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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Snapshots

Dear reader,

Though these snapshots that I humbly offer here may smack of cynicism, you may calmly rest assured that such is not the case. They are a contemplation on life's absurdity, a heartfelt response to real tragedy, and a genuine enjoyment of all the weird and wonderful things that come our way.

Hope you enjoy,
Moi

* * *

Hot, hot trotro. Seat by the window, trying to suck in air. Oh, traffic is so bad this morning. Choking. The city is choking. Then screetch, crash, tinkle, shout. Necks jerk as we turn to see. On the street a car has smashed another car, hitting a cyclist in between. A boy of maybe 16 jumps and shouts, his face bleeding. He looks OK though his bike is beaten. We inch away. Each traveller turns to his/her neighbour to recap what we've seen, the ill fated cyclist, the dangers of traffic, the horrors of reckless drivers.

* * *

Circle trotro station just past 5pm. The station is empty of buses and full of people. We find our queue and add ourselves to the end. Maybe 50-70 people ahead of us. The whole station ground is like this - snaking lines of people every which way. People of all sorts waiting. Some are carrying purchases, others carrying wares for sale on their heads, and a man selling "medicine" with a giant speaker pumping out music as he girates his hips to our amusement. I imagine an aerial photograph of the station, Chris and my shiny white skin sticking out amongst a sea of African faces.

* * *

It's a long wait until our turn comes and in the meantime I'm fighting those who dare to cut in front of us: "Oh! No, no, no friend. We too have had a long day. You have to go to the back of the line." When one woman won't move, I add: "Well then, you are a dishonest woman. Why are you waiting here? Since you're going to cut, why don't you just go straight to the front of the line since you don't think you need to wait." Some turn to see me chastize her and smile with approval (or amusement?). She lets us in front of her. When the bus comes, we are the last ones and she is left waiting. Part of me feels guilty that I was so hard, but then our trotro erupts en route home to chastize the mate (the man who collects the fares and lets people on and off) and I see how there is no harm in voicing your opinion. City life leaves little room for generosity.

* * *

North of the city at a little run down school, I meet with the headmaster. He's listening to the radio while I speak to him, his eyes swimming in his head. Can he even hear me? Is he listening? Is he drunk? Is he sane? I ask, "Yes, so, we'd like to see copies of last term's report cards for these three children." "We don't have them," he says. "The reports were sent home with the children and are now with their parents." "Yes, but surely you have kept a copy for yourselves." He stares at me as though I haven't even spoken. What is going on? "Sorry, but I'm trying to get a copy of the children's reports. You see we pay their school fees and are invested in their performance. If they're having difficulties, we need to know so that we can help." No response. Then, "I'll call the children for you." I look around his office. The bookshelf is optimistically big. Half of it stands empty and the rest covered in stacks of yellowing files. On the top shelf a few dusty books. I get the distinct sense that this school isn't too interested in reading.

* * *

I meet with the three students - a3 1/2 yr old boy in nursery, a 7 yr old girl in Kindergarten, an 18 yr old girl in grade 8. They are siblings; they live with their mom who is old and sick and sells fish. There is another brother at an another school. The eldest girl is bright but when I ask her if, after school, she rests or studies, she says no. Of course not. She is raising her siblings, fetching water, preparing food. If she has troubles at school, I ask, does she get any help from anyone. Of course not. The teachers in this school have that most sophisticated of learning technologies: shaved twigs used to whip students. And when I ask her if her and her siblings have had their vaccinations, have health insurance, have access to food programs, have birth certificates, she clearly answers no to all questions. Of course not. Of course not.

* * *

When I leave the school, the headmaster comes to me to say, "God bless you" with that tone of voice that says I've done a truly remarkable thing. "Oh no," I say, "I only talked to them. It's you that has to educate them." He then hands me three report cards but for three different children than I've just met. What am I supposed to do with these? I think. He adds finally, "Yes, here." Great, I think. Hand them back and leave.

If we're really going to put an investment into schooling for children, if we're going to dress them up in uniforms and have them go to school every day, then shouldn't we, well, teach them something?

* * *

The trotro drops us off at the last stop, close to home. There's a Christian Mission there and when Chris and I start walking home, I catch the eye of an East Asian woman. Oh no, I think! I've looked! "Excuse me," she says as she starts after us. "Excuse me." We stop. "Yessss... from what country?" This seems to be enough by way of greeting. "Canada." "Ah, yessss..." (am I imagining her serpentine-like?) "I am from South Korea. I am a missionary." We nod. "And you? Are you missionaries?" "No." "Ah," she bobs her head up and down as though this is profound information. "And are you Christian?" "No," I say. I'm trying to avoid a 30-minute theological debate that I feel coming on. "Ah," she bobs again. After a pause, "Muslim?" "No." Bobbing. "Do you... do you believe in God." "No," I snap hoping this will put her off for good.

Shall I try to tell her that my husband here has complex animist beliefs coupled with some rearing in the Christian church yet at the same time an enormous dose of salt with religion? Or that I was raised Lutheran, have been a church worker for years, but that as of late I've had my own near complete falling out with churches (though my own beliefs remain complex and deep)? "No" is just, well, easy.

Her head is bobbing and I can tell she's getting ready to come at us with God's goodness in full throttle when we turn our bodies the other way and cut in to her thoughts, "Well, we're going home now." "Oh," she seems disappointed. "OK. Next time." Sure.

This morning I think about this again and wonder what on earth missionaries are doing in Ghana when this place is chalk full of Christianity. I don't get it. Maybe they're trying to convert the last few traditionalists who still pour libations and believe in spirits.

* * *

I hope that washing laundry by hand is making me stronger. Sometimes I lie in bed dreaming I'm a champion boxer. I often flex my biceps in front of the mirror and think about women who are strong and wonder if they could beat me at an arm wrestle.

* * *

I get a mysterious phone call from a friend says, "I have a job for you." Oooohhh.. exciting. A job!

We connect some days later so I can get the low down. It's to be a manager of a beach spa and to review their financial and management practices. Hm. Letsee.... A degree in environmental studies and a degree in social work.... Nope. Nothing there to make me in any way qualified.

"Managing a spa in Ghana," quips Chris. "So ends our good will trip."

Don't worry; I won't sully my soul with the likes of massage and manicure centres for the rich.

* * *

I have a bit of time to kill so check out a cafe on the 2nd floor of the ultra posh grocery store. I'm thrilled to see they have coffee and grab a cup as I sit by the window. ALL of the customers are women. While I'm there, some leave and some new ones come. Again, ALL women.

I ask the nice waiter if it's always like this. "Oh no," he says. "There were some men here this morning." I'm skeptical. We smile at each other.

Here's my theory: like the women's group I went to a couple of weeks ago, this crowd is all women (or almost all) who have come here with their husbands/boyfriends who have jobs here. They are the Ladies Who Lunch. I think of all my vehemence toward the machismo of the ages. Despite all the criticisms leveled at Ghana, I reflect that the North isn't so much better. I hear the women speaking Russian, French, Spanish, English with varying accents. We come from all over the world and we have this 'free' time to meet with the girls to gab. I wonder if the women feel underutilized, underchallenged, underwhelmed. I do.

Then again, is it so much better to be tied to a desk/boss/work schedule? I don't know.

* * *

Near the trotro station at 37, they've cut down all the trees. As a result, there are thousands of birds flying overhead like a scene from a bad horror film. They have nowhere to perch. Strange.

* * *

When we meet up with our friend Lydia in Tamale, the woman who we first stayed with when we came here, I think back on our first days in Ghana. I realize how much we've learned, how far we've come, and how, despite our many frustrations, we're doing very well. I like that feeling and it makes me stand a little taller.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello Chris and Miia from subzero Nova Scotia. Being one of the younger cousins I realize I do not know Chris as well as my fantastic sister does. However I find myself reading your blog with a sense of wonderment, excitment and pride. I anticipate the new photos and entries whenever I traverse your site. You guys are doing a great job and you have helped me to realize that there are still good people in this world. Keep it up, its phenomenal.

Love Tracey(sharon's second, hee hee)

Amanda said...

Hey you two, can't thank you enough for the continued story-sharing. The snapshots are so vivid. The pics are fantastic. You two are fantastic. :) Love, Amanda.

benjibopper said...

Hey Tracey! Perhaps we'll rectify any estrangement issues between ourselves and younger cousins on our glorious return to NS :-) Thanks for following along and we look forward to seeing you again in Hali.

Amanda, you are as always most kind and we love that you love our images, the word-ones and the actual ones.