Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ghana images and video wrap-up

As some of you have noticed, I am back in the United States. Southeastern Michigan, to be exact. The last entry on the blog is completely fake; I had to keep up appearances so I could surprise my family on Christmas Eve. It went swimmingly; they were SHOCKED! The previous three entries are legitimate but delayed; most of them happened about three weeks prior to when I actually posted them.

A "few" wrap-up photos and videos are in order now that I'm somewhere I'm not paying for internet or computer access. Some are things I've posted about in the past but didn't have a chance to put up the photos and some of them are things I forgot to mention earlier.

Mary's son, Chris, is a rapper in Ghana. He likes to talk about how famous he is and how difficult it is for him to leave the house because people will always be pointing and trying to talk to him. He has a blond Austrian wife and a 1-year old son. He lives in a longhouse behind his mother's house that he likes to tell you he built with his very own hands, but actually did not. He drives a blue convertible with no muffler and a DIY splatter paint job. He also splatter-painted some clothes to match for nights he performs at a club. The interior of his house is decorated with graffiti. One day, he told me "Americans are so selfish. You make your cell phones so that no other country can use them. My brother in Columbus used to send me phones to sell here and I had to lie to the people and tell them they took the [SIM] cards!"

He and his friends started freestyling for Marrie, Natalie and me.

Labadi beach:

Locals trying to make a living, waiting for tourists under the unexpected-hike-from-hell umbrella rock. Two of the young men had built those ladders for people to go on the top; charge of 10 cents.

Home security in Dzorwulu, my neighborhood=broken glass in newly poured concrete walls to prevent burglary. Though the house next door was actually, according to Chris, a stolen guns warehouse. It's a possibility; I only saw two people there once in two months. Barbed wire is also popular.

Government school kids at the end of the schoolday:

Vibe FM, "The soul of the capital". Known as "the station with the couch" around town. The computer in the foreground was only available for the accountant, who skims money from the station to finance his restaurant. The computer in the background is only a monitor and does not actually have a computer, keyboard or mouse. Note the complete lack of telephones. The owner/boss/CEO is on the right.

View on the way to work everyday, after arriving at Circle:

I took a picture into a dark room at the Elmina slave castle. It was not part of the tour. The flash revealed all these bats; I squealed like a little girl and ran.

Elmina courtyard. The incline with a pole on each side to the left is where male slaves were forced to climb to the top using only their arms in order to keep up their strength:

View of the coastal village from the castle:

Slaves who caused trouble were sent into this room to die. None of them were cleared out until every person inside was dead.

Male dungeon at Cape Coast slave castle. Between 800 and 1000 slaves were put into three rooms of this size.

Accra coast as viewed from Eddie's car during one of my first tours of Accra:

Field in Dzorwulu:

Dorm at the University of Ghana; the best school, by far, in the country. No washing machines so everyone puts their clothes on the balcony to dry:

Circle, one of the trotro parks and stations and crossroads and markets and black markets and everything:

Trotro change table at Pig Farm. She thought it was very funny I wanted to take her photo:

AIDS is Real and do not urinate here!

Pounding fufu (most popular food in Ghana) in the backyard in preparation for the wedding reception:

Flower girls:

Breakdancers at the wedding reception at Mary's house. This is not a usual thing; they were just cool guests.

All the babies are carried like this:

Two of a group of six or so kids who were totally into the digital camera concept at the wedding. Some famous news anchor was making a speech while I took this picture:

Tiaraing ceremony with the bride's mother and aunts, pre-ceremony. The outfits the aunts are wearing are very typical church garb, though the weekly Sunday outfits aren't usually quite so shiny:

At the orphanage in Kasoa at dusk. The boy on my left is 11; the one who gave me a tour and grabbed my hand to prevent himself from getting hit. The girl is the daughter of one of the orphanage workers and the other boy was playing with her.

Fun toy:

The younger kids attended school at the orphanage. There was a row of four classrooms; this is one of them:

Deborah and me in the front yard, four days before she left:

Typical dinner: redred, fried plantain and water in a pouch

Mary, the former Muslim, Christian-convert, daughter of northern chief with 22 siblings and homeowner:

Van, practically the only trustworthy and productive guy at Vibe:

Typical street at Buduburam, the Liberian refugee camp:

Sonnie and her aunt in the room they share with four others at Buduburam. Sonnie is the 18-year old nursing student:

Wheelbarrow boys at Buduburam. They rent the wheelbarrows for $3ish a day then sit out front all day, hoping to be hired to carry some loads around for people. They charge $1 to do this so they often lose money or only break even.

At the meeting called by the UN to tell the Liberians the plan was to integrate into Ghanaian society. No new news, big meeting.

Some video of the trotro preacher. Marrie is sitting next to me.

Deborah standing in front of the new place:

The school where Julie works is pretty rural. These kids all go there; they followed me around in a huddle like this the entire time we were there.

Julie's daughter, Julie and Deborah seeing me off at the airport. This is the same day Deborah left the house forever. She got her hair done and all dressed up and looked really nice. Julie is wearing a Bike & Build T-shirt!:

I flew through Milan on my way to Boston. The Alps from the plane:

The rest of the pictures from Ghana are now up here.

Visiting the Teddy Exports primary school in India:

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas plans

Christmastime in Ghana is significantly less in-your-face than America. Because the economy is less developed and less diverse, there are fewer people with money enough to make it profitable for businesses to institute gigantic advertising campaigns and sales for the holiday season. My Christmas will be relatively low-key; I got some little candies for Mary and am planning to walk around the neighborhood while she's at church. I will visit other churches to hear the singing and the wild preaching but I don't want to go with her because when she goes on normal days, she's there for five hours so I imagine Christmas will be like seven hours. I am also planning to go back out to Achimota to visit Deborah and her friend Julie, and bring them some food that they don't have to cook and clothes for the little girl. I got her a dress and a couple T-shirts.

The weather remains extra hot, of course. I finally figured out that I'm about five degrees away from the equator. Christmas in flipflops.

Someone at work got busted for stealing a Muslim's iPod and selling it for $50 last week. Now the guy keeps coming to the station and waiting for the DJ, but the DJ keeps avoiding him and it's creating a problem for the office because he's sullied the Vibe name. Not that it's so full of integrity to begin with after all the shady business dealings and money laundering to begin with but it certainly doesn't help.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Deborah's escape

Deborah and I took the majority of her things to Achimota today.  I skipped work in order to help her because we had to do it on a day Mary would not be coming home early.  I was the bank behind this move; paying for our trotro fares and one taxi ride.  When we got to the house, her friend was there in the room with her daughter who looked about eight.  It will be the three of them in that room, squatting in a single room in a rich-man-from-America's mansion.  She told me something else because she thought I would disapprove, but I'm actually quite happy about their squatting situation.  It's far better than all the other options and the police in Ghana are so corrupt that they'll never be found out.  I sat with her while she got her hair done as a celebratory gesture.  It was $2 for a wash and style.

I am so happy she escaped.  I gave her "War and Peace" as a housewarming gift because she told me she wants to read it.  I was interested to see what Mary's reaction would be when I got home, but she pretended nothing was wrong, as usual, aside from hearing her screaming on her phone in the backyard.  Now, one of the workers from her shop is here slaving away in Deborah's position.  I knew this would be the outcome of Deborah's escape; simply someone else in her spot, but I'm still super glad it happened.  It's just strange to act so straight around Mary when I know exactly what happened.  Kind of funny, actually.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Waterfalls and machetes

I became interested in waterfalls when I saw some photos of rural West Virginia four years ago. Now I love them and want to see them as often as possible so yesterday I went to the eastern region (like going to another state) to see waterfalls with Vision. Leaving Circle at 9:30am meant getting to the top of a mountain at 2pm after an hourlong wait for the trotro in Accra to fill up followed by a 3-hour ride and transfer to a local trotro and, finally, a line taxi. We traveled through a lot of rural mountain villages. This was what you see on the documentaries and National Geographic channel about Africa—naked children and homes made out of sticks and clay dirt bricks.

Led by a local man wearing a red polo shirt that said “Anderson’s Candies” where a nametag would usually go, and blue plastic flipflops, we embarked on the most difficult hike of my life. It was far more difficult than the Great Wall; it was more like straight-up mountain climbing at some parts. Good thing I wore a skirt!

Half an hour in, we were deep into a path in the half-forest, half-rainforest. The mosquitoes were as big as dragonflies and I was sweating like I had just run ten miles at the beginning of August in Michigan. “It’s all worth it,” I told myself. “Waterfalls!” brain continued giddily.

10 minutes and one more straight vertical climb later, we were there. It was a big rock shaped like an umbrella shading about twenty locals who apparently have their best chance for income by sitting underneath this giant rock and waiting for the tourists who come through once a week. There were literally two tourists who had signed in before us in the guidebook, one on Tuesday and another five days earlier. The location isn’t in any of the Lonely Planet/Fodor’s type guidebooks so they don’t get many visitors because no one knows about it.

So, a big rock. Cool, whatever. “Are the waterfalls nearby?” I asked, dreading another 40-minute hike.

“Oh no,” said Anderson’s Candies. “The waterfall is back by the office.”

Death. Death glare. Sweaty death glare resignation.

Back we went, via the same route. It was slightly better this time because I knew what we were in for and was planning to swim in the cool, fresh waterfall and get clean for the first time since I was in the river in India. (Bucket showers are not really cutting it.)

We arrived back at the office’s main grounds and descended down 250 steps to the falls. They were huge, coming down from four or five stories up with a rainbow bridging them down near the water.

NO SWIMMING signs greeted us everywhere. By this point, it figured. I consoled myself by convincing myself that the water was crocodile and piranha-infested. We hovered for awhile but there’s only so long you can look at something so we headed back up to the exit to wait for a line taxi to take back to the town. We waited and waited and waited. Village children wearing only T-shirts gathered to gape at me and hand me empty film canisters.

“It’s market day a few villages up so everyone is going home now,” Anderson’s Candies said helpfully as trotro after taxi passed us once every twenty minutes, packed to the gills with humans. One taxi even had a man lying across the trunk, hanging on for dear life as it rounded the corners at forty kilometers pre hour. The driver seemed quite unconcerned.

A group of five walking men passed us, swinging machetes haphazardly and vaguely menacingly. Machetes are extremely common in Ghana. They’re used for everything from cutting pineapples and sugarcane by street vendors to destroying overgrown foliage and cutting grass manually, but I always think of the genocide depicted in the Hotel Rwanda movie because that was the weapon of choice.

Finally, 90 minutes later, a taxi stopped and we rode seven adults and one three-year old in the five-person car down the mountain. By the time I got home, I had been gone for 13 ½ hours, seen one rock shaped like an umbrella and sweated the most I have ever sweated in my life and got misted on by some giant waterfalls.

Things that have been said to me in the last three days from complete strangers:
- “Obroni?! Give me thousand [cedis, the equivalent of ten cents].” – 12-year old girl.
- “I am looking for a white lady to marry.” – Yelled by a man sitting on the side of the street while another man sat ten feet away saying, “Obroni. Obroni!”

Monday, December 10, 2007

A strange house

I had a conversation with Mary's 25-year old former house boy who lived here for five years before getting fed up about not getting paid and only comes on Sundays to make the fufu with Deborah (most popular Ghanaian food that involves pounding the crap out of some flour) yesterday. He initiated a lengthy conversation about America but was particularly excited when I told him he has the same name as Detroit's mayor. Kwame is a name for males born on a Saturday here. My name as a Thursday woman is Yaa though most people on the street call me Akosua, which is for Sunday ladies, because Ghana gained its freedom from the white colonizers on a Sunday. Occasionally, I am also referred to as Nkosua, which means egg. They sound the same to me.

The questions went all over the place.
"What does a mayor do? Arnold Schwarzenegger is the mayor of California, right? What does a governor do? I know some US states like California, LA, Chicago, New York... British people speak different English from Americans, right? How did you and Marrie understand each other? Have you heard of gold diggers? I think more black ladies than white ladies are gold diggers. What do you think? Do you think America will have a black president? Who's Obama? They had that one a long time ago but he was killed. He wasn't president? Are you sure? Is it true some US states are only for white people? Where do you live? Why don't you live with your parents? Are you going to live alone when you get back? Are there really poor people in the US? Why are the musicians so rich? Does Lil' Bowwow really have such a big house and cars worth $100,000 like I saw on Cribs? Why don't people like him and Tupac ever come to Africa? It's like they have no interest in their own people. How many political parties do you have in America?"

and like that until Mary got home from Kumasi unexpectedly early and Kwame, Deborah and I scattered away from the living room. As soon as she got in the door, she yelled at Deborah, wondering why Deborah didn't answer the phone earlier when she called. The reason was that we had snuck out to take most of her stuff to her new place. Oops.

Goods That Mary Keeps Locked In Her Bedroom
1. Individual packets of crackers, cookies and peanuts that she feeds us for lunch.
2. Toilet paper.
3. Bread.
4. The bathroom rug.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Economics and preaching

I went back to the refugee camp yesterday. I took two T-shirts and some anti-malarial medication with me to give them and they were totally psyched about everything. I bought a sack of safe drinking water for the newspaper's office for 50Gp ($0.50). The second most common cause of death at the camp is cholera, which is a result of unsafe drinking water. The first is malaria.

In the morning, I went with Marrie, Abednego and Leon to interview the neighborhood watch chief and arbitration council head for her article, then met with the principal of one of the schools there to discuss what they need for supplies. The most important thing is food. Since the UN cut off their food aid supply, many of the children have gone with one meal a day and find it difficult to concentrate. Other things on the list are textbooks in English, math, social studies, environmental studies, reading books, science and pre-tech (vocational); pens and pencils; notebooks; coloring books; chalk (white and colored). The "reach for the sky" wish was a typewriter.

I was taken on a small tour, interrupting classes taking tests. It wasn't quite like my elementary school test-taking experience where the more diligent and anal among us created visually impenetrable forts by surrounding the perimeter of our desks with upright folders, nor like my middle school experience where everyone rushed to sit behind or beside the smartest kids on test days. Instead, the Liberians were sprawled most anywhere in the room. Many of the teachers stood at the back and seemed very unconcerned about talking during the test. In some rooms, the children were about the same age. In others, it looked like they ranged rom 11 to 20.

By the time I was done interrupting, it had been agreed that we would come back later for a group shot of the students. I returned after a long conversation with Leon, but it was too late; most of the students had gone for the day (12:15pm).

The chat with Leon outside the Vision office was enlightening. I had tried to show him and Jimmy the video I took of the CNN special on UN Indian women peacekeepers in Liberia but the volume was too quiet because my recording technique was to record the TV using my digital camera so we ended up chatting about what might make for economically viable solutions for refugees returning to Liberia. I tried to explain about the factory I visited in India and the concept companies with a sense of social responsibility in the developed world and how they might get them to invest in Liberia but it didn't really work. It is hard to speak in each other's terms when one person is from the richest nation on Earth and the other's country doesn't even have electricity. He kept highlighting how rich America is but didn't quite grasp my explanation that most of the wealth is in the private sector or wrapped up in the military.

The whole thing was sparked off when Leon asked me why the failure of the banks in America a few months ago had such wide-reaching effects to other nations. I had told them on a previous visit that I majored in economics and history so it wasn't really an out-of-the-blue inquiry. After correcting that the banks had not actually failed, I made it very obvious to myself that I am not good at giving clear explanations on complex subjects when I started off with the formerly overheated real estate market, drifted into interest rates and investment; by the time I got to the decreasing value of the dollar, both Jimmy and Leon's eyes had glazed over and I could tell they were thinking I had not answered the question at all. And now that I think about it, I didn't even mention the war spending. Anyway.

The interesting thing is that everyone looks up to China. They see what the Chinese have accomplished in the last 30 years and are desperate to imitate even a fraction of its success. Exactly zero thoughts are expressed as to the government there.

Leon wanted to know why a rich nation like America would import so many goods from elsewhere instead of producing them within the country. A mini-lecture on low production costs and low wages translating into lower prices, American unionism and cost effectiveness went slightly better, though his conclusion was "Why would America let other nations get so strong by giving away all its money?" Just what everyone else is worried about, especially with China.

I got into trouble on the trotro on the way home. I know I have mentioned it before, but Ghana is an extremely Christian nation. Sometimes, on longer or large capacity trotro rides, a preacher will "sneak" on and start gonig wild about five minutes after it starts moving. This is generally awesome because they sound just like the Baptist preachers in the 1930s south but also particularly amusing when the rest of the passengers don't respond because he'll be really into it; emotional and waving his hands around, almost hitting people in the face while everyone else is sitting there stonefaced, tired and hot. Yesterday, the mate (tells the driver when to stop the car and collects the money) asked the preacher for his fare in the middle of his sermon and I thought it was hilarious. People turned around to look at me and the preacher starts screaming, "Young girls may enjoy their laughing now! Oh yes, Lord, life is very funny! But you won't be laughing when He comes for you! You will not be laughing when you realize your soul has not been saved!" I was delighted to have been included in the sermon.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Secret friendship

On Wednesday, I took Deborah to the beach. It was fantastic; she had a great time and that made me happy. I bought her a swimsuit for $3.50 and she went in the ocean for the first time in her life. She also finished out writing her life story in summary fashion for me. She is really ambitious and great; I'm so happy she did that because I think it will make it easier to find assistance for her. Some man hit on her at the beach. Generally, they are disgusting and creepy but this was a big event for her because so many people completely disregard her because of her disability and since she is in the house all the time, she rarely meets anyone.

Our "secret" meetings have been occurring more frequently because she is getting ready to run away from the house. I am aiding her as much as possible while trying not to encourage her one way or the other because while I am so glad she is doing it, she has to live the rest of her life here while I go back to the US. She has a local pastor who found her the job and has taken an interest in her so he is going to provide her with a place to stay for now. I am going to meet him on Wednesday so we can all make a support plan together.

I think our friendship must seem ridiculous from the US but it's no exaggeration... we talk in secret, I act like I have no further interest in her other than her ability to serve me when Mary (owner of the house) is around, pretend not to hear when she's getting screamed at and let her clean the room I'm staying in because it's easier for her to do that than get yelled at some more. For a long time, I thought about stepping in but it would make things worse.

This morning, I visited another orphanage; this one is just north of Accra. There were like 300 kids there; they were all very active, except for the scattered ones who were crying and being completely ignored by everyone unless another child came up to hit them. I took those ones on and, as predicted, all they wanted was a little attention. Pat pat.

I was holding one boy who was dirty and about two for a long time. I think he had malaria because when he fell asleep, he started sweating profusely. But before he fell asleep, one of the women who works at the orphanage full-time came over to us and started speaking to him in Twi, one of the local languages. He looked at her silently with big eyes, nodding his head very slightly every so often. When I asked her what she said, she told me, "I asked him if he wanted you to take him back to London!" then roared with laughter. I was horrified!

Tomorrow is December 1 but nothing's looking Christmas-y here. Despite the fact that almost everyone in Accra is Christian (with a large Muslim minority), Christmas is exceedingly less commercial here. I could count on one hand the number of Christmas decorations or advertisements I've seen. In one way, it's nice. In another way, it's confusing.