We all awoke early and full of excitement in the house on a hot and sunny Saturday. The deadline for all of this years Ashanti Empress clothes to be made had passed only the night before and I had been collecting heavy sacks from the tailors roadside shops after the sun was already bedded for the night. Amazingly, as a team we had completed over 1200 items of clothing in a 3 month period and this was something to celebrate. Although this number is small in relation to the clothing manufacturing industry it was a real achievement for the Ashanti Empress team which is not a factory but rather 5 independent tailoring shops, made up of a tailor Master and a few apprentice, which are all individually contracted to make items, piece by piece. These tailors work in the same area but before working for Ashanti Empress they did not know each other and had never fulfilled contracts of 1200 items before! By means of a reward and a thank-you for everyone's hard work we decided to arrange a fun day out for everyone who had been involved in the manufacturing process.
A few weeks earlier I had questioned the tailors and apprentice on where they would like to visit for this years excursion and after some deliberation we decided on Lake Bosumtwe, a fresh water lake formed in a meteor crater about an hour outside Kumasi. I made the preparations, hiring two mini vans and buying in lunch and drinks for 35 people and their children and by Saturday morning we were ready. I had told everyone to arrive by 8.00, making time allowances for those I knew would be late, regardless of what time I gave. People started arriving, dressed vibrantly in their best Africa wear and we loaded up the mini vans.
As we set off there was the obligatory prayer to ensure safe passage to the lake, everyone bowed their heads and children shuffled in their mothers laps as Boatemaa broke out into husky song, followed by the rest of the bus.
We wove our way down windy roads, the tarmac punctured with potholes and thick green vegetation lining both sides. As we came around one bend the bus was rewarded with a spectacular view down into the crater, the lake stretching further than we could see with small villages dotted around its shore. Another corner and we were met with a less spectacular sight, a road barrier. Both our vans were stopped and we sent out our best negotiators to bargain the price of our passage down to the lake.
Finally we had made it and the warm waters and grassy beachside stretched out in front of us. Lots of the apprentice and tailors children had never seen a big expanse of water before as Kumasi is based in the centre of Ghana, 5 hours from the ocean. Some were curious whilst others a little afraid as we tried to coax them to dip their toes in the water. It didn't take long to change their opinions and soon all of the kids, apprentice and tailors were splashing around in the shallows, taking boat trips and posing for the camera!
We set up a picnic area of mats and blankets laid out on the grass in the shade where mothers could sit with their babies and people could enjoy a nap in the breeze. As lunch time came around and bellies started to grumble Ma Bernice and I dished up large plates of jollof rice, boiled eggs and salad for everyone and we sat around in the sun to eat together.
By the afternoon when it was time to leave it was almost impossible to get the team of apprentice out of the lake as they had all found handsome young men who where 'teaching' them how to swim. My requests of getting ready to leave were just batted away with pleas for 5 more minutes! Finally we all piled back into the buses and headed for home, within minutes almost everyone was passed out, mouths agape (myself included) after an action packed day.
This was the second year that we have organised an excursion for the whole Ashanti Empress team and their families and its definitely something we will continue to do. It provides a great opportunity for the tailors to get to know each other and feel part of something bigger than their individual businesses. Its also a rarity for a lot of Ghanaian families to be able to travel to parks, beaches or lakes just for leisure, unless you have your own car and an expendable income then getting to these places can often be arduous, especially with a family in tow. The entire Ashanti Empress team worked really hard to make this year's new collection a reality and it was fantastic to be able to celebrate that hard work together by sharing a day together at the lake.