In my haste to try and assemble a camera kit which contained one broken PD-150 Sony Cam (with no playback), a broken tripod (compliments of the tro-tros of Accra), and a non-existent microphone, I failed to see the wisdom of Makafui’s utterances.
We were on our way to the Volta region of Ghana, long known as being one of Ghana’s most beautiful locales. The purpose of our visit, however was less about the ambiance and more about some it’s most forgotten inhabitants. The lepers. Cured, but in some ways forgotten.
Makafui wishes to make it absolutely clear “I am an IT man,” he laughs. “I cannot go more than two hours without the Internet. I scoff at his statement as I’ve battled the power outages that happen regularly in this country and know he must have had to sacrifice online time for a short fuse or two. But I digress. Makafui’s point as we bumped along the dusty roads from Sogakope to Ho, Volta was “I am not a journalist. I am merely here to support you.” I enlisted Makafui as a translator as my Twi is borderline pathetic and my Ewe is non-existent.
At this point I am looking to Makafui as a mentor. He tells me to slow down when I start to speak, walk and act faster. He’s a saint.
Makafui gladly used his leave time to come with me to the far reaches of Volta. What awaited him was the mountains he remembered as a child and the empty sewers he missed so much. (The sewers are empty, he tell me, because the inhabitants of Volta burn what seems like 90 percent of their garbage, so while their sewers are far less clogged than that of Accra, their lungs are full of smoke.) Within 24 hours of arriving, Makafui was exposed to a rigorous schedule that consisted of finding, filming and interviewing lepers. We visit the Schoonhoven Cured Lepers Village and met survivors, who over-fill the rooms.
We meet lepers like Rosina, who sometimes goes for over three days without food because she can only eat when an NGO or private donor gives to the Poly Clinic near to her colony. We meet lepers like Kofi, whose legs have degenerated so much that he farms on his knees (what he farms is sometimes all he has to eat). We meet lepers like Malarina, whose left eye is sealed shut from her disease, yet still she wears glasses with one lens in, one out to remind her she still has one good eye.
Still, as we head back on a bumpy bus ride home Makafui chomps at the bit to check his e-mail. He’s heard that Vodaphone, his other employer, is downsizing and he wants to make sure he won’t be affected. Jobs like his are hard to come by here in Ghana. “So Makafui, have I convinced you these stories matter and you should hop on the journalist band wagon?” I give him the eye as I yell over the engine. “When journalists make money, I may S.J,” he laughs. He again reminds me to slow down and rest.
As the shooting ensues the next day, Makafui is no longer just translating answers for me, he’s asking the questions. He starts to watch me as I work and rework the broken tripod, and offers to shoot. He asks one of the main benefactors of lepers in the community what else she plans on doing to make more housing, more food and more aid available. He angrily tells me these are some of the people his government should care for the most. “It doesn’t make any sense,” he says, not for the first time.
As Makafui prepares to leave Volta on the third day he tells me he’s going to invest in his own video camera and tripod. He wants to start shooting documentaries on stories ” just like this.” He saw the missing fingers and toes, he heard the voices of people who, despite all of their loneliness and sometimes helplessness, ask you how you’re doing and thank you for just holding their hand for one fleeting moment without flinching. When I return to Accra I check my e-mail and see Makafui has already posted videos on facebook of his Volta excursion. One is of us letting a three-year old look down the lens of the video camera, the grandson of 90-year old Rosina. There’s more video to come from him, he texts me.
“We’ll make a journalist of you yet,” I mutter under my breath. I walk home from the internet café slow, so I can take in where I am going.