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

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

February 20, 2016, Bolgatanga

February 20, 2016. This afternoon at Bolgatanga Market, Ghana Saturdays, The everyday Bulga market
Bulges at the seams. 
Pools of shade, 
Cast from the market umbrellas,
Shelter the sellers,
But not the loan Canadian
Or all the African shoppers. 
Motor cycles and huge lories Attempt to navigate
Our crowded path. Pulled or pushed wagons,
Young men struggling to carry, Enormous sacks of grain, And the ever present,
Bowls balanced on heads.
Attempt to move the other way. 
In the shady patches,
Turbaned women, 
In jarring colourful outfits 
And aprons,
Sell onions, tomatoes, greens,
Charcoal, tyvek bags, Gourd bowls and tooth paste.
 The animals; Goats, cows, and pigs
Wander everywhere. The stench of dried telapia,
A small black flattened fish, Turns my obruni stomach. Some women spend the day, 
Bent at the waist,
Sifting grain, rice, corn and millet. 
Men operate a mechanized mill 
That churns and grinds. 
Babies cry. They are slid from backs To fronts and nursed. Hawkers cajole me To purchase yams.
Often I am flashed A glorious white smile, That lights up the dark face.
 The occasional old women Dances in front of me,
Blocking my way and demanding money.
 Experiencing the market, Is a huge blessing or
An enormous challenge. February 20, 2016, Bolgatanga Market, Ghana Saturdays, The everyday Bulga market Bulges at the seams. Pools of shade, Cast from the market umbrellas, Shelter the sellers, But not the loan Canadian Or all the African Shoppers. Motor cycles and huge lories Attempt to navigate Our crowded path. Pulled and pushed wagons, Young men struggling to carry Enormous sacks of grain, And the ever present Bowls balanced on heads Attempt to move the other way. In the sghady patches, Turaned women, In jarring colourful outfits And aprons, Sell onions tomatoes,greens, Charcoal, tyvek bags, Gourd bowls and tooth paste. The animals: Goats, cos and pigs, Wander everywhere. The stench of dried telapia, (A small black flattened fish), Turns my obruni stomach. Some women spend the day Bent at the waist, Sifting grain, rice, corn and millet. Men operate a mechanized mill That churns and grinds. Babies cry. They are slid from backs To fronts and nursed. Hawkers cajole me To purchse yams. Often I am flashed A glorious white smile, That lights up the dark face. The occasional old women Dances in front of me, Blocking my way And demanding money. Experiencing the market, Is a huge blessing or An enormous challenge

February 15, 2016, Mole National Park, Ghana

February 15, 2016. Mole National Park, Ghana Even the air seems to be holding it's breath.
 We feel soaked in the stillness. 
A low sun struggles to poke through
 The hazy hot sky.
 In the distance; from lighter to darker,
 Are bands of gray and brown foliage.
 The occasional tree stands over the rest, 
Not only taller, 
These sentinels are green.
 In the foreground; brown flatlands
 And two large water areas
 edged in bush. Gradually, we hear whistles and coos.
 Very tiny green birds play
 On the sides of tree trunks. 
Small rusty coloured birds 
Pop in and out of tree holes. 
A colourful red throated bird might be a parrot. 
Fly catchers do figure-eights. 
Herons and egrets swoop over the water. 
A rustle of foliage
Is caused by playing monkeys.
 Some groups of monkeys have small dark faces,
 Some carry black babies on their bellies and seem to wear
 Red jackets and fuzzy red toupees. 
Small spotted African deer and Guinean fowl
 Are just dots on the brown flatlands.
 A crocodile is a long dark shape
 Gliding through the water. 
Suddenly, we are surprised to find a deer 
Standing right beside us.
 Then a large baboon sneaks up 
And steals someone's sandwich.
We are not only watching But being watched. The arid heat is just as intense At 6 AM the next morning. Now five black elephants Play and bath in the pond. Only when the 7 AM walking tour Gets too close, 
Do they give up their frolicking,
 And plod in a line up the bank and into the bush. 
On their way, they scoop up dirt
 And shower it on themselves. Their glistening black bodies turn brown.
Once the elephants have disappeared, 
We again delight in the birds
 The African chipmunks, the tiny lizards,
 The monkeys and the deer. One distant black dot seems larger and closer 
To the ground than a deer; 
A pointed snout on a huge head,
 Two small tusks, 
Big eyes and prominent whiskers. 
We realize that we are seeing 
Our first wart hog in the wild.
Later as we sit reading and writing, 
Both monkeys and warthogs surprise and delight us
 When they appear within a few feet of us. In the afternoon, we join a safari tour. 
As I climb up into the old decrepit landrover,
 I remember our landrover, "Cranberry; 
Landrovers have aluminum bodies that never rust. Unfortunately everything else on them 
Often refuses to latch or work,
 This landrover is no exception. 
As we bump and grind over a rocky trail, 
Our armed guide answers questions: 
All of the deer we have seen
 Are really one of the seven species 
 Of antelope that live in Mole Park. 
Mole Park is 4500 square kilometres
 And was started in 1971. 
There are four species of monkeys.

Our African chipmunk is really an African squirrel.
 Mongoose are smaller than I imagined. 
So are the crocodiles.
 Although there are lions and other large cats in the park,
 It is very unlikely that we will see one.
 The same goes for all the poisonous snakes.
 The beautiful bright green bird,
 That I keep photographing,
 Is a red throated bee eater. Eventually, we spy one lone elephant. We climb down from our land rover And gingerly traverse the hundreds of rough elephant footprints From the rainy season that are now cement hard. When I think we are about 25 meters from our elephant, Our guide advises us to never get closer than 50 meters. I take dozens of photos of our elephant hidden in the bush; An ear, a trunk, a tail, a tusk. Suddenly our elephant steps out of the bushes. His ears flap back and forth. His truck swings in front tasting the air. We lock eyes. I make sure I get one great photo, Before I leave him be.

February 13. 2016 Tomale in the north of Ghana

February 13, 2016 Tomale in the north of Ghana A bedlam of hawkers, 
All of their shops on their heads,
 Lean into tro tro windows;
 Hoping to catch an eye, 
Hoping to make a sale.
 Narrow blue styrafoam coolers Hold packaged cold goods.
 Wooden boxes with glass sides,
 Hold delicious sweet deep-fried donut balls 
And their look a likes; 
Dry tasteless cake balls.
 Huge bowls hold
 Apples, grapes, chewing gum, shoelaces
 Or the very essential bags of drinking water. 
Large flat aluminum platters 
Display eggs, onions or pot scrubbers. 
Large stacks of colourful fabric
 Are carried directly on the tops of heads. The noise of the tro tro station is a cacophony. 
Loud speakers proselytize or advertise.
 At one point, the tro tro loaders,
 Try to jam a fourth person in my row. 
Fortunately, we can't be squished enough.
 Jim has a seat in the back.
 They did manage to squeeze four in his row. 
Behind him, the back hatch is tied against the luggage 
To stop it from spilling out.
 The tro tro is finally declared full, 
And the side door is slid shut. All of the luggage fellows
 And all available men with strong backs
 Struggle to push our overloaded tro tro up hill. 
When they finally succeed in moving us 
Forward about 5 metres, 
Our driver rolls us in reverse, 
Pops the clutch and starts the engine.
 We are off. The young woman on my left reads her bible. 
The muslin man on my right listens 
 To something on headphones.
 I too pull out my head phones, 
And tune into BBC world book club
 To block out the loud incessant rap music
 Blaring from the sound system in the tro tro. We join the traffic;
 Open trucks crammed with people
 Going to work in the bush,
 Motor cycles carrying men with rifles And several dogs. 
Burnt out vehicles litter the roadside. 
It would appear that wherever they breakdown or crash
 They are abandoned.
 Bit by bit,
 They are relieved of anything saleable. The land is parched, brown and lifeless.
 Most of the trees are leafless.
 Occasionally, large African trees
Loom over everything, 
And demand to be admired. 
Sometimes black bee hives cling to tree trunks 
Or tree branches support numerous, 
Little basket-like nests 
Woven by the weaver birds. On the road sides, we also see
 Hugh piles of bagged charcoal
 Or piles of twisted tree branches, 
Ready to be made into charcoal.
 Whenever we are near a village, 
Bits of black plastic garbage bag litter the ground.
 Tiny goats and skinny brahma cattle 
Eek out a living on what greenery they can find
 And the garbage. The villages in northern Ghana,
 Have round buildings; 
Unpainted adobe with thatched roofs. 
Each dwelling has more than one round hut; 
One for sleeping, one for animals, one for storage. 
Cooking is done outside in a black iron pot 
 Set on three stones over an open fire. 
A waist high bamboo screen
 Provides some privacy for bathing. 
In only one village did we see outhouses, Probably gifts from an NGO.
 The women and kids are usually gathered 
Around the community well.
 Everyone takes their turn pumping 
 The long heavy iron handle up and down. 
A cold shop, usually with no cold facility, 
Is a shaded table where meat is 
Chopped up with a clever and sold.
 Chickens are sold alive,
 And are carried in a large woven basket
 That is ironically egg shaped. 
Elaborate displays of yams and occasionally cabbage 
Are the available produce in this area.
 Gone are the pristine colourful roadside arrangements of
 Tomatoes, pears and pineapples
 That we saw in Southern Ghana. Sometimes old men play a game of draughts 
Or nap on benches in the shade. 
Most villages have a school,
 Always rectangular, with a tin roof 
And with a flag pole.
 Schools are painted a dull yellow and red. 
And school uniforms are often yellow shirts
 And dark shorts or skirts. The mosques are also painted, But in bright glorious yellows, blues, greens and pinks. Their trim is white and elaborate. A metal star and moon graces the minarets. The mosques appear to be loved. Though much of the village Appears brown and destitute, The mosques radiate hope.

February 9, Abetemin, Ghana

February 9, Abetemin, Ghana One day a week the villagers of Abetemin volunteer to help work on the schools! A few years ago they finished a junior high school so the villages children now are in school three years longer. Here the villagers are helping finish the new primary 1 and 2 school. It is already being used. 79 students and one teacher who must be a saint! 
Jim and I met with the village chief when we arrived in the village and before we left. I gave his mother, also a special person, one of Danica's necklaces. There can be no photos of the chief unless he is dressed in his royal attire.
And here is one short word picture
 Word picture A half dozen,
 Tiny black children with lively eyes 
And large white grins,
 Play, wrestle, shout and shove
 For an hour 
In the dirt around my feet. 
Their heads are all shaved short. 
But I can tell the girls from the boys 
By their clothing;
 Little boxy dresses, or shorts.
 They call me " obruni".
 And beg for my empty water bottles;
 Toys to drum on, throw and kick. 
One small girl, 
maybe a year and a half old,
 Who has never before
 Walked on a plank over a ditch 
Manages this feat, 
No longer will she be carried on someone's back,
 She is now one of the gang. 
Maybe the gang has three year old in charge 
But maybe not.

February 8. 2016 Abetenim, Ghana

February 8 Abetenim, Ghana I am writing this to a background noise of a Pentecostal crusade. My thoughts about all this energy being used to drum up religious fervour has already been alluded to. Saturday, I spent most of the day, trying to ignore all the kids around me while I designed the mural for the women's sewing co op. Our only table and chairs are outside so there was no hiding away. The kids desperately wanted my attention and to try my paints. They blew their horns in my face, leaned into me, pushed and shoved and made their little brothers cry so I would stop and pick them up and console them.They were just being kids, but I had to get this mural design done. I am amazed at the toys the kids have made. A six foot long stick has a home made wheel nailed to the bottom, a small stick nailed to the top and it is "driven" everywhere. The remains of an old bicycle, that still has one front wheel provides hours of fun. A bike rim is rolled with a stick. Old rubber tires are rolled. Tiny plastic tubes, that could easily be choked on, make whistles. I am reminded of the kids in South America using old balloon bits as chewing gum. Here, I saw a little kid chewing on a plastic sandal. Any old piece of cardboard can be rolled into a horn and any pot or container can be drummed on. We had borrowed the only meter stick in town from the school to measure our ten meter mural wall so I made a tiny paper ruler to be able to scale up the drawings. By late afternoon, I had colour drawings and the gridded base drawings done. We walked into the centre of the village where the building is. The new stucco seemed dry, so I started in drawing on it. New stucco eats pencil lead. Jim and I have never sharpened so many pencils into nothingness. There is only a narrow, uneven rim around the base of our wall and then the land slopes steeply down. Drawing and painting is tough. You definitely can't step back to look at it. Yesterday, we headed to the mural site bright and early to get a full day of work in. Jim was put to work painting as well. We were very surprised when at 9 AM people started arriving for their 9:30 church service in the co op building! I was just hoping that someone had approved our mural work while this is still a church. Once the service was in full swing, we thought it prudent to stop work until.the service was over at noon. When we resumed work, I kept throwing up, so by 2:30 we had to quit. I thought maybe it was hunger because breakfast was just cake and pineapple. I am taking lots of new pills including the malaria pills, so I had some lunch hoping I would feel better. No luck here, I continued to throw up for the next 15 hours! And then the terrible runs started and a terrific headache. We are well stocked with pills for almost everything but Jim was worried and with out asking me, a doctor was called this morning. Yes, doctors still do house calls. The doctor diagnosed food poisoning and prescribed rest and liquids. This mural is a huge project. It is something I have never done before and it is certainly something that was not in Jim's travel plans. Our time here will no doubt be the highlight of my trip. When ever I am away and sick, I am reminded of what a great fellow I am married to. He still loves me when I am feverish, cranky, barfing and have the runs! By lunch time, I felt that I had to get some work done, so off we set. Unfortunately, this time it was Jim who had to go back and lay down. Believe me, I felt like joining him but I stuck it out until 5:45 when I quit and walked back. It suddenly gets dark here at 6 pm. I definitely am not up to eating anything yet but I did manage a half bottle of a cold beer. It is hard enough to be in this strange environment when you are feeling well. When you are sick, everything is much harder and we have it easy compared to the locals.. We don't have to haul our own water, or cook over an open fire. We watch everyone hauling large buckets of water on their heads, morning noon and night. The school kids drop off their buckets on the way to school so when the day is over they can fill them and carry them home on their heads. The stream is somewhere down the hill in the woods. We get three buckets of water delivered to our bathroom every day. Quite often, we have power and then we have running water to our bathroom! The schools, including the new Junior High, don't have any bathrooms, just a very rustic shed with a hole in the ground. I appreciate water like I never have before. We are also the lucky ones in that we can afford to buy drinking water. We ran out today and I was so dry that I drank my first bagged drinking water, instead of a distilled bottle. It was cold and delicious but may come back to haunt me.

February 2, 2016, Kumasi, Ghana

February 2, 2016, Kumasi, Ghana We are checked into a rundown hotel with internet in Ghana's second largest city but haven' t actually had any success hooking into the network. My apologies to all of you who are taking this trip with us vicariously. I will post when I am able. Kumasi is a very busy city, teeming with smog, taxis, tro-tros and people. Since sellers take up what space there is along side the roads and the roads are all edged with huge open ditches, all of the delivery people, with wares on their heads, and all of the pedestrians are on the road dodging traffic. In cases where the traffic is gridlocked, it is quite safe. Today, we had several close calls. In one case, we and a few others, dodged into a woman's used clothing display to avoid being hit. Luckily she was quite nice about it. Since I am only able to take an hour or so in this overwhelming noise, heat and confusion, Jim and I have to regularly find a place in the shade selling cold beer. At the first of this trip, we each always ordered a giant beer. Now since I seem to require so many escapes from the reality of Africa, we just share one large cold Club beer, so that we can enjoy several escapes in a day. I don't even like beer at home, but here it tastes clean, cold, safe, quiet and absolutely delicious. In India, we noticed the huge loads of stuff on the motorcycles and trucks. Here in Ghana, I am amazed at the huge loads carried on the tops of heads. We have seen sewing machines, big barrels, loads of disposable diapers, building materials, fire wood, refridgerators,, suitcases as well as the usual loads of food, water, pot scrubbers and shoe laces. I have many many photos of people (mostly women) with babies tied onto their backs and loads on their heads. I haven't managed to make any sense of the viability of most of the small businesses. How many pairs of second hand shoes, old towels or pot scrubbers, would a person sell in a day?
I also don't know if the proliferation of Christian churches provides enough value for the money and time invested. We were in a small villages, last Sunday, when the many many churches were literally competing with each other to see who could broadcast the most noise. All of the churches have their own schools as well and instead of building cohesive communities, I have the feeling that these churches are divisive. It appears that allot of church hype comes from outside of Ghana. We have seen bill boards offering "Nights of Bliss", or " Miracles, Healing and Salvation" put on by foreign evangelists in huge stadiums. The majority of all of the small shops have Christian names; "Our Faith in God Car Repairs", "Rosary Radiators", "Only Prayer, Furniture and Construction", Anointed Peace and Love, Fish and Fashion". I initially thought the names were a bit funny, but now I feel sad that the historic African culture has been so compromised. The Ghanian people are certainly it's biggest asset. They are very friendly bunch of people. We have only seen a few other "obrunis" (white guys) since we arrived three weeks ago. Almost everyone greets us, welcomes us, smiles at us and tries to be helpful, even if sometimes they have no idea what we are asking or where we might want to go.