Out of Africa

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Ghana, Year III – l’épilogue

White mists clear, revealing a horizon of pure gold. The spirit beckons you forth, as your journey reaches its final end. Moons have waxed, ebbed and waned. Many suns have risen, eclipsed and set… as is the nature of celestial bodies. In time you will learn to accept their failings… as you pass, to something, far beyond, and fall to the great sea of stars below… and into eternity.

My most recent trip to this country was by far the most intense, emotional, joyful and difficult. I travelled deeper, learned a great deal more about the inner workings of this land, of tribal leaders, voodoo ritual – dark secrets kept only just out of sight… I came vis-a-vis with the great ancestors of the plains and forest, and witnessed some of their own plight and journey, faintly echoed in my own.

I experienced a sense of great illness, health, youth, and a momentary glimpse of old age…
I saw great truth and great deception… things hidden and others revealed.

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“You need to go back to your homeland after here, and take a year out, rest and recover your strength,” said Mawusi Dotse, founder of the orphanage I have visited and patronised these past few years whenever I have had the means.

I smiled, knowingly perhaps… and yet somehow not fully comprehending then how true her words would turn out to be. Like a lot of people in Ghana, Mawusi seems to possess some sort of sense beyond simple rationale. I had guessed that she was probably right, but visions of a cold, wet winter in England weren’t really appealing to me. My thoughts were wandering, as they often do, towards Italy the grass, always greener, yet somehow never any closer…

Nothing goes quite to plan of course, and yet I realise, looking back in retrospect, how so very important my stubbornness has been to my journey over the years. I’ve learnt a fair few lessons in my time. One especially ~ the importance of new beginnings, rebirth, and, ultimately, the total acceptance of endings.

~ All good things are deemed to end, in one way or another ~

And so it is with this chapter of my story, and with Ghana… or at least the end of this gloriously-emotional saga the land and people have taken me on over the past three years.

***
~ On Leaving Missahoe ~

Oh, Missahoe… What a beautiful journey this has been. I am so thankful that for whatever reason the heavens hold I was brought to this special place, and found my African family. You have in turn brought so much love, light and peace to my soul. I will forever be indebted, and I shall never forget… not for a second.

Life in Missahoe Orphanage and School has changed little over the years. Things carry on in their usual way and there seems to be a lack of noticeable progress or real development… for a Westerner this is sometimes quite frustrating, and yet ultimately it is the thing one learns to love most about the place. Of course, the usual contingency of scorpions, bed bugs and rats keeps life at the orphanage challenging.

But there are always plenty of smiles, laughter and banter, and plenty to see, adsorb and cherish…

This last year I was accompanied by a couple of dear companions, one of whom had made a visit to West Africa with me before, and taught me a thing or two about friendship, the other being one of my younger brothers (his first visit to the African continent). It was such a delight to open up my mad world to him and ‘my way’ of travelling! We witnessed and experienced so much together.

Travelling with loved ones brings a whole other dimension to a journey ~ trials and tribulations, certainly ~ but also a whole host of experiences one wouldn’t necessarily be able to have travelling all alone, as I often have in the past… there was certainly a lot more laughter and tears let me assure you.

(Of course frequent readers will know there have been many times when I’ve needed to get away from everybody and everyone I know and hit the Road alone, connect with myself, remove the noise of society and opinions and hear the chanting of my inner voice. And there have been other times, like this one, when I have relished the company on what is, undoubtedly, a difficult path to walk ~ indeed, a challenging way of life).

It was incredible to finally have the main floor of the orphanage tiled and finished as I’d always dreamed, to renovate the old, stinky toilets and dicey kitchen, with plenty spare cash to spruce up the faded walls, and buy food and supplies for the coming months. We had worked hard together, before coming to Ghana, to raise money back in the UK through various social events.

One of the things I’d promised the kids the very first time I came to the orphanage all those years ago was that we would tile said floors, install a small TV and DVD player, so we could all sit together and watch The Lion King. You see, during my previous visits, along with Gospel music I’d been teaching the kids various songs from The Lion King, told them the story many times over… So as you can imagine, they were desperate to see the film itself.

Our wish finally came true and I can honestly say it was one of the happiest and most emotional moments I’ve ever had travelling. A plan three-years in the making that finally came to light, by grace… the room was filled with teary eyes, mine among them. It was such a little thing, really, but it meant so very much to them… and to me too.

Those of you who have been following my story over the years will be happy to know that my boy Desmond is rather well and we were thrilled of course to be reunited once again. He’s grown a little taller but still remains the skinny, energetic boy I first met in 2015. I was really delighted to see his personality strengthening and a developing feistiness around the Orphanage, which keeps him popular with the other kids… he is so precious and I have had such a journey with him. To see him grow stronger over time has been nothing short of a complete honour.

I often wonder where our beautiful story will finally end…

Due to some strong medications I’d been taking, along with a reaction to awful bed bug bites, I became quite ill for some of my time in the Orphanage… as you can imagine I was deeply overjoyed... Whilst everybody was out, I’d take myself to the quiet gardens at the back, tie my travelling hammock between two trees, lay and read, and rest.

Felt like I glimpsed into old age during those days, lived a sort of retirement, experienced a sense of ‘giving in’ to a weak body… and yet, I found a way to live on and still grow, like a seed after a harsh winter.

It seems indeed there is a Light, a beautiful all-powerful Light, under whose rays nothing can decay…

These eyes will yet see many great and wondrous things, these hands will craft illumination for many minds…

I’ve walked with lions, bathed with elephants in the jungle and danced with voodoo priests. There is a fire in my soul which will not yield, and maybe cannot. I have far too much more to give, to live, to learn.

Illness and convalescence have given me a lot of time to think, and reflect. Life is a challenge that I’ve learnt to accept, if not embrace. I have given a lot of thought to modern medicines and if, really, they are even worth it for me at all… whether, somehow, I can heal my body in other ways… Perhaps some things just need to run their course; sometimes there is a deeper cause, and the depression usually brought on by illness disappears immediately, I find, with full recovery.

…Really, truly, writing about my time at Missahoe (and in Ghana as a whole) is really quite difficult – full of emotion, ecstasy, pain, joy, memory and a deep all-consuming love… there are many of my experiences that I couldn’t really put into writing – moments from my time in that special place that, at least for now, I’d like to keep for myself… One day the full stories from all my travels will make it into a book or two, among many books I plan to write, all in good time of course…

If the great keeper of time allows me the satisfaction.

Leaving Missahoe this time was very difficult, in some ways the most difficult of all, because I left this time not knowing when I would be coming back.

My life has and will forever be wholly and profoundly changed by those days, those smiles, the hands held and the deep connections made. I know I am not the only one who felt that special power, from the very start… Imagine arriving, totally unannounced, only to be welcomed by a stampede of children running from all over calling out your name, desperate to embrace you again after a year of absence, as if it were only yesterday you left? You think, somehow they might have forgotten you… but of course they haven’t. Did you forget them? No… never. Never could you forget…

I left for the third time and looked back from the road, breathed a deep sigh and then looked to the heavens.

It’s in the hands of those great powers beyond my control or comprehension now. Somewhere, up there among the stars, a plan has been made since long before my arrival… a plan, I am sure, that hasn’t quite reached its final conclusion just yet… I am excited to find out when I will be next walking up that long, sandy driveway, what those new days will bring, and how far along my life journey I will be by then… Ad Astra, ever and anon and farewell my Ghanaian family.

Farewell my little darling… but not forever, I sincerely hope and pray. We will meet on a beautiful day again, and how the sun will shine and rejoice at our meeting…

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A video made by my brother… capturing the everyday madness, wit and nuance of life at Our Orphanage. A true treasure of a thing ~

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~ On Funerals, Tribal Kings and Revelation ~

The Road is ever-widening, ever-moving and ever-turning. To begin a journey, really and truly all one has to do is step outside, cast demons of doubt and fear aside, and begin… After all that had happened, after all the heavy feelings and complex emotions, all the hellos and goodbyes, it was a relief to be back on that great unknown of ‘Journey’ once again…

Attending a Ghanaian funeral for an Ewe Tribal King is a moment in time that will always stay with me… Naturally, as is the way in Africa, we managed to make some friends who had some connections with a parish, a village, a couple of tribal kings and so on… long story short: we were invited to a palace to meet a local king, to dance with the other attendees around the drums and offerings, and to drink sacred liquors in the name of the gods and the deceased. Naturally, it was utterly bonkers, very alive and very loud.

Full of the soul and passion one has learnt to expect in Ghana.

I drank all a bit too much of the palm wine that was brewed as an offering. Before drinking yourself you must first remember to pour a little on the earth as an offering to the ancestors, the gods who watch down from above and guide our earthly lives.

We each had to stand and introduce ourselves to the tribal leaders – there was an official mediator between us and the kings – there were virgins dressed all in white with long beads around their necks, there were women covered in white powder dancing around piles of sacrificial goods… it was honestly one of the most dazzling sensory displays I’d ever witnessed. All so over-stimulating that by the end of it you’re left wondering if it was all some mad trip induced by the odd-tasting palm wine and strange liquors people kept giving you…

A wonderful couple, Linda and Victor, were incredibly generous to us, opening up their home, their hearts, taking us to places we would have never seen, and allowing us to trust in a way that is not always so easy in a place where you stand out clear as the only white people in town.

These special meetings and the subsequent events don’t just happen by chance, if you allow it to, the universe will bring many gifts to you.

…You must simply ask for it and see it when it arrives. And Never deny the gifts when they come… do not believe in the illusions you project into the world. Use your illusion, do not let it use you, or blind your mind.

I am so happy that the universe brought us such special people as Linda and Victor, and I hope, for our time together, that the giving and sharing was of equal measure on both parts… because I for one feel as though I received so so very much in those days…

As we went from town to town, from orphanage, to house, from forest to mountain, I had a little mission of my own. I have been quite interested in voodoo for some time now, not in practice, more in curiosity. It is a word that seems to be thrown all over the place these days and I have encountered it many times, in various forms.

Voodoo practice is taken very seriously in West Africa – I witnessed some crazy things and discovered some blood-curdling truths.

Gifts are never given lightly, and they are received with great weight and suspicion. There are places where you cannot throw water, place this, place that. You hear frequently people recounting tales of visits in the night from entities, water gods, the wandering spirits of witches, curses and curse-temples where you pay to have the priest curse those who crossed you, levitating beds… I could go on.

One doesn’t have to dig too far even in countries like Ghana, where Christianity supposedly dominates, to find black markets, whispers and rumours, places to by animal and even human body parts. One woman told me a chilling story about tribal leaders, of how children are kidnapped and sacrificed on mass, their heads placed in the graves of tribal kings and queens to serve them in the afterlife… the more I looked, the more I saw… no longer did smiles seem so genuine or inviting… I began to sense a great deception among people. It seemed, even here, there remained no innocence among the deeds of man.

I longed for nature again, to escape once more to the wild places.

So we began our journey up North. It would be a journey of many days…

~ The Journey On ~

There were lakes and rivers, many small villages, towns, endless buses and endless dusty roads.

We stopped for a short time in Tafi Atome, to visit an old friend of mine Francis, protector of the forest.
The stop was brief but it was nice to see the ancestors of the jungle again, in their natural habitat.

This is how it’s done, Marrakesh

The main leg of our journey was done by boat.

After a bit of research, seemingly-endless phone calls and a lot of asking about, I discovered the Yapei Queen – a cargo ship that sails up the whole length of Lake Volta to bring supplies to cut-off towns in the north of Ghana.

It was absolute bliss after days of travelling by tro-tro through the dust and heat of Savannah, and a great way to get to the Northern regions of the country.

Through my usual tenacity, I managed to secure my little threesome a cabin on the first class upper-deck, one of only two on the whole boat – the other was reserved by a ‘Queen Mother’ of a northern tribe… everybody else had to sleep down on deck for three days of travel.

The further we travelled north, the more the landscape changed around us. Lush jungle quickly gave way to great plains and raw red earth. Villagers waved as they passed by on small fishing boats. The beauty of the crystalline lake was breathtaking, the sunsets were simply magic.

My brother still talks about this journey every time we talk of travels, past and present. It was one of those great moments, to smoke on deck and watch the changing of the world go by in dazzling array…

After three days we waved goodbye to the Yapei Queen, thanked her for bearing us safely, and continued our journey northwards, until we eventually reached Mole National Park – Ghana’s largest protected forest and wildlife reserve.

Remember that time I tirelessly travelled and trekked through the Bush for days to find one of Ghana’s last families of wild elephants, but to no avail?

Well, I hadn’t quite given up on that dream… it takes more than a few failures to stop me getting what I want.

…I was still desperate to see the ancestor of the great forest, to stare into his eyes, feel his soul, with no fences of trucks between us.

But before we could get to him, first we had to battle the baboons…

As sweet as they look in the pictures, let me assure you these are not the kind of monkeys you want jumping all over you. One time, when we were resting in our hut within the grounds of the national park, upon hearing a distinct human-like knocking on our door we got up and opened it to find two baboons standing on hind legs, but luckily managed to get it shut again before they got in… just!

We were exhausted from heat and travel, but the trekking continued.

We searched for hours and hours to find elephants within the thick Bush, yet again to no avail… there was still plenty to see, but I just couldn’t believe we’d come all this way and yet again that great king of the forest remained shy and hidden. It was like there was a veil between us, something stopping our meeting…

Then, on our last day, one of the rangers spotted a lone bull coming down to the waterhole just beneath the mountain where we stayed.

We all rushed down as fast and quietly as we could by foot, as there was no time to get a truck (I’m pretty sure at this point I had been running around naked among the trees somewhere – I’ve never put my clothes on in such a hurry let me tell you!)

My heart was pounding as we got close to the forest, climbing carefully through the trees to get a glimpse, careful not to snap even a twig in case he turned and charged or made an exit.

…And then, in a small clearing, he appeared…
There was instantly magic in the air, as the veil was finally lifted.

The great and mighty god of the forest, before my astonished eyes.
We were about ten metres apart, with nothing between us but some low shrubs.

I just looked, watching with amazement, as he slowly turned around looking for the freshest leaves to pluck, down by the lake’s edge.

Finally, I was able to feel for myself the presence of this mighty creature, who stood proudly with one tusk and large flapping ears. I searched hard and in his soul I saw peace but also great sadness. He knew a Truth I could never know in this Man’s World… and with that truth came a heavy burden.

The elephants of this forest had seen the landscape around them wither and change, their numbers dwindle, this ‘other creature’ become king far and wide, of a new kind of world.

For me too it was a bitter sweet moment. How many years until the chance to see the West African Bush Elephant in their natural habitat is no longer possible?

I am so happy that in my lifetime I had this chance. I will saviour its image in my memory until my dying days…

God bless you, creature. Be Free. Be Free.

***

~ Dancing with the Hanga Clan and 27 years ~

Just before we left, Mole National Park had one more surprise for us.

After canoeing down the river into the fertile Murugu Lands at the edge of the park, tracking crocodiles, elephants, water snakes, lizards and a whole host of stunning tropical birds along the way, we arrived in Mognori Village, where we were invited to dance a spiritual dance with the Hanga Clan, ancestors of a great warrior who lived in these parts long ago.

The men all danced on one side, and the women on the other, shimmying towards each other across the sandy opening beneath the ancient trees, at the heart of the village.

There were fervid drummers, impassioned dancers with bells strapped to their legs, loud singing and plenty of prayer. At one point I picked up what I thought was just a cool-looking knife, which naturally turned out to be the clan’s ‘Gods’ (which basically means a sacrificial tool used in special ritual). I put it down politely apologising but they did not seem so impressed… oops.

Thankfully most of the villagers were distracted by my robe, which had been made in traditional cloth from the Volta Region in the South. The kids of the village where so fascinated they didn’t notice they were standing on my very feet to get a closer look. Some of the young ladies where standing together staring at me and whispering in hushed voices. Every time I looked over they giggled.

I love these moments – each of us so fascinated with the other. They kept telling me that they’d never seen an ‘oburoni’ dressed this way. One of the guides actually asked me if I’d like to marry his 14-year old daughter! I politely declined…

As we left our guide told me not to worry about handling the Gods knife as, because I didn’t know what it was, “no harm will come to you” …

Let’s hope his words were true!

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The following day I turned 27.
27… can’t quite believe it.

The years have whizzed by since I first left England in 2013 and moved to Italy, starting a chain-reaction of serendipitous events that have lead to all my worldly travels over the last five years.

If only I had known back then… would I still have left?

*

The timings were off so we were unable to catch the Yapei Queen back down to the South, where we would fly home from.

After asking around we managed to get a chap to agree to let us sit on the back of his peanut truck for the 6-hour journey… six hours through pristine countryside, passing through and stopping off in tiny villages where the kids had never seen white people before. We sang Christmas carols for a lot of the way, at the top of our lungs, as it was nearly December by now.

People from every village waved as we passed and kids chased the truck with all their might, calling out names, desperate for our attention, as the sun slowly fell down through the blue blue sky…

This is how I’ll always remember Ghana.
This is how I’ll remember the wild beating heart of Africa.
I am so thankful I have been chosen to live this colourful life, for whatever reason…
And I am so thankful for the companions who have joined me along the way.
I never forget a single one of you… even if you think I have.

In happiness ~ that is the best way to remember a place, a country, or a people;
and if ever I was happy, I was happy then.

For then, I was out of Africa…
And into the great world beyond.

Jx


Post Scriptum ~ I dedicate this post to two very special ladies, who showed us great charity and hospitality when we were in Ghana – both of whom sadly passed away within a month of my return to Europe. Linda and Isabel, wherever you are out there in the ether, I wish you peace and gratitude, from the bottom of my heart, as you make your journey on…

Life is strange, beautiful, often very sad. The name of this post befits your story better even than my own, as you are indeed Out of Africa now, and unlike me, shall not return in this life… I do not profess to know anything really of the great workings of this world, but I do know for sure that good deeds truly do mean something, and are not forgotten, in the great scheme of things…

White mists clear, revealing a horizon of pure gold. The spirit beckons you forth, as your journey reaches its final end. Moons have waxed, ebbed and waned. Many suns have risen, eclipsed and set… as is the nature of celestial bodies. In time you will learn to accept their failings… as you pass, to something, far beyond, and fall to the great sea of stars below… and into eternity.

Ad Astra ❤


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all enquiries: diary.aesthete@yahoo.co.uk

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To see more of my brother’s videos of our Ghana trip and beyond, visit his page on Youtube by clicking here.

As for myself, Diary of an Aesthete has been an amazing platform to document my journey thus far, and I look forward to sharing many more journeys with you yet. The nature of writing such in-depth stories means I am unable to post so frequently, and only like to do so when I am feeling particularly inspired anyway. For a more personal view of my life, travel and art find me on my personal Instagram page here, which I update much more regularly. Long may the madness continue…

Thank you for reading.
Comments and shares are always deeply appreciated.
With love, always ❤

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45 Comments

    1. I see a lot of things which are precious and valuable that others do not. I’m just so fascinated by the world that I seek these ‘things’ I guess… I have a different sort of eye.

      But I think once you started to notice things, these little precious details of Creation that are all around us, your eye begins to change, and that’s when you really start to ‘travel’, as God intended…

      Please share, if you like. It means a lot 🙂
      Thank you very much. Jx

      Like

      1. Hi there, I met wonderful people in Uganda. Here is part of the interview https://youtu.be/_PHY2I3KoZY. Her 13 year old daughter tells their story through a book she wrote at the age
        Of 12 called, “Natured by a Blind Mother.” There was a mistake in the dates in the interview…she was born before her mother went blind…so it’s her two younger siblings that her mother has never physically seen with her eyes. Anyway, you will know what I am talking about when you watch the clip… Would love some feedback. Thanks, Ruth.

        Like

  1. Incredible. The pictures from the funeral at the King’s palace are just mesmerising! And congratulations on turning 27 🙂 I hope you travel for many more years yet, and I look forward to reading your stories for as long as they trickle out of your mind… Thank you for sharing your tale thus far. Best. L xx

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A stunningly long and emotional story! You images and words hold so much depth and thought. It’s always a pleasure to travel through you James! Wishing you every blessing on your continued travels! Namaste, salam, peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Another wonderful post of heart felt photos and prose. How long were you on this journey?

    We are in the process of shifting into the light on this planet. Along with this, new healing technologies and modalities, light based ones, will arise, removed from the toxic dark matrix based ones. The earth, all its species, air, water and soil WILL be restored to pristine condtion.

    You have many more years left to journey and bring your sweet gifts to all of us to share.

    Love and blessings, katelon

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Katelon. This particular journey was only five weeks can you believe? All of this and much more really happened in such a sort space in time, which made it feel so overwhelming, intense, exciting and at times intimidating… you just ride the journey, take any moments of peace and reflection you can, any respite and sleep you find, and then get up, shake the dust off your boots and carry on over the next hill… it’s certainly a thrill and a test of mind, body and spirit.

      I feel the Journey pulling my back in, hard and fast, in these days, and I am excited to take some great leaps of faith in these next months and let the long long road heal me once again… I feel the pull of this pristine restoration you speak of, I really do, and I’m really excited to see what is around the next corner… Thank you for your prophecies and encouragement – it really means so much and brings me a lot of hope, which is not always so easy to grasp these days…

      Love, light and infinity to you, from me, from Casablanca… Jx

      Like

      1. Wow, five weeks?! Whew!. Take care of you, friend, so we can meet in the physical post shift. You have many gifts to share with the world . Love, light and blessings to you, katelon

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Your writing is always such a joy to read, as we all travel vicariously through you – physically and beyond. Thank you for sharing these precious moments and helping us see the world through your eyes. It’s truly a delight.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow! Yours is a post I really look forward to, and let me assure you, you take a lot more people along on your journeys with your blog. And it’s nice to see that you’re not blinded by the welcoming attitude that people generally show to westerners as you also become aware of the shadow aspects of the country you travel in.
    Sad to see the plight of the elephant in Africa. We too have our own whose plight is more or less the same, though a lot of effort is taken by the government to protect the species. But it’s not easy to reverse the effects of a lifetime of raping mother nature and the price is paid by innocent creatures as well….do you know that here sometimes when elephant herds are forced to cross roads in the middle of forests built for our convenience, their soles of the feet get burnt in summer?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My God, that is a sad image indeed, breaks my heart… I saw a lot more elephants in India than I ever have in West Africa though. They are truly the most incredible creatures and their demise is just a tragedy for the whole world. Thankfully the Indian government is trying at least to change the past… I felt in Ghana too little effort has been made thus far… I hope it changes.

      I’m so glad you still enjoy my posts and mad stories and I truly appreciate your comments and readership. Fantastic to bring you along, long may it continue!

      All the best, for now, from Morocco.
      James x

      Like

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