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Notes from Ghana #22

A few of Augusta’s favourite photos (check out her writing on Ghana post  #14) :

And now one of mine: we always try to bring back drums purchased from local drum makers. Almost all of the drums we needed had been assembled but there were no axatses  (gourd rattles) to be found locally so they were brought in on Motorbike. It was quite a sight. They have the courier thing down in Ghana for sure!

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Notes from Ghana #21

For good reason, many of these “Notes from Ghana” posts have focused on the youth in Baobab and their experiences in Ghana; their connection to the kids and culture, especially Dagbamete.  You have also heard about our terrific manager, Hayley,  and some history about my relationship with Ghana. However, these kinds of trips do not happen unless there is  solid support from the Baobab parent community,  and in particular, those entrusted with accompanying the youth on this important journey. We had six chaperones, Evie Gray, Jenni Tipper, Christopher Duschenes, Shelagh Murray, Lynn Rainboth and our Baobab Board Chair Nadine Powers. And serving as a first aid point of contact, Claire Thompson.  Also accompanying us were two other musicians, Rory Magill and Jennifer Moir who provided some great mentoring and connection with the kids. What an awesome team we had! This is the third trip to Ghana we have taken with the youth since 2001. When deciding the right “next time” to go, there are many factors that I look for, including of course,  the particular kids in the group. I am also looking for the elusive but cohesive parent factor, as that can make or break 18 months of fundraising followed by a VERY intensive trip. This particular group of adults, got along famously and we shared many,  many laughs and poignant moments throughout the trip. Their curiosity and connection to village life was amazing and they spent a lot of time getting to know locals and helping out in the school, making friends, talking about development issues, and of course looking out for the Baobab Youth. Our daily conversations at the “Spot” and at mealtimes were at times, funny, gross, illuminating, interesting, over the top and occasionally delving into “Eat Pray Love” territory (insert personal opinion here). We learned and have now adopted as our personal mantra,  Kwasi’s Ghana phrase “Happy Yourself” as “No one go happy you”.  No kidding.  Now that we are back, this group is galvanizing to direct their energies to better the village in whatever way works best, as well as wanting to keep the connection strong between themselves, and keep that sense of daily community present. I am extremely grateful to ALL the parents who have taken the leap with us to go to Ghana with teenagers each of the three times we have gone. Here’s to you all. Yes it is crazy and yes we did it.

On our last night in Ghana, at a special outdoor restaurant in Accra, we thanked and paid tribute to these wonderful individuals with a special Kente cloth woven with the Dagbamete name  in a nearby town by a master weaver.  THANK YOU.

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Notes from Ghana #20

Donations: Canada to Ghana


During the eighteen months of planning and fundraising for the trip, we also were raising money and collecting much needed supplies for some of the cultural groups and schools and libraries we were visiting. What a pleasure to be able to present these while on our trip. Thank you to the greater  Ottawa Community, both businesses and individuals for their generosity,  as well as the Baobab families for gathering,  packing and transporting these items to Ghana. For a full list of cash and in-kind donations see our donor page.

Our first opportunity came when we visited Kwasi’s mother’s village of Dzogadze to see the amazing performance of Atsiabekor and other pieces (see blog entry #13). We always give monetary donations to support the cultural groups performing to us in this village,  but this time we were able to give more than usual to the groups, as well as some money and school supplies to the community on general.

For almost twenty years members of Baobab Community have facilitated donations to the local school in the village of Dagbamete, our home in Ghana. This year was no exception. During our last week, we gathered outside one of the buildings one morning where the students, teachers and some elders and school officials had assembled. our manager Hayley presented the Kindergarten supplies, geometry sets and sports equipment, as well as presenting cash which enabled the school to buy a new computer and printer which they had been sorely needing. The students at the school gave a couple of wonderful cultural performances but the highlight was the Kindergarten class reciting their poems….absolutely CHARMING, especially our special friend Esther Dunyo (or as she says, ” My name is Dunyo, Estah“)  granddaughter of Kwasi, who captured all our hearts  from the beginning of our stay, with her affection and mischievous spirit (see her in sunglasses in Ghana blog entry #3)

The final destination of the donations was reached on our last full day in Ghana, when we visited the Nima Library for a cultural exchange with the Kathy Knowles Theatre Troupe. This library is part of the OSU Library Fund libraries in Ghana, an incredible story and organization to check out if you don’t know them.  This was an amazing afternoon of  artistic exchange….young dancers and drummers impressed and inspired the Baobab Youth, with exuberant performance skills and smiles that could knock you back a few feet if you were directly in front of them. After viewing a few pieces by the resident group, our kids reluctantly and nervously moved to the stage area. Knowing they could not even come close to that incredible energy and style, they nonetheless gave their own “best performance” full of the smiles and the joy that they feel when drumming and dancing. It worked. After only  a minute, the Ghanaian kids were cheering and encouraging our kids on, THRILLED that these kids form Canada were interested and skilled enough to “try” which made the performance even BETTER. Could not have asked for a better exchange. The drum and dance was followed by a funny and moral tale by the Theatre group, written by their director Martin Legend (is that a great name or what?), an inspirational leader for these young people in one of the poorest areas of Accra. During a break in the program, we were able to present Martin Legend and Joana Felih with bags of donations of paper, pens, pencils, backpacks (which went to the performers) shoes and clothing for young children books for the various libraries and a cash donation of $775 USD for the cultural group. It was a pretty special afternoon for sure and a nice way to send us back to Canada, after an amazing trip.

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Notes from Ghana #19

Here is a description (and a little history) written  by Rory Magill of my naming ceremony that the elders invited everyone to share. This included a shot (or tot) of the local Akpoteshie which everyone in our group was offered….we’re not telling who all accepted, but it was all in the service of tradition :)

NAMING CEREMONY

On her first trip to Ghana in 1990, Kathy Armstrong established what would become a life-long, ocean-deep connection with drummer Kwasi Dunyo who, by simple dint of his wonderfully accented English, gave her her first African name, Kahti. Somewhere between Kahti Armstrong and Kahti Am Strong.
When she returned to Canada, she inspired her new friend Rory Magill to book a flight and go see for himself what it was all about. On his first trip to Ghana, he acquired a number of names: Kofi Tetteh Tsulu Dogo Dogo – Friday-born second-son red tall tall.

The written versions of Kathy’s name in Ewe circles was a different matter. Letters to Canada from Dagbamete friends arrived addressed to Rory and Karthy, or to Roly and Katchy – letters which usually ended with lovely wishes, like “more grease to your elbows.”

On her second trip to Ghana, Kahti Am Strong went with her new traveling companion, Kofi Tetteh Tsulu Dogo Dogo Rory Magill. Whereas she had previously been greeted enthusiastically with cries of “Kahti”, she was now moving with a man and moving in a pretty fiercely patriarchal country – a man’s world – and now, as she walked with Kofi Tetteh etc., she was met with very enthusiastic cries of “Dogo Dogo!”  Suddenly: Mrs. Magill. This, the woman who had impressed an entire village on her first trip with her masterful turn on lead drum at a powerful chief’s funeral. This, the woman who had since that time brought Kwasi for a working visit to Canada, setting off a remarkable chain of explosions that has brought continued prosperity to the unstoppable Kwasi Dunyo, and to his family and his village. This, the woman whose African name Kahti became synonymous in Kwasi’s village Dagbamete with “white person”, so that subsequent white visitors to the village were often greeted as “Kahti”. But now, visiting in tandem with a man, it was all “Dogo Dogo” this and “Kofi Tetteh Tsulu” that. And now Kofi Tetteh Tsulu Dogo Dogo was adding little by little more names, first by having his head shaved, thereby earning himself the epithet Sakora, and second, by simply being a man and thereby receiving from our man Kwasi the honorific Nana Nii, which means nothing less than Chief in two different languages.

As Rory’s name grew longer and longer, Kahti’s stayed short and to the point. She began to wonder why KTTDDSNN Rory Magill would so easily acquire so many names, while hers remained so….short and to the point. Was it a case of male privilege? This might spell trouble for the two, who were in fact much more than travelling companions. In fact, this their second trip to Ghana – their first trip together – directly preceded their wedding in Toronto, which, not surprisingly, involved a lot of drumming, dancing, singing, libation and excellent fun. That is another story for another time.

Long years lay ahead for the too-short-named Kahti and her extravagantly-named husband Nana Nii. And so one day Kofi Tetteh Tsulu Dogo Dogo Sakora Nana Nii Rory Magill realized it might fall to him to redress this untenable inequity. He consulted with Kwasi and with Kwasi’s niece Aku and with other Ghanaian friends and he consulted his handy pocket guide to the Ewe language.

The first place to look for a Ghanaian name is the day of your birth. Kahti Am Strong was born on a Sunday and so she would be Kwasiwa. She was the first-born child in her family, and a girl, so in Ewe she would be Ewui (which sounds like your either whistling or blowing out a candle). Kahti’s huband was always fond of calling his wife Mama (once there was a babe in her arms) and, after getting past the fact that “Mama” is Ewe for grandmother, he found that it also means “Queen Mother”. That seemed very fitting, given her leadership status in what is essentially the village of Baobabtree and her prominent status in Dagbamete. Kwasi provided the kicker with Yenunya. Mama Yenunya, he said, was a very powerful, highly respected, much loved Queen Mother of his village a couple of generations back. Say no more. Mama Yenunya would now be virtually reincarnated in Kahti Am Strong who would now be called Mama Yenunya Ewui Kwasiwa Kahti Armstrong. A name fit for a king. This grand new name was emblazened on a plaque and presented to her on the occasion of her forty-fifth birthday.

When plans were struck for a third Baobab trip to Ghana, an idea began to hatch in Kwasi’s mind.
As the trip came near, Kwasi declared that Kahti’s new name must be properly appointed to her. When we finally arrived in Dagbamete, he told us there would be a naming ceremony. Time had truly come. The name had been very satisfactory, if a little under-used. It would gain more currency if the elders of the village formally conferred the name on her and blessed it, speaking it repeatedly, reminding everyone of all the parts of her fine new name. So we awaited word from our host about the day of the naming.

The day came, and our entire retinue, the moving village of Baobabtree, assembled at the lodge, some in newly acquired Ghanaian finery, and followed Kwasi down past the shrine to the hunters’ house, the mysterious windowless little white house decorated with black insignias denoting power and prosperity. There we took instruction to sit on the long benches outside the hunters’ house, the house said to have once been Mama Yenunya’s house. As benches filled, more benches were carried over by the lovely and wonderfully named Divine, attendant at the shrine and junior brother to Kwasi.

As more benches were brought over, benches were re-arranged and assembled guests were asked to get up and re-arrange themselves along with the benches.

Thoughtful bench re-arrangement carries some import at special occasions in Dagbamete, and Divine delivers benches with uncommon grace. The elders sat on benches facing assembled guests and the subject herself of this naming ceremony. A cluster of women sat on the foundation wall of Mama Yenunya’s house.

People continued to arrive until we were perhaps sixty or so. Crates of minerals – the very common offering of soft drinks – were delivered to the feet of the elders, as were bottles of akpeteshie, the favourite drink of the ancestors. A calabash of palm wine was brought for the purpose of the naming. Kahti was called up to join the elders together with her husband and daughter and the three followed the elders of the shrine just outside the assembled gathering to face east, where the tiniest of the elders took the calabash, reached into the palmwine with one hand and began to stir as he spoke a long blessing. This east-facing libation was an invocation to the ancestors and he called out various names. With gentle prompting from Kwasi, the man stirring the wine was able to remember all the names that would receive blessing that day, often preceding each name with the sound “uh”. Uh Kahti Armstrong, etc., etc., uh Rory Magill, etc., uh Iris Magill….and finally came the new names. Mama….Yenunya….Ewui….Kwasiwa….Armstrong. The name Kahti was not included, it seemed, perhaps because everyone in the village knows the name Kahti so well. The elder bent down, called one more invocation and poured the soapy-looking wine into the earth in waves, intoning with each wave some other name. He then received a shot of akpeteshie which he touched to his lips but then poured fully into the earth to chase the wine. Then the akpeteshie bottle was upturned to pour the rest out for ancestral enjoyment.

We then followed the elders back through the gathering and out the west side to face the gods and offer similar libation all over again. This time, curiously, the naming ended up with a twist: it came out Mama Yenunya Ewui Kwasiwa Armstrong Magill. Maybe that’s supposed to be Armstrong-Magill, in this age of hyphenated names. But truly, truly, we know the name is Mama Yenunya Ewui Kwasiwa Kahti Armstrong. And now we know, following the many blessings and several intonings of the name, now we know that Yenunya is pronounced with soft or implied n’s. Ewui is still whistled, and Kwasiwa, after our dear brother Kwasi, is pronounced “sh” in the middle.

The men’s work done, it was time for the real celebration to begin. The new Mama Yenunya was invited up to dance with the elders of the village women – daughters and granddaughters of the original Mama Yenunya, as it were. Among them was the lovely and surprisingly young, new Agbadada – leader of the village women
– who had just recently succeeded the long-lived and much-loved Auntie of our dear friend Jambola. The new Agbadada engaged the new Mama Yenunya in a warm embrace and a celebratory dance.

Another woman took hold of the celebrant and pulled their heads close together at the forehead, sharing sustained, broad smiles. More dances and more warm smiles and embraces followed. And so Kathy Armstrong was inducted into the ranks of the Mamas of Dagbamete, and her new name was enshrined for all time. And from now on, every time she visits Dagbamete, she will come with a long, rich, meaningful and most honourable name.
-Rory Magill

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Notes from Ghana #18

Cross Country Travel & Fruit

Usually when we take the Youth group to Ghana, we pile into 2 or 3 vans to make our travels. With 35 in our party this time, that only worked some of the time. For the longer treks,  our dear host, Kwasi,  arranged for us to travel in the big bus My Goodness. (How he finagled this is a WHOLE other story, that deserves its own blog entry, as we were party to some of the transaction.) Mostly everyone had a seat,  however 2 or 3 of us needed to sit on the plastic stools pulled from below the bus and placed in the aisles. We all took turns as it was a coveted spot for sure. Not something we would even consider here but when in Ghana….

I must say that travelling in a big air conditioned bus is not the experience of Ghana I wish for my students. However,  there were certain practical pluses that I could appreciate once I was able to let go my romantic memories of grunge trips. For instance, we were all together which made for a more cohesive experience and easier communication. Plus our driver Kobla was able to navigate the ever increasing traffic and construction in Accra which is just hideous these days and can slow down travel by an hour or two easily. Literally,  he just bullied his way through the jams. At one point, it got so bad that someone outside started banging on the bus window, at which point the youth broke out into a new war song from Atsiagbekor that they had been learning from Ledzi. A perfect response :)

Also,  it was a real treat to see Kwasi’s face as we pulled into every destination with lights flashing and horns honking to announce the arrival of the Yevu . Driving into Dagbamete, with this big behemoth of a vehicle, past the Shrine on the so called road which is really just red sandy space between buildings was surreal for sure.

On our trip to Cape Coast we stopped for snacks at the Tema roundabout: bananas, cassava cookies, groundnuts (peanuts) and the ever popular plantain chips. Mostly purchased form the trays on heads of vendors. Once past Accra our driver Kobla said he needed to eat Fufu, so he stopped the bus and got out to order. I checked nearby and sure enough there was a spot that served minerals so everyone got down from the bus and ordered Fantas etc.

At one point,  we stopped at a roadside pineapple stand and bought enough to make their day for sure. The woman used her machete to cut them all for us. Ripe, juicy, and dripping. Yum.

Speaking of fruit, someone dropped by the lodge one day with fresh coconut so some of the kids got to try the young coconut juice and pulp. Very refreshing!

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Notes from Ghana #17

So now that we are back in Ottawa, I will continue to try to fill in the gaps from some of our adventures, knowing full well that you really can’t communicate the complexity of sensory and emotional experiences we all had. Rather than go back chronologically, I will just add new posts so you don’t have to go searching.  The time thing,  as you have been reading, is really insignificant anyway.  Here are some thoughts about a musical event:

Community Drumming Space


On the edge of the village is an area known as the community drumming space. There is an amazing canopy of trees under which  benches are set up for any community events. These can be funerals, wake-keepings, general social meetings and in our case, a burial ceremony. Its a fantastic natural room, very cool and breezy with a palpable buzz of energy whether there is a small group gathered, or a few hundred.

We did not have many formal performances scheduled for the Youth but we always hope there is an opportunity for something to happen in this space. Last Thursday, we were able to perform at and witness a burial ceremony of a soul that passed on outside of  Ghana and needed to be repatriated. We met the elders and several people of the community there around 4 o’clock. (Like many afternoon activities we had been waiting some time for it to start having been told that it would be “after lunch”, or even better, “any moment from now” our new favourite saying.  We waited for a while on the benches with no shortage of friends beside us.

Even though people in the village may know something is happening, it takes a little music and dance to get their attention and in this case it was US who provided the impetus to get people arriving.  We performed a gumboot dance (in flip flops on the village soil….not exactly the foots stomping sounds usual to that style but it was greatly admired anyway, as it is not familiar to most Ghanaians.)

We also played, danced and sang a Bobobo and parent Claire easily stepped in to fill the role of a missing dancer. (You’ll notice from the photos that a few kids were not up for this event…we had already had a full-on ceremony in the morning complete with early morning fantas and akpoteshie tastings -yes even the kids if they so desired- so we were  a little smaller in numbers) .

Then Kwasi began to play a gankogui and his son Kwadzo an axatse and some women began to clap sing a women’s song that was sooo beautiful. Some incredible cross rhythms in a 12/8 feel. I did not have my good video camera there but took this rather surreal  vignette…. (still trying to load)

The ceremony went on very simply but beautifully to place something personal of the deceased’s in a small box wrapped in traditional cloth. After some libation pouring and prayers for the elders, we all walked down the road to the cemetery where the small box was laid to rest in the ground. It was really quite lovely to think of this person’s spirit getting a chance to rest in Dagbamete accompanied by such thoughtfulness, reverence and music.

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Notes from Ghana #16

Now, some writing from the newly shaved Rory Magill (called Sakura now that his head is shaved…a ritual for him on Ghana trips). Here he is describing our last night’s party in Dagbamete that I alluded to……

Kwasi has a way with people. I may say. And he demonstrated his prolific skills thuswise on our last night in the village: by orchestrating a grand and hugely enjoyable party. Days before the party would begin, he sent Maggie out to buy a goat, a goat of good size, which then spent its last days in relative tranquility, tied to a tree in the outdoor kitchen of the impressive Dunyo family compound. However briefly, he (he was clearly a he) was a member of the impressive Dunyo clan. A day later…..we learned there were now two goats. One full-sized goat would not feed the entire party? Anyway, goat soup the day after the party would not go uneaten, in fact. A day later…..we learned there were now three goats. Two full-sized goats would not feed the entire party? Something was up.

We requested a special preparation of the goat, in the form of a dish that we had enjoyed only once ever, and only in small quantity, on a previous visit to Dagbamete. It was chewy and a little crispy and rich with the flavour and aroma of coconut. In fact, that story was a little funny in itself. Some years before we had enjoyed two small pieces each of fantastic coconut goat and commended the cook and asked if we might have it again. The answer was yes, you must go to Akatsi market and buy some goat. Some goat…..we went with a driver into Akatsi expecting to find a butcher and ask for some goat meat. Not, in fact, some goat meat, but rather one goat. We returned to Dagbamete with an extra passenger in the van. The next day the bleating stopped and the first of several, several successive goat meals graced our table, though disappointingly it bore little resemblance to the previous day’s dish, goat though it was.

Now, years later, I asked if we could at least buy the coconut oil needed for the preparation of these three goats for the party, feeling sure that this would improve our chances of once again tasting glorious coconut goat. I was directed to find Agbadada, the new Agbadada, who is not only the leader of the women of Dagbamete (dada in Ewe is mama in English), but also a vendor of coconut oil who lives on the other side of the village. Luckily, I met young Sami on my way and he would save me some time and aimless asking by taking me straight to the correct place. Once there we did not find Agbadada. However a lovely woman there spoke with Sami who then assured me that the oil for sale right there was Agbadada’s oil, so I happily asked for two bottles. Oh! the woman said, they have already sent it to the house. (?) I knew full well that she meant Kwasi’s house, but I asked anyway, because I couldn’t fully understand it. I had just left the house with directions to go find Agbadada and buy her oil. Now it seemed the oil had already found me. Yes, she said, it had gone to Kwasi’s house. Kwasi himself had just now been by and ordered a full six-gallon bucket. Good thing I asked. Now I had every assurance of coconut goat to come.

The morning of the party, we learned that a very powerful chief, as we were told, a very powerful warrior chief was on the road from Akatsi. In fact! he was in Dagbamete, right here, right now. This chief would be guest of honour at our farewell party. In a cleverly calculated move full of his enthusiastic generosity, Kwasi would pull out all the stops to impress and befriend this powerful chief and our farewell party would be the vehicle of his extravagance, and we would go happily along for a wonderful ride. Yes, in fact, the powerful warrior chief, the Torgbui, was now in the village, Kwasi told me excitedly, and Supa (Super) told me excitedly, and the Torgbui would surely attend the party.

A quick visit to the kitchen area outside the back of the compound revealed a fabulous scene of all available Dunyo women – Agbeshinor, Mansah, Maggi, Vivian, Bernice, Mabel, Adzo, Roda and others – working full steam at four separate fires under the darkening sky. The energy was vibrant and the air was delicious. Only an hour before in full daylight, Kwasi’s sons Joe and Abee had stood over one of these fires turning a whole goat – complete: fur, skin, eyes, ears, nose, manhood – on the flame, singeing its fur with the flat side of a hot machete. Do goats even have fur? Perhaps they have hair instead. They certainly have manhood. (And then one wonders about the goat soup the day after.)

Back to Kwasi’s room, and the expectant excitement is fulfilled with the sight of a man dressed in regal purple and gold robes sitting directly to Kwasi’s left, backed by his retinue, several full-energy gregarious Ewe men talking and laughing in fine but not regal robes. Kwasi was in full smile and pouring on the complimentary attention as generously as his attendant Supa was pouring out the tots of Red for the assembled guests. In fact, first there were tots of premium vodka from a fancy silver bottle, and then Kwasi’s beloved Red. The visiting chief was all smiles with much laughter, so we could see that things were going well. Supa was surely thrilled. He had been promoted, for the occasion, to the position of atsiame or “linguist” to Kwasi the self-annointed, if unofficial, chief of his domain. Kwasi might as well be chief of his village, he is certainly that powerful a figure in so many ways in village life, though he is far better off self-annointed and unofficial – much less trouble for him that way. And Supa the new linguist did very well speaking the opening introductions and explanations and praises.

The visiting chief was clearly having fun, and surely new plans were being hatched for the very near future. And we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, extending and receiving numerous greetings with many snapping handshakes, Ewe greetings and English chatter. There was much reverent talk of this chief’s palanquin. Palanquin? How often does this word come up in regular conversation. This is a chief who knows how to make an entrance and does it for very special occasions in a chariot carried high atop the shoulders of his men. Perhaps not all that comfortable or steady, come to think of it, but not shabby either. This powerful warrior chief, as we first heard of him spoken, actually seemed like a very friendly chap who undoubtedly throws pretty great parties himself. And so we learn that his annual festival – palanquin and all – is coming up in little more than a week’s time and so we all fill the room with the disappointment that we the whites will miss the occasion by mere days. Days. The chief insists, in the friendliest way imaginable, that we call him on his cell phone and quickly gives us his number. This could easily turn into a very funny story about chiefs and their cell phones and their ringtones and how cellphones interrupt all important political and spiritual discussions and events, but that will have to wait. Our new friend the Torgbui of Mefe is clearly intent on keeping in touch. And of course we will call. You never know where things might go. Kwasi has taught us that by his remarkable example. We were witnessing such deft social networking right there as he negotiated the inclusion of his brethern of the Dzogadze Atsiagbekor dance troupe Brim Shi Brim (Warrior Conquers Warrior) in the chief’s upcoming festival. And you must know that Kwasi will not need a palanquin to make a grand and impressive entrance in chiefly robes at that festival in Mefe.

By now Bobobo drumming can be heard warming up somewhere outside Kwasi’s house and coconut is filling the air and so we take our leave of these two friendly parties to enjoy the first beginnings of the party outdoors. The common area between the lodge and the houses is now filled with tables and chairs for al fresco dining and dancing. The newly acquired chafing dishes are set in place in a long buffet full of promise. The Bobobo drummers are from Dzogadze and in fact the songs are being brought by one of the wonderfully talented Agudzamegah brothers, Sami, senior brother to Ledzi, beloved of Baobab.

We are called to dinner and immediately face a great difficulty. There is too much food and it is all – like all good Ghanaian food – heavy and filling, and it all looks (to quote someone’s recent remark) top drawer. And so the great difficulty, the challenge, is to select most carefully. I purposefully bypass all the rice and fufu and half the stews and go straight to the goat. Several coconut goat kebabs to start.

And because dzakple comes only on special occasions and because it is so very good, filling though it is, I must chop dzakple. And that could be enough: agbor kebab and dzakple. But, no, there are small crabs in red sauce, and anything in Dunyo red sauce tastes good, but crab? No, it cannot be passed by. Sweet and crunchy and wonderful. But that’s it. Nothing else…..except more kebabs and a Club beer and another crab and a bit more dzakple.

There is nothing that can that be done about chopping too plenty except joyous singing and dancing and so we crowd round the drummers and clap and sing until a circle of dancers gradually rings the drummers, and starts shuffling counterclockwise around them. Always, for unknown reasons, counterclockwise. Perhaps someting to do with the Coriolis Effect, who knows? Anyway, the shuffling is in the very most expressive and stylish sense of the word. Shuffling and singing. The goat is doing the singing now – the goat, the crab, the Red, the Club – and we are singing full tilt, some of us with no knowledge of the songs we are pretending to know, and then it only worsens when there’s a song familiar to us whites, because then we are emboldened to sing even louder and more confidently until there is no stopping anybody and for a long time there is no stopping anybody. Dancers break out of the circle to face off in pairs and trios for the back-flexing foot-stomping arm-twisting dzime dance, as the chief and his men, and the host and his men, sit at the tables and eat and drink and behold the dance and enjoy the beautiful drumming. And the night is, in fact, an unqualified success.

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Notes from Ghana #15

So…its pretty late (for Ghana time) and we just had an amazing party with live drumming from a Kpanlogo/Bobobo group, a HUGE dance session, and outdoor dinner for 50 set up in front of the lodge. Fantastic food (more than 8 traditional dishes)  that can be summed up by Rory in three words: coconutgoat,  kebabs, dzakble. (see his more than three words in the next post) All topped off by a visiting major war chief . Nuff said. We are all exhausted,  happy,  sad ( lots of tears) and we will leave the village tomorrow morning early for our last couple of days in Accra. So much has happened in these last few days we have been unable to blog about it all but will fill in the gaps when we are home. For now I will leave you with a few of Christopher’s (parent & chaperone) observations. See you soon!

Anecdotes and observations from my walks around Dagbamete and other nearby towns. by Christopher Duschenes (most of the following photos are Christopher’s as well)

1. I get lulled awake every morning by the rhythmic sound of the villagers sweeping the red dirt paths and roads clean with palm frond brushes. I’ve been going for walks early every morning just as the town is waking up. Two out of three people say “Good morning, good morning, good morning, you are welcome”. Totally charming. They are also very keen to shake hands, but with a twist. Hard to explain but it ends with two quick snaps of the fingers – your middle finger snapping against theirs. Three weeks in this country and I have almost mastered it.

2. Last week I met an unbelievably smiley 30 year old woman named Ruby. She grilled me about my family and was thrilled to know two of my boys are here with me. She was also thrilled to know I have another son in Canada but totally dismayed that “Your poor wife, she has no girls?” “Yes” I said. “I will be your daughter” she shrieked and now yells “Daddy” at the top of her lungs here when she sees me and refers to Oliver and Ben as her brothers. In Ottawa a scenario like this would be creepy. It’s not creepy here, it’s endearing.

3. I stopped in at the corn mill yesterday morning. Things were in full swing with many women waiting to have their mais ground into flours for akple or one of the many other corn-flour based dishes. The miller, Cujo, was being helped by a very beautiful woman who asked me to take her photograph – which I happily did. I showed her the LED screen on the camera and I said she looked beautiful. She said that was good because that was in fact her name. I have met very many people with great names like hers. They are all English translations of their Ewe names. I have met: Nice, Happy, Gracious, Peace, Destiny, Courage, Fine and this evening, oddly Funky. Not sure how that happened.

4. I shared my shower in Cape Coast with a gecko that was about 1/2 the length of my pinky. Very cute. There are tons of lizardly like things around. Some very colourful. There are also animals with babies all over the place; chickens, goats, cats, ducks, dogs, sheep, all roaming free. Owners identify their chickens by either painting a small patch of a bright colour on their wing or by tying a short piece of coloured string to their feathers. Still have not figured out why the often emaciated dogs don’t eat the chickens..

5.On my early morning walk near our hotel in Cape Coast, turned a corner and came face to face with a largish, snarling dog. He ran towards me followed by six others who flanked him in Snowbird-like formation. I, not liking dogs at the best of times, did the brave thing and bolted. Or at least tried to. I turned around, took two quick steps and tripped over one of the 700 zillion raised bits of concrete in this country and went flying, ripping the skin off my forearm. Good thing too because I shrieked in pain, freaked the dogs out and they took off. Nurse Claire polysporined me back to health..

6. I have walked to Dzokpa– a village two kms from Dagbamete – a few mornings. The road is narrow, packed red earth, perhaps seven feet wide. I have met the same people each morning, either walking to their fields, to fetch fire wood or kids on their way to school in Dagbamete. There is a school on Dzokpa but many parents prefer the school in Dagbamete because, according to a teacher that I met, it is more traditionally Ewe and not Christian. Two mornings I have walked with Erik, Francis, Peace and Nice – the latter two being girls. They range from age 6 to 9 and are all totally lovely but speak essentially no English. They insist on holding my hands. We laugh a lot, an amazingly good form of communication. They, mainly laughing at me. We’ve tried to teach each other words for various things we see in our respective languages. Total failure on my part based on how hysterically they have laughed at my pronunciation, to the point where Peace had to lie down in the grass to recover. Resorted to teaching them how to whistle using blades of grass between their thumbs. Much spit and hilarity but little success. Ghanaians love to laugh.

7. Went back to the mill where a bunch of women had gathered to wait their turn to have their corn ground; some plain dried corn, some tossed with palm oil and some mixed with dried chilli peppers all in huge aluminum bowls transported on their heads. Above the very loud roar of the grinder, we tried to have a conversation. “You marry me and we go back to Canada?” one woman enquired. I asked her name and she said Victoria! I explained that not only did I already have a wife in Canada but that her name was Victoria too! We all laughed hard and they began to chant “One Victoria good, two Victoria more good!” Many men have several wives here. I’ll stick to one.

8. I went back to the lodge and got the family photos and returned to show them proof of the existence of my Victoria. They loved looking at the photos, especially the one of the entire family camping. I gave it to them and Victoria clutched it to her heart and I thought she was going to cry. Tough to know what she was thinking.

9. It rained torrentially the other day. Young kids stripped off their clothes and were dancing in the puddles. Dancing in the rain, a global phenomenon.

10. Sakura is the men’s tailor. He is incredibly gracious and accommodating. He lives with his wife, two kids and seemingly all his worldly possessions in an 8×11 single room that includes all his sewing supplies and machine. Our weeks here are obviously a huge huge boost to his business.

11. Had a game of American football in the big field outside the school yesterday. Total chaos at the beginning but the locals caught on fast and we had a great time. A couple of the kids were phenomenal athletes. Denis, a 9 year old, caught on to the complexities of the game in minutes and made two excellent catches. Jonathan is 15 and runs faster than any human I have ever seen. I called him Usain Bolt but he did not recognize the name. It’s pretty cut off from the rest of the world here. Not a bad thing.

12. The sound of “Yevu! Yevu!” follow us everywhere as the local children try to get our attention by yelling “Whitey! Whitey!”.

13. It does not seems that there are any newspapers here – at least not in the rural areas – and I have not heard much radio. Only seen two TVs. As a result perhaps, people announce the death of individuals by putting up obituary posters all over the place. The posters provide a lot of details of the person’s life and when it will be celebrated. They include photos and usually a catchy headline like “Until We Meet Again” or “Into The Beyond” or my favourite “What a Shock”, which is, sadly, used to announce the death of someone young. Shirts are also made with a silkscreen of the face of the deceased.

14. The Baobabers are a fantastic bunch but have been very prone to asking many questions that begin with “How far is…” or “How long will…” or “When will….” all totally unanswerable when operating on African time and distances. The kids have yet to fully grasp that we are essentially functioning in a different dimension here. Ben noted the other days that we really need to learn how to “hang-out better when we get home”.

15. It’s been said that you can’t change Africa but that Africa will change you. Well, it has but I must add a qualifier. Kathy Armstrong has not changed all of Africa, but she has unquestionably changed Dagbamete.

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Notes from Ghana #14

Two Views from the Top

In the Cape Coast area, on Monday, we spent the morning exploring one of Ghana’s rainforests. The Kakum Rainforest is a magical place, made more so by the seven rope bridges built high above the giant trees. While a few of us were a bit nervous, most were thrilled at the prospect of walking in the sky. Everyone took a deep breath and made the glorious trek. Below, two of our Baobab Youth Performers (Emily & Augusta) eloquently share their experiences on the Canopy Walk.

Hi everyone back home! I’m having a great time, and the rain forest was awesome! You get a feeling that everything is alive, and growing. I could almost feel the rain forest breathing, it was that cool. The trees are massive (in some sections), and they have folds in them that you could use as shelter. The walk the the canopy was just as neat. I was sooo happy and I felt like I would never stop smiling as I watched the world beneath me. We unfortunately did not see any monkeys or animals (even though we were trying to be quiet) possibly because sometimes we could not stop laughing, taking pictures and just being joyous in general.

The gift shop had some really nice things, too (though they were a bit expensive). I bought some charms, and I was very temped to buy some kitipo which are little wooden balls connected by a string. I will try to buy some before we go.

I miss all you guys back home, but I’ll see you soon!

~Emily*


Excepting bird calls, the forest below is dead silent. And yet, it seems to almost hum with life, like it’s all one independent organism, and you alone can hear the heartbeat of it. It’s almost like being a god of a small world as gaze down upon the canopy below, feel as if you’re watching….something. I don’t know. A secret life known only to you and the rainforest. The before mentioned organism with the steady heartbeat. Everything is so small and so big all at once. This is the canopy walk, and the only way to describe the feeling is complete happiness. Perhaps a small thrill of fear from being up so high, but a small dose just makes the happiness stronger. The happiness is not a fierce joy, but a feeling that everything is right in the world. I believe it’s because the height makes you feel light, bouncy, and on top of the world. Of course, the biggest reason is the rainforest itself. Yes, it is ancient and powerful, but at the same time it is basically the physical embodiment of meditation.

– Augusta Monet

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Notes from Ghana #13

Hi All,

Sorry for not posting for a few days.  We took our three day trip to the Cape Coast area, so that’s why you have not been hearing from us (although I know several of the kids got in touch through the internet cafe at our hotel, in between looking at weaver birds and crocodiles…). So we owe you a few details about the amazing time we have been having. Let’s start with where we left off…a trip to the very traditional and always inspiring village of Dzogadze.

…a collective post from chaperones Evie, Jenni and Lynn

SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE?

Last Saturday was an extraordinary day. Just breathtaking.

We prepared for the much anticipated performance at the neighbouring village of Dzogadze (Kwasi’s mother’s village were he did much of his drumming training as a young boy). Everyone emerged from the Kathy Armstrong Lodge to “oohhs and aahhs” decked in their new Ghanaian finery. Each of us had carefully chosen our own beautifully rich fabrics. Tailored to fit, everyone looked suitably dressy for the occasion. We were about to witness a performance of Atsiagbekor, the piece we have been learning, to be performed by our teachers, Ledzi and Oliver.

We are experiencing a different sense of time here, and this day was no exception as we had our usual wait in the bus to leave for the nearby Dzogadze. Forty-five minutes later, we were zooming down narrow red country lanes. As we approached, we could see the village children bouncing with excitement. We were welcomed as honoured guests to this tiny humble hamlet. A procession of dancers and drummers led us through the village to sit and be greeted by the elders. Once again we were awed by the honour that was bestowed upon us. As guests of Kwasi, who grew up in Dzogadze, we were welcomed like family. Formal and gracious words of welcome and gratitude were exchanged, as were the traditional offering of local spirits (akpoteshie or distilled palm sap). After a prayer and libation offering we were led back through the village to settle under the protection of a large shade tree. And here the real joy and excitement began.

The rest of the village settled to the right and to the left of us. There we all sat, collectively anticipating as the men and women of Dzogadze – young and old – promised to dazzle us with their dancing and singing traditions. The male dancers clustered in the shade of the lush trees as their sisters sang them forward. Lithe and agile, their bodies swooped and swirled with strength and beauty, telling the story of battle, cued by the hypnotic beating of drums and bells and encouraged by the chorus of female voices beckoning them onward with courage. Slow and fast Atsiagbekor took the first full hour…amazing really, and then they continued with renditions of Gadzo, Brejete music, Adzogbo, and Kete.

The make-up of Dzogadze’s performing troupes – Brim Shi Brim, Gadzo and the others – reflected what we have observed many times since we arrived at Dagbamete – Ghanaians value the inclusion of all – young and old, black and white. The performance groups included not only the village’s best adult dancers, but also their best young dancers. They were every bit as serious and focused as the adults. The drummers also included young and old – each as fierce, focused and integral as the other. The chorus of villagers formed a tight cluster to the right of the drummers, singing with joyous abandon between each of the individual pieces. A few of the older women would break from the circle and begin to dance. It was not long before they invited many of us up to dance with them, two at a time. These beautiful women must have been in their sixties or seventies. Yet they had the stamina and joy of the young, and were so generous to ensure that we all had a turn up dancing with them. It ended with a playful community dance for all of us to join in, Ghanaians and Canadians laughing and dancing together.

This whole day was one of rapture. The vigour, energy, grace and exuberance of the dancers left us all enrapt. We were shaking our heads in astonishment throughout the three hours of non-stop dancing, singing and drumming, performed with generosity of spirit and a deep sense of pride.

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