and that they were always polite throughout these occasions. I wondered why the competition event no longer existed, Rose said "People would laugh at you if you played the game in a competition without prizes, you would be considered foolish". Prior to our meeting with Rose we had briefly met with another old lady who claimed to know all there was to know about Ampe, but refused to co-operate without large sums of money and generally sneered at us. Rose was her senior and had asked for nothing in return. Rose was a jolly character, full of life, the other woman, a miserable personality with a cold heart. We agreed to come back the next day to interview Rose on camera.
2007-01-07 Ampe Champion
Interviewing Rose for a second time yesterday was a wonderful experience. Rose impressed us all, dressed in full kente costume, trade beads and generally made herself very attractive for the camera. I could feel a real sense of pride from all onlookers; this is our grandmother to behold, a sweet woman we can all respect. Unfortunately Rose was a little less animated in front of the camera. We went over all the same questions posed yesterday and all ran very smoothly indeed. A big bonus was when Rose demonstrated the short skirt style to be worn by wrapping a yard of cloth around Alice's waist. Now it was certain, Alice will feature in the film. Rose was wonderful, we had all enjoyed our time together, I doubt I'll have a more enjoyable interview, or to have a proposition of marriage from the interviewee either. She accepted our gifts with a wonderful embrace. "Oh my husband, thank you, now you must write to me often." Parting was quite difficult, we were only just getting to know each other when the interview came to an end, but now it was time to let her go.
After another fine lunch from auntie Gifty's kitchen, Patrick, Alice and I set off to see if we couldn't find more old people to talk to in neighbouring villages. We got in a taxi only to find the driver was none other than Rose's last born son of 48! He drove us a small way to the village of Bewase where he advised us we could find Rose's 3rd sister, Elizabeth, of 86 years old. Unfortunately Elizabeth was out farming, so we had to find something else to do whilst we waited. We found some other old women who remembered Amp, but had little interest in it since their childhood and adolescent lives had not afforded them the spare time to play games at all. It is common in West Africa to find women, who, as girls, could not be looked after by their own immediate family and would be packed off to an aunt or other family member who would then use them as workhorses. It still happens today, I see it in every family that I have stayed with in West Africa to date. It was surmised that auntie Rose was from a fortunate background and had been afforded the pleasures of many years of freedom to do as she wished. We also met an old man of some 80-90 years who could tell us more about Ampe and the surrounding customs if we had 3 days to spare. Alice suddenly grew very impatient and spoke with frustration "No, Tim, he doesn't understand what we are asking, he just wants to tell you about all the traditions and customs that don't have anything to do with Ampe, the would truly take 3 months not 3 days...and he just doesn't know anything about Ampe, it's a woman's game and he is a man!" I thought Alice was probably right, but I couldn't help thinking that to find the truth you might have to listen to all the ramblings of an old man who used to work at the palace find that needle in a haystack, that little gem of knowledge not found elsewhere. Patrick also felt it was a red herring, anyway I didn't have 3 days sitting around wit him, shame I've spent so much time sitting in front of a TV or a at a bar in Accra. We were just thinking of going to Elizabeth's to help her with whatever she might be carrying back from her day at the farm, when there she was, a tiny little thing with a huge stack of firewood perched atop a miniscule structure, stepping slowly and cautiously into her compound. It was too late to help her, but we felt we should at least let her rest a little before we pounced on her with questions regarding what might seem a frivolous activity of playing Ampe after a hard life at the farm. When we finally decided to enter the compound, there we found her huddled over a bowl of food. We felt a little embarrassed and tried to remain insignificant in the hope she would not be unsettled by our coming. She promptly cut her dining short and turned toward us, a beautiful face that resembled her sisters, bizarrely cast as a bad make up artist might attempt to make a young face look old. Elizabeth didn't have much new to say about Ampe that Rose hadn't already dwelled apon, but she did manage with her faint voice, demand her grand daughters to perform the game for us. The rather lumbering duo haphazardly attempted to play whilst I tried capturing their actions in a drawing. Both efforts were somewhat to be desired. We agreed to try to return on Tuesday to film Elizabeth, but made no promises since there were other things to shoot, I was worried we already had too much on our plate; Ampe Monday morning with school girls, Ampe at an event that evening and possibly schoolgirls again on Tuesday morning. Since there was no electricity in the village there was no way to charge the camera batteries, so it might be difficult to manage all. Alice and I returned to our village home for another heavenly 12 hours sleep. A blissful time that was only occasionally interrupted by insufficiently short bed slats falling through to the floor with a sudden thud, leaving us to find a way to crawl back out of the hole that had been created. Somehow Alice and I never ceased to have something to talk and laugh about. The ebb and flow of our passing time would sometimes leave a moment of sadness when we realised we would soon part our ways.
2007-01-08 Kwamoso JSS
The students at school were supposed to be clearing up the premises in preparation for the start of school the next day. Not many had arrived for this thankless task, but those that had made it probably were here to get away from other even more mundane tasks at home or perhaps simply out of boredom. We were just beginning preliminary introductions and questions about Ampe with the few girls who had arrived from the surrounding villages, when the headmaster popped in for what seemed like a surprise visit. This was a little worrying, it could bode disaster for any hope of filming young girls at his school. Indeed he started on an official tack, "You will have to come back tomorrow as I will be busy with classes now." I sat motionless upon a small school chair for a 6 year old, "perhaps I could return when they have a break?". He seemed to agree but posed the problem that the girls might be tired by that time, Again I remained firmly rooted to my chair knowing that truly he did want to help, but just needed to posture a little and show all who is boss. Finally he came back with "ok I can give you 40 minutes breaktime now". I thanked him and we setup in the school field. The headmaster took control, but not in an obstructive way, in fact very helpful indeed. He got the girls into position and helped to give the girls some enthusiasm for the task ahead. The girls responded well but Alice was anxious to play herself and bounced around me, "I want to play, Tim can't I play?" No one is more enthusiastic about making this film than Alice. She wants to show the girls how well she can play to inspire them to do better, but I had to deny her the chance until after we had finished getting the first shots. Then came the slightly embarrassing moment when we wanted the girls to change into the short cloth we had bought for them. Their other over garments rather destroyed the effect. "Well we can't ask them to remove their clothes" said the headmaster, Alice and I both knew if he hadn't been around that this would not have been a problem at all. The girls tried their best to hitch up their longer skirts and dresses, but trousers had to remain. Well we tried our best and I struggled to capture the fast broad movements of his highly active game, but I was feeling the images were not going to be as good as they could be, they never are of course. Its always a game of chance with this type of production, almost everything end up being left to the last moment. I'm learning about what the game looks like, how it works, which girls are good to focus on and trying to get decent compositions, angles, tracking, panning all at the same time. The 40 minutes became close to 2 hours and all ended on a happy note. The girls had thoroughly enjoyed the experience, were very happy with their cloth skirts and a little money for drinks etc. We took photos together and Alice heard them saying how they would tailor the skirts to wear them together at school events so that all would know they were the Ape girls. Yet again I was proud to have made an impression on some youngsters so that they might be proud of their own culture and games and as Alice rightly stated "They have learnt something today." We had taught them some things that the headmaster didn't know about, he asked me the meanings of which I knew very little, but enough to make an impression. Football is killing Ampe, it now replaces Ampe as a community competition that used to take place between villages. I could see though, that the girls really enjoyed the small competition and that an idea for a televised national Ampe competition would be extremely popular. It's all a bit too late for me to be hatching such plans." I must act on instinct more often and with greater haste, the potential for greatness could easily come from a little more ambition and action; lazy Tim !!!
2007-01-09 Ampe In Uniform
This morning we arrived at the school t see first assembly of the year. It was a better turnout than that of the reverend's school, bu the headmaster here thought his assembly was much to be desired. Headmaster announced to the girls that they would assist me with my filming of Ampe. "There is a gentleman around..." I was worried that there would be a less enthusiastic following. My eye's popped and I jumped into action when I saw the all the girls of the school were swarming towards us. "Eeek, how will I manage to organise them all?" Quickly I issued commands and Alice got them sorted into 4 teams of 8 and the rest as spectators. Our first team were the girls we had filmed yesterday. We started with a bit of a whimper, but as the competition continued the enthusiasm began to build until it came to a bit of a crescendo as the girls really put their heart into it. Our team A finally won the mini league and competed between themselves to find out who was the ultimate school champion. This girl, Sandra, was really impressive in the after game interview, a real leader who wanted to inspire the others o do better. Sandra suggested that they could show s other games, The girls were much more engaged now and had a lot of fun showing us what they knew. There were some games they didn't know enough about such as Aso, this game was Alice's favourite in childhood and was sad to see that her younger sisters didn't know it. To finish the girls danced in a huge circle. The headmaster remembered just as we were leaving, to show us a dilapidated structure that was built in 1978. The seemingly war beaten block was still functioning as a school room, but should really be knocked down and rebuilt. Certainly prime target material for some charitable organisation to support it. I agreed I would contact RTP in the vague hope that they might assist. Next we went to Bewase , filmed Elizabeth who was actually quite interesting and had a lot to say about the way Christianity had been responsible for her culture's disappearance. She was a little disappointed in our offerings to her and was probably expecting whatever we had given to her older sister, but Alice thought it was a good deal. On the way back we took a shortcut through the jungle that Patrick said didn't exist. Alice saw a black cobra and jumped! Poor Alice cried like a small girl for almost an hour and flinched at the slightest movement in the grass. Our time in Kwamoso at finally come to an end and had been a wonderful and very fruitful experience. I will never forget it, but mostly because Alice was there to make it all so much fun. Alice too was able to meet with a practicing nurse responsible for some 33 villages, I can't remember how many thousands. Alice want to become a nurse so it was a good opportunity to get the low down. We left the next day waving goodbye to everyone and Jamie, a volunteer worker for the reverend who arrived whilst we were there, we shall never forget him for the day he came floundering from a classroom with dirty blackboard chalk dust all over his face "I just can't deal with this reverend character, teach here, now teach here he says without giving me a chance to finish a class." Alice laughed all night at this distressed image.
2007-01-28 Editing Ampe
The last 2 to 3 weeks have been quite gruelling in front of the editing suite (laptop in Alex's living room). Alice painstakingly went through all the interviews with me twice! Alice hadn't understood exactly what I had wanted from the subtitles the first time around. She had given me summarized interpretations of each section, but on review I discovered what I really wanted was almost an exact word for word translation with just the occasional extrapolation to help our audience glean the full meaning. I like to use subtitles instead of voiceovers because I like to hear the original voice in its full glory, it is the essence of a person's personality and for the same reason I like subtitles to read as much like the way an individual speaks it is essential to their character. One thing I learned from going through this process with Alice, is that Twi is an incredibly inaccurate language. So much is left to interpretation and assumption and finally I understand why there are so many misunderstandings and arguments about really simple things here, it is because most people are completely inarticulate and struggle desperately to be understood. I'm amazed that anything is conveyed correctly here.
We are back in Kokrbite and it's been a little sad. I'm bored of the place and all the boring rastas apart from Mike, who is completely normal and down to earth about everything. Alice is stressed about her first utility bill from her landlord who she fears will charge an arm and a leg because she is running around with me (obruni, white man) as this is apparently what happens to tenants who have white partners. We're both thinking about about my imminent departure and it is sad for us to think about the other being alone.
2007-02-10 New Dawn Rising
I stopped working on the film for a bit since a new dawn was rising. As the light of my journey peeps above the skyline I suddenly have preparations to make. I need a new passport, visas for several countries, look for the best route on the map again. As y travelling mind awakes my heart's love begins to wane. It is not out of failure to capture my heart, far from it, but Alice is now, on occasion, set to the sideline. I have to ignore her almost constant questioning of the English language, which I'm not much cop at anyway. I need to concentrate on the voyage at hand. There is very much a sense of déjà-vu here. I never imagined I would be going through this experience again. As I was leaving England all my planning, preparation and excitement for the road ahead had all been acted out under the watchful and forlorn eyes of Chu. Now it's all happening again, but instead in Ghana and Alice is the one trying to come to terms with my departure. Although Alice has only had one other male experience, she has been able to cope remarkably well, but she is becoming more introverted and deadly silent, a stark contrast to her normal self of bubbling enthusiasm. I'm doing my best to cheer her up., but even as Valentine's day approaches, I can feel it might be a sad occasion for reflection rather than the bold thrust forward in excitement of things to come. Between now and the 1st March I need to finish editing the Ampe film, deliver it for screening at Kwamoso, repair my front fork and subframe and generally reorganise my belongings which have become a burgeoning hoard during my 14 month stay in Ghana. As I get back on track I realise there are many logistical challenges facing my next leg. I think I have the cash to get to Namibia, but driving to that desert country is looking decidedly difficult. Most people I know, be they westerners or West Africans, all shudder at the thought of me travelling solo on a bike through such places as Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, DRC and Angola. I have to shut my ears to rumours and general hearsay. I must turn to the best source there is; other overlanders and their recent experiences. Nowadays its very easy to get in touch with these guys, they are all on the web, many have their own websites like me and they often hook up with others through horizonsunlimted.com Here I can get the latest on where to get visas, conditions of roads, where to stay etc etc. Prior to a recent visit to this website I was seriously considering the circumnavigation of DRC since I've heard a lot about after election fighting. Yet people still find a way through. This is inspiring and very important to someone like me. Breaking a journey up with a flight or to a lesser extent a boat, damages a very romantic notion of the continuous line of effort under one's own steam or rather bike. To stop and let someone or something take care of the journey rather defeats the point, as does flying home for xmas holidays. No self respecting explorer would ever contemplate doing such a thing. The HUBB as it is known (Horizons Unlimited Bulletin Board) has shown that several like me have crossed these lands, with some hardships, to re-emerge a little batter but unscathed at the other end. Sifting through other peoples experiences I discovered a route that is very favourable to my tastes in travel, that would take me round the back way so to speak, avoiding the big crossing point at Brazzaville/Kinshasa. My greatest problem though is the weather and my choice of motorcycle; raining season on a custom styled bike is bonkers mate. If I make it to the other side I don't think anyone will believe me. If raining season is in full swing by the time I reach Congo it could put a serious dampener on my progress. However, Alice in her uncanny wisdom pointed out that "Tim, you don't have to think about the weather, look how we have so little rain in Ghana this last year." She was right of course but who knows now with the unprecedented recognition of 'Climate Change' I could experience the opposite, torrential rains. I'm beginning to hatch a plan, as long as I can find a safe place to hole up for 1 month, say Gabon, then perhaps I can wait the rains out. But to add to my worries, the roads of Angola look exactly like the sort of roads my bike, heavy and traction less, will have problems with. But if some guy on an F1 racing bike can do it why can't I? I believe more than ever that I can accomplish this journey without additional transport. Perhaps it is one of our great failings as city dwellers, we forget how to do things, physical things, to know what can and can't be done. We become spineless amoebas, like those people at the FCO or British Council, with no rational for logistical survival. I know one thing for sure, I'm not going to spend over $2000 just to givve a plane the pleasure of dropping me 1,000 odd kilometres in a safe direction. Besides I've never travelled without my bike or had to leave it in the clutches of customs officials, yuck!
2007-02-21 Alice Is Ghana
Leaving in 8 days I'm furiously attacking my to do list. First priority is to complete the Ampe film. So many things to consider at the same time right now. Film editing, bike maintenance, delivering DVDs to Kwamoso, EFFA and friends, perhaps even a private view. Alice's education, she has now decided to go back and retake her secondary school exams to better her chances at entering a nursing course at the university. She feels hard done by since the government recently denounced a "health Care"qualification. She and many others are no longer accepted with this certificate to work in government clinics or hospitals. I'm sad that I can't be around to help her and faster moral support. She's all on her own. I can give her money from time to time but its only half of what is required for a successful start in life I know in now, have done for many years, my mother and father gave me the very best start in life, it really counted to have their full support.
I've not had much of a chance to say goodbye to friends here and I don't feel very well prepared, especially for the future in Nigeria and beyond. I've got some leads but so little time to follow it all up. It's a daunting thought to be back on the road, like leaving home again, I've been here that long. Its so similar to the situation when leaving London all that time ago, mostly because of Alice. It's difficult to put in words, but Alice is such an inspiration for courage and just generally living. She is not as hung up about so many social constraints as so many West Africans are, yet she is still fond of the traditions, well some of them. Before I met Alice Ghana was quite the dullest miserable place I had been on my journey so far. Alice is Ghana to me and made the country and its people shine. More than any other deserves a chance at the future. I hope I can help to make a difference. I will miss her touch, kindness in so many respects; cooking dancing - oh the dancing. Her bright energetic smile and strength or rather endurance for the dance floor. I was reminded of this once more when she dressed in her new silk dress with matching pink lingerie and cute shoes. At Anita's house we danced on the floor and in bed before jumping up to drive to Kokrobrite for her work at the restaurant the next morning. I'll miss her thirst for squeezing the acne from my back whilst I edit, a constant source of fascination for her. I'm glad at least that I won't have to endure so many of her 100-mile an hour rantings about dreams in the mornings, but in time I know I will miss that in her too. I just hope that is might be possible to see her again in another country, like Madagascar, but Anita doesn't give me much hope the way she talks about the visa situation for Ghanaians. However, I'm a resourceful fellow and can't see why I shouldn't be able to convince some official to support a claim for visa.
I will be sorely missed by Alice and perhaps Yacine a little too, but I think Alex will take a big sigh of relief at my departure since he's not really been able to live in his own home an account of his new girlfriend's children not having my bed to sleep in. It's been a great toll on his energy. I can't thank him enough really and knowing me I probably fell short of expectations The horizon awaits, in just 8 days a new chapter will begin. I need all the luck I can get for this one, but I'm in no doubt that I can make it.