Nova Scotia Artist, Joy Laking, posts ramblings while she's travelling and painting in South America.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Friday January 22

Friday, January 22

"Dawn on the Volta"

After a restless night worrying about missing our 5 AM alarm,
It is finally 5 AM.
Dressed and packed, we are out to the main door.
Only to find that we are securely locked in.
Luckily we find a back door with a key in it.

The early morning is hot and black.
The sky is filled with stars.
We head toward the occasional street lamp 
That casts an eery glow on shuttered shops and palms.
I swing my head lamp,
To help the weaving motorcycles avoid us.
Roosters crow.
They know that dawn is soon.

Our hands and backs are laden with our packs
And extra water.
By the time we arrive at the ferry dock,
We are drenched in sweat.
I use the inside of my hat
To mop up the small river running off my forehead and nose.

We depart Ada Foah
As the sky lightens.
The Volta is hazy with smoke.
Riverside, people are soaping up and washing.
Women hitch up their wraps and wade into the river.
They half-fill enormous water
And then heave them up onto their heads.
With a smaller bucket, 
They scoop water to completely fill the big bucket.
Men put tiny fish into  small wooden basket traps and
Set off paddling in long narrow wooden boats.
Sometimes one man paddles from the stern
And another stands midship with a dip net.
Kids naked, or wearing underwear, school uniforms or
Occasionally a white party dress
(Are these cast offs from first communions?)
Work and play and wave.
When we wave back to them,
Huge toothy grins light up their faces.

The ferry rumbles and lumbers from one side
Of the estuary to the other,
Pulling into beaches and picking up
Loaves of bread, baskets of grain,
Plastic PCV pipe and people.

The river side is low and lush.
Narrow openings in the green,
Lead to sandy brown paths.
Clusters of houses are
Made of dried adobe blocks
With plastic-patched thatched roofs.
Fences, adobe or woven sticks,
Are usually festooned with colourful washing.
Smoke houses sit like statues of giant woven baskets.
Everywhere there are big piles of broken shells.
The community gathers In the shade,
Waiting for the ferry.
Chickens and children seem oblivious to the heat
And peck and play in the full sun.
As soon as the ferry leaves a beach,
We are surrounded by islands of
Water hyacinth,
Lush and green
With beautiful pale mauve flowers.
There are areas of lily pads
Supporting gigantic white lily flowers,
And patches of yellow flowered duck weed,
 Dense enough to support the strutting 
Of small rusty orange shorebirds.
The egrets, hawks and kingfishers,
Look down from the occasional majestic kapok or banban tree
That towers above the palms.
Or they perch closer to the water on 
The  floating blue and red painted oil drums
That are used to contain the day's catch.

After nine hours of watching riverside,
Jim and I decide to have a game of rummy.
Immediate other passengers join us.
We modify the game to suit four players .
We play numerous single hand games and after 
Everyone has won at least game.
We play the grand championship round.
It is amazing how card playing transcends language.

We watch the sun go down.
Before we are in total darkness,
We lug our stuff and ourselves
To the lower deck.

At 7 pm in total darkness
We pull into a beach.
We can see the lights of Akuse
In the far distance.

I am struggling with my bags,
When one of the boatmen
Hollers at me to put the big one
On my back. 
I protest that the straps aren't good.
I don't admit that I can't climb
The higgillypiggilly steps
(Or any steps)
With my heavy pack on.

 An older woman takes pity on me
And leads the way.
Somehow I make it to top
And then I can drag my heavy bag
On the sandy path.
My headlamp and Jim's are the only lights.

Eventually, we arrive at a road.
There are motor cycles waiting to give rides.
Jim gets on behind one man.
I get on behind another.
Someone lifts my heavy bag 
Onto my drivers arms.
I wrap my arms loosely 
Around his narrow waste
And prepare to clutch him
For all I am worth,
If I need to.

Eventually we arrive Akuse
And are taken to the
Volta River Authority guest house.
The man tells us we can not stay.
We do not have reservations.
I wonder what on earth I am doing
In Africa at night with no place to stay.
I plead; it is dark,
We are from Canada, we are old,
I am an artist.
Eventually he calls someone
Who calls someone else,
And we finally get a key.
By now our motorcycles have left.
Two men, Sherif and MacDavis,
Who just happen to be hanging out
Drive us to our lodging.
Sherif gives us water and beer
And refuses money.
They take us to the club house,
Where I am hopeful that they will serve food.
Instead we share beer and stories,
With our new friends.
The day ends with me thinking
How lucky I am to be in Africa,


Jan 19, Ada Foah, Ghana

January 19, Ada Foah, Ghana

This word picture was written by the two of us while enjoying cold beer! 

Jim: In Africa,  thank god for cold beer.
        I'm married to an artist.
        One is important to survive the other.

Joy: The adobe huts are brown and dusty.
        People mend nets, bath and cook.
        I smile, say hello and soak it all in.

Jim: My mother never made it to Africa.
        My father never made it to Africa.
        My mother and father never drank cold beer.

Joy: Jim: Don't wreck that map.
                Why are you carrying your pack?
                What are you putting on sun screen for!
        Joy: I am sorry.

Jim: Walking on the dirt road by fishing huts,
        Wobbly legs, heat stroke coming.
        "All inclusive". - cold beer

Joy: A  buzzard circles overhead.
        We are old enough to be fodder
        Yet we savour the miracle of here.

Jim: Kelsey, Danica and Yolande like cold beer.
        Jeffrey, Alex and Bryan like cold beer.
         Would any of them like Africa?

Joy: "Tempt not your god fashions"
        "Wait upon The Lord beauty salon"
         "Annointed Peace and love; fish and fashion"
         Is death the only way to an easier life?

Jim: Obruni in Ghana,
        Black man in Canada.
        Both like old beer.

Joy: The setting is safe and shady.
        There is more cold beer.
        We are sucking up courage to return to heat stroke.

Jim: Is the black man from Canada
        An Obruni
        When he drinks cold beer in Ghana?

Thursday january 21

Thursday January 21, 2016

Fourty years ago today since my Mom died. She would have loved to know that I made it to Africa. Jim and I  toasted her with cold beer!

A couple of days ago we met Rachel Garbury, and Dyalla Popatia, fellow Canadians on a street in Ada Foah. Rachel noted Jim's Blue Jays tee shirt and before you could blink, we were invited to supper last night with Auntie Emily and Matt Howard, Rachel's partner. It was an absolute delight. We took the beer and they made a marvellous Ghanian meal. Banku is a fermented dough of casavaha and corn, dipped into a fresh fish stew and eaten communally with clean fingers on the right hand. Just what we needed was an introduction to eating Ghanian style. We also had rice and stir fried veggies, and great conversation. This morning we visited the community radio station where both Rachel and Dyalla are working.  It is a marvellous project for community development and social change.

Yesterday we also had a couple of hours at the market. I love one of the sketches I did of an older broom selling women. It is loose in style and captures "her". Hopefully I have enough material to do something further with this image.

Yesterday, we also did a boat trip around the Volta Estuary and the mangrove swamps. It was hard to get our boat people to skip the crocodiles in captivity, the gin making and all the other sales gimmicks but somehow we managed. I got the great photo of the school girl in the water, showing her joy that school was out for the day. 

Taxis are all shared and it is interesting to be in a full car and then fit in three more people. The high light for me was that I  got to hold the beautiful sleeping black baby!

Late this afternoon, we walked in the huge heat to coco loco beach resort. It didn't look like this place had been open in a long time.  Jim and I are thinking that we are the only tourists here.I  tried to order something to eat, with no luck. We tried to get a ride back to Ado Foah with no luck. But we did have a beer! On the way walking back, I managed to flag down a motorcycle. As I arrived back, I was worried about leaving Jim so I  gave the motorcycle driver 10 cidis and asked him to go back for Jim which he did.  Jim paid him too so the motorcycle man was happy and Jim and I relived the motorcycle rides of our youth. We were happy.

Tomorrow, we are up at 5 am to walk to the ferry up the Volta. Every day is an adventure.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

January 18

January 18, Ada Faoh, Ghana.

Word Picture
At the Trotro Station in Accra

Sweating in a hot old van,
We wait for every seat to be filled.
Outside, amid the smell and noise of idling engines
Colours collide and swirl.
Many bare brown feet
And strong dark legs
Support  bottoms that are round and prominent.
The money aprons are hung around thrust-forward bellies.
A jarring print cloth wraps around the breasts,
Like a cummerbund
And tie tiny babies securely
To their mothers arched backs.
Proud shoulders support
Long regal necks.
Faces are broad and dark,
With big white smiles.
Lively eyes dart everywhere,
Searching for a nod of interest.
Cloth rings on the top of heads,
Balance large metal trays, huge aluminum bowls,
And glass-sided wooden boxes.
These are the "shops" that dance  around at eye level.
Almost anything you can imagine is available for sale:
Q-tips, matches, deodorant,
Mens boxer shorts, shoe laces,
Cold bags of water and bottles of pop,
Meat pies,  fried tofu, 
Crackers, cookies,
Chewing gum, computer cables
And smutty books.
All it takes is a wink of an eye, 
And one Ghanian cedi.

January 18

Word Picture
On the Trotro to Ada Foah

The Trotro bumps and rattles along
The dusty rough gravel road,
With its' occasional patches of pavement.
Clutters of windowless adobe houses with thatched roofs
Are a run with goats, chickens and small children.
Men wield pick axes, 
Nap  on benches,
Or play road side checkers
Under woven grass shades.
Women wash, and cook.
They tend children and farm.
Their skinny brahma cattle eek out a living
On the flat parched land.
Smoke from burning grass fills the air.
A billboard offers a herbal miracle cure for asthma.
Dry ploughed fields
Are brown and empty
Except for intricate ant hills the size of houses.
Suddenly there is a splash 
Of road side colour.
Baskets of
Rich burgundy onions,
Sizzling red tomatoes
And glowing yellow melons,
Are  crops for sale
From a rare irrigated patch of land.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Saturday, January 16, Accra, Ghana

Saturday, January 16, Accra, Ghana

Having had two days in Accra, I felt I was now comfortable enough to sit out and paint. Jim walked me back to the shop where I had done all the little portraits on day one. The first thing that caught my eye was a stack of large empty blue water bottles with red caps. I set to work on a sketch as they were loaded one by one onto a truck. For my next sketch, I noticed the colours and shine on the glass pop bottles and their metal caps.  I can feel the influence of the recent studio silver still life's; I am looking for the little details within instead of the bigger picture.i am loving the oh too familiar logos of Pepsi, Coke, Nestles, Fanta. Now that a entire day has been spent on a quarter sheet watercolour of these pop bottles, I am already anticipating doing  a large, super realism studio  oil painting when we get home.

A new game was invented while I was sitting on the street painting today. Three tiny children were wrestling very very close to me. I kept anticipating that one would land on my lap. Often they completely blocked my view. Then I would wave them aside and when they obliged I said "Thank-you".  Suddenly they were jumping into my view, waving  madly, jumping aside and then shouting "Thank-you" over and over and over again.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Friday January 15 Ghana

Today, Jim woke me early. Seems his biological clock is already on a Ghanaian time. For me it was 3:30 AM., toooo early!  After  breakfast,  we caught a cab into the centre of the old town and the State building. The head office for tourism was supposed to be behind the State building. The security police had a long animated chat about where the tourism office was. Eventually two of them drove us there. Definitely the tourism office doesn't often get a tourist. One brochure from 2012 was  marked do not take. Then Jim and  walked to the national museum. It doesn't really operate either. So we each had a beer in the museums shady restaurant. Then we walked to the museum of science and technology. We paid our 10 CDs and a guide showed us a phonograph, a television, a film projector, none of which were made in Ghana. We also saw the first tire made in Ghana in 1967 and a small stone from the moon.  Then more walking in huge heat and we finally found the Ghanaian cultural centre. We found that it also does not operate  but there were a zillion stalls selling drums, paintings, carving. Everyone was disappointed as I refused to buy anything and have to lug it for the next two month. I did get a great drumming lesson and stuff got cheaper and cheaper as I balked at paying 200 CDs for a tiny painting that  I didn't like. Finally I gave Isaac five CDs for the drumming lesson and escaped and found Jim. We did have a good lunch and more beer in the cultural restaurant. Then we started walking again. We could see the water behind a huge garbage dump and Jim asked me if I  wanted to go down the alley to see it. Of course I did. In the alley was a large group of partying people, mostly women, dressed in their finest, drinking beer. A woman  asked us to join them. So of course we did. It was a wake for their "uncle" Daniel, aged 57 a beloved business man. I gave Joyce (her Christian name, African name is something like jobaha) the necklace of Danica's that I was wearing and drew her picture for her. Just even seeing the food and how it was eaten was interesting First of all soap and water for hand washing. Then everyone got a bowl of veggies or fish and another ball of some doughy stuff. With the fingers the doughy stuff is picked up and then it is pitched around some of the fish or veggies. The casket went paraded by and we allied cheered Daniel. A day that started off sort of dismal, ended up being wonderful. I am left wondering how you raise a nation to be truly friendly instead of afraid of strangers.

Thursday, January 14, Accra, Ghana, Africa

After a long deep sleep, 
I wake suddenly
Surprised that I am in Africa.
From a window,
I listen to the coos of pigeons, 
The screeches of parrots, 
The trills and whistles of a dozen little nameless birds,
Against a background of yipping dogs and playing kids.
A school bus rumbles to a stop in the rough dusty street.
It inhales clean black children 
Wearing uniforms in magentas, mauve sand blues.

Jim and I slide open two big metal hasps
On the gate in our wall
And join the ruckus.
We step over the
Open sewers that runs along the road's edges.
We dodge traffic with
Hens, chicks, and tiny puppies.
The gated adobe walls, mostly white,
Are topped with sharp metal blades, barbed wire, electric fence, shards of glass
And occasionally azaleas or bougainvillia.
Women stride to work,
Draped  in flowing cotton
That is colourfully block printed or batiked.
Their posture is ramrod straight.
Their shops are carried on their heads;
Huge bowls or baskets of bananas, eggs, or plastic juice bottles.
A stool or a baby is tied
On their backs.
One of their hands occasionally steadies the load on the head, 
The other carries a money bucket,
Or drags along a child.

The next street is lined with metal shops,
Some are still locked shut
Others sell water, tins of soup,
Flour, crisps, rice,
Long yellow bars of soap,
And nameless square items
Wrapped in leaves.
Other shops offer ironing, washing
Sewing , car repairs, or telephones.

One moment we are choking on the smell of burning tires 
The next moment, 
Our noses are lured to the stalls
Where delicious spiced plantain is being deep fried.

By eleven, the temperature is very hot.
We discuss having a beer.
Immediately a shop girl sets up rusty iron chairs,
A battered table 
And brings us two sweating cold beers.
I begin sketching;
First, the two sewers, 
Hand turning their machines
In the shop next door.
Then the helpful exuberant  Rita,
Then Grace and Michael.
After a not too heavy wall gets blown over
And whacks me on the head, 
I insist on stopping .
Joy's Blessing is still hopeful.
With a name like that,
Of course, I paint her too.

I drain my beer, 
Pack up my paints,
And we go next door to the sewers.
We choose the fabric, get measured
And our African shirts will be delivered to us on Saturday.

Ghana, Africa January 15, 2016