26 February 2011 – Country of Contrasts

When I arrived at my hotel i was exhausted too tired even to read so I turned on the Tele. A Nigerian movie was on. As best I could figure out an auntie had gone to America. She was not doing well but she was telling the family back in Nigeria she was working for the UN and making a lot of money.

Then the commercials came on. STAR beer is celebrating its 50th anniversary and is giving away prizes. Flip the bottle cap off, look at the inside and see if you’ve won. A car – A television – An ipod – 1000 cedis

In the next commercial a young woman was laying on her stomach on her bed. The room would make any American girl envious. She was talking about how to use her MTN mobile money on her cell phone to add credit to her phone account.

Then next scene, of the same commercial, a younger girl is surrounded by her school mates. They are all walking down the steps of a school building. The voice over said “i can even transfer money to my younger sister, Beatrice.”

The older girl then came back on screen in front of a very plain background and with very slick graphics gave the steps to transfer money.

The last commercial I remember started with video clips of Kwame Nkrumah. Nkruman was the first president of Ghana. Then there was a picture of a modern Ghanaian actor with the announcement that his one man show was going to be in Accra this month.

When I saw the commercial about the prizes from STAR beer I thought of my village and wondered if the people there could even use a Tele or an Ipod since they don’t have electricity. They don’t even have indoor plumbing!

I do realize that the standard of living portrayed in the second the commercial is even beyond the middle class’s standard of living here in Ghana. That’s true in USA as well. But what surprised me was that I think the concept of was also beyond even most of the middle class in Ghana. Ghana is a cash society. They don’t write checks. They don’t use ATM cards at point of purchase. They don’t have credit cards. Money is a physical object.

I remember talking about E-commerce in one of my high school classes. The students were with me when I talked about the benefits of being able to show your products to the whole world and the fun of buying things from all over the world. Where I lost them was on how to pay. The concept of a credit card made about ½ of the class’s eyes glaze over.

So who are the people who understood this concept of using the cell phone to pay for things or transfer money to other people? Maybe it was like the first time we had debit cards and could use them at point of sale. The people who are eager and willing to try something new tried it. They liked and the they told their friends and family.

My hotel, here in Winneba, reminds me of a small hotel that I stayed in during an American Libraries convention in New Orleans. IT has two stories. The top story has a blue awning over a balcony with a blue decorative railing. The hotel is built in a u shape and surrounds a central courtyard that is used for a dining room. My room is small but clean and has running water and a flush toilet. It has all i need, a chair, an end table, a desk and chair and a wardrobe.

 

 

When I leave this European hideaway I turn on to on a dirt road. Next to the hotel are two women with table top shops. Behind them is a rough wooden building where Ghanaian fast food is sold and some small provisions and snacks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Further down the road I see a lovely new two storey home. There is a balcony on the second floor with a black cast iron railing. As I look at the building notice that there is a garbage pile in front of it. I haven’t even noticed the over grown weeds and grasses around the house because that has become normal for me.

 

 

 

As I walk further down the road I see children in some torn second hand clothes. They are running and shouting Obruni Obruni.

After my walk at dinner I saw a Ghanaian family. The children were dressed in their Sunday clothes and on their best behavior. The father had a blackberry type phone.

As I sat and thought about the contrasts of this culture I wondered if the gap would close in 10 or 20 years?

Maybe I’ll come back to Ghana and see.

-vc

One day in December – Crème Caramel My Turn

 Ever since Thanksgiving I wanted to make Crème Caramel. Twice I bought the eggs and ended up using them for something else. Today was finally the day.

 Last night I took the top off two Ideal Milk cans and let them soak in warm soapy water. This morning they were sparkling clean and ready for the burned sugar and custard. So was I.

 I collected the ingredients and laid them out on my cooking table. First I set the water to boil. Then I beat the eggs and sugar with a fork. Oh how I wanted a wire wisk. The eggs were somehow frothy when I added the milk to them.

 Then I remembered I should have burned the sugar. While the sugar was carmelizing I greased the milk tins and the notebook paper with Moi margarine. It is by far the best margarine in Ghana.

 I poured the carmelized sugar into the tins. The margaine melting made a lovely pattern and gave the sugar a sheen. Then I put the custard in. I folded a napkin (Dish towel) and put it in the bottom of the pan with the boiling water. Then put the filled milk tins on the dish towel.

I set my alarm for 30 minutes, grabbed a book and sat in my favorote chair. I could hardly wait.

The alarm rang. They were finished. Hot as the tins were I managed to loosend the sides and dump the crème caramel out on to a plate. All along I had been documenting the process with my camera. As you can see from the last picture taking photos was not the first thing on my mind.

 -vc

20 january 2010 – First day second term Second year at SHT School

For the first day of classes I had oatmeal with raspberries (thanks Mel), and ground nut paste. I rounded it out with a slice of bread and some tea. I was ready to face the masses.

 Today I would give back the end of term exams. I decided to give small prizes to the student with the highest grade in each class and a pencil to the top students. Thank you Brother Jack and Mama Doil for all the pencils. I was able to give out 150 pencils 15 to each of my 10 classes.  The student with the best grade also got a pen, an American eraser and a small notebook. They students shouted their cheers, blessings and praise to my friends and family in America for thinking of them.

 3A was the best class in all of form 3. They had only one C and the rest As and Bs. I handed out bubble gum and Lollypops to them. Thanks again Mom. You are the class favorite. Some students came in late and their mates even reminded me to give them some. At the end one of the students asked me to do ya da ya da.  A smile came to my face and my heart beat quicker could this boy know Sienfeld? I asked him to explain. He wanted me to throw the rest of the candy in the air so they could all rush for it. I said no firmly. I could see the broken noses and stomped feet.

 Coming home from class I thought surely Cantuace won’t come.  Ah but she came about 10 minutes after I arrived.  I told her the deal. She will fetch water for me twice a week. Tuesdays and Fridays. She will not leave anything in my house. I will give her 50 pesewa each time she fetches water.

 My other girls also came back. Portia brought some girls to fetch water, so Cantuace had some help. Portia and I cooked rice and stew. Over dinner we talked about careers for girls besides nursing. It was good to have them back.

 After they left I took a bath, put pomade on my feet and hands, then settled down to read a book and go to sleep. 

-vc

6 October 2009 Full Circle

Oh my I am so behind on typing my hand written entries into my blog! I just found this one.

Today I pulled up ground nuts. This morning I stepped outside to brush my teeth and the field was ful of people – students, my landlord, his family and my neighbor, Pat. After brushing my teeth I shouted “I’m coming” and walked back into the house. I put on my shorts, t-shirt and grubby shoes and ran out to join the fun.

Unlike the  planting, where two people worked each row in an orderly manner, people were scattered all over the field like confetti after a parade. I watched my student, Alfred, he would lean down and spread the weeds then grav the groundnut plant with elbow bent he would then pull the plant out of the ground. When his upper arm was shoulder level he would raise his arm over his head and toss the plant into one of the large metal wash basins that were placed around the field.

I bent down to find my own plant to harvest. What

 was plant and what was weed? “Asandale, let me help.” Alfred said, coming over. As he was looking for the plant he told me that there had been too much rain this season to weed.The groundnuts would have come up with the weeds because the ground was so soft. He found a plant. So that is what they look like. I uprooted my first plant with less than coordinated movements but managed to hit the wash basin when I tossed it over there. Lucky the wash basin was a big as the broadside of a barn.

We worked together for about two hours. As we filled the basins one of the girls would put it on her head and carry it back to the compound. As the walked down the bumpy dirt path between the rows, they held themselves like models on a runway. They smiled at me like I was a fashion photographer. They dumped the uprooted plants under a tree at the compound and then returned the empty basins to the field.

Around 9:30 am, the air began to get heavy and hot. We quit to eat breakfast. After breakfast we gathered under the tree and began plucking the groundnuts off the plant. Last year I sat under a different tree on a different stool at the Kampusi’s compound and did my first agricultural work in Ghana. This year I was plucking the groundnuts I had sown and harvested. I had come full circle.

-vc

Traditional welcome 06 Sept 08 (an oldie but goodie)

Today was a very good day. B.J. and Jennifer both texted me saying they had a good day too. After breakfast I went for a walk. I stood in the middle of the African savanah looking out over the tall grasses and was overcome with the joy of actually being here in Ghana. It took so long. I went through so much, good and bad that it is finally time to enjoy that I am here. Simona called me later in the morning and said to come and greet her grandmother. Abigail, Evelyn, and Doris went with me. I got a traditional welcome from Simona’s grandmother. She took me inside and then had me make the welcome drink. First Simona had me wash my hands. I put my hands over a bucket and she poured water over them. I rubbed my hands under the water. Then she handed me the calabash with about a quarter of a cup of millet flour in the bottom. She instructed me to remove my sandals and to place the calabash on the floor between my feet. I held the calabash with the sides of my feet. Next she showed me how to mix water with the millet. She poured about a quarter of a cup of water into the millet and with my right hand I mixed it together. When that was mixed she poured more water and I mixed again. The third time she poured about a cup of water in and I mxed the flour into the water creating a milky white liquid specked with brown and black. Now it was time to drink it. I asked was I supposed to share after I drank but she said no. I took a sip. It was bitter and spicy at the same time but somehow refreshing. Then I was given a small spoon and I scooped some of the flour off the bottom of the calabash. The flour was even more bitter and spicy. I drank some more liquid. Simona’s grandmother said I did not have to drink it all because I was not accustomed to it. Now we could visit. I tried some of my buili and Simona translated but we did not talk much in that formal setting. Simona then said she would take me to their traditional house. I asked if anyone lived there and she said only her other grandmother. But even if no one lived there it was the home of their grandparents and those before them so they would not destroy the buildings. On the way to the traditional house three women were working under the shade of a big boabab tree. They were pounding beans and shea nuts to remove the shells. I did speak some buili with them and managed to get some of my points across. then Elizabeth said in English “You want to learn our language!” To which I replied “Ah” and nodded my head. They were using a large pedstle to pound. The beans were in a hollowed out tree trunk. It was just the right height to stand and to pound the pedstle into it.Elizabeth let my pound. After the shells were removed another woman was winnowing to remove the shells. When I see the Ghanaians working I am amazed at the grace and ease with which they do the work. The arms and torso of the woman who was winnowing flowed with the direction of the wind. It would be a lovely move in a Ghanaian ballet. The boabab tree they were under had fruits hanging from a cord. They will be ripe in late Sept or early October. I will report on them. I did not bring my camera. One of the girls mentioned it and the women said I could return. Since I will be here for a long time I want to participate in many of the activities before I become an observer. I am not a tourist coming to snap photos but a community member. As a community member I want my photos to be a reflection of the life I know here. We then walked behind the new home and looked at the traditional home. Although I can’t describe it well enough, I will try. I will take photos another time, The interiro and exterior walls are mud. I do not know what the framework is made of. That will be a future assignment. When I got close to the walls I saw that there was a patterned etched into them. Simona said that they used sticks, stones or even fingers to create the design. Some of the walls also had black geometrical drawings or paintings on them, both the inteirior and exterior. The windows were square or rectangular and entrances were also round. The home consisted of a group of rooms joined together by a wall. Some rooms were for sleeping, others were for cooking. Some of the flat roof tops were used to dry crops and sleep on during the very hot season. The other roof tops are thatched. There were also silo’s for grain storage. With thatch covers that look like tropical hats! Some of the house is in disrepair but about 1/3 is still maintained and Simona’s other grandmother lives in it. We returned and Simona’s grandmother was sitting under a tree. beside the tree was a platform made of large branches with a roof of millet stems. The stems are there to dry to use as kindling and they give shade for people sitting on the platform. I sat on the platform and visited with Simona, her grandmother, her mother and a couple of other women. They were removing leaves from one of green leafy plants they put in stews. At first just Simona’s mother and her grandmother were plucking the leaves but as other women came by to say hello they joined in. It was a good day.

-vc

Poem

Hi all

Sorry it has been so long since I posted to this blog. There is an internet cafe in Sandema, UER, Ghana but it is very slow so hard to upload posts.  Today SImona took me to Bolga and this faster internet cafe.  I will post two posts today this poem and another about settling into my new home. I will future date about 6 others so come back for the next two or three weeks to read more about my adventures in my new home in Sandema.

I love this poem. It is how I feel when I dance here.

Agbor Dancer

See her caught in the throb of a drum
Trippling from hide-brimmed stem
Down lineal veins to ancestral core
Opening out in her supple tan
Limbs like fresh foliage in the sun.

See how entangled in the magic
Maze of music
In trance she treads the intricate
Pattern rippling crest after crest

To meet the green clouds of the forest.
Tremulous beats wake trenchant
In her heart a descnt
Tingling quick to her fingertips
And toes virginal habits long
Too atrophied for pen or tongue.

Could I, Early sequestered from my tribe,
Free a lead-tethered scribe
I should answer in her communal call
Lose myself in her warm caress
Intervolving earth, sky and flesh.

John Pepper Clark Bekederemo 1935- Nigeria Songs of Sorrow