Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ode to the Aduanaba Information Centre

If you have spent any time visiting Humjibre, chances are you’ve been woken up at 5 A.M.

Indeed, this town, known as the place of rest, comes wildly alive very early thanks to the two information centres in town.  Over loudspeakers, announcements are broadcast at peak volume; loud enough for everyone in Humjibre to hear them, loud enough to wake you up.
When I first arrived, I loved the concept. It’s a giant audible internet message board! It’s Humjibre’s morning news program!  It’s like someone took the 'Local' section of the newspaper and yelled it at you! Neat!  My enthusiasm did not last long…

Somehow, I’ve adapted my sleep patterns to it and the loud voices in Sefwi don’t always wake me up.  Now,  I only really wake up if I recognize the voice.  GHEI often makes announcements about its outreaches or if they have a special PSA like the one Aggie made last month, but why, Saga, why?  Why do you have to tell everyone about the Early Childhood Literacy classes so early!
After several months of lingering curiosity, I set off to the origin of the early morning noises.  I’d spent a summer hearing questions from volunteers that I felt needed to be answered: “Why are they so early?” “What are they announcing?” “Singing? Really!?!”

With Lawrence in tow, as my translator/cultural attachĂ©, we set off for the Aduanaba Information Centre near the centre of town to answer those questions and learn more about the early morning cacophony.  We found it empty but I had my first look inside, and with all the equipment set up just so, it was like a compact, pirate radio station.  There was room for only one.

 We asked around where the proprietor was.  Lawrence gave him a call, while I snapped some photos.  He was at home, and off we went.  We met Isaac Baidoo as he was spreading cocoa out to dry after a day of farming.  We sat on a bench in front of his house, and I presented our mission in English. He looked confused, so I nodded to Lawrence who presented our mission in Sefwi.  He was still confused, but now also amused.  

For 1 ($.75) Cedi, Isaac makes announcements for others, or allows others to make announcements, at two times, once in the morning and once in the evening.  Each follows a similar sort of pattern, but the mornings are laid out this way: Between 4:30 and 5 AM is the time for various religious announcements, whether they be church gatherings, preaching, or a new sect that might be setting up.  The price for this time is negotiable and often Isaac lets them on for free for no more than 20 minutes, expecting that if they are blessed by donations, he will also be blessed with a small gift from them.  This is often when the singing happens: Pre-Sunrise Hymns in Humjibre.
The second segment is for personal announcements, and these announcements happen between  5 – 5:30 AM.  These announcements can be a place to make announcements about important events in families such as funerals, or births, and it is when the chief would be broadcasting decrees.  It is also a place to air out grievances, such as announcing theft from your farm, whether the culprit is known or not. One can also broadcasts insults and comebacks to insults slung out earlier, which seems to me could lead to a vicious war of words over the airwaves. I suppose the 1 cedi price tag restricts the frequencies of this, I mean, surely at some point it’s going to cost too much to continue insulting each other… I posed this to Isaac.

He assured me that he has a small interview with everyone before they make an announcement to judge the content of their message, and, I’m guessing, the content of their character. I don’t think the chief would let excessive hate flinging happen in Humjibre, either.  In fact, the chief was the one who decreed the time limits on the announcements to begin with.

The last session lasts between 5:30 and 6 AM, but often longer.  This is where people can try their hand selling some products, like all natural healing balms or various other wonder cures, like efficient door to door selling.  Different chop (*food) stalls along the Humjibre strip will take this time to announce special additions to their menus or moments when soup is on. Breakfast is one of the busiest moments for the chop industry in Humjibre, so these last minute announcements for ampesi  or hot stew dishes with yams are probably a good bang for their cedi. 
Isaac has been in the announcement business for five years now.  The Aduanaba Information Centre is one of two announcement systems in Humjibre, I asked about competition between the two.  “Daabi, daabi,” he said, quickly shaking his head.  They were the first to make announcements in Humjibre, they were pioneers in the field, and he affords them all respect.  Yes, I said, but what if you both make an announcement at the same time?  Who wins then? The loudest volume?  Isaac laughed at my barbaric view of media, and said that he defers to them.  They give him a signal when it’s his turn, and he starts his announcing.

I was impressed by how complex this system was.  From my bed, stewing in groggy frustration, it sounds like the blown-out chaos of overly excited voices, and now I see there’s not just a regulatory system in place but consideration and respect.
I asked Isaac if I could make an announcement, he said of course.  I asked if I could give him some nice, soft music to play in the morning, music that wouldn’t wake us up but give us a relaxing sleep for another 20 minutes.  I imagined Chopin lilting out of the speakers. 
He said sure, it’s your money.  I asked if people would like this, because there are a number of people at GHEI, now and previously, that would probably love it.  He said maybe, but not many people complain about the morning announcements in Humjibre.  Most people, he said, complain during the evening announcements, when their nightly news comes through their radios, when they’re trying to sit and have a meal and a conversation with the family, when the youth are hanging out on the streets.
Isaac and Lawrence
Lawrence elaborated, “Everyone’s already awake at 5 AM. The only one still sleeping is you.”

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