9am start. Woke up after a bumpy night, with the street music, call to prayer and charismatic preachers competing for the title of loudest hotel room guest. Malaria pills swallowed, we kicked off the day by heading on a market research trip. The aim was to get a sense of costs and of what material was out there that we might want to play around with for building our installation for Chale Wote. In preparation for our work here, Hedi, Lotfi, Aziz, Yusif and Mohamed had been making prototypes in the streets of the Hafsia (Tunis) of amphitheatre shaped structures using plastic chairs, cables and wooden broomsticks. Dagna, our Ghana based anthropologist friend, had already thought about the different sites near James Town where we might be able to find these materials, so she lead us through our scouting session.
Yesterday Mohamed had spotted outside his hotel window that a construction site was using bamboo for the scaffolding. Our first stop on our tour was therefore to this building site, to try and figure out how much bamboo costs and whether it is a relatively easy material to find around here. We were greeted by the construction site’s manager, who introduced himself as both Adolf and Nii Boi. He was wearing pin striped suit trousers revealing only the tips of pointy shoes, a black shirt, and dark sunglasses rimmed with golden jaguars. We told him that we are participating in a festival and are looking for material to construct installations, and are interested in using bamboo. He explained to us that the cost of bamboo varies depending on whether it is fresh or dry (the fresher bamboo is green coloured and is less sturdy, so it’s cheaper), on the length (the longer it is the more expensive), and also on whether it has already been used, so on whether it is second hand or new. He assumed we wanted new, sturdy bamboo, which would cost 3 cedis per piece, he could arrange for us to meet a vendor he knew. We explained that actually the bamboo will not have to hold much weight for our work, and we are happy to use recycled material. After some thought, he made us a deal: he decided to sponsor us. We would go with him to his depot where he would sell us bamboo that has already been used for 1 cedi per piece. It seemed like a decent offer. Ben, Yusif and Lotfi set off to Adolf’s depot, while the rest of us followed Dagna to find other working elements.
Dagna figured our first stop should be the bamboo sellers behind the Methodist Church, to try and assess Adolf’s offer, and to see if they had bamboo with different diameters, in case we wanted to be able to play with a variety of sizes. To get there we journeyed through a dense market selling herbs and voodoo tools, as well as house appliances and building work utensils. It emerged after talking to three bamboo sellers that the price ranged from 5 to 3 cedis for a single 13 feet long bamboo – confirming the prices cited at the construction site. As we were heading off, the seller who had offered us the worst price asked us when we were coming back. “Probably never” – off we went on the back of five motorbikes to the plastic recycling site to look for chairs. It seemed a bit complicated to get chairs from here, since workers buy plastic by the kilo to then recycle it, and it takes work to find broken or discarded chairs to buy. The plastic site seemed vast, and it was surprising to suddenly be here, in the middle of the city, after a dusty and increased-heart-rate-inducing motorbike ride. Dagna explained that the e-waste site is just behind this one. We talked about plans for the Eid with Dagna’s friends who work here, since we are also looking for things to do. They will be slaughtering a cow, and going to pray in an open air space where the President will also join the believers on Eid.
On our way to lunch we briefly visited a big beige and green gated compound recently built by a prominent prophet, whose word of the year is “Power” – but soon got kicked out. Finally, we went looking for LED lights, but figured we might get the same if not better prices closer to home in Zongo Lane, so we jumped in two taxis to get to the other side of the plastic recycling site. We ate in a restaurant on the edge of Agbogbloshie, where we tasted palava sauce. At 3pm we had a meeting at Brazil House to head to the Homowo festival with the rest of the Chale Wote team. Ben, Yusif and Lotfi had bought the bamboo from Adolf/Nii Boi, and had already stocked it in Hussher Fort.
The twin festival was incredible. Difficult to describe, hundreds and hundreds of people lining the streets and sitting or perching over balconies and roofs to see twins and their families parading. One member of each family is designated every year to carry a big metal bowl on their head with leaves and water across the neighbourhood to a sacred site where they are to dump it for the ancestors. These people might get possessed by spirits, and the spirits might be riotous, so stand back, warns Mantse, the founder of Chale Wote, before we all head off to find our place along the road to see the procession. The families were all dressed in similar ways, some had all gotten fitted clothes made from the same textile. Twin baby girls were the most gorgeous, all dressed in white with ribbons in their hair, held up by family members, sometimes napping on their shoulder while the celebration loudly raged on around them. Families walked quickly as everyone watched from the sides, sometimes lightly jogging, while younger people raced through with drums, singing, shouting. A group of people wearing hats and beads covering their faces passed by with signs saying “No. 12”, signalling their outrage at the latest corruption scandal unveiled by the journalist Anas, this time concerning football. Ben had a dance off with a lady, Valentina was carried off by two ladies running down the street following the procession, Aziz and Hedi had children on their shoulders to get them to see the street, we all at some point just had to go with the flow and let go, getting high from all the energy.
On our way back to Brazil House we sat and relaxed at a beer shack in the street and ate skewers – the festival organisers assured the boys they were halal, since all the vendors are Muslim. Hedi, who had been wanting to get his hair done into braids since day one, finally caught the moment when he saw a hairdresser’s just across the street. Lotfi also had a hair style change he wanted to try out, so the both of them got their hair extended and braided as we ate more skewers, asking Nii Arde – a Ga musician helping out at the festival – about aspects of the twin parade we didn’t fully understand, taking in the day.