Morning breaks on the 3rd of May and it’s time to be on the journey to Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Fasso, We set off as early as 6am hoping to maximize the daylight hours. The morning is cool yet sunny. As we drive out of KNUST, a big yellow sun is rising over Kumasi. Only Charles Opo and Lucy are fortunate to capture it. We fill up our fuel tanks and drive through Suane out of the city. The sun is streaming down but is defected by the tint of Snowhite’s windows. We drive fast to maximize the daylight. Our target is to reach Bobo before dark.
The road has been repaired and is very smooth. Some of us hint that they would like to have breakfast “NO!”, bellows the Provost Marshall and Uche the Navigator, we must forge ahead; no meals till much later. Our Chairman concurs as well. The breakfast people recede into their shells maybe too weak from hunger to argue further. They wait. See akara, let’s buy some now o, before its too late o!, someone tries yet again. NO! again. The bus goes quiet. Some doze off. We reach Acromfo and the protesting voices rise yet again: this time, they have recruited more supporters. The Chairman reads the mood and insists we stop “right now” for breakfast. Relief. The team scampers out of the bus. There is a rice seller nearby. Uche, the Navigator, Charles the Provost, Ray Daniels, Emeka, Chidinma and Chriss swoop on her. I make a beeline for the akara seller joining Lucy, Unoma Amaize. The akara is sprinkled with an appropriate dose of pepper, is delicious and body warming. Some find something to capture around the environment.
We move on and reach Wenchi. The sun is bouncing joyfully off the leaves. We forge ahead to Arorya.We reach Kingya Krom. Suddenly, a little down the road, a family of about 10 antelopes dash across the road. Nike shouts, See, Bushmeat! See Bushmeat! Necks cringe to see, but the animals are f-a-s-t. It turns out that we are close to the Bui National Park. We approach New Longoro and Lucy and Chriss take over as the van comedians regaling us with funny tales spoken in Igbo. Bamboi. Bamboi! This is where we stopped for breakfast last year! A little way out of Bamboi, the road is being reconstructed. Felled trees, casualty of the infrastructural development line the sides. An orange luxury bus is taking a break to the right side of the road, just like last year. We note that the Ghanaian authorities are alive to their responsibilities to the citizens even to those who live in the hinterlands, quite unlike some other countries we know.
Maluwe, then Sigifura and the felled trees are tinged with amber, as though they bled when felled. The sun is high now in the skies. The road is smooth and sparkly. Nandos co????
We make a stop in Wa to refresh, fuel the van and convert our cash to CFA. Hamile is still ahead, some of us are apprehensive of the last stretch of the Jirapa -Hamile road because the last time we passed here, the tarred road ended suddenly and a dirt road appeared that stretched on for over three hours to the border. The rains have come and who knows if the road will turn to tyre-gripping mud? Our fears prove to be baseless. The earth around Jirapa is so thirsty; it simply guzzles all the rain leaving a dry wetness on the face of the road.
We sight an arch of two striking baobabs and decide to make a picture of the group here. A kindly villager asks if he should draw some water for us. We do a line up, a self portrait of the group . We view the picture. It is beautiful. Snow white is distant in the background. Nike christens the image Snowwhite and the ten dwarfs, because the baobab in the background dwarfs us.(See image above).
We move on and shortly we come upon a strange sight: a man dressed in what Nigerians call “complete Agbada” with shoes and cap, and holding a staff across his thighs, is seated high in a display stand facing the road. Green and orange fabric have been used to decorate the display stand, Nearby, a group of men are seated to one side, and much nearer, another group of women. We move past but something about the displayed man causes us to reverse to have a second look. Why is the man sitting so still? Then it clicks: the man is dead and this is a rite of his passage! None of us has seen this ever before. Immediately, Chriss says he would like to take a photo of the event. Lucy shrieks at the suggestion, “it wouldn’t be right!” Nike concurs. “That would be an invasion of privacy. A burial is a private ceremony”. Chriss disagrees, ‘We could have alighted, greeted them and asked for permission to take the man’s picture” “No!” bellowed Charlie Opo, our Provost, supported firmly by Uche, the Navigator. “We have no time for that! We must get to Bobo soonest!” Chriss continues to make his point in the bus: “But this may be our one chance to document this ceremony! What if the man is an eminent personality and this type of burial ceremony, is a rare cultural event?” “Too bad then”, injects Unoma. “You cannot get all the pictures you like, all the time, so live with it!” says Amaize.
The arguments go on for and against. In the end, Emeka mediates that the two camps are neither wrong nor right but that photographers must always be careful to respect people’s spaces. An agreeable conclusion. Silence reigns for the moment.
We move on further on the dirt road to Hamile. It is quite motorable and has been recently graded, in readiness for construction. Massacred trees, looking now like sculptural pieces continue to pay grudging homage to passing vehicles. We joyfully spot familiar landmarks. We are nearing the border! In a short while, we see the immigration building and our van comes to a stop.
40 minutes later, we pass the Goodbye to Ghana golden stool archway and enter the Burkina side of the border. We do the formalities, give the officials our postcards and posters and move on to get our “laissez passer”. We renew our friendships made with the officers at the border and move on. Dusk is drawing nigh, and we drive for about 4 hours on the much improved road which a sign says that an European Union agency has helped build for the comfort of road users.
Unoma and Amaize are discussing photography. Unoma says that though she usually likes to do her darkroom work by herself, the generally poor quality of household water has been a challenge. Amaize suggest that she uses filtered water in the darkroom. Unoma says her worry is beyond the physical impurities; it is more about the chemical composition of the water which may compromise the archival quality of her negatives- since the best negatives are gotten through a thorough rinse with clean water.
The discussion then veers into style in photography. Unoma says she is tired of the needless over-intellectualizing of photography and just simply wants to enjoy the craft and art. This makes the bus come alive. Amaize, Emeka and Charlie Opo express opinion variously with Lucy and Nike interjecting at an interval. Unoma and Emeka make the case that an artist should simply produce works that are true to his nature and not consciously pursue having a style simply for the sake of standing out or bowing to the prescription of the critics. All good works will eventually be noticed and their intrinsic style eventually appreciated and documented. For Amaize, an artist must be true to himself and whilst doing so, carve out his own trajectory. Even whilst working as Emeka has suggested, Amaize insists that the artist will eventually be marked out by certain tendencies; manner or ways, of doing/presenting his work and that would be termed his style. Charlie Opo believes that a photographer must learn the rudimentary laws of photography first, master them and then proceed to deviate from the familiar to etch his style. Uche holds the same view and roots for the breaking of the rules based on what the artist wants to personally achieve. Lucy believes that the discussants are all saying the same thing but in different ways. Nike believes that no particular approach is better than the other so, a photographer working blind but creating great work that impresses the critics must have learnt the rudiments of her craft informally, or unconsciously and will eventually be described and documented by the critics. All are agreed that contriving a style that panders to the dictas of art critics and curators in a bid to “achieving relevance” is dishonest and despicable of any artist. The animated discussions span well over an hour and shorten the road to Bobo.
Eventually, we reach Bobo Dioulasso a few minutes to 8.00PM, hook with the amiable photographer Paul Kabre who leads us to the agreeable surroundings and rooms of the Entente Hotel – our home for two nights and a day.