Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hunting for sources

When you don’t have emails and fixed schedules to work with, the only way to get interviews is to physically find the interviewees.

That’s what my colleague Kwabena Ampratwum had to do to get two interviews for his radio documentary on the conflict between local farmers and Fulani herdsmen in the Agogo district.

At 10 a.m. we left for Agogo, a farming town located two hours east of Kumasi. Ampratwum had scheduled a meeting with the Agogo Chief’s secretary, Mr. Joseph Nti who would arrange our interview with the chief himself. But when we arrived at the chief’s palace, we were told that Mr. Nti had gone to Kumasi for a meeting. We were out of luck.

Ampratwum then called the Agogo Chief of Police, to confirm our meeting with him later that afternoon. He was reluctant to give an interview without first getting authorization from the Chief of Police in Kumasi, Mr. Muhammad Tenko. We were told to call again in 30 minutes.

After half-an-hour, Ampratwum called again, only to be told that Mr. Tenko had refused to give the authorization. The Agogo Chief of Police was not allowed to give an interview that day. Our trip to Agogo had been in vain. We boarded a tro-tro and headed back to Kumasi.

En route to Kumasi, Ampratwum called Mr. Nti once again and discovered that he was passing time at the Kumasi Zoo while waiting for his meeting. We hopped into a taxi as soon as we arrived in Kumasi and headed for the zoo.

After explaining the purpose of our meeting to Mr. Nti, he explained that he was also the Registrar of Traditional Lands for the Agogo district and was therefore in the capacity to comment on the issue. Plus, he had some time to kill before his next meeting. Bingo.

Mr. Nti’s assistant quickly found us a wooden bench and we located ourselves under a tree for some shade. Although the zoo was surrounded by 10-foot walls, there was still a lot of noise coming from the busy Kejetia market outside. Ampratwum had to put on his ear plugs to filter out the noise so he can hear Mr. Nti.

Luv FM Journalist Kwabena Ampratwum interviewing the Agogo Chief's Secretary, Joseph Nti at the Kumasi Zoo

When we were done interviewing Mr. Nti, Ampratwum takes another shot at getting authorization from Mr. Tenko. He lucks out; Mr. Tenko was willing to compromises – no interview with the Agogo Chief of Police, but Mr. Tenko himself was willing to talk.

We jumped back into a taxi and headed for the Kumasi Central Police Station for another impromptu interview.

It took us 15 minutes to get the information we needed and by the time we were done, it was past 4 o’clock. It was time to head back to the office and work on the story.

It took us an entire work day, a two-hour trip to Agogo and back to Kumasi, plus a visit to the Kumasi Zoo. In the end, we got the two interviews we were after, even though it wasn’t with the two people we originally intended.

The Daily Commute - Ghana style

Tro-tros are one of the most common forms of public transportation in Ghana. They are minivans that have been refitted with extra seats.

A regular tro-tro in Kumasi can carry up to 17 passengers, including the driver, the conductor – called mate - and two people squeezed into the front passenger seat.

View from the back of a full tro-tro

My tro-tro ride to work, which takes about 15 minutes in congestion-free traffic, costs 40peswas per trip. That’s equivalent to about 30cents. A taxi ride would cost about 3Ghc, equivalent to about C$2.25.

There are no route maps or fare schedules – at least, not in Kumasi. There are, however, landmarks where passengers can ask to be let off and by which the mate determines the fare. For example, if I were to board the tro-tro and say, “Aseda House,” – as my colleagues had instructed me to do – he would respond with, “40 peswas.”

On my first few trips, hailing a tro-tro felt like hyper-speed-dating. In my case, I stand on the side of the street and try to make contact with the tro-tro’s mate, who would be shouting out the tro-tro’s destination. If it’s heading for Adum, where I’m staying, I wave it down. If I can’t make out what the mate is calling out, I’d try to mouth my destination as clearly as I can so that the mate or the driver can make out what I am saying and decide whether or not to pick me up.

This whole exchange happens within the few seconds when the tro-tro is heading towards my general direction.

Once on board, I simply wait until the mate is ready to collect my fare. During the entire journey, he would be busy opening and closing the van’s door, jumping in and out of the van and calling out for passengers. Handing him a bunch of coins when he’s not ready to take them is not smart, as I’ve discovered.

There are no designated tro-tro stops either. On my first day taking the tro-tro to work, I simply approached a large group of people waiting by a street corner. The lady I spoke to confirmed that the place we were standing was a regular tro-tro stop.

Even though the whole process seemed chaotic to me at first, I’ve discovered that there is a system at work here. Fares were collected, people were getting to work and children to school. When the tro-tro that my colleague and I were in broke down, everyone automatically and quietly disembarked. Someone grumbled but no one threw up a fuss or demanded a refund. Everyone simply dispersed to look for another tro-tro or a taxi.

Ghana’s tro-tros may not be as smooth-running and organized as what I’m used to back home, but it gets people to and from places all the same, and at a far cheaper price too.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dancing to the beat of Kete drums

Kete is a dance and drum ensemble commonly found in the Akan regions of Ghana. I managed to catch a live performance of Kete during the Jubilee Oil Exhibition’s opening ceremony at Kumasi’s Centre for National Art on May 24, 2011. Besides professional dancers in lapa cloths, students attending the exhibition also got a chance to showcase their own traditional dancing skills.

Two of them – one from Prempeh High School and the other from Ahmadiya High School – were crowned as the best dancers and were invited to hit the stage for one last performance. As someone who is deeply rooted in my own Malay culture, it was great to watch a young group of people proudly displaying their cultural heritage.

Watch the videos for a snippet of the event.