Author: Heather Rosser
Ghana Re-visited June 2019
It was twilight as we approached Kpando. Looking intently out of the window of our people carrier I tried to recognise landmarks from my time as a VSO teacher fifty two years earlier. Then, I had travelled alone by bus the 120 miles from Accra. This time I was travelling with Adrian, who I had met during that momentous year in Ghana, our youngest daughter Alyrene and Clemence.
I had some idea of what to expect because Adrian had been back in 2009 and 2010 to work on a project building toilets in the village of Tafi Atome. In recognition for his contribution he was made a Development Chief of the village. He remained good friends with Clemence, the chief builder on the project, who later asked Adrian if he would help raise money to build toilets in his own village. Adrian had spent the past two weeks working with Clemence and volunteers in Alavanyo and I was eager to meet his new friends as well as take a trip down Memory Lane, revisiting places we had known in the Volta Region.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that Kpando had more than tripled in size since I lived there. Then, light came from tilly lamps and small fires used for cooking, although schools and the hospital had generators. Now the Akosombo Dam, which we had passed earlier when we crossed the River Volta, provides electricity throughout Ghana and even the villages have street lights. As we reached Kpando town centre we found it blocked by people in brightly coloured clothes singing, clapping and dancing. Our driver told us it was a funeral procession and turned into a side street which led us out of the town. Twenty minutes later we came to a village with people chatting to vendors sitting outside their small shops and bars at the roadside. Then we turned down a bumpy track and everything was dark.
We came to a halt and I saw a white-robed figure coming out of the darkness towards us. He held his hands together in welcome before helping me out of the vehicle and I realised we had arrived in Alavanyo. Adrian and Clemence began unloading the luggage and the young man, Kokouvi, took my hand and helped me negotiate a ditch via a couple of wobbly planks and led me to the house ahead. Lights in the house came on and as we went up some steps to the veranda a young woman came to welcome us. She introduced herself as Sena, the teacher who rented the other half of the house, and by the end of the week she and Alyrene in particular were firm friends.
After our things were safely in the house we went to Clemence’s brother’s house for dinner. This entailed negotiating the ditch again but Kokouvi was there to help. Christian and his wife, Davi, live nearby although the darkness made it seem further. Adrian had eaten there every night since his arrival but for the rest of our stay Clemence and Kokouvi collected the food that Davi cooked and brought it to our house which had a large table and more chairs. Both lunch and dinner consisted of stew made from a mixture of chicken, fish and vegetables. These were served with yam, cocoyam, cassava, or sweet potatoes pounded into a glutinous dough. At the beginning of each meal, water for hand washing is passed round the table because Ghanaian etiquette is to scoop the dough with one’s fingers and dip it into the stew.
The following morning we walked back along the rough sandy track to the toilet block near the centre of the village. It had rained a lot in the previous two weeks which had made progress slow but, despite it being Saturday, there were a couple of people working and Adrian was optimistic about the project’s completion before we left. The temperature was about 33 degrees and the humidity around 90 per cent and I was impressed that Adrian had been working in those conditions since leaving England.
We returned to the house to get ready for our overnight stay in Tafi Atome. We hired a taxi for the weekend and drove south west towards the border with Togo. Since his last visit Adrian had kept in touch with Francis Asumah, the village youth leader. We drove straight to the compound where we met members of his family including a small grandson covered in soap suds while his mother bathed him vigorously in a tub outside. Previously Adrian had helped set up a small library and we had been delighted when we heard that an American organisation had funded a new purpose-built library with computers as well as books. We told Francis that we had brought a case of books and he said we should donate them to the Chief when he welcomed us officially the next day.
Francis then accompanied us to our accommodation on the edge of the village, a newly built house very similar to the one in Alavanyo. News of our arrival had spread and it wasn’t long before we had visitors. On Adrian’s previous visit he had helped Mary, a very young mother, whose baby Grace, had a bad dose of malaria. Grace was now a thriving ten year old with a baby sister.
In the afternoon Clemence took us to see the toilet block and visit some of the Elders. Adrian was sad to hear that several of the people he had worked with on his last visit had passed away. We then visited the monkey sanctuary. This had been established in 1993 to protect monkeys in the forest being killed for food. People were happy to change their ways because the monkeys were part of their heritage. Since then the monkey population and other wildlife has increased. This has brought income to the village through tourism. The Elders refused permission for a private hotel to be built within the village, instead offering homestay accommodation themselves. It was cooler in the forest and we had a magical time watching the monkeys, many with babies, leaping from tree to tree. They are inquisitive and always on the look-out for food; one monkey appeared quite at home sitting on Alyrene’s shoulder.
It was still hot when we returned to the main street and headed towards one of the bars. As we walked, Adrian was greeted by several people he had known from his previous visits, including Laurence a thin elderly man who walked with a makeshift stick he had cut from a tree. Seeing that I also had a walking stick, he told me that he needed a hip replacement but it was too expensive. He was obviously in pain and I offered him a paracetamol. When we met again the following day he told me that he had slept well but paracetamol were not easily available in the village. I gave him the few tablets I had with me with instructions to use them sparingly.
Before we reached the bar we stopped at a compound and watched two children, barely in their teens, with their heads bent as they wove strips of brightly coloured kente cloth on a loom.
The bar was crowded with Saturday revellers and we sat under a shelter outside. Children playing nearby began to tiptoe towards us. Alyrene started blowing bubbles from the bubble mixture she had brought with her and we soon had a small crowd of children eager for their turn to blow bubbles for their friends to catch.
We had been invited for an evening of story-telling after supper but as it began to rain heavily it was cancelled and had an early night ahead of meeting the Chief and village Elders in the morning. When we arrived at the meeting place we were asked to sit on white plastic chairs facing the Chief, Elders and Queen Mothers. The Chief and one of the Elders were wearing traditional Ghanaian full length patterned cloth slung over one shoulder. The three Queen Mothers present wore brightly coloured wrappers and tops with colourful headscarves wrapped around their heads. Francis formally introduced us then a spokesperson welcomed us to the village and talked about the contribution Adrian had made. He welcomed myself and Alyrene and said that they had decided to bestow me the honour of becoming a Queen Mother and Alyrene a Princess. All three of us were then given armbands woven from wool and feathers to signify our status in the village. Then we were asked to take our places next to the Elders and were each asked to say a few words. We then presented them with the books we had brought for the library. They were particularly pleased to have signed copies of my own books. The proceedings ended with the Chief saying that we were now members of the community and would be given a piece of land on which to build a house for us and our family to stay in whenever we returned to the village to help with further projects.
As we drove to our next destination I pondered the responsibilities that had been given to us. An hour later we were in Ho, the provincial capital of the region where Clemence’s family lives. At 43, Clemence is the youngest of ten children and we stopped first to meet his eldest brother Philip and family. Philip has recently retired as an English teacher at the Catholic girls’ school which I knew from visiting an English friend who was teaching there in the sixties. He came with us to Clemence’s house where we were greeted enthusiastically by his wife, Patience, and their two sons, ten year old Joel and two year old Adrian, named after Adrian who is his godfather. We also met Patience’s sister who looks after Adrian when Patience is working at the local school. After the formality of Tafi earlier that day it was relaxing to sit in their small sitting room and chatting, often interrupted by young Adrian’s antics.
We were quiet on the drive back to Alavanyo taking in everything we had seen and done since our arrival in Ghana and contemplating the week ahead.