I wrote the Strange Bedfellows and the Journalistic Impulse piece in a 4 hour fevered trance prompted by an offhand remark at the end of a phone call with my dad. The act of putting those thoughts together was cathartic but when I looked at the posted result I thought that it was too much, too heartfelt, too confessional and perhaps too bitter. Thus I turned to photos to dampen the impact of words that shouldn't have to be written and to show that life went on.
Since I've started to use Flickr as my online photo service of choice (as I previously recounted and despite its issues with the brown skin that India Arie sings of), friends asked why I hadn't simply tagged the photos that I considered using. Duh! Use the tools! All that folksonomic goodness you evangelize...
Thus I give you the Strange Bedfellows photo essay - the subtitle is:
I didn't take all of the photos that you'll see in the album and therein lies another story.
Back in Christmas 2001, many of my cousins and I made a trip to Ghana. In our own way, we had been taking baby steps to make our way back home, in my case through annual Christmas excursions starting in 1998. Various things had come into place, an election in 2000 had removed the Rawlings Chain from our neck after 18 years and, after a year of democracy and sanity, it looked like coups might be a thing of the past.
Also our parents had made their way back home whether to retire or to get their feet wet in the new Ghana (some were still in transit but their intentions were clear). This must have been the kind of impulse that many Ghanaians felt right around Independence in 1957. I know my father quickly left the Kofi Annan-types at the UN soon after independence came to Ghana. We in turn were old enough to process things and rediscover our country anew in a considered way. Thus it was a great homecoming and I believe the photos tell the tale.
After a few days however, I came down with a case of Koforidua Fever which is a local variant of Dengue Fever. It was excruciating pain, memorable and spine-jarring fevers and chills for the next ten days. Thus I was bed-bound and had to live vicariously through the phone calls from my cousins who were clearly having a ball.
My dear cousin, Naki (or as we call her of late: Just Naki) picked up the piece and preserved the photographic record for all of us.
She had been in exile for 15 years (this was her first time home - again nothing out of the ordinary for us mid-Atlantic types). Her parents and whole family could have made great submissions to the National Reconciliation Commission about the traumatic upheaval that had occurred in their lives. That is if they didn't happen to be stoic types "descended from a long line of fishermen" who just got on with things. She must have taken 1,000 photos during the trip as her act of catharsis.
She's an architect
and interior designer
thus her visual acumen
is far sharper than anything I'll achieve.
My own myopia is pervasive in actuality and in the metaphorical sense...
She edited some of the photos into a series of 4 presentations that she gave to her architecture firm in Boston when she returned. Of course it took me fully 3 years to actually look at them and recognize their importance but that's how these things go.
Together the presentations constitute one of the best visual introductions to Ghana I've seen.
There are some limitations in that, given her profession, she tends to be more interested in buildings than in people.
The old ones (the buildings that is)
Their nooks and crannies
The follies under construction (ship buildings?)
The commercial ones
The cool ones
And of course, the obscene ones (the East Legon mansions that a combination of drug money and Strange Bedfellows made possible)
Also a fair number of photos were taken from cars
and are "outside-in"
rather than springing from the ground up as it were
But that's what 15 years of forced exile will do to your perspective.
For a great example of photos from the trenches in Ghana see Asibi Adormah's current work especially those in her native Bolgatanga in Northern Ghana.
However as a creative type, Naki picks up far more 'local' flavour than I do
Pointing out the essentials (e.g. the pervasive air conditioners that need cages to prevent thieves from swiping their cooling hum or the solar-powered street lights that are being tried out these days)
And with the kind of wit
that I admit I freely plunder
time and again
for journalistic effect.
I hope you enjoy them
as I do
- Strange Bedfellows - the photo essay a.k.a. This Be Ghana. This Be Koranteng
- Koforidua Fever - the full Xmas 2001 collection
I'd guess 50 of the 800 or so photos are mine, the rest are Naki's.
- Naki Does Ghana - a great Portfolio
The 4 presentations that she created amount to 106 MB which goes far beyond the meagre storage and bandwidth limits that Comcast provides. They are really worthwhile to see because they have gone through her inimitable filter and are full of delightful juxtapositions; she is in the grip of the Editorial Impulse.
Update: the presentations can be found on most days on any Gnutella-based file sharing network. I use Gnucleus as my client of choice. You can also download them from the Internet Archive (I managed to upload them via ourmedia.org). Details:
- Ghana1.ppt (29.5MB) - the visual introduction to Ghana
- ghana2.ppt (12.9MB) beaches (White Sands) and Legon, the University of Ghana
- ghana3legon.ppt (36.4 MB) - the houses of East Legon, Accra
- ghana4aburi.ppt (27.4 MB) - up in the "mountains" (or rather the hills) of Aburi
I still haven't been able to figure out how to seed them to a Bittorrent stream (perhaps I'll need to tweak the port-forwarding settings of my Linksys box and the ZoneAlarm firewall - arrgh NATs and the breaking of Internet Transparency and the end-to-end principle!).If anyone can give pointers to a host or instructions to help me share them via Bittorrent running through a Zonealarm firewall on Windows XP and a Linksys box, I would be greatly indebted. I'm in a giving mood these days and want to share my joy...
File under: Naki, Ghana, accra, photo, travel, architecture, scenic, visual, essay, urban, city, life, Africa, toli, personal, history, memoir