Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dance dance revolution

Update: I am no longer the world's worst handwasher. I've spent many hours washing all of my clothes, towels and sheets at least once, if not several times, and now I have attained the coveted status of world's 2nd-to-worst handwasher.

Not much is new here. But I have started learning some traditional dances in earnest, and they are killing me. I have an increased respect for all dancers, especially from Ghana. The amount of muscle strength, fitness and sheer energy it takes to dance well is insane, and I have to confess that my illusions of being in good shape have been thoroughly dispelled. Often I am seriously tired after dancing for more than 15 minutes. My teacher usually just laughs at me when I am gasping for air in our lessons. But "small-small" I will build up endurance.

I continue to practice drumming, teach jazz piano haphazardly to a few students, try new foods (well, I haven't tried cowsfeet yet), get frustrated by traffic, and roam the streets of Accra looking for traditional music. I also took a trip with a friend up to a botanical garden in the mountains, and we spent a couple of hours exploring a jungle nearby. We ignored a sign stating all guests should travel with a guide, and there may have been 10 minutes when I actually thought we were lost in the deep jungle, but luckily we managed to get back alive and well. It was refreshing to be surrounded by the peace and quiet of nature, as I am surrounded by the bustle of Accra's hectic urban atmosphere.

Oh, before I forget, HERE WE GO STEELERS!!!!!!! Too bad I can't watch the Super Bowl.

I continue to get requests for money, marriage, and friendship. One girl near my house wants me to take photos of her and parade them around the streets of the US, looking for a potential husband to come and marry her, then wisk her away to the paradise of the US (it reminds me of some show that I saw a snippet of: someone takes pictures of their relative and shows them to people on the street to see if they'll date them...can't remember the name). So if there are any guys looking for that "special Ghanaian" please let me know. Otherwise, take care.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lets go shopping

One of the most fascinating aspects of Ghana is its commerce. Say you are in a tro-tro at the station waiting for it to fill up, or you are stuck in traffic. Many many people will pass by selling all sorts of merchandise that ranges from essentials such as water to completely random items such as CD organizers, mops, soccer balls, and dead grasscutter (basically a big groundhog). Often they are balancing their goods on their head, allowing easy access from the window of a tro-tro or bus. And no matter what they are selling, they will be constantly yelling out the product name to attract attention, like vendors at a baseball game. You might here:

Pure wata!! (Pure water)
Hssssssss! (fast) Hankie hankie hankie hankie hankie facetowel facetowel (Handkerchiefs)
Ti-got! (Yogurt, it took me a long time to understand this one)
Hssssssss! Mentos. PK. (gum)
Buh froot! (essentially a donut)
(fast) Pen pen pen pen pen pen pen pen pen. (pen)
Bees-cut Bees-cut Bees-cut. (biscuit, either cookies or crackers)

On long trips there are certain stations where tro-tros stop for the driver to take a rest or maybe get some petrol. When the tro-tro slows down, people rush it, mobbing and surrounding it, thrusting bread in through the windows, and fish, and plantain chips. It's how I assume many people make a living, in this wildly competitive, cut-throat environment (there might be 10 people selling basically the same loaves of bread at one spot).
This got me thinking, how awesome would it be if McDonalds and Starbucks strategically placed people selling fries and coffee to congested areas during rush hour? Or Walmart could have people selling school supplies in August...hmmm, I might have to work out a business proposal for this....

There is one person I often pass selling used remote controls and a globe. I mean, this guy seriously makes a living selling a plastic globe. I wonder how many he's sold...can you support a family selling plastic globes? Not too far away from the globe man, I once saw a guy holding about 20 or so gaskets for various cars. He would then announce the name of each passing car in a monotone voice (Opel Kaddett....Toyota Hilux....Mazda 626....Mercedes Benz), I guess in an effort to show he had a part for that car. It was very strange, especially since some of the cars he identified had their windows up, and couldn't hear him.

Now, there are many shops around that more closely resemble "stores" as we might think of them, but there are also many places outside on the street or at transport stations where you can buy almost anything. You might see a "shoe store" where about 50 shoes are arranged on a blanket on the street, or a "furniture store" where all of the couches and chairs are outside on the grass. There are no fixed prices, so you have to bargain and its always an issue for me since I'm an obruni, and will automatically get a high initial quote from sellers. Sometimes these people are VERY aggressive, walking right up to you and maybe even grabbing your hand to try to pull you into their "store". It can be a hassle but it's also part of the Ghanaian definitely provides a unique shopping experience, and once you know where to go to buy what you want, and have an idea of the price, then it's kind of fun.

And now let me answer a few questions submitted by my illustrious readers:

What wildlife have you seen in Ghana?
Contrary to what some of you might think, I'm not surrounded by antelopes, monkeys and lions. In fact, most Ghanaians will never see a lion in the wild, and even antelopes are uncommon in the coastal Southern regions that are the most densely populated. Common animals are what we would consider as farm animals, such as goats, cows, turkeys, cats, dogs, and pigeons. Many of these are "pets" are contained in their owners property by fences (almost all houses are fenced in with concrete walls to deter thieves) or tied to ropes. You might be walking in a residential area and see a herd of 10 goats being tended by their owner. Also common are lizards (they are FAST), huge toads and frogs that come out at night (and are frieking LOUD in large numbers), mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, vultures, hawks and other cool birds I can't properly identify. I've seen monkeys only twice, as many of them have been hunted or driven from most built up areas. But I'm planning a big trip up north in March to visit a national park that typically features elephants, antelope, and lots of other animals, so I'll see a lot more wildlife on this trip (and partially fulfill my secret childhood dream of traveling to Madagascar to see lemurs).

What is the status of women in Ghana?
This is a complicated question, and I don't pretend to have a great understanding of it, but I think a lot of it has to do with where you are in the country. In more traditional villages, women are associated with more traditional types of work (cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, etc), but in Accra and other major cities there are many women working in high powered jobs. Often in more prestigious businesses, such as banks, news broadcasting stations and immigration services, there are many women. In fact, I've seen way more female cops in Ghana than in the US. Ghana just elected its first female speaker of Parliament, basically the counterpart of Nancy Pelosi. In the commercial sector I described above (targeted chaotic street selling) there are certain items most often sold by women (water, most foods) and others most often sold by men (hankies, watches, yogurt). And in traditional music, there are hardly any women drummers (they dance and sing), but there are male dancers. But generally speaking, I can say that women are treated equally.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Big Update

How is it US? Sorry for the posting delay, but after some travels I'm back and better and bigger and faster than ever. Before I detail my travels, let me talk about Ghana's recent election.

The New President: Ghana's recent election was HUGE. Everyone talked about it and the news covered it "plenty" (to use the Ghanaian phrase) since I arrived in September. It was quite a long saga, but the entire process was transparent and peaceful. Ghana is one of the few countries free of politically and ethnically motivated violence in Africa, and it is the second time it has changed from one democratically elected government to another. The first round of voting took place Dec. 7th, and the results were almost split between the Nana Akufo-Addo of the NPP (49%) and Prof. Atta Mills of the NDC (47%). Ghana's constitution specifies that unless one party gets over 50%, there must be a runoff. So Round 2 took place Dec. 28, where Ghanaians could only choose the NPP or NDC, and it was ridiculously close. Almost 10 million voted and Prof. Atta Mills was leading by a mere 21,000 votes, but one constituency's vote was thrown out (due to problems). So this constituency re-voted on Jan. 2 (the so-called 3rd round) and even after that it took another day until the Electoral Commission declared Prof. Atta Mills the next president of Ghana. He had only 4 days until he took office yesterday (Jan. 7).

The entire saga was contentious and stirred up a lot of passion in Ghanaians, but no major violence broke out. From the first round of voting until the result was finally declared Jan. 4, there was a lot of anxiety. It definitely subdued all holiday celebrations as everyone was anxious to hear the result. Almost everyone I knew talked at great length with me about the two major candidates, and I feel certain if I was supremely bored one day I could write a short novel detailing both major parties histories, the background of the major candidates, etc. Both parties had "theme songs", "theme slogans" (Yessisem "We are changing"; and Ya koy ye nim "We are moving forward), "theme hand signals", and a ridiculous amount of advertisements and media coverage (including their own propagandist papers and radio stations). It was quite a ride, and I'm glad it's over and went smoothly. I congratulate Ghana for its commitment to peace and democracy.

Now on to my travels. I mostly visited friends I know from the university who were home for the holidays.

Keta: Keta is on a peninsula surrounded by the Keta Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the town was destroyed or damaged from a rise in the ocean some years back. Now a "sea defense" wall (basically strategically placed walls of large rocks) has been constructed and the town is rebuilding. Due to its proximity to water, if you are not walking on the main road in Keta, you are walking on sand. The residents are used to the sand, but it was seriously disturbing me (to use the Ghanaian phrase), and traipsing around in my worn out Birks was a major workout. My friend took me to see the remains of a Danish fort built in the 16th century (the ocean has destroyed most of it), the sea defense wall, and to Catholic mass (best music I ever heard at mass). At church I saw an 85 year old Dane who has lived in Ghana for over 20 years. He runs an eye clinic and speaks fluent Ewe, the local language. Pretty impressive for an obruni (or "yavoo" in Ewe).

Winneba: I went back to Winneba for Christmas, the place where it all began for me in Africa. Christmas was rather felt just like any other day except for the Christmas lights I brought and a small tree with modest Santa Clause, no gifts, no snow, and no Christmas songs except horrible reggae versions of "Hark the Herald..." and "Joy to the World". Most people go to church on Christmas but instead I went swimming with my friend at the beach, with a cool breeze and warm water. Pretty awesome. I also was in Winneba for New Years, not to party hearty with the family on the Eve (as no one drinks alcohol), but to attend a festival on New Years Day. In fact, on New Years Eve everyone went to bed before midnight!! At least earlier in the night there was a "dance competition" for three "small girls" and one "small boy" (to use the Ghanaian phrase), with the prize being a bottle of Coke. Luckily the New Years Day festival was was a competition between four groups, each consisting of about 40 people in costumes (or as they call it, "fancy dress"), a few stilt dancers, and a brass band, performing three different dance routines. The dances mainly involved fancy footwork and were really cool. Each group also had costumed gorillas and one obruni (dressed like a stiff British commander with a walking stick) dancing in their own style. Luckily by this point I had a camera so I snapped some pics.

Takoradi: Between Christmas and New Years I went out West to visit the family of another friend from the university. The family was 6...2 parents and 4 kids. I had a great time...I went to a 7th Day Adventist Church service (my friends dad was the minister), saw the Takoradi harbor and central market, gave a "jazz piano" lesson to a gospel keyboardist in the area, and went to the best beach ever. This beach was only about a 30 minute drive from their house, so the 7 of us piled into their small car (it was unusual they owned a car) and enjoyed the afternoon there. The beach was amazing...warm water, an island not far away (boats went to and from), small crabs you could chase but never catch, not crowded (hardly anyone was swimming), and unlike other beaches I've been to in Ghana, it was flat, so you could walk out far and still have your head above water. The waves coming in were pretty big. Crazily I was the only one swimming from our group...many Africans, even if they live close to the ocean, don't know how to swim and are afraid of water! But I enjoyed it anyway. We also climbed up 200 wooden steps to get an amazing view of the beach. The city of Takoradi was was relaxed and much less choked than Accra.

Akosomobo: I went up to the mountains to visit yet another friend from the university. Her father worked at the Akosombo dam, the largest dam in Ghana and the major source of power for the entire country. I got a tour of two dams in the area, and a nice view of the Volta river. On the way back I saw a troup of monkeys crossing the road.

I have one more trip planned this weekend...I'll be seeing lots of traditional Ewe music so I'm excited. I'll try to answer some questions I got, and maybe post a few more pictures, but don't hold your breath as internet here ranges from bad to really bad to awfully horrible. Take care! Only about two months until my triumphant return...

Monday, January 5, 2009

See a few pictures on Facebook

Happy New Year! I don't have much time right now, as I've wasted over an hour trying to upload images from my camera (I finally got one!). I could only get pictures to upload onto Facebook, so if you're my friend on Facebook you can access a few pictures there.

I'll post something substantial in a few days detailing my travels, Ghana's recent election, and anything else fun. I'll put up lots of pictures once I return to the US, since it's too difficult to do it here. Take care!