Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Boxing in Bukom"

So I realize I'm going out of order, and still haven't updated about the rest of last week, but I promise it will come...eventually.  I'm just extremely excited about what happened yesterday and today, and don't want to wait to write about it for fear of losing the details.  Another student in the group, Adrian, and I have been wanting to go into Jamestown to photograph some of the boxers.  There's an area of Jamestown, known as Bukom, where many of the Ga people live.  There's a huge boxing subculture in Bukom, and the area is famous for producing exceptionally good boxers.  Bukom's a very poor area, and as our friend James later put it, "You have to fight to stay alive."  Most of the men in the area are fishermen and make very little money.  Later, while watching them train, I realized that they seem to put everything they have into boxing as a means to create a better life for themselves.  Even if they don't fight professionally, boxing seems to offer a strong sense of fulfillment to these men.

But anyway, to kind of back up and go to the beginning again, we had this naive idea that we could just go to Bukom, find a boxing gym, go in, make friends with the boxers, and then that would be that.  Our one driver, Big Sammy, drove us to Bukom, and seemed hesitant to just let us out and walk around.  It's not exactly a touristy area of the city, and most Ghanians who aren't from there probably don't even go there, so I think Sammy wanted to make sure we were ok.  He took us back into this outside boxing ring, and there were only women washing clothes around.  He talked to them in a native language, and then told us that the boxers don't come until later in the day (this was around 1:30).  Then when we walked back to the car, Sammy started talking to some men who were sitting outside, and I guess asking them where he could find some of the boxers.  So one man said he would show us, and we followed him for a few minutes, and we ended up going into this little hut where there were about 7 men just sitting around. It was a little intimidating at first, and we couldn't understand what Sammy was saying to them for the first few minutes, and then one of the men stuck out his hand to shake ours and told us that we were welcome.  It turns out that he is James "Bukom Fire" Armah, the 3rd best boxer in Ghana in the welterweight division.  He told us that he would start his training at 4, and then he showed us his gym so that we would know how to find it when we came back.  So Adrian and I left, and then ended up taking a cab back to Bukom at 3:30.

When we got to the gym, there were a lot of other guys and children setting things up and getting everything ready for the training.  Like when we first met James, it was a little bit intimidating at first, because you could sense the others sizing us up and trying to decide if they minded that we were there or not.  After a little while, though, everyone completely warmed up to us, and we ended up having the most amazing experience.  James, another younger boxer named Henry, and a few of the other guys, all started an intense workout.  The gym is outside, and basically just consists of one ring and two hanging boxing bags, but they definitely don't let that keep them from working incredibly hard.  While the older men were training (the younger boys, some as young as 6 years old) were also going through a different kind of training.  They were being taught how to stand and then later on a few of the boys sparred in the ring.  Even though they were fooling around half the time, you could tell there was a certain maturity to the boys and they seemed to take what they were learning very seriously, and you can tell they look up to people like James and Henry so much.  But I was so impressed at how respectful and mature they were even in the ring.  The one little boy got the area above his eyebrow gashed open, and he was completely nonchalant about it.  

As we were leaving James and Henry asked for our phone numbers, and one thing we've learned about Ghanians is that if you give them your number, they will call...repeatedly.  It's been a little bit annoying for some of the other students in the group who didn't realize this at first and casually gave their numbers to acquaintances who asked for them.  I really liked Henry and James, so I didn't mind them having my number.  As we were in the cab back, Henry called me and asked if I wanted to go with him to work out this morning, but I told him I had another story to work on and would let him know in the morning.  Then James called to make sure we got back ok, which was very sweet of him.  We made plans with them to go back to Bukom today during their training again. 

We have a tourism story due on Tuesday, which is actually a little bit stupid, considering that Accra isn't a very touristy place, and also just because of the fact that there's SO much to write about and learn here, that the idea of having to do something "touristy" just seems a little bit disappointing.  But anyway, I decided to do the Arts Centre for my piece, which is this small craft market that is made up of a bunch of little shops, and is a good place for foreigners to come and buy African crafts and artifacts.  My friend David ended up coming with me, and the trip was pretty successful and we ended up speaking to the chairman of the whole Centre and interviewing him, which was good.

But anyway, after I was done at the Arts Centre, Adrian and I went back to Bukom around 2:30 in the afternoon.  James doesn't live in Bukom anymore, so it takes him a little while to get to the gym, and we sat outside and waited for him.  I feel like in Bukom, more than anywhere else here yet, people stare and are amazed at us being there the most.  It's actually really amazing to experience being such a minority for once in my life.  But James came, and it was still a little bit early, so we just sat outside and talked with him for a little bit, and came to learn a little bit about his personal life.  It turns out that James is 34, and his wife died 8 years ago, leaving him with two children.  He was telling us that he really wants us to come to his home, meet his parents, children, brothers and sisters, etc.  He is just so genuine with wanting us to experience his culture, and he even taught us a little bit of Ga, and wants us to keep learning it.  When people truly befriend you here, you feel as though you're their friend for life, and they will go out of their way to help you.  James seems to be especially like this, and for whatever reason, he's taken a really strong liking to me and Adrian, and I feel really fortunate that we've met him.

So people started slowly getting to the gym, and a few men (who I hadn't seen there before) came for a little bit with a baby girl, who was probably one 1 or so.  Her name was Isabella, and we were the first white people she'd ever seen in her life...and she was petrified of us.  Anytime her father put her near us, she would get this terrified expression on her face and try to get her body as far away from us as possible.  It was a little bit of an overwhelming and upsetting situation, but it really makes sense for a child who has never seen a white person to just become so instinctively shocked and scared, I guess.  But they ended up leaving, and then the rest of the crew mingled in, and everyone started getting ready and setting everything up again.  Of course my camera battery died within the first ten minutes, but we hung out for a little bit, and I think we're going to see them again tomorrow.  Henry asked me to come work out with tomorrow at 7 in the morning, but I have an interview at 11, so I'm disappointed I won't be able to go again.

But now that I've written a novel about the past two days, I should probably stop and put up a few pictures.  

James "Bukom Fire" Armah


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