Thursday, October 26, 2006

shower sell-out, conferences, botanical gardens, etc.

It has been a while since I wrote, so its time for an update. p.s. for togo pictures, please click the ghanawebshots link on the right side. I haven't put up the Cape Coast ones yet.

Nothing much has happened, I haven't been traveling or anything too exciting. October 16-17th I went back to Cape Coast for a conference on decentralization and district assemblies' ability to generate revenue for CDD. I was the designated reporter. Since Cape Coast is a bit of a distance from Accra, we stayed overnight at the Elmina Beach Resort (this is where the conference was hosted as well). I felt like a sell-out...We were in an air-con car with a driver, stayed in a nice hotel with air-con, satelite tv, showers. I guess i felt like such a sell-out because I felt like the uppidy people i am totally against here. and the hot was just okay (i.e. it was a nice addition, but not necessary). Anywho, I am really grateful I had the experience of attending the conference. There was a presentation on the Cape Coast Municipal assembly and how they are attempting to generate revenue (tax collection is hard, especially with so many people in the informal economy not contributing to the tax base, so the assemblies have a hard time implementing successful development projects, such as trash collection.).One suggestion was the construction of student hostels, since the University of Cape Coast doesn't have enough housing for their students (the same applies to the University of Ghana, Legon...where I have heard rumors of one room with 13 people in it...a room meant for four). At the conference was the Central Region minister(he had a personal bodyguard too), some professors from UCC, members of the district assemblies, the Director of the Non-tax Revenue Ministry of Finance & Economic Planning from the central government, and a host of other prominent people as well as students and those involved in NGOs such as CDD and one of its chief funders, FNF. It was a really interesting conference...the director from the ministry of finance gave a presentation on street naming and house numbering. You just never think about how something so basic as this can really affect the infrastructure and development of a city. Anyway, as the reporter I had to write down everything that was said during the Q&A session, which was difficult because some people were mutterers, others were mumblers, others didn't really make coherent arguements, and still others were bringing up interesting topics that had nothing to do with anything. I went to the conference with Prof, Buntu (South African who is CDD's international fellow), and Joe, who has become my boss here at CDD (and who got me invited in the first place). We talked about US Foreign Policy (popular, eh?) listened to the BBC Africa on the way back, ate some pineapple, and had a wonderful time. I think that the internship thus far has provided me with the greatest experience, because I am with Ghanaians and learning so so much about the Ghanaian government, the innerworkings of a NGO, and getting to go to interesting conferences (like the one I attended today about women in the reconciliation process, how the reconciliation process should take on a more gendered approach to consider women who were abused, humiliated, or oppresed during the military regimes and the totalitarian governments of Ghana's past).
The following weekend my roommate's mom took us out to eat at a popular chopbar called Asanka's. I had yam and palava sauce (boiled yams and a spinach sauce) which was pretty tasty. My roommate's mom is a professor of finance at UofG and she is trying to get a fulbright in the US to study international finance at NYU. She is from Nigeria and has four kids, one in the US studying engineering in Georgia. She took us for icecream afterwards.
The next day we headed to Aburi botanical gardens, about an hour away from campus. It was built by the british and houses a ton of trees and flowers from all over the world. There is this one tree that got eaten by some crazy plant and the tree is completly hollow inside. We climbed in and it was cool. The gardens were small, but it was a change because it was a higher elevation than Accra and the air didnt smell like noxious fumes from cars. That week marked the official halfway point, and now its all downhill. I am not ready to leave...I mean i want to see everyone, but i think that you should come here, so i can see you and enjoy my lovely life in Ghana!
Last weekend (20-22) was also laid back, but sunday I went to prof's house for lunch. I met some of prof's friends, a chem professor from UofG that studied at duke, prof's ghanaian-canadian neighbor, a lawyer working in NY for international transitional justice, a woman on CDD's board of trustees who is a professor in communications at UofG, and a female lawyer who studied in London and is a non-sitting district judge. Prof's real name is E. Gyimah-Boadi, he is a professor at UofG in political science as well as the head of CDD. He doesn't want people to know what the E stands for. Anyway, he is a great guy, funny, smart, religious neutral (which is a "God-send" (no pun intended, haha) in this OVERLY christian society). Just sitting there, listening, i learned so much about Ghanaian politics. Granted, sometimes I had no idea what they were talking about (idk what it is with Africa and its 100 million acronyms for everything i.e. CHRAJ, PM, CCMA, AMA, CPP, NPP, NDC, etc and those are only a few of Ghana's million acronyms), but I got the general gist, like their views on chiefs and their desperation to hold onto power i.e. the Asantehene (the chief of the Ashante) who recently issued a fatwa on some journalists who wrote an article where his name came up in discussion about a cocaine scandal. Chiefs play a critical role in Ghana's democratic development, but it is interesting to see how they interact with the central government (in other words, they do what they want).
Speaking of religion, tonight we are going to a singles/relationship conference on campus. We are mostly going because we want to learn about things such as 10 things that are wrong about sex, 15 reasons not to marry your classmate, but to marry your CLASSMATE (whatever that means), etc. It will be an interesting experience, even if we don't believe what they tell us. I have no problem with Christians, mind you, but here in Ghana it is a bit on the ridiculous side, with someone left and right always preaching to you about something. Not to mention, one of the first questions in conversation is are you a christian? because that really matters if you are only trying to get the lecture notes from class. They are way too "holier than thou" for me.
This weekend we are hopefully going somewhere...p.s. only three more weeks of class...crazzy.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

high heights, chilling sights, chocolate spread OD

Last thursday I went out to eat with a colleague at CDD. We went to Redd Lobster. Haha. Oh Ghana. Jay-Z came on friday for a concert, tickets were 600,000 cedis ($60). It was a big deal here, especially amongst the students on campus. I didn't go.

This past weekend we went to Cape Coast. We left Saturday around 7, taking a tro-tro to Kwame Nkrumah circle then to Kaneshie and there we caught a tro-tro for 25,000 cedis to Cape Coast. As much as I love tro-tros i have to admit that was a very uncomfy ride. First, let me explain the anatomy of a tro-tro. A tro-tro is a mini-bus which has been rigged with a number of seats. In the back, normally can sit four people across, three people in the rows in front and then the driver and two people in the passenger seat. But thats not all. All of the tro-tros have rigged extra seats into the aisleway, so that from window to window in every row it is full. Your aim, therefore, is to sit near a window, so you will have the most space and not get stuck between two people. Also, it is not fun to sit in the back seat because you receive all of the bumps. The space between rows is very minimal and is even cramped for short me. I have no reason to complain, however; i feel horrible for my Norweigan friend who is 5'10 and has to cram in the same space I can barely fit in. The trip to Cape Coast was particularly bad because A) there was a ton of traffic and the temperature has been steadily increasing so it is quite warm at 9 in the morning. B) the seat back wasn't comfortable at all. C) I was sitting on top of the wheel which made for little space for my legs. We got to Cape Coast and immediately hopped on a tro-tro to Kakum National Park. Kakum is the home of the tallest canopy walk in Africa (maybe I made this up?). Kakum is also the most touristy place I have been in Ghana. There were two gift shops, a restaurant, lovely decorations. It cost us 45,000cedis to go with a group of Ghanaian students to the canopy walk. There was one student who was hiking to the walk in heels. (Oh, Ghanaian females ;) )When we got to the walkway, the guide told us that we couldn't fall because there was rope netting all around the walkway, it was reinforced with metal and wood, but despite this information, a ton of the Ghanaian students (all women) refused to cross the canopy. It was like 100 feet up and there were seven separate walkways each separated by a viewing platform. It was really lovely. Kakum is a real rainforest and it was cool looking down on it. we didn't see any animals but there were a ton of butterflies. It was also fun to rock and bounce the walkway to freak out the Ghanaian students (oops, did I do that?). It was a cool experience, but it wasn't that great. It was kinda an over-rated tourist place, but whatever.

The people on the trip were me, Karen (Norweigan) and Ryan (Iowaian/Californian). Ryan is a "drama kid" and knows a bunch of songs and can sing really well, so we often entertained ourselves by singing the soundtrack to Rent and other musicals. This was also very entertaining to Ghanaians who laughed at us alot. Karen and I thought it would be a good idea to bring chocolate spread with us, since we wanted to be cheap and eat bread for lunch. Well, all i can say is i totally overdosed on choc spread. I think I don't want it ever again, haha. "you are invited" - Ghanaians say this when they would like you to enjoy their food with them. We kept saying this as we passed around the choc spread (haha...). We met a Polish guy at Kakum who had hitchhiked his way from Poland all the way through west Africa to Ghana and was intending on making his way to South Africa by boat to Argentina/Brazil, then to the US then to Canada in the next four years, all through hitchhiking. Can I just say, Europeans do crazy stuff.After lunch in Kakum we headed back to Cape Coast to stay the night. We checked into Sammo's guesthouse, which is highly acclaimed by the guide book and our friends, and I would say it is quite a nice place, for 30,000cedis each. However, as we were sitting talking with the fan on, the power went out all over cape coast at 6pm (we get screwed, we can never escape the power outages). So we went to the rooftop bar and talked about various topics ranging from God to gender roles to US foreign policy. We hit the sack, got chewed up by mosquitos and woke up the next morning at 6.

We ate breakfast across the street, banana pancakes and tea (yum!). Then we walked to Cape Coast Castle. This castle was built in 1653 by the swedes then taken over by the danes then taken over by the british. Its place in history, however, is with the trans-atlantic slave trade. While there it was easy to distance yourself from its dark past. it was a gorgeous building, architectually, overlooking the ocean and beautiful beaches. but then you remember, thousands and thousands of Africans passed through this castle en route to the west; some going onto their inevitable deaths at sea or to forced labor in South America, the Caribbean, and of course the US. The museum at Cape Coast was impressive: did you know that the US recieved the least number of slaves compared to South America and the Caribbean? The dungeons were the most powerful aspect of the tour. Imagine, so many people cramped into a tiny space, with hardly any ventilation, defecating, urinating, menestrating, vommiting, everything on each other, terrified of what was going to happen, beaten, shackled, starved. What is most unsettling was that my ancestors could have passed through this very castle, through the door of no return.

From here we headed to Elmina Castle, which was built by the portuguese in the 1400s and is the oldest european built structure south of the sahara. It too was part of the slave trade, but mostly by the hands of the portuguese and dutch. Here the governor of Elmina would stand on a platform, force all the female slaves out of their cells into the courtyard and choose which one he wanted to rape. If she became pregnant, she was allowed to stay in Elmina and her mulatto child was allowed to go to school. Elmina was bought by the british and was used during periods of rebellion as a prison for Africans. For example, you can look into the story of the Ashanti queen-mother Asantewa who encited war against the british to protect the sacred gold stool. She was kept here as well as the Ashanti king Prempeh. After the castle we headed back to Cape Coast and then back to Accra. The tro-tro was uncomfy once again, but I didnt care, I slept most of the way.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ghana? It's very nice :)

I forgot to note in the previous entry that while in Togo I only got one marriage proposal, which is pretty good since I was averaging much more than that a day when I first arrived in Ghana ;).

I thought I would let you know some language funnies that I have encountered in my two months in this country.
Rubber - a plastic bag, often used to carry food. I was passing food out at a conference at my internship and a man kept asking me for a rubber. the U.S. this means a condom and I was really confused until he pointed at the bag holding the boxes of food...whoops. People were really adament about getting these "rubbers" to carry their take-out trays...I didn't really understand why they needed a bag, but everything here in Ghana is placed in a bag (sometimes two bags, I have to stop the egg sandwich lady everytime before she gives me two, seemingly pointless bags).
Dust bin - trash can. The photographer at the conference kept asking me for a dust bin, which i thought meant dust pan, which I didnt know where that was so I just said no, I don't think we have one.
Balance - change, often used to get the "mate" (he is the one that yells out the window where the tro-tro is going and the one who you tell where to drop you off) to give you back your change.
Salad - cole slaw, typically with a ton of mayonaise, and often with ketchup.
Fast Food - fried rice, fried chicken, french fries, and anything else essentially fried.

"I have to urinate" - Indicates, please tell me where the toilet is. Only men have said this to me; the women asked where is the bathroom. I wasn't really sure what to say to the men who announced their need to relieve themselves.
"I'm coming" - used to indicate that the person is hurrying or getting close to something, like if they are looking for your folder or if they see you are in a rush and need to get your change.
"It's finished." - example: "Do you have fried rice? No, it's finished. "
"small, small" - means I only have a little or done a little; example "I have studied small, small french."
"How did you see it? How did you take it?" - Did you like it? How does it taste?
"fine, okay, nice." - All synonyms for good (although good is used much less often than those three). Women selling plantain chips say "nice chips." If you think someone is cute you might say "he is okay." When something is really good, they will say "it is very nice." How did you see it? it was fine. etc.

I love it. Not only are the accents great, but so are the great things they say and the way it is said. I am trying to imitate, because I was told I look like a Ghanaian until I open my mouth.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Le weekend au Togo

I am way behind on my blogs, so I appologize.
This past weekend I travelled to Togo, Ghana's Francophone neighbor to the east. It was a three hour tro-tro ride to the border from Accra. The first sign that we were nearing French influence were the baguettes being sold on the street (yum). The border crossing was easy, but it was crazy that immediately there was a change in language. We hailed a taxi to Lome and our hotel (Hotel du Boulevard) for $2. I think we might have gotten ripped off, but it was in CFAs and we were just begining to understand the conversion (we would first convert CFA, 500=$1USD and then convert that to cedis $1 = roughly 10,000cedis, in order to determine what was a good price). The hotel was $10/room/night, which I thought was a bit much for the dusty, slightly decrepit hotel with a rickity fan and kinda dirty bathrooms, but whatever, we were in the capital. We went in search of food upon arrival and ate spaghetti with an omelette on top (weird, but tasty) and baguettes for $2. When walking the streets of Lome you cannot avoid the tons and tons of motorbikes. It was like a bike rally, there were so many. These are used for local transportation (i.e. no tro-tros in lome, only bush taxis and scooters/motorcycle). The next morning we got up early and headed to the crossainterie next to our hotel. Wow. If the french did anything in Africa that was positive, it was the introduction of French cuisine. I had a crossaint with cheese and ham and a chocolate crossaint ($2) for breakfast. Then we headed to the grand marche. this wasn't particularly special, just a typical market with vendors of various objects (watches, jewelry, peppers, fabric). A couple of positives about Lome...less harassment (maybe they knew we spoke english?) and no open sewers! It was alot less busy and a lot more relaxed than Accra. The beaches were uber clean as well. When we were walking along the beach, we watched some fishers check out their catch. Then we noticed that they had a huge object caught in their net that was was a sea turtle. it was really depressing watching it thrash. They said that they were going to eat it, but it was sad. Then we found a man who spend two weeks making art on sand mounds with sea shells. We attempted to check out the presidential palace, but the walls were too high to see over. We then traversed the rue de 13 Janvier, got our luggage from the hotel and caught a taxi towards Lake Togo.
We stopped in Aveposo to stay in a bungalow on the beach called Chez Alice. Alice is a nice swiss woman who runs this funky, african decorated hotel with two monkeys, a baboon and a ton of cats/dogs. And the hotel was cheap...$2 for each of us to stay in a bungalow with fan and mosquito nets. We chilled at the beach for a bit and found a place for dinner called Pumpkin Fast Food. It was incredible. REAL butter on REAL baguettes and couscous with delicious sauce ($2). The owner of the restaurant liked us and wanted us to come back for breakfast. So we did. And it was also amazing. Omelettes, cafe au lait, baguettes (with REAL butter, haha), and pancakes with chocolate sauce ($2). From here we got a taxi to Hotel le Lac on lake togo. We took a canoe (une pirogue) across the lake for a pricy $5/person to Togoville, the first city in Togo that the Germans visited and also the place where the cheif signed the rights to Togo to the Germans. Togoville is also extremely proud that the pope visited in 1985. Some men tried to swindle us for a tour (they wanted 5 euros ($8)/person for a tour of the tiny village!) but the man that brought us on the canoe took us around, showed us the cathedral built by the Germans/Spanish, his house, and his friend's house who tried to get us to buy his art. Conveniently, our last stop at Togoville was the gift shop. On the way back across the lake I got soaked. We headed back to the border Sunday afternoon, got what we came for (a new stamp that would extend our sixty day stamp until December), and then headed back.
I really liked Togo...mostly because I got to practice my French. The first night there I was really rusty and had a horrible time trying to convey myself. However, By sunday I only wanted to talk to people in French. That's when I realized..hey, i can survive in Senegal. We were two french speakers on the trip and two non-french speakers, so it was a bit hard to practice because we kept having to translate for the others. But it was still a great experience. The only downfall was the lack of tro-tros, so transportation was pricey (like $1-$2/per person/per ride). We will be heading back to Togo in three weeks because the Norweigans' visas only last for a month whereas ours last for 6 months, so to make multiple entry worthwhile we want to go twice and because I am leaving in 80 days, not 60 so I need to once again extend my stamp (such a hassle). We won't be going to Lome again but instead to the mountains/valley that border Ghana.