Near the beginning of the semester, Molly and I were sitting outside the dance department when a dancer friend told us to go audition for a dance in one of the rooms. Despite the fact that I had no idea what I was auditioning for, I entered the room and did a 10 second solo and they also had me do a short improvised dance about eating. A week or so later, even though we didn’t know too much about it, Molly and I found out we each had a part in the dance!
Our first rehearsal was slightly more helpful in informing us on what exactly we were doing, however, a mixture of English and Twi made it quite difficult to catch everything that was going. In the end, we did piece most things together and figured out more or less what our roles were. A graduate student, Steph, was creating a dance to be performed in her home village, near Cape Coast. The name of the project was Kodzi, which means go and eat, although I never really figured out why that was the title. The name Kodzi also has some significance in storytelling, and the idea for the project was to keep the tradition of storytelling alive in the town while adding contemporary African dance movements to enhance the performance. The story we were dancing was about Ananse the spider and how money came to be scattered around the world.
And here is the story: The King of the Land, who possessed all the riches in the world, would give all his money to whoever could win a race against his falcon. Ananse decided to enter the race and begin gathering individuals to help him. This included the fastest cheetah in the land, a man who could hit anything with his bow and arrow from miles away, an incredibly strong man, and an individual who could make thunder and lightening strike with a turn of his cap. At the race, the cheetah runs against the falcon, but halfway through he falls asleep. The hunter then shoots his arrow to wake up the cheetah who continues the race and wins. The group Ananse rounded up is very excited and when Ananse goes to collect the money from the King, he uses the strong man to carry all the gold. At nightfall while the group is sleeping, the King, who is extremely angry that Ananse outsmarted him, encircles the group with flame. They wake up to find burning flames everywhere and soon the thunder and lighting man turns his cap over and the rain puts out the fire. After that everyone begins to fight about who deserves the money, each with a reasonable argument. The thunder and lightening man’s hat gets turned over in the chaos and when the rain comes, all the money is washed away to different parts of the globe. That is the story of how money came to be.
My part in the dance was the thunder and lightening man. Some of the movement was choreographed, but a large part I made on my own and had to improvise in the town because the space was very different from where we rehearsed. After a few late night rehearsals, it was time for our adventure to the village.
Since we were leaving so early in the morning, I slept over at a girl’s room who lives closer to campus. We got up at 4:30am to be ready for a 5:00 departure, but of course we left a little later than that, a little closer to 6. All 25 of us squeezed onto a tro-tro with the costumes, props, and lights for the show and took of down the coast. Steph told us when we were leaving that as soon as we got there, we would unload the stuff, begin putting the set together and then have rehearsal. We arrived in the small village at about 8:30, unloaded the van, then took a short walk around town to pay a visit to the chief and check out the space for our performance. The chief was out of town so we said hello to some other important people in town (not quite sure of their role) and found the small circular performance space, which had a lower center stage and a few different levels for sitting or performing. We headed back to the house – the home of the Queen Mother with a large living room and a few separate rooms for sleeping – and just when I was ready to begin rehearsing, everyone took a nap. No one really even talked about it, but one by one people lay down and slept for a few hours. After a little while they gathered all the girls together and had them begin preparing food. By the end of the few days we learned how to make rice and stew, pollava sauce and yams, jollaf rice and meat.
This trip opened my eyes to a side of Ghanaian life that I had not encountered living with another American. First, the very defined gender roles were present during our entire stay. The women would cook all the meals, the men did the heavy lifting, we even ate separately. I became a little frustrated at times when they wouldn’t let girls carry large objects even though we were perfectly capable. Another part of their culture I became aware of was showering. We all did bucket showers, which I was very used to from the times when our dorm runs out of water, but I was not used to their frequency of showering. Even though we really didn’t do vigorous activities, they still found it necessary to shower two or three times a day, and they continuously asked when we were going to shower. In the end, we decided it was just easier to shower a few times a day rather than explain why we didn’t think we needed to bathe after doing nothing.
On the first day, after everyone napped and ate, we went back into town to rehearse. But when we got there and began setting up, there appeared to be some miscommunication with the chief about us being there and they didn’t want us to make any noise. Our rehearsal, which was supposed last for a large part of the day, ended up not happening at all. Back at the house, we set up for bed and we all decided to sleep on the living room floor since it had a working fan.
The next day the girl went out to find breakfast and we ended up buying all the bread at one little store. It is truly amazing how much bread we can go through here. The morning was quite lazy, so Molly and I went on a little walk to find the nearby river. We were unsuccessful in our trek, but we did come across a gorgeous view of the ocean and saw more parts of the village. After more napping, we followed some kids to go fetch water from a small pond since our supply was running low. I successfully carried a bucket of water up a steep rocky pathway without spilling too much. Some of us went into town to find a generator because the lights were not working on the set. The priest in town had the only generator and he let us borrow it for the night. However, this also came with a proposal in Twi, which took me a while to understand, but I politely declined his request. Later that night a toothless man also wanted me to be his wife and again I had to say no. I am getting quite used to declining proposals here in Ghana.
The night of our show came, and we never really rehearsed our dance in the space. We walked through it a few times, but there were always so many people watching and we didn’t want them to see. The storyteller we had for the night was a small man missing a few teeth and we could all tell that he definitely liked to spend a lot of time at the bar. I was a little worried that he wouldn’t make it through the night, but it all worked out. When we got there, people were slowly gathering and we began with a small dance contest, which Molly and I both participated in, as well as many young kids. When it was time for our dance piece, we put on our costumes – mine was a silver unitard – and began. For never having rehearsed it, the show ran very smoothly. At parts I had to do major improvising because the kids were sitting right where I should be dancing but it didn’t matter. We also had a major unplanned fight seen at the end and the audience loved it. Back at the house, we had a late dinner and I think I ate more rice than I have ever eaten in one day in my life but it was delicious. We only got a few hours of sleep that night since we wanted to leave at 3am but we did get to sleep on the tro-tro ride home.
This trip left me with a glimpse into Ghanaian life that I probably wouldn’t have experienced on campus. I became much closer with some of the dancers and can now cook a few different meals. But perhaps the greatest part of their culture I took away was their relaxed and calm attitude towards life – why stress about small things throughout the day? Why not just enjoy every moment and be happy with the people you are with?