Pan African Congress/PATC AGM and Ghana Visit January 20–February 1, 2004
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
I leave Edmonton this morning from home at Harmony Place at 0900. Kalie and Chris leave just before me, Kalie for school and Chris just tagging along. We fill the windshield washer in Kalie’s Neon, scrape the frost off the windows and away she goes to her classes. Brinki’s cab arrives just as she pulls out of the driveway. Brinki has a nice old Lincoln town car, the squared off kind that I like. He drives me to Edmonton International via Anthony Henday and Whitemud Freeways.
I have some time to wait in Edmonton and as I approach the security gate the officer looks at my departure time and then at his watch. Down the rows of roped-off lanes I go to the x-ray operators. I am called over to by one who says “You look special,” and I run all my carry-on items through the machine. No delays, then into departure for lots of pre-boarding walking back and forth.
I’m half way down the new Airbus 321 (21C) and I have a comfortable flight to Toronto. I remember earlier flights to this great Canadian city and the anticipation I would feel knowing that I would soon see my beautiful Galien. She is a bit further east these days and my anticipation will be piqued when I leave Accra for London in about 10 days time. I will see her in London, in company with Aaron and Brian, who will be taking very good care of her on her “Christmas Break,” I’m sure.
I talked to both Aaron and Galien before I left today, Aaron telling me that he and Brian would meet me in London with a car on my return from Accra. I called Galien to let her know that Aaron and Brian would be meeting me and would she care to join them? Then I told her when I would be arriving—0630—“I’ll be there Dad!” My international children!
In Toronto, I thank the pilot and the steward and walk from Terminal Two to Terminal One through the tunnel, getting as much walking in as possible. I find the departure lounge for my flight (HH) and then backtrack around the circular hallway to a small bar, where I consume a Corona beer, followed by a second libation, a Bavaria beer from Brazil. Quite refreshing! Then it’s back to HH to await my flight to London and to begin this journal. It is being kept in the Moleskine journal sent to me from Hamburg by Galien. The pen for the trip is from the Greenwood Inn in Canmore, given to me when I did a “site inspection” at summer conference six years ago, just before I became Summer Conference director. My flight will be called in 25 minutes and I will end for now. Two beers have me feeling rather mellow.
Wednesday, January 21
On to London. An uneventful crossing in a somewhat worn 767. At one point of the flight, the steward comments that Air Canada should return the plane to Mexicana, from whom it has apparently been leased. My seat mate is a young woman, originally from Hong Kong, who is travelling home after two years in Chicago. She was studying hotel management there. She leaves behind the US and an American-born boyfriend. “I really love him,” she tells me. She is 24, the same age as Galien, and we talk about children who travel the world, and parents who encourage them to do so.
I try out my new inflatable neck pillow and I really like it. Combined with a sleeping mask, I manage several hours of sleep as we cross the Atlantic.
Terminal change at Heathrow goes smoothly and I have breakfast at Garfunkel’s Restaurant in Terminal 4 while I wait for the flight to Accra. Before my order arrives, Doug Willard and Paul Nordahl come in and sit down. I determine to wait a bit before going over to say hello.
I pay the bill with a £20 note obtained at the Edmonton cash exchange, leave a 1£ tip, and go out to phone Aaron. It’s always a challenge, I find, operating foreign (and even domestic) payphones. He’s out on a job interview this morning and I hope to reach him on his cell phone. The telephone defeats me, refusing to accept any of the coins I feed it. Doug and Paul catch up to me near gate 14 and we visit while waiting for our flight to be called. Gate 12, next to ours (no gate 13, it should be mentioned) is boarding passengers for Dhaka, Bangladesh. This is a good example of the reach of British Airways to so many disparate destinations around the world.
Our flight in a 767 is full. My seat partner is a young man from Calgary, Alberta. Tom Mannix is on his way to Ghana to work at Osu Children’s House, an orphanage, for three months or so. He hopes to spend time afterward visiting other parts of Africa. We talk about places in Africa, the need for such friendships there as he will bring and what a life-forming experience he’s likely to have. He has a bad cold and I hope I don’t catch it.
I encounter Doug and Paul while taking a walk about the cabin and then return to my seat for the remainder of the flight. Arrival in Accra is on time and the luggage and customs formalities are few. We three Canadians are ushered out of the customs hall without a question or an inspection and we find ourselves at the terminal entrance. Folk from the Mensvic Hotel are here to collect us. Once aboard the hotel bus, we are joined by Margareta Axell, the teachers’ representative from Sweden. Margareta has been to Africa many times during her long career with the Swedish teachers’ organization. She seems a very serious person but we Canadians bring out some smiles on the trip to the hotel. Check-in follows, after which everyone meets on the outdoor patio for food and beer.
There is a beautiful child of about three who we encounter in the lobby. Returning from settling in to my room, I bring her the little kit from the British Airways flight—toothbrush and toothpaste, flying socks and a sleeping mask. I think I have made a new friend for life. She sure is a cutie.
Thursday, January 22
Last night, we had agreed to meet for breakfast at 0700 and to be on the road by 0730. We actually depart at 0800 and head northeast from Accra for the community of Ho. Doug, Margareta and I share Tom’s Land Rover with Kofi driving while Paul travels with Ingrid from Norway in another vehicle. A third truck carries excess baggage that won’t fit into the first two vehicles. This is my second trip over this route, the first having been on our “discovery mission” in 2001 when PATC was being scouted as a partner organization for CTF’s SODEP money.
Ho and Chances Resort are reached after two hours of Kofi’s careful but speedy driving. I’m looking forward to seeing Francis, the man who was in charge of the laundry at Chances on my first visit. After that visit, I sent photographs to him and he wrote me a wonderful letter in reply.
I encounter a man standing outside the office at Chances and I ask him if he knows Francis. He tells me Francis is ill and no longer works here. I then ask after Jasper, the young manager from my previous visit. He has moved on as well. I think he senses my disappointment and then introduces himself. “I am Emanuel Chance,” he says, the owner in person, and I am quite surprised. I tell him of my previous visit and he welcomes me most warmly, taking me on a tour of the new additions, which are quite impressive. I congratulate him on the expansion and tell him of the generous welcome given to me previously and of my stay at his personal guest house. He seems pleased.
But I am disappointed in not seeing Francis. There are no signs of his brother Prosper who farmed along the road to the resort, nor is there any trace of the third brother, Sokatsi the weaver, who lived and worked at the junction with the highway. His weaving shop has been turned into a chips shop. A great loss, I think.
We carry on for Lomé after this brief interlude at Chance’s and reach the border crossing in about an hour. Nothing has changed here, in this strange transition zone between nations. Passports still disappear. The man guarding the entry to Togo who holds up or lets down a blue plastic rope still works his authority from the shade of his umbrella. Our progress down the beach road to the Deux fevrier Hotel is rather anti-climactic but it marks a transition in this journey.
After checking in and settling briefly in my room I register for the congress and pick up my kit of materials. I spend some time at a plenary session but find it difficult to focus. Barbara MacDonald joins me for awhile and we listen to speeches made by Assibi Napoe, EI regional representative, Irene Adanusa, general secretary of GNAT, and Salimata Doumbia, general secretary from Côte d’Ivoire. Since I’m drifting in and out of sleep, I decide to quit the assembly before I fall off another African chair and draw unnecessary attention to myself. A shower and a two-hour sleep help and at 1800 I awake refreshed.
The first order of business this evening is a little get-together with CTF and PATC staff in Barbara and Cassie’s suite. Very nicely done and a good way to reinforce the already strong bonds that exist between everyone in the room. We then proceed to the general reception being held in the ballroom downstairs. Here I am greeted by Salimata, Chantelle from FES, Assibi and Magay—many of my African lady friends—as well as by Tom Bediako. I spend most of my time with Zack and the others from PATC. Outside the ballroom several African drummers perform their rhythms and singing, bringing a joyous message.
There is more. The Canadians, plus some of the EI and PATC representatives including Assibi, Linda Asper and Salimata, walk (some of us drive with Assibi) to the Viva Royale restaurant for a very pleasant supper. I have poached sole with ginger glaze and it’s delicious. I have taken meals here on both other occasions and I have always found the food to be very good. The Barracuda Restaurant, my favourite place to dine in Lomé, has closed, I learn, and I’m disappointed by that news. Then it’s home to the Deux fevrier and bedtime.
Friday, January 23
I sleep a bit late this morning, arriving downstairs for a coffee and a croissant at 0900. Most delegates had breakfast upstairs in the hotel’s main dining room. Margareta Axell arrives and joins me. She has no change so I spot her 1000 CFA for a croissant and coffee. Margareta is an interesting woman. She has provided international service and liaison for Lärärforbundet, the Swedish teachers’ organization for quite a long time and she has made hundreds of trips to Africa and elsewhere. She is startled to learn that I am only on my seventh visit to Africa. “I’ve heard so much about you that I thought you had been here much more often,” she tells me. I take that as high praise, for Margareta is not one for uttering trivialities. I ask Margareta to outline the history of the world’s teacher organizations. She sets to work on this in a straightforward way and I take notes and ask questions as she proceeds. After about an hour she brings the lecture to an end. “For another coffee and pastry, I will carry on with this another time,” she tells me and leaves to work on a speech for Tom’s dinner this evening. “I’m a very good bargainer,” is her parting comment.
I return to my room and on the elevator I encounter a gentleman who rode down with me this morning. I ask if he is here with the Congress and he replies that he is. Introductions are made and he tells me he knows of me! Margareta’s perceptions are confirmed!
His name is Dr Gérard Kester and he is a retired Netherlands academic and a long-time friend and colleague of Tom Bediako. He tells me that he is keen to get a publishing project put together to collect, edit and publish as much about Tom’s life and times as possible. I would like to assist in some way, perhaps by finding someone who could do all the organizing and contacting.
My next stop is the Internet Cafe to send a note home regarding my safe arrival. Upon opening the French language Hotmail page, with some kind help from the friendly staff, I find a note from Galien welcoming me to Africa. I’m delighted by this and send a reply with copies to Rebecca and Kalie at home. I’m busily typing away on the awkward French keyboard when the page shuts down—I’m out of time. An extra 300 CFA and I’m back in, finishing and sending the e-mail messages and giving the remainder of the second five minutes to the young man who has helped me.
At 1145, the Canadians and PATC staff leave for the PATC office and SODEP House. Mary Futrell, NEA president, and some of her staff join us as well as a representative from Quebec’s CEQ. Laurence Kannai welcomes everyone and gives an overview of operations and a tour of the facility. The press is running and the staff is working and a very good impression is provided, I think. Tom Bediaka attends with us (we wave to his wife on the balcony of their home just across the street). I spend some time under the tree out front enquiring about Nono, my little friend from my last Lomé visit, and learn that she has gone with her family to Kpalimé and will return later today. I have the teddy bear in a little bag Rebecca made for her but this will have to wait until our next visit to the PATC office.
From PATC, we head to SODEP House. Here lunch is provided for the entourage out on the front veranda. This little visit has been well orchestrated and I believe the guests are impressed with the PATC staff and their hospitality. It is quite a coup to have Tom, Mary Futrell and all the others hosted here. Hopefully, this may lead to additional support for the work of the Centre.
As the meal goes on, I talk in the kitchen with Kokuvi concerning Afi and Paula, the two children who live across the street from SODEP House and whom I photographed on my last trip to Lomé. I have $20US for Afi and I want to see both children once again. Kokuvi takes me over and there they are, both having grown some since I photographed them last in December, 2002. Kokuvi introduces Paula’s mother to me and I greet Afi and Paula once again. Paula’s hair is done up in a very complex arrangement of braids, beads and little trinkets. Paula’s hair is very short cropped and she wears a bright yellow jumper. After some visiting, I ask to photograph the girls. Paula’s mother gets both girls changed into beautiful dress outfits and then suggests that we photograph on the upstairs balcony. As we head upstairs, I realize my camera is at the end of its roll of film and I have no more with me. I excuse myself for a moment to run back to SODEP House for more. Grabbing some film from the camera bag, I call to Cassie and ask her to come with me. Back to Paula’s house we go, following the young Kokuvi. New introductions are made and then I follow Cassie up the outside steps to the balcony above. I’m watching her heels as she climbs up when suddenly I’m aware of her stumbling and she exclaims in some pain—she has run head-first into a ledge that overhangs the stairs and she has given herself quite a bump. She recovers quickly, however, and we gain the balcony and make a series of pictures.
Apparently, Paula’s mother will be travelling to the USA soon to be with her husband who is already there. Afi will go to Kpalimé to live with Paula’s aunt. I hope she will be well there and happy. She seems happy and well-adjusted with her present family.
We arrive back at SODEP House in time to thank the staff and load ourselves into the bus. Then it’s back to the Deux fevrier for more meetings.
Later in the afternoon I study material I have brought with me concerning Tom Bediako. The banquet this evening will feature his retirement celebration and it promises to be quite an affair.
At 1900 the Canadians and Laurence gather in Barbara’s and Cassie’s suite in preparation for the evening. I had some clothes laundered today, including my one white dress shirt, and I’m wearing it, dress slacks, jacket and Galien’s Hugo Boss tie. We go down to the banquet room and are seated at table three, very close to the head table. Dancers and drummers from Gambia start off the evening and they provide a magnificent show. Some preliminary comments are made by Assibi and others and then it’s off to the buffet tables that have been set up on both sides of the room. Things get a bit confused and a free-for-all results after the head table guests go for their meals. Those at our table join one of the lines but Assibi rounds us up and insists that we cut into another line so that we can be served first. I’m uncomfortable with this, as I think we all are, but Assibi perseveres. Those upon whom we intrude are most generous, however, and welcome us ahead of them with wonderful graciousness.
There is a great deal to record concerning the evening—the program, entertainers, the meal—but mainly the tribute to Tom and his wife Agnes. Gifts are provided from many of the organizations represented including a silver tray from CTF with member organization logos engraved upon it. EI gives a massive wooden chair, carved from a single block of wood, with the EI logo cut through the back and with Tom’s name carved in as well. He is invited to sit in the chair. Agnes and Fred Van Leuwen sit on either side and tributes from organizations are brought forward. A very nice touch and, I think, a very African gesture, is the presentation of gifts in return to the representatives of the organizations by the hosting committee. These gifts will become fond mementos of this colourful and powerful evening. One in particular is a gift to Margareta Axell, the representative from Sweden’s Läräforbundit. She receives a beautiful gown and head dress. Earlier, in the elevator, a woman tied Barbara MacDonald’s shawl around her head in a style many women here favour. Barbara kept the headdress on all evening. At one point, Margareta came to her and told her how attractive it looked but pointed out that in Sweden, women wrap their hair that way while cleaning the house. This is uncharacteristically funny for Margareta and when she opens her gift, she wraps her head as well, à la Barbara, and turns and grins at her. I hope the photograph I make does adequate justice to the moment. The program wraps up around 2300 and we take our leave. I have many images from the evening in the Nikon and in my mind’s eye as well. A gift of a carving of the continent of Africa is given to me by Assibi, in commemoration of the evening’s festivities.
Saturday, January 24
I go down to the lobby lounge for coffee and a piece of cake from the bakery kiosk beside it. This has become my standard morning fare and the waiter now knows just how to make my coffee—coffee Canadian. This was developed yesterday at breakfast with Margareta. We were served espresso in regular coffee cups but she wanted a full cup of coffee. It took a trip or two to the espresso machine to get it just right but finally we did.
Afterward, I take in about two hours of the Congress meeting. This is held in a domed structure situated just in front of the hotel and connected to it by a bridgeway. It’s warm in here and the air is heavy. Delegates are dressed up, with many men wearing colourful clothing and hats that measure up quite well against the clothing of the women. The westerners in the audience seem rather drab and monochromatic in comparison.
Irene Adanusa serves as the chair and she introduces the resolutions. Assibi sits at the head table as well. All delegates are connected to each other through language translation that is delivered by way of headsets. Television cameras with annoying spot lights are set up on the open floor. The cameras are swung around to capture each speaker while everyone in their paths cringes. Microphones for the delegates are controlled from a panel of buttons in front of Irene. She needs to find and push the correct button for each microphone and this tends to slow down the pace of debate. Speakers make the preliminary “hello, hello” before speaking. By 1030, some of the delegates are dozing off, sitting in their comfortable leather seats.
I find the process of the meeting quite interesting. There are few amendments to resolutions and decisions seem to be reached by consensus. This is something different to see, not like our overheated debates, and everyone remains pretty calm.
At 1130 we Canadians leave for lunch at Tom and Agnes’ Lomé apartment. This proves to be a very nice respite. Included as well are Fred Van Leuwen and some of his staff as well as the NEA representatives and Mary Futtrell.
The remainder of the afternoon is rather unproductive for me. I spend some time at the hotel’s internet centre reading amusing email messages from Kalie, who is now in Hamburg, and two from Toni at the office. There is a blizzard raging in Edmonton and the temperature is minus 30. The difference in temperature between home and here is more than 60 degrees. Barbara and Cassie have all sorts of meetings to attend with various country representatives and they stay at it right up to 2000 when we leave to drive to a seaside restaurant for a late supper. Nicholas Richard, the new EI international representative joins us but Paul Nordahl does not. So ends Saturday.
Sunday, January 25
Up at 0730 and down for my usual breakfast. Barbara, Cassie and others are on the elevator. They were stranded in the elevator on the top floor for 40 minutes this morning. As I’m going to eat, they come with me and we end up with the three Scandinavian ladies as well (damn few men in development, it seems). The episode in the elevator is gone through in detail and it sounds like an unpleasant experience—eight people in one of these small cars, no communications over the emergency phone and then the lights go out. Cassie was outside the elevator and helped keep folk on the inside calm while summoning help as well.
After breakfast there are scads of meetings for the CTF staff to attend and off they go. I work on this journal, help out in the meeting room for awhile with Zack—putting up projects, banners and displays—after which Zack takes me to his home to visit Magey’s kids and his youngest brother. I have a Gund teddy bear for Ms Rudy and little metal car models for the boys, Eric Yota is there but not Magay. Yesterday she got the pyjama bottoms made by Rebecca. I have mini-Mag lights for Zack and Eric. We take pictures, have a nice visit, and then leave for the PATC office. We look for little Nono but the neighbours tell us that she and her family have not yet returned from Kpalimé. After returning to the hotel, I have lunch near the pool. Following that, I join a meeting on ONP Mozambique with Emelia Afonso, Rosario Quive, Barbara, Peter Mabande and others. I make sure that everyone is clear on the amount of effort the ONP secretaries are putting into their organization and indicate ATA’s interest in renewing support.
After a quick shower and change it’s down for the opening session of the PATC general meeting. This goes off very well. The room looks nice, delegates begin to gather, translation devices are readied and the head table starts to assemble. Three ministers are here, one each from Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo. Laurence brings the meeting to order and then he calls on a choir, brought in from Benin for the occasion, to begin singing. There are approximately 35 choir members as well as two percussionists and they start us off in fine form. Speeches prevail for the duration, intermixed with more songs from the choir, after which we adjourn for a nice reception. The choir sings everyone out of the hall, except me, and I stay and have the benefit of a private performance. During the reception that follows I present Tom with an ATA Cross pen and my best wishes. Afterward, the Canadians, plus Zack and Magey, leave for Maxime’s restaurant for another fine dinner. This time we remember to bring Jean, our driver, in for a meal and he fits right in. Sitting beside me, Zack tells me more about Nono’s family, how they suffered a household fire which cost Nono’s mother all of the cooking equipment she used at her little fry stand. This set her back economically and the family lost its location on the cement pad beside PATC. Now she works from a less busy site near SODEP House. The Norwegians come into the restaurant later on along with Nicholas Richard, the new EI international staff member. Jean drives us back to the hotel around 2300 and another day in Lomé comes to an end.
Monday, January 26
I have breakfast in the main floor lounge prior to the day’s meeting. Tom, Laurence, the CTF bunch and other international representatives are all here this morning. Perhaps word of the reluctant lift from yesterday influenced everyone’s choice of breakfast venue.
The PATC assembly begin at 0830 with Tom Bediako in the chair. There are fewer reps today than last night but certainly enough for a good meeting. After introductions and some history about PATC from Tom, Dr Laurence Kanai, the general director, takes everyone through his first annual report. I had helped Zack set up one of the Power Point projectors for this. Synchronized with a second projector run by Paul, slides are presented on side-by-side screens, one showing the English version and one the French. This presentation is well received as is information on the web site and the workshops. Our ATA support is fairly deep background and PATC reaps the credit. This is what we hoped for when we started to set up the web site process.
Resolutions are presented next with Peter Mabande serving as chair. All pass pretty much as presented. Finally, it’s time for elections to the board under Tom’s chairing. He explains the thinking of the interim board represented in the slate of officers that had earlier been prepared for the assembly— proximity, continuity and cost. The Norwegian representative drops off and a member representing Uganda is proposed. The slate of officers is adopted with little debate. Later on we will learn that there was a good deal of interest on the part of some other countries to have representation on the board.
The constitution is examined next and a number of amendments are proposed but few are adopted. This takes care of the business of the first AGM of the re-invented PATC and we adjourn for refreshments at around 1430. I go for a short snooze then down to the CTF suite at 1600 for a meeting of board and staff members. After that, I return to the meeting room to help the staff remove posters and banners and box up the book samples that were printed on the PATC press. For our evening meal we travel to a Chinese restaurant and have a nice dinner. Doug Willard’s birthday is today and we celebrate with birthday cake and some gifts for him. Assibi has gifts for some others as well, including me, and she gives me a shirt and a beautiful wooden plaque in the shape of Africa.
This is a somewhat poignant evening for me. Tomorrow, I will leave Lomé and cross into Ghana and the PATC event will be at an end. I have visited with a lot of people here whom I have met on other trips to Africa and I’m astonished at how many people recall me, and in good graces it seems. My most distant reunion is with Japhta Radibe, president of the Botswana Teachers’ Union. He had just become president when I visited Botswana in 1993 and he has remained in place ever since. He must be one of the longest serving national presidents on the continent.
On return to the hotel, I repack my belongings for tomorrow’s 0730 departure for Accra.
Tuesday, January 27
The plan today is to have most of the remaining delegates depart for home. As a number of us are transiting through Accra, transportation is laid on for the road trip there. A 25-seat bus has been retained as well as Tom’s Land Rover and Laurence’s Rav 4. I elect for the bus and end up as the only Canadian on board. My travel companions are Peter Mabande, Collins from PATC, Rosario and Emelia from the ONP, the president from ZIMTA, the treasurer and national chairman of Kenya, a delegate from Tanzania, the women’s chair from Malawi, two women from Norway, our driver Raphael and, quite unexpected to me at least, Tom Bediako. Crossing the two borders is fairly straightforward and we are helped across by Tom and other local teacher representatives. I am the only one who attracts the border guard’s curiosity and my information is recorded by him on a separate sheet. Our convoy proceeds on to Ho where we halt at Chances Resort for breakfast and then proceed on to Accra.
It’s an interesting ride. I watch the countryside pass by and drift off to sleep from time to time. The sound of happy conversation, centring around Tom, quietly fills the bus, punctuated now and then by laughter and the retelling of humorous times they have shared. Tom sits by a rear window and behind him, for two rows, is all of our luggage plus several pieces that belong to passengers in the cars. I sit one row back from the driver on a raised platform that covers the engine and front suspension. It occurs to me that this is the sort of situation where Tom really shines and where he can enjoy the company of old friends, sitting at the back, with a mass of suitcases as a backdrop. He continues to be a mentor, friend and teacher to those accompanying him on this bus ride to Accra. I write the first draft of my next Editor’s Notebook, based on this interesting setting, and then photograph everyone on board in little clusters. The memory of this ride to Accra on board a little bus filled with Tom and his friends of long standing will always remain with me.
Notes made for Editor’s Notebook, Spring 2004
On a bus to Accra
Heading to Accra in a small chartered Nissan bus (15 of us). We are returning from Lomé Togo—site of three meetings of importance to African educators —some background, why visiting —retirement dinner for Tom Bediako —setting at beautiful hotel —fitting tributes —On the bus, Tom is in a more genuine setting travelling the roads of his native Ghana with representation/friends from ATOs’ and sitting in the back corner, piles of luggage behind him. Doesn’t matter where Tom sits—head table at a banquet, chief’s chair, head of a meeting as chairperson, or the back of a bus to Accra. As long as he is surrounded by the teachers, Tom is in his glory. Lots of laughter as stories are exchanged about colleagues past and present, family members, union leaders, travelling.
Tom is a mentor for teacher leaders in office, for international development staff, all this (develop his history and story). Here on a bus to Accra, retired now from the burden of his many duties on behalf of teachers, laughing with his friends, leading the way to Accra and his village. Not simply modelling the life of a mentor, but living it for everyone with him on this journey.
After stopping at GIMPTA to drop off most of the passengers we settle in once more at the Mensvic Hotel and then meet in Paul’s room for cocktails, crackers and peanut butter. We enjoy a nice dinner on the outdoor patio after which some of us walk to the neighbourhood grocery store, purchasing Cokes and visiting with a mother and her son also out enjoying the evening.
Wednesday, January 28
To Kumasi. The plan today is to travel to Kumasi in central Ghana and I will share the journey with Cassie, Paul and Doug. We are accompanied by two GNAT staff—John Nyoagbe, Deputy Secretary General, and Jacob Anderson, the head of professional development. We stop at some of the schools in rural Accra that are taking part in the STF Nkbom program. The names of the schools are Ashallaga Primary, Achiamen Primary, Opah Primary and Akatoshie Primary and they range from an eroding mud block structure to buildings of substantial concrete construction. The children within are the constants—beautiful kids, attentive and working hard with their teachers to achieve success. In the classes that we visit we are impressed with the skills the teachers have, their delivery of lessons and their obvious care for all of the students.
On the grounds outside Akatoshie School I stop to visit a mother with a nursing baby, a toddler and lovely daughter of about six years. They live in a squalid hut, the earthen floor of which is littered with rags. The sound of a man coughing within reaches me. This child will not likely ever get to go to school and it is a shame. She seems so bright and responsive.
Leaving the Accra area, we head north to the city of Koforidua, one of three sites for this year’s Project Overseas team in Ghana. The hotel where the Canadians will stay is visited and inspected and Cassie carries out some negotiations on rates. Then we visit the primary teachers’ training college where the session will be held and where the participants will be housed. Paul and I take a wander around and visit with some of the students. They show us a standard dormitory that houses 12-16 students per room and tell us a bit about life on campus. Another stop is made at the GNAT Regional Centre where we are hosted at lunch by the local GNAT officials including Kofi Simpson, the GNAT Eastern Regional Officer. The restaurant space is leased out to private individuals who provide the restaurant service.
Around mid-afternoon, we leave Koforidua for our final destination, the city of Kumasi. We arrive at the Stadium Hotel where the GNAT representatives check us in and tell us that all costs will be covered by their organization. We have our dinner in the hotel’s restaurant and then head up to our rooms for the night. I catch up on the journal in my little sitting room and, after a shower, I turn in. We have seen a great deal today, visited many students, taught some lessons and I have made quite a few photographs. The countryside is beautiful as are the people who live along the route of our travels. We have passed through construction zones, talked to vendors and visited teachers and students in their rural schools.
My bed is made with the strangest sheets and pillowcases—bright blue and very starchy, almost plastic feeling, but comfortable. I sleep well.
Thursday, January 29
My radio wakes me at 0630 for the beginning of what will be quite a long day. I will travel from Kumasi to Accra by road with my four friends and driven by Francis, our stalwart helmsman. From Accra we will fly on to London where I will leave the group and stay for two days with Aaron, Brian and Galien.
After breakfast, while waiting for my companions to assemble, I walk out into the hotel courtyard where I encounter a young man raising the flag of Ghana. We talk and he asks me where I’m from. When he hears I’m from Alberta, his face lights up and he tells me that one of his brothers lives and works in Airdrie! I make a photograph of Daniel and Nicholas Addo and promise to send copies back to Kumasi and to Max Addo in Alberta. Max works for the Propak Company in Airdrie. The address of the Stadium Hotel is PO Box 3340, Kumasi, Ghana.
On checking out, there appears to be some confusion. Cassie’s room and mine have been charged to Mr and Mrs Hallett-Johnston. Apart from that of friendship, this errant hotel bill is the only other bond between Cassie and me. John and Jacob sort everything out to the satisfaction of the Stadium Hotel.
Our little band then drives to the Komasi GNAT Centre to meet its director and some district secretaries who are arriving for a meeting. This takes rather longer than expected but the visit is part of the partnership protocol between CTF and GNAT. The director is also an Ashanti chief and behind his desk sits his new chief’s chair, recently ordered and just delivered. He’s a very nice man and most hospitable, showing us the facility and introducing us to new arrivals. Afterward, Paul, Doug and I leave with Francis to visit the Kumasi Artisan Centre. We haven’t much time as we need to meet up with Cassie and John Nyoagbe after their quick trip to the Project Overseas venue here in Kumasi. The Artisan Centre is past the main market of the city and, as part of the dense traffic, we skirt around the market and come to the Centre, set in a park-like area and pleasantly uncrowded and peaceful. I purchase two wooden trays, one for Aaron and Brian and one for Galien. I also buy 10 yards of damask cotton for Rebecca and Kalie. I have been looking for a lunch pail for Kalie, one of the little round tin ones used by elementary school children here, but have not been able to find one. We drive back to the GNAT Centre and wait for Cassie to return. We three have a cold drink in Rozy’s Restaurant inside the GNAT Centre.
On Cassies’ return, it’s time to start back to Accra. Our departure from Ghana is set for 2330 and we have many congested miles of highway driving before then. Our return is speedy, however, impeded only by construction delays and stops at roadside vendors for what will amount to a full box-load in the pickup truck plus more in the cargo area of our utility station wagon. Local vendors must appreciate the construction delays as these provide them with an opportunity to sell their wares to passengers in the stranded vehicles. The GNAT staff buy clumps of mushrooms, large bottles filled with palm oil, bunches of plantain, bags of nuts, yams, melons and wooden furniture. The bargaining style of Francis is pre-emptory and dismissive but the girls who work as vendors always leave him with a smile.
Our route into Accra is different from that of our departure. We travel through a high range of hills just to the north of the city and are afforded a hazy view of Accra below. The sea is lost in the haze. Along the twisting road are several buildings that might have been built during Ghana’s colonial days—homes for British civil servants, merchants and military officers—perched up in the cooler air of these hills.
The traffic thickens as we pass the airport and soon we are back at the Mensvic Hotel. Barbara welcomes us and we start to plan out our departure. Those of us who arrived from Kumasi go to freshen up. Afterward, we take luggage to the airport and obtain our boarding cards. We then return to the hotel for supper after which we say farewell to Felicia and Laurence. They will return to Lomé next week, Felicia to work on the PATC research projects and Laurence to return to the office. At 2100 we return to the airport to clear security and wait for the flight to be called. Seven hours later, our flight touches down in London.
Friday, January 30
My Canadian travel mates and I part company here in the London airport, Paul to Vancouver and then Whitehorse and Cassie, Barbara and Doug for a rather long wait until their flights to Toronto and Ottawa.
After collecting my luggage and clearing customs, I walk out to a sea of faces belonging to car drivers, each with a little sign for the passenger they are collecting. I don’t see Aaron or Galien at first but as I’m walking along, reading the signs, they come up on either side of me. How wonderful to see them, my oldest boy and my older daughter. Brian waits just outside with a little rental car and we are soon on our way to Aaron and Brian’s home, stopping for fresh bagels along the way. We spend the morning just visiting, eating bagels and drinking coffee. The trays from Kumasi are given to Aaron and Galien. Toward noon, we go for a long walk, being careful of our step as there is still quite a lot of ice from yesterday’s snow storm. We stop first at a restaurant and have a quite elegant—but extremely expensive (90£)—lunch and then continue our walk into Hampstead Heath, London’s largest wild space. Lots of photographs are made of these beautiful young people and some of the scenes as the atmospheric conditions allow. It’s quite cold but we are warm enough, except for Galien’s toes, and we all enjoy the adventure.
The tube returns us home where we warm up and clean up for the evening’s occasion. I am not provided with any details and the kids seem to enjoy my expectation about what’s next. I have a good nap, being now refreshed from the flight by the good pace and distance of our walk.
Around 1700, we head out again and eventually meet up with a friend of Aaron and Brian. His name is Tim and he leads the way to a Spanish tapas restaurant. Waiting for us there are Sarah Gale and her mother, both from St Albert originally. Sarah and Tim are married and expecting and Kate Gale, Sarah’s mother, is on vacation from her teaching job in China. We have very pleasant conversations over the tapas and wine, recalling the photograph of Sarah that I made at Leo Nickerson School in St Albert years ago and Kate’s time teaching at Lorne Aikens School there as well. I promise to try to find the negative of Sarah’s picture and get a copy to her, if possible. Tim is an actor and recently landed a role with a small London company. Sarah works in dance and movement and supplements her income by doing temporary office work. These are the lives of struggling artists in London but both seem happy with their choices, each other, a life in London and a new family.
Saturday, January 31
We get underway fairly early this morning as Aaron and Brian have made reservations on the London Eye for all of us at 10:00. The tube takes us most of the way, but we cover the last few blocks on foot. This method of approach affords great views of the area near the Thames River and, as we transit through the Shell Building, the monumental Ferris wheel reveals itself. Located right on the edge of the river, the London Eye was the city’s main centennial project. It looks like a giant bicycle wheel, even to its central hub, and the whole machine is anchored to the bedrock by three giant steel legs and lots of guy wires. The cars are elongated egg-shaped cocoons that each hold about 15 people with lots of room to spare. Entry is by way of a series of ramps that lead to clamshell doors on the end of each car. The wheel does not stop for embarkation (or disembarkation) and passengers simply walk on or off as the car goes by the ramp. Once onboard, one is committed to the ride and the cars far above seem like a dangerous place to be.
I was never fond of Ferris wheel rides but this one is really quite mild. The progression of the cars is almost imperceptible and I find my attention glued to the emerging London landscape as we rise high in the air. Of course, there is also a lot of kidding with my three children and a good deal of photo making as well. Our little band of riders completes the circuit of the wheel and we step off onto the exit ramp in good order. This is the highest structure in London and the view it affords of the city is remarkable. Thanks again to my children for this superb experience.
We return to the apartment for some leisure time and then prepare to go out for the evening. This is another surprise for me and I am completely in the dark. “Wear something nice,” is about all I am told. Our destination is a hit musical and the show we see is called “Bombay Dreams.” The story is about a group of young people living in the poorer part of Bombay who dream of breaking out of poverty by way of becoming performers. The show is quite marvellous and carried out well by all of the actors. What particularly impresses me, however, are the two percussionists who are installed above the stage and to either side of it. One is a middle-aged Indian gentleman whose walk is afflicted and who relies on a cane to get himself up onto his perch. His friend across the stage is a long-haired white dude. From obviously differing backgrounds, their common interest is percussion—drums, cymbals, chimes—and they make the most of the instruments that surround them. At the end of the show, I just sit there in my orchestra seat and wait until the audience leaves the auditorium, after which I walk down to the Indian percussionist and thank him for his performance. This has been great fun.
The night is still young and we head out for supper. In keeping with the theme of the show, we arrive at the Cinnamon Club, a restaurant that Aaron explains is London’s only “white table” Indian restaurant. The setting and the food are both exquisite and the four of us have a sumptuous meal and good conversation. I go to the front desk and purchase two of the beautiful cookbooks produced by the restaurant, one for Aaron and Brian and the other for Rebecca. On the end sheet of Rebecca’s book we each write a message to her and sign our note. This brings on the tears for Galien as she is suddenly reminded of her Mother and the distance that separates them right now. But we help her get past this little moment and then head for home.
Sunday, February 1
I leave the apartment with Aaron, Brian and Galien at 1000 for Paddington Station where I check my luggage through the British Rail agent who will send it on to Heathrow for my departing flight. Leaving the tube, Galien gets caught with an expired rail pass but the agent kindly lets her go with just a warning. I give her my pass which is good for the rest of the day. Then I board the Heathrow train and wave goodbye to my kids. Galien, Aaron and Brian will spend part of the day on a London walkabout and then Galien will leave for Hamburg at 1500. She will meet Yukichi in Hamburg half an hour after her arrival when he comes in from Tokyo. Seth and Zoe are in Salt Lake City for a climbing competition and they will leave there for Tokyo in just a few days. My children and I sure seem to get around.
The flight home is uneventful and on arrival in Edmonton I find I have missed the really cold weather that settled over the province while I was at the equator. It has been a wonderful trip and one that has been particularly satisfying. I met many long-time acquaintances, saw the progress achieved so far by the staff of PATC, travelled with fine companions, took part in Tom Bediako’s retirement and spent some time with three of my children.
Passengers on the bus to ACCRA
Mussa Omar Tafurwa Zanzibar Teachers’ Union PO Box 667, Zanzibar—Tanzania Tel: 255-024-223-2496 Tel Fax: Same E-mail: email@example.com
Margaret Sitta President Tanzania Teachers’ Union (TTU) PO Box 2196 Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania Ttufirstname.lastname@example.org
Peter M Mutulu National Treasuruer Kenya National Union of Teachers Box 30407 Nairobi, Kenya Fax 254-20-246430
Kari Henriksen Bjornemyr Terrasse 26A 1453 Bjornemyr Norway
Rosario Quire, Emelia Afonso, ONP
Tim Johnston The Alberta Teachers’ Association
Joseph Chirchir National Chairman Kenya National Union of Teachers PO Box 30407 Nairobi, Kenya
Driver Raphael Adjah PO Box 5237 Accra-North Ghana
Anneli Askola Asperudveien 30 1258 Oslo Norway E-mail: email@example.com Retired International Secretary
Erison Huruba PO Box 181 Chiredzi, Zimbabwe ZIMTA National President
Janet C Kumuenda (Mrs) Ekwenderri Secondary School PO Box 2 Ekwenderi, Malawi Women’s Coordinator TUM.