Lomé, Togo and Ho and Accra, Ghana June 23 - July 5, 2001
Saturday, June 23, 2001
I have been in Ottawa since Tuesday taking part in the annual Canadian Educational Press Association conference sponsored this year by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF). Francine Fillion, France Larose and Salwa Maadarani, all staff from the communications area of CTF, organized and carried out a very successful event. The venue, the National Press Club in the heart of Ottawa, has been influential in emphasizing the importance of communications within the Capital area.
This morning I’m up and getting ready by 0730 and I have all my packing finished by 0900.
I head down for breakfast in the restaurant of my hotel, the Ottawa Valley Inn, but find the place closed for the weekend. It seems most of the tour groups that populate this place don’t eat on Saturday or Sunday. Down the block is the Sheraton where a good breakfast awaits.
Around 1300, I check out and wait on the sidewalk with my luggage. Barbara MacDonald shows up shortly after to collect my heavy briefcase for return to Edmonton and to take me to the Delta Hotel where I will meet up with Frank Garritty, my old friend and colleague from the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, and former president of CTF. Frank and I taxi to Uplands Airport and there Keith Lansdell, CTF’s consultant on this project, joins us. Together we will journey to Lomé, Togo and the cities of Ho and Accra in Ghana. A flight on a Canadian 737 takes us to Toronto.
In Toronto, we change terminals and board a Boeing 747-400 Combi for the flight to Paris. This aircraft uses the back third of the main cabin for palletized freight that is loaded through a large freight door in the side of the fuselage. Hence “combi,” a combination of people and freight.
It’s a nice ride to Paris and we reach Charles de Gaulle in fine form. A change of terminals there is required in order to reach our Africa-bound Air France Airbus A340. An Air France ground bus takes us to the terminal entrance and we eventually find the security station for our gate. All my film has been taken out of boxes and placed in a large Ziplock bag for ease of security inspection. In fact, the security agent at the Ottawa airport carefully cut the bar codes off the film boxes for me and helped dump the film canisters into the bag. I am loath to run film through the x-ray machines at airports and I usually ask for visual inspections. At the security gate, I show my boarding pass, place my bag and jacket on the x-ray table and hand my film bag to the security agent, asking if she would please inspect the film visually instead of putting it through the machine. My request results in the arrival of a police officer who tells me the machine is safe for film but who looks at the bag quite carefully anyway. French is spoken back and forth, but not to or by me and I request again, most politely, that the film not be exposed to x-ray.
The woman watching the x-ray screen then comes around from her station, stuffs the film bag into my hands and tells me to take my luggage and to get out of the way. “If the film isn’t x-rayed, you don’t get on the plane,” she informs me. The policeman and I look at each other, he gives a little shrug and indicates the machine and I run everything through. This really annoys me but under the circumstances I have no practical option but to oblige the x-ray Nazi and get on with the trip. Once past the x-ray machine, my boarding pass and ticket are held by the agents who note the details of my travel before passing it back to me.
Boarding the Air France jet is slow and not as orderly as boardings in Canada. I can see into the boarding dock that leads to the aircraft and I notice three or four prisoners in manacles being put on board before the other passengers. I guess these are deportees, or possibly people who hassled the x-ray operator. As well, five or six men, all wearing grey slacks, blue Oxford shirts and matching ties board and I notice them later in seats at the back of the cabin. I discover that these folk are Air France security officers who provide protection for the aircraft while it is on the ground in Lagos, Nigeria and Lomé, Togo, both cities being destinations of this flight.
I will learn more about their work on my return flight from Lomé. They have the longest commute to work of anyone I know.
Sunday, June 24
The flight to Africa is enjoyable and I encounter personal in-flight entertainment systems for the first time. In Lagos, most of the passengers leave the aircraft and we continue on to Lomé after innumerable counts of the remaining passengers. The big A340, greatly lightened by the removal of most of its passengers, their baggage and a great deal of the fuel load, soars into the sky with evident ease and we cruise west along the Atlantic shore to Lomé. Our altitude is approximately 12,000 feet and our speed only 300 miles per hour, these last bits of information supplied by way of the individual television screen in the seatback in front of me. The screen is touch-sensitive and using it, one can call up movies, Air France information, taped television programs and the usual array of music. The keypad located in the armrest controls volume and other choices but it can also be removed and used as the control for games as well. All quite clever and entertaining and helpful in whiling away unslept hours. The low altitude of the flight provides a wonderful view of the ocean and coastline, as we cruise west to Lomé.
On arrival in Lomé, we three are well into our second day without normal sleep and I’m beginning to feel exhausted. Entering the terminal, we proceed through the immigration checkpoint, collect our luggage and have that inspected by folk who are presumably customs officers. Just outside the terminal, we are greeted by Zachariah Bawa and Carole Quashie, both staff members of the Pan African Teacher Centre, who have come to collect us in the bus belonging to the Palm Beach Hotel, the hostelry that will be our home for the next few days. They ease our transition from flyers to ground-bound travelers with great style and hospitality.
Our hotel is located on the Boulevard de la Republique, right on the oceanfront. A strip of beach and the Boulevard is all that separates us from the Bight of Benin and warm Atlantic Ocean waters. The view from my room is to the west and includes the ocean, palm trees and part of the city. I can also see into Ghana from my vantage point and the border crossing that is only a few miles distant. The scene is quite lovely, the hotel seems pleasant and room 602 is spacious, well appointed and air-conditioned. Heavy curtains aid in the cooling process by blocking the afternoon visit of the sun.
Carole and Zachariah leave us to settle in, shower and unpack. In about an hour they return to take us to supper. This involves some discussion about what to eat and we agree that supper should be fish. We are influenced, no doubt, by the proximity of the sea. Going to supper involves a fairly long walk in the African evening to the area where taxis apparently patrol. The walk is enjoyable and we are able to see a bit of city life and to reach out to it if we wish. We do so by helping a young woman who has fallen down on the sidewalk, collecting the contents of the tray she was carrying on her head and picking up bits of money that she had dropped. I also see a girl of probably no more than 15 years holding a very tiny baby, her own, I presume. She looks overwhelmed and bewildered and I decide to help a little. I approach her and give her a 5,000 franc note with my best French, “Pour la bebe.”
Eventually, a Toyota station wagon taxi is retained for the drive to the restaurant. With the driver, we are six souls in the confines of a four-passenger vehicle but we manage. I am reminded of the Lada taxi salsa other traveling companions and I regularly performed in Managua to fit too many people into too small a vehicle. Finding the restaurant involves several requests from pedestrians for directions and we finally turn off the road and enter a tract of squatter’s shacks. Beyond these loom the superstructures of ocean-going ships and parts of a container yard. Soon we come to a permanent building, fenced about by a high plaster wall, and we have reached our destination, the Barracuda Restaurant. The contrast between the squatters’ shacks and the inside of the restaurant is remarkable. We enter a beautiful courtyard and an outdoor dining area partly covered by a thatched canopy. Further on is an open terrace with more tables. The terrace ends in a low set of steps that drop into the ocean. To the east, a long wharf juts out into a bay and tied to it are many open fishing boats. I guess the wharf serves as a fishers market during the day. Beyond the wharf are cargo ships moored to other more substantial docks and quays. On the sand near the terrace steps, some wooden fishing boats have been beached alongside the remains of two dugout canoes, once of substantial size.
We sit on the open terrace and enjoy delicious fish dinners. I have a Flag beer, which I enjoy as much as any beer I have had in Africa. With dinner comes pleasant conversation and helpful insights about the region and our mission as provided by Zachariah and Carole. The taxi driver is invited to join us but he declines and stays with the car. The squatters, we learn, are the families of fishers and live in the area illegally. The government once forcibly removed them but this is such a logical place to live, if one’s livelihood is derived from fishing the sea, that there is no reason why they should not remain. While waiting for our dinners, I walk among the boats on the nearby sand and note their construction. People emerge from out of the evening darkness and we visit, talking about fishing, boat building and where I come from. In the bay, voices carry back and forth between crews on the fishing boats as they prepare to depart for the night’s harvest.
As we leave the restaurant, we notice a table of Europeans enjoying their meals. They are the cabin crew of the Air France flight that brought us to Lomé. We say hello and ask if they remember us. “I was in 34C,” I remind them.
Monday, June 25
This day begins a bit late, according to Lomé standards, and following breakfast in the hotel, Zacharia, who has a taxi waiting, collects us. As we walk across the parking area to the car we are approached by a number of eager vendors. Some have CD’s, others leather goods. One man has wristwatches and he offers one to me. “I already have a watch,” I say and indicate mine. He shows me a selection of watches for women. “How about this girl’s watch, then,” he asks. “I have no girls with me,” I reply. Being the expert purveyor of all manner of earthly delights, as I’m now sure he must be, he immediately offers to provide me with one. Before this intriguing proposal goes any further, my companions and I board the taxi and head through the city to the office of the Pan Africa Teachers Centre (PATC).
The main road that takes us to PATC also passes by the regional office of Education International as well as the office of the Togo Teachers’ Federation. The road at this point is four lanes with a cement divider separating the traffic. On either side is a boulevard of packed red dirt and sand on which cars are parked, pedestrians walk and vendors operate from tiny stalls. The traffic is made up of cars and trucks but most evident are the hundreds of small motor scooters and motorbikes that serve as cheap taxis. They are also the vehicles of choice of an increasingly impoverished middle class. The air is blue with their emissions. Our taxi turns off the pavement and crosses the strip of dirt toward the PATC building.
We enter a well-kept courtyard, through the mandatory gate, our arrival monitored by the swiveling eyes of several small lizards, perhaps the most accessible of Africa’s wildlife.
Mrs Chris Adjeso meets us at the door and takes us on a round of introductions of other staff. Ms Assibi Napoe serves the Centre as the head of the Promotion of Women in Education program (PWE) and she works half of each day in an office in the PATC compound. Assibi is at the heart of the African Women’s Network that is supported by the Alberta Teachers’ Association. For the rest of the day, she fulfills her duties as general secretary of the Togo Teachers’ Federation (FESEN). Lomé is at the intersection of an interesting flow of personnel and programs shared between Education International, PATC and western supporters that mix together to meet a variety of needs as efficiently as possible. An organizational chart would likely be a complicated matter but the important thing is that goals are set and results are achieved, with much credit going to Tom Bediako and local staff members.
Togo is a French-speaking country and while most people I work with here are quite conversant in English, I appreciate the opportunity offered by this lingual immersion experience. Old and forgotten skills show signs of reappearing and by the time I leave Lomé, a very low comfort level in the language has been reacquired.
Assibi asks about the well being of Anita Muller, an Edmonton area school principal whom I sent here on two occasions to conduct French language communications workshops for women educators. She then takes us across the street to the office of the Togo Teachers’ Federation. This office has been constructed in the small parking garage of its adjoining building and has space for a stenographer, an editor and an office for Assibi. Beyond are a meeting room and a rear patio area used for union classes and other gatherings. It’s all very modest but the Federation is determined to remain outside the clutches of the government and independent of government support. Assibi tells us that the ministry tried to have the Federation evicted from the premises but that she and her staff persevered, buttressed, no doubt, by Education International just down the road.
Near the front entry is a shelf containing periodicals and brochures. Prominent among them, and catching my eye with its bright yellow cover is a copy of the ATA Magazine featuring the theme “Education For All.” I flip it open to the Editor’s Notebook and hold the page up beside my face. Considerable clamor results when it becomes evident that the person shown in the photograph on the page and I are one and the same. The editor insists that I sign the copy and I readily comply. Ah, the fleeting joys of questionable celebrity!
We walk back to the PATC building and later return to Tom’s office at Education International. Peter Mabande, General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association, has arrived to take part in the workshop that we will attend in Ho, Ghana. Peter is a good friend from my time in Zimbabwe during my year of sabbatical leave. He has just come from Mozambique where he and a representative from the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union have been on an EI mission to try to straighten out the difficulties being encountered by ONP, the Mozambique teachers’ organization. It is wonderful to see Peter again and to see him actively involved in organizational development in the southern part of Africa. He certainly heads up one of the finest teachers’ organizations on the continent.
Lunch is taken at Le Douala restaurant and grill, specializing in fish, and it is a most pleasant affair. With us are Zach, Carole and Assibi as well as Chris and Perpetué, the PATC accountant. Businesses typically close at noon and remain closed until 1430 to allow for a siesta or time for workers to take care of personal business. We are taken to our hotel after lunch and return later in the afternoon to Tom’s office. There we continue a review of options for the Centre as well as planning for the workshop that will be held in Ho, Ghana later in the week. Dinner in the hotel restaurant ends our official day and sleep is a welcome escape after our long trip and busy day.
Tuesday, June 26
An eventful day begins after a good breakfast of eggs, bacon, fruit and coffee in the hotel dining room. While the menu is quite complete, the availability of items listed is another matter. Choose what you like, the actual selection is rather more limited but still good. Fish is a staple and is well prepared for evening meals. Kofi, Tom’s driver, picks us up in a fairly new Land Rover Freelander and returns us to the EI building. Our official day begins with a two-hour meeting during which we cover a lot of organizational ground and develop our thinking on the future of the PATC. Shortly after 1000, Tom leaves us to join a meeting of teacher organization leaders who are meeting in the basement of the building. One of the items up for discussion at that meeting is the provisional selection of an African vice-presidential candidate for Education International, a position that will be filled at the EI conference in Thailand. We are scheduled to meet with these folk but do not join them during their deliberations today, preferring to wait until the political air has cleared and we can talk about the PATC proposal.
Instead, we are taken to view the house that has been rented by PATC to accommodate any Canadians who might venture here as part of the SODEP program of assistance. The house will also serve as a home for Chris Adjeso. The cost of rent for the house is approximately $2,000 CDN for the year and it is really quite a bargain. It is situated some distance from the PATC office and is reached by leaving the main road and traveling tortuous neighborhood roads found in most parts of Lomé. The road in front of the house becomes impassable and our driver lets us out at the gate of the compound surrounding the building. Upon opening the gate, we view a beautiful house of cement brick and poured concrete construction set in a lovely garden. Workers are busy tending the lawns and plants while others work inside painting and making small repairs. It will be quite a nice establishment when completed. The idea behind having the house is that hotel accommodation for a visiting Canadian for 20 nights would cost the same as the annual house rent. And so, the house is seen as a good deal. I’m not convinced, however, that providing a home for staff falls into the definition of development work. The house has new furnishings and will likely require air conditioners. Talk has already begun about the need to hire security men to be on the premises.
We return to the EI office and then to our hotel for lunch and a siesta, always welcome I find, especially as I still feel a bit sleep deprived. Lunch is taken on the hotel patio near the outdoor pool, a beautiful setting with a clear view of the ocean just across the boulevard. It is hot and humid but the on-shore breeze and the shade of the patio roof provide a pleasant space to eat and relax. The three of us sit in splendid isolation with not another soul about except the two staff who look after the area. After lunch (omelettes are becoming a dietary staple), Keith and I head out for a walk along the Atlantic shore. It is beautiful out here along the sand and I photograph the iron pier provided by the Germans when Togo was one of their colonies. Along the way, we encounter boys who pick up seashells from the sand and offer them for sale or who wish to be included in a photograph for a small charge. None are successful with us today.
Returning to the hotel, I shower and change in anticipation of the meeting with the teacher organization representatives back at the EI office. Kofi returns for us in the Land Rover. I’m beginning to recognize the route we take back and forth and I enjoy being in the traffic, involved with the life of the city that flows with us and around us as we travel. I feel sorry, however, for the policeman who has to stand on a small kiosk in the middle of one intersection directing traffic. He has no shade and is required to wear what must be a heavy and hot crash helmet while performing his directing duties. The blue air that surrounds him does not provide the healthiest outdoor environment.
At the EI office, we learn that our appearance at the meeting has been cancelled due to the difficult nature of the discussions throughout the day. Instead, Tom takes us to his office for another planning session on the Ho workshop. Peter Mabande is working on his report concerning his recent visit to Mozambique and he joins our conversation. A tentative agenda emerges and we return to the Palm Springs for a bit of rest before this evening’s dinner at Tom’s residence.
Kofi picks us up at 1930 and takes us to Tom’s home, located on the second floor of a house not far from the EI building, and we gather on an open balcony for dinner. Nearly everyone from today’s EI meeting is present and a delightful evening ensues. As we arrive, Tom’s daughter, Margaret, who has been visiting Tom and her Mother for the past month, greets us. Margaret lives in Lesotho with her husband and three children and intends visiting New York this summer. She tells me that her brother-in-law, who drives a New York City cab, may just drive her up to Alberta to see me! She has my card.
Georgina Baden, the Education International vice-president from Takoradi, Ghana is at the soiree and we strike up a conversation. I am interested in the Royal Air Force project during World War II that saw aircraft shipped to Takoradi for assembly and subsequent flights into Egypt in support of British Forces in North Africa. I mention this to her, wondering if she knows anything about it. Instead of responding to my question, she begins telling me about a recent visit to London and coming across a building that took her fancy. “I just invited myself in,” she said and discovered that it was the property of the Salvation Army. She was asked to stay for hymns and prayers with some of the seniors who were attending a service that evening. Afterward, she introduced herself to some of the parishioners and told them of her home. One told her that he had spent many happy days during the war in Takoradi, assembling aircraft for the Royal Air Force for the North African Campaign. My enquiry has been responded to by way of a good story. Georgina promises to see what she can find in terms of historical references in Takoradi and I will follow up on her offer.
The dinner is a catered meal and an assortment of tasty dishes is available for our enjoyment. Most of us eat out on the second floor patio enjoying the food and each other’s company. Toward the end of the evening, Mrs Touriya Lahrech, vice-president of the Morocco teachers’ organization, provides fitting thanks to Tom and Margaret for their hospitality. I am intrigued and delighted that North Africa is represented here. Touriya will also take part in the workshop in Ho. She is a delightful woman and clearly well liked by her sub-Sahara colleagues.
Kofi then takes the Canadians home to their hotel, along with Christiane Bitougat, General Secretary of SEENA, the Gabon teachers’ organization. She is a remarkably beautiful woman, well dressed and adorned with gold jewelry, and apparently quite upset that she could not garner support from her colleagues today for one of the vice-president positions coming open at the Education International general meeting.
Wednesday, June 27
We depart the hotel at 0800, in company with Kofi, and arrive shortly at the EI office, visiting with Tom for about 20 minutes until the EI meeting convenes in the basement meeting room.
We introduce ourselves and Tom explains something of our mission and the opportunity for the rejuvenation of PATC. Madame Bitougat wants to know why she or anyone else from Central Africa was not invited to the meeting in Ho where PATC will be formally considered. Tom patiently explains the nature of the meeting, the specialists who have been invited and the fact that a representative from Cameroon had been invited but that his flight was cancelled and he would be unable to attend. Madame seems to be appeased but I get the impression she is someone who could be very difficult to work with.
After this little exercise, we are driven to a school for a visit. The school, unfortunately, is out for the summer but several teachers are present marking final exams. My guess is that an event like this, that brings together a large group of teachers, is considered a social activity as much as a professional one. Nearly everyone is quite dressed up and there seems to be a pleasant level of visiting going on in addition to the exam marking. Two teachers sit in each of the student desks in many of the school’s classrooms. One teacher marks a paper and then hands it to his or her colleague to mark over again. This ensures some balance and provides a check for accurate marking.
The first classroom we visit holds about 16 teachers, all women except for one man who occupies the teacher’s desk at the side of the room. After some formal introductions and some questions and answers that Frank handles, everyone except me leaves for another classroom.
I stay behind and spend time visiting and photographing my colleagues. As I prepare to photograph the male supervisor, sitting somewhat solemnly at the teacher’s desk, one young woman teacher, quietly encouraged by her friends, gets up and leans over his shoulder into the picture. The shot is taken amidst great laughter from everyone except the gentleman. I then give out ATA Public Education pens, trade a few more quips with the group and finally leave the classroom trailed by laughter and a chorus of goodbyes. Wonderful people and all are marking on a volunteer basis. The generosity and commitment of these teachers, mixed with good humor, is a gift given by each to every child in their care.
I then spend time on the school’s sandy playing field photographing a group of boys playing soccer. One girl who makes sure she gets herself included in a lot of my shots joins them. Fine with me. Lots of soccer talent is evident in these kids who would be no older than perhaps 12 years of age. Two of the teachers, one of whom is a department official who accompanied us to the school, begin bellowing orders at the kids as to how they should play for my benefit. I turn to them and ask that they just be quiet and let the children play. After that, the players just have fun and I shoot a lot of frames from inside their game. More photos are taken of children selling food items at small stands just inside the school gate. I make a face at one little fellow, sitting with his big brother, and nearly make him cry. I try to make up to him but he isn’t having any of that. He does, however, wave and smile as we drive from the schoolyard. Probably glad to see the last of me.
We travel down more neighborhood streets and finally alongside a railroad track toward another school where teachers await us. Poverty here is intense and is emphasized by a lack of places to go and things to do. Many people just sit, some visiting and some trying to sell whatever they have, surrounded by heaps of rubbish, potholed roads and open ditches full of goodness knows what. It is upsetting to see so much human potential just wasting. The road, or what remains of it at this point, finally defeats even the reliable Land Rover and Kofi makes the call to turn around and head back to the EI office and our hotel.
Our visit to Lomé is rapidly nearing an end. After lunch and packing, Tom and several colleagues arrive for the trip into Ghana and to the town of Ho. The progress of our journey is interesting to note and it involves a number of transfers from various vehicles, proceeding through the border crossing, changing cars again and finally proceeding on our way once inside Ghana. We start by loading our luggage into a vintage Mercedes Benz and finally get the trunk lid to shut after removing the spare tire. In loose convoy, our car, followed by Tom and others in the Land Rover and other cars, soon reaches the Togo exit area of the border crossing. Here we park and await mysterious procedures to procure exit stamps from Togo. Our passports disappear and, as we await their return, I watch the flow of humanity across this artificial barrier. It is made up of cars and vans, scooters, huge transport trucks, families on foot, hawkers selling their goods, money changers, beggars, children, soldiers, officials and three Canadian aid givers, the latter rather overwhelmed by the intensity of the traffic and the apparent insecurity of the crossing process. Soon, we drive on to the entry of Ghana and a parallel universe of mysterious officialdom is encountered. This time I accompany Tom into a small office and watch as an official stamps the passports once again and sends them away by courier to another office. Once again, I pass the time watching the world go by, much of it carried on the heads of women.
When we eventually clear all customs barriers, we drive on a short way to a gas station and exchange vehicles once again. This time, the Mercedes returns to Lomé, the Canadians board Tom’s Land Rover and everyone else climbs into a rented combi van for the drive to Ho. With Kofi driving, we watch the landscape unfold and note the vegetation becoming thicker as we proceed north. We pass many small villages and I witness rural conditions of the most primitive nature. Often the houses are but mud huts without benefit of glassed windows or services of any kind and set amongst scenes of appalling squalor. The road is well paved and Kofi speeds the Land Rover along, honking at pedestrians who have the temerity to share the road with him.
On arrival in Ho, we locate the Chances Hotel Resort and are met by a distraught Chris Adjeso. She had come on ahead of the main party to make sure all arrangements for our stay were complete. It turns out they are not. The hotel has double-booked its rooms for the first night of our visit. Chris had called Lomé to get us to delay our departure but we had gone by the time her call came to the EI office. The upshot is that the hotel management has opened rooms in a nearby hotel it owns and everyone but the Canadians is assigned there for the first night. We three, along with Kofi, Peter Annan (the EI accountant) and Zach, are to be put up at a private guesthouse also owned by the Chances proprietor. This turns out to be a beautiful building set well off the highway and behind the Assembly House of the Volta Region Chiefs. This accommodation is quite spectacular and only the torrential rainfall matches its impression later in the night. The young manager of the resort, Jasper Jones Hedjoh, has done a most creditable job getting all of us settled and calming some very upset delegates. My companions and I spend a quiet evening in the open courtyard of the house talking about our impressions of Lomé, PATC and our new home in Ho.
Thursday, June 28
This morning, I arise at 0630 in order to have first access to the bathroom that Frank and I share and to get ready for the day. The house is quite warm due to the residual heat and an ineffective air conditioner in my room. There are louvered windows on opposite walls of the room and with all of these open I had a good sleep.
While waiting for the others, I walk outside to the much cooler morning air and make some photographs. The first of these involves hanging my Olympus camera from a gate latch and setting the self-timer, resulting in a couple of photographs of me and the Land Rover in the courtyard. This process has been used to secure self-portraits everywhere I have traveled, from “TAJ at the TAJ” to the rock settee in Maputo and the Hotel Boston in Tegucigalpa. I spot our three Lomé colleagues returning from a morning walk to gather a newspaper and more photographs result, one taken by the guesthouse gate keeper, whose likeness I capture as well. We then depart our palatial temporary home and drive to Chances for breakfast and to start the day’s sessions.
As I enter the conference room, Tom is seated in a chair at the corner of the table. “Sit here,” he says and beckons me into the centre chair. We had talked earlier about how to run the morning agenda and Tom had asked me if I would serve as moderator for the English-speaking focus group scheduled for later. He begins the session by welcoming everyone and apologizing for the confusion over the booking that resulted in all of us spending the night “off campus.” Tom was very angry last night about this mix-up and I had done what I could to reassure him and to get him calmed down. He seems fine this morning, as everyone survived quite well in their temporary quarters and there are no complaints from the participants.
Tom then leans over to me and asks me to get the plenary session underway. I comply. A good session, fast-paced and with lots of participation, follows. The history of PATC is provided and clarification of likely objectives of an invigorated Centre is offered by Dr Lawrence Kannae of GIMPA (Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration) who hopefully will be the new head of research for PATC and perhaps its CEO. He is given time to talk about research processes he would favor and an assortment of questions are asked and answers given.
I recognize each speaker in turn and we all make good use of the English-French translation service provided for the meeting.
At mid-morning, we break into two focus groups, one English-speaking, which I facilitate, and one French-speaking, which Keith facilitates. These groups carry on productively until we break for lunch at 1230. At 1400, Peter Mabande and I return to the conference room to organize our collected notes on flip charts so that they are in a more presentable form. At 1430, everyone reconvenes and Tom once again asks me to assume the chair.
First, the French language group makes its presentation followed by Peter presenting the English language group’s views and ideas. For the rest of the afternoon, we carry on discussions concerning possible research practices and possibilities and we receive a lot of good advice from Dr Kannae. He, by the way, is a managing consultant at GIMTA and is apparently prepared to come to work for PATC for at least a three-year period. His presence at this meeting is the result of Tom’s very effective scouting. Dr Kannae seems a most engaging and talented young professional.
At the end of the session, Tom asks the participants for quick impressions of our progress and we are delighted to hear so many positive comments. I thank Tom and the group for the honor of chairing today and then we break for a rest before dinner. Keith, Peter and I agree to meet again in an hour to integrate the results of the two language groups for presentation tomorrow.
Going to my room, I lie down for a ten-minute nap and fall soundly asleep for over an hour. Consequently, I miss the working group but, fortunately, not Tom’s pre-dinner cocktail reception. The working group didn’t seem to miss me at all.
Chances Resort is quite a nice establishment. It is located on the edge of Ho and below a high ridge to the north. The walled compound is beautifully landscaped and full of trees and flowers and is located a distance of perhaps 500 meters from the main highway. The units are duplex bungalows and I’m assigned to number 15, close to the main office. Keith has the other half of my building and Frank is up the hill in his own unit. The room has louvered windows on facing walls, an overhead fan and an air conditioning unit. The ceiling is high, providing a spacious and airy feeling to the room, and I find that with the windows open and the fan running I am quite comfortable. An entry vestry and a modern bathroom complete the unit.
At bedtime, I discover some very tiny ants on the bedside table and I whisk them away. At the bottom of the table are a few small spiders, undoubtedly on the lookout for tiny ants, and under the bed I discover a large bug that I decide to leave in peace. Aside from the ants, we all get through the night without bothering each other.
Friday, June 29
The day starts with a good breakfast in the dining area followed by coffee at a picnic table out on the lawn. The table and its benches are made of solid mahogany, as is the furniture in the rooms, and I would be unable to afford such opulence even in Alberta.
The chair for the day is to be Walter Blege, a friend of Tom’s, and the retired head of Ghana’s curriculum branch. Walter is a good fellow and Tom thinks of him as an alternate for the PATC research position in case Dr Kannae doesn’t come through. I have mentioned to Tom that PATC needs an infusion of new, young talent. I said that while I recognize Walter’s past accomplishments, I don’t think he is the best choice for setting PATC on a new course. We’ll see. Some pretty senior staff members have influenced PATC, including Tom and Chris, who have provided good direction. But my feeling is that a renewal of PATC should be in the hands of a younger corps of staff. Already in Lomé, PATC employs Carole, Zacharia and Perpetue, all well qualified and up to speed on PATC programs, as well as the printing operator who runs a good shop. Building a new PATC on a basis of youth and current experience would certainly be my preference.
The chairing today is not as effective as yesterday, if I may say so, and while Walter manages to get us through the morning agenda, the going seems rather slow. After the morning coffee break, Peter Mabande dictates a list of nine items that need to be addressed in order to get the Centre underway. It is as though he is still teaching, dictating notes to school children, and he slowly reads and repeats each phrase. Old ways die hard. Further proof of this is offered when nearly everyone actually writes the stuff down. Later in the morning, a computer printed copy of the notes appears. Progress!
By 1230 we have completed our business and everyone gives little speeches of thanks for being included as participants in the workshop. A rough plan has been hatched that will need a lot of fine-tuning and detail work. That will be the job to start with–providing some sort of ironclad basis from which to rebuild the Centre. There is some residual interest in having PATC provide a central training function, one of its founding objectives, probably because of the land in Lomé that was acquired for that purpose. I believe such a course needs to be avoided for the time being. What is needed is a small staff, based in the Lomé building, who will work on developing a self-governing infrastructure, develop fairly sophisticated web links with member organizations, and set out on modest research projects.
I am very interested in applying ATA resources to support the development of effective web links between PATC and its member organizations. In my view, the future of PATC is not so much about developing a research organization as it is about developing a communications organization that links members through modern facilities and shares important and relevant information with them.
After the session adjourns, I send email messages from the net cafe to St Albert, London, Hamburg and Edmonton letting my far-flung family know where I am and what I’m doing. I ask Aaron to expect a call from Denise MacDonald and explain her travel plans and her need, perhaps, for a break from the Mother Unit while in London. Later on, I wander the grounds looking for photographs but find few. A walk down the road to the highway follows, greeting people who pass by. Folks are invariably friendly here and I stop and talk to a young farmer hand-cultivating his crop of corn with a special machete. Prosper is his name and I hope he will. Prosper also has sticks of cassava that he is planting, cassava being a source of starch and other nutrients.
Further along, I come to the weaver who Frank had pointed out when we first arrived at the hotel. “May I visit you,” I ask and I’m welcomed to the small thatched shelter that shades the weaver and his loom. This is Sokatsi Akakpo and he earns part of his livelihood through his craft. I tell him of my Mother’s long association with weaving and that she was an honored Canadian handcrafter in her lifetime. My description of her 48-inch, eight-harness jack loom brings a wistful look to Sokatsi’s eyes and I wonder what marvels he could perform on such a machine. What I know of weaving I learned as a boy while helping to thread the heddles of my Mother’s looms and wind on warps. I distantly remember the concept of “loom music,” the patterned script followed by weavers while threading their looms to produce such intricate textures and patterns and vivid colors.
All of this history proves useful during my visit with Sokatsi. I watch the rhythm of the flying shuttles, the beat of the reed, and the shifting of heddles separating the warp by means of strings held between his toes. Being tied to a concrete block that sits on little skids tensions the loom’s warp. As Sokatsi weaves, he winds the woven material onto a wooden spool while pulling the warp and its weighty block toward him.
I ask if I may photograph him while he works and he tells me, “Of course.” We visit while he weaves and I make pictures. I have him write his name and address on a card and promise to send copies of the pictures as soon as possible.
Returning up the hill toward the hotel, I encounter Keith and together we retrace my visits to the farmer, the weaver and the highway. Keith lends me some local currency and I purchase a length of Sokatsi’s weaving. Near the hotel again, we follow a path through the high grass and encounter a flock of buzzards keeping watch over the hotel’s open garbage pit. They do not seem amused by our intrusion into their enchanted spot.
At supper that evening, we are joined by a large and noisy group of North Americans having their meals in the main dining room. We three, along with Chris and Nana, take our coffee to a separate building and end up in a very frank and quite informative discussion about professional lives lived in the shadow of a powerful coordinator. The remarks are heartfelt and quite unexpected but show another side of working on the African continent and some of the difficulties encountered in interpersonal relations.
I return to my room at 2000 and start packing once again. Tomorrow, a GNAT vehicle will take the three of us to Accra for new adventures. I mustn’t forget to collect my laundry that was due this afternoon. While we visited over soft drinks earlier this afternoon, a most distinguished man, dressed in local costume, approached me. His face was scarred with marks common to many men here of his age. He stopped beside me and said, “Sir, I will bring your laundry tomorrow. It is not dry yet because of the rain.” I was completely charmed by this regal looking gentleman and his delivery of the message concerning my clothing. Tomorrow, goodbye to Ho and hello to Accra and its approximately 4 million souls.
Saturday, June 30
I’m awakened at 0700 by a knock at my door. The man from the laundry is there with all my cleanly washed belongings. His name is Francis and he is the same person who approached me yesterday afternoon. I think I have never had such beautifully laundered shirts before, each one pressed, folded and buttoned, and the pants with razor sharp creases. I thank him for his work and ask where I might find him later in the morning. He points to the area of the hotel that houses his laundry and I promise I will come and find him before I go for breakfast.
I decide that my visit to Francis’ work place will be worth a few pictures and I find him toiling over open tubs of hot water, washing each piece of laundry by hand. He has a young helper, Jama, and between them, they apparently launder guest clothing as well as the hotel’s linen. The Maytag dependability guy could sure be put to good use around here. I have noticed my socks becoming gradually elongated each time they return from a laundry here and now I know why. Pictures are taken and addresses are exchanged, with a promise from Francis that he will write to me. I leave him a tip and one of the ATA wooden pens that have been liberally scattered across this part of the continent and we part as friends.
(While not a part of this journal, Francis did write to me asking about the photographs I had taken of him and wishing me all the best in his unique manner. A large package of photographs was sent to Ho from Edmonton shortly after returning home. A copy of Francis’ letter is appended at the end of this journal.)
In the dining room, I am startled to be nearly hit by a small bird that has flown into one of the windows and then ricocheted into the room and onto the floor. It is alive but in dire straits and as I pick it up, the bird begins bleeding from around the beak. It flutters from my hands and falls to the garden verge just outside. I wash my hands and then check the little creature but its spirit has departed. Tiny ants are already claiming the remains.
After breakfast, I photograph a number of the hotel staff, including the beautiful Eunice who has served us in the restaurant so faithfully. At checkout, Jasper Jones notes that I have not taken his photograph and asks if I will do so. He is photographed, as well as a woman who works in the office. On the first day of my visit here, she commented on my hair. “It’s so beautiful and ironed, not like African hair,” she exclaimed, and we have carried on jokingly in that vein at each subsequent crossing of paths. Afterward, I settle my account with the young woman who operates the business centre at the hotel. The messages I have sent by email are now lien-free. Jasper asks for a picture with her and I suspect a blossoming romance, judging by the way he takes her hand and looks at her.
We leave for Accra with Jacob, the GNAT driver for the Volta Region, and proceed rapidly southwest in his Toyota crew cab truck. Our speed on the highway averages between 115 and 130 KPH. Jacob drives very aggressively, scattering pedestrians and honking at slower vehicles. He barely slows for villages and the only time he hauls the truck down to second gear is at police checkpoints and near Accra where the highway department has installed some really serious speed bumps for the likes of dear Jacob. I have heard that the most common form of death and disaster in developing nations is automobile accidents and I can see why. Driving a vehicle with GNAT stenciled on the door seems to provide this operator with a sense of infallibility and certainly one of superiority to other beings traveling on the roadway.
We arrive swiftly and unscathed at the national headquarters of the Ghana National Association of Teachers. This is an impressive compound containing two buildings at least the size of ATA’s Barnett House as well as smaller buildings, grounds and parking areas. An exhibit of Junior Achievement projects is underway on the grounds and the whole compound is filled with high school students from across the country. GNAT promotes this program and provides office space for its administrators. Mobil Oil provides funding, vehicles and print support. Our stop here is brief and we proceed almost immediately to our Accra home, the nearby Sunrise Hotel.
The grounds of the hotel are quite charming but the hotel itself has surely seen better days. KLM aircrew once stayed here, we are told, but there are presently neither captains nor flight attendants in sight. The rooms are musty smelling and dusty, the beds less than inviting and the whole place is rather tired looking. Outdoors, there are tennis courts, a nicely situated swimming pool and lunch counter and a number of gazebos. Keith has taken an audit of the shortcomings of all of our rooms and has had a showdown with the desk clerk concerning his list. He has obtained a promise that all will be corrected and we decide to stay for at least a few days. Across the street and about a block down is the Ghana headquarters building of the World Bank, an institution we are scheduled to visit during our week here.
We spend some time settling into our respective rooms and later meet in the garden for a discussion of events up to this time. The SODEP program–what it will be, how it will function and how many projects it will support–is examined. I think the number of projects will have to be quite modest, despite what seems like a very healthy budget provided by CIDA. My view is that PATC should serve as the pinion in this project, carrying out research on each of the SODEP projects in other countries. This effort would be assisted by having web sites in each PATC member country providing communications between all projects and by providing travel for the PATC director to each of the other African SODEP partner countries. A measure of articulation between projects would then occur and PATC would act as the disseminator of whatever results are produced. Information and advice on operating similar projects in other member countries would be provided as part of a new PATC mandate.
From such esoteric meanderings, we turn to progress on improving our hotel rooms. Keith has been spectacularly successful in getting results and he and Frank now have new rooms. All of the shortfalls listed earlier by Keith have been remedied in a display of “frenetic activity,” to use Keith’s words. My bedside lamp now has a working bulb which means my Maglite will no longer be needed for bedtime reading illumination.
Our discussion under the eaves of the garden gazebo goes on a bit longer than expected. We are waiting for a car from GNAT to take us on some errands but it never appears. Keith and I elect to walk around the neighborhood and I collect some photographs along the way. On our return, we prepare for our evening at the home of Irene and Gilbert Adanusa.
We met and worked with Irene at both Lomé and at Ho. She is the deputy general secretary of the Ghana National Union of Teachers. Her husband is an electrical engineer employed, I believe, in private business but with long connections to government. Gilbert collects us in his sport utility car and drives us to their suburban home. As usual in such neighborhoods, the home is walled and a gatekeeper is employed. Irene and Gilbert are warm and welcoming hosts and with Gilbert’s assortment of jazz playing on the CD machine we enjoy good conversation and delicious food. I’m interested to learn from Gilbert that Ghana is preparing to use its electricity distribution pylons to carry high-speed web cable to all of the country. My enthusiasm for linking the continent’s teacher organizations is bolstered.
Sunday, July 1
Weekends can be lost time for international travelers whose missions include talking with as many people as possible. Sunday in Accra is no exception and after breakfast, we meet again in the garden for conversation amongst ourselves. This time, the background for our chat is the noise of tennis balls being volleyed back and forth on the nearby court.
I feel a bit frustrated with our progress but I’m not sure why. It’s partly the process we are following and our small part within it. Having seen only general outlines of what SODEP expects to accomplish and having been involved with only two possible projects, I wonder what else is being proposed in other countries. I ask Frank to talk more about possibilities he viewed in Namibia and Tanzania and his response helps fill in the picture. This passive mode of project development takes lots of patience.
I break away for a while and spend time doing some sketching of ideas in my room. What I see emerging is a unified approach to SODEP projects here in Africa. The centrepiece will be a reinvigorated and effective PATC that can carry out research and resource development and can serve as the master communicator between all SODEP programs. Each SODEP project should be unique but its results should be transferrable to other countries. Some of the concepts apparently under review are an ESL training program for Namibian teachers; teacher upgrading through local colleges in Zambia; a program to reclaim street children for education in Uganda; and a project for mentoring beginning teachers in rural settings in Ghana. These projects, conducted in partnership with specified agencies, will address problems identified by teacher organizations but will have universal appeal and applicability across many parts of the continent. PATC can be the agency that monitors, researches, and makes results of the SODEP programs available to all member organizations, working in close collaboration with the CTF SODEP coordinator and other agencies.
This approach appeals to me because it provides a directed and coordinated approach by applying maximum resources to one good project per country and sharing each project with a wide audience of interested members.
Monday, July 2
Ghana’s National holiday and another day very much on hold. I sleep a bit later and after breakfast catch up on this journal. For lunch, we walk to the Northridge Hotel, just north of our hotel, and over our meal we set up a preliminary budget for PATC. While such input to the process is a good contribution, it seems like little is being accomplished.
The afternoon is whiled away waiting for Tom Bediako to arrive so that more time can be spent on the planning of PATC. Around1800, Keith visits with a young aid worker from Canada and delivers to her an aid package from her parents in Canada. Afterward, a car and driver from GNAT are to arrive to be at our disposal. Joe Frampong visited us this afternoon for a bit and told us the car would come for us. I’ll believe it when I see it. There is a man at the hotel every day and he has a car for hire. He spends each day just waiting for customers. Maybe we should hire him. Tomorrow should be more productive with meetings scheduled with the minister and my return trip to Lomé with Tom. I’m hopeful that having traveling time with Tom will help inform me about other aspects and insights concerning PATC.
At 1900, Tom and Peter Mabande arrive for a brief meeting that ends up summarizing pretty much everything that has been established to date. Tom supports a single model approach for each country and seems to like the idea of PATC acting as part of the glue to stick SODEP projects together. Rosemary O’Shaughnessy, a Canadian field worker for WUSC, arrives and fills us in on the wonders of the CIDA-WUSC program that is taking place in Ghana. She also provides a discourse on the shortcomings of GNAT, as seen through the eyes of the teachers she is working with. She has an office at the ministry and I think that setting has influenced her. Some of us are impressed by the images she paints about her work “upcountry,” some of us are not.
Two cars then take us off to Tom’s Accra home for supper. We had nearly forgotten about this planned event but the visit adds some sparkle to an otherwise unremarkable day. Tom and his wife Agnes greet us and serve a hearty Ghanaian meal. Peter is there as well and joins us for dinner before departing for the airport and home to Harare. I walk out to the car to see this old friend away. He is a source of strength for teachers in Zimbabwe and southern Africa and increasingly across the continent. He gives me a copy of the report on his latest visit to Mozambique, which I am eager to read. Tomorrow, courtesy calls at the ministry and away to Lomé with Tom in the afternoon.
Tuesday, July 3
Our mission today is to visit the ministries concerned with the delivery of education in Ghana. Dress shirt, slacks, tie and blazer form the wardrobe code for the day, all carried from Canada for just such events. A car from GNAT is to come for us (three times lucky) and I head down for breakfast. Keith and Frank soon show up as does Francis, our driver. He joins us for breakfast, after which we drive to the GNAT offices and meet up with Joe Frampong. Walking through the building, we say a quick hello to Irene in her office. She is about to leave for central Ghana.
We are deposited in the public office of the general secretary and wait while Joe goes off on mysterious errands. The general secretary never materializes and Joe returns to collect us for a visit to the World Bank office, just down the street from our hotel. On leaving the GNAT offices, we are greeted by a woman we had met at EI headquarters in Lomé. She is working in one of the three offices marked as belonging to and provisionally occupied by the All Africa Teachers’ Organization. Interesting.
We sign in at security at the World Bank building and are taken to a boardroom to meet Eunice Dapaah who is responsible for educational development lending. She has been a Peace Corps volunteer and also has experience working in the ministry of education. Eunice proceeds to give her views of GNAT, mainly that the teachers’ organization is seen as a union interested only in teacher salaries. She would like to see GNAT take on a greater professional development role by providing ways that teacher skills can be improved. She says that infrastructure for teachers and headmasters is badly missing, text books are in very short supply and that the ministry does not have enough capacity to handle all the problems and challenges facing national education. The ministry does, however, hold a great deal of raw data on conditions in the country and some of this might be of use in research undertaken by PATC. Eunice tells us that teacher salaries absorb 98 per cent of the national education budget and the education budget accounts for 39 per cent of the total federal budget. I feel she doesn’t see teachers or their organization putting anything back into improvements. Teachers in isolated areas have hardship teaching experiences and help for them is required, some of which could come from GNAT. Joe Frampong comments that it is the ministry that decides who will have teaching jobs and he maintains that often friends of the government are appointed who are really not capable teachers.
At the conclusion of the meeting, I decide to walk back to the hotel to begin packing for the return trip to Lomé. Keith and Frank carry on to the ministry where they hope to have a meeting. Perhaps Joe is just relying on good luck and his knowledge of the situation.
My laundry awaits in my room and eventually all my worldly possessions here in Africa are re-fitted into the suitcase. At noon, I go into the garden for lunch and to take some photographs.
I order a fried egg sandwich and coke and manage to eat but half of the sandwich, which is quite large. I provide the other half to a gardener who is clearing weeds from a nearby flowerbed. The bill is settled and diary writing continues when a young woman interrupts me. She wants to know if the sandwich was good and did it require mayonnaise and am I enjoying my stay. I assure her all is well but do not recommend her to the gardener for his views. Has Keith, I wonder, started a revolution in hotel service?
My time at the Sunrise nears an end and I expect Tom sometime shortly after lunch. My time in Accra has been productive in some ways but has sometimes seemed as just a marking of the passing hours. I am aware of this from other trips and it results when one tries to fit into the busy schedules of others. Joe Frampong has tried his best for us but the scheduling of events seems a bit haphazard. That may just be the nature of Joe. Keith has dubbed our Ghanian guide “Random Joe,” a reference to his unpredictable comings and goings. I trust the remaining time in Accra will be productive for my friends as it will be free of weekends and national days of celebration.
Keith and Frank appear around 1300 and we have a short debriefing concerning their experiences post-World Bank. The minister was indeed visited, as was the deputy minister, the latter being a product of post-graduate education in Saskatchewan. He and Frank held an impromptu “Old Home Reunion,” providing each other with names of common acquaintances back on the Canadian plains. The meeting, however, was more by chance than design and Frank expresses his unhappiness with the lack of planning on the part of GNAT for our visit.
Keith poses a more pertinent question, wondering what my fate will be if Tom does not show up to collect me. I find I’m rather laid back about how events transpire here in Africa and I’m unconcerned. I survived the mysterious rites of passage at the Togo border; lost my camera case and had it returned; got someone else’s socks (Frank’s) in my laundry but mine showed up; the inn at Ho was double-booked and I got to stay in a sumptuous guest house instead. Things here have a pleasant way of working out.
Very shortly, Kofi pulls into the hotel grounds in the trusty Freelander and I begin loading my chattels into its interior. A few parting words to my colleagues and then Kofi and I head to Tom’s Accra house to collect him and Margaret for the trip to Lomé. We are then underway on the first leg of my return journey home.
The road we travel is new to me but not to the others. Tom and Kofi drive it perhaps weekly and it is a bit dicey due to the rough sections along the way. It is badly potholed and Kofi has his hands full navigating between the ruts, missing pedestrians on the verge of the road and avoiding on-coming vehicles that are doing precisely the same things. We maintain a smart turn of speed, nonetheless. Small vans are often encountered with full interior loads as well as an accumulation of freight strapped to their roofs. The exterior loads often more than double the overall height of the vehicles and they appear quite unsteady as they dodge the potholes. Kofi and I spot one exceptionally tall load coming toward us and I gesture at it. Kofi just smiles and says, “Africa!”
I am reminded of an Ikea commercial on television at home that shows a stack of furniture undulating up and down along a highway. Next time I see that ad, I will smile and say, “Africa!”
The land we pass through is quite beautiful, lush grassland dotted with frequent trees. Very appealing to an old prairie boy and the occasional herds of slick coated, well-fed cattle just add to the appeal. There are frequent villages along the way, some more developed than others, but those with fast cars and a destination in mind motor through all of them, barely slowing and relying on horns and flashing lights to clear the way ahead of people, chickens, cars and goats.
As we near the border, the buildup of shops, stalls and hawkers multiplies rapidly. We stop at the gas station where we reorganized cars on the way to Ho and stretch our legs. We then drive to the Ghana departure area and park. A young official, perhaps known to Tom, takes our passports and Kofi accompanies him into one of the buildings. Within moments, they return and the official has me sign an exit card that has already been filled out. He returns to the building and comes out with my passport, salutes Tom and receives a gratuity for his efficient handling of our crossing.
We drive across to the Togo entry station and park once more. This time Tom takes me to a window and proceeds to get the essential entry stamps. While all of this is going on, we are once again immersed in an amazing movement of men, women and children, most carrying a variety of goods in all manner of conveyances, including the tops of women’s but never men’s heads. In the same narrow confines move heavy transport trucks, busses, cars and scooters. Anxiety would be counter-productive here and again my faith in Africa bears me along on its crest.
The border is on the western edge of Lomé and as we enter along the beach road, familiar sights return and soon we are parking in the driveway of the Palm Beach Hotel, my home in Togo. Tom, Margaret and Kofi bid me good evening and leave for Tom’s Lomé house.
Room 602 is available and for a payment of 42,000 francs it is mine once more. After a shower and change, I head for the restaurant located on the second floor and the waiter who remembers me greets me. We shake hands and I tell him of my travels in Ghana. He asks, “Is Canada a nice place?” and I assure him it is. Dinner is the grilled fish, preceded by a Flag beer and followed by real, by-God coffee. The only coffee available to us in Ghana was Nescafé instant.
My waiter has an interesting face in that it bears fine vertical scars running from his temples to his cheeks. I have been told that such markings identify family, clan and region but also that smaller facial scars are the result of medicine being inserted under the skin when the person was a child. Having noticed no such scars on young people I have encountered, I think there may be some truth to the latter explanation.
Tomorrow will be a busy day, with a final visit to PATC and then boarding the flight for home.
Wednesday, July 4
Last night, I had set my radio to come on at 0800 but as usual I’m awake before 0600. By 0730
I have had breakfast and by 0830 completed a visit to the Air France office to confirm my ticket to Paris. Afterward, I walk down to the surf. The tide is high and many of the combers break powerfully on the sands. I collect eight small shells to transplant to Canada, one for each of us, including wee Tara, and then return across the road to the hotel.
The suitcase is completely emptied and bits and pieces of its contents set aside to leave in Lomé. It is then carefully repacked and the amount of excess room thus created is quite surprising.
Downstairs, the Freelander waits with Kofi at the wheel. We head out for the EI office and a short visit with Tom. Despite good intentions to do so, it was not possible to speak with him on the trip from Accra. A combination of radio noise, my interest in the passing scene, and trying to survive the icy blast coming from the air conditioner defeated good intentions. Further, Tom rode in the back with Margaret and I rode with Kofi in the front. Tom slept a good deal of the way and I wouldn’t deny him the chance to rest while he can. He is very involved in all sorts of educational matters and keeps himself completely informed. His hectic travel pace would certainly wear me out.
After the courtesy call, Kofi drives me over to the PATC office (I should have walked) and I visit with Carol, Zach, Perptue and Assibi. We get into some scenarios of what might transpire in terms of operations and we discuss computer purchases, networking the building’s computers and acquiring software.
Around 1130, Tom arrives unannounced and assembles the staff for a meeting. He wants them to know that he will be away until August and that they should carry on in their duties under their own supervision. He says that one of them will shortly be appointed to supervise the office during his absence. Of greater importance, he shares some of the vision for a rejuvenated PATC and says that upon his return, PATC staff that also shares EI duties will be asked to work full time for only one of the organizations. The Promotion of Women in Education program will be moved to the EI office where it properly belongs. He promises skills improvement training, cooperative development of job descriptions and wage scales and suggests that PATC staff members might want to organize by joining a local union.
Maintenance and possible expansion of the building is also addressed and, all in all, Tom paints an optimistic picture of the future of PATC. I add comments of support but I am hoping that my earlier conversation with the staff is more meaningful.
Tom concludes the meeting by suggesting one of them might wish to “thank the Canadians” for their involvement and interest. There is some understandable hesitation but then Perpetué takes up the challenge and delivers some lovely impromptu comments. At the end of these, as I’m sitting beside her, I lean toward her and point to my cheek which receives the caress of her kiss, much to the approval and amusement of all assembled.
At 1230, Kofi returns me to the hotel. Nothing more can be accomplished until after the two-hour lunch break. The staff has agreed to come to the hotel at 1600 to officially see me off. I have lunch on the pool patio and write up my journal entries, my attention divided between my little black book and watching the magnificent ocean. I’m going to try the local vendors for some souvenirs but expect little success. Kofi will return for me at 1700 for the drive to the airport.
With courage plucked up, I walk from the hotel to the craft market located across the street from the hotel. Courage is needed, not for encounters with ordinary Loméans, but for the vendors and their shills who attach themselves to you. Sure enough, when I stop at a stall to talk to a young girl about her necklaces, a young man immediately appears to help out with the sales pitch and the bargaining. I buy four necklaces and hope to move on alone and more or less in peace. No such luck. The young man and a friend walk along with me as I explore, eagerly trying to talk me into further purchases. I let them know as kindly as possible that I want to go on unaccompanied. “Father, we will look after you, we will be your bodyguards,” they protest.
I walk on. They walk on with me. One eventually drops behind but the other remains my shadow for a walk of several blocks around the market and back to the hotel. He tells me that sales to tourists are very slow and that my small purchase was the first the young girl had had that day, and I’m sure he is correct. Near the hotel, I give him 500 francs to help out and he seems quite pleased. There seem to be no visitors to Lomé and those who rely on trade with travelers are doing very poorly.
As we passed by the shore on our walk, I had noticed two men sitting in a beached fishing canoe and drumming. I decide to take my camera and return to see if I can get some photographs. But by the time I return, they have disappeared, drums and all, and only the empty canoe remains. Like magic, my two young vendors appear, one with a quite beautiful carved elephant. He wants 5000 francs for it but I have only 2500 francs left with me. He says he will find another carving that he will sell for that price and he hurries off to retrieve it. When he returns, a deal is struck and I now possess a carving of the national emblem. We talk of Canada and Africa and of the difficulty of fulfilling aspirations in a country as poor as Togo. They all seem like very decent young men, rather at loose ends in a country with an economy that’s going nowhere, and I think they just enjoy talking to “Father,” a stranger from a distant land.
Returning to the hotel, I shower once more and change then pack my treasures away for the journey home. I arrange passport, ticket and travelers cheques then leave the room for the last time and go down to the front desk. I’m expecting the PATC staff shortly and all but Zack show up just as I’m ordering a coffee in the lobby kiosk. We have soft drinks and coffees and share a great visit together. These are fine young folk who work hard and are committed to the success of their organization. I hope we can do things that will brighten their futures through the reorganization of the Centre. They present me with a gift, beautifully wrapped, and a card they have made to go with it. It’s a wooden carving of an African woman and it’s beautifully executed. This gets packed well inside the suitcase for a safe trip home. Kofi arrives, farewells are said and I’m off to l’aérogare de Lomé.
In the airport parking area, Kofi and I say goodbye and I hand him a parcel of items that needn’t be returned to Canada. Included are batteries, packaged hand wipes and various odds and ends, and an envelope with a $20 Canadian bill and a letter from me. Kofi has been a great friend and a safe and skilled driver and I have appreciated his fine service.
Check-in is fairly hassle-free but everyone, from the police outside the door to the customs agent ladies inside, would like a little consideration, none of which I am inclined to provide. I have a fairly long wait in the departure lounge before my flight and I watch the interesting people who come and go through what is supposed to be a secure area. I am approached by very sincere vendors selling pens, flowers and postcards as well as by panhandlers. People of all description come and go through the doors leading to the tarmac and the big A340 waiting there. All very casual but a bit alarming to the person about to commit to flight.
Boarding begins two hours after my arrival at the airport and the airplane is scheduled to leave at 2000. When the boarding announcement is made, I walk out onto the tarmac in darkness with the other passengers. At the foot of the air stairs, we encounter those gentlemen from Air France, dressed in the blue shirts and grey trousers, who accompanied us from Paris on the incoming flight. They conduct their own, very thorough passport and ticket check and carefully inspect all carry-on luggage. I am delighted to be in their care.
Thursday, July 5, 2001
We follow the same route home as we took going out, with a stop in Lagos to complete our Paris-bound passenger load. On takeoff from Lagos, we are informed that the in-flight entertainment system is inoperative and I think this is done to encourage passengers to sleep throughout the night. It works for me and after our meal of shark or some other sea creature, I drift off. I’m awakened for coffee and a cookie, Air France’s petit-déjeuner, and then its time for our 0600 arrival in Paris. This trip has taken just over eight hours.
Air France service on this flight, while adequate, is nothing to write home about. Charles de Gaulle airport is barely awake at 0630 and I have time to waste before I can get my boarding pass for Toronto or even a cup of coffee. Both are achieved by 0830 and more time is then spent wandering the terminal and watching airplanes come and go. Heavy air traffic starts at 0900 and it’s fun to watch the action and the colors of the national carriers. My Air Canada 747 combi arrives and parks on the central tarmac, away from the terminal. This part of the airport is dominated by Boeing 767's, 747's and 777's as well as Airbus A330's and A340's. Gone from this main terminal are the Lockheed 1011's and Douglas DC-10's that date from the beginning of the jumbo jet age.
Boarding takes place by riding conventional buses out to the air stairs of the Boeing and we taxi out shortly after. On another side of the terminal, we pass some 1011's belonging to Air Transat, one of Canada’s charter airlines.
The flight to Toronto is unremarkable and our destination is reached by mid-morning local time. Two hours are spent clearing customs and changing terminals and eventually boarding a Canadian A320 decked out in the last of the Canadian flying goose paint schemes. A slight delay follows and the cabin chief announces that Air Canada forgot to provision the plane and we will therefore be flying home without food service. Our option is to wait two hours for meals to be prepared. Nobody is in favor of that and we wing our way west feasting on pretzels and peanuts.
After a round trip of nearly 30,000 kilometers, Edmonton International appears below and we let down from a southeast approach. It’s good to be home.
Contacts on this visit
Irene Andanusa (Gilbert) Deputy Secretary General Ghana National Association of Teachers Teachers’ Hall PO Box 209 Accra, Ghana
Dr Lawrence A Kannae Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration PO Box AH 50 Achimota– Accra, Ghana
Rosemary O’Shaughnessy World University Service of Canada PO Box M45 Accra, Ghana
Akakpo Sokatsi, Weaver PO Box 605 (Chances Hotel) Ho, Ghana
Carole Adjoa-Sika Quashie BP 13117 Lome, Togo e: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jasper Jones Hedjoh Chances Hotel PO Box 605 Ho, Volta region, Ghana e: email@example.com
Joe Frampong Associate Secretary General Ghana National Association of Teachers Teachers’ Hall PO Box 209 Accra, Ghana
Perpetue Kossiwa Kodjo BP 14058 Lome, Togo e: firstname.lastname@example.org
Carole Quashie e: email@example.com
Zakaria Bawa e: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kofi, Tom’s driver
Dr Nana Henne Ababio EI Regional Director–English speaking countries BP 14058 Lome, Togo
Samuel Ngoua Ngou EI Regional Director– French speaking countries
Ms Chris Adjeso PATC
Here is the letter from Francis Akakpo, the gentleman who provided the best laundry I have ever experienced!
Chances Hotel, Ho, Volta Region, Ghana
This is the voice of Francis Akakpo calling from the above Hotel just to withdraw your attention. How are you feeling? It is my hope that you are very fine. I am also very fine here.
In the first place, I wish to ask whether you have landed there safely and I also hope that you enjoyed every bit of the journey you have made to Chances Hotel.
I again want to remind you of the pictures you took (of) us. May you not forget to send them to us.
The whole staff at Chances Hotel sent their greetings to you. We always remember you for you are very cheerful, kind and loving. It is my wish that you will keep it up.
Greetings to all loving friends. See you some other time. I hope to hear from you soon.