Tuesday 25 January 2011


So we go on a trip, driven by the inestimable Charles (Charles is a driver by profession, but in a dream God showed him an orphan school, which he is now saving hard to build. We didn't quite know what to say - fits with current Tory policy I suppose). The trip involved a long and interesting drive to the Kakum National Park (rain forest, canopy walk), and then to Cape Coast castle old slaving centre.

The Park is fun, & the canopy walk suitably wobbly ("It is tested every morning. It can carry two elephants" - how do they know?). We fall alongside a party of Germans and Ghanaian government people who have been "doing trade" - good thing, as I missed my German class and I could amuse them with simple sentences about things being feucht. One of the bigger Ghanaians sports a shiny belt buckle emblazoned with the word "Versachi" - is that how you spell it?

The journey from the park to the Coast is hectic ... rutted road, busy, busy. Charles pushes on, until a police siren is heard behind us. A motorbike flashes by, followed by two cars flashing their hazard lights, and a third car full of Big Men with Guns (pedantically, Very Big Men with Very Guns). "Good", says Charles. He ignites his own hazard lights and falls in behind the motorcade which is travelling fast and ignoring all traffic regulations, lights, etc etc. Maggie and I are not sure about this.

After a scary couple of miles, the car into which the Men with Guns are squeezed drops back. Windows are wound down & there is aggresive shouting. Charles declares his harmlessness and friendship with the men, pointing out that his passengers are best mates with the illustrious occupants of the motorcade ... yes, the Germans. It appears we have netted an Ambassador. The men look hard at me in the front seat, and detect that I am distinguished. Smiles all round, & please join the procession. So we travel the rest of the way to the castle at top speed as honorary German diplomats.

When we exit the car at the castle, big hugs and hellos among the Ghanaians. The Germans are very polite to their new recruits.

The Cape Coast Castle was truly shocking, all the more so as we got the full-on tour laid out for the German dignitaries. This place and its cousins accounted for more death and misery than Auschwitz etc., by our reckoning.

More pictures

Monday 24 January 2011


So a South African man tells me that I can travel just a short way to see the Ghanaian speciality of novelty coffin carving. "Grand", I say, "Where?". "'Tishoo", says the man. "Gesundheit", say I (it must be similar in Afrikaans). "No", he said, "that's the name of the place. Or something like that".

Mr Google, on being asked "accra coffins tishoo", tells you that Teshie Nungua is the place. My map of Accra (a consistent liar) suggested it was about 6K east of the town centre. Easy.

Maggie and I summon a taxi and tell him we want to see the coffins in Teshie. "Jump in", he says. Approved protocol is to negotiate the price first: he suggested a fare about 9x the usual - I got it down to 6x, after which the lure of novelty coffins made me give in.

The man drove a really long way through amazing traffic & roadside scenes. Maggie and I scanned the scenery for novelty coffins without joy. Eventually, we see a roadsign announcing "Teshie Nungua" - hurrah, this is now easy.

Except T-N truned out to be vast. And the driver had quite misunderstood why we had made the trip. "Shall I take you to the beach?", he asks. "No no - we've come to see the carving". He lights up - Ghana is full of tat carvers. "Coffins", I say. "For dead people", says Maggie helpfully. We are beyond the limits of his English.

Some time later he gets the hang of what we are asking - he looks deeply sceptical but stops to ask a likely local. We now do this:
  1. Stop taxi, ask likely local
  2. Listen attentively
  3. Jump back in taxi & say "I have it" (or similar)
  4. Drive off fast (sometimes along the road we have just travelled)
  5. After N minutes, begin to look uncertain: return to step (1)
many many times.

Ultimately, & no exaggeration, we are about to exit the town along the same road we had entered it a long time ago. He stops confidently & points upwards - we see a display of novelty coffins. "I will arrange this with the man", he says, and scurries in.

The driver returns, and says that if we give the man GC10, we can inspect the workshop and products. "But he will accept GC5", he adds.

Well worth all that we went through. Photographers are getting buried in cameras, school-bus drivers buried in buses, farmers buried in chickens (with hinged wings), ... big business. The owner said there were two or three companies in the game.

Next dinner party here will include the game "What do you want to be buried in?

More pictures

Saturday 22 January 2011

Accra Street Academy

When we go away, we all have a small set of people for whom we bring back presents. There are four large females and one small male in mine.

So in Accra, I went with Maggie to the National Arts Centre, a grand name for an extensive collection of tat shops. A bit unfair as the tat was largely well crafted & unlike much you can buy in Leeds. Nevertheless, nothing too functional & H forbad me to buy jewellery.

After getting something suitable for Oliver, we had moved a long way from the entrance to the market & it became rather less well organised (that’s a kind of joke); then we saw two Victorian-era school desks in the sun and heard yound children chanting in response to their teachers. This was the Accra Street Academy where Jamestown street children were brought to a level that the junior schools would later accept: reading, writing, 'rithmetic.

What these people were doing with only charitable effort was breathtaking: locals, and a horde of German volunteer students. We were shown the boxing ring and the skills centres, and saw the children getting their square meal of the day.

Isaac is seen in the picture stood in front of the new skills centre - he is the 2-i-c, and a product of just such a school himself. At age 26, he has devoted his life to children who would otherwise have 0 (none).

We watched batik being fashioned as a useful skill for the children to learn, and I knew what this would cost on the tat market: when we asked the lady her price, she was torn between raising the price by a factor of 10 (what you do with a European tourist) and telling the truth (what you do with new friends). She told us the real cost so we bought quite a lot and rounded the price up. It was cheap - it's what I've brought back for my nearest 'n' dearest.

But I've got Isaac's address and other details. I'll send him my surplus Ghanaian Cedi, and try to find a way of supporting the school tangibly and regularly. They need pretty much everything. More to be seen here.