Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Dwumadi (Celebration)

Note: I made two entries today, so I’d like you to read them!  I deleted one of the entries from before as I thought it was a bit personal, and I wouldn’t have been able to communicate the context of my feelings very well, so it came off very negative and biting.  So I apologize for anybody that may have been offended.  But anyways, the entry below is my way of making up for it.  I’ll be in Accra for the next week so I’m going to post a new blog entry almost every day as I start to prepare to go back home to Canada!

The other day in Kumasi, I saw a small headline roll across the news screen that made me jump and shout for joy. What could make me so happy? Let me show you:

POVERTY IN GHANA DOWN 52% IN 1999 TO 28.5% IN 2006

UNDP CONFIDENT THAT GHANA WILL REACH MDGS BEFORE 2015

That’s right, baby! Ghana is stepping up, and it will be ahead of the pack. I am so happy and so proud. What do I see around me? I see people working hard and striving to bring themselves out of poverty, I see people that want to help them. There is a man a minister who has a reputation — he was asked to come to the USA to get a high-salary job there, but he rejected and decided to stay in Ghana as a minister to help his own country. Ghanaians are proud of him, and, considering how much desire there is and how much prestige is attached to go to the USA, this man, he has done well.

I have high hopes for Ghana. When all the people of Ghana have access to safe, clean drinking water, quality sanitation, and opportunities for children of all incomes to have an education, then I will look back on my days here and I will feel proud that I was just a small, tiny part of making that dream come true. And I hope that as Ghana becomes a leader of development in Africa, that they will help their brothers and sisters in Africa to also develop.

This is the side of Ghana that many Ghanaians want me to show to Canadians – a Ghana that is growing, vibrant and full of hope. And often, having development workers come here all the time and share their stories of the poverty, it can cover up the stories of hope and achievement, and in some ways, even disempower the people, to think that Ghana always needs help. Well, it doesn’t. People here don’t all live in mud huts, they don’t engage in cannibalism, or spend the whole day sitting there, starving in the desert.

Kumasi, the city that I stayed in is developed, with paved roads, traffic lights, intersections, bureaucracies, police, and opportunities. There is construction. People are proud to be Ghanaian – the Ghanaians have won the African Cup of Nations four times in a row, I’ve heard, and they are hosting it in Ghana next year. There is hope for Ghanaians because of the large natural resources that are here: cocoa, diamonds, gold, lumber, and now even oil. Let’s just hope that these resources can be used to benefit Ghanaians and that the money doesn’t just get sucked up out of the country.

But Ghana, this applause is just for you.

So after my village stay in Fakwasi, I had to leave right away to do business, but the man who let me stay with him wasn’t there at the moment, so unfortunately I had to leave without saying goodbye to him. But apparently I left also without him saying goodbye to me. The reason he had left was to buy me my goodbye present. I regret that I did not find some way to stay behind so that he could properly give me a goodbye.

Anyways, the next time I’m at the club house relaxing, I see my co-worker, and he goes to me and says: “So the man you stayed with last week, he’s come into town to bring you your goodbye present. It is some yams, and a fowl.”

I’m stunned into silence.

“A fowl?”

“Yes.”

“A *live* fowl???”

“Yes.”

“…”

I had in my hands a chicken, a rooster to be exact, and I had no idea what to do with it. Now, when you get a rooster, normally a Ghanaian would just kill it and have a fine meal. But the Canadian, the animal-loving part of me couldn’t just kill it and eat the meat. So I decided to keep it as a pet.

I started daydreaming of all the things I could use a pet rooster for. Free alarm clock, ecologically-friendly bug killer, playmate, I was thinking of going back to Canada, and having my family jump to see me and run to hold me in their arms… but then stop in mid-step as they saw my rooster. Muahaha!

But, after reading the title of this post, you already know that that’s not going to happen. You see, there’s no way that I could ever get poor Blackie (for that’s what the children named him) to Canada. Seeing as there was a recent case of Avian flu near my area, there is no way that that bird would touch Canadian soil. And so… after contemplating all the options, I did the unthinkable.

After a week of playing and spending time with him, I decided to give Blackie, my beloved rooster, my joy of Ghanaian joys, to my family.

On the night before I left my host family, we had chicken for dinner. … Well, I’m glad that Blackie was able to feed my host family, who had taken care of me for three-and-a-half months, for a night, and that they really enjoyed it. It was the least I could do, and it would be the last time I would see them for what may well be the rest of my life. As for me, I did not partake in the meat of that meal, I decided to have fish instead.

Rest in Peace, Blackie, my pet-for-a-week. May you go to chicken heaven, where they have heaps and heaps of corn on the open green grass fields, and yummy cockroaches.

*sniff* :’)

I just came back from the village of Fakwasi, where there is an MFP platform installed. For those of you guys who don’t know about the MFP project, it’s the project that I’m working with, please read the links here:

Rural Energy – Ghana
A movie about the MFP

I’m excited to share with you about the work that the MFP is doing in the community. It seems like a really simple technology and a simple concept, but it is changing lives. Akua, a woman with 4 children was busy cleaning cassava roots when we came early to do our monitoring visit. We asked her for her story.

Akua makes a living selling gari, which is a product made from cassava. You grate it with a grater, dry it, and fry it. Before the platform came to the village, Akua just managed to make ends meet, but then 2 years ago, something terrible happened, and Akua lost her husband. She fell into despair. Akua could not possibly make enough gari to feed her family because to grate all that cassava would be unrealistic – she got aches from her back just with the workload she had now, and the cassava grater would cut her hands. Other women in the community sometimes had to go to the hospital when their cuts would need to be treated.

The MFP, which has a machine which grates cassava came to the village, and because of it, Akua is able to make a living to feed her family – she can make 4 times more gari than she could before, and because of it, she doesn’t get aches in her back and cuts in her hand. Because of the platform, Akua can send her children to school. Business is good for Akua — gari sells very quickly just in her own village, and Akua has expanded her operation and now travels to the neighbouring village to sell as well.

The platform has been helping women to really reduce their poverty, and almost every person that I’ve interviewed about the platform has been absolutely ecstatic about it. Women in Ghana have life hard – for example, to make banku, you have to grind everything by hand before you spend hours mixing it. I never realized how much work it is to grind food because here in Canada, we just buy ground pepper, we just buy flour, we don’t have to do any of this by hand, let alone every day. The number of hours that women have to spend making dinner every night just astounds me – in the village we would regularly eat our supper at 8 at night, even when the women would start making the meal at like 3 or 4. And this is with the MFP in this community, I couldn’t imagine what life would be like for a woman to have to grind her own corn by hand every day.

This is why I’m happy about the MFP, because if it can help these women in the smallest way to get some time for them to actually make a living getting themselves out of poverty like Akua here, then I’m ecstatic. Of course, there are a thousand things that I don’t like about the MFP, but that will have to wait for another time, because I have another story to tell.

*The title of this entry is Biribi wo soro, which is part of the Akan proverb: “Nyame, biribi wo soro na ma embεka me nsa.” (God, there is something in the heavens, let it reach me.” It is a proverb which expresses hope, and which is why I feel it’s appropriate here.

P.S. Thanks guys for sending in your thoughtful and encouraging comments, I am reading them, even if I’m not responding to any of them, it’s because the internet is really incredibly slow here so I don’t have time to respond to them, but I just want to let you know that I really appreciate it!🙂

This past week, we got the opportunity to go to Molé National Park to see the wildlife.  It was pretty cool.  Unfortunately, my camera had broken last week when I was staying at a village *sniff sniff* so I don’t have any good pictures for you guys to see.  We were led by a guide who had a rifle with him at all times because the animals in the park are completely wild, and as such, are extremely dangerous.  The elephants, warthogs and crocodiles we encountered could severely injure us if we came too close and alarmed them – a baby elephant could easily rip a man’s limbs off.

But the weird thing about that day was that I didn’t feel quite as threatened in the park as I did after the trip, when I went to the small town of Larabanga, which borders the reserve.  There is a famous mosque in Larabanga, it is the oldest mosque in Ghana, and the architecture is quite unique – Kitty and Anne, you would both love it – so I wanted to have a look with my friends.

I went with a long-term volunteer who came to Molé with us, and she made sure to follow the proper traditions of meeting with the Chief Imam and getting his approval to see the mosque.  But after that, as we approached the mosque, we were swarmed with kids and adults, a massive crowd of people gathering around one place — around the Tourist Foreigners, the Oburunis that we were.  The experience was quite unsettling – kids all around not just asking for, but demanding money: “¢1000! ¢1000!” They didn’t know how to form complete English sentences yet, but they knew that we had cash to give.  We were confronted by a group of villagers asking for an entrance fee before we were allowed to even see the mosque.  We weren’t allowed to go in, and even just looking at the mosque from the outside required a fee.  Another group of my friends, when they innocently took a picture from a distance,  were swarmed by another group of villagers which yelled at them, accusing them of lying, breaking laws and insulting the traditions of the village.  The kids grabbed the arm of another of my friends, and pulled her off her bike, to her bewilderment.

It was quite shocking.  We finally managed to get everybody calmed down, and we talked with one of the elders of the village.  My friend apologized and said that we, as tourists, had come, not knowing the traditions of the village and that so many people, on their way to Molé, disrupt the life of the village, and we were sorry for that.  The elder was angry at the villagers’ behaviour, and responded by saying: “The only thing that you have done wrong is that you have given money where it was unwarranted.”

What he said has made me think about the whole meaning of my time here… of Westerners’ time in developing countries.  I hear about how when we give money to developing countries, then a “culture of dependency” starts to grow, where people come to expect that they will be given handouts, and will just go up to people and ask for money, because they can expect that it will be given to them.  It really makes me question whether being a development worker, doing things for community and for poor people is really helping those poor people at all.  Are we really giving them dignity, or showing them that begging a rich white man for money is the easiest and fastest way to get cash?

The swimming pools and quiet, comfortable resort of Molé National Park heavily contrasted with the unruly chaos of Larabanga, and it showed to me that tourism is a dangerous double-edged sword – it can enrich people, give them jobs and allow them to make money to send their children to school, or it can make people greedy for money, greedy to play on rich tourists’ guilt complex.  It is an ugly side of development that, unfortunately in EWB circles, we don’t talk enough about, I think.

I still really want to help in developing countries, but I really have to think, and look deeper into the impact of what I am doing.  I think we all do ; we all really need to think about whether giving away money is empowering or whether it is disparaging.

Mr. Lawal is one of the elders of a village called Vutideke, a village on the edge of the Volta Lake in Ghana, and I got the opportunity to learn about this amazing person.  Mr. Lawal is a member of the Ewe tribe.  The Ewes are famous for their fishing skills, and also for being a people spread across many countries — there are Ewe in Ghana, Togo and Nigeria (Mr. Lawal himself is a Nigerian.) Mr. Lawal first started his schooling in Yeji, a town in Ghana, and he loved it.  However, his passion for education was not shared by his parents, which brought him into sharp conflict with them, and because Mr. Lawal was so young, he was not able to continue his schooling.  Ever since then, Mr. Lawal has been passionate and determined to make sure the kids of the village have a good education. Mr. Lawal remembers the exact date that he and his family settled Vutideke – December 24, 1969.  It was 5:00 in the evening, and it was a Wednesday, he recalls.  The family worked hard to develop the village, they even planted the trees to have a forest around the village, one that I enjoyed the fruits of as I cooled off in the hot summer sun.  That is not all — Mr. Lawal has been a part of every major development in the village, from the water pumps, to the feeder roads, from the primary school to the grinding mill, he has worked so hard, and now there are hundreds of villagers, with hopes, dreams, even a football team. And the kids go to school too!  Even though the other teachers are undedicated to the children of the small, out-of-the-way village of Vutideke, Mr. Lawal volunteers his time every day to teach the classes – at one point he was teaching 6 grades every day all by himself!  Such is his passion to make sure that these kids have a future. There is so much about this man that inspires me that my only worry is that I will run out of time to write.  But it is men and women like Mr. Lawal that makes me confident that Ghana’s people are just as good as any “foreigner.”

So the other day, when I left the office to go back home, there was a TORRENTIAL DOWNPOUR.  Rain in Ghana is odd sometimes — you don’t get any rain for days and then it all comes down at once.  So I was caught completely unaware!  There were some boys who were selling bread, and they told me to get inside quick!  So I helped them pack up their things and we huddled in a Coke store while we waited for the rain to stop.

There were four kids, and two of them, Yaw and Kwasi (I think) are football (soccer) enthusiasts — one of them said that he was 4th best in all the district!

They wanted me to buy them new boots (cleats) and a new soccer ball.  They said that another Whiteman came and bought boots for them so they could be great soccer players, but they wore out, so they needed to get a new friend… and I didn’t really know how to respond to that kind of thing.

Because of all the work from NGOs in developing countries like Ghana, and people coming from other countries just to give away free stuff like clothing and food, people here have grown up with the belief that the Whiteman (which is everyone non-African) will come to give them free stuff — but it actually hurts them in the long run, because why work for something when your neighbour is getting stuff for free from the Whiteman?  And when somebody comes by who is not from around, why don’t we go ask him for free stuff?  I get asked for free stuff a lot of the time.  And the nice person in me really does want to give stuff away to them, but I wish so much that I could break this stereotype of the Whiteman-Santa-Claus because it’s hurting Ghanaians – it’s hurting Ghanaian livelihoods and attitudes.

I had a conversation the other night with somebody, and she brought up the fact that because they get all their stuff from abroad like Japan and America, and none of it from Africa, that the Whiteman can do everything better than anything Africans can do.  I said that I didn’t believe that that was true at all, and she called me a liar.  And who can blame her?  When she sees so many people from abroad, coming and giving out free stuff to everybody, using fancy-schmancy lights and backpacks and laptops, and buying nothing but Coca-Cola products…

Perhaps when EWB says Human development, it doesn’t mean handing people stuff, it doesn’t mean trying to make countries rich.  Maybe Human development about giving people dignity.  Dignity so that they don’t look at their livelihoods and say “the Whiteman can do this better,”  but instead convincing people to see themselves in a different way, so that they can say “I can do something better than anybody, and I don’t ever have to sacrifice my dignity to get charity from others.”

And Ghanaians have no reason to feel inferior – they have amazing people.  I will make it my mission to highlight a Great Ghanaian the next time I have internet.

What a few weeks!  I have gone through so much… from settling in the rural town of Atebubu to zipping around the streets of Kumasi, I have been travelling throughout Ghana, from the largest cities to the smallest villages.  And boy is it easy to get yourself lost here!  I’ve been here for just about three weeks now, and I still don’t know any street names in Atebubu — I think that that’s because there aren’t any.

So what’s rural Ghana like?  People are open, loud and friendly… people are always asking to take me as their friend.  But… it can be difficult to integrate here, being with people of such a different culture.  I remember hearing about a book by Robert Chambers titled “Who’s Reality Counts?”, and although I didn’t read the book, the title really stuck in my mind…

The Ghanaians that I interact with every day live in a different reality, a different understanding of the world than I do, and being here, living here… it has shaken my reality.  I really have become lost not only in town, but in a way, in my own reality.  Sometimes I’m baffled at the way that people do some things here, but I always tell myself:

“You are dealing with a different reality than the one you’re used to.  So are you so arrogant that you think that your reality is the only one that counts?”

It helps keep me humble enough to search for the right question to ask.

I’ve made a friend, my co-worker Jacob.  I got the chance to ask him what his definition of poverty is, and his answer really made me think.  He said “poverty is a state of mind.”  I asked him what he meant by that.  He talked about, drawing from his own experience in human development, how you can put all these resources into building a community, and give it lots of stuff, and come back a year later,
and the people will still be poor and asking you more.  It is because you have not changed their state of mind.

I didn’t really understand what he was saying until later that night, when I was eating fufu for dinner and watching the children play with bottlecaps, those metal ones you pop off of glass bottles.  I would never had as much fun playing with my little fighter planes and legos as they did with those bottlecaps.  That was two weeks ago, and they still are having a blast with them.  So when I was a kid, you could say poverty was my state of mind… I could have had all the toys in the world but when it came down to it, it would take a change of my state of mind for me to become satisfied with what I have and use what I had to make myself better.

So whose reality counts?  It’s a question that I’ve been trying to ask myself all the time as I try to make Atebubu my home.  And it’s starting to grow on me… the children playing football in the field, the night after night after night of fufu (Ghanaian dinner-mush), the blazing hot Ghanaian sun and fight of people here to make their lives better.  I’m trying to make their reality into my reality.

Anyways, I’ve run out of time … I need to get zipping through the streets, trying to find my way back home.