This year was my 9th visit to the Volta Region, SE Ghana and, whilst I am now very familiar with the daily rhythm of life in Keta, there are always plenty of new experiences and this year was no exception. Once again, I was fortunate enough to stay on the compound belonging to Togbi Kumassah, the local Chief who, in 2006, was responsible for introducing me to the traditional storytellers who told me the stories which I used to write ‘Once upon a time in Ghana.’
I went out knowing that I would be visiting all my old haunts but a new challenge this year was to find a dentist who would be willing and able to be part of the Dentaid scheme which aims to improve the oral health of disadvantaged people around the world. In conjunction with Dentaid, Rotary International has developed a Dentaid Box which looks like a transportable wheelie bin and opens up to become a dental chair. It also contains all the key dental requisites of equipment and ancillaries to enable a dental professional to deliver in any locality in the developing world, basic oral health care and emergency treatment to those in need. The Rotary Club of Norwich is very interested in raising the funds needed to provide one of these wheelie bins but to whom and where? Anxious to find the answer to these questions, I introduced myself to both the hospital administrator and the dentist who works at Keta Municipal Hospital which is also a teaching hospital. Both were very enthusiastic about the idea and we immediately started talking about the possibility of establishing an outreach clinic in Anyako where there are no dental services whatsoever. Such a clinic could be accessed by people from a number of surrounding villages as well. I returned to the UK armed with all the necessary names and contact details so maybe I shall be seeing the Dentaid box in action in 2015.
I turn now to ‘my’ storytelling communities and the projects old and new. First on the list this year is the storyteller, Mr Nutsugah now 92 years old. Life is not easy for him but he is always delighted to see me, or more accurately, to hear me as his sight is very poor. My first task with him is always to take him to see
the doctor at the hospital. There is no appointments system. It is simply a matter of turning up and waiting for hours on end.
The first doctor we saw at the hospital asked to see him again a week later and the second visit revealed that he has a heart problem. His feet and ankles were very swollen and his fingers and toes were numb. He also complained of dizziness and was constantly collecting saliva in his mouth.
Getting the ECG report the doctor wanted proved quite difficult. The machine at the hospital would not print out; the second machine at a private clinic an hour’s drive away was broken but the third machine at another private clinic was functioning normally so we were able to return to the doctor with the desired ECG reading. After four hours of waiting to see the doctor in a very hot, uncomfortable and crowded space I noticed that Mr N was looking particularly weak so I called Togbi and told him that there seemed no chance of seeing the doctor before I had a much more serious case on my hands. One phone call from Togbi meant that, minutes later, the hospital administrator appeared looking for me. He immediately marched into the one and only consulting room and ordered the doctor to see Mr. N there and then. Such is the power of the Chief! I felt somewhat uncomfortable being seen as the white woman for whom the doors opened but consoled myself with the knowledge that it was for Mr. N. After all this, he was so weak that the taxi driver had to lift him bodily in and out of the taxi taking us back to his home. It took me the rest of the day to track down and purchase all his prescribed medication but at least we had some prescriptions. I paid a 10 year old boy to supervise the medicines each day and can only hope that he is still doing so. The doctor wants to see Mr. N monthly and I left instructions and money for someone to take him to the hospital. It is hard to leave him as he is getting frail and receives the absolute minimum of care but it is a situation I have to accept. By the time I left, he was feeling so much better that he said he was ready to fly to England with me!
Amongst the various presents I took him this year was a pair of pyjamas which he wore whenever I took him to hospital! There are many young children living on his compound and they are his only company. He seems very comfortable with them and always shared the bread I took him most days. The little boy you see here is a particular friend.
Since the completion of the two Kindergarten classrooms at Anyako RC Primary School in 2012, I have focussed on raising funds to build a lagoon defence wall between the lagoon and the school buildings. For 6 months of the year following the rainy season the lagoon fills a large part of the school grounds and as the water becomes increasingly fetid, so the children are wading through increasingly foul water to access their classrooms. Furthermore the water is salty and is destroying the classrooms sitting in the water year upon year. Many of the buildings around the lagoon have built walls to protect them against the water but, of course, this costs money. So, with the generosity of Blackfriars Rotary Club, Norwich I was able to send the requisite funds to Togbi last October 2013. Togbi’s task was to engage and pay the masons (builders). However, the people involved with the RC school and Church decided to position the wall much further out in the lagoon in order to
follow the boundary of the land owned by the church and create a much larger school/church compound. Thus it was that the money sent has not been sufficient to complete the much enlarged wall. As Easter is the time when Ghanaian families return to their home towns, the RC church is calling upon its Easter visitors to donate generously to help complete the wall and I shall devote funds raised here to help out as well. One such fundraiser will be a concert at 2.30 pm on June 29th at St. Lawrence’s Centre for the Arts in South Walsham. The event is being generously sponsored by Arnold Keys and will feature a wide variety of music as well as the premiere performance of one of the traditional Ghanaian stories set to music by local musical director and composer, Ian Kenneth Hytch.
In the photo above are Rick Fuller of Blackfriars Rotary Club, Norwich and the Head teacher of Anyako Primary School. Rick had come to Ghana to experience a little of life out there and to see the various projects with which he has been involved in Anyako. The plaque balanced on the wall will
eventually be fixed above water level! As you can see, there is still a long way to go; 2000 more bricks are needed for completion of the project.
One of the highlights of any visit to Ghana is the four hour trip to the Chief and the villagers of a tiny community called Have Domefe, tucked away in a hilly, wooded area far north of the Keta/Anyako region. The welcome I and any accompanying visitors receive is so cordial and charming. As soon as we alight from our taxi, the group leads us into the Chief’s palace singing a welcome song accompanied by shaking the rattle and beating the gong-gong. Every visit must follow the same ritual of the group sitting opposite me, the Chief in the middle of the front row and the ‘Linguist’ sitting alone in front of the Chief. All the Chief’s words to me and all that I have to say has to be transmitted via the linguist who acts as the mouth and ears of the Chief. We witness the invocation and libation offered to the ancestors as one of the group performs the ritual which ends in pouring three splashes of spirit on the floor in front of us all. This year Rick Fuller and a Togolese friend of mine came to Have with me and so they had traditional friendship beads tied round their wrist. Not wanting to leave me out, the Chief explained that I was to receive a small bracelet as I had already been given the full-sized one on a previous occasion!
Then came the moment when I was invited to offer my gift to them. It had been several years since I had been able to offer them any money so I was delighted to be able to give them 4,300 Ghana cedis (£925.00) which they are using to buy a polytank and the materials to make the concrete base upon which it will stand. With proceeds from the sale of Moringa leaves and seeds grown on the land I gave them in 2008 plus the rental money from the hiring out of plastic chairs I gave them in 2010, they have been able to save enough money to have the pipes laid which carry fresh drinking water from the main road to the entrance to the village. One of the villagers has been appointed custodian of the water and she will sell it to all those who require it, thereby making a further small profit for the storytelling group as well as providing a very important service for the villagers, especially the school children who
arrive with their empty water bottles each morning on their way to school. As the water frequently doesn’t run, the polytank will be kept full so that there is always a supply of drinking water. I am very happy with all this because it is the perfect example of all my project aims; a self-sustaining enterprise managed by the storytellers for the benefit of themselves and the wider community.
Three cheers for Togbe Krakani (centre) and his group, not all of whom are in this photo. The polytank will be positioned next to the pipe and stand you see here.
If the visit to Have was a delight, so also was the news I received just a few hours before my departure for Ghana on March 4th. This was the news that the Ghana edition of ‘Once Upon a Time in Ghana’ (published November 2013) had been selected to receive the accolade of Best Book 2014 for older readers in the Africana children’s literature awards. Quite astonishing! The award is made by an American organisation called Africa Access and was set up by an American academic to recognise and promote literature intended to widen the
appeal of African inspired material. I could look for no greater validation of the appeal and significance of these ancient and timeless stories, ten of which feature in the Ghana edition. The final icing on the cake comes with the invitation to receive the award at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art in Washington DC on November 8th 2014.
School news update
Keta Basic School now has electricity and is hoping to be able to communicate electronically with Wicklewood Primary school. An email address is still to be created.
A new link has been established between Shalom Shalom School and Hemblington Primary. Shalom already has an email address which will facilitate communication between the two schools as postal communication is both slow and unreliable.
Afiadenyigba Senior High School has recently begun teaching music to examination level and the partner school, Acle Academy generously donated CD’s to allow the children to listen to a range of music – classical, jazz, choral etc. Without these, the pupils would have no concept of the sounds, individual or collective, made by many of the instruments we take for granted
I look forward to seeing the continued development of all these very fruitful links.
And, in conclusion…..
Once again, I take this opportunity to thank all of you who have and continue to support all my fundraising events. Without you I would be powerless to continue the project work with the storytellers who now refer to me as their mother!