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Notes from Ghana #6

(Sorry no photos from this day, as requested by our hosts)

This entry from parent and chaperone Chris Duschenes about our day yesterday:

Of spirituality, sacrifices and cellphones

Another day of incredible wonder, learning and startling contrasts. Many individual elements of this day will remain with me for a long time and many questions will remain unanswered. However, there are two feelings that will dominate my lasting impressions: genuineness and conviction. The remarkable events that we were privileged to have witnessed today obviously emanate from profound and sacred beliefs in a country that is seemingly overrun with westerner christian missionaries.

It was shrine day in Dagbamete – a day for Ghanaians from near and far to congregate in the village and commune with their gods; a time discuss and solve their problems, restore their health, clean their souls or pray for a brighter future. The Dagbamete Shrine is famous and attracts hundreds of worshipers a year, due to its reputation as a place of powerful healing and solutions. Today, there were about 200 souls of all ages, freely coming and going throughout the day and evening.

The Shrine is by far the biggest structure in the village. It is a huge concrete-block shell about the size of a small hockey arena with open sides on the ground floor, a huge open space in the middle and a wrap-around mezzanine balcony. One end of the open space houses the main place of worship where the village elders and spiritual leader congregate in a semi-circle around several effigies, referred to by the locals as ghosts, to provide council to worshipers and preside over a wide range of rituals.

At around 10:30 this morning, drummers summoned villagers and Baobabers to the Shrine. All dressed in wraps, shoes were removed and the men and women were ushered to benches on opposite sides of the large open space. Over the course of the next 10 hours, worshipers came to present and discuss their concerns in groups of 2 to 30 or so, each individual accompanied by a live chicken or goat, as an offering to the gods – chickens to address lesser needs, goats for greater.

The first pair of worshipers to be brought forward were women seeking cleansing, having recently witnessed a dead body. After lengthy discussions with the spiritual leader during which he repeatedly blessed the women by gently using their chickens like wands, the seemingly desperate animals were immediately calmed by simply lying them on their sides on the concrete floor. The pair returned to their places on the benches, chickens in hand and, following a brief interlude of drumming, were replaced at the alter with a second group to undergo the same type of exchange with the spiritual leader but seeking another type of help. Although it was not clear to me what type of more significant help was being sought, about a fifth of those seeking help brought goats. As with the chickens, the goats were treated with care and respect. The largest group to come forward were 30 or so individuals who were seeking “membership” in the shrine. A small fee and a chicken paves the way for you to benefit from the power of the Shrine for a year. The Shrine has over 8000 devotees.

After several groups of individuals seeking help had been catered to, all came together before the effigies and the animals were sacrificed. There was nothing violent, bloody or sensational. The animals were rendered unconscious before their blood was let and they did not struggle. Children removed the bodies from the Shrine and immediately plucked the chickens and roasted the goats. The meal was had by participants, the circle complete.

The rituals ended this evening with a healing circle where those who are sick are given the opportunity to cleanse themselves in sacred water, then oil and finally in a fire lit next to the main effigy. Men and women gathered tightly around the fire, passing parts of their bodies slowly through the flames, seemingly without pain.

I don’t want to leave the impression that witnessing the events of today was easy or that I am romanticizing the Ewe religion. A lot of the day was tough to watch and hear. I cannot imagine any outsider not being at least somewhat disturbed by the frantic squawking of the chickens and desperate bleating of very young and cute goats as they were led to the alter. However, that is not the image that persists and much of the day was a celebration of life. In the vast space of the Shrine floor, small children danced or played soccer a few yards from the rituals and on many occasions, the theme song from the Simpson’s could be heard in the background as one of the elders answered his cell phone. It was a true blending of the old and the new – a community coming together to address real, contemporary issues in a profound and ancient way – the same way their ancestors did and, it is hoped, the same way generations to come will.

Kathy here:

I was so proud of the kids and their willingness to check out the Shrine day, as most of them did, and it was an optional event. Not all stayed all day but they came and went according to their own needs. In many cases, what they witnessed was much simpler and gentler than anything they imagined in their minds before coming. Kwasi gave a talk to us in the morning about what to expect, as well as a few hows and whys about it all in terms of its function in the village and their lives. As Christopher said, there are many questions left unanswered but we all agreed that it is OK to not have all the answers. One thing I particularly loved was watching the kids play the drums, rattles and do some dancing with members of the Shrine at the opening invocation of the day. Incidentally, when each group of chickens and goats are sacrificed, the drumming music is played to accompany their souls from this world to the next. Pretty moving. We had a great round circle talk about the experience last night before bed.

And now a couple of notes from the kids about the day at the Shrine (from our group journal):

“The sacrifice was so interesting to watch ! I didn’t see the goats though, only the chickens. Out back there is a sort of cylinder with all the skulls of the dead animals. It is so cool. I think it is OK because they kill the animals so humanely, make sure sure that they are unconscious when it happens, and the meat isn’t wasted because they eat it after. Also, I love SUGARCANE yum”

“The Shrine actually pretty cool. A bit sad , but cool. Love my shorts.”

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Notes from Ghana #5

The Graduation.

We all joke that on the schedule, although there are many “typical village days” , there really is no such thing. Every day there is some unexpected event that surprises and engages us. For instance, Kwasi’s daughter MawaKoenya has just finished her advanced catering certificate (she is known to many of us on previous trips as a baker, bringing us delicious homemade donuts once in a while for a breakfast treat). Yesterday was her graduation from her college in Kpong, near Ho. So all of us piled into trotros (small vans, 12 of us per vehicle) and made the long journey through some amazingly beautiful hills and forest area, complete with wild baboons. We were supposed to leave by 8am, which of course turned into 9:20, and the expected 90 minute journey was actually three hours so we arrived at 12:30 and although we were supposed to be there for a 9:30am start, we arrived about 20 minutes ahead of MawaKoenya’s actual ascent to the podium. Naturally! That is Kwasi’s luck. Of course there were many people, many dignitaries including a Bishop (a Catholic college), lots of graduates and their families, all dressed to the nines. We proceeded to greet MawaKoenya…no small thing as 35 of us paraded through the field towards her in our gold Footsteps to Ghana shirts. She was trilled to see us. We took our seats afterwards and waited for her to be called to the stage. It is customary for the families to meet the graduates coming down for the stage and cheer and hug them and walk with them back to their seats while lots of photos are being taken. So Kwasi asked some of our kids to greet MawaKoenya as she descended the steps. They decided to form an arch for her to walk through which was a big hit. Much fun.

Afterwards there was a fantastic fashion show showcasing the final exam projects of the seamstress program which we all loved. THEN the brass band and Bobobo dancers came out, FANTASTIC! Then even that was topped by a hiplife (think hip hop meets highlife music) dance performance on the field to loud music form huge speakers, which our kids joined in. The dancing was SPECTACULAR! Absolutely amazing. Hope to post some video of it at some point….the photos take ages to load so we’ll see.

We then proceeded to move to an open area with tables and chairs and a picnic was unpacked from our trotros of jolloff rice and chicken and we washed it all down with minerals (Coke, Fanta, Malta etc). The kids found several bead sellers who they made very happy by purchasing some great bracelets etc. Then we piled back into the trotros and drove back to the village over the mighty Volta River, getting back just after dark. Wow. So. Much. Fun. (So. Much. Driving.)

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Notes from Ghana #4

So the first couple of days here have been spent exploring the village, getting Fantas at the spot and having our first lesson under the trees. All 35 of us played drums and danced Kinka. Although the youth have been working on the piece a little before we left, it was new to many of the adults and they REALLY enjoyed themselves. Kwasi has a unique and engaging way of connecting people to this music and he left no one behind.

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Notes from Ghana #3

Meeting the arriving Baobab group (all 33 of them) at the Kotoka airport in Accra was exciting…finally all of our plans for this trip becoming real. Kwasi had arranged fr the bus My Goodness to fit us all in, kinda crazy but sure fun to be all together. The kids were tired but REAL troopers and after a snack of local groundnuts, plantain chips bananas and Fanta, they headed to bed in the Accra Hotel. Much to my surprise, several of them were up early and we sat outside sipping Nescafe and Milo, watching the crazy busy city of Accra begin its day. After breakfast we headed to the village of Dagbamete. The traffic was horrible but we finally made it by mid afternoon. Its really fun to do that journey by day and slowly leave the chaos of the city behind as you travel further into the Volta region, home to many baobab trees. We were WARMLY welcomed into the village and the kids enjoyed a terrific meal of traditional red sauce, rice and plantain. Yummy. The rest of the day was spent hanging with the local kids. I will just say, let the pictures speak for themselves. More soon….

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Notes from Ghana #2

Yes that was posted by Rory because I was already in Ghana, travelling ahead of the group with our good friend and colleague Jennifer Moir. We two had three crazy busy days in Accra, spending time making some final arrangements for the group, running some errands, eating chicken and rice, some streetfood (kebabs, yam chips & pepe) soaking up Accra life, and just acclimatising ourselves to Ghana. Jen is a fantastic conductor, singer and educator who is accompanying the group (on her first trip to Africa) as a vocal interpreter as well as working on a composition project with Rory, so that we can premiere a new piece with her choir at the University of Western Ontario, in the fall. Jen and I had an amazing bunch of rides with a taxi driver, Kwami (thanks for the great recommendation Deborah!), an Ewe who knows all the backroads in Accra necessary to avoid the traffic, which somehow seems to be worse than ever. Baobab has several times connected with the Osu Children’s Library Fund, mostly in Ottawa for fundraising events. We were really pleased to visit three of the more than 200 libraries built in Ghana by the OCLB, including the original shipping container library started by the amazing Kathy Knowles and run by Joana, a tireless champion for reading and engaging volunteers. It was great to see the adult literacy classes there. We will return to the Nima Library later on the trip to connect and exchange performances with the youth Theatre group there. More on that to come….

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Notes from Ghana #1

Day one. Hayley arrives at the studio early. The bus arrives at the studio early. Just about everyone arrives early and so off we go……early. Traffic is in our favour and so we get to Trudeau airport early. Everything is moving nicely. Hayley finds a nice man from British Airways, Carlos, who is immediately friendly and helpful with our huge group and we get checked in faster than we could have hoped. Hayley prompts a thank-you-Carlos shout-out from the kids, to the delight (or amusement) of this Carlos fellow. Later, as we board the plane, there’s Carlos again, sneaking in through one of those narrow little doors in the mobile on-ramp that you walk down into the airplane. Hayley calls out to Carlos and the friendship is rekindled. Carlos graciously declines an invitation to join us on the trip to Dagbamete and says instead he’ll watch out for Baobab on Youtube (perhaps he means one day, when we get big). Hayley tells him cheerfully that Baobab is indeed on Youtube and produces a Baobab business card for our new friend, with our website on it, from which he might navigate his way to the group’s videos. Then we all greet goodbye. Well, Hayley is no fool, and though she would gladly strike up friendships in any direction at any time, she also knows the potential value of friendly engagements like the one with Carlos.

Once we’re in the air, safely out of Canada and on our merry way to England, Hayley is approached by a flight attendant with a print-out. Carlos has managed to get a message to our airplane. The message is for his new friend Hayley, and she now holds his message in her hands. It says that someone in our party has left immunization records in the airport in Montreal, records which are essential for setting foot in the Republic of Ghana. Carlos, our excellent new friend, goes on in his message to say that he has scanned the document and emailed it to Baobabtree, using the contact info from Hayley’s business card. When we land at Heathrow, the lovely people at British Airways invite Hayley into the first-class lounge to intercept and print out the scanned document. Of course, Hayley takes the opportunity, while enjoying a little first-class comfort, to send a friendly message to our man Carlos, with big, big thanks and a link to our videos. Clever gal.

-posted, in fact , by dogo dogo, Rory Magill….now that we have figured a way to get internet, these posts will be hopefully a little more frequent. We are now in the village of Dagbamete and everyone is doing marvelously well. Stay tuned……

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Packing Party

Last night we assembled  all the generously donated school supplies, sports equipment, dental supplies, guitar, kids clothing and shoes together with our extra duffel bags and went to work packing up the bags to take on our trip. We will have about 30 bags of donations to take, as well as close to $2000 for school textbooks and cultural group supplies needed.  A BIG thank you to all the members of the Ottawa community far and wide for these contributions.Please see a full list of these generous individuals and businesses on our donations page.

After some great snacks, the travelers met for a “web building” activity where we vocalized all our good wishes for each others’ journey. The travelers received their final schedule and instructions, as the next time we see each other will be on departure day!

Thanks to Hayley de Bie, our manager for all her work on this tour, parent Claire Thompson for health prep, Board member Nadine Powers who will be a chaperone, the youth performers who worked so hard together, and ALL the parents who have fundraised, collected donations and some of whom will chaperone on the trip. This has certainly been an amazing group effort!

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Oh, What a Night!

Last night was our kick-of concert at the NAC Fourth Stage. The room had a capacity crowd, with many of our friends, family and supporters in the community joining us to celebrate the kick-off to our tour to Ghana, coming up in just a couple of weeks….

There is so much I could say about the evening, from the fabulous energy in the room, to the professional quality of the sound and lights by the great 4th Stage team, to the goodwill and kind words shared by so many people, but I’d like to really focus on the youth themselves.

These 24 kids arrived for the sound check yesterday from various commitments including school, school exams, highland dancing exam, three day trip to Quebec city, and just their busy lives in general. We had one youth recovering from strep throat and another getting over walking pneumonia (in his case it should  have been dancing pneumonia…).

Corralling everyone into a dress rehearsal is challenging, especially with the small stage area, large number of drums, and quick changes that had to happen between pieces. They always have great ideas about the artistic elements of the show as well,  from encouraging each other to smile more, send out more energy, or try new ideas in the pieces themselves….I’ve really seen a lot of growth this year in their leadership and initiative skills.

The show itself was amazing…the energy building and building as the evening went on. We introduced the audience to the Ghanaian tradition of “dashing” dancers and drummers whose efforts and performance you appreciate by pasting coins and bills on their forehead while the music and dance is happening. This was a lot of fun and the audience really got into it! Soon there were loonies,  toonies and $5 and $10 dollar bills floating around the dance floor. In Ghana, this money is collected and then shared equally amongst performers. We collected all the money and will make a donation to the Kathy Knowles Theatre and Dance Group, at the Nima Library in Accra when we spend the day with them on our trip. In total last night, the “dashing” raised $311.80!! Way to go!

We played a bit of Kinka, a new piece we will be focusing on in our studies in Ghana. Its a real community style piece and we were thrilled when three alumnae from the group Ben, Zoe & Emma jumped up from the audience to dance for us. After finishing a resounding high energy Gahu, we ended the show with the magical and soft sounds of  Bell Forest, evoking that special time when the sun goes down, a lot of activity quiets, and the African air and light takes on an ethereal quality. At the end of the piece, when the drums and bells start to fade out, the kids left the stage one by one as our great tech guys slowly brought the lights down to nothing (insert sigh here).

Thanks to Rory and Ian for stage help, and the Baobab Board in general for their support of this event and during the year.

You know, there are many ways to make the world a better place and many things we can all do to contribute and give back. However, when an effort comes from your core being, and is aligned with your soul then it really packs a powerful punch. This Footsteps to Ghana Project is about helping youth expand their world and learn more about themselves so that whatever they find themselves doing in the future, they can connect to that soul quality. I LOVE watching that unfold in them, through the music and dance, the social elements of the group and of course the magic of being in Africa.

Here we go….

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If you were downtown least evening near Elgin and Albert Streets around 7pm, you would have seen a bunch of teens in rubber boots and gold shirts hanging around the magnificent Oscar Peterson….then suddenly, they arranged themselves in four lines and rhythmic sounds of stomping and slapping began, as Baobab Youth performed 2-4, our Gumboot dancing routine. This is a short, complicated and groovy routine taught to us by members of Black Umfalosi, who we had the pleasure of working with a few years back at the Kaleid festival in London Ont. Thomeki, who was the main guy teaching us, always counted us in with the phrase 2, 4,  so seemed a natural title for the piece.

We had some passersby taking video and photos, a few honking cars and even a bus driver who gave us the peace sign.It was so much fun, the youth ran up to the corner of Elgin and Queen and did it again!

What a great way to kick off our concert last evening…..

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Wow, Donations!

Former Board member, drummer and Baobab supporter Janet Quirt and her friend Karole Kidd-Witiuk dropped into the studio this morning with more than 50 items of handmade clothing for us to take to Ghana for kids in need. These colourful shorts and very cute dresses will surely be a hit. Thanks to both of them for all their hours of sewing time and generosity!

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