Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ghana No.3

Artist at Tetakwashi Circle, Accra
Feb. 8, 2011
Still in Accra.

Waking this morning I had a vision of what the following 5 hours would be: breakfast of toast and mango jam with a couple of cokes (those electrolytes are really needed), followed by a taxi ride with Yolanda to the Loom art gallery, followed by a few hours of solo market discovery. I wanted a day full of crafts and artisans, learning and exploring. Well, I got my day of crafts and artisans; however, in a hot African minute my intended day changed dramatically.

Yolanda and I met at 9 a.m. In her Dutch guide to Ghana and my Lonely Planet guide to Western Africa, it was noted that the Loom opened at 9 a.m. Perfect. Walking to the taxis stationed outside our hotel, I was able to have a first hand encounter with the haggling that goes on in Africa. Yolanda was able to to negotiate our taxi fare from 10 cedi ($3) to 7 cedi (about $2.20). The taxi driver, Richard, was very chatty and friendly trying to tell Yolanda and me about the various places to visit while in Accra. Yolanda, being the Accra veteran that she is, was able to call Richard out when giving us the wrong facts, which just so happened to be pretty much every "travel tip" that came out of mouth. By the time we arrived at the Looms (10 minutes of the most frightful driving) Richard was out of tips. Walking to the gallery door, Yolanda and I both saw the sign, "gallery opened at 10 a.m."

We spend the next 45 minutes walking around the "hood" of Accra, Nkrumah Circle. It took 20 minutes to walk round the giant rotary (I'm thinking it's Accra's version of L'Etoile), which was lined with all walks of Ghana life: children, women, men, drunks, disabled folks (very heart breaking, a number of them had mangled feed and were in hand operated wheel chairs--not to be confused with electrical wheel chairs, these had bike gears that were "pushed" with hands), musicians, political radicals, religious fundamentalist... It was a lot to take in. Beyond the masses of people were masses of stalls selling a variety of goods from China: shoes, household necessities, body lotion, and Easter baskets.

Returning back to the Loom, we were thrilled the doors were open. Walking in, the walls were covered with canvases of various shapes and sizes. The paintings were colorful and ranged from the skilled, abstract oil painting to not so skilled trinkets. All the crafts were ridiculously expensive (I would compare it to spending $30 on a rope bracelet at the Seven Seas, ridiculous, no?) and none of the artisans were on location, as the guide books had "suggested." (I've concluded that, when traveling in Ghana, all guide books are mere suggestions.)

Yolanda and I left, a little defeated and went our separate ways. I hailed a taxi and was headed for the "Fair Trade Arts Centre," which was written to be a cornucopia of Ghana arts and crafts. Somehow, I managed to get the only taxi driver in Accra who didn't speak English beyond, "hello," and "10 cedi for ride." 20 minutes later after driving down 3 lane highways, back alleys, upscale neighborhoods and everything in-between, my taxi came to a military road check. He pulled over. The two officers sent over their superior and the men were speaking Twi (one of the languages of Ghana's three major tribes). The officer leaned down to my window "why you go here?" pointing to the address of the center; "shit" was the only thought that came to mind, "I was told there would be many artisans there," I replied. Next thing I know, said military official is jumping in the passenger seat of the car and directing my driver where to go. At this point, I had no idea what was going on and was very nervous until he turned back and said, "I'll go with you to keep you safe."

On the drive to the the Fair Trade Centre, he was lecturing the taxi driver on the importance of treating "white lady with much respect so Ghana will always be thought of as nice place to visit." I felt bad about the situation, it became very obvious that Military Officers can do, pretty much, whatever they want when encountering "lower class civilians." Happily, we arrived at the Fair Trade Centre, and the officer and I got out the cab. He was very polite with me, opening the door, guiding me along the way; everyone we passed called him sir and he called the men "boss man." I wanted to photograph the faces of all the people as I walked by with a giant military escort, but i thought it best to keep my camera in my bag and maintain a low profile, well, as low a profile as possible at this point.
Officer CPJ Jamaldeen Mustapha
Wouldn't you know, we walk to the entrance of the Fair Trade Centre and the place is empty. Another bad suggestion from a travel guide. So, Officer CPJ Jamaldeen Mustapha and I walked walked around for 10 minutes. We stopped at a fabric shop that had a stockpile of Ghana wax print fabric (the bits I found in the city center were made in Taiwan), I found the real deal with Mustapha and picked out six yards of beautiful turquoise, red, and mustard yellow fabric for 35 cedi ($18), which was less than the Taiwan fabric in town, I felt good about that purchase. Mustapha then told me that we would taxi back to his post where he would pickup his motorcycle and take me to the best spot for finding artists and crafts in all of Accra, not having any other idea as to what to do with my time, nor how the hell I would get back to my hotel, I decided to take him up on his offer.... To be honest, it didn't really seem like I had an option.
Wax fabric print
Riding on the back of a motorcycle through Accra, driven by a military officer is a great way to draw attention to yourself. At certain moments I was pretty sure Mustapha was taking the long way around just to be seen with a white lady clutching his waist on the back of his bike. To his credit, he brought me to Tetakwashi Circle (not to be found on any map, but far North in the city--about 10 minutes past the airport (for those of you who are familiar with Accra, Bill). It was wonderful. Artists everywhere selling there goods, men widdling wood, painting, women stringing beads, it was a Ghana I had yet to see. When I told the men I was an artist they wanted to see my work, which lead to some iPhone photo presentations. They all wanted to give me a "special price," which really meant you tell me how much you think you should pay and we will go from there. I walked away with some extraordinary objects.

Wax fabric with embroidery 
Hopping back on Mustapha's motorcycle, he brought me back to the hotel where we had lunch together. I thought the looks from the people on the street where hilarious, but the hotel staff and fellow guests really reacted the best to my being escorted by a 6'3'' military officer. We had a nice lunch (I ate rice and drank lots of coke) and Mustapha told me about his various UN peace keeping missions that have taken him all over Africa. Turns out Mustapha's family is of royal lineage in one of Ghana's northern tribes, located in Wa (North West of Ghana). He asked me about life in America, and followed it with "Why are you not married?" I spent the next 20 to 25 minutes explaining to Mustapha that an independent female is able to choose her destiny in America, and I choose independence. Mustapha assured me that one day God may change my perspective, then stated that he might be God's soldier for such a mission. I told him that "may" was a big one. I then spent the next 10 to 15 minutes explaining the notion of independent spirit, which didn't go very far. But hey, can't blame a white lady for trying.

© Habit & Style, 2013.

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