February 12, 2007

Now my feet are very dirty. Just returning from one of my dance lessons and spent most of the morning sweating, jumping, crouching and having sand fly everywhere, sometimes frustrated, quite tired (leaving the house at 5am to travel here from Dagbamete hour away) but now I can relax a bit and write this little blurb.

The last few weeks have been intense, gratifying, trying and positive. Most of my time has been spent learning this one dance called Adzogbo. Myself and my friend Ledzi are staying in Aflao and we go twice a day for several hours to the house of the old man Setsoafia and his grandson who instructs us while the old master looks on. We actually have the lessons in the agbodzi or shrine area where Setsoafia keeps all his "vodus" or gods. Maybe they've been blessing me because the learning is going well. Setsoafia is quite pleased with my progress and at times laughs with glee when I play well and gives me some akpetshie (local moonshine). He also gives encouragement when I get frustrated as I am learning quite a bit in a short time so I should have patience and not get discouraged. After a hard day of learning, we sometimes play a curious little board game called ludu, which he beats me in everytime, kind of like my grandfather and checkers. Setsoafia also has a quite vocal little parrot named Jacob who is about 30 years old. He sometimes whistles and screams, though can’t tell if he is annoyed or excited. After spending about 10 days of intense drumming tuition and also learning specific songs to accompany the dance, we began dancing last week and I was a little apprehensive. I don't consider myself a dancer though I do learn these dances and teach them, the last time I put this much physical energy into doing something was 5 years ago when I learnt a similar type of dance. Back then my body was a little more agile and fit, though now it has come around a little and the steps are not as daunting as they were at the beginning. Sometimes I think I am a little crazy to try and learn this whole thing (well a good chunk of it anyhow). I think of the music always and the songs keep swimming in my head, but confusion also comes as I try to keep it

all straight. However, it is very sweet and once I learn it I will treasure it.

Teaching to others will be a whole other matter though. This town/city of Aflao is kind of nice. It feels like a big village with paved roads. I am staying next to the house of the paramount chief and in the area many traditional religious houses are situated. Many of the paths and "streets" going through residential areas are much like a maze and with little planning. A path can take you through a schoolyard with kids yelling out the window at you, into a narrow corridor of concrete and or thatch walls. Chickens and chicks always under foot and goats not far behind. Then maybe through someone's yard, across a main road with taxis, semi trucks and the ubiquitous ladies selling anything and everything balanced on their head. Finally you may reach your destination with some luck and directions. And the ground is all sand (save for the main roads) so walking becomes a sort of exercise and your flip-flop sandals have a way of flicking sand at your back if you are not careful. Since I have been walking many of the same routes over the past 3 weeks or so, people now recognize me and call out my name. Many don't even know but have heard of me through the town as the "yevu" (white person) who speaks Ewe, looks like Jesus and is called Kwadzo. You could say they like me I suppose. I am in fact suprised how much Ewe I remember and how much more I have learned. I'm kind of like a 5 year old who can communicate but has a limited vocabulary. One of the hardest parts is correct intonation as it is a tonal language.

On weekends I have been going back to Dzogadze and/or Dagbamete for funerals and the like. Last week at a funeral near Dzogadze, the Atsiagbekor group was invited to play (Atsiagbekor is an old, serious war dance that I learned last time I was in Ghana). Of course I went along as they are all my friends. About 30 of us piled into the back of a flatbed truck and we rolled onward under the blazing sun singing along the way and getting the spirit ready. I wasn't sure if I was going to do anything this or not am and prepared myself only to record it on video. At the playing ground the group began and I followed and proceeded to capture the action as best I could. It is a fantastic dance. Then Ledzi bekons me to join in. Nervously, I give the camera top someone else and borrow a cloth to tie around my waist and join a line of dancers. It feels good. I give as much vigour and energy as my brain, body and memory will allow. Though I learned this 5 years ago, I have never had the chance to dance it myself since then, only teach it to others and play the drums for it so this was very sweet indeed. The lead drummer calls out a style for us to play and three of us go forward. It is hard sometimes to hear what he plays among the plethora of sound and sensory overload that goes with a performance like this. But I managed to pick it and the crowd erupts. Though I miss a couple of steps, I join the pack, spinning and jumping in time, the crowd watching and the group themselves are all smiles and cheers as it has been a longtime.

These are good feelings.

30mins later we close, exhausted in the noon heat, to eat and enjoy.

Speaking of heat and sun.....the Harmattan winds have now died down a little and the days and evenings are warming up. Since Aflao is on the coast, I told Ledzi we should go to the beach. Stupidly, we walk there. We seem to walk everywhere so I have bought a zebra patterned cowboy hat to attract even more attention then usual! Besides the cowboy hat, I have also bought two other valuable items…a standing fan and a tank top/singlet (a great invention, I shall wear them more often). Back to the beach… is long and looks like India to me. Many coconut trees with sweet, sweet fruits, a few fishing boats, some people taking a dump near the water and of course...waves.

Walking near the waters edge where it is much firmer and cool on the feet, we come across a rope which has attached to it maybe 20 people. It is a net that they are pulling in from sea. We go upon the sand a little more to hear the songs they are singing and listen to the two musicians who are only striking two atoke (banana shaped metal bells) but making very intriguing sounds. After a couple of minutes, one of the men in front beckons me to come closer. Thinking he just wants to say hello and ask where I'm from, instead he asks me to help!!!! Not sure if he was joking or not, I agree. Kicking of my sandals (bad move), I find a place in the line and join in with the rocking and pulling technique they employ that goes in time with the singing and the occasional command to pull a little more. Slowly and surely, we get inch towards the tree that the rope is tied to and coiling up beneath. As one reaches that place you go forward to the beginning again until the net comes. I probably stayed on for about 15 mins, from the beginning to the end of the rope, hands sore and burning from the friction and sort of atrophied from the concentrated holding and pulling of the rope and my feet nearly on fire from the scorching sand (should have kept those sandals on). I didn't stick around to get my share of the catch. It would have taken another hour or more. Another line about 200m down the shore was pulling in the other side of the net. Now I appreciate much more the fish I eat everyday.

Oooohhh!!! Ledzi has just started to peel one of the mangoes from the tree he planted 5 years ago when I came. I will go and enjoy it.

All for now.


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