Titania K

Archive for 2009|Yearly archive page

Where I live… Where I work…Ghanaian Vegetarians?

In Frivolous Reveries on September 17, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Abossey-Okai - Outside my window at the Bab Danjing Guesthouse

Aug. 31 – I moved out of the orphanage this morning into the Bab Danjing Guesthouse located in Abossey-Okai, a twenty minute walk from the New Times Corporation. In my room, I noticed there was blood smeared on the wall behind the bed and told the attendant downstairs.  “Could I have a sheet too, a bedspread to cover myself  while I sleep?” I asked. He handed me a sheet of linen hanging on a line outside, then sat back down in his chair making no reference to the foreign bodily fluid flung on my room’s wall like a Michael Jackson poster. I didn’t bother to hassle the old man since he already seemed unhinged from countless nights working the graveyard shift.

In Ghana when you leave your hotel room, you always drop your key off with an attendant “just in case something happens.” This means there is always some poor soul propped on a plastic picnic chair outside the hotel entrance waiting for someone to check in or out. It’s a lousy job, so I can understand why the fools running Bab Danjing consistently appear like sloppy beer-drinking hosts.

The place where the guesthouse is located, Abossey-Okai, is an oil-stained town that seems occupied by every mechanic in Accra. Roosters sound an alarm very morning at 6 am sharp, and if that doesn’t wake me up, a megaphone centered in the street just outside my window howls with an evangelical sermon at 6:30. Of course, the sermon is in Twi, so I can’t understand anything said except the ocassional Hallelujah, Amen and “five Cedis, one Cedi,” etc, etc.

Circle, Ghana - Where I work

I say I don’t eat meat and the waitress in front of me asks “Is egg okay?” and I stand there astounded. Vegetarianism isn’t a foreign concept in Ghana. The large number of rastafarians in this place whose faith prohibits them from touching meat or even salt  has saved me from deteriorating into a a starved statistic. I tell my guide Albert that I don’t eat meat, and he get’s it. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have ordered something else.” But I didn’t want to be a bother. My plan was to just eat around any animal on my plate, play it cool and not come across as rude or spoiled to my host or server. Luckily, this peformance is unnecessary in this land. People get it. “I was a vegetarian for a while too,” Albert tells me. His uncle was HINDU, and Albert lived with him for awhile, so he didn’t eat meat. A Ghanaian Hindu? Who would have thought. I tell him about the industrialization of agriculture in the states, how animals are confined inside small barbed wire pens, how they’re pumped with antibiotics to fit their new environment, and how they’re slaughtered with machines to speed up the process and he grimaces. “That’s one thing aboiut Ghanaians – everything is local. They would never think of eating anything that they didn’t know where it came from,” he says. I tell him ahd I grown up here and knew who by and how the animals were killed, my diet may be different. But I still want to be responsible for as little harm as possible, so maybe not.

Food I’ll miss:

Groundnut Soup with plain rice or Fufu

Plain Rice with Palava Sauce or Vegetable Stew or Egg Garden Stew

Red red with Plaintains

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Traditions, stigma kill the fight against HIV/AIDS, experts say

In Essays & Published Ponderings on September 17, 2009 at 5:25 pm

I snagged an early copy of my article to be released  Sat, Sept. 19 in The Spectator. The editor said he’ll mail me two copies of the real thing once it hits newsstands. Here’s a sneak preview:

Traditions, stigma kill the fight against HIV/AIDS, experts say - The Spectator. Ghana, Africa. Sept, 5 2009.
After she was diagnosed with HIV six years ago, Gifty Torkurnu went to a church to get anointed with a cure. “I was given two bottles of anointed oil and I drank and I vomited and the pastor told me I vomited the virus,” Torkurnu, 45, says.  She returned to the church five times for the treatments before she learned of her HIV- positive status from a doctor, joined a support group and began taking conventional medicine.

“Because of my denial,” she says, her son died four months ago after becoming infected through her breast milk. She is not alone.

Despite having a high knowledge of how to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS infections, many Ghanaians continue to rely on traditional cultural beliefs to avoid the disease, according to UN officials. This misinformation and denial is killing people.

Esi Awotwi, National HIV/AIDS Programme Officer at the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), says reducing the stigma associated with the illness, encouraging people to get tested and improving access to antiretroviral medications and other HIV services are the primary ways of fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS in Ghana. She acknowledges that some cultural ideas and behaviors are impeding these remedies. “We still have some people still visiting herbalists, people still visiting prayer camps for a cure,” she says.

“The problem we have in this country is that we are God-fearing people,” Torkurnu says. “Any problem we have we take it to God, so whatever the pastor says, we do. Some people are convinced that if I pray or if I do this without the antiretroviral drugs, you will be cured. But if God will cure me, it will surely come from above not from the pastor.”

She explains that traditionally in Ghana, people with HIV are thought to be bewitched. “They wouldn’t take you to the hospital. But if you don’t know your status, and think ‘I don’t know, so I must be okay,’ you’re defeating yourself.”

Fraudulent Herbalists

Many herbalists, like some pastors, claim to offer a cure for a price, but their concoctions only suppress the symptoms.

On the main road of Tema, Ashaiman, Lashibi and Kumasi, hand-painted signboards with a Dr. Nicholas Antwi’s name and phone number advertise a “fast and reliable cure for HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses.” In the waiting room of his large Lashibi clinic, three men sit silently on couches watching a soccer match on the television.  A receptionist leads guests one-by-one into the doctor’s office, a large room flanked by ornate twin sofas. Antwi leaves the T.V. on while he talks to this reporter.

“I have a cure,” he says. “I take the virus from the bloodstream and I take them out, I take them out. I don’t use antiretroviral drugs. I leave that for the hospitals. It’s not about the price. It takes five months and it’s gone.” Antwi refuses to reveal any of the ingredients in his concoction to test whether they are effective. Once someone has invested in his potion, he still will not disclose its contents. A refund in case it fails is also not an option.

“We have lost a lot of people who use such facilities. They have died,,” Dr. Robert Mensah, Reproductive Health Programme Officer at the UNFPA, says. “What these alternative herbal medical practitioners do is they confine the person. If the person is slim-slim they make them fat. If they have diarrhea, they give them something to make it stop. And the person thinks they are healed. But [the herbalists] only deal with the symptoms, they don’t cure the disease.”

Awotwi agrees that some of the herbal medications tested can help in the treatment of infections that come as a result of HIV, but they do not cure it.
She explains that before antiretroviral medications were introduced to Ghana in 2003, many people living with HIV were taking herbal treatments to boast their immunity. “Because they helped, sometimes people continue to visit herbalists. The herbalists think they have a cure, but they do not have a cure. Now people living with HIV have been encouraged to take anti-retroviral medications.”

There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but antiretroviral drugs are allowing people to live long healthy lives and raise a family if they choose, Awotwi adds.

Torkurnu, who has a fiancé who tested negative, is a living testament to the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs, “When I tell people that I am HIV positive they don’t believe me because they see that I am a very healthy woman. The perception is that since I’m not thin-thin and sick and bed-ridden I must not have it,” she says

Dangerous  Stigmas

In March 2009, 913,611 people were tested in Ghana for HIV/AIDS, according to the National AIDS Control Program’s HIV Sentinel Report. 236,157 people are known to be living with HIV in the country, the same report shows. But this number is probably higher, according to Clement Azigwe, National President of the Association of Persons Living with HIV (PLWHA). “Plenty people are walking around with HIV and they don’t even know it because of the stigma,” he says. “Eighty percent of Ghanaians say that if you are positive and you’re selling food, they won’t buy it from you.”

Despite a provision that makes it illegal to fire someone because of their HIV status, Torkurnu says she was dismissed from her work site when her employers discovered she was positive.

Patience Dogh, 20, says she cannot return to her community because it discovered she has HIV, and forced her leave.

“When people see people who have HIV they tend to shut them out,” Mensah says. “People are forcibly evicted from their accommodations, some employers fire you. When there is stigmatization, there is potential for spreading the condition.”

To encourage people to get tested, the UN is launching a National HIV Stigma Campaign and a Know Your Status Campaign, says Awotwi. “We are knocking on the doors of Ghanaian people, and that includes a provision of outreach counseling and testing services. What we really want to come out has to do with reducing stigma, emphasizing the fact that there’s hope with people living with HIV. You don’t have to be stigmatized.”

Dangerous Attitudes about Condoms

Mensah says many people in Ghana believe that using condoms is one of the major ways of protecting themselves against the virus. “Condoms are readily available to locals especially in the urban area,” he says, pointing out that in 2007, the UNFPA purchased and distributed 32 million of them. “Condom availability is not a problem, it’s attitudes over its usage that is. Its use is very low because of people’s attitudes.”

“Some people in rural areas believe that when a sexually active woman is beautiful it is because she is getting nourishment from the semen of the man. That is the mentality of some people,” Mensah says. “Others use the analogy: how do you enjoy eating toffee when it is wrapped in rubber? You need to remove the rubber before you can enjoy the candy.”

Awotwi agrees that some Africans feel that sex is less enjoyable with the use of condoms. She adds “Some people have religious beliefs which are against the use of condoms. Due to economic problems, some women can’t negotiate condom use. Some of them depend on men for economic gains. Empowerment – that is the problem.”

The inability of many people living with HIV to afford antiretroviral treatment is also causing the virus to spread. Ninety-five percent of people living with HIV in Ghana are unemployed, according to the PLWHA. The treatment cost 5 Ghana Cedis a month, causing many people not to take it. This is dangerous since the treatment makes the disease less infectious, according to UNAIDS. “Unfortunately for us the number of people who are supposed to do antiretroviral therapy, we are unable to support because of lack of funding and the need for facilities that do that,” Mensah says.

Due to the high unemployment rate and lack of accommodations faced by people living with the virus, Aziwe urges the government to provide more social services to people who are positive as a means of defeating the disease.

“We want the government to empower people living with HIV, to do more income generating activity to help support our funding,” Azigwe says. “We have to look at those infected to give them care, empowering them economically.”

Torkurnu warns Ghanaians against treating HIV/AIDS as an isolated condition that does not affect them. “Some people ask what does someone who is living with HIV look like. I say, ‘Look in the mirror and that is how someone living with HIV looks like.”

Homeless Migrants, HIV/AIDS, Child Prostitutes and Other Story Ideas from Ghana

In Frivolous Reveries on September 8, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Journal entry – Aug. 28:

Tracking nomadic migrants who don’t have proper addresses or telephone numbers is hard. That’s what Arnaud, a teaching volunteer from France, and I  have been up to since Tues, Aug. 24 for a Spectator article on Nigerien migrants living in Ghana. The more I try to track these people down, the more I wonder the real point of this scavenger hunt.
Locals say they’re nomads, fair-skinned people wearing headdresses and robes, who prefer hawking their children out on sidewalks to professionally beg than assimilating into society. “They like begging,” my editor said, and that’s how it appears. The mother and/or father sits visibly on the sidelines while the kids tackle pedestrians, begging for alms.  But I wanted to get to the bottom of the story.
We talked to one man who calls himself Brahimin (sp.). He spoke some French and  responded to some of our queries: Where are you from? Why did you leave Niger? Why did you migrate to Ghana? The answers were as expected: “No food or work,” ” No food,” “Hard here but better.” We haven’t seen the man since Tuesday, and there are still holes in his story that I need to fill for a proper article.
We may have gotten a lead today. After some prodding by me, Arnaud and some strange passer-by named Kwaku(sp.)  one of the men near Obra Spot said he was a Nigerien Tuareg. Tuareg’s are nomadic Berbers by trade, who speak a rare Pre-Roman dialect. It’s rad that we’ve encountered a pastoral sub-culture, people who have moved freely for 2 thousand years unhindered by technological advances and other modern constraints. They’re sort of the Amish of the Sahara. If all of the people we’ve encountered are Tuareg’s, then they may like their vagrant lifestyle. They could care less if Ghanaians understand why they exist as they do.  I’d love to follow them around for say three weeks, but I only have  a few weeks left in this place.  I want to wrap this story up so I can move on to an investigative expose on the HIV/AIDS thing in Africa. This was my original purpose and overall reason for coming to Africa: to gauge the actual potency of the phenomenon in this country. But everywhere I look I see another blaring social ailment that’s ripe for a great news piece:

  • The massive abundance of unregulated motor vehicles spewing toxic, eye-burning  pollutants in the atmosphere. The air in Accra is awful, polluted so badly that breathing too deeply becomes nauseating. The government could set a mandate that prevents these smog busters from entering the road, but that would mean that it would have to DO something. As it stands, most government agencies here are a waste of space, a bureaucratic stockpile of comfortable suits with nothing to do but argue about the quality of snacks in the lunchroom and the quantity of  margarita servings . The get paid, so they don’t care.
  • Disabled and mentally ill beggars – I witnessed a man publicly wash random mentally ill beggars he collected off the street, dress them in clothes he purchased from nearby, corner side shops, feed them, then transport them in a taxi to a local psychiatric facility he solely runs.  With gloves on his hands, and a bucket of soap and water at his feet, he clipped the overgrown, rancid toenails of these strangers while a massive crowd of pedestrians gathered to witness this site. A cameraman and another dude was there as his helpers, I presume, but that was it. It was quite astonishing.
  • Hello, Ghanaian Water Department! There are so many additives in the in the local water, local people are forced to purchase two to three  bottles of the imported stuff everyday! I don’t get it.
  • Trash, trash everywhere. Trash, trash in my hair. It’s pretty disgusting and it’s pretty much where malaria comes from. Open sidewalk irrigation systems and sewage lines where guys openly piss in and where loads of discarded junk are left to float in makes me want to gag. But I can’t escape it , unless I travel to the ministry buildings in Accra where everything appears nice and tidy.
  • Child prostitutes age 9 to 15 in Cape Coast exploited by Euro-tourists and unscrupulous locals, etc, etc, etc….

Nigerien Migrants Seek Solace in Ghana: My Overseas Article

In Essays & Published Ponderings on September 8, 2009 at 9:23 pm
Nigerien Migrants Seek Solace in Ghana By Titania Kumeh: Published Sept. 5 2009 in The Spectator, Ghana, Africa. The weekly newspaper’s online edition is in a rut, so this scanned, barely legible  image is the only copy I have to show. Here’s the story:
Nigerien Migrants Seek Solace in Ghana By Titania Kumeh: Published Spet. 5 2009 in Ghana, Africa

A five-year-old girl grasps the arms of pedestrians walking past Obra Spot at Kwame Nkrumah Circle, as her eight-year-old brother wanders nearby, stretching out his arms to passers-by and gesturing for people to feed him. Both children plead for alms while their father, wrapped in Muslim garb, sits on a cardboard plank on the sidewalk and looks on.

A similar scene occurs near Kaneshie Market where ten-year-old “Amina” lunges onto passengers inside a loading trotro and begs for money to “buy food at a chop.” The Zongo resident trails the packed vehicle as it drives away, hugging its windows for a few minutes before giving up.

In front of Accra Mall, a group of six children, some standing barefoot on the pavement, tackle the traffic entering the mall parking lot and solicit drivers for money.

These children, identified by their fair-colored skin and sidewalk status as beggars, are part of a Saharan sub-culture of migrants from Niger living in Ghana. Their ranks can be seen in Osu, Ashaiman, Circle, Kaneshie and Zongo weaving through traffic and washing car windows, begging for anything pedestrians or drivers may throw their way. Some speak a few words of English; others speak a little French; many say they live in Zongo with their parents who normally stay home while they beg.

Brahimin Mohammed (sp.), the 27-year-old father of the two children begging in Circle, migrated to Ghana four months ago because of the lack of work and food in his home country, he says. In Niger, some people are able to go to school and work, but not many. Mohammed has never attended school and is unable to read or write, so the correct spelling of his name is unclear.  He speaks some French and says that he thinks it’s okay his children beg on the streets because they go to school. “I’m confident that since they go to school, they’ll get a job,” he says. He did not say which school the children attend.

Mohammed resides in Zongo with Aisha, the mother of his children, in a house with running water and no electricity. His children beg on Circle’s streets, usually from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. but he says their situation in Ghana is still better than in Niger. “We can eat and we can wash ourselves here.”

When he can afford it, his dream is to return to Niger, buy some sheep, live as a shepherd, and teach his children about their culture. “Begging is not enough to get the money to go back to Niger,” he says. He would like to work, but he doesn’t say what he is doing to get a job.

The United Nations Refugee Agency’s website defines migrants as people who “choose to move in order to improve their future prospects of themselves and their families.”  Mohammed and many Nigerien migrants begging on Accra’s street definitely fall in this category. Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking last in the United Nations Human Development Index. Its rainfall varies, and when it is insufficient, the republic has difficulty feeding its population and must rely on food aid, according to the United States Department of State. With a rapidly growing population and the consequent competition for natural resources, the lifestyles of agriculturalists and livestock herders, people like Mohammed, are increasingly threatened.

It is possible for migrants from Niger to make a living in Ghana so that they can return to their home country, according to Edward Baffoe-Bonnie, Senior Public Relations Inspector at the Ghana Immigration Service. “When a migrant comes to Ghana to work, the best thing is to get a registration and work permit,” he says. “If he registered, it would be more possible for him to gain enough money to return [to Niger].”

To get a work permit, Mohammed will need to fill out a registration application, he will need a police report from his home country, a medical report, a resume, an educational and professional certificate, as well as a list of documents depending on whether he is applying with a company, a non-governmental agency; whether he is applying with his spouse, with ministries, departments and agencies or with a school. A registration permit costs GH200 for non-ECOWAS foreign nationals. Mohammed can’t read or write so all of the above will be very difficult. His lack of an educational certificate exempts him from the process automatically.

For his children to attend a Ghanaian school they will also “need registration and a letter of admission from the school,” Baffoe-Bonnie says. “[The immigration service] will need a letter of receipt of the school fees paid and the school will apply on behalf of the children.” Getting the school fees needed for an education will be difficult for Mohammed, since his children beg to earn money for food.

In 2008, about 700 thousand migrants arrived in Ghana, according to the Immigration Service 2008 Survey. The immigration service does not know the number of migrants in the country from Niger. The Niger Embasssy is currently launching a pilot project to calculate this high number, according to its spokesperson.

Some locals regard the Saharan migrants from Niger begging on the street with contempt while others sympathize with their plight.

“If you want to give someone money, then give it to the sick,” a man urged this reporter while forcibly grabbing the arm of a migrant child, pushing him to the ground near a group of adults wearing Muslim robes and sitting on the sand by Obra Spot. “Why don’t you people work?” he shouted, causing passers-by to gather at the site.

Ade Morris, 18, witnessed the scene. “I see that it’s unfair for these things to happen in our country,” he says. “I think that if assistance was there it could help [the migrants]. The government should give help to them. I know that these people can’t speak our language and can’t work. But always there will be beggars in every country even America. You can’t judge. You’re not God.”

Twenty seven-year-old Abraham Jibrel, a fashion designer in Accra, agreed. “We are all human beings,” he says. “Something can happen in Ghana tomorrow, so maybe Niger will host us in their country. We are all Africans and West Africans too. When I see other people from other countries in Ghana I want to accommodate them.”

French translator, Arnaud Chauvel contributed to this story.

No this is Africa…no this is Africa…

In Frivolous Reveries on September 8, 2009 at 8:40 pm

The Crocodile Sanctuary, Ghana - Aug. 23

The Crocodile Sanctuary, Ghana - Aug. 23

The Crocodile Sanctuary, Ghana - Aug. 23

The Crocodile Sancutuary near Kakum National Forest was sortof a bust; this was the only croc I got to lay my eyes on, and it was pretty docile for my taste. More of a log than a man-eating beast. The restaurant at this place was pretty idyllic, even though the food was overpriced and the service was bland. I could tell the workers have had their fill of tourists and are pretty much over it.

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Where to begin in my overseas odyssey, I have no idea. As for what I’ve been up to  on this trip thus far, my journal has become a jumbled mess of misinformed dates filled with a fantastic swirl of sites and sounds. Here are my pictures and journal entries  from the last week, or weeks or…. I don’t know:

Cape Coast, Ghana - Aug. 22

Aug. 22 – Sarah and I ditched the orphanage for the weekend and hitched a ride on a rattling trotro for five Ghanaian Cedis, which is like three dollars, toward Cape Coast. Cape Coastis home to a  castle where the British held slaves during the trans-Atlantic slave trade before shipping them off to various countries in the western hemisphere. Today, the town is a mix of charred-out colonial buildings that now house curbside markets, corrugated metal roof shanties, beachside slums and palm trees. On the way to our hotel, a group of children waving live chickens followed us hollering “Obrone , give me one Cedi. Obrone give me one Cedi” before the manager ran them off. Our hotel, Sammo is a clean-cut , multicolored, modern sortof joint with a labyrinthine sortof feel. Shards of glass acted as barbed-wire protection against potentially crazed locals out to mob the many Euro-tourists lodged in its private rooms. The place is cool. It’s way more comfortable than the orphanage. We share a single room with one bed, a small-mirrored dresser and a bathroom with one toilet and a shower all to ourselves. It’s luxury.

Cape Coast, Ghana - Aug. 22 Yeah, the beach near Cape Coast Castle is this beautiful.

Cape Coast, Ghana - Aug. 22

Aug. 22 – Making friends in Ghana is easy, especially if you’re a tourist who looks like you can afford plaintains and other edible fare. I forget the name of the girl I’m posing next to in this picture, but she followed us for about half an hour, posing in most of our pictures. I admire her.

Cape Coast, Ghana - Aug. 22

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Cape Coast, Ghana - Aug. 22

Another cool kid at the Coast.

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Cape Coast, Ghana - Aug. 22

Cape Coast, Ghana - Aug. 22

Cape Coast, Ghana - Aug. 22

Aug. 22 – The strange thing about this place is how gorgeous it really is. It’s weird seeing parents take snapshots of their kids posing next to the female dungeon or inside the male prison cell, grinning all wide-eyed like they’re standing next to the mouse at Chuck-E’- Cheese. It made me feel gross with guilt posing next to the cannons or spectacular oceanview when I thought of the tremendous suffering that took place here. It’s like grinning beside a coffing, or a lynching.

Cape Coast, Ghana - Aug. 22

Cape Coast, Ghana - Aug. 22

Cape Coast, Ghana - Aug. 22

Fisherman at work near the castle.

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Day 2 of our weekend excursion:

Kakum National Forest, Ghana - Aug. 23

Kakum National Forest is Alice in Wonderland meets the Secret Garden magical.

Kakum Canopy Walkway, Ghana - Aug. 23

Aug. 23 – Yeah, I walked 125 feet above dense forest on a canopy held together with sticks and rope, just like Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and all I got was this one snapshot since my camera decided to give out mid-route.

Elmina, Ghana - Aug. 23

Aug. 23 – Driving to Elmina Castle the day after our Cape Coast venture was wild. Elmina’s another town in Ghana that houses a castle which once held slaves and now acts as a tourist attraction/historical museum. Traffic via unregulated, smog spewing vehicles is a regular scene in this country. There are no rules on the road, making crossing the street or even walking on the sidewalk a hazardous, ball-breaking task. But there’s something to be said about the beauty of a bustling storefront community in Ghana. I just won’t say it now.

Elmina, Ghana - Aug. 23

There’s the castle in the background. Elmina is another grand fishing town in Ghana – a great site.

Elmina, Ghana - Aug. 23

Elmina Castle, Ghana - Aug. 23

Elmina Castle, Ghana - Aug. 23

Elmina Castle's Door of No Return - Aug. 23

Elmina Castle's Door of No Return - Aug. 23

Through the Door of No Return countless slaves were led to boats bound for Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and numerous other destinations, never to return to Ghana again. It’s wild seeing the fishing boats outside of the door  and the wide open sea which must have seemed like a wicked uncharted territory to the numerous people who braved its shores, and survived. I’ll admit, I cried a little during the tour.

Elmina Castle, Ghana - Aug. 23

Elmina Castle, Ghana - Aug. 23

View of Elmina from the Castle's tower, Ghana - Aug. 23

Sabina, the shopkeeper in Cape Coast - Aug. 23
Aug. 23 – She’s a shrewd and vicious bargainer not afraid to use her mounting age as a weapon against potential hagglers like myself. She may be unrelenting with her prices, but Sabina’s goods are pretty great, and I spent a hearty amount on her handmade designs.

Prayer in the Newsroom, Deep-Kissing & Other Strange Happenings

In 1 on August 27, 2009 at 1:32 am

Journal entry – Aug. 24

I’ve become somewhat of a social misfit in this town, especially at work.  Apparently, every Spectator staff meeting held on Monday mornings at ten begins and ends with an unironical prayer. All the news writers gather in the editor’s office, take their seats and the managing editor has everyone bow their heads and close their eyes for a “word of prayer.” All I can do is follow suit and not aggravate the tranquil scene with my raging discomfort. “When in Rome.”

After work, I hitched a ride towards the orphanage in a shared taxi for one cedi fify peswes.  The driver maneuvered through the road like a maniacal speed-freak, side swiping the edge of the street to pass traffic. The three passengers riding with me  yelled incoherent obscenities at the driver, but it was two late. He grazed the side of a maroon Mazda whose driver immediately stopped in the middle of the highway to verbally lash the cabbie. We got out of the car in the middle of this scene, and I eventually hitched a ride on a double decker bus along the road. All the seats were taken, but I found a prime corner on the floor of the top deck where I recorded these strange happenings in my journal.

I’ve underestimated how inundated by Christian dogma this place is. I can’t even sit down at work without someone hassling me about my thoughts on life after death, which was the topic of this week’s published questionnaire. While I edited the page, Addy, the Spectator’s managing editor, asked me whether I believed. I said “Sure”  just to get him off my back. “Well, technically, nothing really dies. It just transforms into something new,” I told another newswriter when he asked. He smiled, but explained it was sarcasm. A few days ago, I told Mary, a Jehovah’s Witness and Spectator news intern, that I didn’t agree with organized religion. This may explain the evangelical mobbing I’ve been experiencing ever since. I’ve entered a vacuum, a sort of Twilight Zone, when it comes to free thought and expression, something I’m not accustomed to after wallowing in San Francisco’s freak-loving warmth.  I just hope my articles aren’t rejected because of their non-denominational bent.

Uncensoring sex education is going to be a daunting task in this place. Newspaper headlines read “Are Ghanaians Dressing Properly,” “Pastor urges youth to be obedient.” One article read: “People are displaying deep-kissing  in public as normal. Formerly we were seeing white people doing these shameful things but today, black people too have joined the disgraceful display. On our television screens we are forced to see close up shots of couples in ads that are better done behind closed doors because of our status as human beings.”  Ghanaians are so in denial of their unabridged potential as human beings, the place is a paradoxical box, where conservative Christianity thrives alongside unplanned pregnancies and child prostitution rings and desperate poverty, et cetera et cetera. “Don’t let a few rotten apples taint your view of Ghana,” the Times editor said when I pitched him my child prositution story.

Drum Lessons, Beaches & Obama: My Orientation

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2009 at 11:39 pm

Albert, my tour guide in Ghana

I forgot to mention that all of the photos from the previous post were taken Aug. 19 during my orientation and second day in Ghana. My plane departed from LA at 6:30 am, Aug. 17  and arrived in Accra at 9:30 am, Aug. 18! The orientation was provided by Albert, a spectacularly sharp man and practicising Buddhist. It included a 20 minute drum lesson at the Cultural Center in Accra from bonafide rastafarians, a tour of the government ministries and historic sites, a trip through the Makola and Okaishie outdoor shopping malls, lunch at a popular local restaurant where I delighted in Fufu (a cassava and plaintain dough), enlightening conversation and a short romp at Koko Beach. Oh, and I wore my new cowboy boots the entire day, which had locals pointing and shouting at me with delight! But enough of the jibjabber. Photos:

 

African drumming at the Ghana Cultural Center in Accra

 

 

Too rad! This isn't your hippie uncle's Santa Monica beach drum circle. But check out those boots.

Too rad! This isn't your hippie uncle's Santa Monica beach drum circle. But check out those boots.

 

Drum Maker at the Cultural Center in Accra

Freedom and Justice Independence Monument in Accra

Me with the Unknown Soldier at Independence Square in Accra

Ghanaian President Atta Mills and Obama billboard on a roadside

“Akwaaba” is Twi, a common regional dialect, for “Welcome.”  The cow is one of many free-ranging animals wandering Ghanaian streets.

So this is Africa…

In Uncategorized on August 21, 2009 at 12:18 pm
It's absolutely rad what a perfect state of equilibrium allows you to balance on your head.

It's absolutely rad what a perfect state of equilibrium allows you to balance on your head.

There’s turmoil in the house. My roommates, Hannah, Philippa and Sarah, scream they’ve been hoodwinked by the director of the program, Prince. The scoundrel’s been keeping the money we’ve paid him for himself instead of giving it to Cephas, the head of our host family and the orphanage. This has made the girls feel guilty about staying at the orphanage and eating the food intended for the children. I’ve tried to quell their fury by reminding them that regardless of the program’s politics, their intentions are what really matter, and the children who Hannah and Philippa teach love them.  Later today though, we’re having a conference with Prince to convince him to hand over the money  to Cephas. Besides this emotional speed-bump (early tears of concern have been shed by some), we had an awesome time out last night. We went to the Irish house in Osu, a town in Accra that’s sort of an after-hours red light district in Ghana. At the House, I mimicked the locals on the dance floor, swiveling my hips and contorting my body to the traditional Ghanaian beats played by the house band, which consisted of saxophonists, trumpeteers, tribal drummers, keyboardists, and multiple singers. A Guinness in one hand and a whiskey soda in the other, it was great fun, despite the sex-trade seeking Euro tourists crowding the bar and dance floor with awkard shuffles that imitated dance moves.  I wore my uber-ethnic black and white pearl necklace and my sleeveless polk-a-dot dress top, but the Ghanaian men I danced with still pegged me as a foreigner. I beamed when one said I danced just like a native.

My first day at work started yesterday. I have been re-assigned to the Spectator, a weekly weekend publication associated with New Times Corporation, for the first two weeks of my stay.  After this tenure, I will transfer to the Times, which is also owned by New Times Co. Apparently, before my arrival, someone from the program told the Times’ editor that I solely covered sports stories. This bold lie nearly cost me the enire internship. I had to make a deal with the editor  to even get on the staff: write two investigative stories for the Spectator, then if they measure up,  I’ll be moved to  the Times’ daily roster. My first story will cover the Lebanese refugees living in squalor in Circle, another town in Accra that ‘s a broad, bustling hotspot for merchants of every stripe.  The Lebanese Muslim-garbed women with their begging children in tow are rumored to be the product of old-fashioned laziness. “They think because of the color of their skin they don’t have to work, so their fathers send their children out to beg,” my editor speculated.  I’ll get to the bottom of it. Arnaud, a French volunteer at the orphanage, has agreed to be my interpreter on this beat.  This could be the story that earns me my stripes.

And now,  pictures from the the Makola Shopping Mall in Accra. This place puts downtown LA to shame:

 

On the way to Makola Market, Aug. 19. I'm obviously awe-obsessed over the balance and head strength of shopkeepers.
This is a typical pedestrain crosswalk  in Accra, by the way. But moving on…

 

 

Makola Market, Aug. 19.

 

 

Makola Shopping Mall

 

 

 

Makola Mall Mayhem!

 

Makola market, Aug. 19

 

 

I’m no mall rat though, so let’s move on…

Welcome to Ghana!

In 1 on August 20, 2009 at 12:17 am

Twenty or so hours ago, I was downing whiskey sours and dramamine cocktails at JFK airport in a desperate attempt to calm my nerves. Flying 35000 feet above the ground at 350 miles per hour, a girl’s got to do something, and sedatives help. Now, I am in Ghana (!!!) living in an orphanage where I sleep in a room with three volunteers from the UK.  In the morning, I meet my editor at the Ghanaian Times, where the fun finally begins. Life is good.

 The New Life Orphanage International is a modern setup located in Nungua, a town 30 km from the capital Accra. The lodgings are not what I expected. I was told I would have one roommate in a middle-class house where other volunteers also live. I’ve been bamboozled, but it’s okay. I can’t complain. My mission remains the same.

So far, each day a different young girl at the orphanage has brought me a tray of breakfast, lunch, and dinner cooked by the resident chef Vivienne, despite my pleas that I can serve myself. I feel strange being served, but this is Ghanaian hospitality, and guests are expected not to lift a finger. It’s late here, and my first day at work begins tomorrow, so I better pass out. Here’s a short list of the sites and sounds I experienced today during my orientation:

  • Koko Beach (Rad!)
  • Makola Market (puts Downtown LA to shame)
  • Merchants (the human head can balance more weight than I thought)
  • The Cultural Center (had my first drum lesson today here by bonafide rastafarians)
  • Independence Square (Ghana announced it’s independence here from England in 1957)
  • The Mausoleum (I forget whose body was exhumed from this place, but it’s pretty important)
  • the children caught a monkey today. It was pretty brutal to watch.

 More groin-grabbing details will come later, I promise. I’m still getting the knack of this thing and place. What a test in character this trip is going to be. Rad!

Titania’s African Journey/Traveling Is Hard

In Uncategorized on August 11, 2009 at 7:44 pm

I leave in less than a week for Ghana, a country I know almost nothing about; and I still need to buy a new pair of jeans without crotch holes, a vest, flats, basically a respectable outfit that doesn’t weird-out the locals.  I still need to buy a ticket to vist my mom in Orange County. I need to pack. And I need to mentally prepare myself to adapt. This trip not only involves tapping into my productive zen zone, but adapting to and absorbing a culture I still know virtually nothing about. Do I need to leave my place right now to buy a travel book? Definitely.