Pan African Teachers’ Centre Board Meeting and Website Development Planning
March 24 – April 5, 2009
Tuesday, March 24
Brinki Junior drives me to the Edmonton International Airport in his “old” Lincoln town car and we exchange information about my flight to Edmonton after my sojourn to Accra. Brinki will be at the airport to pick me up on my return. Checking in is easy and I go to wait for the connector flight to Calgary—it’s a Dash 8 with "TA" in its register which means it once belonged to Stubb Ross and Time Air out of Lethbridge. Just south of Red Deer, the flight attendant informs us that we will have to circle for awhile because of how busy Calgary International is at this time. We fly circuits over snowy fields below waiting for clearance to approach and land. Meanwhile, Galien, Yukichi and Mae are driving north to Edmonton where the Alberta Ballet will be performing. Rebecca will enjoy their company (as will the dogs, Major and Charlie, no doubt). On landing, I call home to learn they have arrived safely.
My seat companion on the flight to London is Patty Hone, an Irishman now living near Glasgow. He was in
St Albert for the funeral of his sister. We talk of Ireland, its beauty, the “troubles", and how the country is progressing today. I have a fitful sleep, watch a couple of movies and enjoy a rather good beef dinner, with complimentary wine. In particular, I enjoy the company of the little i-pod music machine that Seth and Zoe gave me for my birthday. It was playing as the sun rose at 0300 Alberta time and stayed connected through the breakfast service as well. Landing cards are being handed out for those staying in London. Those of us passing through don’t need to complete one.
Wednesday, March 25
I arrive at Terminal 3 and catch the bus to Terminal 5, the British Airways (BA) exit point for flights to exotic places. The staff members are very helpful and, when looking at my ticket, the agent tells me she has a brother living in Calgary. “He’s become just like a rancher!” she exclaims. I ask about my luggage and am assured that it will be transferred from Air Canada to BA, even though the two airlines are not in the same partner alliance. My new friend with the Calgary connection tells me not to worry, that my bag has been checked right through to Accra.
I encounter another agent just outside the boarding lounge, Sally Ann Mathews. “Off to Ghana, are you? My daughter Lucy is working in Takoradi at an orphanage for a few weeks.” Responding to her lovely smile, I promise to look Lucy up, if I should get to Takoradi.
I have breakfast/lunch at the Giraffe Restaurant in Terminal 5 while looking out onto BA’s fleet of almost countless Boeing 747s. I also spot a new Airbus 380 double-decker belonging to Singapore Airlines on takeoff. The thing seems just immense. I phone home on my cell phone and Rebecca answers, says “hi", then scolds me for a call that will probably cost $15. Still worth it to me, just to say “hi” myself.
Gate 10D leads to a bus (several, actually) that takes us out to the 767 that will handle today’s flight to Accra.
A lot of time is spent getting everyone settled, as there is a huge amount of carry-on with so many people returning home after a visit to London. The cabin crew members are invariably attentive and accommodating and provide a wonderful level of service, even on this very full flight. I sleep a bit along the way, watch the entertainment, and listen to my little i-pod music box. On arrival in a very warm, very humid Accra, I wait for my luggage and am happy to see my old green traveler coming down the conveyor.
A customs officer stamps my passport and I am waved through the inspection area to emerge into the large waiting area. Outside, I pass down a phalanx of drivers holding signs with passenger names and eventually spot my name on a card held by Richard, the driver from the Mensvic Hotel. We have a nice conversation about Richard coming to Canada during the drive and, at the hotel, Richard settles me into room 304, turns on the lights, air conditioner, and television, and provides me with two bottles of chilled water. I have a warm shower and settle in to sleep. Another generous welcome to Ghana.
I wake up just after 0700 and listen for a while to the sounds outside. This part of Accra is wide-awake and on the move, as are a few of the very large ravens that walk on the gravel roof over my head. I get a call from the desk that Tom Bediako had called and left a message that he would come to visit this evening. After showering and dressing, I head down to a breakfast of Spanish omelet, toast and tea. The hotel staff members are most attentive and I start getting to know the restaurant staff right away.
Over a second cup of tea, I consider the day ahead. As my Canadian colleagues arrive tonight, there are no pressing items to attend to for the time being. I need to exchange currency and also get in touch with the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) to see if I can arrange for a drive down the coast toward Takoradi.
In fact, part of the day is spent sleeping. I feel the ragged edge of a cold returning. Another part of the day is spent wandering the streets of the neighborhood. I cab over to the new Shop Right, a large western-modeled shopping centre on the airport highway. A young woman at the hotel front desk arranges for the cab, sending the first one away as too expensive, and then putting me into the second one at a much lower rate. The traffic is intense but the mall is worth the effort—full of modern stores selling Sony and high brand clothing, jewelry, and just about anything we would find in a western mall. There are two anchor stores, Shop Right and another, similar in concept to a Walmart. I have a look around, note a good photo shop, and go looking for a ride back to the hotel. An older gentleman approaches me in the parking lot and offers a ride for 5 C, which I at first decline as rather high. But he reads me well and stays at 5 C. We leave the taxi stand and try to work our way into the traffic leaving the shopping mall parking area. It’s quite a challenge, but the driver, with many miles of Accra traffic behind him, forges ahead to the roadway.
I delay dinner thinking that the CTF folk may arrive but finally go down to have my meal on the outdoor patio by the pool. The evening breeze is very refreshing and a welcome change from the air conditioner in my room. I order grilled snapper with yams and a Star beer and enjoy my solitary dining experience. Near the end of my meal, the CTF crew arrives in the hotel courtyard—Barbara MacDonald, Alex Davidson, and the current CTF president Emily Noble. Alex joins me for a beer and some conversation and then Barbara and Emily come by for a short visit before we all call it a day.
Friday, March 27
I arise at 0800 and go down to the restaurant where I sit with Alex, already well into his morning comestibles. He tells me he will attempt to contact GNAT concerning a driver for me for the weekend. I’m a bit hesitant about asking GNAT and imposing myself upon one of their staff drivers but Alex insists that I am deserving of this courtesy. We’ll see. Barbara and Emily join us later in the lobby and then we all head outside so they can have their breakfasts. We have a lot of fun in conversation and decide to head out into the city for the day. The hotel hires a taxi for us (after setting a reasonable rate for the service) and off we go—first to exchange money and then on to a craft market near the Shop Right Centre. I will now experience the other world of merchandising in Accra, quite a departure from the shopping centre. It is very quiet as we approach the market and Kofi, our driver (the second Kofi I have had drive me in this part of Africa), parks on the verge of the roadway and we all clamber out.
I break off from the others and find a little café hidden deep in the warren of old containers that make up many of the shops, buy a Coke and take it back to Kofi, waiting in his warm taxi. Then I venture into the maze once again to do some shopping. Each of the vendors wants us to come in to see their wares. One young man assures me he makes and finishes all of the wooden carvings in his shop. I just take a liking to him and promise to return. I wander further and come upon four women tending two booths and just visiting together to pass the time on this quiet day at the market. I tease one of them a bit and the three others join in—as always, African women are just a lot of fun to be around. We take some pictures together and I buy little outfits for the two granddaughters and Zev. I also buy six yards of beautiful dyed fabric for Ms Kalie’s birthday present. The names of my new friends are Aggie, Theodora, Salome and Sally. I promise to mail photographs to them after I return to Canada.
As we assemble back at Kofi’s taxi, Alex shows us the musical toy instruments he has purchased, including a spin drum and a finger piano. A few young men, lingering on the steps leading down to the market, and hoping for a final sale, gather around. In a moment, Alex has organized an Accra version of a Calgary hoedown there on the street beside the market. After a few minutes of hilarity and music making, we all go on our way—us in Kofi’s taxi and the young men to linger once more on the market’s concrete steps.
Our next visit is to the oceanfront with a stop at the Palms Royal Resort for lunch. Kofi parks the cab and we invite him to join us, which he does, with a lot of class. We sit on a part of the patio area that surrounds an enormous and complexly shaped swimming pool and order light lunches and soft drinks. This is a beautiful setting and we fully enjoy our time here. Barbara befriends a little girl of perhaps four years when she goes to the shallow pool to dip her feet. The child and her mother are from Kazakstan and are visiting dad/hubby who works in the Ghanian oil industry. I make a series of photographs of Barbara and her little friend sitting at the pool’s edge.
We work our way home, with Kofi dealing with heavy traffic, and arrive at the Mensvic at 1630. We head to our rooms, some for a rest and others for a shower and change of clothes, after which I visit the outdoor patio to start updating the journal. In a while, Alex joins me and a bit later still, Barbara and Emily. I have greatly enjoyed meeting Emily in this sort of setting and have certainly enjoyed her company. As we visit, Tom Bediako arrives looking fit and well. I first met Tom in Africa in the fall of 1993, just over 14 years ago. I value each of our encounters. Dr Lawrence Kannae follows Tom shortly and our little gathering is richer for his presence.
There are more. The teachers from Nova Scotia, retired all, then arrive from northern Ghana along with Carla Peterson, a member of the CTF Trust Fund and also a retired teacher. The Scotians were working on the Nkabom Project in the north and include Burris Devanney, Ann Bottomley and Peggy Ludlow. We have our evening meal together and are then joined by the hotel owner and his wife and their daughter. The wife is Japanese and the child is a beautiful girl of blended cultures. When I first visited this hotel in 2004, upon checking in I encountered a little girl of about three and was so taken with her that I gave her my unopened British Airways travel kit consisting of socks, an eye mask, a tooth brush and tooth paste. On returning to the hotel this afternoon, the mother, daughter and family friends were visiting on the patio. I approached them and made sure this was the same child, now grown some. I told the story about the BA kit and then followed up by giving the girl my latest travel kit and received in turn her beautiful smile. Later on, Steve, the owner, brought along his friend Max, a Ghanian man who has lived near Hamilton, Ontario for the past 32 years.
A surprising addition, in a way, was the arrival of Francis, one of the GNAT drivers who had spent the past 15 hours bringing the Nova Scotians down from the North Country. It is arranged that Francis will collect me at 0830 tomorrow morning to drive down to Cape Coast for the day. I feel kind of bad about this, imposing another drive on this man after his marathon drive today. But I’m also very pleased to have this opportunity. My thanks to Alex for carefully and diplomatically arranging this. I leave for my room to catch up the journal and retire for the evening.
Saturday, March 28
Africa has never let me down. I’m up at 0700 to shower, dress and get ready for the day and then down for breakfast where I sit with Peggy Ludlow, one of the Nova Scotia teachers. Francis is waiting for me in the lobby, having already picked up the Land Cruiser from the GNAT compound and washed it!
As delighted as I am about the day’s adventure, I’m sensitive about what the expedition might cost. But away we go, flagged into the morning traffic by the hotel guard. We make a quick stop at the 4X currency exchange where I convert some US dollars into cidis. Frances then expertly and firmly gets us on our way in the incredible city traffic and we begin our travel to Cape Coast in earnest. There are occasional stops for me to photograph, and one for Francis when he announces “I have to urinate.” At Cape Coast, Francis turns off the highway onto the road into Cape Coast proper, taking us along the harbor and then on to Elmina Fortress.
The harbor is jammed with fishing boats, mostly long, open vessels either carved from a single log or built up of heavy timber beams. It seems most of Cape Coast is down at the harbor greeting the boats and buying fish for the daily meal “fresh off the boat". More vessels work offshore at a distance of not more than a mile. Some have outboard motors attached on one side, just near the transom. We park the Land Cruiser near the fortress and Francis warns me about the boys who wait nearby. “Don’t talk to them,” he admonishes. We walk along the side of the castle moat, over a drawbridge and then into the fortress. At once, I feel overwhelmed by the place and I don’t yet know its story.
I pay our entrance fee and we join a tour guide in the main courtyard. His name is Ato Ashun and he has authored a small book about the history of the fortress, which I purchase later. The stories Ato tells as he guides us through dungeons and passageways are heartbreaking. That any society at any time could conceive of profiting over the bodies of more than 12 million souls is simply brutal. Standing in the empty dungeons with their massive curved ceilings, I mourn for those who were subjected to this place.
We travel on again, now heading north from the coast to Kakum National Park. On arrival, we have a quick lunch before joining the cue of people heading up the hill to the forest canopy walkway. Francis walks up the hill with me but declines to go over the rope bridges as he has done so several times before with other visiting Canadians. I am the last in line and wait behind a group of approximately 25 high school students, out from Accra on a field trip for the day. They are enjoying themselves as they wait as young folk anywhere would do despite frequent admonishments from their teacher. Soon enough, some tentative questions are asked of me, mainly concerning the Nikon camera that I have with me. “Take my picture,” one of the older boys ventures. I introduce myself to the teacher and ask if he would like to have some photographs of the students as they venture out onto the skywalk. He approves. His name is Aziz and he is headmaster of the school. I learn later that the students are mostly orphans and that the school is a residential school. The ice is broken and the fun starts. I promise Aziz that I will have a disc of photos and copies of photographs left for him to collect at the Mensvic Hotel front desk.
Once we finally get up to the platform where the walkway begins, I am feeling like an old father with these young folk. As I walk up the last few steps, one of the girls from the group starts to walk down, tears filling her eyes. I gently intercept her and, although she may not completely understand my spoken encouragement, nevertheless turns around and walks up to the platform with me. When I step out onto the rope bridge she and her twin sister follow tentatively behind.
The canopy walkway is a cleverly designed suspended rope bridge that has a narrow aluminum frame with lengths of plywood fastened to it to allow for flexing. This platform has woven rope sides suspended from rope and wire cables above, anchored at the ends of each segment to giant high canopy trees of the forest. There are five segments of about 300 feet each that form the complete route circuit, the segments being about 150 feet above the forest floor. I know the bridge is safe, even if someone were to fall down onto the deck. Nevertheless, I found the sensation a bit spooky as I moved along, tightly gripping then releasing the rope “balustrades.”
I take more pictures of the kids whenever I arrive at a tree platform and help a few others with cases of the nerves greater than my own.
Francis meets me at the end hoping, I think, to hurry me back down to the Land Cruiser. He is probably thinking about the traffic we will encounter on our way back to Accra. On the walk down to the park lodge, Francis spots an enormous scorpion trundling along on the forest floor near the pathway. I stop to photograph the ancient insect and note that he is at least seven inches long, even with his tail curled up over his body. Several of the students stop for a look as well and, in the parkade, others ask to see it on the camera viewer.
Our route back to the city retraces our travels out this morning. We once again pass the propane semi-trailer tanker that crashed in the ditch and exploded several days ago. Francis tells me that 48 people were killed in cars on the road near the crash explosion, including the truck driver.
We make good time until we approach the snarled traffic closer to Accra. Undaunted, Francis flips on the four-way flashers and puts the headlights on high beam. He then pushes a dash button that makes the horn sound in short continuous blasts. He swings out into the oncoming traffic lane and with great skill, and balls of titanium, navigates us past the slow traffic. Oncoming cars scatter off onto the shoulder to avoid us. Past the traffic tie-up, we merge back into our lane and continue to make good time until the very edge of Accra where, on a divided three-lane highway we come to a bumper-to-bumper crawl, which Francis is powerless to defeat. We bide our time, eating Mintos candies and oatmeal cookies I have brought along and sipping on our water bottles until we get through the congestion (three lanes merging down to one) and into the city.
The heavy traffic is caused by two things, one of which Francis explains. The high number of funerals resulting from AIDS has caused mourners to lose a great deal of time from work. It has been decided that funerals be held mainly on Saturdays to help alleviate the problem. As we have travelled today, we have seen groups of people walking together, all clothed in black suits or dresses and occasionally in formal clothing in brilliant red or all in white, which, according to Francis, indicates the age of the deceased.
We finally arrive at the Mensvick and I thank Francis for making such a wonderful day possible. I gently broach the subject of what I need to pay to GNAT for the use of their employee and their vehicle. “I was only told to drive you today,” Francis says. From this, I gather that the Association provided the use of the Land Cruiser and that Francis would be paid as an employee.
I ask Francis to wait in the car for a moment, as I need to visit my “bank” in the hotel. I go to the restaurant lavatory, drop my trousers and access the money belt I carry across my tummy. Back in the car, I thank Francis again for a most insightful day and hand him a crisp new US $50 bill and, in equally pristine condition, a US $20. Observing his face, I believe Francis was delighted to receive this little extra for another long day he had put in on behalf of Canadian teachers.
Sunday, March 29
A bit of a sleep-in this morning and then down to breakfast at 0900. Burris Devanney, one of the Nova Scotia team members, joins me. He is long retired but has had an interesting series of experiences in Africa. We talk about these—his and mine—then drift to talk of Canada, hometowns, and, of course, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. I tell him the story of Lloyd Willigar from Parsboro, Nova Scotia and Midget, the Shetland pony Willigar won while stationed at Number 2 Wireless School in Calgary. On hearing the story, Buriss’ eyes tear up and he encourages me to write the story for CBC. On reflection, that could be an interesting project. Barbara joins us for a short visit and then everyone leaves for the day’s activities.
I travel by taxi to the Shop Right Centre to order prints and a photo CD for Azis and his students. The shop clerk assures me he will have everything ready later on this afternoon. I have another quick look around the mall then return to the hotel to send an email to Aaron in London concerning my arrival time and to catch up the journal. I head out to the patio to begin writing but then Barbara comes over to me with Tiopista Mayanja in tow. Tio is president of the Uganda Teachers’ Union and has proven to be a very capable organizational leader. Barbara leaves Tio with me to discuss possible cooperation between the ATA and UTA. Over a Star beer each and some candied peanuts, Tio and I have a very good conversation about possibilities for joint efforts. One idea is to send one professional development and one teacher welfare staff officer to Uganda, perhaps in December, to explore possibilities of working with Ugandan teacher leaders.
Tio and I then go our separate ways, me to my room for a brief nap. Afterward, I head down to the lobby to ask for a taxi to Shop Right. I need to pick up the photographs and CD for Aziz and his students. I encounter Tio returning to the hotel from the little confectionary shop down the road and invite her to come along with me. At the mall, I collect the photographs while Tia visits the Teachers’ Store. Then I treat her to lunch, inside the food floor where air conditioning prevails. We have a good visit together and I commit to myself to see if the ATA can support a CTF initiative in Uganda.
Monday, March 30
This morning sees the beginning of the PATC board meeting. Before meeting in the lobby, I walk to a nearby pharmacist shop to see if I can get some drops for my eyes, which seem to be slightly infected. It isn’t open when I arrive at the door but three very pretty young women invite me to sit with them until the pharmacist arrives. When he does, he issues some strong medicine and after the first few drops are in my eyes, they feel much better. The Canadians meet in the lobby at 0845, ostensibly to travel to GIMPA where the meeting will be held. Instead, Alex, Emily and I are taken to GIMPA first while Barbara and Carla go to look for fabrics and will come along later in Tom’s car. As a result, my bunch arrives ahead of time and Barbara and Carla come in after the meeting has gotten underway.
The first familiar face I see is that of Assibi Napoe who gives me a mighty hug and asks of my family. I tell her that Rebecca and all send their love. Inside the meeting room, I see Peter Mabande and we again have a warm and personal greeting. Also, I meet Essotine Bosode from FESEN, another familiar face. I then leave for a short while with the Nikon to photograph on the grounds.
The meeting commences sharp at 1000 and Tom Bediako welcomes all of us, introductions are carried out and Peter Mabande greets us as the new director (and former board member from ZIMTA). Then staff members are introduced and there sit Riki and Perpetue, who give me waves and smiles when they see I have finally woken up and realize they are there. Translators are in place and they help with the translation of minutes of the previous meeting. Tom mentions those board members who are unable to attend—I’m disappointed to learn that Salymatta Doumbia will not be here. Barbara then introduces all of the Canadians, starting with me, and gives a bit of history concerning my support for PATC, which I appreciate. Assibi quietly applauds as Barbara speaks.
A lot of material is covered up to lunchtime, which rolls around at 1330. We break for a nice meal prepared in the kitchens of GIMPA and in exactly one hour we reconvene to carry on for the afternoon. A good deal of time is spent discussing the website and its lack of brilliance and even operability. The room grows oppressively hot and I find it more and more difficult to stay focused. Thank goodness for the faint breeze coming through the window behind me. At the tea break, I walk down to the lobby and fall into a deep sleep for 15 minutes.
The power nap refreshes me and I return to the meeting, now in-camera, to listen to matters concerning staffing and personnel. We recess at 1700 and return to the Mensvik.
This evening, Tom and his wife Agnes are hosting the board members at their Accra home. An African dinner is in store and we gather on the screened veranda of Tom’s home. Snacks and drinks are served to the accompaniment of African gospel music in the background. Some of the guests know the lyrics and quietly sing along. Three big jets cross over the house on their approaches to Kotaka International Airport. The dinner is catered and provides a wonderful array of African style delectables. There is lots of good story telling and conversation as well as abundant food.
When supper is finished, Barbara makes a short speech and presents me with a beautiful carving in celebration of my 65th birthday. I am asked to give thanks to Agnes for the evening and to the caterer and her two daughters, which I do with some élan, I hope. For Agnes, I go and escort her onto the verandah, shuffling along as I do to the music playing on the stereo. A busy day, capped by this memorable evening in the company of so many of my African friends.
An enormous rainfall overnight, pounding on the roof over my top floor room. I nearly rouse myself to go to the window for a look but instead return to sleep until morning.
Tuesday, March 31
I breakfast with Alex and Carla and then catch a ride to GIMPA to be on time for the meeting start time of 0830. The agenda this morning is concerned with financial statements, reviewing projects and lots of discussion. PATC wants to apply for an African Development Bank loan for $3 million for a teaching program. I suggest that the visit by the Alberta website team to PATC headquarters, scheduled for the summer, be moved up to late May in order to assure that the website is functioning and informative while the application is underway. All agree.
We break at 1130 for tea and then reconvene to consider issues concerning the website. I chair this portion and lead the discussion, which I feel is quite productive. I enjoy being in charge of this part of the meeting—picking up the pace of conversation and seeing everyone get on board concerning the importance of the website and allocating the resources needed to support it. Dean and Edna will come to Lomé in May and will spend the week with PATC staff, including Nahmsath Yabouri, the new public relations person and webmaster. Over five days, they will see that the website is populated with worthwhile information and that it becomes a useful tool representing the programs, people and interests of PATC. We go for photographs in a stairwell of the building and then on to lunch.
After lunch, I taxi back to the Mensvik and pay another visit to the pharmacist. As well as bothersome eyes, I have had an intermittent sore throat, the pain of which has wandered around my tonsils. After explaining the symptoms, the pharmacist gives me lozenges and some penicillin tablets. I ask him about his ability to dispense medicine without prescriptions and he tells me this is just how things work here. Most people could never expect to see doctors for their ills and so pharmacists do a lot of prescribing on their own. At the hotel, I take the prescribed dosage and then head out for a walk, looking for photographic opportunities.
As I photograph an old fence, little children returning home from school pause near me wondering, perhaps, what the white haired white man sees in such a thing. But I am rewarded by their smiles. I stop for a Coke at the convenience store near the hotel and watch the traffic pass by. I note that the store is made out of four former containers that have been set side by side with the inside panels removed. This is quite an effective way to recycle some of the millions of these things that now show up all over the world.
Back at the hotel, I have a nap then shower and dress for dinner with Barbara, Teo, Alex and Carla. My throat is quite sore and I’m really feeling fatigued so over dinner I speak little. After a final cup of tea, I bid my friends goodnight and head up to my room for a good sleep.
Wednesday, April 1
This morning we are visiting an elementary school in Accra. At breakfast, I meet Ernest Asamoa, director of the GNAT resource centre, who will drive Alex to Ho for some work on the Nkabom project. Before that, he will drive Barbara, Eric and me to La-Bawaleshie Presby B Primary School in the northern part of the city.
At the school, we are met by Mary Owusu, headmistress, and visit in her office. Barbara is here to capture some video of the students reading. The video will be edited into a presentation to be used for CTF’s participation in this year’s Education for All program. As my colleagues work in a classroom of students, I visit other rooms to photograph some of the beautiful children inside and to incite disruption and hilarity wherever I can. The children seem interested in having me in their midst and certainly respond well to being photographed. In one class, with recess just about to be called, I ask the teacher to sit on one of the front student desks. Then I suggest to the students that they may like to gather around their teacher for some photographs. That’s the trigger that releases all of the pent-up pre-recess excitement. The kids swarm around her in great glee and she nearly disappears in the mob. Meanwhile, Barbara is trying to video in the next classroom. I’m sure the noise from this room will be recorded on her camera.
During recess, I walk the playground with many of the children who pose for me without any reservation. I speak with several of them as they cluster around and generally keep the fun level fairly high. I learn that many of them come from families where parents work at low-income jobs and who leave the children to fend for themselves. The headmistress tells us that many of the children also work as domestic servants in homes nearby after school. This seems a pretty harsh life for these children but their innate sense of humor and fun is still clearly in good form, as their visits with me demonstrate. I tell Mary that I will send photographs to her through the Ghana National Association of Teachers. I can’t send a photo CD or email because the school doesn’t have electricity.
Leaving the school, we head to GIMPA where Barbara will leave a parcel for Lawrence Kannae, the former CEO of PATC and now deputy rector at GIMPA. We also visit with Peter Mabande, the new PATC CEO and former Secretary General of ZIMTA. A call is placed to Margaretta Axel, about to retire from Lararforbunit, Sweden’s teacher organization. She tells me she has placed the photograph I made for her last year, presented as a gift from CTF, in a place she sees first thing every morning. “I think of you each day, Tim,” she tells me.
Barbara and I are returned to the Mensvic and Alex and Ernest head for Ho, Ghana. We decide to taxi to the Shop Right Centre for some banking, souvenir shopping and lunch at the food court. Back at the Mensvik, I join Barbara and Carla for a walk to a fabric shop a couple of blocks from the hotel. They are collecting clothing items they had ordered earlier. The shop is full of beautiful fabrics and textiles including hand-woven lengths of Ghanian design. My mother, the master weaver, would have loved this place. Meanwhile, I wander the neighborhood a bit, visiting other stores, watching students returning home from school and just taking in the passing scene.
Returning to the hotel, I have a short nap and then go out onto my balcony with the Nikon to record some scenes below. There is a clothing vendor across the street, sewing a garment on a hand-powered sewing machine. I find this intriguing and decide to go for a visit. Earlier, I had bought a shirt there for Tristan and used that to introduce myself to her. She happily agrees to let me photograph her while she works and I shoot several frames. We exchange cards (!) and introduce ourselves and I promise to send photographs back to her through GNAT. She tells me she also appears regularly as an actor on Ghana television. The sewing machine, I learn, is at least 30 years old and was given to her by her “mistress,” the woman who taught her to sew. It is getting dark (rapidly) as I photograph and soon we part ways. Back in my room, I watch her and her helper pack up all the clothing and the old Singer sewing machine to end another day of commerce on the roadside.
Carla, Barbara and I have dinner on the breezy patio. I haven’t learned much about Carla on this visit but over supper and during a long conversation afterward I learn she has a remarkable personal history and lots of experience overseas. Her father was in the Dutch colonial forces in the Dutch East Indies before the war and was captured by the Japanese. As a prisoner of war, he was moved to Thailand where he worked on the bridge over the river Kwai, an experience he fortunately survived. After the war he remained in the Dutch army until 1946, still in Thailand. With Queen Julianna’s permission, he married by long-distance—his bride was in Holland and he was in Thailand—with his brother standing in for him as surrogate groom. His wife then joined him in Thailand. On their return to Holland, the wife, now pregnant with Carla, gave birth on a Glasgow-registered ship at anchor in the harbour of Port Said, Egypt. Baby Carla’s birth certificate shows, therefore, that she was born in Glasgow. Looking for better opportunities away from the homeland, the family emigrated to Canada as farm labourers. A wonderful story, well told to us by Carla.
A busy and diverse kind of day. Tomorrow, on to London, departing at 10:40 to visit Aaron and Brian, just returned from Capetown, South Africa.
As I am about to go to bed, I pull the bedspread off as I usually do and see a critter scurry out, scoot across my pillow and down the side of the bed where it stops. Thinking I have a cockroach visiting, I turn on my Mini Maglight and pick up a shoe. The light catches my visitor, still and waiting on the side of the box spring. It isn’t a bug but rather a little lizard, about three inches in length, and probably a long way from its home. I let him be, turn out the lights and go to sleep.
Thursday, April 2
This is a travel day—on to London later this evening. I’m up at 0700 and down to breakfast where Barbara and Carla join me. Afterward, I confirm my flight with British Airways and complete most of my packing, saving a fresh change of clothes for the flight to London.
Not much to do to while away the time. We drive to the new Education International office for a visit. EI Africa is moving here from Lomé very soon. The office will be located in the palatial house of the owner of the Mensvik Hotel and lots of work is taking place to change the place from a house to an office establishment. The owner, his wife and daughter now live in the Mensvik.
We three have lunch at the hotel and then Barbara and Carla leave for the airport. I walk up to the 4X Exchange to change a US$10 to cidis to buy a few last minute little gifts and then visit vendors on the walk back. At the stand of the seamstress, a little girl of perhaps two years sleeps soundly on a blanket on the ground. Her mother sells mushrooms to passing motorists from a tray carried on her head. The child is watched over by other vendors and will be here all day.
At the hotel, I purchase a few more things then head to my room to watch television and to start a book that Barbara left for me, “The Elephant Waterer.” I have an omelet and tea for a light supper then shower and change and do my final packing. A car will take me to the airport at 1900. My bill is fully paid and the hotel lets me stay until my departure time. Soon, off to the airport, a bit of a wait, then onward overnight to London.
The flight is pleasant, BA service shining through. I watch part of the Frost-Nixon movie then plug in Seth and Zoe’s little i-pod, cover myself with a BA blanket, and drift off as we fly north.
Friday, April 3
Arriving at Heathrow, we are delayed deplaning because the mobile set of air stairs fails to arrive. Eventually, I clear customs and head out to the reception lobby where professional car service drivers stand near the barrier holding signs for incoming passengers. Aaron greets me and we go directly to the parkade and the Volkswagen car that belongs to his neighborhood communal car use club. We head into London seeing the occasional police-escorted car carrying people departing the G20 Summit. We soon arrive at his building and park the car in its designated spot. Aaron locks the doors with a plastic card held over a special receiver on the windshield.
The weather is spring cool but very pleasant. Aaron has to make some business calls in his apartment and I find myself soon asleep in the Ikea lounger chair near his home desk. He is very good speaking with those on the other end of the line—very professional and friendly—and getting business done. Afterward we head to the London office of Vodaphone, Aaron’s employer, as he has a short meeting to attend. The office is in an area known as Little Venice and one of the ancient English canals runs nearby. I go for a walk along its shore stopping for photographs from time to time. At one point, the walkway narrows and so does the canal, curving around the side of an old brick structure. It appears that this is the foundation of a large house above. As I walk along, I pass a wonderful old set of doors placed into the wall. I photograph these and then carry on.
All along the canal, boats are moored and these appear to be mainly private residences or weekend getaways. One of them has been converted to a little restaurant and a stop for tea and a scone seems like a good idea. I then cross a nearby bridge and head back on the other side of the canal.
Aaron and I meet up at the appointed Starbucks at the appointed time. We go on to do some shopping for dinner and then return to the flat. Aaron prepares a chicken for roasting and I peel potatoes. Brian is home now and we all settle in to read, compute or game as the cooking goes forward. Patrick, a friend of the boys, comes to join us and we have a delightful evening with champagne, wine and a very good dinner as prepared by Aaron. We also have a quick look at the safari photographs Aaron and Brian made on their recent trip to South Africa.
Saturday, April 4
This morning we are up around 0800 and ready to head out. We travel to a little home-style bistro for breakfast where I am introduced to the owner’s daughter Zara. She and her Lebanese family run the place and she takes our breakfast orders. Afterward, Aaron takes me to the London neighborhood that is dominated by used bookstores and I have a wonderful time browsing the stacks of these ancient shops. Then it’s on to a department store that was built from the timbers of two Royal Navy sailing vessels. It is a remarkable structure, beautifully designed, and full of very expensive merchandise.
Our main destination this afternoon is Kew Gardens and we get there by riding the District Line of the London subway system. These gardens are 250 years old and are full of the most beautiful pavilions, trees, gardens and floral displays. We meet friends of Aaron, a Swedish couple and their two children. Both of the parents worked for Kamera, Aaron’s first employer in London. Their daughter Selma is four years old and very lively. Wandering the gardens, I keep an eye on Ms Selma and photograph her as we go along. She is very fond of Aaron and just a lovely child.
We return home where Brian has been preparing supper. I decide to have a nap for a little while but fall into a deep sleep for an hour, when Aaron wakes me to come to supper. I receive my Christmas present when Aaron gives me a digital photo frame, complete with a selection of his safari photographs.
Sunday, April 5
The morning commences at 0600 when we all arise for the day. Aaron will pick up the neighborhood car at 0630 and will then drive me to the airport for my flight home. With relatively light traffic, we reach Heathrow in good time and Aaron and I say our goodbyes. Into the terminal I go, through security with a good pat-down, then, collecting my things, I head to the departure gate. Just as I am about to enter, I hear my name called on the public address system: “Tim Johnston please return to security.” Almost subconsciously, I pat my back pocket where my wallet usually resides. It’s not there. I quickly return to security and retrieve the wallet after showing my passport to the security in-charge. And I thank him. But it would be convenient if London used bins other than black for the security deposits of its passengers.
Back to the departure lounge I go where an Air Canada staff member approaches me. “May I see your boarding pass, please sir?” I hand it over and he tells me he will be right back. I’m guessing a family wants to sit together and the airline is looking for a single passenger to move to another area of the aircraft. Another agent returns a short while later saying “I think you’ll like this seat rather better,” and hands me a new boarding pass for seat 01K, the very front seat in executive first class.
I cross the Atlantic once again, this time in the privacy of my little cocoon at the front of the new Boeing 777. Quite an experience. We land in Toronto on time and I meet with Kalie and Ben for a quick meal and a visit and to give Kalie her birthday present of Ghanian cloth. Then I board once again for the flight to Edmonton and home to St Albert.
And so ends probably the last of my travels for teachers as the international officer of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. I think this is Number 12, if I’m not mistaken, and maybe, if I’m lucky, travel will continue to be a part of my life. These journeys, taken on behalf of the ATA and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, have added a great deal to my professional and personal life. My grateful thank you to both organizations.
My friend and colleague Alex Davidson retired from the CTF in December, 2017. I sent a photograph to him depicting the Elmira Castle and a bit of the foreshore. What he wrote to me afterward is one of the kindest notes I have ever received and it is printed here, a gift in return to me, from Alex.
Barbara has passed on your package to me. Thanks!
I am finding the process of retirement to be more than I expected. It is a bitter-sweet transition; leaving a career like the one I have been lucky enough to experience is a major step.
The retirement process reminds me of a blessing the Irish have that is based on all the wonderful things people say about those who pass away (even if they are not particularly deserving of it): “May you never die until you see your own funeral.” The end of one’s career is a far cry from a funeral, but there are parallels in all the wonderful things people are inclined to say. Sifting through it all, I find it useful to look for the sincere and the realistic, value that, and take the rest with a grain of salt. Remembrances of wonderful times are also treasures to be valued.
Your unexpected gifts are very highly valued Tim. Thank you.
The photo of the Ghanaian beach is perfect. You have captured an essence of that country in those fishing boats framed by the palms, with Elmira looming across the waters. It is a combination of history, culture and the present. It is also an image I have carried around in my mind for years, and seeing my own vision depicted so accurately in that picture brings a flood of feelings and remembrances.
But that is not the only picture that adorns my walls now. The card of the southern Alberta foothills with the Rockies in the background speaks to me just as strongly. This is my home and my childhood. I have spent countless days, weeks months and years in that country, and that photo captures a foundation of how
I see and understand natural beauty.
Reading your diary was an experience of enhanced remembrance. Your remembrance coupled with mine gives me a new view, somewhat like going to a 3D movie. My remembrance alone has been augmented with your perspective. It also made me remember a time before then, when I was teaching in Calgary. I was reading an article in the ATA News. It was about ATA work in Africa with an organization called the Pan Africa Teachers’ Centre. The author, someone I did not know named Tim Johnston, in clear and humble prose depicted his travels with a venerable African leader by the name of Tom Bediako. I read it with a combination of admiration and envy, and with dreams of being able to do what you were doing, to go where you were going.
So that time in Ghana together with you was seminal for me. I was actually there, with the author Tim Johnston, and with Tom Bediako. I pinched myself, and sure enough – I was awake and it was real.
So thank you very much Tim. I follow in your footsteps once again as I embark on this new chapter of retirement. It holds many promises, and I look forward to uncovering all it offers. If history repeats itself, we may find ourselves unexpectedly together again in some future adventure, with me pinching myself yet again.