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...

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