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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!


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


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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Notes from Ghana #12

So you have heard the occasional comments about the dresses and outfits. Kwasi’s daughter Angelina is a favourite among us all, staying up late sewing traditional outfits for all the women on the trip. And the guys have had all their tailoring done by Sakura (also related to Kwasi but more distantly….ask Rowan he is studiously trying to record the family tree here…no easy task). We all agreed the youth have an incredible eye for what suits them, both in cloth and styles. See for yourself! (You know you can click on each photo to enlarge). We all dressed for our trip to Dzogadze yesterday but ore on that trip later…its pretty indescribable so not sure who we will get to try to convey that experience.   (I am sitting drinking my morning Nescafe,  fingers crossed that ALL these photos will load so here we go…).

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Notes from Ghana #11

Waiting for things to happen here is one of the challenges and a super typical part of life. You either embrace it or Ghana beats you. I would say that the number of questions I get a day that start with “how long?” or, “when do we…?” have drastically reduced and in fact have become somewhat of an inside joke now. I think everyone is in fact embracing the elastic time. Here are Angie, Danielle and Jona waiting on the lodge porch  to load into “My Goodness” .

An now some great notes from Rory about our day trip on Friday.


By Rory Magill

We climbed aboard the aptly named ‘My Goodness’ yesterday, all thirty-five of us, less one or two suffering temporary discomforts, in search of the real original Tokwoe. This is a piece we love to dance in the modern ‘creative’ choreography we were taught long ago. We have always wanted to see and hear the traditional style, and learned some years ago from our master, Kwasi Dunyo, that the real original one is from the lyrically named Mafi Kumase (ma-fee koo-ma-see). One day we would surely visit that place and see the real Tokwoe (toh-kway). Now at last, this would be the day, and Kwasi has arranged for a presentation, except: at the eleventh hour we learned that the asking price for the drumming and singing and dancing is too high, and a volley of cellphone calls began to sound like there would be no trip to Mafi Kumase. Happily, an agreement was reached (some money for the performing group, some for their village school) and now there we were climbing aboard ‘My Goodness’, aptly named for two reasons. First, it is indeed very good to us, transporting us in cool comfort as an entire group and not divided into three tro-tros with no room to stretch and nothing like cool comfort. Second, ‘My Goodness’ expresses our marvel at the deft negotiations made on highways and dirt tracks, in this inter-city bus, by our capable driver Kobla, delivering us always safely and in good time.

Our search for Mafi Kumase took us first partway back to Accra, branching at Sogakope. That is the bridge town spanning the Volta River, which has flowed in from the north of Ghana, swelling into the massive man-made Lake Volta just north of Sogakope, then spilling over the mighty Akosombo Dam, then under the bridge at Sogakope and on and into the Atlantic Ocean at Ada, where the fresh water of the Volta visibly pushes up against the salt surf of the Atlantic, creating a rolling wall of water, marking the edge of the Gulf of Guinea.

We branched right at Sogakope, heading to Adidome and right again. The road north was nicely paved and then not very paved and then under construction, narrowed to one width and pocked with holes.

Lesser vehicles often pulled into tiny spaces to make way for our sometimes unrelenting village on wheels.

After a succession of town names starting with ‘Mafi’, evidently named for the particular Ewe tribe in the area, we eventually made one more right hand turn that put us, after a pleasant two-hour drive, in Mafi Kumase. Kobla pulled the bus as close to the drain-ditch as you might ever hope for and we cheered at our arrival. Then our dear brother Jambola motioned from the driver’s window of his tro-tro to go back turn around, and so we did. We came back to the intersection with the main road and faced a few options: the main road north or south, and a couple of dirt roads, one smaller than the other. That was our road, the smaller one, and it became smaller the further we travelled. Tall grasses on either side were now able to brush the red dust off the sides of the bus and we seemed to float through fields, still at surprising speeds, though we did slow to a crawl once or twice when the tiny road had washed out just a little. No problem for Kobla. Wonderful entertainment for the busload.

We reached the tiny village of Masi Adakpa Bakpa Akpokope, our true true destination. Kobla parked the bus near the school field, where rows of chairs and benches were set up for us in the shade of a few trees, and then we walked back down the road in a remarkably hot sun, to greet the village chief in his house. There was just room for us all to squeeze in to his living room, children on the cool polished terrazzo floor, women in chairs behind them and the men, of course, on the white sectional sofa positioned directly under the air conditioner at the front. Curtains were drawn, the room was cool and no amount of greeting in Ewe would be uncomfortably long. Introductions were made by our host, a former member of the assembly and spokesman for the elderly chief who sat and listened. Our chief, if Kwasi Dunyo is our chief, sat looking entirely bored, as sometimes befits a chief or a big man, though he did give warm greeting to the village elders when he moved from right to left to shake their hands, snapping fingers as they do, following the introductions on our side given by our Queen Mother, Kahti Amstrong.

Back into the heat of the day we went, back down the road, into our seats in the shade and then two excellent things happened. Clouds came in and cooled the sky right away, and then the long-anticipated Tokwoe began. Everyone was colourfully and individually dressed, in contrast to Dagbamete Unity who, the day before, had performed decked out all in black and red in, their large numbers. The Tokwoe group was much smaller, closer to our size. After some introductory singing, which was at once familiar and different, the drumming began and right away three men jumped up from their bench, pulling each other out to the front of the group, plainly happy to show off their effervescent dancing. The energy of this group was immediately warm and welcoming and smiles went up all round. The first brief dance had not finished before a woman or a child would grab another, or two, and pull out in front and dance for our delight as well as their own. The bell rhythm in Tokwoe is an infectious one that makes it easy to dance. It is the one element of our modern version of Tokwoe that remains intact. Here it was being played not only on gankogui bell but also beat out on large pieces of scrap metal with heavy sticks. The drumming and singing resembled the Ewe styles we hear in Dagbamete, but we now had travelled far enough to see and hear something different – a little bit or a lot, depending on your perspective — and now we are taking in the ‘real original one’ Tokwoe.

It was after only a few dance displays that one of the women approached our side and pulled one of our kids up to dance. Instantly, a buzz of excitement and appreciation passed through their group. Clearly the yevus were serious about this. (We are the yevus). Soon it was a complete dance party and scarves were draped on the shoulders of the most compelling dancers, some of whom, apparently, were among the yevus. Our dear brother Ledzi (leh-jee) was one of the stand-out dancers. (In fact, he will dance the highly athletic and hugely impressive Atsiagbekor later today with his village’s group.) He danced Tokwoe beautifully, putting his own style into it, maybe even the footwork of an Atsiagbekor dancer. All smiles.

There was a highly original woman who danced alone as she passed through the scene from time to time. Maybe she was crazy, or insane, as some people still like to say here, but what does that even mean? She held a notebook and a pencil, she was rather slight, in a dead-white-man top (used imported clothing) in a leopard print, with a zany striped dance cloth around her middle, and a black wig styled to suit an early Carol Burnett show. Then there was the young village child who was pulled halfway into the dance before pulling himself back with all his might with a look of horror on his face. No matter. There were ridiculous costumes worthy of Parliament Funkadelic, one young man wore a thick heavy oversized stuffed beige top hat that would keep you warm in a winter storm. Happy smiles for all. More dances with the hosts and the visitors beckoning one another. Carol Burnett danced through again, this time holding her black wig at her side like a dance partner. Her skinny legs and all made it plain to see that she was dancing about as much like a chicken as was humanly possible. Very like a chicken.

When the Tokwoe eventually stopped, it was decided spontaneously that our youth would present something of their own to the villagers, and so a fully unrehearsed Danse Guerriere began. There was no comparison with the high energy dance party that had just ended, but the village people loved to see it and demonstrated their happy approval.

And then, just as quickly as the grey clouds had cooled the hot blue sky at the beginning of the gathering, new black clouds appeared to signal the end. Rain was imminent. There was no particular concern about getting wet, and dancing in the rain might have taken this excellent party to a worthy climax, but there might well be lightening, and nobody needs that much excitement. And more importantly, the tiny moderately washed out road that brought us here, and that would take us back to the main road again, might very well wash out altogether if the rain would be heavy. We rallied, waved our greetings and deep appreciation to the fine people of Masi Adakpa and ran for the dry comfort of ‘My Goodness’. Kobla navigated all roads and traffic and a variety of weather conditions to get us safely back to Akatsi vicinity, then suddenly pulled the bus to the side of the main road, jumped down, calling back as he left the bus, “Please, I must greet my Mum.” All on board raised a cheer for Kobla’s mum and watched as he crossed the road, jumped the drain ditch and disappeared (if only for a few minutes) down a tiny alley.

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Notes from Ghana #10

Community Drumming

Yesterday, after a drum lesson in the morning and a great lunch of yam chips and red sauce (my favourite) we all piled into three trotros, each wearing a traditional cloth, either tied in the women’s or men’s style and headed down the red dirt road to a nearby village for a community drumming. This afternoon event featured Unity, a group from here in Dagbamete, and they were performing a burial ritual for a Unity member who had passed on a while back and who had lived in this area. Although the funeral itself was over, this particular group did not have a chance to properly mourn their member so this was the chosen date for this to happen. Lucky us. Some lovely soft and delicate bell sounds were playing when we arrived, accompanied by gentle singing from the crowd of 300-400 or so gathered. Elders were seated at the back of the large double atsimevu drums in a row of plastic chairs, complete with the woolen toques common to these kinds of events. Soon the drums began to play in the typical 12/8 pattern from this area accompanied by a whole two rows of axatses (rattles) which indoors would be deafening but here, under a canopy of palm branches in the humid air is simply intoxicating instead.

There was a small group of women who danced around the perimeter of the large group in a line, kind of leading and inspiring everyone. A few of our female group joined in their cool and twisty moves, sometimes holding black scarves. Lots of breakout dancing duos and trios emerged often asking us to join them. Jona in particular was asked to dance MORE than several times, probably due to his hair which is a big draw(see picture) as well as his cheeks which got pinched a bunch. Incidentally, our kids who have braces are also a big hit, as locals think they are mouth jewellery, since some even have coloured braces….

A few kids wandered off to get a Fanta with Jambolah, our beloved driver, who takes great care and always has a protective and watchful eye over our gang. Most of us danced at some point and I was thrilled to be given a horsetail and asked to dance with the line of elders who were led around the perimeter of the group by ladies with switches (!) in a slow groove…then at each direction we turned and faced the inner group and did the usual Ewe movements. We were all smiling coming back to Dagbamete for sure. Another “typical village day”

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Notes from Ghana #9

Hey there, thanks for all the great comments…I am passing on your greetings for sure. Had a great day today but still writing about it and loading in pics. Check back tomorrow (last night took me one hour to load 5 photos…no kidding).

I will however post some notes of Rory’s about food, below this pic.

For now I will give you a quick glimpse of a “typical adult meeting”. We gather at the “Spot” each day around 5pm for a drink and to settle the day and check in with each other, as this trip is not only new and challenging for the youth. Not your typical meeting room that is for sure. Its also a great vantage point for watching the kids toss a football, walk back and forth to Angelina’s seamstress shop or the bead place, or just get a Fanta for themselves. What a great fun and capable group of adults we have along!

And now, some FOOD  Notes written by  Rory Magill

We have eaten akple (ak-bla) which is a white corn dough for scooping up the beloved red sauce, a tomato sauce rich with fresh, red palm oil (not the clear, filtered, hydrogenated stuff that clogs our arteries in western junk foods) and seasoned with fennel seeds. We have eaten agbolo (a-bo-lo) which is a lighter, spongier version of akple, made so through mild fermentation, giving a very subtle tang to the dough. Most excellent. We have eaten banku (bon-koo) which is not light and spongy, like akple, but denser and more fermented, so that it tastes sour. Least excellent, perhaps. There is also plenty rice and plenty spaghetti and plenty fish. Fry fish, stew fish, sardines (in the salad today, very tasty) and more fry fish. There is chicken and there is beef, but so far, to the consternation of some, there has been no goat. Since MawaKoenya, the catering graduate, returned to the village yesterday, the menu seems to have gone international, and yesterday we enjoyed crepes for dessert after lunch, then a lovely ginger sauce with chicken for dinner, that was described by one of our young diners as Thai take-out. But back to Ghana: fried plantain with stewed bambara beans is a very popular item. Boiled cassava (or agbeli, og-beh-lee) is rather like an african potato. In other parts of Ghana it is pounded for an eternity until the starch polymerizes (we are told) into a tough dough called fufu, not unlike soft rubber, but here in Ewe land it is just plain boiled.

For dessert there is usually fresh fruit, most often pineapple sweet as candy, often bananas; next up will be large sweet mangoes.

For snacks there are cassava biscuits, almost like flat hardtack (for any Newfoundlanders reading) with a lovely hint of the flavour of local coconut oil. The coconut oil here is slightly golden and rich, almost with a hint of smokiness but not exactly, and fantastic. Groundnuts (peanuts) are salted in their skins and sold in long narrow chains of twisted plastic bag, so you can tear one little pouch off and enjoy a snack.

Bread is on the table at every meal and serves as a good default on banku nights and other such moments. Bread in Ghana is virtually always white, very slightly sweet, almost cakey in the crumb, not what you would call substantial, but goes down happily with a spread of Blue Band (yellow shortening) and Fruit jam (listing its second ingredient as Fruit.) The bread toasts nicely at breakfast in the communal toaster. (Remember we are thirty-five….the adults recently stole the toaster from the kids’ dining hall and brought it over to their own dining area. They can probably expect a counter-attack any time.)

Many of the kids have become hooked on Milo for breakfast, a hot malted chocolate drink much superior to Ovaltine, mixed with hot water and tinned milk. Most of the adults get their fix from double-dose Nescafe mixed with the same liquids. The giant and somehow improbable electric coffee maker that once, and only once, issued a great quantity of rather vapid coffee, before blowing circuits and transformers, is not missed. Not to complain: our needs and wishes, gustatory and otherwise, are always cheerfully exceeded. Everybody happy with the food, with the drink and with our living conditions in general, as different as they are from our custom.

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