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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.

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