Monday, 29 December 2008
Since I arrived here, the elections have been the most abundant and interesting topic for everything and everyone; from the speeches at the Beauty Pageant to 3 hour conversations with the Bishop after lunch on Sunday afternoon, politics is everywhere! During the campaigning, tons of youth will pile into huge buses (and on top of them, and around them) and march down the street all day just cheering for their party. They go far beyond printing party T-shirts and memorabilia, they make music videos with the most popular Ghanaian artists and make up dances to symbolize their pride. I never thought I'd meet a society where the youth are so politically active - it's incredible!
Of course, this kind of passion is also known for creating violence, and fortunately enough Ghana has managed to keep the elections peaceful and stay out of international headlines by having a "free and fair" election - probably one of the first legit ones in West Africa.
The election was scheduled for Dec 7th and 72 hours later the government announced that they needed a run off because none of the parties managed to beat each other by the required 2% of votes. So they held a run-off 21 days after the first election day, and it's just now been 48 hours since the poles closed, and the streets are insane!!!
The current party is the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the one that was just elected is the New Democratic Congress (NDC). The NDC have a stronghold over the region I'm living in and for a long time, the majority of the other regions were set on NPP. Mid-day this afternoon the raido announed a 50.75 for NDC and 49.2 for NPP with 14 electoral districts still to be reported on. In the run-off it doesn't matter by how much you win, just as long as your numbers are higher than the other guys.
Despite being warned not to, the radio announced the winners before the official notice came in that the NDC had won. This is a little scary because if there is any backlash, finger-pointing, or appeals, there are towns full of overly politically active youth who have had two many beers celebrating their unconfirmed victory... I'm praying that all is peaceful, and I'm sure it will be. Still, that kind of thing would get a radio station sued in North America and causes potential for a lot of trouble.
I'm going to wander around town like a tourist and take pictures of the obscene, half naked, drunk men and women dancing to their drums, kalabashes and car horns. It's going to be a loooooong and loud evening.
Saturday, 27 December 2008
I’ll be completely honest. I spent most of Christmas Eve day gut-wrenchingly homesick. Hearing from all my friends back home about the snow and the celebrations and the parties – I was almost second-guessing being here. Feeling sad and missing home doesn’t exactly put you in the Christmas spirit either, so on top of not having any snow, no big Christmas parties, no streets lined with Christmas lights, and a totally different crew of people to celebrate with, I was getting depressed about Christmas. And then I felt depressed about the fact that I was depressed at Christmas time. And then I was depressed that I was feeling depressed and ungrateful while I was in Africa at Christmas time. And as soon as that thought hit me, so did this one: I’m in Africa… and It’s Christmas… and I’m surrounded by tons of loving people… and God… and all my friends and family are back home safe and happy… and there is absolutely NOTHING for me to be down about.
It turned out to be an amazing Christmas.
This has been a real mixed cultural experience. Not only am I learning how Ghanaians celebrate Christmas festivities, the house I’m staying in is celebrating in a very strict liturgical Catholic fashion. Advent is celebrated all the way up until Christmas Eve and then Christmas is celebrated for 12 days (just like the song) after the actual day (so in reality, I get Christmas all the way up until January 6th.)
Most of Ghana spends Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning in Church. I’m not kidding; it’s a very, very Christian society. Even though Santa Clause is known here, the idea of a child waking up to a tree surrounded by Christmas presents isn’t the reality. The kids have their own way of making Christmas exciting by getting biscuits from all their friends and families and then making little huts out of palm branches to eat them under. They have a special Christmas drink called Liha that they celebrate with. Father David made a whole batch of it and I think it’s an acquired taste. I’m not sure on the whole process of it, but I know it’s made from corn and caramelized sugar.
After a 3 and half hour Mass, which included an auction to raise money for the church, we came back to the house and immediately began entertaining visitors until dinner time. I always find the greetings and brief visits awkward. They have a specific formal greeting you are supposed to go through, and if you don’t do it, the people seem to not know what to do next and get really uncomfortable. I still haven’t completely figured out the greeting so I feel exempt from having to participate, but I get pulled in with every introduction Darrin makes.
All the children that came were eating cookies and drinking Liha, so weren’t allowed to touch the books because their hands were so sticky. I opted to read to them for a little while before Darrin and I began cooking dinner. It made for a fun afternoon or mostly little boys scrunching in all around me to see the pictures in the book.
Darrin and I spent the next 2 and a half hours in the kitchen preparing Christmas dinner; he was on the Turkey and potatoes and I covered the vegetables. We couldn’t get a whole turkey, but a bunch of turkey wings. And they don’t have regular Irish potatoes here, so he mashed sweet potatoes. Not sweet potatoes like the orange ones we have in North America, but these ones are more like yams. And I don’t mean the yams we have in North America. The yams here are more like an Irish potato, but have more starch and don’t have the same texture and taste blander. The sweet potatoes are [obviously] sweeter and have either a green or blue tint to them. Their texture is more like that of an Irish potato. I plugged my iPod into the speakers and we listened to Mariah Carey’s Christmas album and a dozen other Christmas songs while we chopped, sautéed and baked until prayers.
It turned out to be a marvelous dinner that I would normally just devour, but instead, my new esophageal problem made it hard to enjoy (swallowing is extremely painful.) We weren’t really sure how many mouths we would be feeding and were expecting a few drop-ins (some arrived, some didn’t.)
After dinner I was back to feeling a little down because the whole day of celebrations seemed to pass by without me once feeling Christmas-y. I opened a hymn book and began singing every Christmas carol I recognized while everyone was busying around the house. It helped, kind of.
Maureen, Father David and I took a drive around Ho to drop off some of our guests and look at Christmas lights. I should say ‘search for Christmas lights’. They were hard to come by, and not extravagant when we did, but it certainly made it exciting when we located them. Even though there wasn’t an abundance of festive looking houses, there was a profusion of camouflage and reflector tape covered police offers stalking around with AK47s in their hands. We must have seen over 60 police officers in our 30min drive. The three of us couldn’t figure out what the ridiculous amount of security was about on Christmas Day, but figured it was just a fear tactic to keep people from trying anything. I looked over at Maureen, “you know, nothing says Christmas like an AK47.”
After spending some time on the phone with family, I was feeling a lot less homesick and was truly grateful for having the opportunity to experience this celebration.
The entire day felt joyful and exciting and meaningful… but it didn’t feel like Christmas to me. I started thinking about what Christmas used to feel like and how it felt the last time. I couldn’t remember, I couldn’t remember what triggered it, nor could I recount the joy it brings. The red and gold lights on our Christmas tree caught my eye and I sat down under it as I finished singing “O Holy Night”.
It was in the silence after everyone had left, after the choirs had stopped singing, after the cat was let outside, after the clang of dishes being washed was done, after the phone stopped ringing, after my own Christmas melody faded, that I began to feel Christmas.
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
“Say Hi to General Hoyt for me!” – Matt Burns,
This remark in the Guest book for the Mountain Paradise Lodge made both Darrin and I chuckle. This same General Hoyt, a year later, had detoured Darrin and I for a chit chat and a small hike to a hidden miniature waterfall (which of course, he then asked us for money afterward.) This was a reoccurring theme on our weekend trip up to the Northern area of the Volta Region (Jasikan). It seems the locals have figured out the best acts to put on in order to get the Yevus to fork out some cash and, unfortunately for us, it works.
That was how our holiday started; running into this extroverted 68 year old who was telling us about everything in his farm (now I wonder if that actually was his farm or if he was just standing there to get tourists’ attention). I always hope that Darrin talking in Ewe will make them realize we aren’t tourists and they will leave us be, but it doesn’t help. I reluctantly gave in to his persuading to let him show us the waterfall and sure enough, he wanted some money to buy some mineral back in town (this means beer or soda.) He then followed us for some time telling us about his miracle medicines that kept him so strong at 68 (hot water and a tablespoon of honey in the morning, and eating lots of green vegetables, hardly genius, but he was pretty proud of himself for the discovery...)
The Paradise Mountain Lodge was a 5km hike from the village where our Trotro dropped us off. It was a little out of our price range, but worth it because the food was amazing. Not long after arriving, we went on a guided hike along this creek to see all the different waterfalls. Still fully clothed, I jumped in after Darrin at the largest waterfall for a quick cool down and we were nearly dry by the time we reached the end of the hike. The guide cut open some cocoa fruit with his cutlass for us. For those of you who don’t know, chocolate (or cocoa) grows on trees. The fruit produced are these pods (looks kind of like a yellow and red miniature papaya) filled with white-flesh covered dark purple seeds. To make chocolate, the seeds are usually dried and then shipped to processing, but you can also eat the flesh around it. It’s sweet and sour like the sugar apple I described at the beginning of my trip. Definitely another favourite.
Darrin and I walked over 30km the next day and at the mid point of our travels, in Amezofe (a village on top of the mountain), a man sat down and talked to us during our snack break for about 15 minutes. I knew where it was going. Eventually he told us that if we ever came by here, that we were to stay at his house, and then he asked us for money. It makes me cynical and I think it’s ridiculous, but at the same time, am incredibly curious and empathetic about that kind of behaviour.
I tried this new food called kafa and pepper. The kafa is made from corn flour and is steamed inside these large vine leaves until it becomes this jelly-like loaf that you dip in a salsa like pepper. After the snack, we climbed to the top of
We experienced the most immense generosity and hospitality with the family we stayed with. It was so obvious that they just wanted to see us have a good time and enjoy our visit. It was the total opposite of the random locals who make us pay them for talking to them. We had a group of men clear-cut a trail for us up to see these caves that we climbed through (ever had a bat fly so near to your face your can feel its wings brush against your cheek?).
There are these waterfalls that everyone raves about here. When coming from
Unfortunately, the battery on my camera died shortly after arriving there and I wasn’t able to videotape any of it. At the sight of the waterfall, Darrin and I had to go for a swim. This one was a lot colder and actually left me with goose bumps. I think it’s the first time I’ve felt that cold since being here. The fees for these tourist places are ridiculous – Darrin got us in for the volunteer prices, but the men tried to negotiate a price by asking to marry me (he even offered a trade for one of his nieces – how kind!). Of course, they are discussing this all in Ewe and I’m sitting there eating my groundnuts hardly paying attention.
We arrived back to a household trying to set up for Christmas. Since I arrived here, it feels like it’s constantly July. Just one long, hot month of July. It feels really silly to celebrate Christmas in July. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up on Thursday and see snow all over the place. Not that I’d pass up my plus 38˚C for a minus 15, but I can tell already it won’t feel like Christmas without the chilly weather and the white wonderland. But the weather is only getting dryer and hotter and I can feel the prickly heat starting all over my back and chest. I’m hoping not scratching will make it go away faster, but, wow, is it ever uncomfortable!
Meanwhile - Merry Christmas everyone! Enjoy your snow for me :-)
Thursday, 18 December 2008
So we have this group of rambunctious, cognitively under-developed children with a wide range of disabilities for the weekday mornings with a curriculum that involves recognizing shapes, drawing straight lines, tracing numbers, and counting.
I’ll admit I’ve never been more frustrated in my life. Frustrated with the educational system, frustrated with the lack of concern amongst the teachers, frustrated with my self for not being a bigger help, frustrated with the 17 year old who is only mentally simple and won’t stop grabbing girls inappropriately, frustrated with the 7 year old who will tell me to do things in Ewe and then hit me when I don’t do it (because I don’t know what he’s saying), frustrated with the teacher caning the students for fighting (violence only teaches more violence), frustrated with the language barrier, frustrated with God because I don’t understand…
But just being with those kids makes my day. Makes my whole week. In fact, the whole experience is a highlight of my year - how the simplest things make them break out in laughter; watching one of the girls play catch and seeing how excited she gets every time she manages to catch it; helping the children to take pictures and learn to use the camera. To us it must seem so little, but to these children, the things we do with them and teach them are so monumental. They wouldn’t get this experience any where else. They wouldn’t learn these things on their own. To these kids, just me being there, sitting with them, helping them to find the hole in the puzzle that fits the purple triangle is one of the best things I can do for them. And when I remember this, when I make it all that simple, all the frustrations seem trivial.
And I love God for it.
(The pictures are of some of the children in the class and some of the students from other classes)
Friday, 12 December 2008
I was reading an article in National Geographic a few days ago, written by Cynthia Gorney, about the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico. The way she described the lifestyle of the people seemed so familiar to me- the mixed western/ traditional culture.
I’m usually surrounded in poverty here; women usually wear their traditional dresses and head wraps; houses are made of cement with tin roofs, or clay with straw thatch for a roof; the local cuisine is typical of poverty – minimal, and what they do have is not healthy. And then there is this… modern side. Which doesn’t fit quite right. It’s often that I pull out my camera to take a picture of a somewhat traditional setting, but there is always something western “ruining” the shot. Some object, or clothing, or piece of equipment that doesn’t really fit with the rest of the surroundings; girls wearing skinny jeans; young adults talking on their iPhones; pizza on the menu at the internet café. I wasn’t even aware of how I perceived this until I read Gorney’s article. The way she was describing the combination of the cultures, the contemporary influences on the villages, reflected a lot of what I was seeing here in Ghana. And I’ll be entirely honest, it doesn’t look pretty. From my unknowledgeable, non-understanding perspective, all I can think is that the two don’t go together at all. It seems like an awful clash of turquoise and fire-engine red exploding into what could have been a perfectly beautiful portrait of nature.
‘Any outsider, including me, thinks: these people are better off with modernity held far away. But that’s cultural relativism. We have perceptions about what is and isn’t right, for us and others… I kept reminding myself how little I understood about this place, these people.’ – Cynthia Gorney.
When I read this at the back of the magazine, something hit home for me. I realized that despite how open and accepting I was of the culture, my biases were still making me judge the entire country, the people, their way of life. Because being here for 2 months, and feeling like I can relate to the people, makes me think I can determine what’s right for them. Yeah, right! Time to give my head a shake. I’ll never truly understand why anyone here makes the decisions they make. I might be empathetic and relational to some of their decisions, whether I agree or disagree, but to hold partiality because I’ve seen a more “efficient” way of life is absolutely naïve.
It’s difficult, though. And I know anyone who has traveled to impoverished areas with this much western domination knows what I’m talking about. If you deny that you ever feel like “this place” would be so much better without “all that stuff” then you are not being 100% honest. That or you air on the side of agreeing that MORE modernity would be a positive step. I say, as outsiders, we will never be able to make a decision for these types of cultures that can benefit them as much as the decisions they make for themselves. My confidence in my own judgments quivers when I encounter such monumental societal dilemmas, but that’s when I am happy to say I am only a 22 year old with a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology. Learning to put my judgments aside is simply a part of growing up and becoming more able to love the people around me without needing to understand their logic and decisions that go with it.
Saturday, 6 December 2008
It all seems so normal.
It’s not that things are less interesting or less fun. It’s just normal.
Day in and day out, I’ve… adapted. Even in the chaos that is
This makes the blog writing somewhat more difficult. Before, I could write about all the things that stood out to me; topics that would seem really interesting to someone who had never been to
I don’t want to sound like I’m taking the everyday moments and experiences for granted, because I’m not, but everything is so… recognizable…
… The straw and stick brooms we use to sweep the leaves up from underneath the mango tree in the front yard before the breakfast bell.
... Enjoying the soft breeze on a somewhat cool harmatan morning (with the
thermometer reading 26 degrees Celsius)
… The multi-coloured gecko that crawls up the wall of my shower.
… Feeding Joni (our goat that is right outside of our kitchen window) the fresh peels from our papayas.
… Collecting snails from the garden for someone’s lunch (I’m yet to be served them.)
… Buying plantain chips from a lady on the corner of the street who has a large steel bowl filled with them on her head.
… Dodging taxis and trotros on our bicycles near the market on a market day as though it’s a video game (with slightly more dire consequences).
… The large congregation of flies and bugs that greet us at the farm for a good twenty minutes before they leave us in peace to do our work.
… The scorching afternoon sun that feels as though it will boil your skin if the breeze stops for too long.
… The frustration of tossing and turning, unable to take my daily siesta because my bed is too bloody hot…
… Waking up on the cement floor because my bed was too blood hot.
… The school children chanting “yevu, yevu” as they chase us down the unpaved road on our mountain bikes.
… The dingy looking drinking spots Darrin and I keep finding ourselves stopping at for a coke and a shady place to sit.
… The squawking chickadees that fell into the sewer and can’t get out (I would totally help them if I didn’t find birds and sewers disgusting).
… Knowing who all the local politicians are and what parties they belong to, and what their careers are, and who their running mates are, and who I think should win.
... Eating dishes like Banku/ Akblay/ Kenke/ Fufu in goat/ okro/ palm nut/ ground nut soup for dinner… with my
… The electronic-like, rhythmic pulse of the fruit bats in the late evening.
… The 20th (plus) power outage since my arrival, that always seem to make the sky look like an unfinished painting, and as your eyes adjust, the stars appear brighter and more numerous.
… The drums and music from the cultural dance center on the street behind ours practicing…
… The church choir across the street preparing for their Christmas celebration in their local language…
… The 10th (sometimes plus) unannounced visitor that just thought he would “drop by” for a chat and a drink
and some food.
… Scrubbing the dark, red earth off my feet and toes to reveal my now-seemingly permanent tan lines from my flip-flops (chaddy-waddys, as they are called here) before crawling into bed
All these daily events that not so long ago would have had me completely enthralled are now just normal. The same things I saw/ heard/ tasted/ smelled/ felt yesterday and will probably see/ hear/ taste/ smell/ feel tomorrow.
… And I love every God-given minute of it…
Monday, 1 December 2008
I really martyred
I really martyred
I mean, we all know there is corruption here, duh. All those selfish people making selfish decisions with devastating outcomes that have an impact on everyone’s humanity, even if it just leaves a fingerprint on your soul when you heard about it on TV. I guess I thought the corruption was singled out some how. I guess I thought that all those “average African Joes” were dealt a shitty hand of cards and were practically helpless at sorting them out. I guess I thought it was only the “big men” that were making the “bad decisions”. Not that my thoughts were completely wrong, it was just a tad bit naïve.
There is a saying here – “Every man for himself and God for everyone.” Sort of makes “United we stand and Divided we fall” sound a little idealistic. I hate to say it, but being here has stolen pieces of my youth-given innocence. And in the same respect, the love I’ve seen here (amongst the corruption) has restored pieces of it. It is overwhelmingly frustrating to see the lack of respect some of the people have for each other. And white people, pfft, we aren’t human. We have money and power, not souls. I swear village children are taught from birth to say “white man, give me money!” What? Not even a “hello” first? Oh right, I’m sorry, I forgot, *point finger at self* not human.
I remember having a conversation with someone before coming here (can’t for the life of me remember who) about education serving as a solution for the poverty and corruption in this continent. My challenger was arguing that ‘obviously’ that wasn’t working. “They’ve had education for decades,” he claimed, “and it hasn’t changed anything.” Yeah, I guess if you are assuming that these children and adults have been getting an education equivalent to what the average Canadian child would get, you might be able to see his point. But after you’ve been here, and you’ve seen the “education” that these children are receiving, you’ll stand by the fact that education is still the solution to much of the problems they continue to run into. For instance, maybe it would help teaching some people in the area that bathing 50m downstream from the section of the creek you use as a communal toilet is probably not the best way to combat diseases like guinea worm and salmonella strains. Or even just giving some people the option of performing CPR, rather than a witch spraying sacred water (might I add the adjectives “contaminated” and “unclean”) with a combination of wild herbs, on a new born baby who has yet to take his first breath. And what about hand washing… good old fashioned hand washing. Most washrooms don’t have sinks let alone soap. Darrin and I bought some mangos from the sweetest little girl while we were touring. There was pot next to her that her mother washed the mangos in. The little girl would bite the peel off of her mango and spit it into this “wash” pot. Yum. Definitely giving those a good scrub and peel. Yeah, I’m going to go ahead stand by my original position that education is still a feasible solution. The people here are ignorant, not arrogant. Ok, some are arrogant, but lots of people in
So I’m caught between “Oh my God, these people are digging their own graves and are completely oblivious” and “Have a little mercy, they don’t know any better.” I mean, I really, really, really want to help. But it’s hard when they really, really, really are not helping themselves.
Darrin has a friend who works for the food inspection company here. He actually does want to enforce the laws and standards that are put in place. He goes around trying to help people and show them how to do procedures the safe and healthy way, but encounters more grief and defensiveness than people willing to listen. Why? Because his predecessors have shown these people that they are only in it for themselves by threatening to fine them huge amounts of money unless they bribe them, and then never report anything. This makes for a difficult starting ground for the ones who actually want to make a difference.
And the schools are “free” and “mandatory”. Yeah right, that’s why on any weekday morning
I can expect at least 5 children to come by for a glass of water (not in a school uniform.) And that’s why lots of teenagers aren’t in secondary school – because fees can costs upwards of 300USD. And even the ones that do make it,
it’s not like conditions are prime for learning. Like when the boarding schools overbook the dorms
and kids end up sleeping in the classrooms. And don’t imagine enclosed air-regulated buildings. More like sheds with desks and a blackboard. THAT
THE KIDS ARE SLEEPING IN!!! Oh, and don’t forget, it’s still legal to cane the children when they misbehave. In fact, the prefects are even allowed to cane the other students, b
ecause if their students are misbehaving, they’ll get caned. How c
ivilized... And teachers, when they show up, their state of alertness can range from intoxicated, apathetic, abusive, to, occasionally, asleep. I think they fail to see the soul reward in helping these children. Like the many of the nurses I encountered, teachers claim they need “motivation.” *cough* More money. I know their salaries are crap, but I still roll my eyes at this. I’m only 22 and I’ve already learned that money motivates no one to do anything except do whatever they can do to make more money. Such a riveting cycle of greed, self-fulfillment and, eventually, depression. Let’s all jump on that wagon!
As you can see, I still haven’t concluded my feelings on any of it. Just sorting out some junk in my spirit. I must end this by saying, if there is one thing this country has more of than I've ever seen in North America, it's hope. Faith and Hope. That's how I know it IS going to get better.