Return to Tema: the search for house and school

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In the previous post I wrote about my return to Tema in 2018, and the Accra-Tema Motorway my father worked on in the early 60s. During the year we lived in Tema, between my 6th and 7th birthdays, I attended a school in the same neighbourhood. Back in Tema after fifty-odd years it was a given I would try to find our old house and my old school. I thought I’d managed the latter.

Tema Parents’

A lot of my memories of Ghana are bound up with the house where we lived. Understandably. It was where I spent much of my time. The place I spent next most time was my school, which was not far away. Before Mrs SC and I visited Ghana at the end of 2018, I spoke with my mother to see what she remembered. She told me that the school was the PTA School: Parent Teachers Association School. I think that’s the interference of PTAs at later schools. The school is now, and always was, the TPA – Tema Parents’ Association – School. It must only recently have opened when we moved there. The school’s website says “The School was set up in May 1963”. We arrived in Ghana in the late summer and I was enrolled there for the 1963-1964 school year.

I knew before Mrs SC and I travelled to Ghana in 2018 that it would be difficult to find or visit our old house, but I was hopeful about the school. I forgot we’d be there during the Christmas and New Year holidays. Foolishly, I made no attempt to get in touch in advance. When we arrived we realised the school would be closed. Still, once we’d found ourselves transport and a driver (the competent Richmond), it seemed that we might be able see the school at least from the outside. And maybe explore modern-day Tema a little too.

Which is more or less what happened.

Preparatory school

I didn’t have a proper address for the house where we used to live. No matter how well I remembered the “10-NIC-2” painted up on the corner of the house, it doesn’t constitute an address. At least, nothing anyone or any database I consulted could help me identify. So my first point of contact had to be the school. I knew it was within walking distance, because some days I’d walk home with friends. Most mornings I think Mum would take me to school. We’d walk then, too, as she didn’t drive.

Nowadays there are two sites for the TPA School, so we visited both to see if I remembered anything.

The first site we found our way to turned out to be the kindergarten and preparatory school on Sgt. Adjety Drive. The pupil age range would be right for me, back then, but the buildings were new and the district seemed very built-up. Looking through the bars of the locked gate, into the school’s drive, I saw an old school desk. I don’t know if it was there temporarily or is on regular display, but it did look very familiar. But it was the only thing that did. So we set off for the second address.

Junior school

This was the site of the junior and senior schools on Herman Gmeiner Road. We couldn’t stop on the main road, but turned down a side road (no name on Google) and parked. We had a view of the school buildings across a dry playing field. This looked familiar. At least, I couldn’t remember the taller buildings, but the one-story wing of classrooms with the pierced brick walls spoke to me. Here, I think , I’d been a pupil.

The place was very quiet. I walked up and down and took some photos and after a while a caretaker, I suppose, came out of the main building and watched me. I waved, but he clearly didn’t feel like coming all the way across to the fence in the heat of the morning, and I can’t blame him.

Opposite the school, on the side road, were two rather nice looking houses. Perhaps they were accommodation for senior teachers? But it was 28th December and I didn’t feel I had any right to go knocking on doors or ringing doorbells. I had to be satisfied with my photos.

After the school, Richmond drove us along several side roads around the school as we looked for any houses that might ring bells for me. It seems like most homes in the neighbourhood now are hidden away behind walls and gates – compounds I suppose. Access for a closer view wasn’t an option, so we gave up.

Second thoughts

Now, sitting at home and looking at Google’s satellite photos of the districts around the two schools, I wonder. Was I too quick rejecting the kindergarten site? Sure, the school buildings are new, but (from above) the area looks more like it might have been the right place. There’s a medical centre, Tema Polyclinic Community 2. There are 26 Communities in Tema and Community 2 suggests an earlier established district. I can certainly remember visiting a medical centre. Perhaps the ‘2’ in 10-NIC-2 referred to Community 2?

TPA Kindergarten in Tema Community 2 on Google Maps
TPA Kindergarten in Tema Community 2 on Google Maps

Google Street View doesn’t extend far. It just follows Lumumba Drive, but exploring around the district near the school I find buildings that could be similar to the ones I remember living in. I’m just going to have to go back!

Street view Tema Community 2
Street view Community 2

And after

And after we had explored Tema looking for the school and the home I remembered, Richmond drove us through the market. This is huge. Far, far larger than the little food market I remember visiting with my mother as a child. And beyond we tried but couldn’t access Tema Harbour without the necessary papers, so drove back to Accra along the coast road. It was in a far worse condition than the motorway, but probably less used by commuters.

We stopped for a drink at Titanic Beach, looking back through the harmattan haze we could just make out the shape of port buildings and ships’ superstructures – or maybe it was just wishful thinking. People bathed in the sea, a woman walked to market with eggs – eggs! – in a basket balanced on her head. A lizard sunned itself on a rock.

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