Posts Tagged ‘Kelvin’
I’m sitting here on my last night before college, reflecting on my time in Ghana. What did I do? What did I accomplish? I feel like I learned and gained so much – what did I give back?
I just sent off a package to everyone in Ada, so I suppose there are the physical things. But did I bestow on any of the kids an excitement for learning? Are any of the teachers going to stop caning, and is that even the right thing to do? Are any of the students going to take to heart my advice to study hard and apply to university, maybe in America, maybe even Haverford? If they wanted to, would they even be able to? Are any of them going to stop throwing their trash on the ground; start recycling their water sachets? Are they going to continue the warm-up I taught them for the play? Is acting going to be a useful skill in their lives? Are any of them going to get past Ada? Will I make a difference?
The time went by so fast. It was filled with eating banku and okra stew, going for runs along the beach, doing washing, heading to market with Euphemia, laughing with Alfred about “my monkey in the US,” walking back from the internet café with Kofi, listening to the radio with Gladys, taking pictures with my students, talking with them about American and Ghanaian culture, watching football matches and African TV, greeting “hihowareyou finethankshowareyou.”
And what about what I did in Accra? Meeting with artists and getting to know the city – it was so great for me, but what was I doing for others, for the organization? I think the most useful thing I did was set up some excellent contacts for the JAC. I hope we make use of them. It will be easy for them to slip away if we don’t keep them up.
I left for Ghana having very little idea of what I would be doing. I made up some things on my CPGC application based on the JAC website and the few emails Kelvin sent me, such as making a documentary, writing a newsletter, and organizing exhibitions. I did not do any of those things. We did not have the materials or resources for those things. But I did end up meeting a whole bunch of people who changed my life. I think, if only in a small way, I changed theirs.
At the CPGC retreat in the spring, they had us write an entry in the journals they’d just provided about how we were feeling about our upcoming internships. At the time, I was just stressed about the Bi-Co News and all the papers I had to write. “Ghana feels a million miles away,” I said. “Maybe in two months I’ll be reading this, and Haverford’s Quaker Meeting House and its wooden benches will feel like the couldn’t be farther.”
I did indeed read over it in Ghana, on my last bumpy tro-tro ride to Ada. I had written in the spring, “It’s weird that now Kelvin is just someone I’ve been exchanging emails with, and in a couple months, he’ll be a real person I’m working with.”
As my eyes skimmed the words on the page, Kelvin was sitting right next to me. And now, I’m reading it here at home, about to leave for school again. Both Ghana and the CPGC retreat feel like a million years ago – or maybe just yesterday.
At the time, my journal was fresh, a shiny new black. Now it sits on the dining room table, wrinkled and falling apart. It has traveled to Ghana and back. Its gray pages are falling out. My tiny scribbles cover the green-lined pages; my students’ drawings claim a few.
It’s strange to me that my eight weeks are represented inside this journal. Where is my trip contained? Inside this little black book? In the photos on my computer and now on Facebook? On this very blog? In the notes on my computer that never made it to the blog? In my head? In the heads of all the friends I made and the people I interacted with? If I had to go and track down what I did, where would it be?
What has come out of my time and work? In the end, was it for them, or for me? That was my main question when I wrote my journal entry at the CPGC retreat: who am I really going to help, and who am I doing this for?
Maybe I thought I was going to Ghana to find answers or solutions. Instead, it has filled me with more questions. My task now, after I ponder, is to keep up my work.
When I was in Accra, my boss Kelvin let me work pretty much on my own schedule. One of my weeks was umm…more focused on hip life culture than on the JAC, you might say.
Hip life, which I mentioned in my last post, is a popular type of music in Ghana that combines traditional African high life and contemporary hip-hop. Artists rap in their local languages over African melodies mixed with hip-hop beats. If you hear a song by a Ghanaian artist on the radio, it’s probably hip life. Haverford prof Jesse Shipley is well known for his documentary Living the Hip Life, which I watched in Ruti Talmor’s African Masculinities class.
I was actually a little disappointed by hip life when I got to Ghana. What I read about it by Jesse and learned in my African Masculinities class was that the artists were forging a space for themselves, reclaiming their voices against the older generation. They generated a new form of expression and had real political influence. They swayed elections and were hired for important ad campaigns. From what I saw of hip life though, it was pretty much like American rap. It focused on money, cars, and girls, just with some Ghanaian words and beats. Don’t get me wrong, I love (love) Ghanaian music. When a car would go by blasting music, people in the street would spontaneously start dancing because the rhythms are so wonderful. It’s just that, most of the music was as ordinary as everything else. I think perhaps earlier hip life lyrics were more political, but as the style got more mainstream, so did the words.
Anyway, Jesse knows a lot of big hip life artists. One of his best friends is Reggie Rockstone, the “Godfather of hip life,” who started it all back in the 90s. Reggie is a legend in Ghana. He’s as famous as it gets. And of course, my friend Saskia who worked with Jesse knew him too, and Reggie thought she was just the greatest. He would text her at all hours of the night, but it was always an adventure to meet up with him. Read on…
When I was in Ada, I was always around welcoming people. As I walked down the road, everyone would greet me. Little kids would run out to say hello. I was constantly running into kids from school who would smile and shyly nod, “Miss Robin.” I knew plenty of people in the village, though they were either mostly younger students and older teachers, so I didn’t have any real contemporaries. But I was okay with that.
My first few nights at the hostel, I had a lot of “single-serving friends,” as Edward Norton says in Fight Club. There would be other girls in the room who would stay for a night or two. We might go out to eat or to a spot bar. Maybe we’d chat about the places we missed in the U.S. while drying out our hair or sharing the mirror. And then they would leave – they would go off to their flight, their village, or their internship assignment – and I would stay. The Salvation Army hostel is a place most people stay in for a night or two, but I was there for four weeks. For good.
There was Sugandi, a lady from Sri Lanka who was in the room too with her daughter Lisa (Lisaline). The poor lady had been in the hostel for nine months. She was waiting to get a visa to meet her husband in Paris. As far as I know, she’s still there. She keeps on going to the embassy, and they keep on telling her, “Two weeks.” Such a sad story, and such a kind lady. In the morning, she would make tea or Milo, a Ghanaian version of hot chocolate. Lisa would approach me and present the cup with a little smile. Sugandi could not be nicer, and Lisa could not be cuter. But I still didn’t have any friends. I knew a few locals through Kelvin or other guests at the hostel, but at least at that point, we weren’t that close. I didn’t have any girlfriends I could just chat with, grab a bite with, or easily relate to.
And then Annie came. Annie is from England. She has bright blond hair, a cheery smile, a great accent, and is one of the friendliest, silliest people I know.
When I walked into the room my first week there, after a long day at work and an evening at the beach with one of my local friends, I saw two new bags in the room. I didn’t bother making conversation beyond “hey what’s your name where are you from.” They would be gone the next day anyway.
But the next day came, and Annie was still there. “How long are you here for?” she asked as I set my bag down on my bed. “I saw they have a sign that says you can only stay for a week?”
I laughed bitterly. “Yeah, that’s not true. I’m here for four.”
“Really? That’s awesome. Cause I think I might be here for a while. I’m in Ghana til September and I haven’t worked out any other place to stay.”
My heart fluttered. Could I have a friend? At last?
We went out for gelato at Arlecchino’s that night (expensive, but so worth it). We laughed, gushed, and commiserated over Ghana. She was doing research on the effectiveness of volunteerism, having come back two years after being a volunteer herself. On the way back to the hostel, we ran into some of the guys who sell things on the street who had been bothering me for the past few days. I steeled my shoulders and got ready brush past them with, “No thank you, sir.” That’s when she greeted them with, “Hey, Calobash! Black Rasta! This is my friend Robin.” Our friendship was cemented.
And then Saskia came.
I was coming back late one Thursday after being at the village for the day. I climbed the steps to the second floor courtyard of the hostel, half-asleep. Suddenly a tall, elegant girl in blue slacks and a peasant top stopped me.
“Excuse me, are you Robin?”
“Yes,” I wrinkled my forehead, surprised.
“I am Saskia,” she said in a slight accent.
“Oh my God, Saskia, hey! Kelvin told me you might be coming.”
Saskia was my professor Jesse Shipley’s assistant, for Jesse’s documentary on the Black Stars. Jesse had called Kelvin because Saskia was looking for a place to stay, so Kelvin of course recommended the same place he’d suggested to me: the lovely Salvation Army hostel.
By a great stroke of luck, Saskia ended up in my room. We got to talking, and it turned out we shared a ton of interests: art, culture, hip life music, getting the local experience. Saskia is a student in Berlin writing her thesis on hip life – what Jesse’s work is on; a type of music in Ghana that combines traditional African high life with contemporary hip hop. Saskia models too, and she sure looks like one with her high cheekbones, long amber hair, and chic gray dresses.
Suddenly I had gone from no friends, to two. Saskia, Annie, and I made a team. In the morning, we would buy pineapple from the ladies on the street and walk over to Frankie’s café for a loaf of warm brioche. We would go out to spot bars at night, or during the day get taken around by Saskia’s Ghanaian friends. When I developed an allergic reaction to massive mosquito bites on my legs, they took me to the hospital and picked me up fried rice. When we would get back at any hour past 9 pm and Sugandi would have the lights off and door locked, we would knock on the door and cower outside together.
I had friends. Life was looking up.
I didn’t put in enough water at first, so I kept slowly adding it and it ended up kind of like risotto.
Gotta go eat it now, dinner with the Bagleys. Thanks for the recipe, Kelvin! Posts on Accra coming eventually, promise.