Video documentary of my July 2005 visit to the Liberian refugee camp in Buduburam, Ghana. I learn about the challenges faced by Liberians forced to flee their homeland, as well as some of the training programs available to them. I visit one of the camp’s telecentres, as well as an women’s literacy support group. Music used with permission of Alula Records.
Low-res version (20 megabytes):
November 7, 2005
August 5, 2005
Last night, I put together a short video about traditional kente weaving in Ghana’s Ashanti region. Kente, perhaps the most famous West African textile, is brightly colored, coming in a variety of patterns, some reserved for use by Ashanti royalty. The video was shot in the historic kente weaving village of Bonwire, about an hour south of Kumasi. Three weavers are featured, each using a traditional loom to make the cloth. The video also contains music performed by Ghanaian drummer Obo Addy, used with permission from Alula Records. There are two versions of the video: high resolution (13 megs) and low resolution (two megs).
The video was shot on July 23, 2005 in Bonwire village, Ashanti Region, Ghana, using a Konica-Minolta dImage A-200 digital camera. The Quicktime files shot on the camera were uploaded to a Macintosh G4 laptop and edited with Final Cut Pro HD 4.5. Both versions of the video were compressed using the 3ivx compression codec. Total editing time was about 90 minutes, including compression.
July 26, 2005
It’s just before 5pm here in Accra, which means it’s time for me to leave BusyInternet and return to the guesthouse one last time to pack, eat and head to the airport. If all goes well, I’ll be back in Boston in about 24 hours. Sometime after that I’ll try to wrap up my final posts about Ghana, particularly the video clips, since I’ve had bandwidth issues the last couple of days.
Until then, this is Andy Carvin signing off from Accra. -ac
Seen on the streets of Accra this morning: a man walking through traffic hawking three items:
- An industrial sized collection of super glue
- A Suzanne Somers tummy exerciser, original box included
- An enormous TV antenna shaped like a 1950s sci-fi death-ray gun
I took a picture of him with my mobile phone, but alas, no Bluetooth, so I’ll have to upload it once I get back to the US…. -andy
One of the things that’s struck me the most during my trip to Ghana is the sheer amount of country and western music I’ve heard in the country.
It’s no big surprise that lots of radio stations play African American musicians here – you can’t get through the day without hearing R. Kelly, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige or Missy Elliot singing about her boomp-a-boom-boomp. But the Dixie Chicks and Toby Keith? I’m really not sure what to make of it. I asked a taxi driver today why he was playing country music during our drive into Accra this morning. He looked at me like it was a dumb question and replied, “Because it is good.”
Perhaps the funniest thing about all of this occurred when David and I were driving the 150 miles from Accra to Kumasi. Somewhere half-way through the trip, in the middle of nowhere, we couldn’t get any radio signals – except country music. Who knew? -andy
Children in the Ashanti village of Patriensa
I spent Sunday morning interviewing half a dozen students at the telecentre. Most of them were college-age, working in various jobs around the village while they completed their computer studies. I was impressed with the range of skills they’d learned – over the last seven months they’ve gone from almost no computer experience to being able to construct computers from spare parts.
Osei arrived later that morning, along with a colleague from Imperial College named Jon. I joined them for a late breakfast to talk about digital divide issues in Ghana. We then went on a tour of the village itself, which was about a kilometer up the road from the telecentre. The village was busy with activity; with a population of 4,000 people, there were lots of people milling about. When we stopped for a few minutes at the chief’s palace, a group of more than a dozen kids gathered to watch us. All of them were very friendly and encouraged us to talk a few pictures.
We drove a few blocks to the edge of town, to Osei’s family home. Inside, we met his mother, sister and brother-in-law. We spent some time chatting inside their living room. Much of the conversation had to do with funeral preparations for Osei’s father, who passed away unexpectedly earlier this month. Though the burial had taken place, the funeral would occur later in August, giving them enough time to prepare for a ceremony that would easily attract the entire village, plus hundreds of visitors from Accra.
Leaving the village, we drove onward to the town of Agogo, which has to be the coolest name of any town in West Africa. The town was located high up on a hill, with a stunning view of Patriensa and the surrounding valley. I’d always been under the impression that Ghana was flat – so much for that idea.
In Agogo, we stopped at the local chief’s palace. Osei knew the chief, who was one step below the Ashanti king. Unfortunately, the chief wasn’t home, but one of the caretakers invited us in for a walk around the grounds. As was the case with the Asantehene’s palace in Kumasi, this palace served as home to a squadron of peacocks. The house was quite modern from the front, but in the back was a giant courtyard used for official ceremonies. Osei pointed out the location where the chief would sit, as well as the official talking drums.
Beyond the palace, we stopped briefly at the regional hospital. Osei needed to talk with one of the doctors who had treated his father, so it gave us a chance to walk around the campus. The hospital was a sprawling complex of one-story buildings subdivided into quadrants. Many visitors (or patients?) were napping on outside benches; a group of women sang inside the hospital chapel. We walked all the way to the entrance of the operating theatre; for a moment I thought we’d actually have to meet the doctor inside the surgery room itself, but thankfully he came outside to meet us. The door leading to the operating theatre had a large KEEP OUT sign, with added emphasis provided by a greeting card photo of a golden retriever puppy with a yellow flower in its mouth. Consider yourself warned.
A cocoa pod hangs from a cacao tree
Departing Agogo, I asked Osei if there was any chance if we would pass a cocoa farm along the way. Apparently we’d passed several already and I hadn’t even realized it. A few hundred meters further down the road, he pulled over and point to some trees on the right side of the road. Each tree had several large green pods, not unlike a cross between a pear and an avocado, hanging from the trunks.
“Those are cocoa trees,” Osei said. “Would you like to take a look?”
We found a place to park the car and crossed to the left side of the road, where the cocoa tree orchard was less cluttered with shrubs, allowing us to explore it safely. There was a mild citrus smell in the air, something I didn’t expect. Each tree had at least four or five cocoa pods, most of them a dull green color.
“Are these cocoa pods ripe yet?” I asked.
“No, they’re still not ripe,” Osei explained. “The ripening season is usually in the autumn. But we might be able to find a few ripe ones. They will be bright yellow.”
A few seconds later, someone spotted a yellow pod. The color reminded me of a citron. It was firm, but fleshier than the unripe pods.
“I wish the farmer were here,” I said. “I’d love to buy one just to see what they’re like-”
Before I could complete the sentence, someone had pulled down a yellow pod and smacked it against a tree trunk. The pod cracked in half, revealing a network of fleshy bulbs. The smell of citrus increased significantly; oddly, I couldn’t smell anything recognizable as chocolate.
“Are they edible?”
“Yes, you should taste some,” Osei said.
Jon and I both pinched off a piece. The bulb was slimy and pinkish-brown, with a hard center. I put it in my mouth and again felt a citrus sensation. Biting into it was quite different; the inner seed split and half and released a bitter taste. It wasn’t particularly pleasant, but the bitterness finally revealed a hint of the chocolate flavor I’d been expecting. Apparently during cocoa production, the bulbs are removed from the pod, piled up and allowed to ferment. The fermentation process withers away the outer pulp and softens the harshness of the seed; then, they’re dried out and crushed.
Carrying the remaining cocoa pods back with me for a snack, we returned to Patriensa. Some time later in the afternoon we’d return to Accra, though no one seemed to be in a rush. -andy
A few days ago at the video blogging/podcasting workshop I conducted near the University of Ghana, I was interviewed by a journalist from Radio Ghana. I checked out various news casts several times, but never heard it, so I figured I must have missed it or that it never aired.
Well, last night I was driving back to my guesthouse in northeast Accra. We got lost while trying to take a short cut, so it took longer than usual. Just before we arrived at the guesthouse, though, I heard the evening news announcer reading the daily headlines, and he began talking about an American “Internet expert” helping Ghanaians create podcasts and video blogs. As I searched frantically for my digital audio recorder, I asked the driver to stop, saying they were about to air an interview me. Though skeptical, he shook his head and pulled over. Then, we heard my voice on the radio. The cabbie started laughing and gave me a congratulatory handshake.
Eventually, I managed to find my audio recorder. Here’s what I was able to capture. -andy
Changed plans today, so I’m still in Accra rather than Cape Coast. So last night’s podcast wasn’t my final podcast after all. Unfortunately I’m unable to access my FTP server so far today, so I’m trying something new – uploading my podcast to a yahoogroup.com file folder. Seems to work just fine – for now, at least….
Music by Ghanaian drummer Obo Addy, from his album Afieye Okropong, used with permission from Alula Records. -andy
July 25, 2005
This may be my final podcast from Ghana. Tomorrow I plan to visit Cape Coast, then head to the airport later that evening, so I may not make it back to BusyInternet. And since I can’t count on cyber cafes in Cape Coast having the bandwidth I need to post podcasts, there’s a good chance this is my final post from Ghana. I still have lots of other content to post; the rest of it may just have to wait til I return to Boston….
Music by Ghanaian drummer Obo Addy, from his album Afieye Okropong, used with permission from Alula Records. -andy
A mother and baby in Kumasi’s Central Market
I got up around 7am on Saturday, after having slept surprisingly well given that it was my first non-air-conditioned room in quite some time. After breakfast – porridge and sweet bread – Ohime the telecentre manager gave me a quick tour of the telecentre. They had one major computer lab, full of PCs of various makes, models and ages. Unfortunately, there weren’t any classes going on – classes only on weekdays, apparently – but I’d be able to interview a group of current students Sunday morning. Additionally, their Internet access was down – the local telephone line had crashed, and there was no telling when it would be working again. This wouldn’t prevent students from doing most of their work, since they were concentrating on offline activities like repairing PCs and installing software, but it meant that I’d be without Internet access until Monday morning at the earliest.
By the time everyone had finished breakfast and gotten organized for the day, it was approaching 10am. Liz, Hang, Ohime, David and I were planning to go to Kumasi for a few hours, primarily to check out the palace of the Asantehene, the Ashanti king, and the Kumasi Central Market. We had about an hour drive to Kumasi, give or take, so we’d probably arrive sometime before noon.
We crammed into David’s pickup truck – David driving, Ohime riding shotgun, Liz, Hang and I in the back – and hit the road for Kumasi. David asked if we had any interest in shopping; I said I might want to buy some kente cloth, perhaps check out some wood carvings, while Liz and Hang had their shopping lists as well. David suggested we stop at the craft village of Bonwire, one of the major kente cloth centers in Ashanti. It was a short side trip off the main road to Kumasi, very close to the Besease Ashanti shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Weaving Kente cloth in Bonwire, Ghana
Bonwire was generally nondescript; lots of cement buildings with corrugated aluminum roofs, children rolling tires around for fun, maniacal chickens crossing the road within a few inches of death by traffic accident. Parking under a shade tree, we entered one of the kente shops. Inside, we found a warehouse of kente cloth, thousands of pieces of cloth, hanging from the walls. In center of the room was a web of colorful yarn, stretching 20 or 30 feet to the left and right. At the far left and right side of the room were rows of looms, some empty, others manned by shirtless young men.
Entering the room, I was immediately struck by the sound of the looms. Three or four guys were working their looms furiously, opening and closing the loom in rapid succession each time they entwined another layer of thread into the weave. The motion of the loom and the tugging on each roll of yarn created a loud squeeking noise – like a group of children jumping up and down on springy dorm beds at camp. There were a handful of radios in the room, all tuned to the same station, allowing everyone to hear the same song and work the loom to the beat. One weaver chose to carrying an old walkman instead, whistling and singing to himself as he wove faster than anyone else in the room.
I started taking pictures and shooting video clips of the weavers. The lighting wasn’t great, so many pictures were taken at around 1/20th of a second. Looking at the results in my viewfinder, it was quite extraordinary to see their hands completely a blur, moving the looms so rapidly. It almost looked like they were doing it in fast-forward.
There were a number of other men in the room, each one eager to get a commission by selling kente to us. The cloth was all quite beautiful – you could really see the craftsmanship that went into each piece. The most impressive cloth was made of double- or triple weaves layered on top of each other, creating a thicker – and more expensive – cloth. Larger cloths seemed to be priced 150,000 cedis and up – just under $20. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with a full-sized cloth, so I looked at some of the strips instead, usually worn hanging around your neck. Single weaves started at 20,000 cedis ($2.50), doubles at 40,000 ($5) and triples at 50,000 ($6.25).
Kente weaving looms
I started comparing some of the double weaves and triple weaves, and concluded I’d buy one of each. The seller seemed ready to start bargaining with me to lower the price, but I’d started to get a raging headache – perhaps from the lack of coffee this morning. Whatever the cause, I didn’t feel like debating such a small some and offered to pay as-is. He was quite puzzled.
Hang and Liz, meanwhile, had no such headache, apparently, and began bargaining hard for cloth, necklaces and bracelets. The sellers thought they smelled blood in the air and wanted to sell them a lot more, telling sob stories about how their purchase would help them achieve their dream of going to college. But Hang and Liz stood firm, buying only what they wanted and ignoring pleas for more purchases.
Back in the truck, we got back on the main road to Kumasi. David asked us where we wanted to go – like we were the experts – so I suggested we try the palace first. This, in retrospect, turned out to be a bad idea. The palace was on the far side of the city, and we spent almost two hours navigating horrific traffic. By the time we approached the palace it was well past 1:30pm, so Ohime suggested we get lunch. I would have preferred to have visited the place before eating, but my stomach and headache caused me to back down.
A moment or two later we arrived at a truck stop – perhaps the most Americanized place in all of Ghana. Inside we found what felt like a rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike – a modern facility with a 7-Eleven-like convenience store and rows of western fast food restaurants. Actually, that last statement is a little misleading. None of the restaurants were American brands – they were local twists on American brands. This meant we could choose between the Ghanaian versions of Sbarro’s, Chick-fil-A, Boston Market and Burger King. I went for Nando’s (the Boston Market poseur) and ordered a spicy chicken and rice dish, simply because it was the only thing on the menu that looked like someone in Ghana would normally eat it. In retrospect I wish I’d actually ordered the chicken fingers or something, because the rice was really greasy – and it caused me to remember that I’d basically been eating variations of that same dish all week. Why that never occurred to me is quite beyond me.
My mouth slick with oil, I desperately needed a dessert to get the flavor out of my mouth. Over at the convenient store, I found a freezer full of ice cream and frozen candy bars. I grabbed a bar of Mars Bar ice cream – like the original Mars Bar but with chocolate ice cream in the middle – and a Coke. Talk about hitting the spot. The ice cream got the Exxon Valdez out of my mouth, while the Coke gave me an infusion of caffeine that helped my headache subside.
After lunch, we got back in the truck and drove the last kilometer to the Ashanti king’s palace. David and Ohime dropped us off, saying we’d need less than an hour to complete the tour. Hang and Liz got student discounts, while I sadly did not.
Inside, we were greeted by a small troupe of peacocks and peahens wandering the courtyard. They squawked constantly – that whiny yell that once you’ve heard, you’ll always recognize it. In front of us was the old palace, constructed by the British in the early 1900s. The current Asantehene lives next door in a more modern facility, while the old palace is maintained as a museum. Signs along the front of the palace warned us “Photography is forbidden.” Par for the course here in Ghana, which is more photo-phobic than almost any country I’ve ever visited.
At the inner gate, a woman took our tickets and directed us to a tour guide. He, in turn, sat us in a room to watch a VHS tape covering the history of the palace. I didn’t retain much of what I learned because the tape flickered terribly, and those peacocks kept squawking. The guide then said he’d take us around the house.
“This is included in the ticket price, right?” I asked, having been warned about “extras” like would-be guides attaching themselves to you when touring Ghanaian sites.
“Yes, it’s included,” he replied.
“Never hurts to ask,” I said.
The guide began by showing the king’s talking drums, which were over 100 years old. The drums were used in ceremonies, as well as to alert the community during times of emergency. Inside the house, we saw the royal office, used through much of the 1900s. A giant green fountain pen sat on the desk – the Asantehene always signed documents in green, apparently.
There were several rooms full of gifts given to the kings from around the world, including lots of china sets and paintings. The palace was surprisingly modest, more reminiscent to a British official’s residents rather than a king’s home. In some rooms, we found live-size replicas of previous kings on their thrones. The replicas startled us more than once as we entered the room.
Much of the house was dedicated to the kings’ turbulent history with the British. At one time they were on good terms, but by the late 1800s things deteriorated fast. It got so bad that the British foolishly demanded that the king give up his golden stool – the very symbol of his royal position. The king refused, and fighting began to bring out. Eventually the British seized the stool – or what they thought was the stool, since the Ashantis wisely made a replica and let the British take possession of it instead – then exiled the royal family to the Seychelles for nearly 30 years. Eventually, their differences were resolved, the bogus stool returned, and the royal family allowed to go home.
Entering Kumasi’s Central Market
Leaving the palace, we rendezvoused with David and Ohime, then drove to the central market. Located in a valley in the middle of the city, the market was huge – perhaps the largest open air market in West Africa. Tens of thousands of people swarmed miles of corridors. David found a place to park while Ohime led us into the market in search of more cloth. Hang and Liz shopped carefully, examining bolts of cloth, while I observed, occasionally trying to take pictures.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Ohime said. “They’ll kill you if they catch you.” I laughed it off and covered my camera lens, hoping that he wasn’t being literal.
Eventually, Hang and Liz purchased a few samples of cloth to make some skirts; we then walked back through the market to the truck. It was amazing how many people could occupy such a small space; the human traffic was worse than Kumasi’s auto traffic. I was also amazed by how many stalls of machetes were on sale. Though Ghana is a perfectly safe and stable place, I couldn’t help but shutter and think of Hotel Rwanda with each blade that twinkled in the sun.
Back in the truck, I mentioned that I’d still like to look for some woodcarvings. I was hoping
We would simply drive to another side of the market, but instead we went to a neighborhood further afield. There were several shops selling carvings and statues, but the quality seemed cheap and touristy. I’d seen better pieces for sale back at the telecentre, so I figured I’d buy from them instead.
By now, it was approaching 5pm. We’d run out of time to visit the Ashanti Cultural Centre, which was a real shame. But at least we’d gotten a taste of Kumasi. Driving back, we saw many men walking around in silky black togas, apparently returning from funerals. I couldn’t help but comment on how majestic their outfits looked. I felt like I’d just scratched the surface of Ashanti culture; hopefully I’d get the chance to return and learn more. -andy