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Festival of Friends and becoming an elder!

On Saturday, we participated in the Festival of Friends, a celebration of Kathy and Kwasi’s 27 years of collaboration. Baobab Youth and three local groups performed and over 300 members of the community joined us.

To make the day even more amazing, Kathy (also known as Mama Yenunya Ewui Kwasiwa) was granted a special honour and was enstooled as an elder in the village of Dagbamete. It was a moving and touching ceremony and we were grateful to be a part of it.

To find out more about the history of this connection and the Festival please visit HERE!

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Friday Preparations

Friday was a pretty low key day for our crew after rehearsing with Sammy and Kofi (from friends from Dzogadze). There was a buzz in the village, though. All around us, people were getting ready for the festival: painting buildings, delivering drinks, setting up tents, installing the sound system for the dance party, and even moving sand around to adjust the flatness of the ground in certain areas.

The festival’s kicked off in re afternoon with some energetic performances from the Bobobo group and a group of teen girls from Dagbamete. 

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Kakum Rainforest Canopy Walk

In the middle of the trip, Kathy had arranged for us to travel to Cape Coast for around three days. While we were there we had a very busy and exciting day, where we had the opportunity to visit the Elmina slave castle and the Kakum rainforest’s canopy walk. I chose out of the two, to write about the rainforest walk.

As we drove along the very bumpy dirt road, we noticed that it starred to drizzle. We thought we would be experiencing the rain part of the rainforest but luckily for us it didn’t pour while we were on the walk. The Rainforest canopy walk consists of a couple different trails, and around 7 different rope bridges, all made by a group of Canadian and Ghanaian climbers.

We walked up a steep stone path with our guide, through giant clumps of bamboo and massive trees that were as tall as three or more story buildings. We walked through twisted vines and acres and acres of greenery and wildlife, all the while listening to hundreds of different bird calls and other rustling sounds. It made us feel like we were in a whole different world. In some ways we were.

When we got to the hill at the top of the stone walkway there was a sort of tall wooden hut. Following our guide we walked up the stairs. At the top of the structure was the start of the bridges. We got a small pep talk from our tour guide and then he sent us across. It was wonderful. I was scared at first; I think we all were, then I looked around. We could see for miles. Everything was so lush and green, and when you look down you were staring into the vast rainforest full of millions and millions of trees, small and big.

The bridge swayed a little as we walked which startled everyone. The bridges are made of thick heavy metal rods stretching along their length and ropes to hold on to as you walk along the single plank of wood meant as a walkway.

By the time everyone had gotten off the last bridge on to the stone path, nearly everyone wanted to do the walk again, but we didn’t get the opportunity to. When we reached the parking lot and gift shops, most people’s cameras had about 100 new pictures of the wonderful canopy walk. In the end I don’t think any of us could forget such a wonderful experience.

– Lydia

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A busy few days…

We have recently been having blog problems, so sorry for the gap in writing. In the meantime, we have had a great three-day road trip to Accra, Cape Coast and Elmina! After a small roadside breakdown (expected on any Ghana trip), we spent 24 hours in Accra hanging for the afternoon at the Kathy Knowles Library in Nima. The youth theatre group, led by the amazing Martin Legend performed excerpts from their new original play called “The Man from the Past”…it was spellbinding and we were so wanting to hear what happens at the end, we made Martin promise to send us his script by email so we can read it. This was followed by a performance of Fume Fume by us , and then a few high octane drum and dance pieces by their troupe. A really nice youth exchange!

Afterwards we had a great meal at Chez Afrique, a wonderful throwback Ghana Independence-style outdoor restaurant complete with traditional and more international dishes. Their grilled snapper, chicken and octopus were hits. After sleeping at the Yiri Lodge,  we went to the amazing but stressful arts market at the Centre for National Culture. A great opportunity to try bartering. Everyone did well, buying some great cultural gifts and sharing tips on how to get a deal. The trip to Cape Coast was long but we were thrilled to land at Hans Cottage Botel where we spent the next two nights. More on that coming soon….

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Arts Centre

The arts centre had some higher-end goods for sale. It was a rather large market, but there weren’t very many customers, so the vendors were very attentive. This area was probably the highest pressure sales that we’ve encountered.

As we were getting loaded into the vans, a man came trying to sell us some kalabash clackers (Ghanaian fidget spinners!). He had some amazing two handed moves, so we stopped to watch him. Kathy recognized the man from the 2001 Baobab trip. He was even featured in the Footsteps to Ghana documentary singing the alphabet song! Wow!

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Nima Library Visit

On July 17th, the group visited another one of Kathy Knowles’ beautiful libraries, the first being a community library in a small fishing village on the coast, Goi.  Before travelling to Cape Coast, we visited the Kathy Knowles’ library in Nima on the outskirts of Accra. The building was gorgeous and so was the location.  Recently a huge mosque had been built right behind the library, and it was “mosque-umental” to say the least.   In the photo, the library is on the left and people are gathering outside after the performance, with the mosque directly behind.

The purpose of our visit to the Nima library was to do a performance exchange with the Kathy Knowles Theatre Company who will be performing “The Man From the Past” on July 29, a play written by the director of the theatre troupe, Martin Legend. The exchange was set off with a short excerpt from the play and then we followed with a performance of Fume Fume. The dancers, me being one of them, were left breathless and sweating in Nima’s arid heat, feeling good about our performance, a feeling that wouldn’t last very long. The theatre group one-up’ed our performance by doing an eccentric rendition of Gota, a piece that the Baobab kids are now infatuated with. Being theatre kids, the members of the Kathy Knowles Theatre Company made a real show of everything. Their dancing, drumming and singing were done with such energy and utter hilarity, it left us embarrassed and feeling that we hadn’t held up our side of the exchange. They dug us into a deeper hole of self-doubt by continuing on and performing two other pieces which showcased their incredible rhythmic and theatrical skills. Thinking that the show was over, us Baobab kids started conversing in awe over the radicality of what we had seen, only to be shut up by a breakdancing and stomp performance by the same kids we had seen doing amazing, authentic Ghanaian dance. After many backflips and other gymnastic feats, my hands were left red from clapping so much. We left the Nima library after congratulating the performers endlessly and trying our best to deflect compliments made by the theatre kids and onlookers, feeling as if we had in no way deserved them. 

All in all, our visit to the Nima library was wonderful. Although we may have felt that our performance lacked in the crazy energy that the theatre kids had brought to the table, we put effort into our performance and that’s what matters. *Cue motivational music*

I myself, hope to return to volunteer at the Nima library during my gap year, with the potential benefit of learning how to drum and dance from the same theatre kids that we watched with incredible awe when we were there. 

Galen out. 

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Dagbamete ICT Centre Internet and Wifi

Like so many other things here, we take internet for granted, but in Dagbamete it is difficult. Popper (pü-pá) runs the ICT centre at the school and he coordinates the classes so that the classes access the internet in the same month; he gets a block of data for his personal cell phone for that month and sets-up the wifi. Popper maintains a small fleet of laptop computers. The laptops were manufactured in Ghana almost 20 years ago. Popper does his best to keep the laptops running, but they are having problems, mainly battery issues.

I brought three RaspberryPi computers. These are very small, very efficient and very fast computers. The computers are so efficient that they do not need a fan. This is very important, there is always fine red sand in the air and a computer’s fan collects this sand. Along with the computers, and with the help of other travellers, we brought modern flat screen monitors, keyboards, mice and speakers. We set up the computers on the Monday after we arrived … that was the easy part.

My goal on this trip was to look at what they have, what they need and look into permanent internet access. A few years ago, they got a quote for internet and it was going to cost US$600 to install and then US$600 per month; this was not sustainable. Popper had done some research and found a new company that could install the equipment for US$400. The best part of this internet connection is that the speed and the amount of data can be scaled up or down from month-to-month. The basic service costs US$40 per month and provides 35GB of data. This should be sufficient for the school, but Kwasi wants internet access at the Kathy Armstrong Lodge as well.

We ordered and paid for the internet to be installed at the ICT Centre and this was done in a few days. The ICT is about 250m from the Lodge and there are multiple buildings in the way. I had brought a pair of Cisco networking radios. Too slow by North-American standards, these radios are very robust. After several days of trying to configure the radios, we finally got them configured so that one at the ICT transmits the network toward the Lodge where the other radio receives the network and provides wifi. The only glitch in the plan was that I left one of the mounting brackets in Ottawa (I didn’t think we would need it). Luckily, more people are coming from Ottawa for next weekend’s festival and with some help from my family and Lois, the bracket will soon be on its way. (Yay!)

The idea with the internet connection is that we can fund the basic service and then if people are staying at the Lodge, part of their fees will go towards increasing the internet bandwidth for the time they are here. Maybe one day, enough people will be staying at the Lodge that it will pay for the internet permanently; however, in the meantime, we will need to subsidize it. Between me and Christopher, we have pledged to cover the first year. We will arrange something through Conrad Richter when we are back in Ottawa.

If anyone reading this blogpost would like to contribute to this project, please email us at ‪‬.

– Robin

Note: Pictures to follow! The connection was poor tonight. I spent 20 minutes trying to upload a single photo.

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Market day

This past Wednesday was market day in Akatsi, a larger village that is a 20 minute drive from Dagbamete. We went there after lunch with several of our Dagbamete hosts as guides to do some shopping. For most of us, the goal was to find fabric for outfits to have made in town for the upcoming festival.

It is very hard to describe the market and do it justice. It was busy, chaotic, and exciting. There were vendors selling toiletries, disposable diapers, beads, pre-made jewelry, seafood, fruit, spices, bells, bowls, kids clothes, hot peppers, plastic containers, and, of course, fabric in every colour combination you could imagine.

We enjoyed Fanyogo (a frozen yogurt treat in a bag, fresh bread, and cassava biscuits.

As a “yevu” or “white person”, it is a humbling and enlightening experience for me to be a visible minority. We got a lot of attention from people as we walked around because we stood out, but people were friendly.

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You don’t have enough goats to marry my daughter!

We were told yesterday that we were going to a “community drumming” session in a nearby village. We were kinda stressed. We weren’t keen to show off our “skills” as freestyle dancers or drummers, surrounded by people who had been doing this kind of thing their whole life. Nonetheless, we practiced a basic dance move we could do to limit the embarrassment.

Fast forward to the afternoon, a couple minutes before we got in the rickety vans that we use to get around, people start talking and we find out that we’re headed to a funeral, more specifically, a funeral for a member of Unity, the drumming group from Dagbamete. Some of the parents had already gone to a funeral here but most of us had no idea what to expect. We arrived after a slightly harrowing journey and already, it was giving off an odd vibe. There were sellers everywhere surrounding the main funeral area, balancing things like popcorn, ice cream and water in huge buckets on their head. Kind of different. And now the main event.

In the square where the funeral was held was a huge tree, surrounded by rows of benches spiralling off from the centre. As far as the eye could see was black. Black cloth, black shirts and beautiful, wrinkled black skin. We were pretty obviously outsiders, dressed in our bright clothes, toting around camera cases and water bottles. Before entering the gauntlet of people, we greeted the elders (all decked out in the cloth of the Unity group, as well as small, bright red knitted toques) of the villages that were part of Unity. We did the standard snap handshake and exchanged pleasantries with the elders, and went and sat down in the front rows around the tree.

There was a singer, chanting in Ewe, sporting a large gold necklace. People were up and dancing, drumming filled the air and we felt awkward. As soon as we sat down, we were warmly welcomed by all and brought up to dance. It was still awkward, dancing in an almost conga line of people who were obviously naturals at this. They’d say you were doing great and then correct you but they were obviously touched that this group of awkward, self-conscious westerners were attending this ceremony. We’d go down the aisles of people, dancing stiffly until someone would grab us and we’d join a small separate circle of dancers, all doing a standard Ghanaian dance move. It was fun… and stressful and different than anything we’d ever really done.

Eventually, after about half an hour or so, the song being sung by the whole gathering ended and everyone sat down. Another song started again and instead of everyone joining in, small pockets of dancing erupted, started by one person asking a couple others to join them. As you danced, or even watched, it was easy to forget that it was a funeral, a time where family and friends would have grieved if we had found ourselves in Canada. Instead, it was clearly a celebration of a life lived to the fullest. Someone had passed on but no one was crying, rather they danced and sang and laughed. It was a party, but it was full of honour as well.

After a while, the coffin was brought in. From the beginning of the funeral, we’d assumed that it was a memorial, the deceased buried and the celebration less formal and so it was a shock that the coffin was there at all. The coffin itself was fancy, glossy white with gold and silver trimmings, a contrast to my Canadian ideal of a simple, regal coffin. Maybe 10 or so men, less traditionally dressed than the rest of the crowd, came into the centre of the square, the coffin hoisted above their heads. The coffin then went through a slightly rough landing on top of a couple benches. For maybe 15 minutes, members of Unity danced around the coffin, doing simple but graceful movements.

A couple marriage proposals later, a man then gestured to four Baobab girls and motioned us over. We were hesitant to say the least. It wasn’t quite on our bucket lists to dance around a dead body but oh well. We got up and we were placed in a girl-guy-girl-guy order, using the guy’s four sons and us. We did the basic dance step in a circle around the casket until the lead drum called out the ending and we sat down, feeling a little giddy from the odd experience.

One of our favourite things about the event was a little girl, wearing a bright red traditional dress, almost lost in the sea of blacks and browns that the rest of the congregation was sporting. She was probably around 2 years old and it was clear that dancing was in her blood. She was pulling off the moves the rest were doing, little arms and legs moving slightly slower than everyone else but her spirit was strong and she was full of joy.

The afternoon wasn’t what we had expected and it definitely wasn’t anything we could have imagined but we’re glad we went and saw what we saw and experienced what we experienced. We are definitely going to remember it, to say the least!

-Magda and Adriana (WHO ARE IN GHANA!!!!!!!)

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Goi Library

Thursday we leaded up the vans again (28 of us in 2 vans!) after lunch to drive to the Kathy Knowles library in Goi, a village 2 hours away on the coast. The library is a busy and thriving centre for the needy community. Not only does it allow kids and adults to borrow books, it provides a quiet space for older students to study. It is a bright and inviting space that regularly sees 150-300 children per day.

We presented them with 30 backpacks loaded with various school supplies and a collection of Ottawa and Ontario pins.

As a special treat for us, they felled and served coconuts from trees on their property for us all. Super tasty!

Click here to read more about our fellow Canadian, Kathy Knowles, and her remarkable foundation.

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