My Lagos to Ghana Travel Experience – Frank Ugobude

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The Chale Wote Street Art Festival is one of the biggest street festivals in Africa and for a young travel enthusiast, having heard so much about it, I was eager to see what it was all about. Could it be bigger than our very own Calabar Festival, or the Lagos Countdown, which is frankly a weak imitation of the New York Ball drop on New Year’s Eve.

A street in accra

As a Nigerian, I have to hold everything Ghanaian with some sort of contempt, not in a disrespectful way, but in the way you regard a rival. The Ghanaian Nigerian rivalry is embedded somewhere in both our constitutions, and even without reading the fine print, we rise up to the occasion to exalt ours above theirs, in a way that is funny, and admirable at the same time. Our jollof is better than theirs. No, we invented highlife. Their pidgin doesn’t have the rhythm or catchiness of ours. Shoki is better than Azonto. We have Wizkid and they have VIP who Wizkid signed anyway. And you know how extremely cool Jamaicans are, yes, most of them have Nigerian origins anyway. It’s the silly things. But in the end, Africa is just a country, isn’t it?

in a crowd of spectators at chale wote

I had thought of attending two years ago but the fear of solo travel held me behind. I had never travelled without someone I knew and I was very skeptical about it. Its hard not having anyone to talk to on the long ride and I wasn’t particularly sure of giving strangers my phone to take pictures of me. I had secretly judged people who did that and I wasn’t trying to be one of them. What if they ran with the phone and got me lost in a village at the Benin-Togo border. Travel buddies are to watch your back when you sleep and to give food that doesn’t sit well in your stomach, while you make them pay for it by taking the best pictures of you and share the company with.

street art in accra

 

So, when a friend of mine indicated her interest in travelling for the festival, it was like the universe aligning the stars on my behalf. We were going to travel to Accra by road about three days before the festival, explore places of interest in the city, attend the festival and see if what they said about Ghanaian jollof was indeed true.

The Chale Wote Festival was a lot different from the festivals we had in Nigeria. It is an alternative platform that brings art, music, dance and performance out into the streets and I genuinely was excited about everything. I was eager to see how all the various art forms were going to come together and be combined, I wanted to see how the people participated, what was the crowd like, were they friendly, and more importantly, will there be dance throw downs between Ghanaians and Nigerians in a Stomp the Yard style? We made reservations for an AirBnB, reached out to friends via Couchsurfing to show us around the city and we were good to go.

The trip to Accra was long. It was a minibus and I sat in front seat allowing me space as compared to the people behind who had to sit like fishes in a can of sardine. Asides constant checks by the police at the borders and the people who kept speaking languages we couldn’t understand, it was an uneventful ride with half the time spent between sleeping and reading books on my Kindle.

We got into the city late and retired to the comfortable AirBnB where our nice host was eagerly waiting to hand over the keys to the apartment. Over the course of two days, we spent time touring the city, paying attention to the food, the houses, the people and everything in general. We soon discovered that Ghanaians had a lot of similarities to Nigerians – happy people, the wide variety of foods and passionate about culture and tradition amidst others. Our friends from the Couchsurfing app were really patient while we engaged in out tourist behaviour, taking pictures at literally every historical structure and sharing everything to social media.

Ghana jollof

On our third day in Accra, we attended the festival which had kicked off from Monday but the main events were starting on that Thursday and it was everything I had thought it was and more. There were a lot of things happening in Jamestown, which is home to the festival and also a lot of beautiful colonial buildings and the rich history of Accra. One of the things that caught my attention was the amazing graffiti everywhere. Asides that, the people were decked in colourful attires, young and old, male and female. I also found it interesting that the festival had a fair balance of tourists like myself who had come from all over the world to soak in the rich culture of Ghana. There were stalls all over selling local food like banku, waakye, kelewele and others. Other stalls had colourful attires and items you could take home to family and friends. As if all of this wasn’t enough, there were all forms of art for everybody to consume. There were a lot of sculptures on display and performing art at every corner you looked at. While all of these was going on, there was a big stage which played host to musicians and DJs from Ghana and neighbouring countries for people to assimilate music from everywhere. Taking a walk further into the venue, there were smaller parties with people making merry, interacting and just having fun.

 

Nothing however prepared me for the amount of energy I witnessed at the festival, not even the amount of research I carried on before now. I could see it in their hips as they danced and gyrated against one another, man to man, woman to woman. In a continent where acts like this are painted homosexual, the fluidity I witnessed at the festival was a sight to behold. The men, who were shirtless with well-structured chests were dry humping one another to the sound of the music blaring from the speakers.

In all entirety, the festival opened my eyes to a lot of culture, a lot of love and most surprising of all. A world of freedom where toxic masculinity was shoved out before you came to Jamestown.

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