Arriving in Africa:
December 2012: So been in Africa a week and haven’t yet posted yet…sorry.
First thing to say: Gina and Sam are amazing. They had no real idea what was coming (Africa isn’t something you can really be prepared for in words – you just have to come and experience it) and have taken it all in their stride.
The taxi trip to our accommodation from the airport after a very long journey was like a cross between Mad Max and some money grabbing VT from Comic Relief – passing real poverty and chaos on the side of the road in real sticky tropical heat. All we needed was Lenny Henry in tears and people would all have donated big time. We didn’t have an address or a phone number for our accommodation just the phrase “opposite the chief’s house” as directions to find where we were staying. Anyway we found it easily and the accommodation is basic but good.
Ironically our last experience of UK life was someone killing themself on the train line south causing our train to be cancelled and thus the ensuing overcrowding mayhem. This meant the trip south was as chaotic and overcrowded as any travel experience I have had in the third world……
Actually you get very used to the ramshackle houses and shops and mess in Africa very fast. People just live out in the open and create a huge mess unapologetically, but there is something so connected about it all underneath the surface – a surface which is very shocking for us initially – that there are all these other layers it takes time to see and it stops looking like poverty and starts looking like something else.
But initially it is very very in your face. Of course there is real poverty, deprivation, and suffering for some people here, but in addition huge amounts of things we can only dream of. It is also really shocking just how warm and friendly people are and it is really genuine.
I kind of predicted Sam and Gina would do well in Africa and so it has proved. Sam has taken to it like a duck to water. The “check it out” trip to his school was like being in the entourage for a low budget Justin Bieber impersonator touring schools in Quebec. (photo of him in his Ghanaian school uniform to follow)
Gina is in danger of adopting all the children in Ghana and bringing them home and has also developed an accent that sounds half dutch and half pakistani in her effort to make her scottish burr understandable . It is no wonder people keep asking if we are German.
But to be honest joking apart, she has a huge heart, an instinctive connection and empathy with kids, but also the intelligence and resilience to let Africa hit her in the guts but still work out what she can do and can’t do.
The day we walked up to her school to say hi to the teachers there and found 80 kids from aged 3-15 years old there with no adults was pretty hard core. They all started cheering and clapping as we walked up – like we were One Direction or something.
We both felt duty bound to do something so I did a bit of music workshopping and Gina did some mental maths – all the time trying to deal with a global WTF feeling about the situation.
The next day Gina went in, and the teachers were back, and worked a day as a teacher and I took her up some lunch and you could see she was just overwhelmed – 40 kids in the class from 3 – 9 years. No water or food for the kids. Very hot. Many not really understanding English, Fights breaking out left and right. It is a tough place to start from.
But you could see that many of these kids were bright and really really wanted to learn from her and she was committed to working out how to make it work, and you could sense they really liked her. I left after an hour slightly in disarray, but she stayed the whole day and starts again tomorrow. I predict it will be a massive success.
She is bad at haggling though. Got to train her up. We get daily visits in our house from large ladies with big aluminium dishes on their heads bring a range of fresh food from large fish to mangoes. They are tough hagglers.
Big plus point for me is that the people I met when I was here in April and really liked and invested in have all proved to be as brilliant and cool and reliable as I hoped they would be. We sent out £200 from ABC Creative Music to help my drum teacher set up a drumming group for kids called Okoemotion Foundation – including girls (who normally dont learn drums in Africa). Wasn’t totally sure what had happened to the £200 as hadn’t received the videos and photos I had asked for. Gina, Sam and I went to see them rehearse yesterday and it was truly stunning.
Kids get a bit of a rough deal here. Education is a really big deal but it is quite old fashioned. What Okoe was doing seems really contemporary and modern and just brilliant – and it feels great that giving him a bit of a push and a bit of money has really helped something cool to start and take off. Thinking what to do next to help them get to the next step and consolidate. One option will be to try and get them to Scotland for the Commonwealth games…..watch this space!
In fact would be interested to know if any of you guys would be up for donating a few quid to help support them if I set up a PayPal Donate thing. Please say what you think in the comments. Getting together a £100 would make a real difference. It costs Okoe £1 to buy the kids water and biscuits for each rehearsal and he hasn’t got much money to spare – so even £1 would make a difference.