Tamale Days

We’re out front, chatting on the sun-scorched second floor balcony of Radio Justice FM. Cliff has a couple of minutes before he’s on for the morning show, and Amin’s brought us in for an impromptu meeting.

Amin has been a gold mine. Originally he was just the taxi driver who got tagged to pick us up at the hotel outside of town and deliver us to our morning meetings with Ken. But things haven’t gone quite according to schedule – Ken’s earlier meetings got complicated, and he asked if we could stall a bit, maybe by visiting with some contacts of his at Bishani Radio. We’re not in a position to argue – in addition to his consulting business, Ken teaches at Tamale’s Polytechnic Institute and runs an impressive non-profit focusing on education for rural girls; we know he’s stretched thin. A call to Bishani reveals that we’ve caught them at a bad time, too – they’re in the middle of some workshop, and might we try back around 2:00? Amin overhears and asks “You want to visit a radio station?” Yeah. “My friends work at the big one – Radio Justice. We can talk with them.”
Five minutes later, we’re on the balcony, as Cliff eloquently lays out the challenges and opportunities of Ghanaian radio. He’s hitting all my hot buttons without any prompting – I try to stop myself from saying “Yes, yes!” too many times.
He’s very proud of the station’s role in civil society – the morning show puts out five thousand watts of debate on local issues and Cliff says they make sure they’ve got someone from every side of a conflict in the room when they do. I ask if the debates get loud sometimes. How loud? Very loud. Punches thrown? He looks somewhat embarrassed by his amusement. “Sometimes.”
Ken’s not quite ready for us yet, so Amin agrees to take us to the market for a bit. We wind our way through a crazy maze of stalls, and I try, with meager success, to snap some pictures on the sly. I ask one woman if I can take a picture and she waves me away, but Amin intervenes. I can’t tell what he’s said; the gist seemed to be “No, no he’s okay, really”, and she beckons me back, straightening her dress and posing demurely with her wares. Amin seems to know someone every hundred feet here.
Twice in a row, some hip young tough catches Pete’s attention. He wants to chat, wants to show off with his girlfriend, and it’s cool with Pete; the man’s a natural in these situations. The man asks his name; without missing a beat, Pete replies “Kojo” – the Ashanti name for a boy born on Thursday (for our Berekuso visit, it was important to know our Ashanti names). The man pauses for thought. “But… you’re not….”  He doesn’t know how to finish, and Pete’s on a roll: “Not what?” he asks, with saintly innocence.  The man tries again: “But Kojo is a Ghanaian name.”  “Yeah?” Pete looks like he doesn’t understand the problem, while Jenny, Amin and I try not to squeak with inappropriate laughter. We need to keep going, so Pete lets him off the hook after a couple more exchanges, and he bursts into a broad smile and joins the laughter. Anansi is alive and well as ever in Tamale.
Our meetings with Ken are an energizing blur of dusty classrooms and franticly-scribbled notes. We’re brainstorming with local tech-heads and homebrew electronics wizards from the Northern Ghana Innovators Group. They’ve probably got fewer than a dozen members, all told, but they’re crazy dedicated. Ken is our local contact with them and he’s managed to get Stephen, Timothy and Baba to join us on a weekday evening to talk about information access challenges and opportunities. Between ideas, we play show and tell – I pull out my Antarctica photos (“Yes, minus 48″), and Baba demonstrates a couple of junction boxes he whipped together for carrying projector signal over arbitrary lengths of ethernet cable.
By 3:00, I’m spectacularly wiped. Ken gives me a break and suggests he drop me back at the hotel to recover. He’ll come by later in the evening, once it’s cooled down a little, and bring another of his friends for us to chat with. The free air temperature is 102.5F and I’d gladly sell my soul for some air conditioning – I can’t find it in my heart to object.

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