Boarders not Borders - From Accra to Lome
As it was usual for any day the Aflao border teemed with activities. Customs dressed in their camo green or blue border uniform with berets walked to and fro in respect of their official duties. Different calibres of travel groups arrived in buses at the border daily so naturally the days always looked busy. The sun was also hot in the sky and besides the officials, there were traders hawking knockoff goods to weary travellers, phones, shoes and clothes, asking to be paid in whatever African currency that was currently in their possession. The big platform that said “Goodbye Ghana” was like a Seeing Eye, Women, and men and children transporting goods from Ghana to Togo and from Togo to Ghana walked under it, big trucks, small cars and motorcycles littered the area, getting into one activity or the other. After we arrived, we stayed in the bus until it was clear for us to move out.
For our collective, getting through customs was easy, we had papers but our vehicles did not (a mistake from the car company). Lack of car papers delayed us at the border for more than half of the day and after subsequent fines were paid and guarantees about our vehicles given, we were allowed into Togo. On the other side, we were greeted by the blue sea as we drove into Togo, fresh air and the sweet scent of local dishes that bashed against our face. We welcomed it all with excited chatter and conversations that compared Ghana to Togo as our tour bus zoomed into the heart of the city marked with superb looking edifices.
French music blasted in the streets as we alighted from the bus and took stock of the environment. Locals moved about on foot or on scooters and despite the fact that most members of Surf Ghana speak mainly English; they were still excited and eager to socialize. In Lome, we were guests of Koffi Sename, the founder of Woelab, and their office where we drove to was located in rue Kala, a white three story building with a nice view of the city from a humble point. The meet and greet with our hosts led to the crew being taken to try the best foofoo. By the time we were done eating it was nearly night time, after that, we were driven to the house designated for our hospitality. We lost a day of activities at the border and after arguing with customs it was better to just rest.
Morning came in Lome the same way night did, the birds whispered it and then the sun confirmed it. With just one bathroom available in the facility, the crew dashed in and out like lightning to take a shower, the drivers, and then sooner everyone was ready in time for Atchou, our Lome guide and facilitator, to arrive and take us, first, for breakfast, and then to Palais de Lome where we were to have an exhibition.
Like the originals, skateboarding in Togo started in the streets. But there is always someone who pushed the trend and for the skateboarders in Togo he is called Adey. According to the spokesperson of Bloodnation, Kokoutse “Blackie” Mawuena, Adey was the first person to skate actively in Togo before he left his impact for greener pastures in India. For Blackie, it was his brother who gave him his first skateboard to carry on skating.
It will not make sense to talk about the history of skateboarding in Togo without talking about how skateboards get into Togo. Togo is known to have the most flexible seaport which bedrocks the importation of automobile to major countries like Nigeria and Ghana, the influx of automobiles into Togo is on a daily basis and after the machines are offloaded from the containers, guess what? Sometimes there is a skateboard(s). On seeing the skateboard the dude at the wharf calls the street guys to inform them and then he sells to the fastest buyer. It is through this process that skateboarding developed in Lome. The skateboarding scene in Lome is still teething, they have no skate shop, no skate park or skate competitions to hone their skills.
It was hard to tell who was who as the skateboarders cruised and tried tricks at the Palais de Lome. Behind them was the freshly painted, magnificent and pristine structure of the Palais, still in construction but standing elegantly like it had been in existence for years. In front of the skateboarders were water fountains and ponds, men working in the far distance on ornaments, and all around were trees that served refreshing breeze and served as shade for members of the committee who watched the skateboarders, including Sonia Lawson. The crew enjoyed the French hospitality to the full extent, cruising on restricted lands and making pictures.
With thanks to the Minister of Tourism, we had permission to visit notable sites to make exhibitions. A good example was the Hotel de La Paix, a historical tourist destination that was abandoned due to violent strikes that pushed citizens of Togo into Nigeria and the Volta of Ghana for refuge.
The compound was littered in the dirt, old things dropped haphazardly on the floor. Broken glass, walls smeared and broken. The Hotel was as expected, already in shreds but the vital parts of its architecture and mystique were still intact, and being in the building one could easily imagine how Hotel De La Paix looked and felt in its glory days.
After cleaning up a good area by moving broken furniture, rugs and sweeping, we had another exhibition pairing the Togo skateboarders and Ghanaians, making content that captured the very essence of the building. From there we headed to the once well-designed but now demolished Hotel du Tropicana.
To be able to skate at the Palais de Congres was a big honour for Surf Ghana. It was a grand square with more than enough space to cruise and just the right amount of gaps and obstacles to jump. It showed, for the most part, how big a thing like skateboarding can be if the government gave consent for a week. To be able to make photos was a vibe mostly because of the blue sky. The sky took on an unusual blue and coupled with the blue of the environment, everything blended into perfection. Seeing skateboarders doing tricks down the whole eight staircases and land it brought tears to eyes.
To stare at history and be a big part of it was special at that moment. It was perfect; we had toured cities in Ghana teaching skateboarding and then took the good energy across the border. From the Palais de Congres, word had started to spread that a group was in town to have fun with the boys, the sun itself had relented and this encouraged more people to come out to play. On seeing the new crowd of skateboarders, we moved from there to Colombe De La Paix for the final exhibition
Bloodnation is the known skateboarding crew in Togo since the day began we had met a few but more showed up at Colombe De La Paix square for the street exhibition. Not all twenty-nine of them but a good number and their friends showed up for the show.
We began slowly but as music escaped through the speakers, the streets stopped their movement to take part in the exhibition. Bikers parked in numbers and stared, other men and women sat on fences or on the sidewalks and watched with keen eyes at the activities curated by Surf Ghana. As for the kids, the kids did what kids do and joined the procession out of curiosity. It is common knowledge that people in society see skateboarding as something difficult to do. Skating in the streets results into stares that turn into laughter, but after you perfect tricks passers-by always get excited and ask how it is done, suddenly they wish to learn and after a few minutes of learning they see that is not entirely a difficult thing. To get the party going the collective of Surf Ghana hosted an Ollie competition, a dance competition and other fun games that resulted in prize giveaways.
The skateboarders in Lome wanted us to stay longer and when it was certain that we could not, they promised to visit Accra in numbers to return the visit. The saying “Boarders not Borders” never made more sense and it is why we push hard for the development of skateboarding in Ghana, and Africa in general, it removes the fear of travelling and getting to know our immediate kinfolk and surroundings.