Wassa Akropong, Western Province, Ghana
Wassa Akropong is a pleasant little town hidden in the lush green of Western Province Ghana. As with all towns in the tropics life in abundance spilled out from the muggy low crooked buildings on to the main street. At all hours including long into the night the street was crammed with the cheery hustle and bustle of a busy market place. All manner of produce was available from the makeshift stalls, kiosks and counters. Live poultry competed with great stacks of smoked fish; bags of peppers and black-eyed peas nestled amongst roped bundles of sweet potato and cassava leaves; there were mobile phone top-up cards and greasy bottles of diluted kerosene; plastic household commodities alongside traditional brightly coloured kente cloth. A few fly-blown chop-shops, a couple of battered old taxis, an old wooden church and that was about it. The roads snaking away from the town happily rescinded within a few meters to pot-holed tracks of deep red earth leading past the run-down houses and huts of cocoa farming communities.
The road to Wassa Akropong, Western Province, Ghana.
We stayed, strangely enough, in the petrol station. And being the only petrol station around, the forecourt much like the rest of the town was crowded at all hours of the day, which along with the thick fumes of petrol didn’t altogether aid our sleeping. However, long days of filming lent us all the weariness we could manage and usually after a plate of vegetable stew with fufu sleep triumphed above the mechanical clamour and revving of engines from below.
Many Ghanaians see Western Province as a bit of a back-water and travelling along the roads around Wassa Akropong it’s understandable why this is the case. It wasn’t until the 1950’s, driven by increasing prices for cocoa, that prospective farmers from the Ashanti region began to move into the relatively empty forests surrounding the town. Since then little has changed. Like other regions in Ghana, although heavily exploited already, Western Province remains rich in minerals and timber.
The scars of old and new extractions are to be seen everywhere. A group of Chinese firms are firmly encamped along the Adamanso, one of the main rivers near the town, mining for gold and manganese; a component that contributes towards the production of aluminium. The river has become so badly polluted as a result of these activities that drinking water along with freshwater fish are no longer gathered by the locals.
When we filmed the sequence involving Ama and her farm we left Harrison Kojo our fabulous driver and friend just outside the village of Bekoto with the jeep. Harrison being a city dweller was not keen on joining us, he seemed concerned about our safety, mentioning that the forest is an evil place and should not be reckoned with too lightly. I promised him we would return within a couple of hours.
Enquiries as to how far the farm was from the road came back as a mere twenty-minute walk. In a land where wristwatches are rarely seen we should have been immediately suspicious of this answer. Despite this and because we were all in a good mood we hauled the filming gear we needed over our shoulders and along with Ama, her family and Andrew Morrison from New Generation Consent we trooped off into the thick forest. It was already half way into the afternoon, so realistically we had probably two maybe three hours of decent light to shoot by.
It took us over an hour to reach the farm. After completing all the sequences and interviews we needed we headed back into the forest, aware of the fact that darkness would be upon us very shortly. Andrew did his level best leading us along the path we had come by. However very shortly we had become utterly lost. Strangely there are many small farm holdings in the forest and soon enough we came across a farmer and his family sitting in front of their evening meal. They were astonished to find a film crew walking up their cassava plot. After some introductions and informing them of our plight two of the young men readily agreed to lead us back to the roadway.
It was nearing darkness by the time we climbed from the forest onto the road. We were dripping with sweat. Harrison by this stage terrified that we had become in some way consumed by the evil spirits of the forest had organised some of the local men of Bekoto village into a search party. However the search party hadn’t quite managed to leave. The reason being was that they were busy smoking and drinking bottles of beer. We ended up finding our own search party.
Our final night in Wassa Akropong was a mixed affair. We found to our consternation that the petrol station had suddenly run dry. The tank in our jeep also coincidentally showed similar levels of stock fatigue. The day ahead of us involved a great deal of driving, we were scheduled to return to the coast to film in and around the port of Takoradi. After some lengthy deliberations between Harrison and the mechanics it seemed uncertain whether a tanker would reach the petrol station in the coming days. Leaving us effectively stranded.
To shrug this off and take stock of the situation we trooped to the nearby restaurant and sat down to another heavy dinner. As we walked together down the roadway in the encroaching darkness, candles offering flickering traces of light from hut windows, the air thick with scent and flying insects, I noticed a group of locals walking towards us. From amongst the group came suddenly a petrified howl. The group immediately burst into laughter and from amongst them a small toddler emerged his eyes shining wide in astonishment and terror. He was looking directly at Paul and myself.
“He’s never seen a white man before.” said one of the group, barely able to contain himself. “He thinks you are ghosts, spirits from the forest.”
The crew. From left to right: Tim Lewis, Andrew Morrison, Paul Redman, Harrison Kojo.
Written by Tim Lewis.