Telling a story

Jen asks that we tell a story with a photo, or a series, for this weeks photo challenge.

In my first photo, we arrive at what looks like a workplace, clearly hot, but what could be happening there?

Nothing hi tech, but definitely rather mucky.

But is it profitable, is it legal? I’ll leave you to decide.


Cedi’s in my pocket

A pocket full of Cedi’s

Finding myself alone in Kumasi, one afternoon when the rest of the group were resting, I had two choices, put my feet up and snooze away the afternoon or go and explore. I figured that I probably wouldn’t be back in Ashante again, so why waste an afternoon, when I only had five left. I scrawled a note for my travelling friend,
Gone to the market to buy a fat pig,
Home again, home again jig-a-d-jig
and set off, the hotel doorman rushed to ask if I needed anything,
‘Would you like someone to collect shopping for you Mummy’? If it’s possible to be impish and solicitous as the same time, that’s what his face displayed.
‘No-no, I’m fine, which way to Kejetia, can you point me?
‘Is a confusing place, better go with someone’, he said, ‘let me call a guide.’
I hesitated for just a few seconds, then seeing the market three or four hundred metres away, ‘I see it now, thank you’, and dashed away before he could ‘help’ me any further.
I was bluffing of course, in the very pit of my tummy, I felt a tiny bit vulnerable. I was stared at. I was ‘hello’d continuously, and I still had to find a way across the road which became busier the further I walked from the hotel. Busier and more stagnant, alternating between lanes, with an overwhelming stench of diesel and sweaty bodies, mine included. I stood back, waiting for a chance to cross the road, watching as pedestrians bravely dashed through gaps, as if they were aiming for a winning goal in a cup final.
I felt the softest flutter on my hand, and a reflex made me stuff it into my jeans pocket to check where I’d put a bundle of a hundred Cedis. A plump woman reprimanded the deep brown skinned girl standing between us, who only wanted to feel if my skin was the same. The mother wore a wrapper and matching boubou in bold printed fabric and had a baby, whose face was all eyes, on her left hip. The girl reminded me of myself as a child, I smiled at them and the woman must have guessed my road crossing dilemma, because without stopping her phone call, she gestured with her shoulder that I should follow her. We crossed diagonally dipping and diving, both racing and in slow motion, and we made it to the other side. Panting from holding my breath, I turned to thank her, but I’d already lost her to the market.
I’d only been walking for twenty minutes, but already I felt myself dehydrating and I scanned the nearest stalls for something cool and refreshing . I could see bicycle tyres, mobile phone cases, umbrellas lots of Rolex watches and Chanel bags, but nothing to drink, until a couple of teenage girls came towards me drinking coconut juice straight from the nut.
‘Hi, can you tell me where I can buy this please’? they giggled and gestured, making me feel silly in the way that only teenage girls can. I was already glowing red so they wouldn’t notice my blush, and never mind, I watched as a boy chopped the top of a nut with a blade that would take his hand off in a flash if he misjudged by an inch. It was the best few pence I’d ever spent.
I walked with purpose, less people called to me that way, but I skimmed every stall at the same time. I knew what I wanted, but didn’t have a clue if it would be in a packet or a box. Everywhere was different, but everywhere was the same. Chickens, dead and alive, mobiles, Apple of course, CD’s and DVD’s, genuine Italian handbags, crocodile shoes, mountains of yam stacked up like breeze blocks and probably almost as dense to cut through.
I soon realised the area I was in wasn’t right, snake skins were draped over roughly hewn wooden cages containing live chicken, the layer below had piles of small undefined creatures, some like giant rats, others more like squirrels, gutted and with bared teeth intact. I turned to retrace my steps, but got it wrong, mesmerised by the sights, I’d broken my own golden rule, take note of things on the way.

The strangest were the heads of lots of small monkeys, stacked up like the red onions on an opposite stall. The eyes were closed and they still had teeth and skin, brown and shrunken, a lot like the salt fish that was on every market street in Africa. Presumably it was preserved in the same way. One for the cooking pot, the other for some bizarre voodoo practice.
I passed row after row of fetish items, it made me feel increasingly anxious and even though I was greeted with smiles everywhere, I briefly wondered what I was doing on my own. I turned away quickly when I came across some young men arguing in Asante, time to move on, my search for shea was getting nowhere and the argument was getting ferocious. I didn’t notice the shiny metal until my feet slid sideways and I very nearly fell. The railway line led off into the distance, and people were walking all over it, perhaps they were hoping to reinstate the service, anything is possible in Ghana.
A flash of the brightest colour caught my eye, a middle-aged lady dressed in the finest Kente cloth stood beside me.
‘Hello young lady, are you looking for something, I am Celestine Ahimah and I’m sure I can help. I was educated at Oxford University and worked in London for ten years, now tell me all about yourself’, she was clearly very proud of her 1960’s BBC English. She locked her arm in mine, marched me off, and didn’t stop talking for a moment.
‘Shea butter, do you know where I can get some? All I’ve seen is Chinese imports, dried up lizards and monkeys.’
‘Come along now follow me quickly,’ she shooed away one man selling ‘designer sunglasses and another selling Mackeson. I was tempted to linger when I smelt fried plantains, but Celestine wasn’t having any of it.
‘Ori, that’s what you want, and this is the best, she pointed at a rusty, charred dustbin that looked like it should have been discarded a century ago. I peered in, at a pile of grey grease, it was pickled with nut shell, yes, it was the real thing, raw and totally unprocessed. Celestine looked at me, her expression one of anticipation. I didn’t know what to say, ‘Uh how can I get it home?’
They pulled a meat cleaver from under the table and set about hacking into the bin, ‘This much? More?’
‘That will last you three years if you use it everyday’ said Celestine, ‘fifteen Cedi.’
My market day was over, I left a very happy Gilly, with a bag full of Women’s gold.

Kumasi market is the biggest in west Africa, it sprawls over a vast area, confusing for the outsider. I was there in 2007 and have never forgotten the experience. I wrote this for my writing group.


Remote Ghana

It’s pick a word Thursday over at Paula’s place, Lost in Translation. This weeks choices are radiant, alimentary, arboreal, frontal  and remote. I may find some more but for now, remote is my choice.

This isn’t the best photo, taken through a bus window in torrential rain, but I’ll always remember driving through this village in northern Ghana.

remoteIf it was sunny it would be okay, but it was really sad to see that day. It felt really remote, we’d left Mole National Park far behind, but the vibrant city of Kumasi and the sunshine Cape Coast were a long way south.


How to choose a coffin

Frizztext reminded me in his post today of when I visited a coffin makers shop in Accra, Ghana, quite a few years ago. He has seen a film about funerals over there, Frizz you’ll be amused to know that I danced at one! He was impressed by the choice of coffin designs and says he would like to be buried in a giant guitar shaped one.

Me, I would choose the mobile phone because I’m a techno hen, but I’d like it to be a smart phone, not the kind that was around all those years ago!

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Which would you choose?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Jubilant

I had to work out from dates where I took this photo. I know it was near Techiman, perhaps Baobeng Fiema in the Brong-Ahafo region. But I’ve never forgotten the joy on these children’s faces, jubilation even. jubilationThey will be teenagers by now, I wonder how their lives have evolved.

Jubilant, adjective: showing great joy, satisfaction, or triumph; rejoicing; exultant.

7-Day Nature Photo, Day Three

I’m going a bit further afield for day three of the nature photo challenge, to northern Ghana. This termite mound was more then twice my height of five-six and must have housed millions of little beasties!termitehill

Amy invited me to join the nature photo challenge, a photo a day for seven, of anything from the natural world. Today I’m inviting Sue, one of very few blogging friends I’ve been lucky enough to meet. She already posts the most wonderful photos of  nature in decay, beautiful images of flowers in all stages, so the challenge would be easy for her. If you’re too busy Sue,  it’s no problem, I understand how difficult it is to fit in a challenge!

Jude’s Bench Challenge, Black and White February

Jude likes to photograph benches and has discovered that lots of other people share that little passion, so last month she started a monthly challenge. The topic this month is black and white, visit her here to learn more and join in.
My entry is a photo from my collection taken in Ghana, when I visited Sirigu Women’s Co-operative for Pottery and Art, a few years ago. It wasn’t the most comfortable of benches, but the thatch roof provided much needed shelter from the extreme heat and sun.
Gillys Africa--Ghana 143
In case you’re wondering the bench was actually red, white and black but it seems to me it works quite well in monochrome because of the contrast, what do you think?

Treasure from Ghana

My sweet bird of Sirigu! If ever you get the chance to visit Ghana, don’t hesitate for a moment.  It really is a wonderful country  with a rich cultural, fascinating history and the friendliest of people.

This is probably my favourite travel buy of all time.

sirigu bird

Complete with broken tail!


Back on Foot with Elephants

Okay, so this is a post from my early days of blogging but I’m re-posting in response to a weekly writing challenge from Crista. If you knew me back then please ignore! 

I missed the elephant in the swimming pool by one week – in Mole national park, northern Ghana. It had strolled up the hill for a chlorinated swim by way of a change. But it was okay because I got closer to them than I was comfortable with, in a jeep, with my friend and two rangers. One of these guys was smaller than we were, and I am sure that an angry elephant would have been no more frightened of him, than of one of the baboons that were as populous as sparrows in my garden. The second warden came complete with a safari suit and a rifle. Or maybe a replica rifle. I don’t think I’ve ever been very close to a real gun, but it didn’t look like it could shoot a bullet big enough to even graze the hide of these healthy, well fed  pachyderms. I could only hope that the plan would be to scare them away with a little bang.

We were bullied, no ahem, persuaded into exiting the jeep, which was tied together with string anyway, to take photos of each other with three of the giants in the background.

‘We need to drive around that way, a bit closer’ said small warden without safari suit.

‘Closer, why closer?’ ‘I don’t want to get any closer thanks’. We were perhaps thirty feet away.

‘Please, speak in whispers and if they smell us they may charge, we have to be behind the wind’ he said. Now, I hadn’t felt any wind, it was as hot as well …Africa, as still as a graveyard before a thunderstorm, and my adrenaline was telling me to run back to the jeep pdq. These guys are probably used to re-assuring wussy travellers who like the idea of a gentle stroll, to see some cute wildlife just like Attenborough, but then turn chicken in the end.

‘Don’t you want to show your friends how close you were to elephants?’

No actually I want to throw up but I suppose that would be too noisy.

‘Okay, I guess I probably should do this.’ They led us closer and I snapped the two of them with my friend. Then I realised that I had to turn MY back on them, no more than twenty feet away. Needless to say my face tells all in that photo. I’m glad I did it; I still love elephants – from a distance! IMG_4285

We only stayed in Mole for two nights. It was a brilliant experience, a lot more rugged than a safari I did in Botswana a few years earlier, where the lodge was the height of luxury. In Mole, the water and electricity in our chalet was only on for a couple of hours a day and there were creepy crawly things that I’d rather forget. The atmosphere was great though and the view was about as good as it gets. Just before sunset herds of elephants of all sizes come to bathe in the waterhole down below the veranda. A much more relaxed way to see them!

Lazy Poets Thursday Haibun

Ghana 1

Along the Tamale Road

She’d packed her shop up for the day, all hope of sales abandoned. Resigned to eating the hard boiled eggs herself, with the plantain that no-one wanted either. All morning she’d snacked on the pastries she baked before dawn. Once upon a time she couldn’t make enough of them, they sold like hot cakes. A tourist asked if her canopy was for sale, she’d said no – how would she have shade without it? Perhaps . . . perhaps she could try making some small ones to sell.

What’s this? A tourist jeep stopping, she gathered her wares in her apron and ran. ‘Fresh eggs, tomato, banana, what will you buy?’


Travellers lunch break

a bargain fresh as the day

benefits for all