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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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Drumming lessons

I was lucky enough to have my first drum lesson in Ghana on my birthday. I should say that I’m not a Baobab kid, but a total novice. The backdrop to our drumming was a pure blue sky patched with towering clouds. In the middle distance, birds and butterflies flew up from the glossy leaves of a tree. We sat under the Ah Chi Gate; the biggest tree with the most shade. A circle of brown drums were ready on the bright red sand.

I was nervous about playing in front of the pros from Ghana and Baobab, but Kwasi assured me I had a “natural computer” and that I should use it. I can’t say that I played well, but I certainly tried. It was, for me, like a combination of sport and music. We played Kinka and Gadzo.

We got to try the Gankogui ( a metal hand bell), the Axatse (a bead covered gourd) and hand drums.  I had stiff muscles and little tiny bruises on my leg from the Axatse, which might be a sign that I was working hard if not well!

As we played, people from the village came by to watch and listen. Women dressed in bright colours paused as they carried their water home on their heads. One of the village elders sat observing us from the thatch roofed summer house. The women from the dining hall started dancing along.

We knew when school was let out for lunch, because the children in their brown and orange uniforms came to watch as well. They leaned against our benches and watched us at work.

Kwasi brought two teachers that the group hadn’t worked with before; Sammy and Kofi. Sammy is very knowledgeable and super patient about explaining things twice.  Kofi helped me again and again with the Axatse part, throwing his whole body into it and showing me where to put my feet. I very nearly almost got it.

At one point Kwasi was trying to explain how we should put expression and passion into our drumming. As an example of how not to do it he did a perfect impression of how we might sing in public, standing ramrod straight and apologizing for making a noise. Laughing helped me relax into learning.

I’m so proud that I tried, and so happy to be working with these people. I felt doubly blessed on my birthday, by music and good friends.


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Dagbamete Primary School

Odai, Kwasi’s grandson, found us in the village because he heard that three of us were teachers and wondered if we would be interested in visiting the local school. On Monday afternoon, he walked us over and introduced us to the headmaster and a few of the teachers on staff. The headmaster greeted us warmly and gave us some friendly lessons on protocol. He asked us about the curriculum and teacher preparation in Canada and we inquired about the same here in Ghana. The school has 300 students in KG (kindergarten), six levels of primary, and three levels of junior high and serves many of the local villages. All Ghanaian students are doing review this week in preparation for next week’s exams.

In May, the school was severely damaged by a violent storm, forcing them to close half of the primary school. As a result, the children were forced to relocate into an adjacent half-finished building and continue lessons in the open air. Despite this and the spare classroom resources that they have to access to, we found more similarities than differences between the two education systems in terms of student learning.

The headmaster introduced us to the primary 5 teacher, who allowed us to sit in on a math lesson. After such a positive experience, we were invited to return as frequently as we wished. On Tuesday afternoon, we went back to observe a primary 6 science lesson as well. Definitely time well spent!

Kerry, Michelle, and Ann

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Getting to know Dagbamete

On Sunday, our first full day in the village, we were treated to a tour by Godsway. He showed us the shrine (where people were starting to gather with their offerings and goods for sale), a giant shady space where they hold public gatherings, the original well for the village, a really interesting sheltered space under bamboo trees, the new clinic, the partially constructed secondary school (currently being used for primary students since a storm in May blew half of the roof off of their building), an apoteshi distillery, and a cassava mill in action.





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Group Thoughts on Yiri to Dagbamete

I asked my fellow travellers for one memorable moment or observation from the 4-hour drive from the Yiri Lodge in Accra to Dagbamete. Here is a collection of highlights:

  • “Stopping on the side of the road to pick up food for lunch”
  • “People that we had never met before were so welcoming at the market”
  • “Every time we stopped or slowed down, people would come to the van to try to sell us something”
  • “When we stopped, a boy tried to give me a high five and got me in the wrist”
  • “Walking across the bridge” (over the Volta)
  • “The cute kid by the fruit stand”
  • “Singing in the van”
  • “Termite mounds in the fields”
  • “The delicious bread, fresh mango, pineapple, and avocadoes we had for lunch”
  • “The people who were curious about us”
  • “People on the side of the road who had things balanced on their heads”
  • “The speed at which we were travelling.”
  • “I will never be afraid to fly again.”
  • “The varied and interesting road signs”
  • “I would knit and Carol would wind the wool to avoid looking at the road”
  • “The abandoned or partially complete construction sites”
  • “The persistent and seemingly random honking”
  • “A Please Do Not Corrupt Police sign”
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Ghana En Route – Part 2

On Saturday morning, we had a low key start to the day: breakfast at 9, some time for re-packing, playing catch with the rugby ball, then hopping into the vans again for the trip to Dagbamete. We stopped a couple of times along the way, to pick up some food at a roadside market, then again to walk across the Volta River and enjoy the fruit, avocadoes, bread, and spicy goat kebabs for lunch.

The roadside views were varied, full of frenzied activity, and, at times, overwhelming. We will leave you with some photos for now and add more detail later in a future blog post.

We were very warmly greeted upon our arrival in Dagbamete and are looking forward to settling in for village life.

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Ghana En Route – Part 1

Travelling as a group of 24 is a very different experience than family travel! The two hour bus ride to Montreal was filled with playing Heads-Up and excited chatter. In Montreal, it took us nearly two hours to get checked in, check our bags, get our Ghana visa’s entered into the system and get through security. Needless to say, we didn’t have much time to spare before boarding our flight to Amsterdam.

The flight was uneventful (thankfully). In Amsterdam, we broke into small groups to take the train into town and had about 3 hours to tour around. We had a much smoother time navigating the Amsterdam airport and some time to chill before getting on the next flight.

We were very happy to be greeted by Kathy, Kwasi, and the Dagbamete crew when we landed in Accra. It was dark and chaotic in the airport parking lot, but we eventually loaded into the vans and made our way the Yiri Lodge, our home for the first night. All told, it was 27 hours of travel from the time we left the Ottawa train station until we arrived at Yiri. Whew!

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Ghana 2017 #1 Departures and Arrivals!

The group left Ottawa yesterday with all persons present, so I have been informed (thanks Ian!). That bodes well for the rest of the trip ;) We have 13 youth and 12 adults on the Footsteps 2017 journey. Here they are leaving Ottawa. The first leg involves a bus ride, and two long flights. I have taken the lead and have been in Ghana for a few days already. There are lots of preparations for a group this size so Kwasi and I have been working hard to get everything ready in Dagbamete. I am in Accra now, with friends Angelina and Jambolah, also making preparations. We, along with Kwasi and an entourage from Dagbamete will meet the group tonight at Kotoka airport. I can hardly wait! We have purchased some fresh local plantain chips, sweet bananas (tasting the way bananas ought to), a few biscuits and of course lots of water for the travellers upon arrival. I have been enjoying driving around Accra, seeing familiar and new sights. Here we go…


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