Song of Renewal

It was 30 degrees as we travelled down
the Kumasi roads we’d only seen
in newspapers
black and white,

intangible to our eager souls,

finally able to leave the bus and
feel sandy dirt like linen
under our fingers.

Watching the paths grow in front of us
twisting as we moved past the
Obour Nkabene Mountains,
and let the greenness fill our eyes.

Sun fell through the windows
and covered our skin

as the engine became a gentle hum
fading into the landscape,
quiet like the murmured voices
beside me:

“I can’t wait to meet them”

“I’m ready to paint”.

We heard the drums before we saw them –
the Ashanti people dancing in bright Dashikis
to the boom of the Abuko rhythm,

I got lost in the sounds and the colours
adorning their bodies
with orange feathers
and yellow roses.

They were rustling
autumn trees as their leaves
began to drop away –

playing a song of renewal,
ready to restart if given
the chance,

like all of us sitting on that rowdy bus,
who didn’t realise then
we were moving
beyond what we could see

we just knew we wanted
to feel the calmness
found in difference,

never content at home
because the shapes changed
in front of us but we stayed
the same

 

 

Echoing Drums

After leaving the hot van
and feeling the humidity
of the city stick to the
back of our throats,

we saw the children come towards
us – arms and
legs flailing across the terracotta ground,

sticking to the only words they know

me daa si me daa si
with smiles on their
pure faces,

excited to see the people who
could make their futures change.

They showed us that
suffering is a story
you learn to love

but don’t have to accept,

like the Adidas t-shirt that
doesn’t quite fit, or the
blue trousers that are a
little too short

when those around you
wear gold shirts
and brown shorts, representing
where they learn and grow.

(The country washes
over us all, mucky water
clinging to our delicate
bodies).

ye fro wo sen? what is your name?
ye fro wo sen? what is your name?”

eager hands wanting to caress
our skin –

they follow us like the past
we’re trying to forget, as the high
tones of the dondo drums echo in my head;

“help us help us”.

To them we are hope,
not lost souls trying to
find meaning in simple things.

 

 

Blank Spaces and Vacant Places

Adom showed us around Hill Top School,
a proud head teacher whose
achievements echoed in his
every footfall,

his pride blinded me
as he led us to an empty
room

inside I got goose bumps; it
was cold stone and neglect.

No books to read or paper
to write on, nothing to work
towards, only grey walls
gathering dust,

he showed us the blank spaces
where we could leave our mark
in shapes.

We chose handprints in the
outline of a heart;
blue smudging into green
like land into the sea,

after covering dark patches with
paint all morning, we spent
the afternoon stamping books,

classifying them as our own before
passing them on.

Later we built their bookcases
hammering pieces of wood
like drums talking to each other
in thuds,
making stable homes
for the books to be loved in,

cramming those shelves, I knew the children
would soon be full of knowledge,
able to leave their own marks in
vacant places, their words an ocean
eroding the shore.

The look on their small faces
was delight in its purest form,

like finishing your favourite book
for the first time.

 

 

Green Wheelbarrows

Content, we walked back to the
bus, travelling 330 miles north
in search of our next buzz,

all reading our favourite books and
asking Richard to turn the radio up
as far as it would go, singing Ghanaian
songs as loud as our voices would let us,

chop my money, chop my money,
chop my money, cause I don’t care.

The sun began to fall and we did too,
dancing until our tired bones demanded
rest.

I woke to morning’s heat warming the worn leather
seats. The flow of water hissing in a secret
language I desperately wanted to understand.

Starting at stage 1, we worked our way up
the stairs, watching Kintampo Waterfalls
grow in front of us until we drowned in
the layers…

Finally Bolgatanga was in sight.

The heat exhausted me,
as we met four year olds who had
never seen their parents faces.

They called strangers Maame and Papa.

This devotion made me push on –
build a home for them to muse in,

the houses we made were only mud,
but they were strong

we took our time, enjoying the
peaceful monotony of creating –

gathering earth into messy piles,
letting the clumps
seep into our fingernails,

creating shelter from
ground sprinkled with water,
(gentle compared to the pounding
waterfalls)

shaped by our own hands,

finally thinking we’d
made a change.

We threw soil carelessly into rusted
green wheelbarrows, feeling the
rickety wheels give way under our hands,

clanging like the low drums
from days before,

but pushing on anyway.

 

Naomi Riley-Dudley

Naomi Riley-Dudley

Naomi Riley-Dudley is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Loughborough University.

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