Friday, July 30, 2010
I will admit it is very tempting to copy and paste the whole page as political systems are sometimes difficult for me to grasp. In fact, I soon had to consult Dame Wikipedia once more to remember how the Canadian government is structured.
After a few seconds of reading, I found myself humming the tune to “I’m just a bill, sitting on capital hill” from the School House Rock Saturday Morning Cartoon. Here’s a link to the video if you don’t remember:
Rather than blatantly plagiarizing from wikipedia and other internet sources, I will do so somewhat secretly and write a few facts about Ghanian politics. AND I SHALL CALL THEM “FUN FACTS” so as to make it more exciting. Kind of like parents who give their children fruit for dessert rather than chocolate cake (“Mmmm, Bobby, aren’t these dried apricots to DIE FOR?? Just like your own Happy Birthday cake!”).
GHANA FUN FACTS will be a reoccurring blog entry and will be posted intermittently... otherwise this will take much too long.
Ghana Fun Fact #1: In 1957 Ghana (then called the Gold Coast) achieves independence from UK. The first Sub-Saharan nation to do so!
Ghana Fun Fact #2: Kwame Nkrumah was Ghana’s first President. He was with the then new Convention People’s Party. To this day, many Ghanians seem to speak very highly of Kwame Nkrumah. It seemed he introduced great democracy into the country and managed to lessen the shock of transitioning out of colonial rule. He worked very well with interest groups - labour, youth, women etc. He set a strong precedent for future leaders of the country.
Ghana Fun Fact #3: Ghana is a constitutional democracy with multi-party system. Though two major parties seem to dominate: the National Democratic Congress and the New Patriotic Party. I haven’t quite learned the major differences yet between the two parties. And based on my conversation with Ghanians, I can tell there is no overwhelming majority on which party is preferred. I
Ghana Fun Fact #4: The current president is Professor John Atta Mills, member of the NDC. He was sworn in as president in 2008 and will be keeping this title until 2012. Campaigning for the next election has already begun!
I’m still trying to understand whether people vote for the president directly or elect a member from their constituency... Belinda tells me you do both. Mystery solved.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
On Saturday, I went to meet Belinda, a coworker of mine at Abantu, who offered to take me to the Makola market. Belinda, since I first arrived in the office, has been very kind with me. She is a student intern here to return to her studies at Univeristy Cape Coast in a few weeks.
Belinda told me to meet her near her house at “Asylum Down” (an area where there happens to be an Asylum). I took the Tro Tro to Circle and we walked to get an Accra car (shared taxi) to take us to Makola. On our way we bumped into a friend of hers who teasingly tested my knowledge of Twi (I have asked the folks at the office to teach me some basic things).
“Attesein” Her friend said. (How are you?).
“Oyeh” I replied. (Good). We all laughed at the lack of confidence in my voice.
My guide book for Ghanian Culture (bought at Chapters Canada - the leading authority on all things Ghanian) said that when you are asked how you are doing in Ghana, it doesn’t matter whether you haven’t eaten in a week, you are miserable, missing a leg and bleeding to death. You answer “Oiyeh.” Good.
With foreigners like me, the word “Oiyeh” may very well mean “good” but my desperately-seeking-approval facial expression must suggest otherwise.
Belinda and I got off at the Makola market stop and the place was absolutely packed with people. Vendor stands lined the dirt roads and behind them stood multi-story worn-down buildings with even more vendors displaying their goods out the windows. Many merchants navigated through the crowds carrying their products on a large metal plate on their head - everything from food to toiletries, to belts to dresses. I couldn’t believe how many people surrounded me. To say the place was lively would be an understatement. At every corner, in every alley, more and more people were walking about.
Belinda stopped to get Asana, a very VERY sweet drink made by boiling corn with sugar water (or something like this). The lady selling the drink dipped her ladle in the cauldron and poured a big scoop of it into a plastic bag with a straw. Belinda sipped with a smile.
“My mother doesn’t let me drink this because she said it’s too sweet.”
She offered me a taste and I politely declined but then she insisted I at least try it. I happen to hate sweet drinks.
I took a sip and forced a swallow. “It’s really... good.” I said with a twisted face. Belinda laughed.
“Too sweet?” she asked.
“I think I just got diabetes.”
On we went. Belinda tried to get money from her mother to buy some new clothes for school. She didn’t end up getting any. I told her to pick something out and I would buy it for her since she had treated me to a snack and the taxi and was kind enough to take me out. She said no but promised to et me treat her another time.
I came to the market primarily to take pictures. I soon discovered that this isn’t something the people in the market liked at all. After I took my first two pictures, a man grumbled at me and tried to block the photo with his hand. I wasn’t taking a picture of him, just the background, but it upset him. Another time, two girls around 11 years old raised their voices at me in Twi about taking pictures. I wait each time they spoke for the word “Obroni” (white person). It’s sometimes the only way I know they are talking to me!
“I suppose I should put this away” I said guiltily.
“You don’t have to. Just ignore them.” I told her that I would love to capture these sights but I really didn’t want to offend anyone. And I knew all to well why it could be conceived as offensive (hence the guilt). We walked about it. Belinda is very open and frank with me and I feel I can be the same with her.
“I don’t think African people trust people with camera. They think that maybe you are taking pictures to show people back home that Africa is dirty or the people are uncivilized. They also might think you are getting them in trouble because I think they need licenses to sell here but many do not have it.”
I completely understood. Africa is constantly generalized by Western eyes, its people objectified in our media. So rarely do we see positive images of Africa or understand its diverse, multicultural complexities. And the people here know that Africa is often portrayed this way to Westerners.
I wanted to take pictures so I could remember such a beautiful sight. But like it or not, I am a part of a legacy of colonial-minded white foreigners who have more often than not harmfully and unfairly portrayed people in other countries.
My mind harkened back to Equity Studies at U of T and all the social theory I have read on this matter. My thoughts must have made me grimace because Belinda asked if I was stressed. It could have been my thoughts, but it was just as likely the sun in my eyes. I stopped wearing my sunglasses after noticing that no one here wears them.
Belinda and I came up with a better plan (better than grimacing that is). I would simply take pictures of her with the scenes in the background. Despite her original excitement at the idea, she had her doubts as her haircut appeared to be unfavourable (“I cut it short, and I’m growing it out so now I don’t know what to do with it, I hate it like this”... Complaints about hair... a transcultural experience).
We walked around and I bought a Nollywood movie, two actually. Apparently it was not possible to purchase Mr. Ibu 1 without the sequel. Heaven forbid I get to the end of Mr. Ibu 1 and am left with the cliffhanger ending only to be deprived of the heartwrenching denouement of Mr. Ibu 2.
Belinda took me to the shop run by her grandfather in the market where he sold Coca Cola products. I was greeted so kindly by him and her uncle (not really her uncle... the title is a formality). The grandfather sent someone to get me a bottle of water. I offered to pay to which he took offense (I’m really on a roll here).
“You are our guest. You never pay. This is how Ghanians work.”
I wanted to explain that in my culture, Jewish culture that is, two people must argue about who pays for the other until they are blue in the face or the cashier looks at you with suicidal eyes and one of you gives up with the words “fine... next time I pay.” But I figured I would keep this to myself.
We sat and joked around a bit. He brought up the paying incident again.
“If I came to your house in Canada and you offered me water-”
I interrupted: “I would come back with your bill.”
Sarcasm. NOT a transcultural experience. I explained that I was joking and we laughed (Gabrielle - strike three?).
The rest in the shade was nice and Belinda’s grandfather invited me to dinner next Sunday. I expressed my gratitude and am quite looking forward to it!
We walked along and Belinda was concerned that all I had eaten that day was cornbread. So we took a taxi to a restaurant by a nearby beach. Our taxi pulled up into a parking lot interrupting a serious football match between kids (football in the soccer sense of the word).
The rest was beautiful and perfect. I thanked Belinda and had a beer as the kitchen appeared to be closed. After discussing our favourite movies and talking a bit about local Ghanian politics, she said she will bring me to her friends house to make beans. The bean dishes here are by far, the tastiest thing a vegetarian can eat. I, feeling guilty, argues that she did not have to make me lunch or anything but again, she insisted.
We took the Tro Tro back to Circle towards her friend’s house but made a very important stop along the way. I wasn’t sure where we were stopping - groceries? water? bank? Not quite. Belinda needed to stop by the salon to see what kind of weave she would buy for school. I tried as best I could to help her pick the best hair but I kept picking the more expensive kind (Real Brazilian hair). Eventually we settled on a happy medium and Belinda will come back before going to school.
We picked up her friend Adelaide, and went up the street to buy hot beans and guri (a white rice-like powder one eats with the beans) from a woman off the road. As the woman placed the beans in a plastic bag and began to wrap it shut, Belinda sucked her teeth and mumbled something in Twi. The woman serving us cocked her head towards Belinda and grinned. She opened the bag and put more beans.
As she put the guri in another bag, Belinda did the same thing. I didn’t understand the words, but the tone was international for “come on, that’s all you’re going to give me?”. She tried the same old trick with the friend plantains and that’s where the woman drew the line and snapped the Twi equivalent to “shut up already.” Belinda explained later that she had known this woman from Junior High.
Belinda and Adelaide had me watch TV while they prepared the food. I felt uncomfortable and offered to help several times but surrendered when they said no. I though the beans were prepared already but I was very wrong. The two came back with the beans re-cooked with spices, fried tomatos and onions. It was very delicious. I thanked them profusely. We cleaned up and watched old fart rappers perform songs from their glory days on the Def Jam Hip Hop Honours on TV.
Adelaide’s father sat with us and spoke to me about my stay here. Before I left, he invited me back to their house for dinner and I thanked him very much.
As I returned home on the Tro Tro, I reflected on the incredible hospitality and generosity offered to me. t was so touching for me, but so natural for them. Often times, it can be a bit difficult to travel around amongst people where you are, without question, a sore-thumb orange-among-apples foreigner (with poor analogies apparently). You look, speak and act like a foreigner (even when I don’t wear my sunglasses!). It was nice to have a break from that and have people invite me into their families and offer such hospitality. I really did feel a moment of pure gratitude.
When I walked into the house, Briana (the 1.5 year old) ran screaming to the door into my arms. I picked her up and spun around. I don’t let myself get too egotistical about her love for me, as the mother has informed me that she thinks all the obronis in the house are the same person. She often gets confused when two of us are in the same room.
I played with her a bit and watched her dance. Briana then creeped out me and her mother by launching into this weird slow-motion tai-chi type dance. This kid is usually buzzing off the walls so when she slowed down and started motioning to the sky and back tot he ground and moving in a slow circle we both were really weirded out. I asked what she was doing.
“I have no idea!” Her mother laughed. “She must have learned it in school because she keeps doing this slow motion dance. I don’t understand.” She then yelled at Briana “What are you doing? What is this dance?”
Briana cackled with secrecy and kept repeating the same movement that made all of us laugh.
... I'm trying to post pictures but it looks like the files are too large. I'll have to try something else!!! Stay tuned!
Friday, July 23, 2010
I decided to venture down to the nice bar down the street last night called... I don’t remember... Castlemans? Cattleman’s? Clydsdale? Sea Breeze cafe? Anyways. Took my book (currently reading James Orbinski’s An Imperfect Offering) and was excited to try Ghana’s famous STAR beer.
The beer was nice. Light taste with a hint of cider.
As is expected in these scenarios, a conversation was struck up with another patron of the bar - a man named Steve.
“Teeve?” I asked.
“Teeve? No Steve.” He said.
“What kind of a name is Teve?” He laughed.
“Well, like Steve but without the ‘Ssss’ part.” Touche.
It didn’t take long before Steve and I entered into a fairly heated political discussion about women in politics (though it remained in good fun!). Why heated? Because when I found out he was a political science student with aspirations to work in government, I mentioned my work at Abantu for Development - the NGO I work for that advocates for increased participation of women in decision-making positions. His response?
“Women do NOT belong in politics!”
*Record scratch stop* Excuse me?
I asked him “why not?” in a less polite way and we had a fairly frank discussion about gender and politics. He truly didn’t believe it was in women’s nature to be in roles of political leadership. He believed they can’t see past their own issues, and aren’t strong enough to fight on the real issues. They don’t know how to influence the people.
I told him that women are over 50% of the population, and should have equal say in how a country is run. The policies made in government likely affect women more than men as they live lives that cross through many social spheres and sectors - holding jobs, raising a family, primary caretakers etc.
Steve promises me that he respects women (“honestly, I LOVE women”), but the women who have been in parliament in Ghana have made stupid decisions. I asked him who and he said he doesn’t remember her name. Fair enough, I can’t remember the name of the bar.
Steve’s arguments about women’s inability to handle politics could have fallen straight out of the mouth of a curmudgeonly old grandfather (not my own of course... some other puritan breed of grandfather) - they’re soft, they don’t get things done, they rely on men to communicate etc.
I asked Steve if perhaps he thought women were that way because of the men (*cough* like him *cough*) who meet them with such a crapola attitude (Yes, I may have actually used the word “crapola”).
We talked a lot more about the issue, and I tried... HARD... to sympathize with his views. Turns out Steve was quite annoyed with how the women in his political science class treated him.
I shifted the conversation over to something we could agree upon. We entered a long duet-style rant about foreign aid policies and its poisonous mixture with corrupt politicians in African governments. The conversation made us both a bit sour and we held a brief silence. It seemed as though we were both stuck, meditating on how scary it is that organizations like the IMF and the WB, along with the world’s richest nations and many of Africa’s governmental leaders are responsible for such vast tragedies. Tragedies that do not harm those in charge but the masses.
“You know what they all have in common?” I asked.
“They’re all men.” I smiled.
I can already here in the distance, the Gender Studies department at every university typing their criticism of all the above statements - including my own (women are certainly not exempt from being corrupt oppressors of their own). So I will leave it here.
To end on a happy note, I will soon post a video of Briana, the 1.5 year old daughter in my host family, dancing to some Ghanaian tunes! Though I only recorded about 2 minutes worth, she did this for a good hour and a half. This video was shot in a low light so the quality isn’t that great. And it’s going to take about 4 hours to upload so stay tuned!