Friday, April 26, 2013

Ghana, No.4

Wood Sculptures

The hottest day in Ghana thus far. Waking at 7.30a.m. My body was already adjusting to the heat and humidity. Life is sticky and dusty in Accra and I'm beginning to acclimate. Yolanda and I had agreed to meet up around 9a.m. to try another artist gallery and studio. This gallery, Artists Alliance Gallery, she had visited before while in Ghana a couple years ago--when the nation was going through it's "Obama Rama Pride" phase. We caught a taxi outside our hotel. Richard was our driver again and he didn't offer a single travel tip. Instead we were laughing the whole ride, and he even cracked jokes about Yolanda's haggling skills. Before we got out of the taxi Richard asks for me to marry him so we can go to the "US and make beautiful life and babies."

Kente Cloth
Yolanda started laughing, "I'm not young enough for you Richard?" she asked. "No mama," he replied. In Ghana you are everyone's "sistah" until you are too old and graduate to "mama." The younger children on the street, some will call me "mama," but only when they are asking me for money or rice, "you buy me rice white mama?" Indeed, the only people who call me "lady" are men of a similar age who also want to marry, move to the US, and make beautiful life with me. I told Richard he would be my fifth husband In Ghana, and I only feel it right if we wait until the first one dies for us to marry. "Five husbands is just too many for white lady?" he asked. "yes," I replied, "especially when I've got two back in theUS already!"

Ghanian Treasures
Yolanda and Richard chuckled and we paid the fare and bid him a good morning. The outside of the gallery was an impressive, shaded facade. We decided to catch our breadth and cool of before heading inside, the taxi was a sauna this morning. Outside were some large sculptures on display, which included a crab shaped coffin. I though that was odd until I viewed fish, Nike running shoe, coca cola bottle, lion, lobster, and eagle coffins inside. I don't know the story behind these, and asking just seemed like a bad idea: my brain can only take in so much culture when it's 100F.

The gallery was amazing, full of antiquities, antiques, traditional crafts, and modern art. It was three floors of splendor. The building was centered around a large staircase that had floor to ceiling (from the first floor up) windows that overlook a rocky Ghana coastline. Between floors, when climbing up, I was able to watch the fisherman on the horizon, and waves crash into the rocky coast line. No photos are allowed (I snuck a few on my iPhone), which is a shame because the grandeur of the building is something I would love to share with you. I would compare it to Villa Borghese in Rome, you know, just filled with African art and less marble. Unlike the ridiculous Loom gallery I visited yesterday, The Artist Alliance Gallery had fair prices and sells arts and crafts directly from the artisans with a small commission fee. I was able to purchase some colorful, woven Kente cloth and see a demonstration of the weaving process; Aggrey breads, and baskets, things I was unable to find yesterday at Tetakwashi Circle. They have a Web site I have yet to visit (, but my instinct is telling me I will spend many hours clicking through it when back in the US.

Aggrey Beads
We decided to walk down to Labadi Beach after finishing up at the gallery, it was around 11.30am so we had a little more than an hour before the mid-day heat would melt us into puddles of white sistah and white mama flesh on the side of Tema Beach Road. The walk was about a mile, but it took us a half hour. We walked slow, no need to rush in the heat. Accra is a city of open sewers, hills of trash, wild dogs, goats, and cows wandering about; bottom line, it stinks, and the heat made this smell even worse (I was thinking of Mark Twain's limberger cheese short story for the majority of the walk, I'd bet that the cheese smells way better than the streets of Accra).

Bolga Baskets
Finally getting to a spot where it was safe to get onto the beach (meaning not stepping over destroyed barbed wire, glass fragments, burning garbage and sharp edged rocks), we were about half way to our destination. The sea breeze was a huge relief and I was able to see the beachside restaurants with their tables and umbrellas, comfy beach chairs, and huge refrigerators full of chilled ice water, beer, and coca-cola products: heaven. We made our way to Yolanda's preferred cafe and ordered water, cokes, and fruit salad. The shade was needed, as was the water.

The beach was full of men peddling art, malachite jewelry, wood sculptures, cigarettes, candy, sunglasses, even a woman offering manicures on the beach (this I did not understand; the sand is very, very fine and would ruin any polish treatment). There was even a basking reggae group that decided to target me when Yolanda got up for a quick walk. I was trapped in my chair with rasta man singing in my face about white sistah angle with pretty smile and eyes. I was hoping texting Elizabeth in SanFran would be a good way to avoid eye contact and get them to peddle on. Not so. Rasta man put his money bag on my lap, got down and started singing to me. The beach goers around me where cracking up as this went on for a good three minutes before I caved and reached into my pocket to find a small bill, which I didn't have. I ended up forking over 10 cedi (not much by American standards, $5, but a rather large sum in Ghana considering the average worker takes home 70 cedi a month), I lied to Yolanda and told her I only gave them 2 cedi. She is constantly telling me I'm too kind, and that the people know that. I ended up giving most of my fruit salad lunch to a group of children who's parents where pulling in a fishing net at the waters edge. They were so adorable, I couldn't resist, and the eldest, Angelic who was around 6, was teaching me Twi words. After giving them my fruit, Angelic told me her young brotha wanted to eat rice and she asked me for money. Yolanda rolled her eyes.

I didn't give him money for rice but I did give them each more fruit. Eventually, when the fishing net had been pulled in and the fish was divided between the workers (maybe 25 in total, workers, not fish) the children left as their parents where calling them down from the cafes. I'm still getting use to all the people asking for money all the time through songs, trinkets, jewelry, horse rides, manicures... It gets exhausting and is starting to wear on me as invasive... and expensive. I've been guilted into buying many gifts for you all. It doesn't seem like a large amount of money, and I know the cedis I give them will make a big difference, but still, it's wearing. Yolanda told me this won't be such a problem in the villages. I hope she is right.

Spending time with the children on the beach today charged my energy for the next three weeks to come. I'm really looking forward to leaving Accra and creating with children, sharing with them the photos of art work from their country, and mine, and creating pieces that reflect both traditions together.

Arriving back at the Hotel, the front desk mentioned that my officer friend had stopped by to visit me. I question: dodged a bullet or missed out on more motorcycle tours of the city? All I know is that it is cool in my hotel room, no one is asking me for money, and I've got Lady Gaga singing to me through my iPad speakers. She will be dropping a new single in a few days in North America. No Gaga in Ghana yet. Though, I could easily teach a gaggle of village children "Bad Romance" and the monster dance moves, but that seems like a big responsibility that has the possibility to end in cultural catastrophe.

© Habit & Style, 2013.

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