Friday, July 17, 2015

An old man and a man-made lake

At Mamfikope, the road ends. What follows is a series of winding forest paths that unfold to stunning views across Lake Volta. From here you can see the storms as they mull over the highlands of the Togoland.

Tucked within these humble hills is the community of Mankesu, a village with roots dating back to the 1920’s, surprisingly deep for communities along the coast of a man-made lake that itself was only formed in the 1960’s by the creation of the Akosombo dam. I had the privilege of being hosted by and talking at some length with the one man who has borne witness to almost all of this history--the consolidation of British colonialism, the bid for independence (Ghana’s being the first in all of sub-Saharan Africa), the creation of the dam and the diaspora that followed in its wake. He is a man who has seen the Volta’s waters rise and recede, and has been the chief of these lands as it did so. Like Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea, Kwasi Akwadzrodoh knows his way around the circuitous fingers of Lake Volta like a taxi driver might his way around Manhattan. The only difference being that he bears such memories in the sinew of his shoulders and back.

Kwasi sits in a chair that seems to be the same age as he. It sags to the dirt floor of his mud-brick hut. The roof, oddly enough, is new. A son--one of Kwasi’s fourteen children--works as a galamsey gold miner in Ghana’s western frontier and has sent remittance money home. The rest of their homestead, including several other mud buildings, one of crumbling concrete, and  a few others of wood and thatch, are not quite as bedazzled. They lament the modest accommodations, but I assure them, it is wonderful.

After a diner of fresh sardines, rice and pepper sauce, we watch the stars for a few hours and talk about small, intermittent nothings. I curl up on a reed mat on a dirt floor under a mosquito net next to a few family members for the night. Tomorrow, we are going fishing.

In the morning, Kwasi is not feeling well enough to make the many-hour-long boat ride around the lake to collect the weekly take from the traps and nets he has set. Decades on the lake with the relentless West African sun has taken its toll--Kwasi is losing sight in his eyes, particularly the left. His son, whose name literally translates to “Life is Beautiful” in the local Ewe language, leads the charge instead.

Now, my time with Kwasi and his family was wonderful, and I could focus on the hours we spent catching fish and telling stories of local fishing lore, or the afternoons spent wandering the rocky outcrops and various islands that dot the lake. But what I can’t seem to get out of my head, what has never left my mind, is this simple image of Kwasi himself: quiet and still, sitting in his chair with the children and the chickens and the goats mulling at his feet. His face is forward and up, with his good eye focused on something I cannot see, and his bad eye clouded and disobedient looking elsewhere. He talks little, and we communicate almost not at all (my Ewe is quite rudimentary), but it is comfortable and calm. There is the smell of smoked fish from the kiln fresh from this mornings catch.

You see, in my time traveling, I have had the opportunity of meeting, working and spending time with many people who face unbelievably trying circumstances. Some, understandably, have been beaten down by their situation and are most evidently struggling. Others have assumed a different disposition, and of this, it seems to me, Kwasi is somewhat of an archetype.

There is a pride in knowing one’s land, in this case, in knowing one’s waters. There is a resolute dignity claimed, even if it is simultaneously denied and forgotten by the rest of the world, by those who endure with this depth of human fortitude. For years. For decades. For a lifetime. While we bid for marginally more and marginally better, with the latest model of cell phone or the newest gadget, here is a man who is content enough with what he has been given to still wake up each morning and set out for a few more fish.

“No condition is permenent by the greace of God.” Reads one of the walls of Kwasi’s home. Having never finished schooling, we can perhaps forgive his spelling, but we would be absolute fools to ignore the message. Not that I am a believer, only that I am aware enough to see that the most genuine faith is found in those who have the absolute least--that is a fact.

Kwasi sits in his chair, skinny legs and bulging knees, his limbs like driftwood blackened by the sun. He chews on a sprig of sugar cane and stares past me over the lake and all I can think: the meek shall inherit the earth.

Let’s hope so. Few deserve it more.

From the AP,

1 comment:

  1. Dearest Mario,
    He reminds me of your Grandfather May. He felt the same way about the land, water, and the Earth. When I was a little girl, we would spend our quiet evenings sitting on the front cement steps and my father would sometimes sing but mostly he would tell stories and watch the clouds, moon and stars and predict the weather for the next several days. He always felt a heavenly connection between Heaven, Earth and mankind.
    Love Mom