Mari's Adventures

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Sad End to the World Cup Dream

The dream of the Black Stars bringing home the World Cup ended yesterday after an extremely unfair match against Brazil. However, Ghanaians should not feel disgraced, as their team played well, showing great sportsmanship. While calls that were made by referees and officials, or more like calls that were not made on the field were outrageous, they are out of the viewers control. Ghanaians should be extremely proud of the Black Stars for making it to the second round in their first appearance at the World Cup. The support for the team back home was immense as taxi and tro-tro drivers proudly displayed the Ghanaian flag and outbreaks of honking, cheering, music and dancing accompanied every goal. The Black Stars made Ghana, and all of Africa proud.

However, what makes me question about the World Cup and football or soccer in general is the way it is portrayed in the media as a unifying force. Watching commercials during half time of companies such as Coca-Cola and Ghanaian communication companies illustrate an image that everyone in the world can relate to football and thus unify the world as we all "speak soccer." But does it really? From my experience in Ghana certain matches brought out the dark history of Africa and centuries of hatred.

There were many tense matches, especially those between old colonial masters and the colonized, such as the game between Angola vs Portugal and Togo vs France. But the most intense match of all was the one between Argentina vs Cote d'Ivorie. Although Argentina is not the colonial master of Cote d'Ivoire, this game was indicative of how some Ghanaians, not all, feel and view their relationship between blacks and whites. During the match I heard comments such as "see, the whites have always cheated the Africans" when the referee did not call a faul or "the whites have taken everything from the Africans, so why can't they just give us the Cup?"

This game made me realize that centuries of horrific treatment of the Africans by westerners through the slave trade and colonization is still deeply rooted and ingrained in their minds. The people making these comments have obviously not experienced the slave trade and they were all too young to live through the decades of colonization, but they all have this negative attitude towards their history, which I don't blame them for having.

So then how can the African continent move forward and develop while they are being so consumed by their terrible past? They need to make a conscious effort to get out of this mind set that they are inferior to the whites. I am not denying the fact that the history of Africa was not horrible. It is an extremely terrible thing when their own people were selling each other to slave traders and being shipped off to the new world and be exploited for the development of a white society. They years of colonization also left a deep wound in the minds of Africans as they developed a inferiority and dependent complex on its colonizers. However, it is necessary for Ghanaians, and Africans to free themselves from this mental slavery in order to move forward.

But this is easier said then done. How does a person, nation or the whole continent erase the horrific events that occurred in the past? There is no delete or reset button that they can press to clear their minds. These attitudes and thoughts have been passed down from generation to generation and ingrained in their society. Nonetheless, using their past as an excuse for their lack of development is no longer acceptable. Although what happened in the past is terrible, they must move on for their own sake and for the sake of their children. The question that remains is how.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Mingling With Ghana's Powerful Leaders

One of the benefits of working for KITE is that I get to experience going to really fancy government functions. I had the chance to attend a workshop/conference organized by the Ministry of Energy on Tuesday about the role of the energy sector in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. The conference was held at the prestigious Labadi Beach Hotel, which is a five star hotel and one of Ghana's finest. It is certainly one of the best hotels that I have ever been in, equipped with a magnificent pool and just couple of steps from the beach. The conference was attended by many of the most influential and powerful people in Ghana's energy industry such as CEOs and representatives from different energy companies, government officials as well as World Bank representatives.

The conference started an hour late, which is "so Ghanaian." It was one of the most disorganized workshops I have ever attended. The organizers were late, the speakers were late and none of their logistics were thought out because everything was a mess. Things were not in place, presenters did not bring their own laptops thinking that there would be one at the hotel and materials were not photocopied. Things were pretty chaotic. And these are government official organizing this event. These people are supposed to be running the country. How are they suppose to run the country if they can't even run a simple conference?

However, despite all the chaos, it created a great learning opportunity for me. I learned so much about Ghana's energy sector, its issues and how they should overcome them to move on. The conference also highlighted the importance of the energy sector in meeting the MDGs, such as rural electrification. Bringing light and electricity to a community has so many benefits. For example, with electricity, children can study during the night and thus bring down the illiteracy rate, which is one of the major MDGs. Also with electricity in the village, hospitals can operate electrical equipment and refridgerate their vaccines and other medication, which allows for better patient care, especially in reducing the maternal mortality rate, which is another MDG.

This conference also made me realize the difficulty of policy making. During the workshop, there was an opportunity for the group to split up into internal (government) and external (energy producers, consumers etc.) groups in which we were supposes to come up with policy recommendations to certain issues that came up during the conference. I sat and observed in the internal group with all of the government officials and they could not come to a consensus on any thing. They didn't even agree that the issues chosen to debate about were key issues. These are people running the country and making decisions for Ghana. There is so much bureaucracy, nothing gets done. No wonder the UN is so slow at making decision. I can't imagine the process the general assembly goes through in making decisions with 191 countries when a group of people from the same country can't make up their minds. This day made me realize that policy making and decision making takes time and that governments cannot make rapid changes. Change must occur gradually.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ghanaian Time

As stereotypical as it may sound, in certain situations Ghana operates on its own time. The best situation being the case of taking the tro-tro. Like I said earlier, tro-tros are mini-vans or mini-buses that pick up people between two points. They depart from tro-tro stations, but when they leave is determined by when the vehicle fills up. This can take up to several hours if there are no other people heading in the direction that you're heading. Although this is not so much the case in Accra where there are many people taking tro-tros, in more remote areas where there are less people and if you are traveling a long distance, then waiting for the tro-tro to fill up can be a routine process.

It is in these instances where the patients and endurance of the Ghanaian people are showcased. They sit quietly in their seats, without complaining about the heat, while I impatiently keep asking the driver when we are leaving, in which I always get the same response "when the tro-tro is full."

In these situations, westerners and Ghanaians have the opposite concept of time. In the west, we think of time as the one thing that we do not have control over. Time ticks away without us being able to manipulate it. We are consumed by time and all of our actions and planning is dictated by it. On the other hand, Ghanaians see time as something that they can control. Maybe not so much control, but it is not something that they are consumed by. Even in the office when we have meetings, it never, ever starts on time. Ghanaians control time in a way by not being consumed or dictated by it. An event will happen when it happens, not when it is supposed to happen.

These are some of the things I need to get used to as I'm the type of person who hates being late and likes to stick to schedules. Much can be learned form the Ghanaian way of life.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

You Want To Marry Me?

During the past two weeks since I arrived in Ghana, I have received several marriage proposals. The scenario goes like this:

I would approach a pineapple stand on the street for example and order a pineapple. The man would tell me that he loves me. Then I would ask how he can love me without even knowing my name. Then he would ask for my name and then tells me he wants to marry me.

I usually try to make a laugh out of this whole situation so then I would usually tell him that my bride price is 50 cows. I would ask him if he has 50 cows and he would most likely say no. Then I would tell him to get going on it and I leave (with my pineapple in hand.)

Why would these men tell me that they want to marry me? Obviously it is not because they love me. Is it because I am "white" and they want to go to Canada with me? I have people constantly asking me how they can go to Canada or if I can take them with me. I tell them that I will take them if they fit in my bag.

Do Ghanaians see Canada as a paradise that they want to go so badly? If so then why? Is it because Canadians are friendly? Is it because of Canada's reputation as peacekeepers in the international community, or is it because Ghanaians see Ghana as having no hope?

But there is hope for Ghana. From the little time I have spent here, I have noticed that Ghanaians are very hard working. They are not lazy. Contrary to what some people think, Ghanaians are not poor because they are lazy. The people in the village of Challam wake up at 5am everyday and attend their fields and work all day long. Their work ethics can teach some people in Canada about dedication and determination.

So then why are these people poor if they are so hard working? I understand that there are many external factors that affect their state of being that are out of their reach, but it is extremely unfair that hard working people are poor. I guess if hard working people lead to development then none of the developing countries would be having a problem, as there are plenty of hard working people. I just hope that they will be able to see the benefits of their hard work soon.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Rain, Rain and More Rain

I've safely arrived back in Accra yesterday night after a long 13 hour bus ride from Tamale. It has not stopped raining since I arrived yesterday in Accra, so my visit to Makola market will have to be postponed until the sky clears. It is the start of the rainy season here in Ghana. I thought I was going to be able to escape the rains in Vancouver, but I was wrong...

The past week has been an incredible trip through Ghana. After Atebubu, the four of us left for Tamale in the northern region. We crossed part of Lake Volta, which I believe is the largest man-made lake in the world. The water level is low right now, so there are many temporary fishing settlements on the exposed surfaces of the lake. The ferry got stuck in the mud several times and at one point I thought we were not going to make it out, but the rusty old ferry pulled through and we made it to the other side safely.

From the other side of Lake Volta, we took a tro-tro to a town called Salaga, where we switched tro-tros again and headed to Tamale. The ride to Tamale from Salaga felt like we were sitting on a massage chair for four hours. The roads were extremely bumpy and dusty to say the least. We had to keep our window open because we were baking inside the tro-tro, but the dust kept coming in. By the time we reached Tamale, we were covered in dust from head to toe and we all could have passed as a black person.

Tamale is NGO central. Many NGOs have offices in Tamale, which are all clustered in one area behind a walled and gated compound. As a result of the concentration of NGOs, there are also many obrunis. There are several people from the Engineers Without Borders programme located in Tamale, so we all got together to have a drink. The Crest, which is where we hung out was an obruni spot. There were so many of them that it felt like I never left Vancouver.

The next day we went to visit the New Energy office, which is one of the partner organizations that KITE works with and the organization Troy will be working with. Their whole office is powered by solar energy, so they are really an environmentally friendly organization. One of the directors at the New Energy office coordinated for Jess and I to stay at a village, so we packed our things and headed there the next day.

The village that we stayed in was called Challam. It has a population of about 300 people who are predominantly Muslim. They are one of the communities waiting to have a multi-functional platform (MFP) installed. A group of about 14 women have applied for the MFP and they have built the building to house the platform, but they are still searching for a source of funding to pay for the MFP. It was quite awkward for Jess and I to stay there because they kept asking for funding from New Energy, which they don't do. New Energy provides training and the instillation of the MFP, so the applicants are to find their own source of finances to cover the share of the platform not subsidised by KITE and the UNDP. The women's group has not been successful in securing funding, so they kept asking us over and over for New Energy to give them the money.

Nonetheless, the stay at the village was wonderful. There is no electricity and no toilets, so we had to go out in the bush. We woke up at 5am to go out to the field with the women to collect shea nut, which they process to make shea nut oil for cooking. Some women in other parts of Ghana have agreements with the Body Shop to produce shea butter for body lotion and cream. We also helped the men with their farm. We planted okra seeds in the field and helped to make mounds in the field where they will plant yams. They only let us make one mound each, which was unfortunate, but we were much lower than the rest of the men. We played with the children as there are plenty of them. We taught them how to do the chicken dance, so now everyone in the village is dancing it.

The women in the village do not stop cooking. They would feed us 5 times a day and the portions are huge. In the morning, they will feed us coco, which is a maize and millet porridge by the pot and about an hour later, they would feed us boiled yams. Ghanaian food is quite greasy and they use plenty of oil for everything. The thought of losing weight during my stay in Ghana might not be so realistic anymore.

The woman we were staying with was really friendly and wanted to just feed us all the time. They would always try to feed us first and then they would eat, so we tried to eat all together if possible. Communication proved to be quite a challenge as the village speaks Dagbani, which neither Jess nor I speak a word of. The women would make us repeat what they were saying and then laugh hysterically.

We also fetched water form the CIDA funded bore hole and tried to carry it on our heads. The locals were on the ground laughing hysterically as we were getting a shower from the bucket as we walked. By the time we got to the house, our buckets were half empty.

We only stayed in the village for two nights, so it felt very much like village tourism. We were not there long enough to really experience and understand rural life in Ghana. I really hope that I can go back to Challam again, this time for at least a week. By then I will have mastered my Dagbani.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ghana So Far: Part 2

The people that I am traveling with are all working on a project called the multi functional platform (MFP), which is a diesel engine that can support many agro-processing devices. The main purpose of the MFP is to mechanize the daunting task of agro-processing such as de-husking rice and processing cassava, which are mostly done by women and they take up much of their day. By being able to mechanize these processes, women will have more free time to work on other tasks. The MFP can also be used to generate income as the women can sell their processed products on the local market or rent out the MFP to other users and charge a small fee.

The Kumasi Institute of Technology and Environment (KITE) is the main organization that allocates the funding that is given by the United Nations Development Program to their partner organizations, WACSO in Atebubu and New Energy in Tamale. These organizations implement the MFP in the villages. So this week we have been visiting the partner organizations where Jessica and Troy will be working. I will be working at KITE to help out with the administrative things with the program and come visit the two organizations from time to time to see how they are doing.

We traveled to Atebubu, where Jessica will be staying. It is a small village, but very cozy compared to Accra, where things are very chaotic. I sort of envy her because I prefer staying at a small village, but Accra will turn out to be interesting in its own ways, I'm sure. Atebubu turned out to be quite an interesting place. The night we arrived, there was noise and music coming from the village square, so we all headed over there to see what was going on. What seemed like a festival turned out to be a crusade for the Pentecost church, where they were hosting preachers who travel to different villages, preaching their religion. People were just going nuts. They were dancing and chanting in a circle while the preacher was preaching to them in almost a cult like manner. A lady came over to tell us what was going on and helped to translate what the preacher was saying. She was just really weird and she all of a sudden said that the Americans are coming to kill them and that we have come to kill them. The four of us just stood there, not knowing what to say, but just reassured her that we are Canadians, and not Americans.

It was hard to tell if the preacher had actually said that and she has translated it, or she added that part herself, but nonetheless, it was quite a frightening and weird moment. It is unthinkable that a religion would preach such a thing, but it is not impossible either.

Also, another uncomfortable thing that I felt during my stay in Atebubu is that everyone stares at us. Three of us were eating breakfast at a road side stall when a bunch of people surrounded us and began staring. It was really uncomfortable and I was not sure why they were staring at us. Were they staring because we were foreigners or because they were hungry and wanted something to eat? These things are hard to pick out and troubles me sometimes. Hopefully by the end of this placement I will be able to understand Ghanaians better.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ghana so far

The past week in Ghana has been amazing. Accra seems similar to Vancouver in many ways, such as having the ocean near by, but more different than anything. It is very hot, dusty and very busy. Taxis are honking from all directions and people on the street are calling out obruni, which means white person. It is something that takes time getting used to.

I met with the KITE people at the office in Accra and I must say it has been an interesting experience to say the least. The people working there are quite dynamic and have interesting characters. It will be an interesting office dynamic.

I traveled to Kumasi, which is known as the "garden city" as it is lush and green with vegetation. This is the heart of the Ashanti region and famous for gold and other traditional items. We stayed at a Baptist guest house, which was quite beautiful. I am traveling with Monica, who is the long term volunteer to KITE from EWB and she will be staying in Accra for a year. I am also traveling with Troy from UBC and Jessica from University of Calgary, who are both short term volunteers like me and they will be working in Atebubu and Tamale respectively in KITE's partner organizations. The stay in Kumasi was too short and I was not able to visit the traditional and cultural locations, so hopefully I will be able to return shortly.

The trip to Atebubu was most interesting. I never imagined that I would be driving passed mango fields listening to Celine Dion blasting from the speakers. The men here love her.

The internet is getting all wonky here, so the rest will be continued in the near future.