Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Teacher Turned Student.

Sunday 8th September – First Surf Lesson

Unsurprisingly I slept in fairly late after our mammoth trip back from Kumasi the day before. I had a lazy morning on the beach after a late breakfast waiting for the tide to get high so I could surf. I met Peter on the beach and we decided that today would be the day that we would finally do my first surf lesson, at about 2pm when the tide got high and the waves got better. Simon was around as well and decided he would take my Go-Pro out and film me and the local guys from the water as we surfed.

I was nervous about my first surf lesson. I have been surfing sporadically for 11 years now and had never taken a lesson before. I taught myself by looking at what others were doing and copying them as well as learning by trial and error in the water but recently I have felt like I have hit a block. My turns aren’t improving as quickly as I would have hoped and I still get left behind by some of the more experienced guys when paddling for waves. It’s not even a fitness thing. I have been swimming regularly at home and surfing pretty much every day for 2 months here so its not my paddle fitness. It must be my technique. At 80¢ the lesson is cheap by international standards but it is still a fair bit of money here. I just had to hope it paid off. On my own through trial and error it could take months or even years to improve significantly. It was still nerve racking. What if everything I was doing was wrong? Would I have to start my technique all again from scratch?
Peter. My oh so serious teacher.
I needn’t have worried. Peter was an excellent teacher. Full of energy and enthusiasm as always he first took me through my paddling technique, something I had barely considered before. He showed me how I should start off by paddling slowly in to the right position before breaking in to a sprint just as the wave bared down on you. We headed in to the water to practice. It was slow progress but I started to get in the right places and power myself in the waves much quicker than before which gave me more time on the face. Then it was back in to shore to work on my stance. My feet were too far forward on the board, my body was too straight and upright and I didn’t use my body and arms when I turned. He adjusted my stance so that my back foot was over the fins, cocked in, body low with my weight more over my front foot which was in the middle of the board angled at about 45 degrees to give greater maneuverability. We headed back in to practice. It took a while to fight my muscle memory and get in to my new stance but I was beginning to get it. On every wave I could start to identify where I was going wrong and would often paddle back out to Peter shouting

“Yeah I know. Too far forward.”

Simon was ducking and diving in the impact zone videoing anyone who got a wave, whooping and hollering as he did. When I got the technique right I felt fluid and maneuverable but I still ended up in the wrong one more often than not. At least I knew what I was doing wrong now.
A much improved stance after my lesson. Still need to work on that back leg though.
Peter called me back in to the beach again where he took me through how to snap the lip by slowing down my turns, getting more speed before a dive down and up the wave face before a quick turn as you were getting towards the top which would send the spray flying in to the air. Simple in theory though in practice I couldn’t quite nail it, though I was getting closer and closer to the snap with each passing wave. Surely it wouldn’t be long until it clicked, or should that be snapped? After a while Peter headed in leaving me to practice. I surfed the rest of the day, improving all the while, to the light faded and my arms were close not only to giving out but maybe falling off as well. I came in amped. I had made leaps and bounds (but not snaps unfortunately) forward and with a little more practice I was sure I would get there. The lesson was definitely worth the 80¢ and more. Why had I not thought to do this before? I could be surfing like Kelly Slater by now… well, maybe just a whole lot better. 

Friday 13th September – Jewelry
Not a bad place to spend an afternoon.
Eben and I had spent the morning in Takoradi (not my favourite place in the world). I applied for my visa extension, got the rest of my malaria pills (yes mum, I am taking them every day), got money out and got some other bits and bobs I needed. Eben went to the bank, bought supplies and then we both went to try and see the plastic man about collecting our plastic, but he wasn’t in. The Mme at the centre said she would pass on the message, though we still weren’t holding our breath.

We got back to Busua later than planned and I had a late lunch. Eben called to say that school had ended earlier than usual so there would be no after school today as the kids had already gone home. There was no surf and the afternoon was hot. I went and saw Abu, a Nigerian (that’s Niger not Nigeria) who make jewelry and sells it on the beach. He collects beads, stones, seeds and other materials from all over West Africa to make his pieces. I have been talking to him for a while about making some earrings with him as gifts for people at home and today seemed perfect.
The finished product.
Abu and I sat for a couple of hours together on the beach, under his umbrella, picking out beads and stones we liked and arranging them in to earrings. When we were happy with our arrangements we used pliers to bend the metal and create a loop for the hook to hang off. Abu’s friend, a musician from Burkina Faso sat with us playing all the while. It was a relaxing afternoon especially with Abu as company, a very chilled out, happy, well traveled and intelligent companion, we chatted all the while. I made 3 pairs as gifts for home. I paid Abu 10¢ even though he only wanted 5 but I had a nice day and said the rest was for a beer (Abu is not the strictest Muslim in that respect).
Gem hunting amongst Abu's impressive collection of beads, stones etc.
Earrings made we sat and drank late in to the night playing drinking games with some volunteers. The night flew by and it was almost 3am by the time I fell in to bed.
Abu somehow seems to be this smiley all the time.

Black Stars in Their Eyes.

Thursday 5th to Saturday 7th September – Football Mental.

With Joseph and Timote outside Baba Yara Stadium.

Eben and I were joined at the taxi station by two other Ghanaians heading to the match; Joseph, the son of the Chief in Busua and Timote, an ex-Kumasi resident now living in Busua. The journey is long. A full 7 hours. This is not only because the distance is great but also because of the quality of the roads and the roundabout journey you have to take to get there: a shared taxi to Agona before grabbing a taxi east to Takoradi where you have to walk across town to get a separate Tro-Tro to Kumasi which then heads east to Cape Coast before cutting back north-west to Kumasi. The Takoradi-Kumasi section is the longest of the trip and unfortunately for us this was the leg where we managed to acquire a driver that was under the illusion that the mini-bus sized tro-tro was actually a rally car. Trying to push the aging tro-tro to its rather impressive speed limit before proceeding to dodge all the numerous pot-holes, other vehicles and pedestrians that thrust themselves in to our path and all with as little use of the break as possible, which he was presumably allergic to. Ebenezer shouted at the wannabe Michael Schumacher twice on our journey to slow down, once after he hit a particularily large bump in the road that caused us all to smash our heads on the already low roof.  The road changed from pothole ridden to freshly tarmaced, Japanese built modern highway as we drove further inland climbing the luscious hills to Kumasi, where we left the open road behind and crawled in to gridlock traffic.

Kumasi is the ancient capital of the Ashanti who’s empire once encompassed much of West Africa. The town used to be full of old colonial style white wash buildings some with attractive thatched roofs, however, this attractive and beautiful ancient city was burnt to the ground in the early 20th century by, who else, but the British as they fought to colonise the interior of Ghana from their Gold Coast stronghold. Ghanaians really do have a lot to thank us for. Today Kumasi is a modern African city with no hint of it’s colonial beauty. It is Ghana’s second city with a population of 1.5 million based in the middle of Ghana it is the bridge between The North and The South. Basically, it’s Birmingham. Now, never having the pleasure of setting foot in Birmingham, I can only assume that Kumasi and Birmingham are exactly the same. Though I didn’t find out where the Kumasi Bull Ring was and to be totally honest I had no idea what I was looking for anyway as I literally have no idea what the Birmingham Bull ring looks like or what it is for. Whatever it is, angry people of Birmingham, I’m sure it is lovely and miles better than whatever equivalent there is in London or Manchester. However, Kumasi did have it’s own smaller version of Spaghetti Junction, the weather was constantly wet and the dominant colour was grey so they have to be pretty similar places at least.  

Being stuck in almost stationary traffic for close to half and hour after a 7 hour drive to the city limits was beginning to grate so the Ghanaians and I made a break for it and marched off with Timote in the lead. I tried to keep up as my dead legs slowly came back to tingling life dodging the endless stream of people heading in every direction possible and indeed impossible. Timote was a good and efficient guide having lived in Kumasi for 3 years before coming to Busua. The pace of our convoy was getting ever more rapid and aggressive with each passing yard. The smell of the open sewers at the sides of the streets was overpowering. My senses were in overdrive. People hit in to you at every turn, flying at you from every direction like the asteroids in Space Invaders except they were mostly carrying a baffling array of goods on their heads at the same time. I struggled to keep pace in the mayhem of people, carpets, fish,  t-shirts, washing machines, mattresses, bread and other assorted goods. Eben stopped to let me catch up.

“Walk straight and ignore everyone in your path.”

I really have been out of London too long.

We left the wide main streets, winding our way in the climbing, narrow backstreets covered with the debris of the day. I’m glad I wore flip flops today. The winding backstreets with the high surrounding buildings brought back memories of the medina in Fes. Kumasi seemed as much of a maze to me as the labarinth of Fes. Finally we came across a barbershop where Timote stopped to chat with his brother briefly before pushing on. We arrived at a small house in a block of flats that strangely resembled some of the art deco blocks of flats in London where Timote would stay. Eben, Joseph and I decided to stay in a guesthouse somewhere so we marched off past churches booming out sermons at full volume (presumably so God can hear them over the rest of the din), through a school which was still inexplicably teaching at night in the school holidays and in to the school field behind where a heard of cows were being grazed. We got out on to the main road and went to check out the first hotel. It was pretty posh and a bit out of our price range at 60¢ a night so back out on the street again to head for a more down market place. The sky started to crack with thunder and lightening. The rain was turning from drizzle to deluge as we entered the second hotel. It looked like a backpackers style lodge but was still amazingly charging 30¢ a night for sharing a room without a fan. I sat in the reception area watching the news with the various hotel staff who had nothing better to do. I sat there for around half an hour waiting for the rain to ease up enough to make a break for it, there were 5 different news items on the Ghana v Zambia match the next day:

I suppose you are?!
There was the history of the game – “Ghana haven’t beaten Zambia in a competitive match since 1992”. Followed by the squad training in front of 30,000 fans at Baba Yara Stadium earlier in the day. The squad meeting the Minister of Sport, who gave them a rousing speech. The squad visiting an orphanage to donate money, food etc. while being mobbed by adoring fans. Then a focus on Zambia and their botched preparations which meant they had only arrived in Ghana this evening due to problems with flying to Kumasi accompanied by more old footage of previous encounters. The news finished in the customary short and finally section but rather than something about a puppy or Jesus appearing in someone’s toast there was a quick story about something to do with Syria and the UN. The rain had slowed significantly so we left on that heartwarming note.

The third guesthouse was not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Hidden down a back street it had a luscious and airy courtyard with 2 stories of big, clean rooms all for the bargain price of 20¢ a night, and yes, there was a fan. Happy, we dumped our bags and went to grab some dinner and a beer. I grabbed some rice and fish stew (as it looked like Chili Con Carne) but tasted horrid while Joseph and Eben managed to put away 3 giant banku balls each, along with the accompanying soup and fish. I didn’t eat much but the beer slipped down nicely before I gratefully headed for bed.   

I awoke at 8:30 the next morning to a knocking at the door. Ebenezer had been to pick up our tickets for the game and suggested we go and get some breakfast. I got changed and met Joseph and Eben in the courtyard. Drizzle was still falling with no sign of stopping. We walked up towards the stadium. With each passing street the crowds grew. Touts sold tickets on the streets; excited fans blew enthusiastically on horns, bashed drums and sang throughout the streets. We finally turned the corner and came in sight of the great bowl that is Baba Yara Stadium. A wall of noise and a sea of red, gold, greeted us, green and white, there were still 7 hours to kick-off. The stadium hadn’t even opened yet but queues of people were huddled around each gate eager to get in. We went to get breakfast in one of the many makeshift stalls and bars that face the stadium. I got myself an omelet sandwich while the Ghanaians went off to get some Fufu and fish, I still can’t stomach this first thing in the morning. I chatted with my fellow diners, sheltered under a gazibo from the ever-strengthening rain. All were confident of a Ghanaian win despite, as I was now well versed in saying, Ghana having not beaten Zambia in a competitive match since 1992. All nodded thoughtfully with this statement but nothing could even dent their confidence. To them my prediction of 2-1 Ghana win was pessimistic at best and treasonous at worst.

When all were fed and watered we headed towards the stadium. Joseph and I checked out the merchedise while Eben headed off to purchase the 8 tickets needed for Simon, Babel and the rest of their Australian contingent currently en-route from Accra after voting in their national elections at the embassy that morning, which is compulsory. I bought a hat for Joseph and I as well as a Ghana sweatband for all three of our contingent before heading in to the grounds of the stadium to wait for Eben and Timote. All of a sudden amongst the mix of bands, drums, horns and merchendise stands a man started sprinting pursued a couple of seconds later by an ever growing band of angry Ghanaians. The man was panicked. Weaving erratically away from the kicks and punches aimed at him by passers by. The gates were blocked by an enthusiastic band of supporters immersed in chanting and dancing. The man desperately veered off to the left before soon realising he was blocked in by a mob on one side, a band on another and by walls on the other two. He made a desperate sprint towards the band hoping to win his freedom. A single chest high kick knocked him to the floor. Cheers erupted. A police man came running in to the mob and landed another boot square on the man’s chest before handcuffing the man and placing him in the back of a pick up truck packed with heavily armed officers to take him away.
“What did he do?” I asked Joseph.
“He was selling fake tickets” Came the matter of fact reply. Probably not the cleverest offence to commit here.

I bought a flag and some sunglasses as we waited. Eben called and said he was stuck in traffic, after retrieving the required tickets. With some time in hand I did what any good Brit at a sporting event would do and took Joseph and Timote for a beer.

Eben turned up after an hour and we headed for the stadium. Baba Yara is bowl on three sides with one covered stand running parallel to the pitch, to the right of us. We were behind the goal, exposed to the elements. At the opposite end of the stadium fans had arranged themselves in to blocks of red, yellow and green, each colour with its own conductor already leading their corresponding blocks in song and dance. It was 11am. 5 hours until the match and the stadium was already half full and the noise was approaching deafening. We grabbed a couple of beers and sat chatting as best we could over the ever growing noise as sellers walked amongst us selling everything from snacks and drinks to horns and photos.

After a couple of hours the noise of horns got too much for me. The sun was now out and happily burning my unprotected skin. I went to the concourse, grabbed a coke and sat watching the mayhem. The police were conducting thorough and often multiple frisk downs at the gate and were ordering fans with different degrees of success, to rip up their tickets to prevent re-use. The crowds, however, were large and th police presence small so many slipped through the net which led to a boom trade in fans passing their used tickets back through the gates to be used again by friends and anyone paying enough. To the left of the gates an impromptu Muslim prayer centre had been set up using broken up cardboard boxes as temporary prayer mats. The number of worshipers was constant. Even on a Friday, Islam’s most sacred day of the week, a day of rest, mosque and family, Muslim’s were here in their droves. Proving, if proof was needed after the mayhem of the last week that Black Stars were not only “bigger than Jesus” but maybe even god himself.

Finally Simon arrived from Accra and I passed his (unused) tickets through the bars as casually as I could and headed back to my seats. There was still over an hour to kick off but every seat was taken. The steps were full of people claiming a good vantage point for the game but somehow the sellers still managed to move freely like mountain goats on cliff faces. My progress back to Eben and the others was somewhat slower.

A happy Eben.
The Zambians came out first to warm up to a wall of boo’s. If there was a single Zambian in the house you couldn’t tell. I have never been in a more partisan and intimidating atmosphere. Thankfully I was supporting Ghana. The boo’s and jeer’s continued until a small man in a while Ghana polo-shirt carrying a Ghana flag shot out of the tunnel like he was selling fake tickets, completing a lap of the pitch in close to world record pace stopping only to do a short dance in each corner to whip the crowd up in to a greater and greater frenzy. Finally, when the you thought the noise could get no louder, they appeared. The crowd went in to complete delirium as the Black Stars walked out lead by the holy trinity of Gyan, Essien and Prince-Boateng. It was only the warm up.

When all were finished and sufficiently warmed up the players disappeared the normal cacophony of drums and horns re-started. There wasn’t a spare bit of concrete in the house. We all sat, waiting, watching the flag carriers practice their role over and over, for some reason without a Zambian flag meaning one group of flag carriers had to pretend diligently each time. They left only to be replaced by an army of ball boys. There were 12 alone behind our goal. Three elder boys in blue were in charge, pitch side ready to pass the ball back to the player were backed by 4 deputies in grey who were also backed up by 5 deputy deputy ball boys behind them. They waited patiently in formation.

After 7 hours of travel, an overnight stay and 6 hours in the stadium the players emerged fronted by the flag carriers who had thankfully managed to find a Zambian flag since rehearsals, the crowd went wild again. The teacher from Charlie Brown made a few announcements over the tannoy, anthems were sung (well one was anyway) and then, a mere 10 minutes late, we kicked off.

The game was fast paced and physical from the outset. Ghana had the better of the opening chances with 2 free headers being sent just wide. Zambia weren’t creating much apart from a couple of half hearted long range efforts. They looked intimidated. I didn’t blame them. Ghana attacked down the left, whipping another threatening cross in to the box, this one wasn’t wasted as Waris stooped low and headed the ball in to roof of the net. Cue eruption. The stadium was rocking, dancing, singing, blaring horns. A man dressed in red paint emerged from the delirium and placed a smoking pot on his head with Ghana 1 – 0 Zambia on it while dancing, much to the delight of the crowd and adding much to my confusion.  The singing became louder and louder until half time. When the whistle blew they players, coaches, ground staff, ball boys, officials, press, police (dressed a bit like RoboCop), security and other mysterious pitch-side dwellers decended down the tunnel. The stream of important people was so long that it took most of half time for them to dis and re-appear.
"Look! I've got the shopping!"
In the second half Ghana started quickly putting the pressure on the Zambian goal right in front of us. Zambia had managed to shake off some of the nerves and were also creating chances which would have opened the game right up. Though it was Ghana who scored next after almost 10 minutes of completely open football. Zambia failed to clear a corner sufficiently letting the ball fall nicely for Asamoah just outside the box, who fired it in to the back of the net from distance. Cue more delirium and red pot men. When Zambia pulled one back with about 20mins to go Baba Yara fell eerily quiet, though I was relieved to have even a small break from the incessant horn blowing. The rest of the game was slow and physical; Ghana needing only a point to top their group weren’t taking any chances. On more than one occasion the stretcher golf cart needed to be called on to the pitch, once almost running over a Zambian player in it’s zeal to get to a fallen Michael Essien. With 5 minutes left on the clock Joseph announced he was going to get out before the rush. I was astonished. We hadn’t spent 2 days getting to this point to miss the last 5 minutes. I wasn’t going anywhere.

The final whistle went to loud cheers and a pitch invasion from the hundreds of pitch side officials while the Zambians tried to skulk off as quietly as possible. Eben and I watched the lap of honor before exiting the stadium through a minor scuffle.

The clock ticks down to victory.
I met the Aussies for a beer while the Ghanaians went back to the hotel. All were in good spirits. The Ghana team bus went past to cheers followed by a stream of ecstatic fans while the Zambian bus passed to more boo’s and jeer’s the team looking like they wanted to be anywhere but there. The Aussies and I headed for a curry but my stomach was going mental by that point so I couldn’t eat or drink much. Even so it ended up as my most expensive meal in Ghana. I finally got hold of Eben and found out the name of our guesthouse, which I had forgotten. I grabbed a taxi and went back to the room to fall in to a deep and happy sleep.

The next morning as the rain drizzled down again, Joseph and I went and grabbed some breakfast before we headed to the tro-tro station to begin our long journey home with the same Michael Schumacher wannabe  driver and 6 screaming kids. Oh joy!    

Celebration time. Someone should tell the guy on the left. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Mamba Wakes.

Wednesday 4th September – Black Mamba

Unsurprisingly I felt rough after the night before. Dinner at Simon and Babel’s house had involved much good food, beer, wine and chat, but it was probably the variety of international drinking games at the beach that pushed me over the edge. I managed to meet Ebenezer as usual at 8:30am and grab breakfast before heading to the beach. I spent the morning sitting in the shade at the Okorye tree trying to plan a science lesson the kids would understand. The kids in the summer school program had been badgering me to do a science lesson for over a week. I spent the morning researching. The cell, I’m not sure they’d know what one is; Evolution, probably a bit controversial in a highly Christian country; Gravity, too much maths; Food chains; possibly, but my knowledge of Ghanaian ecosystems leaves a lot to be desired. My previous science lesson about the planets a couple of weeks before was at best confusing for them, although we did have some success. Still confused about what to teach them I went for a surf to clear my head. Peter was meant to be giving me my first surf lesson today but when I looked around for him I was told he had to go to Accra last minute to pick someone up. I headed for the water anyway, hoping it would give me some inspiration.

An idea struck me in the water. Surfing is great for clearing your head. The state of mind you go in to is an almost meditative state. Your mind clears completely. Time becomes distorted and irrelevant. All you can think about is the waves rolling in and riding the waves. Scientists call it flow. It is one of the reasons surfing is so addictive. Mind and body cleansed I came in to the beach. I decided that the best thing to do was teach them about rivers. There is a river that runs through the western side of the town so at least they would have a reference point for what I was teaching and could maybe pick up some of the principals of what I taught them.

I was wrong. I was going to teach them about the different stages of a river and how it gets bigger and slower moving as it moves down towards the sea or lake it feeds in to but we got stuck. Ebenezer and I spent a full 30 minutes trying to explain to the class that water flows downhill to a see of blank faces. I resorted to pouring water on to the desk and asking them which way it would go but to no avail. No mater how much we explained or how much water I poured the fact just wouldn’t sink in. It felt like pushing water up hill. Though if I had told them that it would probably have confused them more. Exhausted and frustrated we gave up and did a short maths quiz with the kids before calling it a day. At least they would learn something.

When we finished I had a text from Simon saying they were out at Black Mamba’s (the local reef/point (it’s kind of a bit of both, a rocky reef lying underneath the water next to a point) break and to paddle out and join them when I could. I grabbed my board and walked over the river, that was still unrelentingly flowing downhill, on the bridge heading out of town. I turned left at an opening in the fields and followed the dirt track down to the point. It all looked a bit different to the previous time I had walked the have a look at the point (but not surfed) and was beginning to think I had gone the wrong way when luckily for me a local kid turned up on his bike. He had seen people surfing the point and had come to watch. He assured me I was going the right way and showed me the take off point on the rocks. I had to time my jump with the wave coming in so I wouldn’t snag on any of the rocks and damage myself, or worse Bettsy. Thankfully I timed it well and paddled the short distance to the line-up to join Simon and Babel. The setting is beautiful. The forest hugs the point to the west and south of you, all but obscuring the view of half built buildings that you use to place yourself in the right spot to catch the waves. The Island sits in clear view to the east of you. The waves smashing against the rocky outcrops surrounding it and in the background the beach stretches out for miles down towards the point that obscures Butre from view. There was no one around apart from the one local boy sitting on the point watching the obrunis slide the waves. We surfed for three long and happy hours. Chatting away waiting for sets and catching long right handers when the waves rolled in to the bay. Simon and Babel are good company. Simon hamming up his Ozziness and teasing Babel, his girlfriend, who is Dutch with a distinct Australian accent after so many years of being there and the waves were great. The trickiest part is the takeoff. You have to line yourself up with a coconut tree and the back right of one of the houses while checking you are not too far inside and at the mercy of the walls of whitewater that would push you in towards the rocky shoreline. The take off is steep and counterintuitive; you have to paddle straight in towards the rocks a mere 10m away to catch them rather than paddling for the relative safety of the shoulder before rising to your feet as quick as possible and drive, or in my case fly down, towards the open face. But the rewards are high The wave is ridiculously fun. Long open walls and interesting sections to play with before the wave enters deeper water and loses momentum. Then it’s a long paddle out back to the  take-off where you do it all over again.

The light was fading fast, arms were tired and the outgoing tide was starting to expose the here to hidden rocks. It was time to make the lond paddle around the point and head for home. Simon and Babel said they would be heading out “When the sparrow farts” the next morning and that I should join them. I agreed. When I reached the shore I was starving. 4 hours of surfing and no lunch had taken its toll. I grabbed some bread and some ground nut demolishing it in a matter of seconds before heading to coconut dream to chat with Jan (one of the Slovenian librarians here). He played some western music and bought me  a beer as we sat and chatted until tiredness overtook me and I headed off for some dinner and an early night. I had to be up with the sparrow’s fart tomorrow after all.

Thursday 5th Septmeber – Morning Mamba

The sparrows fart (or dawn as anyone who isn’t massively Australian calls it) at roughly 5:30am here but I woke at closer to 6am and headed straight for Mamba paddling out from the beach. Simon and Babel were already there. I took my Go-Pro out with me and good some nice videos. The dawn was cool and clear increasing the beauty and solitude of the place from the night before. The only sounds were that of the waves breaking and the birds singing (or possibly farting). The waves were nice and we spent a good hour or two catching waves. Simon had to be at work just after 8 so we paddled back in at what we guessed was 7:45. I got back to Sabina’s at just after 8 and had my usual omelet and coffee  breakfast before packing my bag for Kumasi. We were off on a 2 day trip to go and watch the Black Stars take on Zambia in a crucial World Cup qualifying match. I went to the office and met Eben where we quickly dashed off a covering letter for our much delayed Ghanaian NGO application (BDSP is registered as an NGO in the USA but is still going through the mountain of process here) we printed the letter and grabbed our bags to begin our long journey north to Kumasi and hopefully Black Star glory.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Medicine Balls.

Thursday 29th August – Football’s coming home.

Some kids playing football on the beach.
I hadn’t been well for a couple of days so hadn’t surfed in a couple of days. I woke late and had a late breakfast. I was feeling better so I decided the time had come to brave the surf. It started badly as had been the pattern before I became sick but it improved as the session went on, which was a massive relief. After days of frustrating surfing followed by no surf at all it was a relief to get back to some sort of competency. Maybe things are going the right way after all. Mike was finally out in the surf as all his volunteers had finally left the country and his spirits were high. He hadn’t been able to surf for months despite living right next to the waves due to his organizational responsibilities. It must have been torture. He was laughing and joking all the time he was out. Happy to finally be out in the blue stuff after so long of just standing on the sidelines watching.

After a few hours of good waves and hilarious wipeouts we headed in to the beach and chatted with Abby for a while over coffee. Mike bringing his own imported ground coffee in a craftier, much to all our envy. It’s strange the things you miss. I was meant to be planning a science lesson for the kids but without any books or internet to aid planning I rang Eben and suggested we do sports instead. We played an hour of ultimate frizbee with the kids in the heat of the African sun. Sweaty, I headed back to the beach and was chatting away to Abby when I was drafted in for a game of beach football. Ghana v ROW. Our team consisted of 4 Germans, one Peruvian and one of the local kids, Emmanuel. I introduced myself to the Germans as I hadn’t met them before.

“Where are you from?”

“England. So I’m going to be the best footballer here. You know how England always thrash Germany!”

The Ghanaian style of football is very different to the European style. The skill level is high and so is the physicality but positioning is right out of the window. The goals are small. 2 feet across. That’s 2 human feet not ft. For some inexplicable reason they will work themselves in to a shooting position and then pass it all the way back to the furthet man back and start again.

The Germans were running an efficient and precise mafia at the back and the Peruvian was giving us some flair on the wing to contrast with the German efficiency. I went up top, more by default than anything else determined to put pressure on them every time they passed to the back. The Ghanaians had all the pressure but didn’t really do anything with it, content to just pass the ball around and show of their skill. We played on the break and it paid off with little Emmanuel scoring first. Alan Hansen wouldn’t have been happy “You never win anything with kids” after all. Soon after I doubled out lead with an angled shot between two pairs of legs that somehow got through. The Ghanaians weren’t happy and started applying heavy pressure scoring 20mins later with a left footed effort past the uncharacteristically disorganised German defense. They had a chance to level soon after with a penalty but Abu put it wide. Easily done from 10 yards away, on sand when aiming at a tiny goal.
The game became more open. The physicality of play meant we were down one Peruvian and 1 German who had to be replaced by local kids. Ghana were pressuring from a corner which was quickly cleared by a German head. I brought the ball up towards half way on the left hand side. We were 2 on 2 but there was no one even near the goal. I took a shot at nothing. Curling the shot around Teddy who was bearing down on me. It landed right between the posts. 3-1. I couldn’t repeat the shot if I tried a million times. A Klinsman in to the sea seemed like the only appropriate celebration. The Ghanaians brought it back to 3-2 but couldn’t equalize before the final whistle (the moment everyone decided they were too hot and went to cool off in the sea). A resounding victory.

I sat on the beach for a while before Simon and I decided that another surf was possible. The tide was low but there looked like there were a few nice ones rolling in to the bay. It went ok but the sets disappeared just as it was getting dark and we had to paddle in. Shattered after a very active day I had a shower and an early night.

Saturday 31st August - Hospitality        

A picture of some fishing boats head out - for no real reason.
I still felt rotten when I awoke this morning. Headache, sweaty, mind all over the place and every muscle aching. I was concerned. Time to go and see a doc. I text Eben and he agreed to come with me. The only place to see a doctor around here is at the hospital in Dixcove. I met Eben at the taxi station and we set off for Dixcove.

The distance to the hospital is short but the drive took a while. Eben showed me in to the reception area which contained numerous lines of benches with about 6 people in it, lying and sitting on the benches all watching the TV in the corner which was showing a variety of different children’s cartoons. Under the TV sat a nurse with an array of mediacal paraphanalia in front of her; blood pressure pump, thermometers and other medical devices I couldn’t identify. She sat there staring in to space occasionally resterilising her equipment or checking the blood pressure monitor still worked. In the corner was the reception office where two men sat behind a wire mesh screen with stacks upon stacks of medical records in books that looked like children’s exercise books, filling every shelf and available bit of floor space. Eventually they decided it was time for me to be seen and beckoned me forward. I had to pay 15¢ for a scrap of paper with my name on it, my Ghanaian Medical Card and was told to go and see the bored looking nurse. I passed her my records sheet and card which she noted down in her book. Blood pressure, pulse and temperature were all taken and were all fine so I was shown over to a queue on one of the benches behind 2 women. They quickly went in and out of the consulting room and it was soon time for my turn.

I went in. The doctor was nice and thorough. She asked me about my vaccinations and what malaria medication I was on. She then wrote a form out so I could be tested for malaria (the preventative medication is never 100%). I found the door to the lab and stepped in. The technician sat me down and prepared my finger and made a small prick to draw some blood which she dropped in to the test equipment before adding solution. We were quickly joined by two other women, the doctor and a girl Eben had been chatting to outside. They started laughing and joking with me, asking if I needed a HIV test, teasing me that I had an older girlfreiend (apparently quite rare in Ghana) and asking how I ate Ghanaian food, which I demonstrated much to their amusement. Finally the lab technician wanted her photo taken with me, which I obliged. It is one of the strangest things about being here is that complete strangers always want their photo taken with the Obruni. Often when walking down the street I get stopped and asked for pictures. It’s like being a celebrity but not knowing it. My picture must be adorning the Facebook pages of most of the Western Region by now. Then it was back to the doctors room where I was told the test was negative and prescribed some Ibuprofen before being released back in to Dixcove. I spoke to Zoe on the phone to tell her I was officially Malaria free before Eben turned back up in the taxi with some wine and a girl in tow and we headed back to Busua and me to my bed.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Denominators, Zig Zag and a Kundom.

Wednesday 21st August – Common Denominators.

If you have more than 3 beers of a night here a hangover the next day is inevitable. Still I never learn. Another tough haul out of bed, I staggered to the morning meeting reluctantly, especially as today was going to be a busy day. Teaching Maths and opening the Recycling Centre. It doesn’t sound like much but here that’s a lot here where the pace of life is significantly slower.

After the meeting and breakfast I went to the beach to plan a lesson on fractions from the Government text book. I spent the first 2 hours doing anything but plan my lesson. Reading, swimming in the sea, get a drink, anything but bloody fractions. I thought I left those days behind in Mr Amerik’s class room. I opened up the book on the table in a futile gesture to pretend to do work. Book open I preceeded to chat to Abby, a Canadian Journalist, for a couple of hours about everything and nothing, my procrastination skills are still strong. I’m sure all my past maths teahers would have laughed their head off if they could have seen me having to do fractions again. I think today is the answer to the question “But sir this is pointless! When am I ever going to need to know this?”

I managed to do my planning and head over to the school in time for the usual half hour wait that proceeds all these lessons. No matter how many times I try and explain that we start at 2pm they never start showing up until at least 2:30pm. That's 2pm Ghana time after all. Finally, about 2:45pm enough kids had showed up and we began. I taught them about numerators and denominators, reducing fractions, increasing fractions with at least 8/10 of the class getting all the questions right and the other 2/10 weren’t far behind. A decent success rate.

Lesson over Eben and I rushed over to the recycling centre as by now it was almost 4pm. Opening time. When we arrived the centre was under siege. Around 50 children all carrying several sacks of plastic each were jostling for position outside the centre. The children were pressed up so tightly against the door it was impossible to get through. It’s as if they thought we were hiding out inside the centre and would at any moment make a dramatic entrance by throwing open the door. We tried to maneuver the crowd in to a line and stop them pushing each other but to no real avail. In the end we had to push through the crowd to open the door before trying to rearrange the line which had again descended in to a mob. Every 5 minutes we had to try and return order as kids pushed, fell, cried and sneaked to try and get to the front of the queue. We carried on this way for an hour and a half, the crowd swelling all the time and pushing forwards, trapping in the centre. I felt like a UN Peacekeeper. It was getting too much. Even the Ghanaian Women (a force that could bring the whole of Syria to order in less than half and hour) couldn’t bring order to the line. We had to close. We had collected a couple of hundred kgs and turned away much more. It was an exhausting, busy and dirty afternoon. I headed for the beach to wash away the day.

The tide was high and the waves rolling in to the bay looked fun. I always seem to surf better after a tough day. Big turns, hard pumps, lots of speed and late take offs come with ease as the frustration and stress of the day seeps out in to the brine. It was a lot of fun. I  only came in as it was getting too dark to see the waves coming. I chatted to Zoe on the phone before I grabbed a dinner of Red Red (I am slightly addicted to it at the moment) and headed to the beach for a beer and 3 hours of surf movies.

Thursday 22nd August – Zig Zag.

Today’s morning meeting was rather quick as I didn’t have much to do today, no lessons to plan and or emails to write. I was off to Katakor with some pro surfers, writers and a photog from South African surf magazine Zig Zag. I walked down to the beach in time for the 10:30 meet, Peter wasn’t around yet as usual. He is on Ghanaian time after all. The pros sat on steps and leant against walls in broody poses, as if they expected a photographer to jump out at any moment to take moody profile shots of each of them. The photog was loading bag after bag of heavy, expensive gear in to the knackered orange mini bus we would be traveling in. The sliding door lay some distance away propped against a wall. At least there was no need to worry about air conditioning.

Peter finally arrived about 11 and announced it was time to go. We piled in to the van: Peter, 2 pro surfers, 2 Italian surfers, The photog, the editor (and writer for the trip) as well as 1 local teenager who had come to help the photog with all his stuff and look after the stuff on the beach.

The journey was just over an hour, despite it being only 12km away due to the bumpy dirt road. The trip is beautiful. Passing through the three or four small villages on the dirt track is accompanied by the sound of children chanting “O-bru-ni-how-are-you?” (Obruni means white man) while they chase the car and wave at the weird white men with their white logs on top of the car. Sometimes this chant is followed by a definitive shout of “I’M-FINE!”  saving you the trouble of replying at all and leaving you free to just smile and wave at the excited crowd of children like a royal on parade.

The guys were chatty and we spent most of the way down talking about surfing, Busua, Ghana and the photography business as the scenery changed from forest to rubber plantation and back to forest with only the occasional village breaking the sea of green. Peter was in high spirits, as always; laughing and joking with me intermittently before continuing to veer left and right to avoid potholes. We joke that the way to spot a Ghanaian drunk driver is to look for the car going straight. We arrived at midday. The surfers immediately tucked in to their packed lunches while the photog unloaded his mountain of gear, presumably worth more than Ghana’s annual GDP and the boards were passed down from the roof. When everyone was fed and loaded up we marched off in to the forest down in to one bay, back up in to the forest and then down in Katakor bay where the wooden huts of the small village spill down on to the beach. Peter and I wasted no time and immediately headed in to the waves, beginning the long paddle out to the take off.

Peter and I joined the empty line up and were soon joined by one of the pros who took two waves before I could take one, flicking spray airborne with each huge turn he made. The waves were good. 5-6ft faces but with some interesting and difficult sections. The waves held all the way in to the beach a couple of hundred of meters away from the take off point. Over the 2 hours I caught 8 long right handers each accompanied with an exhausting paddle back out. The pros quickly disappeared and it was soon just Peter, The Editor and I left on the wave for over an hour. We were getting tired and Peter said we should head in. Time for one last wave. A 6fter rolled in and I was in right spot. I took it and rode it, turning and cutting back all the way in to the beach. I was stoked. It was the longest wave of my life. The pros weren’t so happy. I don’t think the waves were good enough for them and the photog didn’t get any good pictures. I didn’t care. I was tired, but I was happy.

The journey home was quiet. Peter and I were tired and the pros and the photog were disappointed. The editor never said anything anyway. The only sound was the occasional blast of chat from the Italians. We got back to Busua at 3:30pm. Starving, I grabbed a loaf of bread and some ground nut paste (Ghanaian peanut butter) and rang Eben. The Women’s group meeting had been cancelled but we would open the recycling centre at 4pm. I wolfed down my 1.5¢ sarni and headed over with Eben to the centre. When we turned the corner a sea of children were once again surrounding the centre. It was mayhem once again. It took us over 15minutes to open the door and move the crowd back and open the door. We weighed and paid for over an hour while yet again trying to organize the children in to a line as they pushed harder and harder to get to the front. We battled for a long time agian but had to shut the centre yet again. We would try again tomorrow.

Katakor point
I headed to the beach and washed off the grime in the surf. Tired from Katakor and hauling plastic. I surfed well and was glad I hadn’t looked a muppet in front of the pros – as if they cared. Just time for a quick dinner before I fell gratefully in to bed.

Baywatch eat your heart out.

Sunday 24th August – Kundom Come.       

Quite frankly the most incredible umbrella ever.
I spent a relaxing morning lying in and having a leisurely breakfast before I headed to the beach. I sat in the Okorye Tree listening to the Arsenal match and writing away for the best part of three hours (with a short interval due to the power out). When I had finished writing and Arsenal had finished triumphantly winning 3-1 away at Fulham. Babel and Simon showed up at the beach saying they were heading over to Dixcove for the Kudom. I decided to join them. The walk to Dixcove follows the narrow dirt track in between the fields over the hill past the fort and down in to Dixcove itself. The walk is pleasant and the road is busy with other pedestrian traffic traveling between the two towns. Walking with Simon takes a lot longer than it does with most. He is proficint in Fante and Twi and all the locals love him for it, chatting away to him until his language skills give out. When we got down in to Dixcove there was no sign of the promised festival procession though Simon quickly found out it had moved up towards the hospital. We walked up the hill towards where the festival supposedly was. On the outskirts of the town in the grounds of the hospital we found the festival.  People were crowded around in a circle. Small marquees broke up the crowd, each with a laminated sign tied to the top denoting the type of VIPs it contained: Tribal leaders, musicians, hospital staff, local government were all in attendance.

A Ghanaian comedy act.

The tribal leaders were the most colourfully dressed in their off the shoulder robes and their various different ornate staffs carved from wood and topped with a menagerie of animals: elephants, lions, warthogs, ant eaters…you name it. At first it appeared that nothing was happening. Then a microphone crackled in to life and various people began talking. Ghanaians love to talk. It's a national obsession. And if one person talks another has to as well. Each long speech was followed inevitably by another, longer one. The Kundom is a fund raiser for local causes. The long and varied speeches are spattered with dancing, music, comedy and entertainment to encourage people to donate money. A kind of un-televised Children in Need. This year they were raising money for the local hospital, hence the venue. As speeches ended, music started and dancers in masks and colourful costumes danced around in a conga line style, called Azunto. The leader was for some inexplicable reason was wearing rollerskates which were completely useless on the mix of grass and gravel which made up the parade ground. Next a comedy act. An old lady carrying a suitcase on her head and a huge bum was accompanied by a man dressed remarkably like Andre 3000, carrying a walking stick and acting like and old man. They walked in what was supposedly a comical old person style before a short kiss between them sent the crowd in to hysterics. I think Live at the Apollo might be a way off here. The comedy act left as quickly as they came (no mean feat when dressed like that). Next came the man who was paralysed from the waist down who came on with a comedy routine that ranged from slapstick tumbling to the contortionist acrobartics. He was eventually being paraded around on the shoulders of the locals while sitting in a metal bowl with his legs behind his head. Not before the locals had donated money to him. The grand finale, the Ghanaian fireworks if you will, was the climbing of the bamboo pole by the local children. The pole reached a full 20m in to the air and the crowd was excited but like fireworks at home there is always a wait. More speeches were made and auctions were done before the band was allowed to start up and the children ascended, showing off as they went. When they had started balancing on top of the pole on their stomachs with no hands Simon and I called it a day and headed back to Busua.

Finally we returned to Busua and went for a surf on my shortboard – more for the exercise than it being the best board for the day, which went surprisingly well. After all too short a time the sun went to hide behind the horizon, plunging us in to darkness. I went for dinner at Julidans and was joined by Jared (Saffer) and Messi (Swiss). We chatted over dinner. They were planning a trip to Katakor the next day in Jared’s van and I agreed to join them. Messi headed off to bed and Jared and I headed for a beer… Which turned in to 2…. Which turned in to 4……   

No health and safety forms here.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

So Far and So Close.

Monday August 19th.
Benjamin reading out his poem.
Today was going to be tiring. I wasn’t looking forward to it. A full morning in Takoradi followed by teaching for 2 hours the moment we got back.

The journey to Takoradi is long and cramped. Squeezed in the back of shared taxis and tro-tros the entire way, where the number of seats seems at the least advisory and at most a challenge to the taxi drivers and tro-tro conductors here. Limbs go numb. Stranger’s flesh is pressed up tightly against you and sweat pours out. I never have cause to miss the tube here. At least you have time to think. The vehicles vibrate so loudly when they pass 30mph that conversation is near on impossible; not that any of the speedos work here to gauge 30mph, but you get the picture. The journey wasn’t as bad nor as cramped today as it has previously been. Only my left leg went numb this time.

We went to the bank and successfully set Eben up a new bank account for the NGO before taking a taxi to the post office to pick up a love parcel for Eben from a Canadian girl.

The Ghanaian postal system seems to have about as much clue about Geography as the average American it delivers parcels, packages and letters only to the general vicinity of where they were addressed. Then, presumably to save the postmen time, effort and expense, they get you to personally come the hour or so to the sorting office and deliver it to your house yourself (except you don’t have to wear the uniform). Take heed Britain, it’s probably how the private Royal Mail will operate. Once you have found the appropriate window and official (the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand) the official will make you sign and countersign meaningless pieces of paper a few times before doing the same herself. The lady will then after checking all the paperwork eventually disappear for 20mins or so; have lunch, a nice chat with some friends, co-workers, passers by, family and a quick lie down (it was a big lunch after all). All before returning to the heavily bared and locked window (presumably so the unfortunate customers don’t strangle her) and pick a package that has been sitting 2 ft to the left of her the entire time. She will handle the package the way you would a full nappy and then toss it to you before disappearing again in to Narnia, Middle Earth or whatever dimension she is from.

Job done. Surely?!

You’d presume wrong. A customs official then appears at the window from a different portal to the underworld you hadn’t spotted before to frown at you in silence for a while. Giving you the sort of look you’d expect if you have just barged in to her house in the dead of night and had started wiping you nose of all her nice new curtains. Finally she will stir and quiz you on all aspects of the packages history, origin, future, criminal convictions, sexual preferences and employment history:

“Who has sent this to you?” It's written right there where it says 'return address'.
“When?” About 3 months ago –the postal systems temporal apathy is on a par with the geographical one.
“Why?” She was under the mistaken impression that it would be delivered to me so I could open it and use the contents
“What does it contain?” A giraffe? Illegal immigrant borrowers? 10 pounds of nitro-glycerin? I have no idea! I am one of the unfortunate few who are not blessed with X-Ray vision. I am a mere mortal just like you cannot see through the opaque exterior packaging.

Well that’s what I thought anyway. Eben, thankfully was more adult about these matters than I was in my head, answering with polite enthusiasm. Which is probably a good thing, as they would surely have made him fill out another form for every sarcastic remark.

Guantanamo questioning over, the customs officer takes the package and presumably reasons of ‘National Security’ rather than to quickly value the goods inside, opens up the package right in front of you. I’m sure this impromptu opening of private packages has lead to some rather embarrassing situations over the years, no matter how ‘discreet’ the packaging is.

Eben has been sent a letter, an iPhone case, some headphones, 2 different Canadian flags and a couple of t-shirts. The customs officer’s eyes light up as she notices that this package is (as she suspected all along) in clear breach of the Ghanaian-Canadian flag trade agreement (1998). Eben has clearly noticed too and quickly hands over the appropriate taxation as ratified under section 3.1 of the agreement, which, as all good International Relations students can tell you, is 3¢. He signs a few more forms for good measure and fires off a short letter of apology to the Canadian Government for disregarding their agreement and we are finally on our way. A mere one and a half hours later. God help you if there’s a queue.

The kids. You can tell they are hanging on my every word.
We head back in to the centre of town in a taxi. I am in search of a new torch having misplaced the other one at Green Turtle the other week. Torches are essential here. With the regular power outages in Busua it is the only way to be garmented you find your way around not only your room but the entire town. I pick one up for a mere 7¢ and we head to the tro-tro station where I stock up with as many bags of plantain chips as I can for 5¢. I am slightly addicted to them after a diet consisting mostly of rice and you can’t get them in Busua.

Helping the kids to Rhyme. I'm sure they'll get it in no time.
We arrived back in Busua and headed straight for the school. We were half an hour late; so still 15mins early in Ghanaian time. Amazingly most of the kids were already there. I taught the ever-growing number of children about rhyming, and got them over the course of a lesson to write a Limerick style poem each (although all on the same theme). The lesson was an at times painful but mainly rewarding and fun hour and a half. As soon as it was over I headed straight for the water in the hope it would wash the journey out of me. Spanish (I forget his real name, Alberto maybe? and in these cases it’s far easier just to call people by their nationalities), and switch-foot-mystro Ballack were already out. The tide was receding meaning the sand banks were not as favourable for long rides but could get sucky and leave the chance of a few barrels for the brave and the quick. It took me a while to catch my first wave but after a couple I was crouching low, a matter of inches from being incased in a wave. With each wave I kept getting closer and closer, even having 3 attempts on one wave. Surely only inches away at one point. After a while I admitted defeat. It was frustrating but really fun session. I exited the water smiling. I had come so close to a barrel. Next time… Next time…

My attempt at a Ghanaian Limerick.
I went for dinner with Spanish, Yan and Katyia (Yan and Katyia are 2 of the numerous Slovakian librarians that inhabit Busua – It’s a strange place, I know). I practically swallowed my Red Red in one mouthful, before heading gratefully towards bed. It had been a busy day after all. 

Philip's Limerick.