Sunday, 13 October 2013

Going home...

So the project was over.  The next day after the concert felt surreal and emotional, with all the goodbyes fresh in our memories.  It felt strange not to have to refer to my to-do lists, and not to have to worry about budget money - like a huge weight of responsibility had been lifted from my shoulders.  It was hard to believe we wouldn't be going back to the Street Academy.

That Saturday Kasia and I travelled to Jamestown to take part in a walking tour run by the NGO 'Act For Change' - who had provided a couple of workshops for us during the project. They had just started running walking tours of the Jamestown district trying to give visitors an insight into this part of Accra that people often find difficult to access.  The tour, given by the lovely Nii, was really interesting and covered lots of different religious, cultural and historical aspects of Ga life - and it gave us a new insight into the area which we had been working in for the whole project: the area where the majority of the children live.  We visited a shrine, a traditional housing complex, and then made our way down to the old harbour.
The view across to the harbour

We saw the traditional boats being carved out of a single tree trunk (although Nii told us how now they are making them out of fibreglass to try to help combat deforestation). We smelled fish air-drying on the pier (pungent!) and best of all, we bumped into some of the children from the project who live next to the harbour.  Actually as we walked around Jamestown that day we saw loads of the children, each time accompanied by lots of joyful shouting (from both sides!) and hugs.

After the tour we headed back to Osu for an end-of-project celebratory meal with all of the volunteers - both Ghanaian and international.  We all brought food along, the most delicious being a dish called 'Kelewele' cooked by Anita - deep fried plantain spiced with chilli and ginger.  Yum!

Our last couple of days were really a blur - thinking about buying presents for people back home, thinking about packing and travel plans, and saying sad goodbyes to those others of the team who were leaving before us.

On our last day, Kasia, Lauren and I travelled back to Jamestown to Mokola market for one last fabric-buying spree.  By this point we were beginning to be a bit afraid about exceeding our baggage allowance, so we tried to restrain ourselves (with difficulty!).  After the market we went and had an Alvaro in the Wato Club - an amazing 'spot' in Jamestown, where Louis Armstrong once played.

Kasia, Isaac and Lauren at the Wato Club

The last weekend we really spent reflecting on the whole experience of being in Ghana - not only the project, but things like the amazing head-carrying skills of pretty much every Ghanaian:
Precision peanut balancing

The amazing plethora of roadside hawkers (toy guns, water, plantain crisps, chewing gum, phone credit, bibles, fruit, Alvaro, yams, toothbrushes  etc etc etc - all available to purchase from the comfort of your own car whilst waiting at traffic lights)
Yams anyone?

Fabric fabric fabric, tailored dresses, the sensory assault of Kaneshie and Mokola markets

Spot the 'sliming tea'!

The sound and smell of Accra, music everywhere, amazing dance moves, smoothies, Milo cubes, 
A typical convenience store

Trotros, negotiating roads and sewers, and amazing highlife-music-fuelled taxi rides

Drinking water out of bags, the daily Malarone alarm, mosquito nets, the hot water lottery, the insect visitors and the 2am rooster at the 'Diamond Palace' where we stayed

But most of all our amazing team of volunteers...
Wanlov, Kate, Kasia, Dan, Andrea, Mutombo, Elliot, Harry, Kayla, Setri, Anita, Lauren, Isaac, Kyekyeku, Gonzo and Frank

...and of course the incredible children of the Street Academy.

Actually it feels impossible to summarise properly what was such an emotional, difficult, wonderful, challenging and amazing experience.  I'm so glad I did it, and I wouldn't change my experience for the world.  I won't deny that acclimatising back to my 'normal' life has been really hard.  Working on this project and the children we worked with touched me deeply and it's something I'll never forget.

So, both Kasia and I would like to say one last final THANK YOU to everyone who helped to make this fantastic experience possible for us.  That's:

DorothyKirsty McLLucieKirsty C, Al, MoiraGeorgie, Susie, Hazel, Ros, Em, Andy, Jack, Christine, Liz, Marcin, MagdaInaJanusz, Ania, MarekClaireSylviaJoeEmmaKayNeilAliSusan, Pauline, Neil, Caroline, Ian, Migs, Rich, Katie, Astrid, Thomas, Caro, Helen, Moira, Ivona, Marc, Neil, Zoe, Christine, Rach, Jessica and Eli... (and of course AKOSIA and The Street Academy!)


With so much love and appreciation,
Kate and Kasia

Friday, 6 September 2013

Project week 4

And so we moved into the final week of the project.  Time on the project had gone so fast with so much to do and so many new experiences.

We knew the final week of the project was going to be majorly full-on, so on Sunday Kasia and I went to the Labadi Beach hotel for the day to relax by the pool and chill a little in preparation for the ensuing mayhem.  We had a delicious lunch (with cheese!  And coconut juice!) and had a lovely time swimming, sketching, listening to music and watching the lizards run around.

The epic editing task had started by the beginning of the week, which as expected ran massively over time with lots of technical glitches.  Everyone worked really hard and in the end the films were edited, rendered and burned on to DVD in time (just!) for the final show on Friday.

At the beginning of the week, we had promotional posters printed advertising the final show, and Elliot, Daniel and Setri went out in the wee small hours of the morning and flyposted them all around town.

This week Frank on the team had pulled off the coup of getting Accra’s only multiplex cinema to put a free showing of a film on for all of the children on the project.  This was a big deal as many of them head never been to the mall, let alone a big cinema before, and as we were all working on a film-making project we felt like this would be a great reward for all of their hard work.  So, early on Tuesday morning, the children were ferried from the school to the cinema (in the Accra Mall) in shifts in our Trotro, and when they got into the mall were really awed and so well-behaved.  They loved the film (Despicable Me 2) – giving a running commentary and clapping at key moments throughout .  Even more exciting than the film though were the toilet facilities.  This was the first experience for some of the children of soap dispensers and hand dryers, and when they worked out how to use them they were mesmerised. 
 Humu and Benedicta in the Mall

On Wednesday we started working on the stage design for the final show - Gonzo had come up with a great idea for a circus-type feel, with lots of bright African fabric and big animals.  To make the animals, first we needed lots of cardboard:
Isaac carrying lots of very heavy cardboard the Ghanaian way

Then we worked out with the children which animals they would like to draw on a large scale to decorate the set.  Some choices were a surprise!
 Prince cutting out a dragon drawn by Joseph

The week flew past, and suddenly it was Friday.  We were still battling against the clock to get the films ready for burning onto DVD, and Gonzo, Setri and Isaac spent all day at the show venue setting up the stage, chairs, lighting, sound and decorations.  Meanwhile Kyekyeku and I went on the GBC national radio breakfast show, to talk about the project and Akosia, which was a really fun experience.

The last session of the project at the Street Academy finished with us giving all of the children a school pack, containing all sorts of goodies like books, pencils and pens, to use in the next school year. 

Suddenly we were leaving the school for the last time, hot-footing it across town to get changed and pick up equipment to take to the venue to finish setting up before the final show actually began. The stage looked amazing and the space gradually started filling up with the audience as darkness fell.

The programme started with some performances from the children and some of the volunteers.  The children are amazingly talented dancers, singers, comedians and acrobats, and they performed some amazing acts.  Kyekyeku, the children and I also performed the song 'Madamfo' (Ga for 'my friend') which was the theme song Kyekyeku had written for the two films.
 After all the performances were over, it was time for the main event and the screening of the two films that the children had made over the course of the project.  The lights were dimmed and the children sat and watched themselves on the big screen, cheering and clapping at what they had achieved.  For most of the volunteers, this was the first time we had seen both films in their entirety, and it was a very proud and emotional moment.

Emotions continued to run high for the rest of the night, with a certificate-giving ceremony after the films followed by an impromptu dance party with all of the children until our time ran out and we had to vacate the venue.  It was so sad to have to finally leave all of the children, but at the same time we were all so happy to have had such a great show and to have had such an awesome experience with the children on the project.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Just another week in Africa...

So this has been an intense and amazing week.

Last weekend, for Kasia's birthday, we travelled west along the coast to a hotel called the Elmina Bay Resort, near the towns of Elmina and Cape Coast.  We decided we wanted a complete break from the hectic hustle and bustle of Accra, and were really looking forward to relaxing by a pool for a couple of days.

The journey from the school to the hotel was pretty epic - a taxi to Kaneshie bus station, then onto a rickety Trotro, 90 minutes trying to get out of Accra amidst the crazy Friday evening traffic, and then a further 2 hours to Elmina, and then an interesting experience finding a bona fide taxi driver (in the end we chose Felix) to take us to the hotel over very rough dirt tracks.
When we finally got there though - wow:

The beach at the hotel at sunset.

The hotel was great, it had clean floors and hot running water and aircon!!  Amazing.  My first hot shower in more than two weeks was just so good I spent ages under the water laughing and laughing.  The pool was beautiful and on Saturday (Kasia's birthday) we had a blissful day walking on the beach, swimming in the pool, relaxing in the sun and eating delicious Ghanaian groundnut soup.

The next day we checked out of the hotel and then walked along the beach, heading east to visit Elmina town.  The walk was full of surreal experiences, such as seeing a team of fishermen pulling on a rope that lead all the way into the sea and seemed to be firmly attached to nothing, a child offering us a snake (not sure if it was alive or dead), iguanas with bright orange tails, another child offering us a bowl full of rotten fish blood and guts, the strongest smelling open sewers yet mixed with an overpowering rotten fish aroma, and everyone shouting 'obruni' ('white person') at us as we walked by.
Fishing boats in Elmina harbour

At Elmina there is a UNESCO world heritage site: Elmina Castle, which was built in 1482 and is one of the oldest European buildings outside of Europe.  It became a centre for the slave trade and was used as a holding station for slaves waiting to be shipped across the Atlantic to the Americas, until the 19th cenury. Our visit was very sobering and sad.  The conditions the slaves were held in were atrocious and the whole place still has a very strong atmosphere.

After seeing the castle we left Elmina and got a shared taxi to nearby Cape Coast, where we were planning to get a minibus back to Accra. It was a super hot day and we had time to kill before the next minibus departed, so we tried to find a place for a cold drink.  We happened upon a place mentioned in the guidebook called 'Peace Ghetto', a 'spot' as bars are called here, which was a tiny room with low wooden tables and chairs with strange cartoonish paintings on the wall and a young woman called Stella who asked our advice about forgetfulness and medicine taking.

Back on the project during the week, this has been a very busy one with all of the filming being done for the the final two films. The children have divided into two groups (the Coconuts and the Mangos) and each group has written a story which they have now filmed.  This week Kasia and I were part of the Mangos group, and were working on production design, costumes and also going on location to help with logistics with all the children.
Kasia and Patrick trying out ghost headdresses

Helping with music for filming of the theme song on location at the beach

Also this week we held a fundraising gig at a local live music venue in Osu, the part of Accra where we are all staying.  A number of the Ghanaian volunteers working on the project are quite well-known musicians, so we put together a show to raise money to help fund the production costs for the film, as well as the final show which is happening on the 30th August where we will have a concert and screening of the finished two films. During the evening Frank and I got the opportunity to get up on stage and have a bit of a sing (and Frank also played the sax!):

 Me, Frank and Kyekyeku on stage

Today Frank, Mr Lartey and I went to the Metro TV station to have a short interview on live TV.  It was another interesting experience and a good opportunity to spread the word about the project.

Another highlight of this week has been visiting markets, and in particular buying beautiful fabric:
 On Friday afternoon we visited Kaneshie market, the second biggest market in Accra.  It was full of everything you can imagine, and the sounds and smells were pretty powerful too.
There's an indoor and an outdoor section, and we added to our burgeoning fabric collection and also bought some lovely traditional beads.

This weekend the editing of the films starts, and we're preparing for the final week of the project building up to the show on Friday.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Week 1 & 2

Ok... We are in the week 3 of the project and I haven't had a chance to blog about it yet (Kate was doing all the hard work:).
All is going well, the kids are awesome and they seem to enjoy the project a lot. Working with them is an exhausting but also extremely satisfying experience. A great thing about a film making project is that it is totally inclusive and everybody can contribute no matter what their skills are. The kids are doing storytelling, acting, storyboarding, costume and set design, directing, camera work, singing, dancing etc. There is something for everyone. Here are some random pictures from week 1 and 2.

The morning games and activities:

Lauren getting a drumming lesson from Patrick.
 Kids came up with some awesome stories for our movies. Here is Harry explaining the plot to everyone.
 More storyboarding.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Taxis and TV

Travelling in taxis is an interesting affair in Accra.  They are, along with TroTros, the main form of transport, and are everywhere.  They beep at you to offer their services, but also for all other sorts of reasons many of which I have yet to fathom.  The way it works is you negotiate with the driver before you get in, and agree on a fee to your chosen destination.  Often there is a dance of negotiation or bartering with several drivers, before they lower their initial ridiculous price to what you know it should cost.  The taxis themselves are in varying degrees of disrepair (it doesn’t seem like MOT or emissions testing are a concept here) and several times our journey has been interspersed with a quick bit of roadside mechanical engineering.  If you’re lucky there’ll be a seatbelt in the front, but almost certainly none in the back, and it’s not uncommon for 4 people to (illegally) squeeze onto the backseat and then try to avoid the glare of the police torches at the patrol stations that are set up on main roads to deter such behaviour.  Mostly there is a soundtrack of extremely loud music-  hiphop, rap, hiplife, dancehall; or evangelical Christian preaching.  Occasionally the taxi driver will try to encourage you to marry him or sponsor his younger brother to play football for Arsenal.

Today after our session at the school was finished, Elliot, Frank (another of the volunteer team), and a pupil Ishmael from the school took a taxi to the studios of TV Africa, one of Ghana’s 4 main TV channels, to do an interview we had found out about the day before, set up by a poet friend of Elliot’s, named Oswald.  We were expecting it to be part of a current affairs piece or arts segment, so when we got there and the producer turned up saying ‘so what we are hoping to focus on in the discussion today is the issue of child actors and child protection’ we were a bit gob-smacked.  Apparently in Ghana, although there is legislation to protect child actors, it is not really enforced, so children are not provided with any tutoring during shoots and are often cast in graphic roles in horror films or as prostitutes or gangsters with no regulation of how the children are treated on set or what they are exposed to.  For the interview I was sat on a sofa opposite the anchorwoman wearing the most fantastic bright blue headscarf, and next to me was an actress who is also a child activist, called Abena-sika (Abena because she was born on a Tuesday).  It was really refreshing to be speaking with two articulate and empowered women, making a change from the entrenched gender roles and pervasive sexism that I have been finding pretty challenging since I arrived here.  It turned out to be an interesting discussion (although I was totally winging it!) and we got to talk a little bit about the Akosia project too, which was great.  Another Ghana first!

A wierd and wonderful weekend

What a weekend!

First thing on Saturday, Kasia and I had the classic Ghanaian 'egg sandwich' for breakfast - basically an omelette with peppers and onions in bread. On our way home we popped into the local nail salon shed, where I had a manicure for 2GHC (66 pence!) from a lovely lady named Maud.

The last few days have been the Ga tribe’s festival of ‘Homowo’ which is their biggest festival and is the Ga New Year.  It’s a festival of thanksgiving and celebrating forefathers, and welcoming in a new year.  The main event, on Saturday, involved all of the local clan chiefs and the overall king of Jamestown (part of Accra where the festival is held) sprinkling food on the ground in memory of previous famines and to give thanks for food.  There was a big procession with the King of Jamestown and his entourage:
The team of project volunteers was taken around the whole town by the Director of the Street Academy (the school where our project is based) who seems to know everyone in town!  I think we got introduced to 3 different chiefs and each time were plied with food and drink.  We also saw a couple of the rituals where the chiefs give thanks by pouring libations on the ground:
 I have to confess for most of the time I had no clue what was going on - shaking hundreds of elders' hands and eating kpokpoi – the traditional festival dish of dried fish with palm oil and pounded maize.

As a group of white people obviously not having a clue what was going on, we were quite an attraction and I don’t remember how many hands I shook and asked ‘Ofane te oyoo teng’ (How are you), and replied ‘miye ojogbang’ (I’m fine).  In true Ghana style there was music, dancing and many exotic smells everywhere.  With us were some of the Ghanaian volunteers who are working on the project with us, who live in Jamestown.  At one point we ended up in a tiny alleyway reverberating with incredibly loud music and an impromptu rave ensued when suddenly a massive group of children appeared, many of whom we’re working with on the project, and proceeded to dance with us with the most amazing energy.  It was dark and intense and sweaty with the children’s smiles and white teeth glowing through the darkness, and over almost as soon as it had begun.  Then suddenly we were back in the dark streets amongst shops and banks, out of Jamestown and flagging down a taxi home.

After that, we visited the Accra Mall – an experience almost diametrically opposed to what we had just experienced in Jamestown.  The Accra Mall is a massive, modern shopping centre with strangely few shops.  By the time we got there most were closed and it felt slightly eerie wandering around amongst clothes and shoes the people we had been partying with earlier would never be able to afford.

All in all a completely surreal, mad and wonderful day.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Week 1!

Wow.  Week 1 completed!

What a week.  After 5 days in a row, all of us volunteers are exhausted but loving it.  The children have been amazing - we're getting to know them all a little better and their different personalities. I've been trying to learn a bit of Ga, their main language, and they are all really great teachers and so excited and happy when I try to learn any Ga words, no matter how bad my pronunciation! 'Te oyo teng' and 'mi ye ojo bang' ('How are you' and 'I'm well') go a long way.
Isaac, on the right, always has the best photo poses!

This week amongst many other things, I've done things like meet with the Editor of the Ghanaian Times newspaper, written about a million lists, learned how to use a makey makey (amazing!), started to learn the 'Azonto' dance move and lots of Ghanaian childrens' games. My favourite is a clapping and jumping game called 'ampe' which is rather abstract so I was pretty pleased when I finally worked out the rules! (with the help of my new friends Olivia and Elizabeth).

Music and rhythm really is everywhere, particularly now we have been having music workshops with the children.
Solomon drumming

In other news, I have discovered the best drink ever.  This is a fizzy drink which tastes like liquid pear drops. So refreshing!

Here's the view from the roof of one of the buildings in our hostel complex:
I've had a couple of good sun-bathing sessions up there at the end of the day, surrounded by lots of cats and massive butterflies.