Our last few days at Kendeja, I saw the difference Zola’s friendship with Melvin has made to his self-confidence. It wasn’t just my son’s shoulders expanding. He was starting to identify himself as a young man capable of hanging out with other young men.
Missing VIDEO: Melvin and Zola, both on surfboards, holding hands while riding waves
I came back from a tiring morning’s teaching to find An-Sofie, a tall rangy Belgian girl of 28 with dancing dark eyes, folded onto a seat around the table with the kids. She reminded me of a gazelle, all long limbed natural beauty and quick on the uptake. Like her mother before her, she works as an air steward on Brussels Airways, but dreams of full-time travel.
Sampson loved her immediately – not only was she a gorgeous brunette (his fave), she could recite Fawlty Towers scripts in tandem with him! We couldn’t believe she hadn’t heard John Finnemore’s Cabin Pressure yet and know she’s going to love it. I found myself so invigorated by her interest and enthusiasm; I felt more excited about our trip seeing it afresh through her eyes. An hour in her company was as energising as the half jar of dark Belgian chocolate spread and clutch of kiwi fruits she so kindly left with us.
That evening Tata Joseph Akorli arrived also bearing gifts: 340L of extremely clean used oil he had collected for us from the Grand Royal Hotel. We are thrilled that his good turn to us has resulted in another – Grand Royal CEO Mr Wael Hafiz was delighted to learn he was an electrical engineer and has lots of work for him!
Tata Joseph joined us at coconut o’clock and told an extraordinary story of how, half a century ago in Ghana, his father threw him out of the family compound because he suspected he wasn’t his child. At that point Kwame, as he was known – the only one of his father’s children born, like him, on a Saturday – was 11 years old. His father, although illiterate, was a Big Man who “knew whites, had friends: a doctor, a lawyer” and in colonial times made his living as a litigant, putting his money behind other people’s gambits for land. He had 10 wives and Kwame was the 54th child, although “more came after”.
From when he was 11 to 18, Kwame lived in the forest, sleeping in a hammock, living off fruit, birds he shot down with a catapult and food his mother would hide for him in the branches of a tree. He said if his father had seen his face, he would have shot him. When I asked him why his father had thrown him out he said it was because he showed no respect for his elders. His father insisted that such respect should be automatic, but Kwame did not see why he should respect someone just because they were older, especially if they were drunk. He was the only one of his father’s children who dared to defy him in this way. I suggested that, if anything, this showed he was more like his father than any of the other children. He said his mother would agree; she said he was unapologetically defiant as a youth.
Tata Joseph said he survived through school. Teachers bought books and uniform for him. When he found one to support him, he would follow that teacher from school to school as they were posted on rotation. After school he trained as a mason, then a carpenter and moved to the city. His first job was in the morgue, but he didn’t last long there. He was “blessed” to get a job working for Americans who saw his potential and trained him to be an electrical technician.
In 1976, fifteen years since he last saw his father, the old man’s luck ran out. He lost a big case and was faced with a huge sum to pay to the court. He was asking all his children for money to avoid losing the big house. Someone told him that Kwame was a Big Man now, so he turned up to see him at work. By this point, his father was in his eighties and Kwame hardly recognised him. However, he immediately obtained a loan from a friend to give him the money he needed. There was no question that he would not help his father in his hour of need. He was proud to do so.
After that, Tata Joseph saw his father regularly till he passed away. He told us that, like his father, he is an impulsive man of strong passions, an “all or nothing guy”. Tata Joseph said he feels for us “like family” because he immediately recognised our adaptable and resilient spirit and feels a bond with us. I’m not so sure I’d cope left to fend for myself in a forest, but I couldn’t argue with his closer: “if you let me, I’ll just talk” – hmm, definitely one of us then.
Tata Joseph said will definitely see us again in Cape Town – he has a house in the winelands somewhere, he’s not sure where – and was off back to work at 7pm. He rarely gets home before 11pm. He’s 65.
I think that I would like to make a movie of Tata Joseph’s life. Who wouldn’t enjoy watching such an African success story?
On this one amazing day, I had all these inspiring chats: with An-Sophie, Tata Joseph and Ana the Argentian-American doctor working in the field of post-Ebola syndrome who told me her exchange of a few words with me in the mornings had been the one bright spot in her day. They made me appreciate the value of human interaction – and the critical difference simple positivity can make. I was similarly uplifted by brief exchanges with our Canadian NGO friends Landis and Kent, and the lovely Daryl, Sheila and Justin of US National Guard 14th:30th Engineers.
This was in contrast with limited conversations with a couple of other guests of the resort who looked down their noses at us, and our raison d’etre, as if we were some out-dated zoo exhibit: amusing but irrelevant. I couldn’t help it if they didn’t get it. Their opinions didn’t oppress me, but their hauteur left me feeling drained.
We were interviewed by the far more enthusiastic Bai Best of the Daily Observer and former Miss Liberia, Patrice Juah for Tropics magazine. I can’t wait to see the coverage and what they made of the combined Sampson gabble…
Momo the mechanic who sourced steering restriction bolts for Sampson invited us to his wedding to his ladylove Meme – Momo and Meme, how cute is that? We were sadly unable to attend because of a prior engagement with the SA Ambassador and staff. This was the fabulous occasion of Counsellor Sean Pike’s farewell party, before he left Liberia for his new posting in Singapore. I think the Sampsons ate more in one meal than they had in the previous week.
Many many thanks to dear Regina who joins Sean in our list of major sponsors amongst SA embassy staff.
In high season, weekend wedding photo shoots are back to back in Kendeja. Prince, super-friendly waiter and star of Sampson’s ‘Walk of Death’ last time we were here, told me a terrible story. He’d been at a wedding last weekend where the previous girlfriend of the groom had taken revenge on the bridal couple by stealing the wedding rings just before the ceremony. They’d hardly had time to recover from this set back before they arrived at the reception with their guests to find the evil ex had gone to the caterers, offered to act as delivery girl and stolen all the food! Prince said the bride had cried so much, her eyes were still swollen a week later.
As plots go, I think that pisses all over Bridesmaids.