DIFF review: The Narrow Frame of Midnight

December 14, 2014 at 1:45 am (Uncategorized) (, , , )

This film took a little while to digest and most likely requires more than one viewing to be able to interpret. Without any definite expectations, I felt I was always waiting for the story to pick up speed and energy, because it was one I was truly interested in: the journey through the loss and destruction in Iraq and the wider region.

Instead the film was characterised by stillness and a subdued nature, more visual and poetic in its style. The emotions of separation and loss were conveyed in a way that was almost baffling at times in its obscurity. The French woman lives passively waiting for her lover, lonely in her romantic seclusion as The Lady of Shallot. The timeframes were intercut in a confusing way at times, so the viewer had to work to understand the dynamic of the relationships. There aren’t fixed resolutions to either of the parallel storylines, but a note of optimism with children at play in the fields, clanging with an ominous image of the protagonist disappearing into an inky sea of niqabi women. This striking image I feel was not a statement reflecting on religion as much as the struggle of a man searching for one particular face in an unfamiliar world, from walking among covered corpses abandoned in the mortuary to being enveloped in complete anonymity, a deliberate obscuring that defies his efforts.

The audience was quite restless and few stayed for the post-film discussion, which was a pity. The Q&A with the director and actors was quite revealing- there was an enormous amount of thought and intent behind even small gestures, that I think would not necessarily be apparent to the viewer. For example the replacing a book on the shelf of a bookseller being a potent gesture of determination to preserve and restore his heritage, the bookseller perhaps being forced to sell off his private library rather than it being a common bookstore. Certainly the bookseller’s tale of loss, though it referred to ancient historical acts of vandalism and destruction of literature by the mongols, was a poignant moment- the pain of that act and the knowledge and culture so wantonly squandered still keenly felt.

The relationship between the young Moroccan girl and isolated French woman as a commentary on race relations in France was not immediately apparent to me either, perhaps because her sympathy and readiness to open her home to the child without question felt very natural and a way to relieve her loneliness. As a metaphor it does subtly work to assert the benefit for Europeans to accept migrants and see them as humans who can bring new life to their countries, even dependent on them- but it was still a bit of a leap to make that connection without it being explicitly explained.

The strongest element of the film for me was actress who played the young girl, Aicha, who is kidnapped by a child trafficker. The character has a strong presence- her instincts are sharp and very aware of her situation, with a clear sense of purpose and directness in mapping her escape which contrasts with the confusion and anxiety that Zacaria battles in pursuing his journey. Her ability to trust easily based on her own instinct is also a source of strength that helps her preserve an innocence and childish freedom. It wasn’t too surprising when the director told us that the young actress had also had a hard life and was aware of a lot of darkness in the world of adults, and was therefore able to comprehend her story and brought her own strength and intelligence to the role.

A reflective movie with interesting themes, but overall expressing a wearying level of ennui and intellectualised to the point of being more art requiring interpretation than entertainment.

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Play

November 22, 2010 at 1:02 pm (Uncategorized)

A quick word cloud of the blog made at tagxedo.com

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A chance to question the politics of poverty..

November 15, 2010 at 6:34 pm (Uncategorized)

Some thoughts after attending Politics of Poverty: Be part of the debate, a Westminster event for young people to discuss global poverty issues with a panel of NGO experts and an MP.

The Politics of Poverty, Climate Change and the MDGs… Complex topics for a Question Time event that was really more about the questions we were bringing and our anxious awareness of the fragility of these efforts, than about us ending in enlightenment. There was a real sense of impatient eagerness in the room for action, but at the same time this was not a group who could be satisfied by simply being given charity buckets to shake or going to a Live 8 concert. There were plenty of Platform 2 returnees like myself, many of whom had gone to Ghana – which made them automatically like extended family to me, especially one Rwandan who had worked in the same village as I did and was also going on to start a masters in Education and International Development. Plus he was wearing a woven kente scarf – a joyful signal to Ghanaians and pseudo-Ghanaians everywhere…

The young people in the audience clearly felt driven to demand an immediate, intelligent response to poverty affecting the lives of people and the environment which we had grown to love.

I attended the protest outside Westminster lobbying for action on the MDGs a month or so before, where I was impressed to see a whole crowd of young hijabi girls that had responded enthusiastically to MADE in Europe’s call and were contributing to the racket with cheerful confidence…

I was glad to see how articulate and considered the community was in that room on Tuesday and only wished there was more time for us to learn about each other. From standing outside Westminster, pitching our concerns to a camera, to sitting inside that august building having a direct dialogue with politicians and those in positions of power – you realised that it was not such an impossible distance to bridge as it seems. The Houses of Parliament seem so imposing and Gothic from the outside, and then the entrance too was grand and stony – great Hogwarts-like halls (or Beowolf banquet halls for the HP-haters among you) with portraits and statues of past Prime Ministers you vaguely recalled from history books.

But once inside the little room with bottle green flocked wallpaper, and slim mikes suspended over our heads, it was cosy enough and only not enough time to ask or say all we wanted to say, though in fact there’s never enough time for that..

We splintered off on the journey home continuing our discussions and reflecting on the event, from my new Rwandan friend who was thinking of returning to work in his home country, to learning about Tzedek from a boy who had also attended the event and noticed our chatter at the tube station. We talked literally till the last possible second when I had to leave the train – scribbling my phone number as I went before just squeezing out the door.

Although it was not the academic exercise I might have anticipated – I guess I have university lectures on development and neglected reading for that – it was still a valuable connection for young, engaged people to feel that the highest of political institutions is in fact accessible and our urgent voices can be heard within those daunting walls.

That was what I wrote for the MADE in Europe blog but here are a couple of slightly more Efia-esque events of the day.

The story of Kente as recounted to one attendee the following day:

“I don’t know if you caught all my distress over losing my kente scarf on campus that morning but anyway be happy for me cause I found it hanging on a post outside a cafe in Leeds! It was a pretty wondrous miracle. I was being a little melodramatic maybe, sending my poor little sister searching everywhere for it and seriously considering Kwame’s suggestion of putting of Lost posters of Have You Seen This Kente.. I’m grateful I didn’t have to resort to that though cause I’m hoping to maintain some dignity as a grown up MA student. It was really special though- such a random gift- the girl standing behind us at the Kumasi trotro station initiated conversation by warning me to pick up my bags before they got stolen. She was also from Achiase and somehow upon discovering it was her birthday we ended up doing continuous gift exchanges throughout the journey back to the village starting with exchanging our necklaces, then earrings which is more dodgy, plus a watch from Kwame who always carried a Santa-like sack of gifts; until eventually she got to her house and brought out this beautiful scarf for me and a Kwame Nkrumah University tie for Kwame.”

We kind of got the 'birthday present' concept confused and Leticia showered us with gifts instead of the other way round..

Also I made some nice friends on the journey down- first I bonded with the lady in the seat across over knitting as usual. I was just finishing off my handsome African aubergine creation and she admired my inventive stem-making technique and told me of colourful knitted houses she used to make, then onto tales of Spain where she’d set up a franchise of kiddie playcentres. Possibly the kind of place where you drown in germy plastic balls, but if the kids are happy I guess the parents are too. We were joined halfway through by a crowd we assumed had come from some office party as they were all suited and raucously drunk. Turned out they’d just come from a funeral wake of one of their closest friends- a young man and adventurous type who was flying over mountains in peru when the plane engine failed. These guys were really sweet actually- they told us lots of stories and I got plenty of advice on starting a knitting business as well as a debate on the merits of the Stockport vs adventuring in Africa… The guy didn’t believe in my professed desire to visit the hat museum when i’d managed to travel the world but still not bothered to go down the road and check it out.

Train view over stockport- though the Hat Museum is on the other side. I worked inside that blue Cooperative pyramid once upon a time..

I was told fame and fortune could lie in knitting artichokes and you know I could see it was a good point well, if tipsily, made. Anyway he proudly referred me to his designer wife for advice, a recommendation backed up by an encouraging sober friend, and said I should just say ‘I met her husband on the train and he said to call…’ I’ll keep you updated if that connection goes anywhere.. I’ve met a surprising number of people on public transport in the last year – they’re actually amazing networking places once you hook people  in with your knitting needles 😉

appreciatively watching a street knitting video from my phone

I’m hoping this aubergine dude could contribute a regular feature but it’s not for sure yet, we’re in negotiations..

Not everyone got a chance to ask their question..

One last note- I dropped by the big student demo on my way back home the next day. A very different crowd from the old effigy carrying anti-war protestors that used to gather in these streets (though i didn’t carry effigies myself but homemade placards I’d spend all night on and ditch as soon as they got too heavy). This time there was a lot of reproachful yellow around- it was focussed on cowardly lib dem betrayal where once, not long ago, that yellow meant sunshiney hope..

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Taking stock: September

October 18, 2010 at 10:21 am (Uncategorized)

I’m slowly coming to the realisation that I’m actually not living in the real world but perhaps a too vividly coloured dream filled with strange characters and surreal events. Or maybe it’s all very normal and I’m being too dramatic. I can’t blame watching Inception entirely for this feeling- it’s been growing for a while now, years even, and everytime I see a film like A Scanner Darkly, or Eternal Sunshine, Being John Malkovich, the Matrix, Donnie Darko, A Beautiful Mind, or even Coraline and Alice in Wonderland, it seems to confirm it more. Maybe I shouldn’t watch these surreal dystopic/ paranoid fantasies until they stop making so much frightening sense.

Anyway here’s a photographic run down of various events since my return to UK in September and you can judge for yourself. Bear in mind these are only the occasions I saw fit to photograph, so for example last night’s Indian harmonica playing poet will not feature though he spoke incoherently of moonshine and world politics with strangely lilting diction and smiled in recognition at me, perhaps as a kindred spirit, with threadbare fingerless gloves on hands clasped in prayer or begging.

A short note on Ramadan before launching into photos. I wish I had a picture of all the black binbags bursting with plastic cups and plates piled up against the Didsbury mosque walls every night. My younger, eco-warrior sister was outraged and ready to get to work at dawn, after a long night of prayer, to sort out all the waste for recycling. Sadly for our hero, she was held back by the lack of a noble steed or anyone equally determined and willing to fill their boots with dirty polystyrene. However that image has stayed and led to a resolve to create better environmental awareness before Ramadan begins again next summer. A month of greater charity, good work and God-consciousness should lead to reflection on our impact on the world as individuals, rather than turning a blind eye on the mess we’re leaving to be cleared out of sight and left for others worry about.

Birmingham Arts Festival:

 

 

Cityscape made out of waste materials- the children worked through everything in beautiful detail. The girl at the stall said it would be scrapped later but it seemed to me the creative potential was endless- it could have grown from this sweet village to a megacity given time..

 

 

Wednesday of that week I breezily gatecrashed the premiere of Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s film, The Motherland Tour: A Journey of African Women. I didn’t know who she was before I went but it was clear from the minute she took the mike that she’s a woman with a powerful and  fearless voice, but warm and funny too. The film also sent out a strong message about the ways in which African women are lifting their communities and taking a leading role in battling HIV/ AIDS, malaria and protecting maternal and child health by educating and organising themselves.

 

Post-premiere we (the Tony Blair Faiths Act crew who kindly allowed me to pretend to be one of them) went to a kitsch Lebanase cafe full of bright cartoonish pop art. The pretty waitress was Algerian I think which led to a playful but slightly awkward ‘all this hating is so silly- but you can pour your own mint tea Egypt boy/ your friends can pour the boiling tea over you’ discussion with the Egyptian at the table.

Ok lets move onto what I believe was the following Sunday- though I’m sure interesting things happened in between as I recall, like dropping in on a planning session for a series of seminars on Bangladesh and accosting unsuspecting students to pose in necklaces- the boys were more willing than the girls but maybe that’s just the London way..

Stand up for the MDGs demonstration outside Westminster:

 

Zahra is a far more serious drummer than the dinky drum in this picture would suggest..

 

 

The turnout of Muslim sisters from East London Mosque was seriously impressive- there needs to be more representing like this

 

I’m tired now so let’s finish up September with a few pictures from the Sankofa Crafts stall at Didsbury Arts Festival (and not mention for the moment having to carry artwork about town on my head and various discoveries about homelessness in Manchester and Fairtrade stuff and the amazingness of the Venture Arts crowd. I’ll edit it in later or it’ll come in the October edition :p)

 

Adults with learning disabilities in Manchester workshopped with fabrics and photos from Kasapin to make these exciting pictures

 

 

Hero No 1 Charlotte trekked to my house in the early morning to help me lug stuff over and chatter more excitedly than me about the project and Ghana and Nigeria and play this african music in a setting full of very dainty and domestic Didsbury folk who very sweet and forgiving of our boisterous energy. Charlotte I knew from the Ghana v Uruguay Match doumented earlier, then Exodus Festival the day before leaving for Ghana and then this Didsbury Festival. That is the full extent of our acquaintance but it's a precious one at that 🙂

 

 

Hero no 2 Callum arrived unexpectedly after Charlotte left to rescue another friend. He patiently waited for me to finish my spinning lesson before coming forward with his fairtrade geobars and fellow Kasapin kinship. I was too happy and rashly promised him socks which always take me a thousand years to knit. But he seems a patient soul so it's ok.

 

 

I didn't know spinning was so simple. Or I knew a little but didn't try and realise it fully before..

 

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Post :)

September 25, 2010 at 2:35 pm (Uncategorized)

I can’t keep the pace with all that needs blogging my camera contains a running commentary so one day there’ll be photo-lead accounts rather than my overly wordy writing.

Today’s many tasks include a dratted article on travel in Ghana in which I’m struggling to keep from sounded like a breathless Anne Shirley and putting together posters and artwork displays for tomorrows Craft Cafe stall at Didsbury Arts Festival Yesterday I carried home a boxful of beautifully handcrafted cards and artwork my amazing friend Laura of Venture Arts and her fellow MA artist friends originally workshopped to raise money for the Artsbridge Institute to send Israeli and Palestinian kids to a camps where they could have a dialogue through art. Laura used photos and cloth from Kasapin over the summer to workshop with adults with learning disabilities in Manchester. They created really beautiful exciting artwork and cards inspired by the African fabrics and photos and I can’t wait to exhibit them tomorrow!

A photo of a Kasapin school boy drumming stuck on the Venture Arts studio wall

But I got something special in the postbox today and must share:

From the good people of Edmundsville Foundation who took me in when I arrived in Accra. I can't fully express how kind they all were to me- picture a constant supply of freshly baked cakes and a house full of fun-loving girls and you'll get some idea!

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Introducing… Aminatu Abu Bakr

September 8, 2010 at 8:46 pm (Uncategorized)

Aminatu was an unexpected friend I met back in February when Dacosta’s travelling meant he couldn’t mind us one Host Family Thursday. Instead I spent that morning learning how to work her antique-style sewing machine and she patiently showed me how to sew a shirt for one of her clients. She took that chance to ask if I could teach her English and reading and at the time I told her I’d be happy to and she should come to me if ever she was free. But somehow there was never enough time.. Fast forward three months and you’ll find her studying Twi and English literacy every afternoon until twilight comes and you can no longer read the blackboard.

Three years ago Aminatu came alone, with her young daughter, to Kasapin and found a family to take her in and began a seamstress apprenticeship. She now sends her daughter to an expensive private school in the village- spending half her earnings investing in Safiyya’s education and the other half on food and clothing. She never went to school herself but is clearly brimming with watchful intelligence and since Dacosta began his classes she has been the most committed student of all and has made rapid progress in her reading already.

Aminatu is also forging ahead with the concept of this recycled crafts business. She was easily able to replicate the necklaces and has the materials, manual skills and machine to develop new designs and provide resources and training for the other women.

Although she is not directly connected with cocoa farming or trade her business is still affected by it as the local economy is dependent on the trade and is therefore seasonal- out of season people have no spare money to commission clothing. Many struggling families like hers try to find additional means of support and generating income but even for those who have the skill to produce goods for market, capital for supplies is not so easy to come by. Especially for illiterate single women with no family or social support.

Aminatu is brave and has taken control of her future. She worked hard to produce the first samples of necklaces for me to showcase and would not throw away this or any other chance to raise herself, her daughter and her fellow students out of poverty and the struggles they face today.

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Optimism

September 7, 2010 at 11:53 am (Uncategorized)

SAY not the struggle naught availeth,
The labor and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here, no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright.

Arthur Hugh Clough

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Moving Forwards (But Not Moving On)

August 27, 2010 at 9:52 am (Uncategorized) ()

My last day in Kasapin today and I’m ashamed to say my first post even though I had internet access this whole journey. But my days have been filled with so much, and nights when I could barely sleep for the need to discuss and break down the events of the day, share stories and plan for the future. Time for reflecting and writing will come after my return insha’allah. Plus I would have spent all my money on credit as I’m doing now.

I feel it continually, how this journey has been blessed beyond my greatest hope and expectations Alhamdulillah. I’ve been taken in as an honoured guest and daughter by the best and kindest of families from Dansoman and Fadema in Accra, to Achiase, to my own home in Kasapin where Dacosta built me a perfect room and Steve constructed a wudhu area, and painted ‘Efia Zeenat’s Lodge’ over the door yesterday while we listened to philosophical speeches on the laptop.

Old friends came to meet me or call me constantly full of concern for my wellbeing and warm welcome from literally the moment I stepped out of the airport. My new friends have been able to take me down unexpected new paths, from the narrow ledges between man-made scummy lakes reserved for sea salt extraction, to giant mechanics workshops where’d I’d be wheeling round a big American 7-seater and cooking fish for the little village sprung up within the worksite. Then the unlooked for opportunities and enlightening and often random missions that my fellow P2 returnee brought with him- from researching faith and fair-trade at Kuapa Kokoo (alongside learning about a thousand other questions), and meeting the most beautiful village mosque community, to falling in with a troupe of actors in Kumasi (and apparently set to bring this production company to the attention of  Egyptian cinema and Hollywood, or at the very least getting a role in one of their films if I have time) Then hunting out beads in craft villages, labyrinthine, dead chameleon filled  markets and riversides.  I couldn’t make it to Tamale but my film maker friend made it down to mostly help cook, pluck or help slaughter various chickens, most significantly the handsome cockerel Tony Yayo that was gifted me on my arrival in Kasapin by his namesake. A deceptively clever bird- we thought it was flapping and running mindlessly but in fact he was sawing through his ropes and made an escape before big Tony brought him back to us. Every morning after suhur he’d crow vengefully to keep me awake so in the end I loved him better in eating him although the killing itself was not so easy.

The work itself has been less of a struggle than it should have been because the burden was lifted almost entirely by these good people- Ebeneezer of Edmundsville Foundation took a week off work managed every aspect of the long treks to Tema, visiting schools and then the packing and delivery of these dusty tomes. Together we managed to give a good few thousand books within the tightest of time frames- little over a week from start to finish. It wasn’t perfect and I’ll go into detail about the problems and questions that arose from the experience.

Last night I spent a good few hours, post handicraft workshopping, teaching my two younger sisters here to dance the Lathay de Chadar stick dance. The girls have dance in their bones but the finicky grace of Indian steps is somewhat alien to their natural bold Ghanaian style. They’re preparing to dance at a send-off party for me tonight- and look awesome in Bengali shalwar kameez- so if I’m accepted as Ghana obroni now then I’m also somehow turning them into Bangla obibini with food, music, clothing and dance. Ironic since I’m kind of disastrously British back home. It’s past 5.30 now which means I can now hear their swift brush strokes as they sweep coal dust, cloth trimmings and general dirt from the red earth of the yard. (An hour later now and they’re in the bedroom clicking these sticks together in perfect sync- somehow they must have been dancing through their dreams cause they weren’t this good last night)

The work in Kasapin has been wonderful to witness and again details will come later but for now seeing the class Dacosta has formed, with 5 women dedicated to learning every evening if possible and the vigour and vision with which he teaches- the potential is incredible. DC was saying last night that even he was unable to continue beyond elementary formal education but through his own determination, boundless energy, clear and self-aware intelligence, ambition and faith that kept him searching and studying for the truth in the Bible he has been able to raise himself to the highly respected and recognised positions of responsibility he holds in Kasapin today where political delegates will gather before their public forums, cocoa traders and business men must report themselves, and locals come for arbitration on social matters- I can learn about all Kasapin sitting just by sitting on the porch and have enough novelty value to be invited to tag along to public forums, hitching a lift in the local Municipal Chief Executive’s car..

So he can see the potential too in these women that they can raise themselves and their families through taking control of their education and provoking their thought. There was no real thought of this handicrafts business in their mind until my arrival this time but it has been accepted as a worth integrating into their programme and complementing the support and strength that education will bring them by bringing extra income to support themselves, invest in the school and develop their skills in a creative and enterprising direction. Aminato the seamstress has already begun running with the concept reeling off new necklaces and earrings, new designs flowing naturally out of her quick mind. The functional need for communication between us has forced her to begin understanding and speaking English more and shown me my need to improve my Twi beyond novelty catchphrases to practical speech. DC is always one to push us to speak and generally refuses to help interpret because he believes we have enough of each other’s language within us to converse without him. An overestimation for now but still it challenges us to at least try.

In a way I’m almost ok with going home now although there seems no time in the world to do everything- a few months or a year here would have been better. But there’s too much to do upon returning too and I’m impatient to begin the next stage.  I have a bag full of recycled cloth jewellery and cards on the way- insha’allah they’ll be the seed for some great transforming work.
Pray that everything continues well.

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Clearing the board..

July 15, 2010 at 11:19 pm (Uncategorized)

I want to do a quick rundown of various unmentioned events that have gone on in the past few months in Manchester so that I can begin a new chapter on Ghana with a clean slate.

Don’t worry I’ll let photos lead the way rather than talking to death.

Global discussion workshop at the Platform 2 Express weekend- sharing our tales, reuniting and planning projects. Well in fact it was mostly listening to their ideas of what we should do- for which I, alongside a few other rebel returnees, had little patience as we had learned the value of initiative (and mutiny) more than anything else during our experience. The trade game they played was also stressful because they did things like place India as a third-world country to be ignored and dismissed on the world stage while having their World Bank guy fawn over the Italians instead. I’m not Indian nationalist but I was geekily maddened by this game which made no sense..

It was mostly about the reunions for me and sewing up my skirts cause that's what I do when I'm bored in the back of the classroom and think I know better than my teachers- stitch my disintegrating clothes back together using needles stuck about my person. Because I am actually Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas.

London Sketch book Pop-up Shop on Fashion and artistic P2 plans. So many trendy Londoners in one place was a little daunting but they were very nice and Mahta's the most cool anyway and she's already my friend 🙂

The Witch Way- a beautiful route to Burnley named after the hanging of 12 witches on Pendle Hill in the 17th century. The Mother's Union folk in the church in Burnley were really engaged with the world- telling each other stories of travels and charity work in Rwanda and India, and keen to hear Kate's presentation on Ghana.

Discovering my aunt's design studio- but did more clearing boxes than any productive work in the end because there were too many family weddings and suchlike to allow us the luxury of hiding away there and playing with all the pretty ribbons and fabrics she has piled up there.

Didsbury festival- selling home-made jams, cakes, and beadwork. Family, friends and the wonderful women from Yaarah Schools were all there for one of the most beautifully sunny, lovely days this year.

The kid picked up awari lightning fast- she beat me first time with frightening ease. Maybe I'm just terrible- though in Kasapin I was rated highly among the volunteers and only Mahta ever beat me. Maybe we're all terrible.

Africa Oye was beautiful too- full of sunshine and music. A picture perfect celebration of the British multicultural dream.

Lamees playing awari at the Platform 2 stall at Africa Oye

A Refugee Roadshow using art, music and stories told by refugees to open the eyes of school children in Manchester and ask them to reflect. I was applying henna on their hands using Akan Adinkra symbols rather than flowery Indian or Arabian designs, while they listened to the music and the journey of a man who had escaped from Cameroon.

This event was during Refugee Week and was organised by the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre– and the effect it had on the school children was evident from their expressions, and the many questions they felt able to ask the man who described his torture in a prison in Congo and life as a refugee child in London. The kids were open and bluntly direct in their feedback- some wrote that they thought refugees were just benefit thieves and beggars but they now realised more about where they had come from..

The Exodus festival on Sunday will be the last event I go to before flying to Ghana on Monday morning. For me it’s not just about the celebration of cultures but it’s all part of arming myself with some knowledge of this ethical craft market and seeing what opportunities there are around here before taking the next step. One thing leads to another every time and brief encounters can become meaningful given the chance (though I don’t mean Brief Encounter meaningful)- and you never know if you don’t go.

ETA: I forgot to mention the Malaria No More event in which a gallant former P2 volunteer ran through Manchester city centre in a mosquito costume- chased by confused but willing members of the public. It lead us to an event organised by Faiths Act volunteers and I felt again the awesome power of joining together with others and the great things they accomplished simply by inspiring others and sharing the stories that bring home far away problems.

It was an important part of this journey that lead to many unexpected possibilities for me, but because I did this run down by scrolling through my camera and didn’t have it with me at the event I forgot all about that sunny day and how excited I was to meet Pastor Francis and his family- abandoning all my old friends to join my Ghanaian people 🙂

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Of tailors and trading..

July 15, 2010 at 7:10 pm (Uncategorized)

Kasapin is a cocoa-farming and market village with a population of approximately 5000. Tailoring is one of the main occupations outside of farming and there is a surplus of trained home-based tailors who leave their machines unused and seek other means of income as they cannot compete with the established tailors and seamstresses with shops along the high street.

Working tailors and seamstress usually train apprentices who learn the trade as unpaid workers over a period of about 2 years until they become ‘masters’ and can set up their own enterprises. These apprentices will often have to find another job to provide an income while training.

Nafisa is a young mother in Kasapin of around 21 years of age. She would come every morning to the guesthouse at around 5am to clean the laundry yard, showers and toilets of the Platform 2 volunteers before going to work all day at her seamstress apprenticeship. She was unable to communicate much with the volunteers but often expressed her interest in learning to read and speak English.

I wrote the above brief outline as part of a more formal explanation of why I think there is potential for ethical handicrafts production in Ghana. The wax prints and textiles I saw in the markets there were so beautiful and vibrant- bolder than most of the Western and Indian fabrics I saw in stores in the UK. As in Bangladesh, most clothing was commissioned by tailors after choosing the cloth yourself, but unlike the way resourceful packrat Bengali tailors would make use of every scrap to patchwork and pleat into blankets and cushions, in Kasapin it seemed that large quantities of leftover fabric were being thrown away or burnt, which seemed a tragic waste.

My own good tailor was Abu, who took three weeks to sew up a simple blouse but then made up for it by whipping up a beautiful outfit for me on the last day, fast as lightning and willing to have me sit by and chatter as he did his freestyle freehand cutting. Anyway it was good he took so long with that shirt cause I was shrinking fast and had to keep giving updates- 1 inch down today, another 3 or 4 the next week. Not good but the malaria and vitamin pills were all lodged in my throat at that time and I was having a hard time swallowing anything. Each groundnut soup-soaked mouthful of rice or yam would have to be thumped down with much painful chest-beating so that I looked like a crazy Tarzan at the dinner table..

Abu sent his sons to the private school Danak- he held ambitions for their future..

My dear host dad was once a tailor in Kasapin, and Nigeria too, in the days before he had a finger in every pie in town. Dacosta still has old photos of his past apprentices- he had crowds of them it seemed and there were plenty of pictures of proud graduation ceremonies (he used to rock an awesome afro and 80s-styling back in the day, I wish I had a picture to show you.) He and his kind son Steve made a beautiful mobile phone holder for me which saved my badass Michael Jackson mobile from the same fate as the previous phone (falling into concrete mix constantly and eventually drowning in a pool of stagnant green water. Efia Kyrie dived in to rescue it and it still sang as it died but I didn’t know how to save it)

Luke and Kwame dancing to gangster music with the new phone case hanging round Stevo's neck like it's serious bling

We experimented a little with recycling leftover fabrics into small bags and even tried sewing together water sachets to make a litter-fairy costume for a environmental play as part of our litter drive. The play didn’t quite happen in the end because the school roof blowing away pitched us into crisis mode, but we did sell some of the bags (albeit mostly to ourselves) as part of a market stall initiative to raise funds for a new roof. Anyhow the idea was born and we returned with a few more bags of scraps to experiment with.

As far as the ubiquitous water sachets were concerned it felt like we were fighting a losing battle- we had children bring bagfuls of used Robee sachets to us in exchange for lollipops or as an entrance fee for our sports day, and although we amassed tons of plastic bags this way we were far from resolving the many problems of disposal and I don’t know if the environmental message got through beyond the beckoning promise of sweets in exchange for rubbish. We had heard of sachet recycling plants and even saw signs of one in Cape Coast but restricted as we were to the village, with no one in the wider organisation willing to take on the responsibility or allow us to, no network to manage this project was established in the end and I think that eagerly collected litter is still either still languishing in a broom cupboard in the guesthouse or thrown into the local landfill/ burnt up into a toxic mess by now. The sachets were recycled to some extent by the local farmers- especially those running nurseries who grew saplings in sachets filled with mud.

Upon our return some of us researched further into recycling initiatives in Ghana. Trashy Bags is a business that recycles sachets into bags- and they appear to be quite good quality from the website. I’m not sure about how they do their manufacturing exactly and didn’t see much sign of their products in the touristy centres of Accra, Cape Coast or Kumasi but it appears to be doing very successfully and would be something that could be easily expanded upon by any entrepreneur as the raw materials are all too widely and freely available. One volunteer managed to buy a bag from ebay but she is perhaps a more discreet and wary person than I am and won’t allow me to examine it as a sample.

So three of us from my group are now pursuing separate business plans using these scraps to create accessories and cards to sell in the UK, though mine is the only one aiming to establish a connection with Ghana beyond the materials we received freely in Kasapin last time. I hope to research into the possibilities of fairtrade ethical handicrafts and cottage industries although I ought to learn some discretion already I will no doubt be spilling over with plenty of stories to share here. Like this Etsy store Soul of Somanya producing Krobo beads made from powdered recycled glass The website says ‘we are working to develop sustainable employment opportunities in the field of bead work for working-age orphans and other young people whose job prospects are very limited by their lack of family support and/or limited levels of education.’ which does raise questions about child labour though. Beads themselves have a powerful history- I was struck by how they resembled the glossier millefiori beads that I saw in Venice, while my uncle (who runs a bead store in Rome) was intrigued by their texture and thought they had perhaps come by way of India. I don’t know how many people selling ‘trade beads’ tell the tourists that buy them about their historical connections with the slave trade, exchanging European glass for human lives. See how things have evolved since then- now Westerners are buying beads from Ghanaians and wearing them proudly. It’s an innocent irony but it’s important to be aware how our histories are connected in so many complex ways if we only choose to learn.

I’m exhausted now but this would be a good time to mention what something about the Manchester factories that once produced these West African wax print cottons ,while manufacturing was quelled in the colonies and countries like Ghana forced to import their cloth. Times are definitely changing: I called up ABC factory in Cheshire hoping to learn about the production process and they said they had moved all their machines to West Africa, including Accra, over the last couple of years and given away all their left over cloth to colleges and artists- I’d missed the last boxful by just a week.

The lady at the African Fabrics store Taylor Barrets, an old English family-run establishment hidden away in a Manchester mill on Dale St, was not especially enthused by this turn in events- she had no confidence in the quality that would be produced in an African factory and was now ordering only from the Dutch producers that still continued working. Then she sold me a few scraps for an extortionate price but agreed to let me come again and take pictures of the store. I think she said she had never been to Africa herself but maybe members of her family had- I guess if the cloth was coming from Manchester it wasn’t necessary.. The clients were mostly Nigerian or Ghanaian I think- willing to spend a fortune on the cloth and then wait for it to be sent back to their home countries, sewn up by tailors then brought back. There must be a better way surely..
My own fledgling store is selling fabric-covered bead jewellery as well as wooden Adinkra jewellery but although I had an architectural cousin speedily laser-cut some samples for me at the university workshop I don’t think that will be a viable way to produce on a larger or more long term scale. Ok enough talking and dull detail- I’ll finish with a few pretty pictures of what I’ve been making. (Disclaimer: if I go fairtrade I’ll have to stop exploiting my younger cousins I suppose but it seems a shame)

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