Thursday, May 24, 2007

from the "mixed bag" dept.

Accra, Ghana - Thursday

The thing about living in Ghana is that you never know where the day will take you. This happens all the time and is one of the things I love about this place. Take Wednesday, for example.

The day began with a tro-tro ride out to Buduburum, a refugee camp located about 45 minutes outside of Accra. I was accompanied by Renee and Angelique, two JHR colleagues.

I had been asked to hold a photography workshop at The Vision, Buduburum's community newspaper.

After speaking to a half dozen Vision reporters about photojournalism, we headed outside with my camera to capture life in the camp.

While walking around we discovered that six victims of a horrific car crash were to be buried that afternoon.

The crash, which occurred a couple of weeks ago, was the worst in Ghana's history. 41 dead. Reuters has a short story on the crash here.

A number of the victims were from Buduburum. According to a reporter from the Vision, 13 members of one family died in the crash while travelling on a bus from Ivory Coast to join relatives at the camp. The crash was so bad that only 9 of the 13 have been identified.

"We are burying only 6 because the other 3 have decomposed" a family member told the Vision. "The rest got damaged beyond recognition."

A 14th member of the family involved in the crash, an 8-year-old girl, is still in a coma in hospital. She is the only family member to survive the accident.

Under a blistering sun Renee, Angelique and two reporters from the paper made our way to the graveyard.

We were initially stopped by a group of gravediggers who refused to let us pass unless we got the OK from the family. Before we knew it, about 30 people surrounded us. Everyone remained calm and we presented our side (to report the news for the Buduburum community) and they presented theirs (we should have more respect).

Eventually the district co-ordinator joined the discussion. A few minutes later we were allowed to continue on.

The scene in the graveyard was unbelievable. Six holes were readied for six coffins. There were more than 100 mourners and not one paid any attention to the Vision reporters or us.

A UNHCR ambulance arrived with four bodies in plain wooden caskets. At this point pandemonium erupted. The coffins were carried graveside as mourners began screaming with grief. I have never, ever, experienced anything like this.

I had been asked to photograph the burial for the paper and as the coffins came out of the ambulance, I started shooting. Every once in a while I had to take a break -- the experience was so overwhelming.

There was some confusion over the identity of the bodies, and the priest planned to wait for the remaining two to show up before starting the service. In the meantime, a call went out for a black marker so that the coffins could be labelled.

After a long wait, I noticed the priest, the district coordinator and others were screaming into their mobile phones. They demanded that the remaining bodies be delivered immediately. Apparently the delay was due to an issue of payment - either for transportation or mortuary work.

It became apparent that the burial wouldn't take place for some time. I was beet red and beginning to feel ill. The two reporters from the paper remained at the site while Renee, Angelique and I returned back to the camp. Renee had a drum lesson at 4 p.m. so we had to head back to Accra.

My mind wandered on the tro-tro back, replaying the scene I had just witnessed. Terrible.

I decided to accompany Renee to her lesson and hopefully get a beer.

We arrived at a public market and met Janet (Mark Leger's wife) for the lesson. A few minutes later three Rastas showed up and delivered the news that there was a ban on drumming in the Greater Accra Region. Joy Online has more.

So here we were, just a few hours after standing in the middle of unbelievable grief, tipping pints with Rastafarians.

Later, we headed back to Osu to meet up with some other JHR colleagues for dinner at an Indian restaurant. Again, another odd place to be considering the events earlier in the day.

That's what it's like here - you find yourself pulled between different worlds never know what you might experience.


Today (Thursday) I am taking a quiet day. A few hours at the internet cafe followed by lunch in Osu with Angelique. I'm not sure what the plan is for tonight, but it will likely be quiet.

A group of us hope to escape the confines of Accra for somewhere peaceful in the Eastern Region. However, because it's a long weekend (African Union Day is Friday), we're having difficulty finding a spot. If we remain in the city, I'll likely return to Takoradi Saturday instead of Monday.

And because I left my laptop back in Takoradi, I am unable to post any of the pictures until I get back home.


1 comment:

brennan said...

man doug, that's amazing. i really envy you, you're really experiencing the range of what life has to offer. good stuff, hope you're enjoying it. looking forward to a patio and a beer when you get back later on this year.