Monday, October 27, 2008

Accra and The Prophet

What's new:

Music: I'm still working hard at drumming, and working on a few new songs: "Agbadja" (with sticks) and "Kpalogo" (with hands). Slowly my sound is improving, and there are some upcoming opportunities to perform with other musicians in the next few weeks. I *finally* got a keyboard and it's a real piece of junk: an early-90s vintage Casios with 4 octaves, 100 preloaded rhythms that all suck and the ability to play no more than 4 notes at a time. But I've never been more excited to have something to play on, and I'm hoping to jam a bit with some Ghanaian musicians. I'm getting to know my students in orchestration and jazz piano, and they are really great people, very talented and appreciative of my teaching. It's been a great experience so far.

Accra: I'm starting to explore the city more and more. On one trip I saw the commercial center of the city (Adabraka), the National Museum, and an art store with authentic Ghanaian paintings. I also saw some live "jazz" at the Golden Tulip hotel, a 4-star hotel near the Airport. The jazz sounded like it was from the 1930s, and it wasn't exactly my style, but the hotel courtyard took me away from Ghana with its modern atmosphere and truly international mix of people (mostly wealthy, so I didn't exactly fit in).

Accra is hard to pin down; some areas feel modern and vibrant, with 25-story skyscrapers and stores stocked with new tvs and appliances, and some areas are cramped, smelling of sewage and public urination. Some roads are well-paved and wide, others are dirt roads that ride like a wooden roller coaster. Traffic can be brutal at times, but there are windows where getting around is quite easy. There's still much more to explore, and I'm sure my impression of the city will constantly change.

I took a trip north with my neighbors (Solomon, who lived in Toronto for 30 years, and Peace, his wife) to a traditional church service. The trip took over an hour, and the service lasted almost 6 hours!! The church, called The Church of Rabbi, was "Christian", but certainly not in the Western sense. The service started with a few junior pastors preaching in Twi, the local language, interrupted by traditional music (a highlight for me, most of it was just awesome) so they could take a breather.

However, once the Prophet Kwabena Takiah arrived, things became a bit less structured but more serious, as he called people up to solve their problems (which either resembled an episode of Judge Judy or a televangelist), preached a bit on whatever topic he felt like, and left the church from time to time to attend to his visions. The Prophet had a commanding presence, and was able to conjure up fear and laughter from his parishioners throughout the service. According to my neighbor, in the 20 years that the Prophet has led the church, no member has died! Many people told me that he was a great man and had solved many problems for them. I was even called up at one point to receive a blessing from the Prophet, who welcomed me and proceeded to drench me in a ridiculous amount of oil from a special horn. I was glad to get home and wash myself!!

Being a white man: While I continue to have a great experience in Ghana, it has been tough at times. First, I am here completely on my own, independent of any program. While this has been a great asset, since I have been able to decide how to structure my time, it's been hard having no one to share in the same experiences. I've met some American exchange students at the University, but they live on campus with other foreigners and have their own circle of friends. While they are friendly, I haven't really connected with any of them yet. I'm starting to become friends with several Ghanaians but I have to be cautious with who I can trust.

I also constantly stand out. Since I usually travel alone, I'm the only white person in almost all situations. And this means people notice me, and want to talk. Sometimes they just want to say "Good afternoon", or "How are you?", or just ask permission to be my friend, or maybe I'm the subject of a laugh while riding on a tro-tro, or maybe they want to teach me a little Twi (the most common language taught to foreigners). In fact, one friendly guy taught me a few phrases in Twi, then offered to give me lessons for $100/hr! We laughed about it.

But this is a common perception: that as a white man I have lots of money, and this is when standing out isn't so good. Strangers sometimes ask me for money, and even my "friends" will pressure me to help them out using a variety of tactics. This is often the hardest to deal with: for instance, the man who rakes leaves for me each week haggled with me for 20 minutes to give him some extra money after I had already lent him some the previous week. I don't mind helping people out, but I don't like being seen as an ATM; I just want to be seen as a regular person.

Now with all of that being said, most Ghanaians are INCREDIBLY kind and friendly. Strangers who I've asked for directions have shown me the way and paid for a taxi. My neighbor has washed my clothes and insisted I don't pay him twice. Many many people have helped me out. So all in all, Ghana is way cool. Sometimes I wish I wasn't a white guy. Maybe I'll pull a reverse Michael Jackson (but what would this mean for my nose?)!

Hope all is well in the US...take care, and expect another post soon!

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