Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Inaugural Meeting of 'The Landlocked Surf Club'.

Cleansing hangovers in the 9°C Atlantic

McDonald's breakfast
Cross the Severn
Catch Up With Mates
Find Waves&Surf Until Numb
Make Friends
Insult a National Treasure
More Waves

The time I made it between the lines.


Floodpocolypse, tubeaggedon and galeocaust had plagued the past week. It was a week of checking and re-checking forecasts and webcams, dire warnings from loved ones and speculative emails. It was only on Friday that caution was thrown quite literally to the wind and the trip was a tentative go. Even so when I woke at 5:30am the wind pounded the windows with such ferocity that even placing the boards on the car seemed a herculean task. My heart sank. Maybe this was a bad idea. I went back to sleep. By 8 the wind had died down to a reasonable level so I loaded up, gave Zoe a kiss goodbye, hoisted the mainsail and was blown all the way to a McDonald's just outside Reading. Adam met me with a derisive laugh at my parking and a Sausage and Egg McMuffin both of which I willingly accepted and we sat chatting and laughing about the night before and the trip ahead. 

Enter the Dragon.

-Crossing the Severn-

The wind drove us on to Wales, buffeting the car around all the way. The heavens opened and the rain leaked in, following the path of the roof straps. My shoulder took the worst of the water. At least I was wearing a dark hoody. My shoulder had just turned from a stream in to a river when we hit the self perpetuated traffic jam to pay our £6.40 entrance fee for the welsh safari park. There wasn't even a solitary sheep in sight. 

We powered on through Powys, held our breath through Talbot and battled through the bay before reaching the crest of the hill. The sun had danced out from behind the clouds and the winds that had brought us here abated. The bay was sparkling. Lumps of head high swell hit the bay's exposed reefs, points and sandbars with a beautiful irregularity while one lone black figure bobbed in the brine. It wasn't a perfect but it's close enough for me. Especially as we only paid £6.40.

The only time getting naked in car parks is normal.
-Catch Up With Mates-

'You are so shit at parking'
'Fuck it. That'll do'
'Is that the curb over there on the horizon?'
'Shut it. Let's check the waves and go find Jason.'

Me: 'Alright Jase'
Jason: 'Alright buddy. How's it going?
Me: 'Good man. How's you?'
Jason: 'Good mate. Bloody Knackered though.'
Me: 'Out on the town?'
Jason: 'Nah. Valentines.'
Me: 'Ah. Got home late?'
Jason: 'Just went to the cinema.'

Adam: 'Rob, your house mate who let us in...'
Rob: 'Georgie?'
Adam: 'Yeah. Is she on Tinder?'

Adam: 'Oh he is so selfish with the ball in hand. He always dummies...'
Jason: 'I threw a dummy once.'

Time well spent.

Not the ideal time to find that your boots have holes in.

-Find Waves&Surf Until Numb-

We shovelled down bacon butties, chips and coke in a restaurant overlooking the bay. Adam cracked jokes while Jason’s laugh, a full body convulsion that takes over his whole person and never fails to make me happy, filled the room. I behaved like a small child with OCD cutting out mid-sentence to admire the potential as a set rolled through.  

When all food had been consumed and the laughter died away we succumbed to temptation and headed out on to the sun drenched promenade before strolling back to the car park where Adam and I stripped off and changed in to our neoprene armour, an act that in any other situation would invite at best a caution and at worst a lengthy prison sentence. 

Dressed head to in rubber and armed with our boards as explanation we headed in to the icy blue to join the ever-growing line-up. I headed for the point at the west of the bay which was sparsely populated by long-boarders and  SUPs which may have been a rash move considering I was riding a 6'0" Fish but I fancied I had a greater chance there than in the mêlée occurring over the Eastern reef. 

Adam’s plan was to get his feet in the white water before heading out back. Enthusiasm, however, got the better of him as he paddled straight out and proceeded to take off on a 5ft+ bomb and wiping out so badly he ‘broke his fibular’ while Jason watched on from the shore presumably doubled over and filling the bay with laughter. Thankfully the broken fibular wasn't ‘too serious’ and Adam managed another 3 hours in the water before presumably the ache in his leg and sight of bone through his skin made him realise it was time to go in.

I was having my own leg trouble realising around 5 minutes in to the session that my boots were next to useless with them both harbouring a couple of here to unseen holes.  To add injury to insult, before I’d even caught a wave, a stray long-board popped out from its duck-diving owner and smacked me squarely in the head. At least I wasn't going to miss playing Rugby this week.

I started to get the hang of the point break and the wave count started going in the right direction. The take-off's were becoming quicker and later. Though one of the curiosities of having numb feet is that controlling a surfboard becomes near impossible. The feedback loop between the wave, your feet and brain breaks down and you resort to careering along a wave like a Formula 1 car on ice. On the plus side, it's rather fun.

I moved to the reef and caught a couple of neglected lumps amongst the crowd. The sun disappeared behind the point and after a few more last waves than is mathematically possible I headed for the shore where my numb feet finally came in useful when traversing the stony beach up to the front. I met Adam on the front and we walked back up to the car where my feet found sensation and also Jason.

Popping Up.


Scream pubs are brilliant. A much under-rated pillar of Uni life. Any pub that can provide you a beer, meal and change for £7 is always a welcome end to a day. Fatigue was kicking in. Conversation slowed. Burgers arrived. Glasses drained. All was well. Waves reminiscedwipe-outs were told, sessions compared. All were revived. Onwards! and down in to town.

Left: Stavros uses snakebite as his inspiration & practices his pop-up in Walkabout. Right: Diego is squatted by a friendly squaddy.

-Make Friends-

Having had a sniff of student living there was no going back. We hit the nearest Spoons where Adam asserted that basically all drinks were basically half price. The workers got a round in followed closely by another and then another. We had students to entertain after all. The Welsh circled. Rob was separated from the pack and picked off by a vicious pack of valley's girls. Adam thought quick and decided to give us all pseudonyms though to what use I'm still not sure. Rob was dead and Diego was born who within 5 minutes was promptly drug searched by security before being squatted by a provoked squaddy. The barmaid soon put a stop to the shenanigans: "Oi! Boys! Not near the bar all right?!". Fair enough. 

Stavros and Diego embrace.


Always make things interesting. A walkabout was called for. Snakebite drained. Steve (Jason) became increasingly Welsh until congratulations were offered from the DJ to English Steve, up from London, celebrating his 30th. 

Stavros (Adam) had won £31 on a fruity and ordered copious Jager before hitting the snakebite hard and practising his pop-up on the floor of walkabout. Diego went missing for great stints presumably detained by security again for taking too long to poo, while Vlad stoically held the fort throughout. Stavros then decided he'd had enough, wiped the glasses of snakebite on to the floor and announced we were moving on. I decided it was time for bed and took a recently re-appeared Diego home while one side of his body fought an increasingly losing battle to get his coat off while the other tried desperately to put it on. Progress was slow. 


From left to right: The gang; Jason (Steve), Owen (Vlad), Rob (Diego) and Adam (Stavros). On the right: Steve's 30th was too much for him evidently.

-Insult a National Treasure-

A group of random boys swarm around Charlotte Church outside a club.

Stavros: 'She's not fit.'
Steve: ' Where's Gavin?'

I blame Jager.


We woke to the smell of Bacon, coffee and croissant followed by the sight of Jason cocooned in a sleeping bag on the landing. We went downstairs to find students awake, in a clean kitchen at 9am. Things have changed. I'm not complaining though. Bacon is tidy.

A left rolls through. I take chase.
-More waves-

Due to an inevitable combination of laziness and faffing we only arrived back at the bay at 1pm though by a stroke of luck the sun shone, the waves were cleaner and almost empty. An old boy emerged from the water and told us to make the most of the quiet because everyone was watching Swansea play. "Enjoy boys!". We certainly did. 

I took off to have fun on the left hand point and without numb feet I had a ball. The tide was low and reef was shallow; knowing when to kick out was key. I attacked every wave I could. My confidence was sky high in the slightly smaller, underpopulated and cleaner swell. Spray even went flying on a couple of carves. Things were moving forward. Until an ill advised floater left me standing on shallow reef and taking a battering from the breakers. I styled it out though (I reckon) and thankfully I left the blue unscathed and stoked.Tiredness got the best of me despite the fun, sun and swell. South Wales certainly was a stereotype. Maybe it's all a clever ruse to put off the English

I rejoined Adam and Robs on the beach. Adam was pumped after a couple of nice waves at the end. Robs was understandably green from a mixture of envy, after being sidelined by knee surgery in December, and hangover but seemed chilled out by a day out of the big smoke. All smiles and surfboards we left the sand and changed in the car park, waving goodbye to the bay of opportunity.  

Adam styles it out.

The Ox had just put Arsenal ahead as we pulled in to McDonald's, famished from a mixture of paddling and hangover hunger. Despite the mood we needed more than happy meals. Big Mac's were eaten, waves analysed, stories told, wipe-outs mocked and laughter filled the air mixed in with the smell of neoprene and chips. Food finished and trays cleared away we piled back in to the car and headed east to the sound of Adam's snores and an Arsenal win.

-Trip members-

Surfing: Ant (Pablo), Adam (Stavros)
Social: Rob (Diego), Owen (Vladamir), Jason (Steve)

The bay of opportunity.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

An update from Eric.

A couple of weeks after my meeting with Eric I received the following text message. It's nice to see that even fetish priests are getting in to SMS marketing.

From: Eric
To: Anthony
THE TELEPATHY Atuakosuah Shrine. Edwenasi. HN0 DS032. Ejisu-Juaben Municipal.How are you Anthony and you friends.How is it going to being [Redacted]?.I discovered the linguist* told you not to talk to women, you can do whatever you want. Consulting the gods have no restrictions.Tell your friends to contribute to buy me whisk and Batakari (Traditional wear).Eric Oppong.The Festish Dancer.

*The linguist was the school teacher

I'm hoping the whisk is so that he can make omelets for future visitors. I was amazed and touched by the follow up to our meeting and replied in kind:

From: Anthony
To: Eric
Thanks Eric. I've been spreading the word about you and your shrine to all I meet. It was an incredible and moving experience that I thank you for again. I am [redacted] and with the spirits help I hope to achieve. I hope you are well and the spirit is strong. Medase Pa. Anthony.

Eric in full flow with the linguist (the school teacher next to him).

Monday, 28 October 2013

Libation, Libation, Libation. A Meeting with a Fetish Priest Called Eric.

Sunday 20th October 

A panorama of the Edwenase Shrine.

I woke unsurprisingly early after going to bed at 8:30 the previous night and went in search of my customary breakfast of omelet and coffee in a bustling Ejisu. It was market day and everyone an anyone was either dressed in their finery heading for church or perusing the hundreds of items on sale throughout the town. It seemed they were selling everything. Everything except omelets. I picked up a couple of Ghanaian doughnuts and some bananas before finding a shared taxi to Omwe. My destination was the small town of Edwenase which housed the Atia Kusia Kwame Shrine which I was keen to visit and possibly meet the Fetish Priest who lives there. It was a Sunday after all. The day of worship.

The entrance to the shrine.
From Omwe I walked the few kilometers along the lush dirt road to the town and quickly found the shrine, easily recognisable from the beautiful mural of a male and female figure with a crocodile above. I was standing admiring the mural when I was approached by an enthusiastic school teacher who said he could arrange for me to go inside. I was a little wary as the guide book makes a point of saying that most visits to shrines, especially when meeting the priest, are expensive and brief. However, it seemed I had very little choice as I was quickly ushered around to the back of the shrine and lead through a door into an area adjacent to the shrine itself which must act as the priest's living quarters. I was told to take a seat while they called to the priest to come as he had a visitor. We waited. A man burst through the door in front of us. Bliery eyed and throwing on a tattered green northern style top as he went. He was a skinny man dressed in slim jeans and his tattered top. His hair, what he had of it, was in short thinning dreadlocks with a heavily balding patch in the middle. Despite his hair loss he looked young though perhaps that was in due part to his eyes which were the first thing that you noticed. They were wild and restless darting relentlessly, as wide as their host could force them, all over the room as if he was looking for something the rest of us couldn't see. The rest of his face seemed completely unaware of his eyes. His smile was relaxed warm and welcoming although his teeth were in desperate need of dental work and possibly a brush. He moved fluidly across the room accentuated by his flowing top his eyes never ceasing their quest to keep their owner aware of any impending danger. He took a seat next to me and shook my hand in the traditional Ghanaian way, clicking as we parted.

"Welcome. I am the priest here. Eric"
"I'm Anthony"  
"Ok. Hmm. Anthony... Welcome."
The chair where I placed my offering.
He was friendly and calm as he took down my name, address and both my Ghanaian and UK phone numbers on a seemingly random piece of paper as he paced up and down the room. Each answer I gave was greeted with his increasingly familiar response of "Ok. Ok. Hmm". After a while he seemed satisfied that he knew everything about me he needed to about me he beckoned me to follow him as he marched through a small wooden door leaving the plain entrance courtyard behind and entering the shrine itself.
Eric speaks to the spirit.
 The shrine was light and airy. The building was obviously in good use and well maintained. Eric beconed me up to the shrine section of the building where I was instructed to leave 10 cedi on a chair so Schnapps could be purchased as libation for the spirit. After a brief kerfuffle over change I placed the appropriate offering on the chair for the spirit plus 5 for eggs, yam and any other things the spirit may need. The spirit obviously hasn't been shopping in a while. Then I was free to look around the shrine.

The drumming section.
The shrine setup was becoming familiar to me after my visits to a couple of disused ones the day before. It is arranged in a square courtyard set up with 3 alcoves; one for singers, one for drummers and one for the shrine itself which only the priest and his helpers are allowed to see. There was also a tree in the corner next to the shrine alcove. The walls were painted white except for the array of plaster decorations that adorn the walls each with its own specific meaning. I asked questions of Eric and took pictures while Eric went in to the corner of the alcove and spoke to the spirit, announcing my arrival. Pictures all taken and questions all asked I sat in the shrine alcove chatting with Eric waiting for my expensive and brief tour to come to an end.
The shrine section.
Suddenly the door to the village at the back of the shrine burst open and the school teacher entered the shrine along with 5 of his friends. His friends, all middle aged men in a variety of of dress that ranged from tribal robes to relaxed politician on holiday, took up positions behind the drums and started to play. Eric, annoyed, went over to remonstrate with them. His voice was calm but his eyes were wider than ever.

"You cannot play the drums. Ok? As I have not taugh you how to ok?" Which he proceeded to repeat several times over to increasingly deaf and drumming ears. The School teacher grabbed the near empty plate of white powder and started throwing it in the air around Eric to ward off any bad spirits in the shrine. Eric was still reluctant but eventually relented and started to dance and move with the music as the school teacher threw more white powder after replenishing the plate with a bottle of 'Ladies Choice' talcum powder (which explains Eric's youthful complexion). The drummers drummed faster and Eric danced faster with a series of balletic spins and graceful shuffles that ebbed and flowed with the pace of the music.

Eric starts to enter the trance.
The school teacher, acting as Eric's assistant was sent for liberal quantities of Striker Gin to act as libation for the ceremony. Eric libated himself and began to dance more and more (I find gin helps that too), his eyes relaxed and closed as he moved before springing back open wide as he stopped and looked in the corners of the room seeing what we mere mortals could not. Talc was thrown. Eric danced and listened to the spirit, the drummers matching his rhythm throughout. Each time he stopped to listen to the spirit the school teacher would hold up 2 fingers in a bunny ear pose behind his head for apparently important but completely mystifying reasons.

The ever willing school teacher kneels at Eric's feet.
Eggs and more libation for Eric and the drummers were called for. The school teacher scuttled around attending to Eric's every wish. The drumming quickened. The dancing became more frantic. Eric went deeper and deeper in to his trance. 
Eric breaks in to dance.
The noise had awakened the interest of the town and many of the villagers came to find out what he commotion was all about. One of whom crossed the courtyard and introduced himself as the son of the previous fetish priest (Eric had shown me the grave earlier before proceeding to throw an egg and spit striker all over it). He told me Eric was the Grandson of the previous priest before wishing me a pleasant stay and returning to the other side of the courtyard to chat with a couple of friends as nonchalantly as if he was at a coffee morning.
Eric stops to listen to the spirit.
Eric was now covered in talc, heavily libated (on his 4th striker at least) and deep in his trance. Eric suddenly disappeared, performing a lightening costume change swapping his tatty top for a spotless baggy white cloth which draped over his torso in seemingly awkward and random manner before continuing in his trance. The white cloth flowing from him as he moved. The school teacher, acting as Eric's constant helper, brushed the ground around Eric with an ornate wooden brush which Eric then threw an egg at before turning his attention to the tree which he spat a liberal mouthful of libation at before downing the rest of the sachet. Amazingly I was allowed to photograph and film the ceremony freely throughout. Though, annoyingly, my camera decided that this would be the moment it inexplicably chose to run out of battery.

"Sorry. What did you say?"
Suddenly the school teacher appeared next to me.

"What do you desire?"

I was flummoxed.

"What?" I ejaculated

"What do you desire?" the teacher repeated before seeing my obviously dumbfounded expression and  adding by way of explanation"of the spirit".

I hadn't expected this. My brain raced searching for anything in the corners of my subconscious that would answer his question. I stared blankly at him for a few seconds before blurting out the first thing that came in to my head. It's amazing how your brain works under pressure. How quickly it can drag the recesses of your mind and clearly come up with an answer. I had never even considered my answer before as a desire of mine, but the moment I said it it felt right.
The school teacher nodded his ascent before returning to a tranced up and dancing  Eric to give him the news. The school teacher kept consulting Eric before retuning to me with advice on how to achieve my goal from the spirit which apparently Eric had passed to him without once speaking. The teacher then repeated this advice 8 or 9 times before reminding me this was not his job and to remember to give him something at the end, which pretty much sums up the Ghanaian Education System, repetition followed by requests for more money.

After a while Eric stopped his dancing and came out of his trance and came to rest on the step next to me. I was told by the school teacher that I would now have some time alone with the priest followed by more repetition and reminders to give him money. In reality all of the drummers and the school teacher followed Eric and I back in to the living quarters where Eric argued with the school teacher about the advice he had given me before deciding he wasn't happy with one of the eggs and sending the teacher with his tail between his legs to buy another one.When he returned and the egg was deemed fit for purpose it was handed to me.

"Go in to that room there and speak all that you desire to the egg." Instructed the school teacher while Eric nodded.
Eric wrapped in his white sheet consults the spirit as the school teacher watches on.

I rose automatically and walked in to the the room, my hands clasped tightly around the egg which I raised to my mouth, facing the wall. I stood there dumbstruck. Unsure of what to do.

"SPEAK! SPEAK! Speak your desires to the egg." The school teacher shouted as if sensing my bafflement.

I spoke. I asked 4 things of the spirit/egg before returning to the main courtyards to present the unchanged egg to Eric, which he inspected before rising to his feet and announcing

"Come. We should now go to the river."

Before turning on his heel and marching out of the door and in to the town. We all followed as quick as we could in tow. We left the village and decended the hill to a fairly stagnant piece of water which forms part of the local river. The water was covered in algae. Weaver birds darted here and there diligently attending to their nests and calling to each other. After hours of drumming the serenity of the river was a welcome relief. 

Eric turned on his heels to face me.

"Throw the egg in to the river."

I instinctively did as commanded and launched the egg as far as I could in to the river where it broke the algae covered surface and sank in to the deep, barely making a ripple. I watched Eric who stood resolutely still watching the water. Nothing happened. The birds sang. We waited. Nothing happened. I'm not sure what I was expecting to happen. I'd just thrown an egg in to a river. There was the inevitable splash but what was going to happen after that? Hundreds of chickens burst out of the water? But at that moment my rational brain had left long ago. I was completely captivated the rhythm and mystery of the ceremony.

Suddenly Eric turned away from the river and marched back in to the town leaving us all, again, in his dusty wake. We all sat in silence for a while back in the shrine waiting for Eric to speak about the ceremony when the school teacher, unable to stop himself doing his near perfect impression of a broken tape player went back to his repetitive cycle of advice and reminders to pay him. It didn't help his gravitas that his bald forehead was now emblazoned with one of Eric's talcy hand prints.

Finally Eric snapped and turned to the school teacher.

"When did I say that?" The teacher looked chastised and babbled incoherently before falling silent under Eric's manic gaze. When the silence had settled Eric turned his attention to me.

"You told the egg your desires didn't you?" He asked calmly. His eyes returning to their normal business of  darting around the room.

"Yes sir." I replied

"Well then. It will be so. Ok? The spirit will help you...There is a river in London. Correct?"

"Yes sir." I couldn't help feeling like I was in the headmasters office.

"Good. Then the spirit will find a way to you. You threw the egg in the river here and it will find a way to help you. River here. River there. It's all connected. Ok?" As he finished Eric broke in to a wide and somehow comforting smile opening his hands wide to emphasise his point. As if what he said was the simplest and most strait forward thing in the world and I thanked him, genuinely. Spiritual or spurious the experience had been truly incredible. Eric acknowledged my thanks before turning away from me to begin remonstrating with the school teacher again in Twi, for some reason mentioning various London Bridges.

The ceremony had taken over 2 hours but was now finally at a close. I went and bought some Striker and  Apateche for Eric and the drummers as thanks for their time and effort which went down extremely well with all, except of course the school teacher who wanted money to buy food as well. There's no pleasing some people.

As I left the shrine and re-entered the village Eric said goodbye and assured me he had kept the 10 cedi safe and would be sure to spend it on a libation of Schnapps for the spirit. I walked off down the deserted dirt road, a sachet of Striker in hand libating myself and my mind reeling from the insanity of the events that had just happened.  

Maybe that's what life comes down to. I thought to myself. 

What would you ask the egg?

And I chuckled to myself, as I walked alone in the dust, in to the African afternoon.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Teacher Turned Student.

Sunday 8th September – First Surf Lesson

Unsurprisingly I slept in fairly late after our mammoth trip back from Kumasi the day before. I had a lazy morning on the beach after a late breakfast waiting for the tide to get high so I could surf. I met Peter on the beach and we decided that today would be the day that we would finally do my first surf lesson, at about 2pm when the tide got high and the waves got better. Simon was around as well and decided he would take my Go-Pro out and film me and the local guys from the water as we surfed.

I was nervous about my first surf lesson. I have been surfing sporadically for 11 years now and had never taken a lesson before. I taught myself by looking at what others were doing and copying them as well as learning by trial and error in the water but recently I have felt like I have hit a block. My turns aren’t improving as quickly as I would have hoped and I still get left behind by some of the more experienced guys when paddling for waves. It’s not even a fitness thing. I have been swimming regularly at home and surfing pretty much every day for 2 months here so its not my paddle fitness. It must be my technique. At 80¢ the lesson is cheap by international standards but it is still a fair bit of money here. I just had to hope it paid off. On my own through trial and error it could take months or even years to improve significantly. It was still nerve racking. What if everything I was doing was wrong? Would I have to start my technique all again from scratch?
Peter. My oh so serious teacher.
I needn’t have worried. Peter was an excellent teacher. Full of energy and enthusiasm as always he first took me through my paddling technique, something I had barely considered before. He showed me how I should start off by paddling slowly in to the right position before breaking in to a sprint just as the wave bared down on you. We headed in to the water to practice. It was slow progress but I started to get in the right places and power myself in the waves much quicker than before which gave me more time on the face. Then it was back in to shore to work on my stance. My feet were too far forward on the board, my body was too straight and upright and I didn’t use my body and arms when I turned. He adjusted my stance so that my back foot was over the fins, cocked in, body low with my weight more over my front foot which was in the middle of the board angled at about 45 degrees to give greater maneuverability. We headed back in to practice. It took a while to fight my muscle memory and get in to my new stance but I was beginning to get it. On every wave I could start to identify where I was going wrong and would often paddle back out to Peter shouting

“Yeah I know. Too far forward.”

Simon was ducking and diving in the impact zone videoing anyone who got a wave, whooping and hollering as he did. When I got the technique right I felt fluid and maneuverable but I still ended up in the wrong one more often than not. At least I knew what I was doing wrong now.
A much improved stance after my lesson. Still need to work on that back leg though.
Peter called me back in to the beach again where he took me through how to snap the lip by slowing down my turns, getting more speed before a dive down and up the wave face before a quick turn as you were getting towards the top which would send the spray flying in to the air. Simple in theory though in practice I couldn’t quite nail it, though I was getting closer and closer to the snap with each passing wave. Surely it wouldn’t be long until it clicked, or should that be snapped? After a while Peter headed in leaving me to practice. I surfed the rest of the day, improving all the while, to the light faded and my arms were close not only to giving out but maybe falling off as well. I came in amped. I had made leaps and bounds (but not snaps unfortunately) forward and with a little more practice I was sure I would get there. The lesson was definitely worth the 80¢ and more. Why had I not thought to do this before? I could be surfing like Kelly Slater by now… well, maybe just a whole lot better. 

Friday 13th September – Jewelry
Not a bad place to spend an afternoon.
Eben and I had spent the morning in Takoradi (not my favourite place in the world). I applied for my visa extension, got the rest of my malaria pills (yes mum, I am taking them every day), got money out and got some other bits and bobs I needed. Eben went to the bank, bought supplies and then we both went to try and see the plastic man about collecting our plastic, but he wasn’t in. The Mme at the centre said she would pass on the message, though we still weren’t holding our breath.

We got back to Busua later than planned and I had a late lunch. Eben called to say that school had ended earlier than usual so there would be no after school today as the kids had already gone home. There was no surf and the afternoon was hot. I went and saw Abu, a Nigerian (that’s Niger not Nigeria) who make jewelry and sells it on the beach. He collects beads, stones, seeds and other materials from all over West Africa to make his pieces. I have been talking to him for a while about making some earrings with him as gifts for people at home and today seemed perfect.
The finished product.
Abu and I sat for a couple of hours together on the beach, under his umbrella, picking out beads and stones we liked and arranging them in to earrings. When we were happy with our arrangements we used pliers to bend the metal and create a loop for the hook to hang off. Abu’s friend, a musician from Burkina Faso sat with us playing all the while. It was a relaxing afternoon especially with Abu as company, a very chilled out, happy, well traveled and intelligent companion, we chatted all the while. I made 3 pairs as gifts for home. I paid Abu 10¢ even though he only wanted 5 but I had a nice day and said the rest was for a beer (Abu is not the strictest Muslim in that respect).
Gem hunting amongst Abu's impressive collection of beads, stones etc.
Earrings made we sat and drank late in to the night playing drinking games with some volunteers. The night flew by and it was almost 3am by the time I fell in to bed.
Abu somehow seems to be this smiley all the time.

Black Stars in Their Eyes.

Thursday 5th to Saturday 7th September – Football Mental.

With Joseph and Timote outside Baba Yara Stadium.

Eben and I were joined at the taxi station by two other Ghanaians heading to the match; Joseph, the son of the Chief in Busua and Timote, an ex-Kumasi resident now living in Busua. The journey is long. A full 7 hours. This is not only because the distance is great but also because of the quality of the roads and the roundabout journey you have to take to get there: a shared taxi to Agona before grabbing a taxi east to Takoradi where you have to walk across town to get a separate Tro-Tro to Kumasi which then heads east to Cape Coast before cutting back north-west to Kumasi. The Takoradi-Kumasi section is the longest of the trip and unfortunately for us this was the leg where we managed to acquire a driver that was under the illusion that the mini-bus sized tro-tro was actually a rally car. Trying to push the aging tro-tro to its rather impressive speed limit before proceeding to dodge all the numerous pot-holes, other vehicles and pedestrians that thrust themselves in to our path and all with as little use of the break as possible, which he was presumably allergic to. Ebenezer shouted at the wannabe Michael Schumacher twice on our journey to slow down, once after he hit a particularily large bump in the road that caused us all to smash our heads on the already low roof.  The road changed from pothole ridden to freshly tarmaced, Japanese built modern highway as we drove further inland climbing the luscious hills to Kumasi, where we left the open road behind and crawled in to gridlock traffic.

Kumasi is the ancient capital of the Ashanti who’s empire once encompassed much of West Africa. The town used to be full of old colonial style white wash buildings some with attractive thatched roofs, however, this attractive and beautiful ancient city was burnt to the ground in the early 20th century by, who else, but the British as they fought to colonise the interior of Ghana from their Gold Coast stronghold. Ghanaians really do have a lot to thank us for. Today Kumasi is a modern African city with no hint of it’s colonial beauty. It is Ghana’s second city with a population of 1.5 million based in the middle of Ghana it is the bridge between The North and The South. Basically, it’s Birmingham. Now, never having the pleasure of setting foot in Birmingham, I can only assume that Kumasi and Birmingham are exactly the same. Though I didn’t find out where the Kumasi Bull Ring was and to be totally honest I had no idea what I was looking for anyway as I literally have no idea what the Birmingham Bull ring looks like or what it is for. Whatever it is, angry people of Birmingham, I’m sure it is lovely and miles better than whatever equivalent there is in London or Manchester. However, Kumasi did have it’s own smaller version of Spaghetti Junction, the weather was constantly wet and the dominant colour was grey so they have to be pretty similar places at least.  

Being stuck in almost stationary traffic for close to half and hour after a 7 hour drive to the city limits was beginning to grate so the Ghanaians and I made a break for it and marched off with Timote in the lead. I tried to keep up as my dead legs slowly came back to tingling life dodging the endless stream of people heading in every direction possible and indeed impossible. Timote was a good and efficient guide having lived in Kumasi for 3 years before coming to Busua. The pace of our convoy was getting ever more rapid and aggressive with each passing yard. The smell of the open sewers at the sides of the streets was overpowering. My senses were in overdrive. People hit in to you at every turn, flying at you from every direction like the asteroids in Space Invaders except they were mostly carrying a baffling array of goods on their heads at the same time. I struggled to keep pace in the mayhem of people, carpets, fish,  t-shirts, washing machines, mattresses, bread and other assorted goods. Eben stopped to let me catch up.

“Walk straight and ignore everyone in your path.”

I really have been out of London too long.

We left the wide main streets, winding our way in the climbing, narrow backstreets covered with the debris of the day. I’m glad I wore flip flops today. The winding backstreets with the high surrounding buildings brought back memories of the medina in Fes. Kumasi seemed as much of a maze to me as the labarinth of Fes. Finally we came across a barbershop where Timote stopped to chat with his brother briefly before pushing on. We arrived at a small house in a block of flats that strangely resembled some of the art deco blocks of flats in London where Timote would stay. Eben, Joseph and I decided to stay in a guesthouse somewhere so we marched off past churches booming out sermons at full volume (presumably so God can hear them over the rest of the din), through a school which was still inexplicably teaching at night in the school holidays and in to the school field behind where a heard of cows were being grazed. We got out on to the main road and went to check out the first hotel. It was pretty posh and a bit out of our price range at 60¢ a night so back out on the street again to head for a more down market place. The sky started to crack with thunder and lightening. The rain was turning from drizzle to deluge as we entered the second hotel. It looked like a backpackers style lodge but was still amazingly charging 30¢ a night for sharing a room without a fan. I sat in the reception area watching the news with the various hotel staff who had nothing better to do. I sat there for around half an hour waiting for the rain to ease up enough to make a break for it, there were 5 different news items on the Ghana v Zambia match the next day:

I suppose you are?!
There was the history of the game – “Ghana haven’t beaten Zambia in a competitive match since 1992”. Followed by the squad training in front of 30,000 fans at Baba Yara Stadium earlier in the day. The squad meeting the Minister of Sport, who gave them a rousing speech. The squad visiting an orphanage to donate money, food etc. while being mobbed by adoring fans. Then a focus on Zambia and their botched preparations which meant they had only arrived in Ghana this evening due to problems with flying to Kumasi accompanied by more old footage of previous encounters. The news finished in the customary short and finally section but rather than something about a puppy or Jesus appearing in someone’s toast there was a quick story about something to do with Syria and the UN. The rain had slowed significantly so we left on that heartwarming note.

The third guesthouse was not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Hidden down a back street it had a luscious and airy courtyard with 2 stories of big, clean rooms all for the bargain price of 20¢ a night, and yes, there was a fan. Happy, we dumped our bags and went to grab some dinner and a beer. I grabbed some rice and fish stew (as it looked like Chili Con Carne) but tasted horrid while Joseph and Eben managed to put away 3 giant banku balls each, along with the accompanying soup and fish. I didn’t eat much but the beer slipped down nicely before I gratefully headed for bed.   

I awoke at 8:30 the next morning to a knocking at the door. Ebenezer had been to pick up our tickets for the game and suggested we go and get some breakfast. I got changed and met Joseph and Eben in the courtyard. Drizzle was still falling with no sign of stopping. We walked up towards the stadium. With each passing street the crowds grew. Touts sold tickets on the streets; excited fans blew enthusiastically on horns, bashed drums and sang throughout the streets. We finally turned the corner and came in sight of the great bowl that is Baba Yara Stadium. A wall of noise and a sea of red, gold, greeted us, green and white, there were still 7 hours to kick-off. The stadium hadn’t even opened yet but queues of people were huddled around each gate eager to get in. We went to get breakfast in one of the many makeshift stalls and bars that face the stadium. I got myself an omelet sandwich while the Ghanaians went off to get some Fufu and fish, I still can’t stomach this first thing in the morning. I chatted with my fellow diners, sheltered under a gazibo from the ever-strengthening rain. All were confident of a Ghanaian win despite, as I was now well versed in saying, Ghana having not beaten Zambia in a competitive match since 1992. All nodded thoughtfully with this statement but nothing could even dent their confidence. To them my prediction of 2-1 Ghana win was pessimistic at best and treasonous at worst.

When all were fed and watered we headed towards the stadium. Joseph and I checked out the merchedise while Eben headed off to purchase the 8 tickets needed for Simon, Babel and the rest of their Australian contingent currently en-route from Accra after voting in their national elections at the embassy that morning, which is compulsory. I bought a hat for Joseph and I as well as a Ghana sweatband for all three of our contingent before heading in to the grounds of the stadium to wait for Eben and Timote. All of a sudden amongst the mix of bands, drums, horns and merchendise stands a man started sprinting pursued a couple of seconds later by an ever growing band of angry Ghanaians. The man was panicked. Weaving erratically away from the kicks and punches aimed at him by passers by. The gates were blocked by an enthusiastic band of supporters immersed in chanting and dancing. The man desperately veered off to the left before soon realising he was blocked in by a mob on one side, a band on another and by walls on the other two. He made a desperate sprint towards the band hoping to win his freedom. A single chest high kick knocked him to the floor. Cheers erupted. A police man came running in to the mob and landed another boot square on the man’s chest before handcuffing the man and placing him in the back of a pick up truck packed with heavily armed officers to take him away.
“What did he do?” I asked Joseph.
“He was selling fake tickets” Came the matter of fact reply. Probably not the cleverest offence to commit here.

I bought a flag and some sunglasses as we waited. Eben called and said he was stuck in traffic, after retrieving the required tickets. With some time in hand I did what any good Brit at a sporting event would do and took Joseph and Timote for a beer.

Eben turned up after an hour and we headed for the stadium. Baba Yara is bowl on three sides with one covered stand running parallel to the pitch, to the right of us. We were behind the goal, exposed to the elements. At the opposite end of the stadium fans had arranged themselves in to blocks of red, yellow and green, each colour with its own conductor already leading their corresponding blocks in song and dance. It was 11am. 5 hours until the match and the stadium was already half full and the noise was approaching deafening. We grabbed a couple of beers and sat chatting as best we could over the ever growing noise as sellers walked amongst us selling everything from snacks and drinks to horns and photos.

After a couple of hours the noise of horns got too much for me. The sun was now out and happily burning my unprotected skin. I went to the concourse, grabbed a coke and sat watching the mayhem. The police were conducting thorough and often multiple frisk downs at the gate and were ordering fans with different degrees of success, to rip up their tickets to prevent re-use. The crowds, however, were large and th police presence small so many slipped through the net which led to a boom trade in fans passing their used tickets back through the gates to be used again by friends and anyone paying enough. To the left of the gates an impromptu Muslim prayer centre had been set up using broken up cardboard boxes as temporary prayer mats. The number of worshipers was constant. Even on a Friday, Islam’s most sacred day of the week, a day of rest, mosque and family, Muslim’s were here in their droves. Proving, if proof was needed after the mayhem of the last week that Black Stars were not only “bigger than Jesus” but maybe even god himself.

Finally Simon arrived from Accra and I passed his (unused) tickets through the bars as casually as I could and headed back to my seats. There was still over an hour to kick off but every seat was taken. The steps were full of people claiming a good vantage point for the game but somehow the sellers still managed to move freely like mountain goats on cliff faces. My progress back to Eben and the others was somewhat slower.

A happy Eben.
The Zambians came out first to warm up to a wall of boo’s. If there was a single Zambian in the house you couldn’t tell. I have never been in a more partisan and intimidating atmosphere. Thankfully I was supporting Ghana. The boo’s and jeer’s continued until a small man in a while Ghana polo-shirt carrying a Ghana flag shot out of the tunnel like he was selling fake tickets, completing a lap of the pitch in close to world record pace stopping only to do a short dance in each corner to whip the crowd up in to a greater and greater frenzy. Finally, when the you thought the noise could get no louder, they appeared. The crowd went in to complete delirium as the Black Stars walked out lead by the holy trinity of Gyan, Essien and Prince-Boateng. It was only the warm up.

When all were finished and sufficiently warmed up the players disappeared the normal cacophony of drums and horns re-started. There wasn’t a spare bit of concrete in the house. We all sat, waiting, watching the flag carriers practice their role over and over, for some reason without a Zambian flag meaning one group of flag carriers had to pretend diligently each time. They left only to be replaced by an army of ball boys. There were 12 alone behind our goal. Three elder boys in blue were in charge, pitch side ready to pass the ball back to the player were backed by 4 deputies in grey who were also backed up by 5 deputy deputy ball boys behind them. They waited patiently in formation.

After 7 hours of travel, an overnight stay and 6 hours in the stadium the players emerged fronted by the flag carriers who had thankfully managed to find a Zambian flag since rehearsals, the crowd went wild again. The teacher from Charlie Brown made a few announcements over the tannoy, anthems were sung (well one was anyway) and then, a mere 10 minutes late, we kicked off.

The game was fast paced and physical from the outset. Ghana had the better of the opening chances with 2 free headers being sent just wide. Zambia weren’t creating much apart from a couple of half hearted long range efforts. They looked intimidated. I didn’t blame them. Ghana attacked down the left, whipping another threatening cross in to the box, this one wasn’t wasted as Waris stooped low and headed the ball in to roof of the net. Cue eruption. The stadium was rocking, dancing, singing, blaring horns. A man dressed in red paint emerged from the delirium and placed a smoking pot on his head with Ghana 1 – 0 Zambia on it while dancing, much to the delight of the crowd and adding much to my confusion.  The singing became louder and louder until half time. When the whistle blew they players, coaches, ground staff, ball boys, officials, press, police (dressed a bit like RoboCop), security and other mysterious pitch-side dwellers decended down the tunnel. The stream of important people was so long that it took most of half time for them to dis and re-appear.
"Look! I've got the shopping!"
In the second half Ghana started quickly putting the pressure on the Zambian goal right in front of us. Zambia had managed to shake off some of the nerves and were also creating chances which would have opened the game right up. Though it was Ghana who scored next after almost 10 minutes of completely open football. Zambia failed to clear a corner sufficiently letting the ball fall nicely for Asamoah just outside the box, who fired it in to the back of the net from distance. Cue more delirium and red pot men. When Zambia pulled one back with about 20mins to go Baba Yara fell eerily quiet, though I was relieved to have even a small break from the incessant horn blowing. The rest of the game was slow and physical; Ghana needing only a point to top their group weren’t taking any chances. On more than one occasion the stretcher golf cart needed to be called on to the pitch, once almost running over a Zambian player in it’s zeal to get to a fallen Michael Essien. With 5 minutes left on the clock Joseph announced he was going to get out before the rush. I was astonished. We hadn’t spent 2 days getting to this point to miss the last 5 minutes. I wasn’t going anywhere.

The final whistle went to loud cheers and a pitch invasion from the hundreds of pitch side officials while the Zambians tried to skulk off as quietly as possible. Eben and I watched the lap of honor before exiting the stadium through a minor scuffle.

The clock ticks down to victory.
I met the Aussies for a beer while the Ghanaians went back to the hotel. All were in good spirits. The Ghana team bus went past to cheers followed by a stream of ecstatic fans while the Zambian bus passed to more boo’s and jeer’s the team looking like they wanted to be anywhere but there. The Aussies and I headed for a curry but my stomach was going mental by that point so I couldn’t eat or drink much. Even so it ended up as my most expensive meal in Ghana. I finally got hold of Eben and found out the name of our guesthouse, which I had forgotten. I grabbed a taxi and went back to the room to fall in to a deep and happy sleep.

The next morning as the rain drizzled down again, Joseph and I went and grabbed some breakfast before we headed to the tro-tro station to begin our long journey home with the same Michael Schumacher wannabe  driver and 6 screaming kids. Oh joy!    

Celebration time. Someone should tell the guy on the left.