Chale Wote 2013 (No Photos)

This weekend Chale Wote Street Art Festival took place in Jamestown, Accra. I have written about it here and here. The experience is overwhelming and as most modern human beings equipped with a camera, how we deal with it is: We take photos.

I myself took probably around 100 photos and that meagre number was because I was hindered by my energetic two-year-old to whole-heartedly focus on capturing images. I mean, the frames have everything! Dancing children, handsome young people, city folk going about their business, bright colors, Gh celebs, exotic vendors all on a backdrop of a charmingly decaying historic town set on a scenic cliff overlooking the ocean. There are breathtaking contrasts between poor and rich, crazy and sane, landfills and palaces, heritage and ruins, locals and visiting hipsters…(although there are the occasional creative overlap). Now, I have not even mentioned the fab street art…

However, apart from being the photo op of the year, some meetings with people on the street lingers on. Last year, by mistake, I invited myself to a Jamestown funeral and met some lovely people and had some great food (but that is another story), and this year I think one particular meeting with two ladies will stay framed in my mind. I was walking on High Street in the hot afternoon sun carrying my child, Ghana style, on my back. Two ladies walk in the opposite direction, maybe on their way to a party, both visibly dressed up in colorful fabrics, heels and gold chains around their necks.

– Oh, African lady! The ladies call my attention, but when I stop, quickly proceed to talking to my daughter.  Suddenly, they turn to me again:

– What are you doing here?

The question is a bit aggressive, or is it playful? I can’t tell.

– I am here for the festival, the two day arts festival, here in Jamestown! The Chale Wote festival?

The ladies show with their blank faces they have not heard of it. Or maybe they are busy deciphering my accent. But the “Chale Wote” makes them react.

– Chale wote? Chale wote?

This common nickname for the cheap, plastic flip-flip sandal many Ghanaians wear seem an unlikely name for a festival the ladies’ faces say. And they ask me a good question:

– Why “Chale wote”?

I think the few minutes passing between the ladies stopping me to talk and the final failure of me explaining why a cheap shoe is the symbol for a festival in their home town (“Chale wote I only take to the bath! Never when I leave the house!”) was art, street art at that. While the British flag proudly meets the wind at the many kings’ palaces in the area – “this is British Accra” the locals often say – the foreigner, then with the gun, now behind a camera, never really captured the place.

I am grateful to the Chale Wote Street Art Festival for graciously including me both as a spectator of and an actor in some exciting street art and for me to ponder the question: Why is an everyday item symbolising a spectacular break from the everyday life? (Yes, of course also “What am I doing here?”, needless to say!)




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