Born in Ghana – back to my Takoradi roots (Part 2)

The story so far – boG1rn in Ghana, raised in the UK, it was time to go back to the place of my birth.

Me, my parents, a 50-year-old map of Takoradi and a bunch of old photographs. Oh, and a Ghanaian name, Yaw, that I never knew I had.

 


Patrick, our driver, hired for the duration, isn’t entirely convinced.

“You want to go here, here, here and here?”, he says, doubtfully, pointing at the map.

Born in Ghana, raised in the UK

Takoradi Sports Club

Me & my dad

Now Takoradi is an industrial port city, and isn’t exactly on the Ghana tourist circuit, but it does its best with what it’s got. There’s a market. There are beaches. So to be fair to Patrick, he is a bit non-plussed why anyone would want to visit 1. Elder Dempster shipping line offices, 2. Government Technical Secondary School, 3. Maxmart supermarket, 4. Takoradi Polytechnic, 5. Takoradi Sports Club, and 6. Takoradi General Hospital.

Takoradi Sports Club, the old swimming pool

The old pool at the Takoradi Sports Club

The first five on the list are a trip down memory lane for mum and dad. The shipping firm that brought them here from the UK; the two schools where my father taught metalwork and technical drawing; the supermarket they sometimes shopped in; the sports and social club where 1960s’ expats gathered to swim and drink beer – the bar still open but the palm-fringed pool long since abandoned and derelict.

We encounter nothing but kindness, mixed with occasional incomprehension (“You want to come in and look round the school? This school? Now? Are you sure?”), but whenever things look to be at an impasse I play my trump card. I whip out my passport, point to the birthplace line and announce, “See, I’m Ghanaian! My name is Yaw!”

It works every time.

By now, even Patrick is getting into the spirit of things, and questions locals fiercely as we search for the house that the folks once lived in. He seems personally affronted that assorted builders, schoolchildren, shop-workers and market-traders can’t recall a bungalow by a banana tree on a hill near a church, or whatever random fact it is that mum has just decided must mean it’s ‘our’ house.

A plantain-lined garden where my baby basket was once placed

Eventually, Patrick’s forensic questioning prevails.

We stand in the dripping heat outside 13 Dixcove Hill Road. I sit on the corner terrace of a plantain-lined garden where my baby basket was once placed. G95

Mum and dad pose for photographs in front of their old house. Forty-six years fall away, like blossom from the garden flowers, and a young married couple, with their lives before them, take baby to the market and learn to sail in the warm harbour waters.

Ghana 062

Home again, after 46 years

Later, we drive around the harbour – an industrial place of sheds and warehouses – but Takoradi Sailing Club is long gone.

Taking baby to market

The market though – according to the folks – is exactly at it ever was. I read this later, in mum’s travel diary, which she says she could have written four decades ago, so little have things changed:

Dried fish, palmnuts, pyramids of tomatoes, chillis, pawpaw – and heaps of dried refuse, broken wood and straw, and chickens with their legs tethered. And a mother, scrubbing diligently at her one-year-old, naked astride a gutter, a calabash of clean water emptied over him.

Mum and baby, Takoradi market

First trip to the market for Jules

Kumasi, Ghana, West Africa

The day I came back

I’m a bit of a curiosity in any case. This is not a tourist market, and strangers cause a bit of a stir. Especially when – in reply to the question, “Hey, where you from?” – I can say, quite truthfully. “Takoradi. This is where I was born”.

That gets warm approval, but when they ask my name and I say “My name is Yaw”, there’s almost a riot. The stallholders like that I was born in Takoradi. They LOVE that I also have a Ghanaian name.

Special delivery

There’s one more stop on this journey into my Ghanaian past.

We arrive at Takoradi General Hospital and follow mum as she strides confidently through narrow corridors, dredging up decades-old memories. Sick people turn their heads at this strange little party, but mum is undeterred. “This is it”, she says, as we find the original front of the building, the wide window-lit corridor, and the stairs up to the maternity ward.

One of the many extraordinary things about my extraordinary parents is that it didn’t occur to them that mum might go back to England to give birth – as every other expat mother did, in 1960s’ Ghana, while the fathers worked on, waiting months to see their child. She wasn’t going to leave dad, and go back on her own, when this is where she lived, and that was that.

So she gave birth to her first child – me, Julian, Yaw – in the very basic delivery room at Takoradi General Hospital, and this is where I now stand, next to my mum, holding her hand.

Standing in the room in which I was born.

Home.

G115 G117 G121Ghana 082Ghana 083

Jules at home in Takoradi

Want to see more of my Ghana stories?
Born in Ghana – read Part 1 of this story, where it all began
My name is Yaw – the day I went back to Takoradi market
Giant snails and soccer magazines – a visit to Kumasi, largest market in West Africa

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15 Comments
  1. Hi Jules – this is so touching. I particularly like the photo of you and your mum at the hospital where you were born. Your mother’s face is glowing with pride, emotion, pure joy. A treat to behold……………

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      • You’re very welcome. I think it’s important to visit your birth place or at least the place in which you grew up. Makes you feel more at peace and in touch with yourself, and what better place to visit than Africa 🙂

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  2. I think you should change the name of your blog to “yaw told me” 😉
    What lovely stories and it must have been so touching for your parents to be taken back there after all these years!
    And please tell your Mum fromme I think she was increadibly brave to give birth in a place like that, where I am sure teh facilities were not exactly state of the art! The very thought if it makes my blood run cold!!!

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  3. Hi Jules, your site is great and I love your travel stories, but apart from leaving a comment (which you need to sign into something for) or your Twitter username, you have made it hard for people to contact you, I cant find your email address on the site, maybe I’m wrong. Please can you let me know where I can find it? Regards, Jonny

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    • Thanks Jonny, really appreciate the comment – and thanks for persevering with the site! I’m in the process of redesigning my ‘About’ page, so you should be able to reach me a little bit easier in the future. Thanks for the feedback, and I’m pleased you like the site. Much appreciated.

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  4. Really enjoyed reading about your trip back to Takoradi, i lived there with my parents, father worked for Elder Dempster Line, and i remember many hours of swimming in the salt water swimming pool at the club. We lived in the circle, up the hill…i intend to go back in a couple of years..

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    • Thanks Paul, how wonderful to bring back those memories! I saw that pool in a sad state but heard all the stories and did my best to picture it in its heyday. The bar still operates, though so best wishes for your trip – I wish you well.

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