When his parents visited Curtis Andrews in Africa this spring, one of his mother's favourite experiences was seeing elephants in Tamale, Ghana (top left). For Curtis, the opening of the school he worked to bring to his beloved Dzogadze topped a wonderful trip. Submitted photos
I have had several passports in my life but I think dance is one of the most interesting.
I travelled to West Africa again this year and ended up in the country of Togo to visit a friend's family in a small place called Dadza. It was sweet to meet the family again after a two-year absence and experience true African hospitality. Here is a condensed version of some e-mails and journal entries I made between March 28 and April14, during the trip.
I can say without lying that when it's economically feasible, an African family will welcome you into their home as their own son or daughter and provide for every need that you have, and you will be given the best seat in the house for the duration of your stay. Lucky I was to be, and have been, at the receiving end.
On one day, a large funeral was taking place for not one but close to 10 people (mainly to cut costs, not because so many people died all at once). The number of musical groups performing was also multiplied, from various villages and towns. Sometimes they played at the same time, sometimes performances were staggered over the course of the afternoon.
Attending traditional performances is always exciting, no matter where or for what reason. I experience this every time there is music and dance happening outside.
As you approach, first you hear the music, slightly muted and not quite discernible, but you catch bits and pieces of the instruments luring you in. Then there is the crowd that forms around the musicians and dancers. As you get closer to that mass, the music becomes louder and clearer, the drums more powerful, the singing more entrancing. As an outsider, you are a little nervous, not sure of the protocol. Eyes upon you, you find a place to sit or stand and then you are in it. Each beat fills your ears and shakes some part of you. Put that with the singing and the dance and you have magic.
After settling in, I just wanted to chill, enjoy the experience and be somewhat anonymous. But after only for a few moments, I was asked if I wanted to dance. Not one to turn down a dance in this environment, I obliged. I felt a bit bad because I knew I was going to shock the people, but they didn't know that. The dance style is very similar to that of the Ewe people in Ghana, in whose villages I have spent a lot of time, and I can do it quite well. I knew this, but the people did not.
They were perhaps expecting to see the foreigner dance like most do at first, a little offbeat, smiling and looking a little awkward. So when I stood up with my friend and did my thing, people shouted, clapped and cloth was thrown around my neck (a sign of appreciation and, in some places, a sign of wanting to marry a person).
My turn over, another person came to take my place. That done, I felt free and had "entered." This process repeated itself several times over the day at each different performance ground. So indeed, dancing can be a passport.
Ten years ago when I first travelled to West Africa, I never envisioned my parents coming to visit me.
And for sure, my mother never thought this would happen 10 years ago, with my father just starting to recover from the brink of death with a brain hemorrhage which now requires him to use a wheelchair most of the time. So, instead of going on a cruise, they came to the country of Ghana for two weeks, not sure what they would be in for.
They arrived fine (though luggage and wheelchair were a day late) and I became the tour guide. My mother took pictures of everything. She loves all things little from baby goats to baby people. I try to remind her of etiquette when taking pictures of actual people, as not everyone likes random tourists taking their photo.
The old man is taking it easy, mostly concerned about food and not being too cold.
Yes, cold. As I write this, I am shirtless in an air-conditioned hotel room while he is asking for socks and a blanket.
We made an arduous 12-hour journey to the north of the country and were received like royalty by my friends, the Atindaana family, in Tamale.
We went to see elephants. I gave them (my parents, not the elephants) some pito, an alcoholic drink made from millet, had a flat tire at night on a stretch of road frequented by armed robbers (we were told this fact later) and then made another 12-hour journey (six of which were on a dirt road) back to Accra.
My mother's face was orange from the dust and anything that was white was white no more.
I'm trying to decide what my mother liked more, the elephants or the quadruplets. It was the first time either of us had ever met quadruplets. The second wife of the Atindaana house is a midwife in a small village, and she helped deliver these four babies - two girls and two boys.
This is a rarity in most places, but in the mother's village it is not always a good sign. The parents were afraid that if they stayed in the village the children would die from starvation or ill-wishes. Some traditional beliefs maintain that such an occurrence brings bad luck to a family. From an economic standpoint it very well can. They were even considering giving them up for adoption.
The mother and father have little education and no employment prospects. Instead, the Atindaanas took in the mother, the four babies and the mother's little sister and have been taking care of them for more than seven months now. Now, that is what I call hospitality.
Next we made our way to the village of Dzogadze for the official opening of the school project I started two years ago. It was a special day. Some highlights include:
Me in a traditional woven piece of cloth six yards long (something like a toga).
A few hundred or so people of the village - chiefs, children and all in between under the shade of trees and palm-leaf shelter.
Numerous drumming and dance performances by old and very young (including kids that will use the school block).
Speeches by a chief, my mother (and a poem) and, of course, by me, urging parents to sacrifice for their children's education as they will lead the town/country/world eventually.
A presentation to me by another chief on behalf of the village and bestowing upon me the title "Leader of the Children."
A song praising me and wishing me long life and prosperity.
A ribbon cutting ceremony for the building.
Many claps and handshakes.
And last but not least, me joining the local dance group for a few dance styles, which surprised and delighted the whole gathering, as I had not danced here in Dzogadze since 2002, when I first came to this village learn their style of music. The people (and I) were happy to see I had not forgotten what I had come to learn.
For more stories, photos and music from Chris Andrews' African adventures, visit www.curtisandrews.ca and www.myspace.com/thecurtisandrews