A long distance bus journey in Ghana is an insight into the resourcefulness of the Ghanaian people and also the limitations of their bureaucratic systems. First up are the frustrations of buying a bus ticket from Accra to Lawra (a 14 hour overnight trip): you must visit the bus station in person with cash 24 hours, or if unlucky 48 hours, before the intended day of travel. There is no other way of booking a seat, and as it entails a trip through the chaotic Accra road system to the bus station, it can take half a day to accomplish. For the traveller coming in on a flight from overseas, this enforces a stay in Accra. On this last occasion I was obliged to stay in Accra (perhaps not the most beautiful of cities on Earth) for 48 hours.
Once at the bus station the resourcefulness of the Ghanaians kicks in. Mountains of baggage, equipment and accessories stand impossibly by the bus waiting to be loaded on board. I have seen vast sacks of grain, tractor wheels, a plough and on one occasion a flock of goats, all taken and somehow found a space in the baggage compartment of the coach.
We then set off. One the last two occasions I’ve made the trip to Lawra we have broken down both times halfway through the journey. The first time a wheel exploded. Not the tyre, the whole wheel disintegrated. ‘Well, that’s that’, I think to myself. We’ll wait for a replacement bus. But no, the Ghanaians pile off the bus and into the night. They light up the destroyed wheel with their mobile phones and set to work. One hour later and we’re back on the road and we don’t stop until we hit Lawra later that morning.
The second breakdown happened on the way to Lawra a few days ago; an overheating bus was cured using a system of siphons and buckets of water. I like to think I have a basic knowledge of engines but I have absolutely no idea how they fixed that coolant system.
Much of my baggage on the bus was taken up with art materials for the Special Needs children of Lawra. For the next six weeks I’ll be here to interact with a number small groups of four or five Special Needs children across the Lawra district. I’ll be visiting the the same groups once a week for three hour sessions with Kenneth, the local ATE coordinator who has been assigned to help me with this task. Every Monday for the next six weeks he has selected a group of five children to meet under a tree in Eremon, and on Tuesdays we will be meeting a group in Lawra, and so on.
It quickly becomes apparent after just two sessions that some of the more sensory activities and games that I had planned for the groups are not going to work. The language barrier is a major stumbling block, and what works better are projects that involve building or making something together as a group. I will have to tweak my ideas to get the most of these sessions.
On the first Monday we sat on mats under a tree as we played and created, and we soon became a point of interest for the local community. On our first session we had a crowd of perhaps forty children and adults observing us; Kenneth continually shooed them away so we could have a little privacy. We made and decorated boxes, we constructed musical instruments and rattled them along to songs, we played with balloons and made bead necklaces.
In the afternoons I visit local schools to deliver an Art course to groups of 12 students. The course will cover drawing, painting and explorations of identity and environment amongst other themes. I want to open them up to the infinite possibilities of expression and exploration in the world of art. All of their learning at school is by rote, so I want to show them a world where there isn’t necessarily a right and a wrong and where imagination is king.
I show them pictures of Damian Hirst’s shark in a tank, of Cornelia Parker’s installations, of a Marina Abramovic performance piece and Andy Goldsworthy’s environmental pieces. God only knows what they make of it all but my hope is that over the course of our six week Art Club sessions they come to appreciate there is more to learning than chalk, talk and the cane. Their animated responses to our first sessions make me think I might perhaps be on the right track.
A bad back caused by an on-going medical issue has been exacerbated by bouncing around on motorbikes on long trips across dirt tracks and is now causing me problems. I need to sort this out if I am to stay here and I’m praying that it will resolve itself soon.
I’m raising funds to continue to fund my work in Lawra. Any donations are very gratefully received: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/jonathanhall1
Thanks for reading,