Friday, March 27, 2009

Drum lesson

Friday afternoons are my favourite time of the week.

After coming home, unloading the kids, I head out in the car again, drum on the back seat. Just this one time, I don't turn right at the compound gates. Towards the right are town, traffic, noise, and work. This time, I turn left, and drive up what's known as Mamba Point Road.

The road winds past hotels and mansions; half built houses and squatter camps; fancy and formerly fancy blocks of flats; offices of UN agencies. Then there's a boom gate and the obstacle course of barriers that ensures no-one will drive past the gargantuan US Embassy property at more than 20km/h. Just out the last boom, I turn off the main road, and into a small, separate world.

This is the US Embassy Art Market. Along a little side street that sees hardly any motor traffic, the porches and front rooms of ramshackle cottages form the display areas and sales rooms maybe 25 or so craft dealers. By this time of the evening, the day's trade is done, and no-one is seriously looking for customers anymore. The traders sit on each others porches, taking the evening together. The market has a special atmosphere, even earlier in the day. Yes, then there is more aggressive selling going on. But still it is a place apart from the traffic, the taxis; there is no-one selling slippers, or batteries, or for that matter anything from a wheelbarrow. Big trees give shade on the road. There are women and children around from the small squatter camp at the back of the market.

Just past the market, there is a dip, the terrain by the side of the road becomes rocky. On the left is tiny informal settlement the spitting image of how Alexandra used to be, in Joburg: a few old houses, mostly shacks, rubbish heaps, chickens. At the end of the road, one can park. There is a small bridge made of some kind of wooden structure laid flat, and on the other end of the bridge is the room of Mr Steven Samukai. The room, the world, the family, the teachings of Mr Samukai, this is where I've been heading.

From inside the room, in the basement of a ruined house, comes the sound of a keledoun (like marimba, wooden xylophone), a drum, and kende (metal percussion instrument). As I walk in, Mr Samukai smiles: "We are playing you a welcome song."

His fiance is there, and one or maybe both of his grown sons. The room is his self-created cultural museum; it is filled with masks, musical instruments, puppets, and special clothing.

A lesson follows in drumming, culture, and kindness.

(Mr Samukai is the president of the Unotoma Arts Society, and can be reached at 05694783.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Story of a story

When you're trying to get the bread out the bread-pan without breaking it, you may clean forget about strawberry jam. It's the best way I can explain why a storyteller, or at least someone who makes storytelling happen, not telling, sharing or eliciting a single story in the first few months of her stay in a new country.

But I'm very grateful to say the stories eventually came along anyway, in several wonderful ways.

The very first story that was told to me, as a proper story, came out of the blue. K, the boy in my class who has cerebral palsy, was coming up for his turn to do a book report. I asked whether he'd like me to read him a book, which he could then do an oral report on. No, said K, I want to tell a story.

So, we got his wheelchair to the front of the class. And suddenly he transformed from the generally fairly quiet, soft-spoken, reserved child he is most of the time, and exclaimed with great flair: "Once upon a time!" He looked around. The audience was not up to his expectations. So he called to one of the kids: "Come, come sit here!" D came to sit by his chair. Again we start. "Once upon a time, spider.... No. You, J, you come here!" We start again...

So it went on until he at last had the whole class sitting and crouching around his chair. And then he launched into his 'spider story' with great gusto and animation. I think some of the story may have been missing, and I myself was at a disadvantage, knowing less of the spider stories than K's classmates. So I can't retell it here. But everyone really just revelled in seeing him come so alive, and responded with a great cheer at the end of the performance.

That's the story of my first Liberian story, I hope I'll never forget it. Since then, more did come, told by K, his classmates, and others - see next post with a 'stories' label.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Monrovia Nurseries

Nurseries that sell decorative plants must be a good sign of a city experiencing peace.

There are two lovely ones in Sinkor, Monrovia, off Tubman Boulevard.

Garden Park is on the left driving out of town, just a little past the Airfield Shortcut and the concrete arch over Tubman Boulevard. They also sell some artwork and hope one day to grow into a little 'lifestyle centre' with restaurant, playground etc. For now a beautiful quirky spot.

Porch at the Garden Park.


The Sinner Dream

Coop-Ben's is a block or so before Lucky Pharmacy (opposite JFK Hospital).

Besides potted plants, Ben has a whole lot of gorgeous trees and flowering tropical creatures planted. You can pick a specimen and he'll dig it up for you.

Ben Montgommery is a lovely guy & will hopefully be taking us on Sunday to visit the village from where the beautiful flowers in Liz's bouquet were sourced. He also supplies hotels, restaurants & events.

Rainforest bouquet

Ben and my wonderful neighbour and co-explorer, Liz

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Music Store on Benson

There are many music stores in Monrovia. This one was on Benson Street at the time of the photo; the background gives a glimpse down the street. At any time, a popular track will be playing through the megaphone.

It's also the store from which I bought the CD Belleh (right in the centre), from which excerpts are posted here and here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Via Accra

For Christmas and New Year we migrated to South Africa to spend time with friends and family. To use our voyager miles, we needed to go via Accra, with a two night layover.

In Accra, we again stayed over at Crystal Hostel in Darkuman with Mr and Mrs Qaynor, a.k.a. Uncle and Auntie. Darkuman is kind of like Soweto without Apartheid: far from the centre of town; a huge sprawling, lower to middle income residential area with lots of informal shops and market areas. Uncle & Aunty's house feels a bit like my grandparents', and has a big yard where they've built a double storey row of rooms - the hostel. Very homey, and a good neighbourhood for wandering around in.

We had our meals at the small but very decent "Decent Foods Restaurant" just around the corner: groundnut soup with goat meat; jollof rice and fried chicken; palava sause on rice. Just down the street is 'Not By My Strength' beauty salon, where I'll definitely have to go for a manicure next time. Judging from the number of salons - about one on every block - female grooming is a serious matter in Ghana and not to be attempted at home.

On Sunday we had a full day to spend in Accra, so went to Labadi beach, where tourists enter through the main gates and pay a hefty fee (everyone else goes around the side). A row of beachfront restaurants serve their customers under umbrellas, on comfy wooden chairs and recliners. There were assorted European and Asian tourists, middle-aged white men with beautiful West African wives and toddlers, lots of young people coming to swim and play beach soccer, and small-time entrepreneurs selling services from horse rides to manicures. Two life-guards frantically blew on their whistles, herding everyone into the narrow designated swimming area... It was a glorious day.

By the late afternoon Tumi and I went wandering through Darkuman in search of a pharmacy with an athlete's foot cure. Somewhere around the corner, drums were playing. After a few turns down the road, the music was suddenly just down the alley, so we ducked in to have a look. In the backyard of a home, a drumming group was playing and a handful of dancers in bright West African suits were performing. Some of the audience were seated in the yard, others standing on the road. A friendly woman waved us closer. After a while I asked: "Is this a celebration or a wedding?" No, she shook her head. "A funeral," and pointed me to a colour poster on a nearby wall, announcing the death and funeral details. Soon the first group of dancers retired, and now four others (or maybe they were the same ones) appeared wearing wide trousers and red, beaded headdresses with long cattle horns attached on either side. Their dance was a darker one.

* * *

Some family pics:

Paul on the rooftop of Crystal Hostel:

Two continental travellers.