March 29, 2007

Rainfall in Ghana. I awoke to the beating of the heavy rain on the zinc roof and the breeze that accompanied it. It’s refreshing. After so much staggering heat over the past while, a real heavy rain is what is needed. And rain here is no joke. What we may consider normal rain back home is just a shower over here.

A correct downpour in these parts will put a stop to everyone’s activity and you wait it out. No one sells fruits or phone cards on the roadside, less people travel in buses, lorries and taxis, some stores even close, electricity sometimes goes out, and if you end up getting caught in it, you find whatever shelter you can along with the other souls and you huddle under some leaky roof or tree until it dies down. Such was the case this morning trying to leave Aflao. Of course, it is only water and some people realize that. In a couple of hours we’d all be dry anyhow so a few carry on as normal with eyes squinting from the rain beating the face, clothes drenched but smiling all the same. A sort of paradox as it halts all quotidian activity, especially in towns and cities, some may even curse it as it curbs their economic gain. Yet it is the very lifeblood of the rural farmers, perhaps even the country (and the hydroelectric dam which is quite low right now….generators are going as I write this), so it is a blessing in the end as those people, many of my friends in fact, are now smiling and sleeping soundly this evening in the cool damp air.

But that is today. Before that I’ve done much. Went to the city of Accra for Ghana’s much hyped but perhaps overrated 50th Anniversary celebrations. While it is true that Ghana has been and is one of the continent’s most peaceful and stable countries over the years, and leads the way in that respect with much potential for the future on many fronts, the rhetoric of the politicians, the TV stations, advertisements, promotions by phone companies, t-shirts and the like all seemed a bit hollow. Yes Ghana is politically free but economically quite dependent, especially with the government’s decision to join the HIPC venture (Highly Indebted Poor Countries). In the city, life can be seen to be improving, but drive for 60 mins(or less) outside of the urban sprawl and you’ll see things as they were 50 years ago in some places. And then to spend something like US$20 million, build houses (still not finished) for visiting dignitaries and buy dozens of vehicles to drive them around in. They could at least fix the roads in the Volta Region going to Aflao. Or do something about the shortage of electricity (as I said before…generator is on right now…solar power anyone??). Anyway, enough ranting about that, Ghana is still good no matter what the politicians do with the people’s and other countries’ money. I ended up meeting a couple of people from Newfoundland (and another couple from Slovenia of all places) and drank some beer, ate chocolate and had some good but highly overpriced Lebanese food. It was a big change from my normal routine. I enjoyed the gastrointestinal and conversational change.

After that I headed back to the villages for some intense evenings. I once again followed the Brekete cult to a village near Dzogdaze called Batah for a wake-keeping. A village in every sense of the word…, isolated, small friendly population, no electricity and few houses….and of course goats, chickens and the like. We arrive around 10pm. and there is already some music but it really kicks into gear when the crew from Dzogdaze start. For the first hour or so I watch and listen….absorbing it all. As I said before, this music is fast and has a specific purpose (trance among others). Playing it is no joke. The call to me join in…not knowing what to play I take the kagan, a small drum that just repeats its rhythm over and over…deceptively simple. After 10 minutes the right arm starts to cease up, a little in the left but you can’t stop else you’ll take away from the whole vibe. I figured they’d stop in a few minutes but they kept on for almost an hour without a break!!!! Trying not to think about it, I continued until the pain ceased. After the break I move to another drum called kidi. This one is a bit more challenging as its rhythm changes at the whim of the lead drummer who will give calls (that sometimes last just a second or two) for the others to respond. Since I don’t know any of them, I am forced to listen well to the fellow next to me who will play the same. Again the tempo is quick….that is one of the hardest parts. Triplets at about 200bpm and you play every one of them, continuously and hand-to-hand for hours. I struggled to find ways to make the pain in my wrists and fingers lessen and finally handed it over to someone else after 30 minutes or so (as most people do) to avoid any real damage. This went on until 6am when we ate, napped and then started again at 3pm. I left for Dzogadze but the rest of the group stayed until about 10pm(!!!)…playing the whole time. I have attached a small, choppy video of some of the music to give an idea of its flavour. The whole thing was part of some last funeral rites for one the members of the cult. At one point they exhumed his body performed some final rites and prayers and sacrificed a ram over it. I was at a distance and all of a sudden the headless body of the white ram was brought near the roadside. I’ve seen many sacrifices in my day but this was just bizarre…a headless body of a ram, writhing by the side of the bush. Sorry for the gory details. It wasn’t gruesome at all..just odd.

A completely different experience was had a few days after that. The Atsiagbekor group from Dzogdaze was invited to perform at a funeral for a Queen Mother of a nearby village. All 25 of us (plus drums) somehow piled into a truck/van that was much past its prime. It cries and creaks as it moves and the floor breathes and buckles under your feet as it alive. Greeted with water as custom demands we make our way to the actual funeral ground. It is grandiose…most of the village it seems. Around 2000-3000 people in total are amassed, 4 different drumming groups (and all playing at the same time), a series of canopy’s with family members, the coffin and other VIP’s seated and a large operation to feed everyone(!!) Our group begins to play and naturally people are curious about the odd man out who is dressed in the same garb as the rest of the group and playing along with them. More people gather..maybe 800-1000. Then the fast section of the dance begins and Ledzi drags me to the join the lines of dancers. It is blistering hot. Around 11am and getting to the hottest time of the day (with no cloud or tree cover). And the dance is of course vigorous. I mentioned doing this once before in an e-mail but this time was different. I stayed on for the whole thing…and my confidence was higher. At first the crowd cheers in surprise and enjoyment at seeing someone like me do this. But after sometime, the novelty wears off and they see that I’m in this for real. Random people start to rush into the dancing field and dash me money, sticking to my sweaty forehead or putting it in my pocket (I later buy bananas for the whole group). I don’t know all the styles and am forced to learn/fake them on the spot. I’m getting tired….everyone is getting tired due to the heat. It has been at least 45 minutes. Sammy, the lead drummer gets me to play so he can dance a few styles and that is a welcome break for me. After that I sit down. Exhausted, drenched in sweat and dirt. A few hours later we begin again but this time the sun is clouded over and is not so hot. Re-energized we play for another hour and a bit and then slowly assemble ourselves for the tired journey back home. Besides all that I’ve been enjoying the company of my partner Anu who is here doing some coastal ecosystem research and also learning some music/dance. I took her to Aflao to meet the Adzogbo masters and she has done well….she learned most of the dancing in 5 days(!!). They were pleased. Right now we are in the peaceful town of Ada on the banks of the enchanting Volta river and close to the ocean (I can hear the waves now). She is researching some mangrove restoration projects and while I tag along. Very tranquil….traveling on the river and through small creeks that bend and curve in a small paddled canoe is the best way to move. So very green and lush and usually a nice ocean breeze. Some of the mangroves are over 50 years old and are about 60feet high. Monkeys live in some as well as a plethora of beautiful sounding birds, mongoose and even pythons. I haven’t seen any of those things though…they keep different hours than I do. Same goes for the turtles that nest here…..leatherbacks, Olive Ridley and Green….haven’t seen them but they do visit. Here for another 4 days or so and then a big religious festival in Dagbamatey which will be a marathon….7 days of continuous wake-keeping filled with drum, dance, song and spirit.

More on that later.

All the best,


PS…I have changed my mobile number to +233-24-9515376. Call anytime….its cheap and you never know where I might be….just be aware of the time difference….GMT over here… in Greenwich Mean Time or as someone put it “Ghana Maybe Time”.

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