Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Koforidua Fever (or Naki does Ghana)

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.

Sensational Fruity Delights

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:
This Be Ghana. This Be Koranteng.

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.

me cousins presidential gardens

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.

At the summer hut in Aburi

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.

Arrival in Jamestown

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.

horns blowing for President for life

She's an architect

fountain splash at Circle

and interior designer


thus her visual acumen

electricity bypasses huts

is far sharper than anything I'll achieve.

Frankies in Osu

My own myopia is pervasive in actuality and in the metaphorical sense...

Osu at night

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)

Jamestown buildings

Their nooks and crannies


The follies under construction (ship buildings?)

Peace FM ship building - Abeka Junction

The commercial ones


The cool ones

Sati house

And of course, the obscene ones (the East Legon mansions that a combination of drug money and Strange Bedfellows made possible)

The Lion House in East Legon

Also a fair number of photos were taken from cars

Jamestown rally

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.

Chop bar

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

streets of Accra

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)

Essential caged air conditionners

And with the kind of wit

ekene and anuli check email

and wonder

Mangoes in Auntie Akwele Garden

that I admit I freely plunder

Things come home to roost

time and again

Water tanker blues

for journalistic effect.

Guiness cowboy Africa style

I hope you enjoy them

Tin and asbestos rooftops of Jamestown

As much

Akwele driving a hard bargain

as I do


This Be Ghana. This Be Koranteng

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 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

Osu RA

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...

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Anonymous said...

Fascinating photoessay! What are the odd hanging fruits?

Koranteng said...

The fruits are mangoes. My aunt must put something in her garden because in our house our mangoes come out much smaller. The great thing is when the mangoes are ripe and can be plucked just by reaching up. Or in my case, you come of a 10 hour flight, walk into your garden and a mango drops at your feet. That's my kind of homecoming...
There is also competition since our mango tree spreads out over the wall; thus children in the neigbourhood take off with half our crop if one doesn't take care. The tussle over fruit is a great way of finding out the membership of your community.

quixote said...

What glorious photos! Local sights indeed. (Local flavor? I think not. For that, you'd need one of those ripe mangoes to fall at your feet.)

Also, my previous question about what to do against all the awfulness (Strange Bedfellows and the journalistic impulse) was not intended as a backhanded comment about complaining. Given the state of the world, it's not possible to complain too much. No, that was really a question. I'm always wondering about that. Sometimes everything seems so hopeless, but then I think about the printing press, and think maybe it's not. There is huge value in getting the word (and the pictures) out. All actions start in the mind, don't they?

moloo said...

nice! that's all i can say. nice! makes me wanna go home soooo bad.

kelsie and mel said...

love this posting of yours. i came across your blog today from a google search on the tilapia joint in accra. i think it was on patrice lumumba road or sompthin. no idea why, but i'm craving that tilapia.
enjoyed your other post on ionesco too.

kelsie and mel said...

i love these photos. and the whole posting. actually, the whole blog, or what little i've read of it so far.
i found your blog from a google search for the tilapia joint in accra. i think it was on lumumba road. it was the best, with kenkey. and for some reason, on the bus to work today (i'm in glasgow) i had a huge craving for it. so i thought i'd try to find it on google and found this instead.
looking forward to more perusing.