Having all landed in Accra at various hours of the night, the Warcha team was fresh enough to start the day at 11am. We were brought a Ghanaian breakfast favourite – fried egg sandwiched in toast bread and black tea – to our rooms, but felt in need of coffee, so ventured out for a wonder around James Town, and ended up ocean side. Coffee was not found, but Osikan was: a restaurant surrounded by waves, where we tried different malt-based non-alcoholic drinks, and where we held our first meeting. Mush kima al halqalwed.
After having agreed to meet with the Chale Wote festival curators in the afternoon to discuss where the Warcha was to be based to construct our installation, we set out to change our dollars. First challenge. The Tunisian Dinar being a non-exportable currency, our only way to get our stipends out of Tunisia was to first convert our bills into US dollars. But the transfer into Ghanaian cedis turned out to be not so straightforward. We went to three different banks and enquired about exchange rates in various “forex bureaus” before the employees of Barclay’s bank took our plight at heart. The issue with the dollar bills we had been given in Tunis was that some were old, and some were “weakened” (looked crumpled and used), and so the Ghanaian banks couldn’t accept them. They were only willing to exchange half of our stipends. After much pleading, the employees took pity, and having heard us speaking French called a French speaking broker to the rescue. He towered into the bank ten minutes later, where we proceeded in light of all the other customers to negotiate exchange rates. After a brief back and forth, he reached into his breezy boubou and handed over several bricks of cedis notes in exchange for our shabby dollars. Relief.
For a late lunch we went to a terraced restaurant just in front of our very handily placed Evelyn Hotel, called Backpass. The boys were not feeling too adventurous, especially since the meat was not halal, so some went for jollof rice and fish, and others for tuna sandwiches with chips. Nao and Valentina tried the impossible-to-eat-elegantly okra and fish soup with banko, and chicken soup – strong choices.
At 5pm our group split: half went to meet the Chale Wote organisers, while the other half went to the James Town Community Theater Center. The organisers told us that we were going to be based right next to Ussher Fort, in an oval shaped open-air space called Old Kingsway. We had already checked it out in the morning, graffiti and wall art from last year’s Chale Wote on every wall (with every new edition of the festival old art works are painted over white for new ones to be made), kids playing football, bonne ambiance. The issue with the space is that next weekend (the highpoint of the festival) there will be concerts held there in the evenings, so if we want to work in Old Kingsway during the week to build our structure we might have to move it to Ussher Fort over the weekend or we might have to build something that works with the concerts (like a sort of set design). We will see what solution is best, but so far we are keen on working in Old Kingsway because while being enclosed and so somewhat an intimate space to work in (not completely in the open public space) it doesn’t have a gate or a ceiling, so it remains a shared space, and any passer-by can see that we are up to something and can come in and ask us questions or join us, which is very much in the El Warcha spirit.
The community theatre was bustling with energy, with young dancers, football players and rappers from a nearby neighbourhood having a meeting to brainstorm how they could join the community radio being run at the theatre, and with basketball and boxing going on in the adjacent courtyards. The boxing gym is run by a local chief, a real Nii (the name means chief), who greets us as he walks by, wearing the traditional red and black chief vest. We are welcomed into the theatre and join the brainstorming. Amongst the young people there were several radio presenters and a designer who were interested in joining our workshop over the next days. One of the young rappers was called Vipa, like the Tunisian rapper that has come to play at several Warcha parties in the Hafsia. Mohamed and Vipa immediately hit it off and started making plans for recording a song together. We met two Niis – a common Ga name, the Ga being the original inhabitants of James Town – who told us respectively about the community radio and the community theatre being run at the space. The radio runs online and has two channels, one in Ga and one from Accra to the World, with all sorts of programmes run by the community. The theatre works with Augusto Boal’s theatre of the oppressed techniques to tackle local issues, using the metaphor of boxing pairs (James Town is famous for being a boxing hub), who come to the aid of their partner when they see he is tired and step in his place to continue the match. Theatre Nii also explained to us the events that will take place tomorrow and Saturday as part of the Homowo festival: the twin parade that is happening tomorrow afternoon in the streets of James Town, and the chiefs distributing food the next day. A child is seen as a blessing, so twins are a double blessing, and bring luck to their family and community. Homowo, Nii tells us, is a festival that commemorates the arrival of the Ga to what is now James Town. At first the community went through a long period of famine and difficult times, during which a lot of people died, so they resorted to working hard on the land and stopping all feasting until they could get themselves on their feet. That year the harvest was so bountiful that the first Homowo celebration took place to honour the dead and remember that time of hardship. During the twins parade men and women carry buckets full of water and leaves from the harvest which they go dump in a sacred ground at the edge of the city. These carriers might get possessed by spirits, some of whom might be a bit violent, so they are held at the waist by people walking behind them. Nii gives us rendez-vous the next day at 3pm to go see the twins parade together.
In the evening we passed by Old Kingsway again to check it out at night, since for our installation we will play with LED lighting. An artist perched on scaffolding was drawing the outline of Mandela’s face, tracing the bases for a mural on the freshly white washed wall. A group of young people joined us and soon made friends with the boys. Then a big man approached, sussing us out while stroking his chin, asking after our project. He said we’d have to negotiate whether we could work here or not, and invited us through a small door which lead into his wood workshop. He works here making wooden frames for sofas, and wants us to come see him with the festival organisers the next day to fix a price for letting us use Old Kingsway – the space is under our supervision, see. He introduced himself as Jackson, his Christian name, but if we come back, we should ask for Kwaku: Wednesday born.
Had dinner with egg and bread sandwiches from a street stand, as the boys went scouting for drinks and then resorted to the stash of harissa and slata meshouia that they brought with them from Tunis. Heading in for a long night, the neighbourhood still buzzing with music, preaching and movement, getting ready for tomorrow’s Homowo festival.