Africa / Ghana

A day in my life as a Ghanaian signwriter

One of the loveliest afternoons of my life was spent writing proverbs onto pieces of slate beside an idyllic lagoon in southwestern Ghana. I was spending a few days at Meet Me There African Home Lodge – an insanely tranquil retreat where time seemed to stop the minute I walked through the gates. I find it very hard to switch off, even on holiday – but this was like someone had flicked a switch in my brain, and suddenly everything was quiet and still. I’ve never had such an instant reaction. The sun was high, the lagoon was glassy flat, and there was a soft covering of dust from the harmattan wind. Gorgeous African fabrics covered each seat and cushion, and the soporific sounds of Fat Freddie’s Drop drifted out from behind the bar.

I stayed in my Ghanaian stupor for the length of my trip, reading for hours, writing, simply swaying in a hammock. I got up early each morning though, for a swim across the lagoon before breakfast. Even later on in my trip, on an unexpected 10-hour bus ride, when I would normally have been climbing the walls with boredom – I sat and pondered, watching the world go by out the window, snoozing, listening to music, still and calm. There is something magic in that dusty Ghanaian air.

But back to the proverbs. The lodge was putting down a new path and had a few bits of slate leftover. The owner, Dougal, knew I was an artist and asked if I would mind writing a few proverbs on some of the leftover slate? Ghanaians love their proverbs; they are written on walls, on signs, they are quoted at you on the street, children are even tested on them in schools. One piece of slate was the perfect size to sit on the bar – and for that one we chose “When the cock is drunk he forgets about the hawk.” It made us laugh, thinking about the barman who often helped himself to shots of akpeteshie – the lethal Ghanaian homebrew.

I sat in a fabric-covered chair by the lagoon and began to create the words on the slate. The barman, knowing my fondness for Cuban music, put on Buena Vista Social Club, and my rested mind was filled with drawing, music and the tropical lagoon in front of me. Dougal “paid” me in espresso martinis. Local Ghanaians wandered over, sat down, chatted to me about what I was writing. It was an afternoon of absolute bliss – I wanted to stay and be a Ghanaian signwriter forever.

The second sign we came up with would go next to the lagoon – “No one tests the depth of a river with 2 feet” I wrote. And the third, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but utterly perfect for the lodge: “There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.”

My little artworks are still there, planted on the Ghanaian earth, on a Ghanaian bar, alongside the artworks of others who have passed through on their travels, and left a little piece of themselves behind too – more signs, painted murals. You often find you take a little piece of a place with you when you travel – it’s nice every now and again to know you’ve left a little piece of yourself behind.

  • Meet Me There is a non profit lodge on the coast of Ghana, in the Volta Region. Its is staffed by members of the local community, and proceeds go towards its partner NGO, Dream Big Ghana, which has various community projects, the main one being the installation of composting toilets.
  • Dorms, double rooms and private suites are available, all in traditional Ghanaian style. There are also all-inclusive packages including three meals per day, activities and optional airport pickup from Accra.
  • Activities include boat trips on the Volta River, market tours, turtle watching at night, meeting the fishermen, a tour of Keta slave fort, and having clothes made by a local seamstress.

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