WORKING CLASS KING: THE STORY OF “TOGBE” (part 4)

Were you ever scared being in Ghana? ^ DK: Actually, while we were there a serial killer was on the loose. The police had roadblocks set up every few blocks, but as soon as they saw we were white, they’d wave us through. ^ RA: The serial killer was murdering prostitutes, like one a month. ^ SL: So here we are in a Third World country with a serial killer, which could really screw up the film. ^ RA: It was pretty weird for them. Ghana is an incredibly passive culture, and serial killers are kind of a Western phenomenon. I don’t think they knew how to handle it – and then our van would get waved through just because we were white. ^ DK: In the film, there’s a Mepe resident who says that when he sees a white man on the road he feels like he’s seeing God. ^ RA: We went to this village in the mountains called Aburi, one of those rural places that doesn’t have electricity yet and they all live in mud huts. The minute we pulled into the village about fifty kids surrounded the van, jumping up and down yelling “Obruni! Obruni! Obruni!” Which means “white man.” These kids had never seen white people before. We got out of the van and they just started grabbing at us. They were fascinated by my blond arm hair. This one lady tried to give me a live chicken. ^ DK: It was interesting, because we went there to do a film about Henk. But when we got there we became so fascinated by Mepe, the area where he’s chief, that we decided to dedicate part of the film to this town. There are towns like Mepe all over Africa, and Americans should know more about them.
How were living conditions while you were in Ghana? ^ SL: Let me tell you, you don’t want to go to the bathroom. They had this hole in the ground where you did your business, flies and maggots all around it. It was so nasty I’d sneak behind the house and dump into a plastic bag. ^ RA: I just stayed constipated. ^ DK: I’d hold it in for days, until my face was turning brown. ^ SL: It’s not like we could order in a pizza. We ate Fufu. ^ DK: Fufu is this pastry thing, kind of like a Matzoh ball that they put in soup. ^ RA: The veggie Fufu’s fine, but add a little goat meat and look out. ^ DK: I’m here to tell you that goat does not taste like chicken. ^ SL: Everything is rough when you’re in such a foreign land. At one point I raced a bunch of kids and fell pretty badly. I was really bleeding, and all of a sudden Henk’s brother-in-law grabs a towel and soaks it in this pool of bacteria-filled water. I freaked and ran away, then had our soundman Sven dump all the booze we had over my wounds. It was painful, but at least I still have my arm.
So where does Henk get the donations he collects? ^ DK: Well, that’s what initially drew me the story. Henk’s this middle-aged guy, unemployed, getting by on disability…if he wanted to he could sit on his ass all day and watch reruns of “CHiPs” dubbed into Dutch – ^ SL: And who wouldn’t watch that? ^ DK: But he’s decided to do something with his life, so he puts on these benefits for his Mepe foundation in Amsterdam. He makes the calls, does all the footwork, runs his website. He’s a big celebrity there – he’s been on all their talk shows, in all the newspapers. So he’s known throughout Europe. He’s a busy man, traveling around working for his foundation, raising funds for Mepe. ^ SL: He also gets medical companies to donate medicine and supplies, like stretchers and wheelchairs. On the 2000 trip alone, he brought 78 wheelchairs with him to Mepe.
That was one of the most beautiful things in the film, Henk giving a wheelchair to the man with no legs. ^ DK: That was ironic too, because that poor man sells shoes for a living. But Henk also brings along things like beachballs and Frisbees – common things to us, but the kids in Mepe have never seen them in their lives. ^ SL: When we left the village, the kids started chasing our van. Brett, the D.P., and I just hung out the back and filmed them. They ran for like a quarter mile with the biggest smiles. ^ RA: For me, that was the most touching part of the entire experience. I’ve never seen such genuine happiness over these simple things, small gestures. In a way, they have none of the petty concerns we do; what they worry about is “How am I going to eat today?” But when Henk gives these little kids Frisbees, it’s so moving. They aren’t sure what to do with them. In the film, you see one kid dusting off his Frisbee like he wanted to protect it. It was like he’d just gotten the best present he’s ever had. But then Henk showed the kids how to throw it, how to have fun with it, and they all just burst out cheering.
Get more info, including a look at the film’s trailer, from the official Togbe web site.
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Posted on November 5, 2001 in Interviews by
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