Friday, February 9, 2007

I've been called a treehugger...

As a good Canadian export, I've been called a treehugger by Brits, South Africans, and various others. The truth is, I'm nothing like a tree hugger! I leave that to the experts.

I have never been much of an environmentalist, except for a couple bursts of motivation during the University years when I refused to use wrapping paper at Christmas and rolled all my family's presents up in the household bath towels and put them under the tree (didn't seem an issue that there was a whole tree felled for the occasion and put up on display!)... It was quite a profound stand in my mind, against the such frivolous use of the valuable and finite resource of paper. This lasted the Christmas season and was forgotten even before my New Years resolutions.

I've always found the blue box recycling campaign annoying - yet I was forced to adopt the habit by my mother at an early age. Here in Ghana there's no such thing as recycling, unless you include the fact that most items you throw away are combed over and dragged away by those less fortunate... So admittedly, although I've always loved the look of trees - especially coconut and palm trees - I've never been an advocate for promoting a green lifestyle.

However, even I have to draw the line at what is happening around me today. They are cutting all the trees down in Accra!!! It's absolutely tragic. Trees that have been growing for hundreds of years, that are landmarks in their own right! Trees that have provided shade and add a majestic quality to the squalor below.. are being mercilessly chopped at the base. Dead. And painted white afterwards in some cases!

It's absurd and disturbing and if you ask any Ghanaian why this is happening, no one knows - there are a few theories from the confident taxi drivers - but truthfully no one knows and no one seems to care. There has been a call for protest against this 'logging effort' in the capital city of Ghana, by a group of foriegners. Artists, diplomats, NGO workers all seem to be highly upset and want to hold a vigil around the most recent site of massacres, a traffic circle in the Cantonments area.

I can't help but to wonder how useless this effort is. Firstly, we are all foreigners, living in a culture that we imposed ourselves on. We don't even know exactly who is responsible -we just believe it to be an arm of local government, and what we do know is that the moment a new tree is felled, there are troops of local people arriving with wheelbarrows and trolleys and some just carry the tree limbs away on their heads. For them it's free firewood. These people are poor! What do they care about the beauty of a tree?! The famous psychologist Maslow theorised that humans must meet their heirarchy of needs
in a specific order. Survival is the basic element. Environmental, let alone aesthetic appreciation, comes far further up the pyramid of needs!

Basically what I am saying, after 10 years of living in Ghana, is that you cannot come in from the outside with ideas and moral slants that we consider 'normal', and expect them to be adopted into the hearts of another culture.

Some Ghanaians think the tree felling is horrible. Most of these people have been abroad and have adopted the idea that trees have value in the world. For the average Ghanaian in the street, and more so for the government worker who is following this mysterious order to cut all the trees down, the concern is just not there. A bunch of white guys holding hands around a traffic circle is just not going to change that.

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