Subscribe: Holli's ramblings
http://hollisramblings.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default
Added By: holligurl Feedage Grade B rated
Language: English
Tags:
africa  back  country  food  ghana  grace  great  home  it’s  life  love  new  people  time  world  year  years   
Rate this Feed
Rating: 3 starRating: 3 starRating: 3 starRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Holli's ramblings

Holli's ramblings



REFLECTIONS OF AN EX VOLUNTEER IN AFRICA



Updated: 2017-02-08T04:54:30.026Z

 



Happy New Year from across the ocean!

2012-12-31T18:03:29.257Z

It's been over a year since we left Ghana's tropical shores. It's been a year of beginning a new lifestyle in many new places.

Living onboard our sailboat is a lifetime away from our experiences in West Africa, but no less challenging! We've traded dusty roads for salt water and a moving bed. We've left behind red red and fufu for doubles and rotis. Said goodbye to the rich traditions of Ghana to embrace the amazing diversity of the islands that speckle the Caribbean.

Join us on this new adventure! Our first year briefly described here in our new blog:

SV SHILOH - notes from the boat

Wishing all our old and new friends an amazing 2013!!!

(image)
The view from Tobago Cays, Grenadines




Farewell Ghana - Hello new adventures

2012-04-11T14:56:26.144Z

Boarding a plane from my suburban Canadian home so many years ago, with my three year old little boy, and our few worldly belongings in tow, I knew I had chosen adventure, the unknown, the road less traveled. When we touched down in Ghana, West Africa, I was poised for a two year volunteer posting. I had no idea I’d be where I am today, after 16 years, about to fly out once again from my mother’s suburban Canadian home, to Grenada, nestled in the Caribbean windward islands, as a starting base, to sail the world with my true love and soul mate. My boy is grown, Ghana is an omnifarious memory, and the abyss of the unknown lies ahead, and beneath in the endless ocean. _________________________________________________My rearview mirror sees Ghana closer than she appears. Though we left her humid shores over five months ago, my time there was a lifetime. Perhaps more.Ghana raised me from the blinding grip of naiveté, helped mold me, open my sheltered eyes, gave me a new world in which to raise a family and learn some heart piercing lessons about love and loss.Ghana has been everything to me - from a highschool bully to my tour guide, my big sister, a boss you can never quite please. Ghana embraced me and showed me her beauty and her scars. I learned to speak Twi with the tomato sellers in Makola market and learned to navigate potholes and open gutters with ease. I was privileged to be invited into a Ghanaian home and made part of the family – I learned the best banku is that made at home on a Saturday afternoon, with all the aunties and cousins, after a hot day in the market. My boys learned to wash their school socks with their cousins on Sundays in a singing line up of soapy suds and smiles. I spent so many Sundays sipping local gin n’ juice at Labadi beach with ‘my girls’, serenaded by the glass eating acrobats “Everybody watch!”. In Ghana I faced corruption and compassion, grit and beauty, poverty and richness in equal measure. It is a beautiful and complicated country. And Ghanaians are proud. They taught me about nationalism and a loyalty I had never known. As a Canadian I had always wondered what our ‘culture’ was. Ghanaians know their culture. And they will defend their flag at all times. Ghana has a love affair with soccer (football) and every little boy plays – dreaming of following the footsteps of the stars that have paved their way. Essien, Desailly, Pele, Gyan… the streets literally burst with glee during international matches when Ghana scores or wins – the din of the cheering can be heard across the nation and it’s a magical thing. Being in Ghana for the World Cup is an experience I’ll never forget. Truly amazing. But I am not a Ghanaian and no matter how long you live in Ghana, how much you love it, if you are not a Ghanaian, you will never be a Ghanaian. Ghana is a gracious and glorious host, but as a visitor there comes a time to go.Alas, 16 years past and seasons brought life and love and death and change.And the time has come to open another page in the book of life. It’s time to seek out more languages, more experiences, more countries and colours and flavours.I invite everyone to find us over in our new abode, SV Shiloh, a vessel and a lifestyle, dedicated to the free spirit of my Ghanaian boy who left our world too soon. The new site is called SV-Shiloh: notes from the boat.I have vowed to keep track of all the new experiences, the quirks and caverns and catastrophies that travel promises. And I’d love to share it with all the friends I made in Ghana and beyond, thanks to this blog.Holli has rambled here enough.Ye be hyia biyo (sp?!) Ghana! xoxo[...]



Ghana: Food adventures and the Cantonese Titanic

2011-10-16T14:00:08.643Z

I used to be so adventurous when it came to food. Any street corner stall that offered up strange and wonderful mysterious delights caught my eye and my 'foodian' curiousity. The stranger the better. If the stall was situated alongside a sludge filled gutter, all the more intriguing. Pork chunks piled into a towering monstrosity, with hot pepper on the side at Osu night market. Gorgeous. Standing by vats of boiling oil, with the eye watering pepper smoke, blinking in anticipation of a piping hot handful of fried plantain, covered in burnt bits of ginger, garlic and pepper. Kelewele beside Koala on Osu Oxford Street. Only at night. Yum!It's been so long since I've ventured out, beyond the safe confines of my local french bakery and fancy french restaurant, it was time. Last night we took the plunge in a big way, following some brave friends to a Chinese spot, just around the corner from Papaye.Hangzhou Chinese Restaurant. Best Chinese food in a long long time - perhaps EVER!Now let me qualify this statement. This is not a raving review, wherein I intimate that you would take your most important business visitors to Hangzhou. I don't think they could handle it. Shame though, they'll miss the most amazing food.We parked in a dark alley and walked into what looked like an old concrete house, through the window we could see we were going to be the only patrons. A small Chinese woman rushed over to welcome us and find us a table. Meanwhile we looked around at a room, painted a long time ago a dull non-descript colour - possibly oatmeal beige, which had long turned a brownish grey. The main features were dusty posters promoting China, Chinese food and various electronics. A huge crack cut one wall down the centre, threatening to collapse the building on top of us. A huge palm tree grew straight up through the corner of the room, the ceiling cut neatly around it to free the palm fronds somewhere above. On the centre wall was on old fashioned TV, showing a Chinese talent show. A small wooden chair was placed directly in front of the TV. This is where our host retreated to, between serving us. Our table was covered with a plastic lining, printed in flowers and lines, faded and torn in parts. The menus bled photos of food into the writing, to create a pinky swirl of unreadable water colour art.It turned out quite lucky there were photos, as our host and waitress and most likely proprietress all-in-one, could not speak any English. A question "How long has this place been open?" was met with a blank stare and pointing to the menu. We realised our interactions would have to be limited to fingers stabbed toward the menu photos and reassuring nods.We lost our adventurous spirit when it came to the deep fried camel hump, but I loved the menu's offering of "chips and fired chickens"!!! (Just had to snap that!)While our food was being made outside through the side door somewhere, we marveled at our surroundings and threw out wild assumptions about the restaurant and who (apart from us) ate here. Indentured labourers? Underground gangs? We wondered if we’d get sick, and other ethnocentricities… shame on us for sure. The food arrived, the plates, one by one, huge portions, amazing smells… and then we ate. OMG. The food was amazing. A friend’s suggestion of cucumber plate was a great starter – fresh yet salty and addictive. Spring rolls were small and dainty and so different from the usual… Fried noodles with pork was a huge steaming plate of soba type silky noodles, veggies and small tasty bits of pork. Moreish all the way. Other plates followed, including shrimps with cashew – huge buttery but crunchy cashews and tender seasoned shrimps, and the pork dumplings – to die for…. Basically everything was great. We washed it all down with Ghana’s famous brews, Gulder and Star.In the background our host was mesmerized by the couple singing the theme from the Titanic in Cantonese on TV. Only when we turned to watch too, the English subtitles showed lyrics that were definite[...]



Holli's world - Accra's Best Eats

2011-10-06T17:22:54.672Z

Ok, so my son is gone and I am officially the mother of an empty nest. What better to focus on, than food? I figure I have started on the treadmill every day, just enough to ensure I won't explode while visiting all my favourite foody spots in town. Here's a list of some great ones:Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar (02430681651) $Ethiopian food isn’t the kind of stuff you warm to over time. You try it, you either love it or hate it, and there are no conversions thereafter. I’m a lover. Years ago, ladies night in Accra consisted of first stop Lalibela Ethiopian restaurant, Osu, platters of hot, soft, sour injera dotted with dollops of rich stews. Lots of ‘big’ Stars (beer), lots of ladies chatter and a communal mayhem of hands, tearing away our injera plate. It was always licked clean. We were always happy and full and a tiny bit tipsy, heading out on the town afterwards. It was the ‘go to’ place for welcoming new people, the last stop before airport drop offs, and the favourite venue for orientations of new volunteers. And then it closed down. And we mourned.Then last year a new Ethiopian opened in East Legon, on the main road, just up past the hotel that doubles as a church on Sundays. Ambiance is like a school cafeteria done up for ‘Ethiopia Day’, but the food is great. Same warm platters of injera and communal chop delight. Only drawback is that we can’t go on weekdays unless we are willing to factor in over an hour of traffic and ensuing road rage…Deli France $$There has never been, until now, a world class lunch spot, for quick sandwiches on real baguettes, for great coffee with the uber indulgence of ‘extreme chocolate’ (a dessert that you will never forget – halfway between a mousse and fudge, with a crunchy thin crust.) Everything in Deli France is imported from France – the bread comes frozen and is baked fresh every day. And you can tell. The place is tiny and cute, and hidden behind some vines and a big wide awning – in front of Ester’s Hotel, Airport Residential area (opposite the Knights of Malta). Logistics of ordering is still a bit of a nightmare, but these are the teething problems of new spots. Judging by the brisk business they are doing, having opened only a month ago, they will put all the other pseudo-sandwich joints out of business sooner than later. And the greatest danger for me is that it’s located a 1 minute walk from my office… Oh dear.La Chaumiere (0302772408) $$$ Hands down the best restaurant in Ghana. Tucked away on a tricky little side alley, across from the Aviation building off Independence Ave. This place proves that great service and consistency are the best recipe for success. Many other fancier restaurants have popped up over the years, threatening to swallow up the business of places like this, but even with the fancy $1m reno’d Polo Club venue a stone’s throw away now, this place is booked solid most nights. Ahmed is owner and host and is there every night with a warm hello, and sends you off with a free digestif of your choice. Zambuca for me please! In between, his team bring marinated olives, peanuts, and ample baskets of fresh baguette, followed by consistently great French cuisine. You never leave hungry or unhappy. Promise!Le Bouquet (024342222) $$With the number of long term Lebanese in Ghana, and knowing from a visit to Beirut, how the Lebanese love to feed people, I am surprised there are not more of these restaurants in town. Le Bouquet has been around a long time, because their food is consistently fresh and tasty. Their prices have not jumped too high, and despite moving from the centre of Osu down to the beach road (by Jokers), they’ve maintained a loyal clientele. The mezza are the main attraction, despite the fact that the menu boasts pages of more substantial dishes, it’s the small shared plates that make a meal the most enjoyable. Smoked eggplant baba ghannouj is excellent, the vine leaves stuffed with rice are the perfect texture and tang. The [...]



Moments like this

2011-09-22T16:25:31.881Z

Blurry, the park across the street melts in my view and slips down in huge heavy tears onto my t-shirt. Five minutes before, I was posing for photos, thumbs up, with my boy. Our last breakfast at a cheesy local diner, I sipped a giant diet Coke and looked around at what would be his new neighborhood. I was bursting with joy and pride. I poked and tickled him and felt the vicariousness of his new exciting life.Soft, now my knees like marshmallows, the sidewalk so hard below me, I know I will drop, crashing like the 23 story building looming behind me. I sway in the earthquake of emotion.Strong, the bond as he holds me, his mom, towering over my weakness. Child becomes parent, small becomes big, life shifts irrevocably. I give in to the abyss of sadness that bubbles up. I’m really losing my baby.Common, this rituals plays itself out in dorm rooms and concrete school hallways across the continent today. But mine is different, I convince myself, mine is special, mine is my whole life that has led up to this moment! No one can possibly understand. No mother has felt this crushing pride of loss.Buried, deep in the smell of his cotton t-shirt, I cannot face the world or the truth. I have grown up with this man, this boy, this child of mine.Floating above myself now, I see us in the airport in Ghana, 1998. My little guy and I, after a year of volunteering, are headed home to Canada for Christmas. He is 6 years old. We are so excited and anxious to get home to the family, it’s palpable. Only, as we stand at the immigration desk, there is hesitation and the officer is upset. Something is wrong. He calls a superior and ushers us aside. My boy looks up at me with those huge innocent eyes. He whispers,“Mom? What’s wrong?”I shrug and squeeze his hand as they lead us into a small windowless room. We have apparently overstayed our visa and there is a massive fine to pay. We are in trouble. I don’t have the money, I am at a loss as to how this happened, as our passports are held with the NGO I am working for. We are not going to make our plane. As the minutes tick by and we sit alone and silent in the pitiful room, my heart sinks. Tears stream down my face. My boy jumps up from the chair and leaps forward. He touches my cheeks gently, wiping my tears“Mom, don’t cry. Everything is going to be ok. It will work out. We’ll be ok. Ok?”And it was. I squeezed him so close. My heart nearly burst.Something was arranged and we made our plane, running, hand in hand down the runway, out of breath, we boarded the plane. Everyone was annoyed at the delay. We looked at each other with a knowing… it is the bond. We’d been through another of life’s experiences together.Spinning, I’m jolted back to now - the world around us circles, and the moment threatens to pass. Time taps my shoulder, we will have to leave. My tears will have to be dammed.He pulls away,“C’mon Mom, you’re gonna make me cry.”Which only make my tears come harder. And I’ve done it. He breaks. His strong face, cracks and our bond is exposed. Emotion all over his face. It’s sealed forever.Our song plays in my head, the guitar he strums to me in the kitchen on Saturday afternoons back home, Bon Iver:“I am my mother's only one,It's enough…I wear my garment so it shows.Now you know.Only love is all maroon,Gluey feathers on a flumeSky is womb and she's the moon.I am my mother on the wall, with us allI move in water, shore to shore;Nothing's more.Only love is all maroonGluey feathers on a flumeSky is womb and she's the moon…Gazing, incredulous, from behind he grows smaller as he skips away into the huge building that eats him up. The car carries me limp, further and further way. In the distance, the song still serenades me. My boy has grown up and the world has him now. [...]



Amadou and Mariam - Putting West Africa on the Map

2011-09-20T16:38:36.545Z

width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/MgafofMfBFM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="">



Pow wow - Poverty amidst prosperity in Canada

2011-09-20T12:01:02.834Z

I have spent the past few years highlighting issues of poverty in Ghana through this blog. Many times I get feedback that asks me to look at poverty where I come from.The sad fact that many North Americans don't want to face, is that we have some populations who live in 'developing world' conditions right in our backyard.On this summer's holiday back home in Canada, we ventured out to a pow wow. First Nations people across North America celebrate their annual festival - called a pow wow - in the spring and summer months. Pow wows consist of dancing, drumming and traditional outfit contests. There is singing, dancing, smudging, and sales of food, clothes, jewelery etc.We had a great time. But we also visited the reservation that hosted the pow wow. And we were shocked, disappointed and amazed at the way people are living in 2011 in a country like Canada.The following statistics from the Public Service Alliance of Canada speak volumes:*One in four First Nations children live in poverty.* First Nations people suffer from Third World diseases such as tuberculosis at eight to 10 times the rate of Canadians in general.* More than half of First Nations people are not employed.* One Aboriginal child in eight is disabled, double the rate of all children in Canada.* Among First Nations children, 43 per cent lack basic dental care.* Aboriginal children are drastically over-represented in the child welfare system* High school graduation rates for First Nations youth are half the Canadian rate.* First Nations youth commit suicide at five to eight times the Canadian rate. The suicide rate for Inuit youth is six times as high as in the rest of the country.* Diabetes among First Nations people is at least three times the national average.* Recent Census data shows that 23 per cent of Aboriginal people live in houses in need of major repairs, compared to just 7 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population.* Overcrowding among First Nations families is double the rate of that for all Canadian families. A recent government study found that more than half of Inuit families live in overcrowded conditions. Some three-bedroom homes are known to house as many as 20 people.* More than 100 First Nations communities are under boil water advisories right now, meaning they have little or no access to clean water for drinking and sanitation.* More than half of First Nations and Inuit people are under 25 years of age. This is the fastest growing population in Canada If poverty is not addressed today, it will continue to negatively impact First Nations families for generations to come.Ghana and Africa as a whole has become the target trendy destination for eco-tourism and voluntourism as well as paid volunteering. Why do we not look inward at communities in North America that lack education, potable water, sanitation, access to health care in their communities?!The First Nations of North America are the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. Maybe it's not cool to meet up with friends and say you volunteered for two months on a reservation....Maybe the photos you bring back will not be as exotic as those from Africa. You will not have paid over $3000 for your trip and flown across the globe. But is it any less important?Ignorance of native issues in Canada is rife. As a city girl, I had no idea how much land across Canada belongs to our aboriginal groups, no idea what their culture was or how it has been eroded. No clue about the poverty that characterizes most reservations. The first time I ever visited a reservation I was already in my late 30's. I'd already lived in Africa for years. And this place was less than a two hour drive from my suburban home... Is our ignorance an excuse? Where is the media coverage? Where is the education on the sordid history of the clash between the aboriginal groups and the colonizers that led to the state of affairs today? How can we all turn a b[...]



Lifestyles of the Far-flung Expat

2011-08-08T16:28:53.165Z

Life as an expat in a far away land can be so varied, so many diverse experiences await you. But the one thing you are pretty likely to have in common with every other expat is the annual trip home. You will be sitting with your desk calendar months in advance, plotting and planning and marking the potential dates… then you wait. You get on with your own reality for the time being. But then, before you know it, time will have eaten itself in silence and you will notice the penned circle on your desk calendar, pinpointing a number which is approaching with speed. The blue ink swirls, a reminder that you aren’t prepared! You will find yourself, a few weeks before the annual departure date, stealing time at the office, scouring TripAdvisor and cheapcarrental.com and booking the many flights… oh the flights. Because there will no doubt be more than one place, one family, one set of friends to visit… not to mention the dentist appointments and drivers' license renewals! As an expat, your holidays are not your own. You know there will be time juggling ahead, and that despite your best efforts to spread yourself as thin as possible on those limited days… there will always be someone slighted, an old friend or aunt that feels hurt that you didn’t make that call, arrange that afternoon for tea. Sigh… And there are the self-inflicted expectations… Afterall, you live in a tropical hothouse and hence you can’t very well return home, pasty - looking as if you haven’t been outside in months. So despite it being the rainy season in your adoptive home country (when you are lucky to see the sun poke it’s shining face through the wall of clouds for a few minutes in any given day), you wake on those last few Sunday mornings before the departure date, praying to various gods, just to allow you one hour to bake a bit, to tease out a slight bronze from your milky depths… to no avail. But you push this to the level of embarrassment, by donning a bikini, gauzy cover-up, and flip-flops, packing up your big beach towel and favourite book and heading down to the pool. You pass security guards and grounds staff in their winter’s finest – toques and windbreakers, and nod a quick hello. You lie, like the underbelly of a fish, a greyish white, on the recliners, chilled by the prickly breeze. You might be defiant, but you are betrayed by your skin - like a plucked raw chicken, you shiver - you are laughed at by the thick storm clouds above. Eventually you retreat in total defeat and pass the same staff, chuckling inwardly they must be, at the habits of these silly Obrunis**. The last Saturdays hold their own pressures. You will suddenly start to appreciate the rich culture around you, the artifacts and beautiful fabrics, you will see all the vibrant colours and you will be thinking… gifts! Who recently had a baby, who will be celebrating their birthday while you are visiting, who would appreciate that special something that doesn’t come from a generic chain store at a western shopping mall? So therein follows the mad last minute panic shopping. And then you get all this nic-nacky stuff home, spread it out on your bed, beside the battered suitcase, and you wonder… does anyone really want all this stuff? Sigh… You will realise that the beauty that these artifacts represent, is not in the items themselves, but in the boisterous sellers, in the jovial banter of the bargaining process. The beauty of the colours is reflected in the sun and the smells and the culture that they are a part of. And once removed from their environs, wrapped in your case and carefully unraveled on the other side, it is only your stories that accompany the gifts, that will breathe life into their fascinating charm. You can try to describe the lady, with the sleeping baby strapped to her back with a soft, worn wrapper tucked so carefully; her headl[...]



The Danger of the Written Word

2011-07-23T18:14:33.104Z

A week ago today, I embarked on what has turned out to be a very dangerous trip.Not the wandering amid the streets of Jamestown, but the aftermath of my account of that event.Instead of our usual cherished Saturday adventures deep in the ‘bend down’ boutiques of Makola, T and I headed to a much advertised arts festival.The truth is that I have indeed become skeptical of the punctuality and grandiosity of events as advertised - and this comes from being disappointed many times over the past 15 years in Ghana.The Street Art festival indeed disappointed me as I’d suspected it would. I spent two hours there and I did not give the event a ‘chance’ to get going. I later read some amazing accounts on Graham’s blog and others, and saw some great photos on Nana Kofi Acquah’s Photo blog here.I was not in the mood that day to revel in the brightness of the eyes of children, to see the hope and beauty they possess inherently. I saw instead the reality of choked gutters and endemic poverty. I ignored the hope that the idea of art and expression brought to the area. I was in a melancholic mood.But in writing about this, I made some mistakes that have taught me some valuable life lessons.1. We have a responsibility to write without assumptions. We as bloggers are seen in a way as journalists, and the way we represent an event paints a picture. A picture that might be half drawn. That might not be coloured in for the reader.2. As a blogger, we must accept that we are viewed, judged and convicted on the words of each post. We are therefore only as good as our last post. I may have written many times about the beauty, the vitality and the amazing spirit of Ghana before, but in one post, my jaded slant created a false impression that it’s very difficult to live with.3. Readers can feed off the energy of comments. Mass mentality can happen on a website, as quick as can happen in a crowded street where someone shouts ‘thief’! Since writing my account of a less than perfect festival that I witnessed a portion of, in my bad mood, I have been labeled a racist, a bigot, an uninvited, unappreciative monger of poverty writing, and far, far worse.It is disturbing and hurtful to be at the centre of a witch hunt in a country that I have called home for so long. It is sad to me that one blog post has created a venomous and violent response from the fellow bloggers that I share a creative space with, in Ghana’s online community.I have learned many things. That I must be careful – I must present more well rounded accounts of events and leave my moods at home. That it is far more uplifting to see the beauty around us than the negative, as it is everywhere and it permeates. It is more of a challenge and more rewarding to pluck out the good and raise it up above the bad.I have learned that hatred lies so shallow below the surface, and I have seen it’s ugly face in the blog posts and comments hurled at me. I have seen how easy it is for people to judge, to condemn without knowledge. To push someone into a box, a label that doesn’t befit them. (Perhaps I also unwittingly labeled and boxed the community of Jamestown with my account…)I am resilient though, and I will continue to live my little life, and write from my humble perspective, and if Ghana will not embrace me, I will embrace myself.The people of Jamestown too are resilient, and will brush off my grumpy critique, as it has been pointed out that I was not the intended audience, and if the children enjoyed the day, that is far more important.I’d like to close with a quote that all of us should take to heart. It will help in my writing and I hope it will help my scathing critics:“If each man or woman could understand that every other human life is as full of sorrows, or joys, or base temptations, of heartaches and of remorse as his own . . . how much kinde[...]



Chale Wote - festival for the hungry?

2011-08-01T12:20:54.194Z

For weeks my inbox has been bombarded with event invites, information, flyers and promotional blurbs about an upcoming Street Art festival in Accra. In Jamestown, the poorest, most densely populated ghetto in Accra. Not only was it strange to be getting email correspondence about a festival in Jamestown, but foreign embassies were involved and were even asking for volunteers for the day.One of the website blurbs states:The festival is free and open to the public with more than 2,000 patrons expected to attend. CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival is a collaborative effort produced with the help of the Ga Mashie Development Agency, the Foundation for Contemporary Artists, JustGhana, Attukwei Art Foundation, Pidgin Music, DUST Magazine, ACT for Change, The WEB, and Ehalakasa Poetry Slum.My carefully constructed cynicism told me that the event was a disaster in the making or at best, a non-starter, but I agreed to ‘check it out’ with T, for old times’ sake – to celebrate the curiousity that has helped us to know Ghana so well through the years.This Saturday was the big day. T and I piled into a rickety taxi, left the relative serenity of Osu, and asked to go to the prison (the main Jamestown fort being both the ‘hub’ of the daily activities, AND the oldest prison in Ghana). He obliged. As he honked and dodged along the bumpy roads, we sat, bright and scrubbed and carefully devoid of jewellery or purses, looking out at the increasing squalor, the tightly choked lanes, the throngs of passers-by, jostling between taxis, tro tros, head loads and knee high festering piles of rubbish. We were in the heart of Jamestown.He dropped us at a random corner, which seemed just as good as any, and we nodded at the cluster of old men gathered on makeshift benches on the other side of the green swamp gutter. We entered a dirt square, bordered by concrete walls, that housed an unorganised mess of people under canopies, selling fufu and a sad array of ‘local crafts’, along with a brass band in matching yellow t-shirts. There were easily 200 children below the age of 10, stomping around the band, in a rainbow of school uniform colours, following the pied piper of Jamestown, a lanky guy, with red rimmed hipster glasses, a hand painted t-shirt and a wacky expression.Then the pied piper saw us, motioned to his crew and within seconds they attacked. Hundreds of knee high sets of brown hands and faces, all over our arms and legs, shouting, chanting, laughing, pushing. “Obruni!!!!!!!”“Oh no!” This was NOT on my agenda. I have no clue why he sent them to us, but just as fast as they’d arrived, he motioned for their retreat and they were off, marching in another direction, leaving us self conscious and confused; the imprint of tiny bare toes on our ankles and feet; in a thick cloud of dust.We tried to find something interesting to keep us there, but alas, after T taught the seller of the ‘ancient African beads’, that most were in fact, less than 6 months old and from China and India, we wandered out of the square.We stood forlorn on the street corner, a spectacle of white curiousity, while T consulted her list of activities, printed off from the numerous flyers. There were hopeful events listed there, such as spoken word readings, experimental theater, fashion circus, Brazilian fight dancing, bike and rollerskate stunting party, live music etc. Looking around at the complete lack of signs, vibe and such, and instead at the din of a usual Saturday afternoon in Jamestown, kids bathing naked at the roadside, mothers sweating, pouring the dirty water from the buckets of their lives into the open fetid gutters… I remained skeptical.Just then, T spotted the sign for a project that the North American Women’s group has been donating funds. It was painted roughly by hand, “Jaynii Streetw[...]



In the news: Ghana today

2011-07-13T13:03:41.385Z

(image)
Corpses have been removed from Tema morgue today, following an invasion of mice that were eating the bodies. It is not clear whether the hospital or family members are transferring the bodies to various other facilities./// Ghana’s President Atta Mills spoke to the nation on Sunday, giving the assurance that government would institute measures to check the menace of homosexuality and lesbianism that were gaining grounds within the country. He said those acts were contrary to the word of God and the norms and values of the Ghanaian society. He spoke in response to the words of Reverend Bosoma, who warned that if preventive measures were not taken, the situation could result in misfortunes and disasters in the country, just as it happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. The Reverend also condemned improper dressing, especially wearing of short skirts and open-chest blouses by females to expose their breasts, saying the practices were due to wrong adaptation of foreign culture./// Two Pastors of the Conquerors Redemption International Church, and a trader were charged with possessing fake currencies after suitcases of fake GHC50 notes were recovered from the church./// The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced the organisation of a durbar for the Transport Union to highlight health hazards associated with noise making. This has become necessary due to the intensity of noise making by some drivers at lorry stations and within the metropolis./// The Chief Nankpanduri and Naa Nimoh Naabare, the Chief of Kpemale in the Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo District Assembly in the Northern region, have held a joint press conference denying reports that they are at war because of a parcel of land./// Yaw Kesse, a 30-year-old farmer, was on Thursday sentenced to 16 months imprisonment by a Koforidua Magistrate’s Court for stealing cocoyam. When confronted he admitted to having stole the yams and sold them to a woman./// The Presbyterian Church of Ghana has presented a brand new Renault Duster 4x4 vehicle to the Headmaster of the Suhum Presbyterian Senior High School (SHS) to facilitate his work. At the same presentation, Rev. Dr Mante expressed concern about reports of homosexuals and lesbianism invading educational institutions in the country and urged heads of institutions and teachers to be vigilant and monitor the students and bring all those involved in those practices out. The school remains in need of a school bus./// A 45 year old farmer who doubled as a fetish priest, shot himself dead in the Nanumba-North District after butchering to death his third wife who was pregnant. His first and second wives were injured, but escaped death by fleeing. It was revealed during the investigation that the Police have in their possession a single obsolete Tata pick-up meant for patrolling two widespread districts.



Can Watching TV Be Therapeutic?

2011-07-03T17:23:56.052Z

We’ve been watching In Treatment. An American TV series shot entirely within the confines of a therapist’s office. (The entire script is adapted from the Israeli show Be Tipul) It’s addictive and engrossing. J has even been glued to it, and he has no suspension of disbelief, meaning he normally hates any fictional drama series. Throughout my life I’ve had friends in therapy. I felt like it was some sort of club I didn’t really need, had no clue how to join, but had a morbid curiousity about. I wondered whether there could truly be a formula where peoples’ lives could be spoken – like puzzle pieces poured onto a table - and with a therapist’s presence, reflecting the words back upon the wounded one like a mirror, the puzzle would fit together and the person would emerge cured…In as much as a TV show reflects the reality of our lives, the series illustrates the fact that there is no secret at all. That therapists are not special nor gifted. That they have neuroses of their own, that they can be weak and impulsive and damaged. That they cannot see the patterns they theorize about, when it comes to their own lives. In essence, that they are just one of us. Normal in their imperfections.This is depressing and elating at once. At the end of the season 1, the hero, our therapist, decides finally to follow his heart, professing his love for a patient with whom the sexual tension has been palpable throughout the series. He visits her house, enters her bedroom and … has an anxiety attack on the edge of the bed. He begins to sweat uncontrollably and gasp for air. He flees.I never believed in anxiety attacks when I was younger. I grew up with the impression that most psychological problems were just melodramatic self absorption. This was easy to believe. Easier than facing the possibility that life’s experiences could damage our minds, our hearts, our souls.One day a few months after my six year old son died inexplicably in my arms, I found myself at the bottom of a pool of air, forgetting how to breath it in, how to stand, how to walk. I was gripped with panic at the thought of walking down the stairs, sipping water, living another moment. In my mind, I knew that something had to give. I would have to pass out or vomit or die.I had an anxiety attack. I found myself on the side of the road in my car, on the streets of Accra, in a neighborhood I knew well. Lost, out of breath and terrified. I had to call a friend to come and save me.I knew then that the mind was a delicate organ and I was so scared that mine was tipping into the uncontrollable. Turning against me. I have never been more frightened about my own sanity. I needed a miracle.I wanted a therapist to soothe my shaking psyche. To talk me through my own mine field of experience. To make me better.I came to realise that the choice was inside me. The strength to pull up and out of the abyss. Time is a healer, more than a $150 an hour psychotherapist. Their theories and the incessant talking about memories and feelings are all stabs in the dark to help us, but in the end, futile without us. I have lost the naive belief in external cures. I am much more in awe of the human brain now though, and how it reacts to the blows of reality. I will never venture to judge again...But my morbid curiousity is not abated. I have realised that watching the therapy dynamic is fascinating in it’s inaccuracy, interplay, and raw emotion. It makes brilliant television.[...]



Ode to an Old Soul : For the Grand Mother who has gone

2011-06-03T16:15:17.154Z

My grandmother died last night. Most will send condolences and imagine the cordial service at a local church. Some will picture her 93 year old frame, frail and dusty, giving in without resistance to the reaper’s grasp.None will imagine her as the hero, bagging carrots in a factory until each finger bent irrevocably under the burden. Single handedly putting two boys through school on a pittance wage.None will know how she loved Boy George later, his energy and crazy hair, and kept his poster on the back of her guest bedroom door in her tiny apartment with the slanted walls…They will sit quietly at her funeral service, hands in their laps, listening to the generic words of the priest - not knowing that she was vibrant and alert, not so long before, and painfully aware of the limitations of her failing parts. They won’t realise that she kept the family memories alive and well in her mind – she had the sharpest memory I’ve known. S at up in her hospital bed two months ago, head crusted with blood from where she’d fallen, body hunched and dry and so tiny… she said to me matter-of-factly: “I’m 35 years old in here” (pointed at her heart)“Getting old is annoying. People talk loudly to me. But I’m the same person I was at 35, just got stuck in this old body”And it struck me. So many are afraid of old people. They fear the fragility, as like a mirror, it fortells the future. It forces us to face our own mortality and the sickly smell of urine, warm and without dignity, that characterizes the demise into old age. It repells us.We see them so often as already gone – mentally, physically. Many will not look for that flicker in their eye, that could reveal a person to relate to and understand. A person who has loved and been loved. But it struck me when my gramma said this to me. I looked deep into her eyes, and there she was. Lover of shortbread cookies and the best baker of them in the world. A mother, a sister, a soul that I could relate to. It was a reminder that one day, this could be me. I wanted to reach out to her, to hug her so tightly. But she’s never been the affectionate type. And her body had grown so skeletal (from the bad food, according to her), that I had to resist. To just be content to be in her presence. A woman who I’d grown up with. Who I had always loved, and who in that moment, I was so connected to.And then I had to fly away, as I do, and the news came of her continued weakness.The nurses hovering around her, a patient number on their rounds, chatting amongst themselves, lifting body parts and replacing them mechanically.They didn’t know who she really was. I suppose they didn’t have time to look.And as the talking around her got louder, she became quieter and more still. Her breathing got more shallow and her body started to shut down.She slipped into a sleeping state. She was tired. I wasn’t there, but I know she was too tired to carry on. What with the annoying oxygen tube they put across her little face, and the sores on her legs refusing to give her a moment’s peace.She decided to go, my grandmother did. And as with everything in her life, she knew her own mind and she did what needed to be done. But for us weaker ones left behind, I only hope we can do her legacy justice. Her soul escaped our world and left an emptiness we now hold.Go well Gramma, we will remember you for the wonderful woman you were. No generic lip service from me. I love you forever.[...]



Ode to the grown up boy - on leaving for University

2011-06-01T10:08:40.868Z

I’m pressing my head up against your warm chest, breathing you in for those last ticking seconds.

Your sturdy arms encircle me so briefly but so tightly. There is action around us, the lights of cars and cameras, swirl around. The car horns are a dull – only barely piercing my consciousness. The suitcases and carts and people are all petty distractions, the reality around us is nothing. I am flooded with the emotion that is everything. That is my entire heart, my soul - all escape in a hot mess of tears, and my last futile attempts to hold my baby close.

Just minutes ago, we were singing along to the songs that you brought into my life, that will forever connect us through time. No One is Ever Gonna Love You More than I Do… I sang so loudly. I sang those words like an anthem. Like a Band of Horses, they were my ode to you.

(image)

We didn’t speak on that last drive through the city, on the way to this moment at the airport, where you have grown up in an instant and now you are gone.

I close my eyes and breathe you in; you, the tiny warm body against mine, just hours after your birth. I am transported for just a second. I am only twenty three. Clueless. A kid myself, but so desperate to be the mom you deserve. I pat the warm smooth fluff of your newborn hair and hold your miracle earlobe in my fingers. I weep.

I am at once elated and terrified. How will I raise you up? What will I give you? What will it take? I am only comforted that the love I have is everything. It encompasses me and it is a shield around you.

And now, as you tower above me, eighteen years have vanished behind us. There is no looking back. You are a man. Have I done the right things? Has the love been enough? Will it shield you now?

You have become so much more than that twenty three year old could imagine. We grew up together, you and me, outside the box. On the edge. Sometimes I held you close to protect you, and at times it was you who held me. Like the middle name I chose for you in those first few days of life, you are, and you have always been ‘Mompati – my companion’. I took you far far away from home. Together we crossed continents and navigated cultures. We have found love and opportunity and profound sadness. We have found joy.

And somewhere in there, you grew up. My quiet, sensitive boy, you became a shining musician and a stellar speaker. You taught yourself the things I couldn’t, and you didn’t hold my weaknesses against me. You see me, the flawed, the fragile... The girl who raised you up with the best of intentions.

And I know today that somehow, the love I had was strong enough. You in turn are stronger. The world awaits you, and it has a great surprise coming.

Please never be afraid to shine or share yourself. You are my gift to the world and I am proud to send you out there. Send you, guitar in tow, with your pile of suitcases, back across the continents, as you head down the footpath at the departures hall. And as you turn to wave goodbye, though my eyes are blurred with tears, I can see that spark, and it calms my worried mother-heart.

Go well Mompati. I love you more than these silly words can say.



The Liar, Our Witch and my Wardrobe

2011-05-10T11:46:29.540Z

Sometimes I am just completely blind sided by Ghana. There are moments when I am busy minding my own business, living my little expat life within the confines of this African republic, and culturally I trip over something that just has me reeling.And then I remember that despite my hard drives full of pirated American TV series that fill us with the ultimate superficial each weekday evening, and the goat cheese in my salad, made with imported iceberg lettuce; this is NOT North America, and this little capsule called our home is situated squarely within an entirely different world.There are undercurrents that pulsate just below the surface in Ghana, in my office, in my yard, in the strangers who pass me on the street. And there are moments when they peek out, when that reality faces me. At those times I am never prepared.Last night I was bopping around my humid kitchen, wearing my Hello Kitty pyjama set, with my freshly washed hair tied up; I was dishing up our supper plates, anxious to head back into the relative cool of the living room to watch some mind numbing TV series.“Madam” came the low voice from the pool of darkness beyond my kitchen window.“Eric?” (assuming it was our gardener, (term used very loosely) who lives at the back of the house).“Madam, I believe you are busy but I need to speak to you. Very important, very urgent. I beg.”I begrudgingly put down my ladle and agreed to meet Eric around the side of the house.So we met, I in cartoon pants with brightly coloured kittens scattered about my legs, opening the sliding doors, the bright and cool mixing with the dark heat. Eric stood glumly almost out of sight on the veranda.“Yes Eric, what is wrong?” – I of course, assuming there would be a long winded story of medical or other woe, and a plea for money. But this was a different problem altogether.Eric shifted and stuttered and said Madam a few times.“It’s about Gilbert” (our cook and cleaner who has worked for the company over 12 years).“Yes Eric?! What about Gilbert?” “Well Madam, he is disturbing me in ways you won’t understand. In fact, it is very serious.”“Ok, well you tell me and I’ll see what I can do” (me, clueless)“Madam, in fact, he has been trying to… trying to… well he has been determined to kill me spiritually”.Silence.My first instinct is to laugh, which probably won’t go over well. I can see the shiny sweat on Eric’s forehead, reflecting the light from behind me. He is very serious.“Madam, maybe these things you cannot understand. But even physically, he has been doing things. I am having so many challenges in life. Josephine has gone (this was Eric’s girlfriend, who was always way out of his league in my opinion), and Gilbert even today, he…. Well I must confess there was a problem in this house today”Eric went on to explain that Gilbert had called a certain driver and started to talk to him loudly about how Eric had not been pulling his weight around the house, implying he was useless, and ‘damaging’ his name. Eric then came out of his room and they argued. Gilbert is a liar and possibly a witch?!I was really not sure why the two of them would be arguing, nor what I was expected to do. But mostly I was pinching myself, wondering if really, I had been called out to hear that one of my staff was trying to kill the other spiritually. Juju. Again. This theme keeps reappearing.And it’s not just among the relatively uneducated. Making that assumption would be to miss the undercurrent and remain completely oblivious to how this society functions.I got up this morning with last night’s event freshly in my mind. I greeted Gilbert who was busy making eggs and sa[...]



Walking in My Shoes - a trip and a loss.

2011-05-05T15:37:38.665Z

Right now, in a tiny fishing village on South Africa’s arid West Coast called Doringbaai, my favourite shoes are living an entirely new life.With the affection others reserve for beloved pets, loyal and by your side through thick and thin, I regarded my little black flats. They have literally toured the world with me. I confess that I can’t remember what country I bought them in originally, but I quickly discovered that they were more comfortable than slippers, yet worked in almost any scenario. And being flat and pliable, they packed so well too!I have always had a difficult relationship with shoes. My wide feet and painful hereditary bunions (what a word), (thanks for that mom), have always meant that I’ve had to respect function before fashion. Most heels are excruciating and dainty shoes with thin straps across the foot are OUT in my world.Then I found THE SHOES. Made by Nike – but never to be found again, despite searching in every mall ever since – they were crafted from real soft leather, flat, chinese slipper style, with a solid, athletic hidden sole. They were my saviour in so many situations. My comfort on long walks, in shopping malls, on rough trails, on my feet for hours at trade shows, dinners, cocktails, long plane rides across continents, office hours, party hours, market jaunts across Africa. How many shoes can say the same?!So naturally I took them along (as always) on my latest trip – a meeting in Johannesburg, followed by a tack-on, sanity restoring, leisurely holiday to Cape Town.We decided once in Cape Town, that having toured most of the Southern Cape, it would be a new adventure to travel northward up the west coast. It was a great trip. Unlike the touristy garden route and numerous wine routes, the west coast is dotted with genuine, hard working fishing villages.The roads out to the coast from the main highway, branch like spindles on a spiders web, each country road opening up to the raging waves of the Atlantic, with a small settlement at each, clinging to the history of fishing that has been their livelihood and defined them all forever. It was quaint, and sometimes beautiful. It was small wooden brightly painted boats and toothless smiles. It was Afrikaans signposts and tiny galleries, small local restaurants and a persistent mist that blanketed the area each evening by 5.We walked and walked, we shivered basked in the sun, and investigated all the corners we could. We met some great locals. We ate some fresh calamari. We saw the sets of seasonal campers from local inland towns, come to the coast for their seaside holidays.My little black flats accompanied us everywhere (there they were below, on one of our last days together).And then we came to Strandfontein.The northern most stop on our trip, before the 5 hour journey back down the main highway to Cape Town. It was a sterile little town, built up a sloping hill, populated by a mosaic of modern guest houses and holiday retreats. The beach was long and flat and gorgeous. We knocked on some doors, inquired about accommodation for one night, found a friendly flat manager and booked in to a full little apartment.We asked of restaurants and discovered there were none. We were told that 5km down the road, in the ‘coloured village’ of Doringbaai, there was a great little seafood place, run by an Afrikaans ‘tannie’ (aunty) and we should head over to book. We took a drive over to have a look. It was a tiny, non-descript village, built on the small fishing industry, and teeming with workers from the next town.South Africa’s history, as we all know, is uncomfortable to say the least, when it comes to races and race relations. A[...]



This is not Kansas - Harbouring dangerous despots in Ghana

2011-04-05T16:26:21.591Z

It’s definitely surreal. My ipad perched on my lap in bed, I read of human rights atrocities, people being burned alive, rebel troops from two sides of a political struggle killing and maiming innocent citizens in a city less than 300km from me. For months this chaos has been brewing. Laurent Gbagbo, Ivory Coast’s incumbent president has refused to leave his post after losing a democratic election last October.Although international media is less concerned as they are with the developments in the oil-rich middle east, Ivory Coast has been heading toward the brink of an all-out civil war for months. Local media and that odd BBC article have been following.Sometimes the lines are blurred between the good and the bad, the right and the wrong.And in the middle are the people. The industries. The entire society is at a standstill, cowering, hiding from the bloodshed in the streets. Banks packed up so people cannot get paid. Sanctions have crippled the biggest industry – cocoa.And at the heart of it all is one man’s insatiable ego. And then yesterday, local media publishes a photo of a glamorous lady in designer shades, with her little boy – they are staying at Ghana’s finest hotel – The Labadi Beach. It is Mr. Laurent Gbagbo’s second wife.How quaint. Apparently first wife is staying in my neighborhood as well.It also comes out that Gbagbo owns a mansion in a near by luxury housing estate.So here we are, in the middle of something ugly.It’s days like this when the distant din of news – of CNN and BBC and Al Jazeera reporters ‘on the ground’, reporting disasters and developments around the world, come just that once step too close to home.Dorothy ain't in Kansas anymore. Or in this case, Mississauga Ontario.Could Ghana offer asylum to a man that has allowed close to 1000 citizens violently and senselessly murdered to keep his power for a few more days, weeks, months?Will his wife be offered a luxury suite with money earned on the backs of those who lie dying in the streets in our neighboring country?Will we all just watch it happen and turn the page to a new story?In the meantime, the streets of Abidjan are in turmoil. And they have apparently descended on Gbagbo's residence. But they cannot find him... The family is not inside...I wonder where they are.[...]



The Fetish Priests of Modern Ghana - self serving soothsayers or prolific prophets?

2011-03-31T14:28:56.269Z

(Some) Ghanaians take their fetish priests seriously. So seriously that the poorest of folk are willing to bet their last pesewa on lotto numbers read out by one such priest during a ‘trance’.Yesterday’s local media covers the story here:MASS WEEPING AS FETISH PRIEST’S LOTTO NUMBERS FAIL TO DROPDespite the failure of the spirit man’s predictions, you can’t take these guys lightly – they even have a Wiki page!Traditionally, despite the influence of foreign religions like Christianity and Islam, people have consulted fetish priests for everything from illness to financial troubles.Here’s a quote from Africaloft blog on the topic:“It is not strange to find many Africans walking the gray line between their accepted religion (Islam/Christianity) and traditional religion. For example, a woman who might be having problems conceiving might be visiting a traditional healer on Saturdays while going to her church on Sundays. Are traditional healers quacks? I believe that is a story for another day. But, many educated people outwardly state that they are while they inwardly fear them.”Driving across Ghana’s rural expanse, one can see small signboards peeping out from the tall grass along empty stretches of road, with the advertisement of a powerful fetish priest – claiming to cure everything from AIDS to sexual frigidity.Sure enough, there will be a narrowly plodded footpath leading away from the road, toward this mystical man’s chambers. I’ve always wanted to venture in, but have reigned in my naïve curiousity and limited myself to taking photos of some of these wild and wonderful roadside signs from the safe seat of our 4x4.But some of Ghana’s mystical miracle workers have come to meet me (and others) in the modern world of websites and e-mail consultations!Take Nana Kwaku Bonsam. His website intro reads:Nana Kwaku Bonsam is ready to help. Be it spiritual guidance, business promotion, bareness, visa problems, marriage problems, want revenge, ?, etcThere’s an orange button on the site just below this that says: Send me your problems: GO!Now there’s a modern traditional man. I have to say I’m amazed how easily his craft lends itself to the online world. I have no idea how many people use his services, but he has been interviewed on local media and youtube features some footage of his ritual performances… title="YouTube video player" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/ofmXtcQ2ZQo" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="390" width="480">His services page claims that wherever you are in the world he can assist you with: visas, barrenness, madness, poverty, spiritual attacks, impotence, vengeance and others.He claims to charge nothing except the things needed for the rituals, but makes an open threat that those who fail to honour this stipulation will be further cursed…Scary stuff.I encourage everyone to take a virtual tour of the site.On a serious note however, due to lack of education in many instances, and a failing medical system on the other, many Ghanaians (and other West Africans) attribute undiagnosed illnesses to the spiritual world. It is common to hear that someone is under spiritual attack. January 2011, Ghana reported that a well known Nigerian actress is suffering in this way.ACTRESS SIKIRATU SINDODO UNDER SPIRITUAL ATTACKThe spiritual world also dominates the entertainment industry with Nollywood (Nigeria’s Holly/Bollywood) being the third largest film industry in the world, and pumping out nearly $300m worth of movies every year, many with such a theme.I've watched a few minutes of Nollywood's finest here, with the ba[...]



A Starchy Post - the mighty yam and others

2011-03-25T17:36:07.610Z

I’ve been hiding away in shame for forgetting JOLLOF as one of Ghana’s staples. Jollof is Ghana’s paella, and it is one of the country’s all time favourite dishes – cross tribe and age – Ghanaians love jollof. And who could blame them really.A guy here once told me “Without rice, no life” – and rice that’s cooked in a savoury tomato/garlic/ginger/onion/pepper stew, that soaks up all the yummy flavours – even more full of life!So here it is – this has been my tribute to the mighty omnipotent jollof.Yams (not the same as what North Americans eat on Thanksgiving (thanks Alex)). Another staple. Yams are definitely not in short supply in Ghana.Yams look like big brown, dry, dusty logs. But they are soon peeled of the rough exterior and a bright white, pure starch emerges – ready for moulding by the cook!The yam serves the place of the potato and can be fried, mashed, grilled, baked – you name it. Without stew or a drink though, it can be a dry affair. Ahem…Not much flavour, yam is all about accompaniment and sustenance. Read: It Fills You Up.Here is some boiled yam with palaver sauce. Interestingly, the word palaver comes from Portugese - and they were the first colonialists to reach the shores of Ghana in the 1400's. The meaning of the word is tedious work, or argument. You gotta wonder how this spinach type stew with dried, pounded pumpkin seeds lends itself to the name? :)Below is a rather nouveau-cuisine representation of yam fries - they are great with the fresh grounded hot red pepper mixture (also has onions and tomatoes). They are also great with ketchup, but then that's just so north American!Fried yam - typically cut in larger chunks than the yam fries, goes as a great accompaniment with everything really - but is shown here with my favourite - tilapia!So, speaking of food that fills you up - every Ghanaian on a budget or in a rush knows about 'kofi broke man', the affectionate name for an amazing Ghanaian snack combination. Ladies can be spotted around the country, with an open fire pot, grilling plantains - turning them slowly to equally brown each side. At the side of her table will be little clear baggies, twisted off, with small portions of peanuts (or groundnuts as they are called in Ghana).Usually she has torn pieces of old newspaper that serve as the 'plate', and all is packed into a small black plastic bag, called a 'rubbah'. It's a standard ritual throughout the day - from lunch to the afterwork munchies - like the Mars bar of the nation - this snack fills you up for under one Ghana cedi!And the really great thing about it, is when your colleagues are chomping away at their desks, having indulged in a rushed lunch take out of kofi broke man, the aroma of the two things chewed together is like freshly baked cake. MMMMI haven't forgotten completely about all the Ghanaian porridges - and there are many - whose sellers shout as they walk through residential neighborhoods from 6am "Eko egbeemi!!!" at the top of their lungs... and the children run out into the streets with their coins, for a hot steaming clear plastic bag filled up with the thick beige slop. Ok, that didn't make it sound appetizing at all.In truth, on the breakfast front, there are porridges for everyone's taste. My favourite is Tom Brown (Who knows how it got that name!) - but it's signature flavour is peanut powder... There is Kooko from the Hausa tribe in the north, with a kick of pepper and some seriously aromatic flavours.Kooko is prepared from corn or millet flour and eaten with koose (fried bean balls). Here's a generous help[...]



Fufu or bust - a culinary visit to Ghana

2011-02-15T15:35:18.000Z

I’ve always liked food that is both exotic and fiery in the pepper department. This is either in spite of, or due to the fact that I grew up a middle class Anglo Canadian – typical supper fare was slightly overdone pork chops, apple sauce, potatoes and a vegetable. Salt, pepper and ketchup populated the world of spices I knew.In highschool I met a whole new world in the form of Caribbean immigrants and the amazing foods they ate at home.Oxtail stew, jerk chicken, goat roti – these quickly became my favourites. The hotter the better.In 1997, years after my first introduction to the many flavours (and peppers) of the world, I came to Ghana. I knew that one of the most important aspects of acculturation for me would be the food. And I wasn’t disappointed.Ghanaian food is culinary world in and of itself and it’s citizens hold it as dear as their flag and anthem. To be Ghanaian is to eat fufu, banku, kenkey.And there is no shortage of pepper. The soups, the stews and even the sides of fresh pepper with everything – just the thought of it gets my temples sweating and my mouth watering.Below, a sample of Ghana food at it’s best (next installment will be the stranger, more difficult to get used to dishes!):Ghanaian dishes usually consist of a starch as the main component, with an accompaniment of soup or stew.Banku is my favourite. It's literally a ball of maize that has been processed and fermented - giving it a vinegary taste like one of my other favourites, Ethiopian injera.Here is a pot of banku being made.Banku is eaten either with a okro soup (quite slimy and definitely not one of my favs), or with fish and raw hot peppers, ground with tomato and onion. CUTLERY IS NOT ALLOWED! This is a 'dig in with your hands' affair!Arguably the best Ghanaian dish ever (in my mind) - is banku with tilapia fish. You get the whole fish - no fillets in Ghana! Again, it's all about sharing and eating with your hands. YUM!Here's a bowl of fufu. This is Ghana's national dish. The fufu itself is made of boiled and pounded starches - either plantain and cassava or yam. There are three main soups that it can be submersed in - groundnut (yes, peanut soup!), light soup (a pepper and tomato broth) or palm nut soup (made from the pulp of palm kernels). There is a real art to eating fufu and most obrunis are hopeless at it. The object is to plunge your hand into the hot soup, pull of a bit size piece of the fufu, manipulate it to crate a little well where a bit of soup can sit, and plop the whole thing in your mouth and swallow. No chewing! Personally i can't do it. So in order not to gag at the table and cause concern and disgust in all around me, I abstain... The soups are great though. Peppery and flavourful...Kenkey is the food of the Ga tribe - those along the coast, in the main city Accra. It is similar to banku, in that it's made of maize, but it has a grainier texture and is made and stored in either corn husks, or in banana leaves (fante kenkey). It's served with fish and pepper. Filling and simple and transportable. A practical and filling food.Then there's red red. This dish is usually the favourite of the less adventurous visitors. It is not as spicy as the others and the tastes and textures are less 'foreign' to obrunis. Red red is named for the red of the beans in the bean stew, and the red of the fried plantains that accompany the stew. The sweetness of the plantain compliments the rich bean stew perfectly. This is a delicious dish that is definitely NOT for the diet conscious. If anyone bothered to calculate calo[...]



Jonezing for Grace - Part 2

2011-02-11T14:39:40.598Z

Ever since my Grace Jones post earlier this week, I've been on a bit of a Grace binge. I've been gobbling up her old music and reminiscing on that time of my life as the rhythms rush over me. Nothing like music brings you right back to where you were, like a soundtrack to your life...I also bought a great Grace t-shirt on eBay and went Googling around on her fan sites. Found a great one called Fuck Yeah Grace Jones here. Anyway, I found a few more tributes to the Island Life album and thought I'd share them below, before moving on to another obsession.Enjoy!Here is an art piece I'd love on my walls.And another one - LOVE THIS! It's made with Vanity Fair collage pieces!Here's a pretty sad entry from Vince Volta (legend in his own mind?), from his own blog The Mannequin's Closet...And what's a Grace Jones tribute wall without a rendition in clay? :)Just don't know what to say about this one! LOLGrace, gracing your walls - Interior design triumph!And lastly an art project that went right. I like it.Once I get my Grace t-shirt I think I'll be over the phase... except I just want to share a couple more from another great album cover, Slave to the Rhythm.The kick ass original:A couple excellent art pieces:Electric Grace in the pink grass...A couple album look-alikes:And finally, a tribute in fruit!!! You gotta love it.Work all day, as men who know,Wheels must turn to keep, to keep the flow,Build on up, don't break the chain,Sparks will fly, when the whistle blows,Never stop the action,Keep it up, keep it up,Work to the rhythm,Live to the rhythm,Love to the rhythm,Slave to the rhythm...Have a great weekend.[...]



Grace Jones the tribute series - Tro tro to Lego

2011-02-08T12:40:59.159Z

There is a grape-ice cream purple tro-tro** that whizzes around Accra on a daily basis, transporting it’s cramped passengers, sardine-tin style, from here to there. On the grimy back window, in bold white stick-on, it says: GRACE JONES.I love this for so many reasons. As I caught a glimpse of it yesterday at a crowded round-a-bout, I grinned at the randomness that is my experience of Ghana. So many things are transported across cultures and time periods, that their significance is lost or warped to such a degree, it gains a new meaning altogether... Last week I saw a refuse disposal truck called ‘Annie Lennox’, but I digress.Grace Jones was an icon to me in the 80’s, she represented a bold, defiant, androgenous beauty that spat in the face of the Farah Fawcett, Cheryl Tiegs ideal that we were fed in the media. Guys were somehow acceptable as the effeminate lace and make up wearing crooners, but women were largely in their box. Grace Jones sang off the wall music, and she was strikingly gorgeous in a scary, angular, aggressive way. I loved her.So every time I see that old mini bus - so many years later, so far away, in such a different context, it makes me smile. I have to wonder what the driver’s inspiration was, in taking the time to paste those decals up there. I guess he thinks Grace is pretty cool too.This all brought my mind back to Grace and her amazing, iconic album covers, which I looked up on Google in that nostalgic way. Her one album, Island Life, photographed and engineered by her partner Jean-Paul Goude, was my favourite. What I found, I thought worth sharing. It seems many others were so taken by the image, that they decided to do their own takes… with some um, interesting results ☺ Enjoy!THE ORIGINAL - GRACE IS STRIKING WITH HER SINEWY DARK CHOCOLATE SHINING SKIN AND IMPOSSIBLY ELONGATED POSE. SHE IS ARTISTIC FORM. IT'S DEFINITELY A MEMORABLE COVER.AND THEN CAME THE COPY CATS. I THINK THE FIRST TWO WERE ATTEMPTING THIS TO SHOW OFF THEIR FIT BODIES? BUT IT ALL JUST FALLS FLAT. THEY ARE NOT PULLING OFF THE ARTISTIC FORM...THESE TWO... HAHAHAHA! GOTTA LOVE'EMTHIS ONE IS FROM A REMIX ALBUM CALLED SELFISH BY HARD TONTHEN THERE ARE THE WTF TYPE ENTRIES....AND THOSE WHO TOOK IT ALL QUITE SERIOUSLY AND IMMORTALIZED THE GRACEFUL FORM IN METAL SCULPTURE...AND THE BEST OF ALL... GRACE JONES AS LEGO!!!Ok, I admit it... strange things amuse me. **tro-tro - Ghana's answer to the non-existent public transport system. Private (usually old and rattling) minibuses that are used on set routes around the cities and towns, seating capacity is 12, passengers are usually between 15 to 25, plus chickens, sometimes goats... anything goes :-)[...]



Aid for Africa: End the Sick Cycle

2011-02-06T18:25:31.917Z

When is everyone going to address the elephant in the room when it comes to the failure of aid to Africa?African government regimes!!! The blatant corruption and flagrant disregard for their citizens is appalling, but what is worse is the complete lack of accountability when it comes to the shoveling of aid money directly into the coffers of these self serving governments, by the West.Luckily Wikileaks did not spare Africa or the farse of the aid efforts in it’s recent exposures. In fact, some disturbing specific examples of how aid money goes into private pockets was highlighted.British taxpayers should take a keen interest in the fact that over GBP20 million has been siphoned off of aid funds destined for peace keeping efforts in Sierra Leone and education in Kenya. Top ministers instead bought hordes of plasma televisions, rifles and thousands of other luxury items. Meanwhile the poor get poorer.The most frustrating aspect of this story is that DfiD, the UK government’s development funding wing, is fully aware of the thefts, and believes that it is ‘within reason’. Within reason?! Is this what we have come to expect, rather nonchalantly from African leaders?Isn’t that assumption inherently racist? Why do Bono and Bob Geldof spend hours in front of cameras in the West, appealing to the guilt in all of us, and expect zero accountability on the part of those who have the power in Africa?!It is a blood boiling shame that aid has never had the aim of ending poverty or helping the powerless. It is an industry, a game that is played in huge nauseating circles, and success is measured in how many millions are spent on new Land Cruisers for the actual projects, and whether that number is higher than what the minister took for his private jet or holiday home abroad…. Germany recently took a stand, and held back their annual Euro200 million funding to the UN backed Global Fund Aids, TB and Malaria after a massive corruption scandal.Given this sick cycle of corrupt fund transfers, I was pleasantly surprised to meet a representative in Ghana last week from the Acumen Fund. When I sat down at our pre-arranged lunch meeting, I had my suspicions, and expected another naïve, uninformed, overly trusting aid worker type, with a typical message of aid as the answer to Africa’s woes. Instead, I was intrigued and impressed. The Acumen Fund are a non-profit money lending organization that holds their recipients fully accountable for the loans they receive, and they are expected to repay over time, plus interest.Finally, an idea that gives African entrepreneurs the respect they deserve, discourages the culture of begging and weeds out those who are just looking for another hand out.The Acumen Fund has been extremely successful with this model in East Africa and India for years, and is just feeling the waters in Ghana. This will definitely be a new concept in a country which depends so heavily on grants and funding and even remittances from their citizens abroad.One of Acumen’s success stories involves a Tanzanian who’s business plan was to manufacture bednets (to prevent malaria), which had previously been imported 100% from Asia. Currently 7000 women are employed in his factories – jobs which didn’t exist before – and he has fully paid back his loans with interest. He produces over 20 million nets a year and has become one of the largest employers in the region.The money is always reinvested in new business plans. The Fund doe[...]



Lives Apart: comparing Canada and Ghana

2011-01-20T12:44:24.686Z

Happy belated New Year – can you say that? Like with Birthdays?

I have been home – across the world and back – for the holiday season. It’s surreal to visit your family as a guest, a fly on the wall of their collective reality, when mine is so different and so far away. I pick and choose which parts of home to embrace, and which to leave behind; remove my emotional investment.

There is a price to be paid for this definitely. I think over the years it has eroded my sense of home in it’s entirety. Sentimentality is replaced by a certain cynisism and the problems of the West seem to pale in comparison to what I see on the streets of Ghana. I am left in limbo. Not truly immersed in or entrapped by what being here means to it’s people, yet so far removed from what it means to live in a Western society, with reliable water and power and shopping malls on every corner.

I found an interesting website, If It Were My Home, that points out how different our lives are, based on the ‘lottery’ of where as a human soul, we are born.

It’s very North American centric, but allows you to compare the standards of living in Canada or America to most any other country in the world.

Below is a snapshot of a comparative analysis between Canada and Ghana.

(image)

What strikes me is what the statistics don't say. What they cannot. Like the fact that if you are in Ghana in January, you will wake up to a sky full of sand, blown far from it's home in the Sahara desert - it is in your teeth, all over your home. You wake unsquinting to a sun that stares back at you - calmly and defined like the moon, easily visible through the haze. The light of the day like a permanent twilight will guide and mold your mood. This is the unknown season of harmattan...

The stats cannot explain the fact that you will have no idea, no concept of what it is to walk outside to the assault of a Canadian winter morning cold. The kind that takes your breath away and brings you to tears instantly. Your eyelashes, coated with your tears, instantly become icicles. The tips of your ears, if uncovered, begin to lose feeling and you are overcome by shivers.

Life in two places can be so very different, and living between the two is a surreal experience indeed.



The first barrel of oil: 15/12/10 - Ghana joins oil states of Africa

2010-12-15T14:36:33.896Z

As of 10:06am today, Ghana has officially opened the valve to pump Ghana’s first oil and has put this country on the map, irrevocably as an oil producing country.As I write this, my Ghanaian colleagues are huddled in the boardroom, in front of the TV sharing their reactions to the live program broadcasting the ceremony, where Ghana’s President Mills did the honours of turning the valve.Many are excited. It’s palpable. What could this new beginning mean for Ghana? What possibility, opportunity, future is held in the frightening prospect of becoming Africa’s next big oil producer?Being the skeptic that I’m apt to be after my 15 years in Africa, I think of the dangers. Oil in Nigeria virtually destroyed the agricultural sector — which now contributes only two percent of foreign exchange earnings. The same expansion of oil led to inflation and the growing culture of corruption. Ghanaian leaders are proving they are definitely not immune to such temptations…David Throup of Online Africa Policy Forums Blog points out that:Ghana urgently needs to improve its infrastructure: it needs new sewers and water pipes and ring-roads in Accra, a revamped electricity grid, improved generating facilities at Akosombo, improved rail-links from Accra to Kumasi and Tamale and on to Burkina Faso, and a renewed and extended network of secondary and tertiary feeder roads through the rural hinterland.Others will argue for improving educational and health facilities. Such development spending would generate employment in construction and ancillary services, and hopefully promote sustained economic activity and growth. In a society where 60-70 percent of the population depends on smallholder agriculture for their livelihoods and 90 percent of the population in urban areas depends on the informal sector, such job-generating spending could be beneficial. But the money must be spent wisely and over a number of years if it is not to exacerbate inflation and exceed Ghana’s capacity to absorb the spending.These are the first days of the rest of Ghana’s life. Ghanaians are proud and hopeful. The flag is flying high and the children are so full of possibility.These are the days where the integrity of the politicians and the maturity of the decision makers will be tested. The results will follow in years to come. The judgments must be left to posterity.[...]