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Friday, March 30, 2007

Miia's First in a Long Time

To my dearest loves, electricity and water:

Oh how I love you electricity. The way you keep the fan going in the night to keep me cool or light the evening's dark hours so that I can lie with a good book. I love how you keep the kettle going for my morning coffee or how you charge my computer battery so that I can watch my favourite films. Electricity, you make life so wonderful and when you are gone, sometimes for so long, I miss you so much. You keep the mosquitoes away with that cool blast of AC air and so too you keep away the malaria. When you are gone, I wake up thirsty - both for the water I have sweated away all night and for you, dear electricity.

And you, running water, where have you gone to? I was sad when you didn't visit me in my home but was satisfied that you weren't too far off, just across the street. But then you left there too and I had to walk some ways to find you. Now you've gone even farther and my body aches for missing you. My showers have become even more meager for missing you. I wanted this morning to wash my towel but, alas, didn't want to waste any of you. Dear water, I know you don't mean anything ill by it, but please come back. As much as I know they don't mean to, the neighbours gawking and laughing at me as I carry you on my head is more than I can bare sometimes. I've even accepted that I can't drink you, that the water that goes in me must come from somewhere else. But to cover myself in sweet cool water, I can only dream.

* * * *

I'm really liking my work. I like that I have a lot of freedom when I work and how I direct my work, while at the same time contributing to positive change. I like that I am getting to do both macro and micro work, i.e. policy related work as well as grassroots work. As a bit of an update as to what I've been doing...

For the NGO, OrphanAid Africa, I've been doing two projects:
1- An audit of their educational supports program with a kind of socioeconomic survey of students. Basically, OA pays the school fees for 300 needy students. The kids are anywhere from nursery to university and OA helps them with their fees. The idea is that it is also a preventative measure, keeping children with poor families who might otherwise be tempted to leave them with an "orphanage" even if they have living family members.

The work involves going all around Ghana tracking down these students, mostly at their schools. I meet the principals, teachers and students and then interview the kids at some length about school but also about other things, like if they have health insurance, the health of their parents, are they eating lunch and dinner every day, etc. As the interviews are now wrapping up, I will prepare a report that will recommend which students need to continue to receive support (they would be cut if they have dropped out or if their family situation has changed and they can pay their own fees) as well as the findings of the surveys. The survey findings will be used for the NGO on future program development ideas as well as go to UNICEF for some ideas on releasing funds to needy families and other areas of support that would be recommended.

2- Also for OA, they have written a piece of proposed legislation on minimum standards for children's homes that they are trying to have passed as law in Ghana. As many children in orphanages aren't actually orphans and as many institutionalized children's homes are run as businesses, the welfare of children is not always kept as paramount. So, I've been working on reviewing the document as well as making sure that OA's home also meet the standards they are proposing for other organizations. Since they are advocating for these reforms, they must be a model in themselves. My work has been to do an assessment of the organization and now I am preparing training for different staff levels on upgrading their children's home. Next week I will train the senior staff and the following week we will have two days with front line staff.

For the UNDP, I'm also working on two projects, both of them related to the Ghana Prison Service:
1- GPS has asked the UNDP to conduct human rights training for their prison staff. This past week, I was part of running a 2-day training with 111 sergeants in the GPS. My work here includes visiting prisons, participating in the training that just happened and then writing a final report with recommendations on future training going forward and what it should cover and how it should run.

Interestingly enough, when we collected the evaluation forms of the training this past week, 65% of respondents either agreed strongly or agreed that more important than human rights training is improving the conditions within the prisons. With 15,000 prisoners in prisons with a total holding capacity of 4,000, overcrowding and lack of resources continue to be a major problem.

2- One of the human rights under the UN Minimum Standards on the Treatment of Prisoners includes the availability of educational programs within prisons, especially for illiterate prisoners. As can be expected, the illiteracy level within prisons is higher than in the general population but GPS does not have any formalized education programs (although there is vocational training) in the prisons. So, I am also writing a brief report on what would be the key considerations and a plan of action to pilot education and literacy programs in prisons. We will start with two prisons for men and two for women. UNDP will be providing a lot of the logistical and some financial support.

So, that's the work I'm up to. It's been really great, actually and I feel I've both learned a lot as well as had a chance to make some positive and lasting contributions. Not bad for a five months stint.

* * * *

Soon the next leg is about to begin as we head off April 16th by Ghana Intl Airlines to the UK. Chris and I have been looking at the maps my mom sent (thanks Sian!) and daydreaming of our upcoming hitchhiking through Scotland, France and Spain. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to cold weather, hot coffee and cheese. We'll be in France for the second round of the presidential elections - sure to be very, very interesting indeed. Maybe we can even join the anti-Sarkozy protests sure to happen.

Tomorrow we are off to another Ghanaian funeral and then two weeks of work to wrap up all these reports... Then back in the air.

It's been a very good go here in Ghana. Obviously there have been a lot of learnings, about myself and about Ghana and they are sometimes not easy. But they are definitely worth it and I'm liking it all the more all the time.

Much love to everyone out there.

Bullet Train, Tokyo Airport

Tokyo Night and Day

We took these from our hostel, which was waay up a concrete-and-glass tower. Neither of us was feeling too hot after a looong night of kereoke and an early morning departure time, so we didn't see a lot of Tokyo, but it seemed very hustle-bustle.

After Dinner and Drinks...

but before Kereoke. These are Big Bro's fellow English teachers in Iwakuni.

Hiroshima poem

I like this one. It reminded me of our friend John Filson, who will soon be an officially certified Master of Peace.

Hiroshima letters

Here is a bit of a closer view of two of those protest letters sent by the Mayor of Hiroshima after every nuclear test. These are to Bush and Kim Il Jong - which one do you think is more likely to start a nuclear war?

Last Day's Headline

Today was my last official day at the paper - had a nice departing conversation with Bossman, who said my impact on the paper had been stellar. He invited me to keep writing a monthly column from back in Canadia, which I would like to do if time permits. I'll have one more book review in Saturday's paper, but here is my last weekday story, and it's actual news at that:

Hawkers begrudge AMA's Pedestrians Shopping Mall...Where are the customers?


ps. After our trip to Togo and our reportage on the Ewe issue, apparently sales have jumped in the Volta Region, where Ewe are the majority, and, furthermore, the paper is now considered 'pro-Ewe.' Now Bossman is happy, after initial reservations that we were "unnecessarily stirring a dangerously hot pot."

Togo Stories

On the road to Togo we decided on a hunger-induced whim to stop back at Xofa, where M and I spent xmas. We flagged ourselves a taxi but before the driver could take us down the long rough road to Xofa he needed to fuel up, which involved driving through a checkpoint where they checked our passports. Only then did my colleague N realize that her visa required an extension, she had overstayed her two-month stamp even though the visa itself had several months remaining. She promised to attend to it as soon as possible, which suited the immigration officer just fine, but it gave us cause to worry about crossing the border the next day.

We put it out of our minds and made way to Xofa and ordered one of their notoriously slow-cooked meals, which was promised within an hour, and we took a long leisurely swim. 90 minutes later M went to check on it and the master chef had managed no more than the cutting of one tomato. Angry, perturbed, mostly disappointed we cancelled our order and a young man named Daniel took us over to the nearby town of Dodi, where we met an Ewe chief and interrogated him about his memories of 50 years ago, the infant independency celebration. We also spoke to a group of Akan women and later, another young Daniel, grandson of the chief with all the accompanying dignity, strength of character, and knowledge. He arranged for a giant bowl of banku and delicious okra stew for four intrepid reporters, made expertly (and quickly) by his sister. For this gigantic meal they would take only 10,000 cedies ($1.20 CNDN).

Early the next morning we found our way to a bus station in the town of Ho near the Togolese border. By noon our patience with waiting for the bus to fill had worn thin and we coughed up the extra 20 dollars (split three ways; the chief correspondent, who had organized this adventure, had decided to stay on the Ghana side to pursue some fresh leads) and commandeered the bus. We three Canadians, a woman from Niger, a 70-year old master boy scout from Togo, and a couple Ghanaians made way across the boarder in relative comfort.

On the Togo side we hopped on the back of some motorcycle taxis, found a hotel, interviewed some local mask sellers, and grabbed some baguette sandwiches. The restaurant purveyors knew the oldest chief in Togo, who happens to live in a border village we could interview. We hopped more motorbikes and watched the tropics fly by the rugged highway, spent the afternoon in conference with the blind chief and his entourage of (mostly) young men learning about what it means to be an oppressed majority in Togo. Then we met an old Togolese woman who had a mother from Ghana and crossed the border frequently. She paid for her journeys with small-small profits from crushing palm-oil, which she crushed topless in the hot sun, something a young woman would never do but at her age it’s quite acceptable here, unlike the more prudish (in many ways) world I come from. Afterward one of our new friends took us on a motorcycle ride to the nearby waterfall, which had been reduced to a trickle so that the water could feed the dam supplying energy to Kpalime.

We hiked back the road and hitched a ride, 7 of us piled into a little compact, back to Kpalime, where our friends asked us to pay 3,000 central African francs (CFAs – about $6) per hour of their time, an outrageous amount. We gave them a total of about 10 bucks and felt a little duped. But we got what we wanted, so you can’t call it a scam.
“You’re a man, you can take more drink,” the old stoolfather, elder supreme, told me as I sipped my morning shot. His son nodded sombrely because a man should be demonstrably strong and this was an opportunity for such demonstration. The stoolfather had just told us of his memories of Ghanaian independence, a glorious time. Whatever armed uprisings had occurred in his Volta Region escaped his memory, had nothing to do with him. He was an Nkrumist through and through, an acting member of the African independence hero’s political party, and he served loyally in that first government until the generals’ men came to arrest him. He spent a few months wondering in jail, was released, and went back to his life as a village royal. His eyes veritably twinkled with the memories, faded at the end of his story, when his son took over the conversation and spoke knowledgeably of the modern Ewe situation. The son was the true leader now, and prompted the old man’s speech with nudges and written reminders.
On the Togo side of that colonial line, the blind chief of 6 decades also shared memories of his nation’s independence, but his milky eyes showed no signs of his vitality. Back then, his man was in power. When that man went down he inadvertently took the chief and his village with him. The chief got a humiliating spanking, and when recalling this part of the story his milky eyes shed salty tears and the surrounding young men hangers-on take over. Later they take us to meet a topless old lady who crushes palm to make oil to sell to help fund her frequent cross-border trips; she has so much family in Ghana and there are always weddings and funerals. “Family is important to us,” she explains. By way of family she is as Ghanaian as she is Togolese, and she is Ewe all the way through.
For supper we find a nice chop and order banku with tilapia fish, an Ewe specialty. The next table of drunks gets a little too raucous and a stout barrel-armed waitress gives them the boot. They fight her. She fights back. Local language shouting erupts; the waitress picks up a plastic chair, tries to throw it, has it taken from her hand by another staff member, so she steps to shoving the nemeses from the premises. They push back; she pushes more, they succumb and scram.
At night we watch the Latino soap opera ‘Secreto d’amour’ and the chief correspondent tells me that the former business manager was sleeping with both the editor and a sub-editor, who coincidently ended up as the best paid member of staff, while selling cosmetics online from his private office and all stories by-passed his almost illiterate eyes. Both her and Saturday editor are accustomed to fighting off advances from the editor, who is married with girlfriend and has a personal vision quest to sleep with every woman in the office. The tallies of who all is sleeping with who were too complicated for me to follow, so I kept my eyes on TV’s simplicity.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


V-Day poem, written by Chris & Miia on Val’s Day, 2007, at the Alliance Francaise in Accra, Ghana, while listening to a live reggae band

When a stone is a cap
And your guide is a cop
You know you’re where
What’s down is up

Where the birds are bats
And the sidewalk’s a gutter
The editor’s a lawyer
And the stenographer stutters

It’s a bizzaro world
Of minority whites
Desperate for acceptance
Yet so damn uptight

We’re young but we’re old
For bad or for good
Sometimes it means wisdom
Or we don’t try all we could

Sometimes we’re lazy
Sometimes just tired
Sometimes restless
Confused and miss-wired

Sometimes we’re soaking in the world
With nothing to prove in it
Sometimes letting it happen
Sometimes we groove on it

Home haunts us
Calls us to her
But the road too is calling
With an undeniable lure

Neither here nor there
Nor in between even
Every arrival
A prelude to leavin’

So it might make you sick
To hear then this tale
What’s anchoring this ship
In fine winds and gale

It’s the look in his eye
When I share a bit of wit
The strength of his heart
And what he does with it

People come and go
If we’re lucky we make friends
The reggae and beer flow
You take me home when the party ends

You keep me laughin’
In the face of insanity
You keep me true
When I’m surrounded by vanity

People are strange
And that’s a fact
So much the same
But still never exact

Copies of one another
Some “cool” and others shy
Some full of loving
And the rest bone dry

What is it in me
That’ll put up walls
Instead of enjoying
The blokes and the dolls?

All my self-doubts
Come back in my face
But your face is pretty
Self-doubts have their place

In all this madness
What difference can one make?
Unless she is willing
To be first on the stake

To sing a new song
With a catchy tune to it
Like we’re queer and here
Get used to it

It’s hard to imagine
I’m a decade older
Than some of the kids here
More round in the shoulder

Maybe I should be home
With just months till I’m due
A stable old corner
A life more subdued

No way! Says my heart
I’ll never give in
Corrode the conformity
Fight the power to win!

Then again
Home is sweet
Kids are fun
As they discover their feet

It won’t be long
What’s our rush?
Tell my soul to be quiet
And my mind to hush

This is this day
There’ll be no other
Quite like this day
So we shouldn’t bother

With the countless alternatives
Or what might have been
Anyway, baby
This is the scene

These are the players
This is our life
It’s goddamn exquisite
To have such a wife

As John Filson said
What could be better
Than to marry your best friend
Travel the world together

How ‘bout this
As my V-day pledge
To ride the wave
Worry less ‘bout the edge

So my dear
Will you take the chance
And join me for
A sweet reggae dance?

Remember the days
It was we who would start
The party and go on
Till we’d exhausted the dark?

[the answer was yes to those last two questions.]
Just before we wrote the above cheesy val’s day poem, we met a cop named Wisdom on the trotro. He insisted on escorting us all the way down a dark road to the Alliance Francaise. “I love you guys,” he proclaimed so boldly. “Do you love me?” Love you? I barely know you. He was so insistent that it was a bit frightening, given his position of authority, and his gun. But he was just being friendly, took our phone number and never even called. I feel so used.

Vita at Work on Batik

This is our housemate's girlfriend Vita, who is a batik artiste.

Conor's "India" Dance

Latest Pubs

Why Ghana Needs a Strong Left Wing

Guinea's 50-year leadership vacuum

Development in freedom; a new paradigm? (Editorial)

Light a candle or curse the darkness [note that this one is by my good friend Conor McCreery and our colleague Albert, but they tacked on a piece by me, which covers the last 9 paragraphs or so.]

Cousins-in-Law Party

1. Cousins Taba, Bellema (looking a very young 50), Lara, and Great-Aunti; 2. The whole gang, including cousin Don beside me and Sam beside him.

Miia and Nikki on Motorbike in Togo

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Togo Scenic

These are taken by our friend Nikki at a dam we visited near a very small village in Togo. The dam was completed by Ewe nationalist engineers after their leader was assassinated. They were flown to sympathetic Yugoslavia and taught the dam engineering there.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Stoolfather's Son

This is the son of the town of Ho's most important male elder, relaxing for some post-interview libations. When we met him it seemed that he was very much running the show. He was a great interview, incredibly knowledgeable and articulate, yet also very cautious about not speaking too much on behalf of the elders or his people, who had not been consulted. We were asking him about the highly contentious issue of the Ewe separatist/nationalist movement.


Conor is doing really well here. He's far more thick-skinned about the constant attention than Miia or I, partially I think because he is a born entertainer, gregarious and loving of attention, the opposite of myself. He hams it up for the crowd, charms all comers. I myself can't do that, can't be anyone's monkey. That's not to put down his approach, which works so well, it's just to say we're different people. For me it's been great to see him thrive here in his own way, without too much help from us.


On certain few days there is a miracle: a trip to work without a single call of "obruni!" and a generally low level of interest in me. It's like I'm temporarily local. On days such as these my head slowly lifts from my straightline stride, and I look at the world around me, notice new things, new shops chops and kiosks, new streets. I observe life around me without it swallowing me in unearned celebrity.

On such days as this I am more open to the world's inspiration and ideas. I read about an organization dedicated to "Africa's renewal" and I think, 'renewal, yes.' Renewal is a word I like better than 'development' with respect to how the later is used to describe poor countries' efforts to improve the lot of their people, because we are all developing so the effort to distinguish between rich and poor fails. But to say rich and poor is too simplistic and ignores how they got that way. Somehow 'renewal' ipplies that something that was good was destroyed by someone, hence the need to renew. It's development but, more speficically, it is an attempt to renew Africa to its former glory, while at the same time birthing something new and beautiful.

I propose we ditch the term 'international development' in lieu of 'international renewal.'


Mommy of the Bride

This is a long-time chief of a village in Dodi, who has ruled since before Ghana was its own country. I love the random messaging that we often see on Ghanaian shirts, likely sent over by Value Village type of donors then sold here very cheap. For me this is also one of the village's great advantages over the city: no fashion police.

Unlucky Fishers in Volta

This was taken by colleague Nikki.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Any Takers?

Independent Military Hardware

Miia, Kwaku, Vita, Conor at Indy

Mr Sewing Machine Head

Not so long ago, I saw a guy walking around with an old-school Singer sewing machine on his head, offering tailoring and repair services. It never fails to amaze me what people can carry on their head. Those things are HEAVY!


1. Regional Chief going through the crowd, 2. marching bands, 3. tanks and marching bands, 4. rich people and white people section

Worlds Collided

I collided with my old life recently in the form of M, one of those amazing people who picked up his whole life and moved it over the sea, in this case to Japan and then again to Canada, where he spent seven long years struggling against cold viruses, weather, and people, like the immigration officer who singled him out of a large group of students returning from a study trip abroad and sent him off to the special inspection room, or the guy who hired him over the phone then with slight of hand slipped the job away when he saw his black face, or the juvenile dimwit who finished bottom of his class in Canada and found a job in her field on graduation while he cleaned toilets. These stories are hard for me to hear because of the obvious sorrow of the teller, and the fact that he is one of millions, and that he’s talking about my country and there is nothing I can say in its defence. It’s a national shame that most Canadians don’t even know to be ashamed of.

That said, it was actually great to see him. He’s in another tight spot because after 8 years in Japan and 7 in Canada he feels behind his Ghanaian colleagues, yet he encounters the usual demands for a share of all the billions he must have raked in abroad from people in his hometown. It’s the double-edged cross borne by the returnee to Ghana. Even harder is that his wife and children have stayed in Canada for the good schools [though they may come back this spring]. In a twist on the usual remittances from abroad, he sends them part of his salary every month.

He treated us to some banku and beer at a bar/chop called Duncan’s, which is next to the journalists for human rights office and a hub for local journalists, I’m told. We caught up with Mark and told him a bit about our travels and swapped updates on common acquaintances back in Toronto. He’s a kind, brilliant, and principled man; hopefully we will see him again before our departure.

I find myself hardening here, maybe getting a little more attuned to my anger and frustration at certain things. Expressing anger, even being assertive, doesn’t come easily to me, especially with people I don’t know. But of course, the more one is pushed…

The other day three junior high school girls were walking along the dirt road near our house, maybe 20 yards behind me. Predictably, they starting shouting, “Obruni! O!bruni!” I ignored them, like I tend to. They tried again, “Obruni! Hey grandfather!” This had them in fits of laughter so she said it again, and they all started calling, “Hey grandfather! Hey obruni!” I didn’t really get the grandfather comment, but their devious laughter made clear that they were crossing boundaries.

Something kind of snapped in me. I turned on my heal and stared them down, snapped, “You should not be so rude! Respect your elders!” They kind of cringed, scattered a bit, and shut up.

It felt good to assert myself. Does it sound cruel or bullyish to take pleasure in chastising buoyant young girls? Like I said, I’m hardening. You get sick of the constant harassment, and children are the worst. They are also the most innocent and probably mean the least harm in it, and about 15 seconds later my self-satisfied smile faded and I felt bad for snapping at them.

A few hours after that I thought back to it. “Screw it,” I thought. “Those brats knew better than to be so rude.” It’s true. Any Ghanaian would have smacked them without hesitation, so a mini-lecture from an obruni certainly won’t hurt them.

At work I snapped at one of our reporters because she kept nagging me for the only internet connection in the room, while I was researching and writing the lead story. “Are you finished, Chris?” she barked as I walked out of the room so I could hear the person I was interviewing over the phone (it’s impossible in a room full of flirting laughing joking reporters).

“NO!!” I shouted, slamming the door. Luckily, because Ghanaians express their emotions quite strongly, I think I’d have to go to work with a sawed off shotgun and start blasting before anyone would notice I was in a bad mood. My interviewee gave me the info I needed so I returned to the room and told the woman she could take the internet. She smiled sweetly and thanked me as if I had saved her drowning puppy.

What I don’t understand is how immigrants to Canada, who face a far more negative form of prejudice, contain their anger so well. I think of all the immigrants I met through my job, and all the frustrations they had and continue to have, all their struggles just to be accepted and given a fair chance in Canadian society, particularly the workplace, and I am amazed at the dignity, strength, and perseverance with which most of them handle it. Many did express extreme sorrow or anger at their situation, and I’m surprised there weren’t more like that. I’m sure every immigrant feels it because of the intensity of the experience, and unlike me they have planned to come to the new place permanently. Backing out, going home, after picking up one’s entire life and saying permanent goodbyes is almost unthinkable, so even if they regret the decision most are stuck with it. Few return. It must be maddening. I suppose though it’s counter-productive, and immensely difficult, to express what one is really feeling to a professional who you hope will connect you to opportunities.

Back in Ghana, this intensive emotional expression is overwhelming at times, but sometimes it can be quite enjoyable, whether it’s witnessing one of Bossman’s patented rants, receiving a ‘God bless you’ from a grateful driver when you give him some water, or watching that same driver pull a U-turn to buy a dirty white purse with a shy smile and “My wife will love this” as an explanation.

Recently I looked back in awe as Miia gave hell to some young boys who had been tirelessly calling out obruni obruni obruni at us. They had also been playing a game some play, which is to shout out various Ghanaian day names, knowing that many whites adopt such a name (Ama for a Sat-born female like Miia and Kojo for a Monday-born male like me) and hoping to elicit a response.

“Imagine how exhausting it is for me to hear that 200 times a day!” she shouted at them as they giggled and apologized.

Hut Interview in Dodi

Our Kitchen

Togo Story

Ewe Cross the Line, the less controversial of the two stories that came out of our trip to Togo. The other one was initially cut, then printed while bossman was in the UK, but never put online.


Around Campus


Fufu Pounding, Conor and Miia

Fufu Pounding, expert

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Adventures

We're back! Hopefully lots of pictures forthcoming, at some point. At some point I may go through and write detailed descriptions of the past couple weeks, but for now, highlights!:

On day one we bounded through up-highway one-lane traffic with two guides (Prosper and Stephen) and a driver (Gentle Ben). Less than an hour in Prosper shared with us an Ewe lullaby about a bouncing baby. In exchange I showed them my recent articles in the paper about the Ewe of Togo and Ghana, who were split by colonial borders back in the day. They seemed happy that someone had taken an interest in their oppression and added that the current government is Ashanti-dominated and didn't bother appointing anyone from their region (Volta) to government positions. They were two very knowledgeable men from the same village who shed light on everything we were to see, which for the first few days was a lot of road and trees dotted by roadside villages and hawkers as we headed city-to-city to the north, through Kumasi, Sunyani (a detour because of construction), Techiman, Kintampo, to Damango just south of beautiful Mole National Park, where we came within just a few metres of several herds of elephants and the little eglets milling abut their gigantic dirty remarkably silent feet, a warthog, bushback and kob antelopes, several baboon families, and one rare bird (the oriole warbler, which sounds like two common species to me).

In the afternoon we visited West Africa's oldest mosque, made of mud and sticks, possibly in the 13th century, in the village of Larabanga, where we were swarmed by sad-eyed children holding our hands and pushy teenagers demanding fees and tips. Conor nearly started a riot with his hockey cards, which he hands out to children in lieu of money, as a symbol of Canadian culture. "You have football, this is what we play in my country," he explains to jumping pushing screaming 10-year-old masses.

After a narrow escape we downed several large beers and played Oware, a board game using ebony seeds, and debate which I retroactively entitle: Literacy: the new Imperialism?

In the bleary-eyed misty morning we headed to Tamale then Bolgatanga, then to a village called Navrongo, known for a beautiful Catholic Cathedral built of clay and decorated by local women artisons with pictures of everymen and angels, with an adjacent craft museum filled with calabash drums and murals. In nearby Paga we were disappointed at Chief's crocodile pond, an 'ecotourism' project where crocs are drawn from the water with live chickens so tourists can sit on them and have pictures taken while locals beat them with sticks. For 60 cents you can take away a written explanation of why crocs are so sacred (they are considered ancestors). Thank god I'm not sacred. We took a quick peek at the Burkina Faso border and went south to the Pikworo slave camp, a fascinating stop for 19th century slaves on the slow southward march to eternal servitute. Such a sad and sombre place, except for the constant ch-ching of additional charges, including 12 cents for each photo you snap and a tip for a group of local men playing an old slave spiritual, and their sad-eyed dancing children. Their performance was quite powerful and the sight has been perfectly maintained, including carved out holes in the rocks that served as bowls, and 'punishment rock' for busted escapists, who were tied with their back down, shirtless in the merciless sun. They squirmed so much that their chains have left an obvious groove around the base of the rock.

We slept in Bolga and made haste back to Kintampo the next day, where slid down the waterfall on our bums and had waterfights with a visiting group of secondary school students. Conor and I celebrated his Irish heritage in a 'pub' called Ryans, surround by middle-aged Europeans and young Ghanaian prostitutes. Go Irish!

Whew, this is exhausting.

Which is exactly what Miia said when the Kumasi doctors diagnosed her with her second bout of malaria. [She's much better now.] So she joined us, sweaty and tired at Assin Manso, where the slaves were given their last bath before being sold. They have erected a wall where slave descendants can write their names for a hundred bucks to show that they have returned, against all odds. The names will stand amidst depictions of America's finest blacks, like Booker T. Washington, whose bio closes with "he taught blacks to be upright citizens who minded their own business." Outside is a mural of an evil looking fat greasy white slavemaster whipping the captured African men. The site of the bath itself is now quite beautiful despite its sinister past. It is surrounded by bamboo and greenery, and has an eerie calm to it.

Finally we came to GHana's creme de la resistance, Elmina, a small seaside fishing town founded by the Portuguese, that along with its sister Cape Coast became one of Africa's great slave exporting hubs, run out of two ominously clean white castles. We splurged and stayed at Hans Cottage Botel, played in the pool, had pingpong grand slams, and watched crocodiles (these ones were fed no chicken, just fish, and generally stayed in the water but were fun to watch, especially when they fought over a morsel). Next door was Kakum National Park, where we did a canopy walk over a 40 metre high, 700 metre long, rope bridge, from which you have a spectacular view of one of Africa's largest remaining stretches of rainforest, and all the insects and birds and lizards therein.

Then they took us to the castles...I think I'll write about that later; it was a provocative experience.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Road Trip!!

we are now being accompanied by our mutual friend Conor, who is taking to life here quite well. it's not surprising, he has the right traits: easy-going, flexible, outgoing. that last one is where i find myself most lacking here - it's always tough when i find myself the centre of attention and i don't even know why. or, that is, the reasons why are nonsense.

challenges aside, we're all quite enjoying ourselves, and are about to embark on a 9-day excursion around the country, during which we have a good chance of seeing elephants, hippos, gators, and most definitely monkeys of different varieties. we've already seen mones, and also baboons, which are best seen from inside your vehicle. so, we're all quite excited.

miia and i are also excited about moving on, seeing where my grandmother grew up (glasgow) and the highlands, plus revisiting gay paris, and lounging briefly on spanish beaches, before returning to our friends, family, and cats (one of whom is now recovering from a serious gash to his belly).

i am also anxious to finish my novel, and on the job front i've had serious interest from a monthly activisty magizine in new brunswick, which would probably pay me in canadian tire money but be interesting work if M is willing to become my sugar mama (which she says she is, and in fact she is now making far more money than I thanks to short-term paid gigs with UN and the orphanage).

because of this road trip we won't likely be updating the blog for the next 10 days at least, so worry not! we shall have some good pictures and stories when we return to Accra.


ps. Congratulations to my good friends Arben and Anida, who just became Canadian citizens!!

Monday, March 05, 2007

From last week

We realised just yesterday that we’ve been making a social faux pas here. L called us to see how things are going in the new place, and she admonished Miia a bit because we never call her or E. Earlier that day we had received a call from our friend WO, who is currently serving in the Congo and is bored out of his minds because he can’t leave the compound on weekends. Our friend Henry also ‘flashed’ us, which is where you call and let it ring just once then hang up – just a little hello that costs nothing to say.

What we’ve realised is that we’re supposed to keep in better touch with our Ghanaian friends. We sometimes wonder when they call us, what do they want? In Canada, unless it’s a long distance thing, we generally call to make arrangements and plans but not just to say hello I was thinking about you.

I think this is especially true now in E and L’s case because they’ve let us stay in their apartment, we’re supposed to check in periodically. Ahh the little cultural differences.

Last night we went to a party at the senior correspondent’s house, which is in the shi-shi downtown core, called Osu, where all the foreign restaurants are also found. We decided to kick things off with some Indian food with our new friend Chantal, who is a friend of our good friend Marlene and recently arrived in Ghana for a stint with UNDP. We talked about things we have in common: travel and bikes. We worried about reverse culture shock on our return, pictured our bored friends saying things like “how long do you think Chris can go without saying the word ‘Ghana?’”

Then we danced. The senior correspondent has a pad in a compound with several other oborunis and a few Ghanaians, with an open patio in the middle. They had some serious speakers, I assume rented, and played great music including Shaggy, Sean Paul, and other butt wigglers. The crowd, like the makeup of the compound itself, was mostly foreigners and a few locals. There were some seriously sexy people swaying together most sexily, much flirtation and checking out, ahh the impetuous exuberance of youth.

We made a few attempts at conversation and I met a few of the Journalists for Human Rights gang from Canada, one of whom is a producer at CBC. He was a bit perplexed when Miia forbid him from asking the usual questions (i.e. how long you been in Ghana? What you doing here? When will you return home?), so he focused his attention on me. He was recovering from typhoid and had a rough start to his assignment at the Joy FM radio newsroom. When I see the experience of the JHR people I don’t feel bad about not having got that job.

The senior correspondent welcomed me with a hardy handshake and we bitched to each other a bit about work and colleagues, danced a little, and she was off. She was the consummate host, spending time with everyone in short ADD-like bursts.

And we all danced some more. “My one complaint about white people is they get together and don’t dance,” said the JHR reporter who works at the Statesman (she write for the Globe and Mail back home), but she was soon proven wrong as we were all busting a groove, white and black, and just letting loose. A much needed release for me as I had been feeling a bit depressed, both about staying two more months and about going home afterward. Crazy.

Alas, Miia was feeling a bit feverish again – we think she has a stomach parasite, which is a repeat of what she had her entire time in Nicaragua. On Monday she’ll go for tests to confirm or disprove those suspicions.
[editor’s note: Miia’s feverishness was malaria, but she’s all better now!]


This is Daniel, the grandson of a chief in a town called Dodi, in the Volta Region of eastern Ghana. He is an Ewe, and claims that his people have been treated unfairly by Ghana. Some Ewes want full independence from Ghana; Daniel just wants more equitable distribution of development dollars so that he and his friends can all get a good education.

Orphanage Africa

This is where Miia volunteers a couple days a week; it's a beautiful transitional home for vulnerable children until they can find a permanent family (their own or adoptive) to belong to.

Chair of the Council of Tribal Chiefs

aka the Lion King, and how he roared! Within the settlement, he is the leader of the leaders of 16 different Liberian tribes, many of whom tried to kill each other back home. Here they meet regularly to talk about peace.

School for Liberian Refugees

Last weekend we paid a visit to the Liberian refugee settlement. This is part of a school set up by an NGO. It teaches about peace, and about both Liberia and Ghana.


These are made by women in Ghana's Liberian refugee camp; they sell them to raise money for peace-building work within the camp.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

At Hiroshima Museum

Behind her are letters to the leaders of nuclear nations. Every time a country does a nuclear test, the Mayor writes that country a letter of protest, reminding them that the price is not worth the cost.

Meanwhile back in NS

photo courtesy of Benjamin Sr.

Hiroshima pic

this is a picture of a picture of Hiroshima soon after the bomb hit, which i took at the memorial museum.

Friday, March 02, 2007


Every academic talk should be preceded with funky live music. Last week we saw a very boring lecture by a well-informed African Studies lecturer from America who refused to tell us anything we didn’t already know. There were two highlights of the night: the 7-piece band that played reggae, funk, soul, high-life, etc. on traditional West African instruments to kick things off, and the 70-something MP who closed the evening with a series of hilarious quips about Ghanaian politics. I wrote a bunch of them down but lost the notebook. The most memorable was the Twi saying “I beg to tell you that you are a fool.” He explained that if you fail to beg the recipient of the critique then you are being rude, but the critique itself is just plain honesty. He was folksy but beyond that he said far more with a few sayings than the big-worded American professor said in his entire rambling keynote address.

Last weekend we went to see a play at the Ghana National Theatre, a very beautiful modern theatre along the lines of a Rebecca Cohen or a Massey Hall. The play was called The Lost Fishermen. It was written in the 60s by a great Ghanaian play-write and sculptor, now in his 80s. It was a ‘folk opera’ musical, so much of the dialogue was in the form of folksy tunes sung in Ga or Twi that had the local parts of the audience in stitches. Some of the whites actually left the performance, but I loved it. It had its technical (lighting and audio) flaws, but the songs were gorgeous, usually sung by about 10 men and 10 women, each gender singing in unison. The spoken dialogue, which was in English, went back and forth between the men and women in a similarly rhythmic way. The story was of a boatload of men lost at sea who finally land on an island inhabited entirely by widows whose husbands had perished at sea. Naturally, much jubilant flirtation and courting ensues, with concomitant jealousy and deception, resulting even in murder. In the end, the wicked are left to suffer and all good people are either dead or redeemed.

Our friend Dacosta just found out that he will be posted in Cote d’Ivoire on his first peacekeeping mission. Apparently things have calmed down there, on the whole, since a few years ago, yet we still get a steady flow of violent news from there. He will be in the city but I’m not sure what exactly his role will be.

He told us this when he came over to our new place for some chilli we had made together, which he slowly sucked down with a sour look on his face – guess he wasn’t quite used to that combination of spices. As he ate he told us some crazy stories about his life in the military, particularly in basic training. He had been in the west coast town of Takoradi, and from their running exercises in the jungle, learning mostly about discipline and following orders. “If they catch you with your shoes unshined, you have to carry a log around, and nobody wants that to happen.” He said that they are intentionally fed disgusting food and made to eat it all (which is perhaps why he was able to finish all his chilli, if slowly), and sent on forced marches from town to town.

He also told us about how he had just gone back to Ayirebi and visited his sick girlfriend, and some old friends had given him a hard time about being in the military and he knocked one of the guy’s tooth out. The cops came and he showed his military card and they wanted to be his new friends. “I don’t want any police as my friends,” he said. “They are too corrupt.”

We both like Dacosta a lot, he is an honourable guy, incorruptible. He sends a large chunk of his small income to his parents every month; they are still raising some of his 9 siblings, who range in age from 11 to 35.

But our encounters with him are always a little strange because we can only understand about two-thirds of what he says and he probably understands about the same amount of what we say. He is intelligent but does not have a university education so he speaks English with a heavy Twi accent. After these 6 months in Cote d’Ivoire he wants to get married and go back to school. He knows that he will never advance in the military without post-secondary education, and though he is quite interested in going to Canada for school he nearly lost his jaw when we told him what university costs there. Still, we promised to email him links to the major schools there – he wants to do geography and I thought COGS in Nova Scotia would be a good choice because it gives a very practical education that I’m sure would be useful in the military, which I think remains his ambition.


Apologies, this one came out filled with errors that I could swear weren't there on submission:

Let it flow: The Tamale water supply expansion, rehabilitation, and
optimisation project

Orphan Monkey

Isn't it?

Is it ironic for an ad for a chain link fence to be this dilapidated?


I love the hawkers selling their wares between a cop and a 'no hawking' sign!