Sunday, February 22, 2009
Ghana has a certain quality to it that is very endearing. I hadn’t been able to put my finger on exactly what that quality was, but after this weekend I think I have figured it out. Ghana has adopted a lot of culture from the outside world. They speak English, worship the bible, and even celebrate Valentine’s Day now. But Ghana has far from lost its uniqueness. Every tradition adopted has a Ghanaian spin added to it. It becomes a huge, loud, colorful and often over the top version of its original self.
Valentines Day didn’t exist here until 4 or 5 years ago. But now that it has made it to here there’s no turning back. While most of the US was probably trying to forget its existence, Ghana has been talking about chocolate day for weeks. On the 14th everything got decorated in gaudy pink and white ribbons. There were big parties on the beach. The markets were overflowing with Kingsbite chocolate and the jewelry sellers had an all time high in sales.
Democracy has made it to Ghana, and let me tell you, Ghana has the rawest Democracy I have ever witnessed. Over the weekend Anika and I ended up with our host Auntie at the Tema Teachers Credit Union Annual Meeting. After a credit talk, which can be more accurately described as a credit sermon (and I quote “May the Lord Jesus grant us credit for all”), the group had to vote on a few issues. Looking at the program I thought the points looked pretty mundane. They wanted to change their name to the Teachers Credit Union Network. But voting in Ghana is far from mundane. People were standing up and shouting, pleading for revotes, and the chairman almost had to resign because was accused of swaying the group’s opinion. All fore a name change. No wonder it took so long for John Atta Mills to be elected.
Obama is a big deal in the US. But Obama support in the US still doesn’t have quite the fervor of Obama support in Ghana. There is Obama cloth that seamstresses sew into dresses and suits. The radio plays a whole slew of Obama inspired songs. Anytime an Obruni reveals that they are American everyone shouts OBAMA! He is a son of Africa here.
And of course, religion is amplified here. Every shop has some religious inspired name like “Blood of Jesus Hair Salon.” I probably should have been clued into the intensity of religion when I walked into my host family’s house and there was Gospel music blaring, big posters of Jesus surrounded by wooly lambs, Pastor Chris the South African Televangelist and little scriptures filling in any empty wall space. This morning we got up to go to church and I was really hoping it would be a Gospel Church so I could do some singing. But we pulled up to what looked like a huge warehouse and I realized I had some Mega-church worshipping ahead of me. The sound system was not very clear so I could barely understand what the pastor was saying, and I got really sleepy in the heat, but I couldn’t dose off because there were ushers dressed in all white watching the crowd. They would wack anyone on the head who was slouching too much or not paying attention. One man fell asleep and the pastor called him out and he was removed from the service. The music was provably the best I have ever heard at a church service, very passionate Gospel. Then they said something and our host Maame was beside herself with excitement. That’s when I realized that we were in a Born Again Church and Anika and I were about to be saved. Now, I’ve never been saved before (and I’m not sure how necessary it is since I already belong to another church). But, from what I gathered, Ghanaians do not take religion or saving lightly. Well we survived and made our host Mom giddy with happiness. I think we are spending Easter either them, but I don’t really want to go back to church, even though next time we don’t have to get up in front of the whole congregation. Thank you Lord Almighty that is over. Ghana is still endearing in its enthusiasm though.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
There aren’t exactly jobs coming out of the woodwork here. This adds up to a lot of poverty and a lot of people with too much free time. But for those who do manage to keep working they have a long list of odd jobs. I love to hear about where people are from (or where their family’s ancestral village is) and to hear about the path people have taken to end up in Accra. Small Sami, who drives a van for NYU used to be a solider in the Ghanaian Army. After that he was a Rasta Tro Tro Driver. Then about a year or two ago he cut off his dreads and got a job with Avis. Richard the night security guard hunted in his home-village. Apparently he has killed a good amount of warthogs in his days, but they’re very dangerous so he usually stuck to grass cutters. Grass cutters look a lot like giant rats. Once they are smoked you can make them into soup and eat it with fufu (our friend Forson is going to show us how to cook it). So Richard hunted grass cutter and sold it at a roadside stand. After that he worked as a seamstress (tailor?), and then moved in with friends down the street from us and got a job working the night shift as a guard. Debbi, who lives with us and works in NYU’s office, also has a family bread making business. Krista the program coordinator apparently has a West African jewelry business. Our friend Forson is currently "working" as a security guard across the street, but will hopefully be moving to Amsterdam (or somewhere like that) soon to be an au pair. He should probably work on his riddles (Tolis) first because they don't make any sense. I’m always amazed at where people come from and how they’ve gotten here.
Monday, February 9, 2009
On the upper levels of St. George’s castle you have the best views of Elmina from the grand balconies and airy whitewashed rooms of the Dutch officials. The inlayed wood floors and huge glass windows, centuries old are more luxurious than most modern Ghanaian households. From the governor’s master bedroom a balcony looks down into an inner courtyard. Any time the governor felt the need, he would have the female “residents” form the lower levels lined up in the courtyard. Fro there he could comfortable pick who he would use, without coming to close to the stench of the women who were not allowed to bathe or to move away from the dead bodies, of mostly young girls, who had been overcome by the sub-Saharan heat. While the glass windows of the upper rooms seemed opulent and unnecessary, the total lack of windows or ventilation in the slave dungeons below is unthinkable. All this time later the dungeons still smell like dank death, although they say it has faded a lot.
In a country that is so communal and supportive, this divide seems completely out of place. Bet even today, a shadow of that divide still exists. The luxury resorts that pamper to a majority Dutch and European travelers have an eerie resemblance to the Dutch officers’ quarters in Elmina Slave Castle. At least Ghana is profiting somewhat from their tourism, but why does that divide still exist at all. There are plenty of explanations. You can read about it in books or have it explained in lectures. But when you are actually face to face with the extreme wealth next to the extreme poverty, all those explanations loose their weight.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Monday, February 2, 2009
A Ghanaian friend told me the other day that Ghanaians have flattened noses because as babies they are carried around with their faces pressed against their Maame’s back. There are other more scientifically viable reasons for our variation in nose shape, but I kept my mouth shut when he was talking about this. He was telling me a lot about motherhood here, where a baby is carried in a sling against it mother back all day long. On the streets of New York a stroller being pushed or a child swung on a playground swing might make us think of motherhood. A lot of the babies on the street are with nannies though. Here the street life is a lot more central to people’s lives and maybe for that reason images of motherhood are more prominent in Ghana. Motherhood is the chubby arms and legs that cling to a woman’s back as she leans forward tying a cloth around herself and her baby. Motherhood is the two tiny feet that stick out from beneath a market woman’s arms. Motherhood is a baby’s shaved head, face buried into his mother’s back, peeking out at those around him, or slumped awkwardly back in sleep. Motherhood is stained fabric on a mother’s shirt from her baby dribbling milk out of a plastic bag. Motherhood is the strength of a woman who can carry a baby strapped to her back, balance a heavy tray of oranges or bread on her head and bend up and down all day selling what she is carrying. The lullabies mothers sing are familiar, but while Ghanaian mother’s sing they dance and bounce their babies on their backs. A Ghanaian baby is constantly in movement, carried through busy market allies or streets, rocked to the rhythm of their mother walking. In one Psych class last semester, I read that Africans have the highest percentage of securely attached babies in the world. It isn’t surprising that they form such strong bonds considering that babies are constantly physically attached to their mothers throughout their first years. Even after birth, mother and child remain almost one entity. These are some of the most intimate, natural images of motherhood their I’ve seen. Motherhood in the US gets me thinking of so many different factors of parenting, with education systems, doctors checkups, college funds, sports teams, play dates, coordinating who can take care of the baby when the parents are busy. There is nothing wrong with the complexity and involvement of this type of parenting, but at the same time there is something beautiful about the simplicity and devotion of Ghanaian motherhood.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Yesterday I went to Makola market all day. It was soooo soo hot so the whole market was a lot slower than it usually is. It was really nice though because we would have to sit down out of the sun for a while so we didn't overheat so I ended up hanging out with the market ladies for a lot of the day. Everyone wanted to know my life story and tell theirs and set us up with their sons who also go to University of Ghana. Last night we had a big party at our house with lots of Ghanaian students from Ug Legon and Ashesi University. It was really fun but I've been cleaning up plantain chips all morning!