Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Penguin wedding - step parent wedding etiquette goes south

We're in the last throws of packing and closing up everything in the house. In a few hours we'll be above the clouds, heading south. All the way from Africa's west coast to it's southern most tip.

This weekend my stepson is getting married. Not only does this make me feel old! It is also a sentimental occasion and one of those important life defining moments. The children are growing up!!!

The wedding will be very non-traditional which suits me just fine - never having been a traditionalist, nor remotely religious.

Family members from both sides will gather, some from the other side of the world - as the bride is American.

They are having the wedding and reception at a national park - home of the African penguins. You gotta love that. A bunch of guys in tuxedos and matching penguins wobbling about. I'm looking forward to that.

But there is the minor issue of being the step-mom', It's not the most highly regarded position in a family if you know what I mean. Yesterday - when I had WAY more time, I had the idea of writing some witty post about the topic but then I got sidetracked when I found a number of websites outlining the etiquette for step parents at a wedding!!

I couldn't believe it - but if you go HERE you can see a good example.

Who knew I was supposed to sit on a back seat, bow out of the receiving line and most probably wear beige.

The bottom line is that you should try to blend in with the surroundings. In this case, maybe I should go as a penguin?

Well - etiquette and family feuding aside, I'm excited for the young couple - all those hopes and dreams ahead of them!

I plan to have a stiff cocktail near the very beginning and enjoy the day in their honour.

Be back in a week.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

The meaning of life is 42

I've been getting lots of 'things about me' chain mails and facebook links... Some are 100 things, some are 25 things, some are 50 things. So I decided to post my own. Only I've heard that the meaning of life is 42. That's exactly as many points as I could muster up.

Apparently this is a pay it forward type thing and apparently I'm months behind as everyone has already done this... so here goes my late to the finish line contribution...

1. I have no fear of rats and mice, but I’m convinced cockroaches and earwigs are the devil’s spawn

2. And I’m not even religious!

3. Chocolate though, it’s gotta be from heaven. 70% is the closest of all to heavenly…

4. I fractured my skull falling from a lifeguard’s chair when I was seven.

5. Apart from my head I’ve never had a broken bone.

6. I’ve never tried any drugs except for marijuana, and it had me believing I could see the entire Captain Hook movie unfolding along the ashphalt as we drove down the road, my head hanging out the window. I realized it wasn’t for me…

7. I love red wine – especially Malbec and good Shiraz, but to be honest the third glass could be anything – it all starts to taste the same.

8. I only like flowers growing. I think cut flowers are wasteful and pointless.

9. One of my favourite childhood pastimes was popping tar bubbles on the side of the road. Although my friend and I missed entire lunchtimes doing this and got separated by our parents for the walks to and from school as a punishment.

10. One of my other favourite childhood pastimes was collecting worms after the rain in jars… I was a bit weird.

11. I refused braces even though my bottom teeth are all ‘higgelty piggelty’ according to my husband.

12. Once in a restaurant I owned with my ex, a man fell down the stairs and cracked his head open. One of the waiters shouted to me at the bar, “Call 911!!!!” I shouted back in a panic, “What’s the number?!!”

13. Cilantro is a love or hate thing. I LOVE it. Beets are the same, but I HATE them.

14. Sports have never been my thing. As a kid I failed at ballet, tennis, t-ball, soccer and synchronized swimming. Since the age of 13 I have pretty much avoided all sports like the plague.

15. I have a big horizontal scar across my right knee from an operation I had at 16 to remove a calcium deposit – the result of a soccer injury!

16. I’ve never been a very feminine lady. I don’t wear make up and always feel like a kid wearing her mom’s make up when I do try for special occasions.

17. I hate to chew gum, it gives me a headache.

18. I can’t whistle. I just look funny and air comes out of my mouth.

19. I can’t play video games, it makes my chin quiver involuntarily.

20. My 20th birthday was spent in a village in Botswana where I was volunteering for a year with Crossroads International

21. I have had two to three recallable dreams a night ever since I can remember. Most are not profound.

22. I like movies that are realistic or based on true stories. I hate Sci-fi and action films.

23. I owned a gas station as a single mom for three years when I was 25.

24. My first boyfriend was in kindergarten. He was from Nigeria and his name was Nigel. His family was the only non-white family in the small Ontario town I lived in.

25. I was an only child until I was 8.

26. I’ve always been enamoured with Africa.

27. I hate gambling. Never understood the fascination with casinos.

28. No one can convince me that creationism should be taught along side evolution in a science class.

29. I find dogmatic religions to be insulting and controlling.

30. I’m a fan of British comedy. Ricky Gervais and Eddie Izzard are my favourites.

31. I have an arm band tattoo of dancing stickmen, all holding hands around my bicep (what bicep!)

32. I LOVE spicy food. The more pepper the better.

33. I learned Swahili in University. I learned Twi in life, in Ghana.

34. A friend and I named ourselves ‘ABFab’ moms after the famous British duo in the show Absolutely Fabulous.

35. I gave my first son three middle names – one of them is ‘Mompati’ which means my companion in Setswana.

36. I’m pretty good with chopsticks and I like sushi before it was trendy.

37. My fav foods are cheesecake, Pad Thai and vegetarian roti (from Bacchus Roti shop on Queen St. in Toronto).

38. I am not remotely graceful.

39. I can get along with almost everyone.

40. My friends say I’m a typical Sagittarius. They mean I like to travel and put my foot in my mouth a lot. I talk louder than I think sometimes.

41. I’ve had more heartache in this lifetime than anyone should endure, but I still have a positive outlook.

42. I've had 3 major relationships, 2 children, 2 stepchildren and 1 boat and I've learned something from each one of them.

Now my eyes are squeezed shut. I'm sending this off to cyber space and waiting for the meaning of life to come to me. Does it come by e-mail attachment?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How NOT to Write About Africa

Not feeling particularly inspired to write myself tonight, I stumbled upon a brilliant piece of writing that I had found and read once before but had not recorded, and thought was lost to me. I was so happy to find it again. It is actually quite famous in some circles concerned with Africa, and it’s bitter satire hits close to home when you are an expat writing in general about Africa.

The piece was written in 2003 by Binyavanga Wainaina, a Kenyan author and journalist.

Many of you will know this piece (and it is always worth re-reading!), but for those of you who don’t, especially the writers and those who are not familiar with Africa – this is an eye opening commentary on how the west has portrayed Africa for so long. To me, it needs to be read, sarcasm and all. The stereotypes are disturbing and 'in-your-face'. It’s brilliant.

Always use the word 'Africa' or 'Darkness' or 'Safari' in your title. Subtitles may include the words 'Zanzibar', 'Masai', 'Zulu', 'Zambezi', 'Congo', 'Nile', 'Big', 'Sky', 'Shadow', 'Drum', 'Sun' or 'Bygone'.

Also useful are words such as 'Guerrillas', 'Timeless', 'Primordial' and 'Tribal'. Note that 'People' means Africans who are not black, while 'The People' means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn't care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African's cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it—because you care.

Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation.

Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad I-expected-so-much tone. Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can't live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love—take advantage of this.

If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed.

Your African characters may include naked warriors, loyal servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermitic splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and prostitutes you have slept with. (Image © Andy Davies/

The Loyal Servant always behaves like a seven-year-old and needs a firm hand; he is scared of snakes, good with children, and always involving you in his complex domestic dramas.

The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona). He has rheumy eyes and is close to the Earth.

The Modern African is a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Legal Conservation Areas. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned serial-killing politician in a Savile Row suit. He is a cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich witch-doctor who really runs the country.

Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She must never say anything about herself in the dialogue except to speak of her (unspeakable) suffering.

Also be sure to include a warm and motherly woman who has a rolling laugh and who is concerned for your well-being. Just call her Mama. Her children are all delinquent.

These characters should buzz around your main hero, making him look good. Your hero can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if reportage), or a beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat who now cares for animals (if fiction).

Bad Western characters may include children of Tory cabinet ministers, Afrikaners, employees of the World Bank. When talking about exploitation by foreigners mention the Chinese and Indian traders. Blame the West for Africa's situation. But do not be too specific.

Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life—but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.

Describe, in detail, naked breasts (young, old, conservative, recently raped, big, small) or mutilated genitals, or enhanced genitals. Or any kind of genitals. And dead bodies. Or, better, naked dead bodies. And especially rotting naked dead bodies. Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the 'real Africa', and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this: you are trying to help them to get aid from the West. The biggest taboo in writing about Africa is to describe or show dead or suffering white people.

Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well rounded, complex characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing their manes proudly) and have names, ambitions and desires. They also have family values: see how lions teach their children? Elephants are caring, and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas. Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or a gorilla. Elephants may attack people's property, destroy their crops, and even kill them. Always take the side of the elephant. Big cats have public-school accents. Hyenas are fair game and have vaguely Middle Eastern accents.

Any short Africans who live in the jungle or desert may be portrayed with good humour (unless they are in conflict with an elephant or chimpanzee or gorilla, in which case they are pure evil).

After celebrity activists and aid workers, conservationists are Africa's most important people. Do not offend them. You need them to invite you to their 30,000-acre game ranch or 'conservation area', and this is the only way you will get to interview the celebrity activist. Often a book cover with a heroic-looking conservationist on it works magic for sales. Anybody white, tanned and wearing khaki who once had a pet antelope or a farm is a conservationist, one who is preserving Africa's rich heritage. When interviewing him or her, do not ask how much funding they have; do not ask how much money they make off their game. Never ask how much they pay their employees.

Readers will be put off if you don't mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a must. It is always big and red. There is always a big sky. Wide empty spaces and game are critical—Africa is the Land of Wide Empty Spaces.

When writing about the plight of flora and fauna, make sure you mention that Africa is overpopulated. When your main character is in a desert or jungle living with indigenous peoples (anybody short) it is okay to mention that Africa has been severely depopulated by Aids and War (use caps).

You'll also need a nightclub called Tropicana, where mercenaries, evil nouveau riche Africans and prostitutes and guerrillas and expats hang out.

Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Drive-by shopping in Accra

Yesterday was a holiday - there was holiday traffic in Accra. Today was a business day - there was weekday traffic in Accra.

We left the office midday to head off to a meeting - but the roads had different ideas of how we should spend the next hour and it wasn't sitting around a boardroom table. That would come later (after we'd made calls apologizing for being late due to traffic).

In the meantime -I thought I'd expand on a post I once did - that listed all the items for sale by hawkers in traffic...

This time it's a visual account. Enjoy!!

When traffic came to a standstill, the hawkers lined the streets fully ready for business...

Tiger nuts. These fibrous little balls grow in the ground and taste like coconut... Personally my mouth just ends up full of dry little bits after a while. Not my snack of choice...

Pillows. This guy was definitely hoping for a bulk sale. He was swamped by his wares!

Pirated DVDs - usually with three sets of indistinguishable subtitles embeded... they sell pretty much anything from Africa movies to American series, but the 'shoot 'em up movies seem to sell best...

Designer ties! No less than Burberry, Gucci and Giorgio Armani. Notice the white gloves for his delicate merchandise.

"Wanna buy a watch" - I get visions of a guy in a long trench-coat.

Loved this seller's t-shirt. Canadian Idol!! He had a complete barbering set and a scale for sale...

A single pair of men's shoes. He was really convinced I might want them. How did he know they were my size?! :)

Shoes for the whole family. Now that's more like it!! Especially liked the USA flip-flops.

Boiled peanuts (which are quite good and as addictive as any snack food), and dictionaries...


Popcorn (sweet or salty)

Plastic wall clock. Like gold!

Unrefrigerated yogurt drink. I always fear the wrong kinds of active bacteria will be in there after a day in the sun in traffic...

Basketballs, footballs (Soccer balls) - these must do well...

Salted cashews and cashew butter - yum!

Handkerchiefs - everyone seems to have one in Ghana for everything from sweat removal to nose blowing.

Various power bars and sockets and even a universal television remote. This guy was a walking hardware store.

This was my favourite. The portable gym - Tummy Trimmer AND a scale to check if it's working!!!

Last but not least - the lord Jesus poster. The bigger the better for your lounge.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Streets of Ghana today - Ramadan Kareem!

Today was a public holiday in Ghana. In fact it was a dual holiday - on the one hand (the Muslim one), Ghana celebrated the end of Ramadan with the Eid ul-Fitr end of fasting celebrations. Ghana's Muslim population makes up about 45 percent of the population of about 22 million. And on the other hand (the political one), Ghana celebrated Kwame Nkrumah's (Ghana's first president at the time of independence from Colonialism) Birthday.

We headed off to enjoy the holiday for neither purpose really, but figured we'd head down to a friend's beach house all the same.

What we encountered however was a traffic jam like no other... Apparently the mosque had just let out and we turned down the wrong (or right!) road.

While JW cooled his heels in the stop-start traffic for about 45 minutes along a 500 metre stretch of road, I snapped happily away with my versatile iPhone...

Accra's Muslim community were out in full force in killer outfits.

Below - some of the scenes of the day:

A lady stops to buy some fresh paw paw (papaye) from a roadside seller.

Someone is watching me too!

This lady is dressed to kill! Great shades and earrings!

The guys move in groups...

And the ladies too!

Even the little girls are all dolled up for the day. Looking lovely.

A senior lady in some gorgeous cloth...

And new moms dressed up with baby in tow!

This young guy was all dressed up and had his prayer mat ready.

And finally - as we started to move and the throngs of people thinned - this truck drove by with a 'humbling' message...

Ramadan Kareem Ghana!

Friday, September 18, 2009

When a dictionary doesn't help - language across cultures

Living in a foreign country provides so many opportunities to look at language – specifically the language you take for granted as your own – in my case English – and look critically at how it is taken for granted as universally understood.

The truth is that language is more of a cultural and societal construct than we realize.

Last night I got a call from one of my Ghanaian colleagues:

Me: Hello?

GC: Hello

Me: Yes, hello?

GC: Good evening

Me: Good evening
(This exact banter comprises the beginning of every telephone conversation in Ghana – except if it’s morning, then there is the good morning greeting…_If you are very unlucky, the hello, hello, hello can go back and forth up to 10 times. I’m not kidding)

GC: Holli, please can you tell me, what is a jackass?

Me: (amused) What?! A jackass is like an idiot, why?

GC: OH! That is serious then! Well I was reading on the Internet that President Obama called Kanye West that word.

Me: Well it’s true. He is a jackass. But Obama did not say that officially! It was ‘off the record’

GC: Off the what?

Me: Nevermind. Is that all? Don’t you guys know the word jackass?

GC: No not at all. Is it anything like baloney?
(This refers to a conversation we had two years ago when George Bush visited Ghana and in his speech said that the rumors that the US wanted to build a military base in Ghana was ‘a bunch of baloney’. This was totally lost on most of Ghana…)

Me: (Laughing) No! Not like baloney…

GC: Also, what does he mean when he says ‘cut the President some slack’?

Me: Oh, well he just means to give him a break, not be so hard on him…

GC: Wow. Americans have some funny English!

Perhaps they do… It’s just that phrases we know seem so normal, so obvious…

When I hung up I decided to write a little list of phrases that are common in Ghana in English, that I found bizarre when I arrived:

1. 'We know ourselves' – meaning we know each other

2. 'We’ll advise ourselves' – meaning we’ll reconsider or think twice

3. 'That girl is tough' – meaning she is chubby or big

4. 'I’m getting bored' – meaning getting annoyed

5. 'Please, I’ll alight here' – used in a vehicle, meaning I’ll get off/out here

6. 'I’m going to buy provisions' – nice fancy old colonial word for groceries

7. 'Bend right or pass right or curve right or branch right' - when giving directions it means simply to go right

8. 'I had a blast last night' - refers to a tire blow-out on a car, NOT a fun time!

9. 'He is a 'blow-man' - this refers to a fighter - used alot when identifying characters in action movies

10. 'What's for chop? What did you chop?' - referring to food - what's for supper, what did you eat?

Can anyone else give me some examples of how English is a whole different thing, depending on the where and when??

Thursday, September 17, 2009

E-mom - Are parents on facebook a no-no?

Well it’s apparently official – I’m an E-mom. This is not a good thing. It makes me feel like someone who’s past their prime, trying to be young, hip and cool (a cougar? - hanging out in nightclubs thinking they pass for 20 something but just not cutting it in their leopard skin tights...).

The thing is that I joined facebook quite a while ago. I have a network or friends and contacts… My children also joined facebook. The opportunities for overlapping were there… Of course they accepted my friend requests, and some of their friends even ‘friended’ me… so I thought it was all ok.

But I was wrong. Apparently if you have children, you must be old and by proxy, have no business using social networking sites – because your children are on there and that is their domain … and you are a stalker!!!

Watch this news piece on the phenomenon below…

Are all mothers so uncool? I just feel lumped into this category now - ashamed and utterly uncool. I feel like the pimply pre-teen outcast in Grade 7… who has tried to join the chat in the cafeteria with the cool girls, and they all turn and look at you in stony silence.

Should I retreat? Give it all up to spare my children the embarrassment?

The real issue is that once parents are on facebook, any photos of their children that are uploaded (and tagged), can be viewed and even saved by their parents… And I admit guilt here. Our college aged son is half a world away, across continents even! We are really easy going, non-pedantic, open minded parents. But it’s nice to ‘see what their up to’ from time to time… there have been a few times it would have been better NOT to see though… The truth is that those years are all about finding your footing. Learning how much partying you can get away with, and still make it through to a degree. I suppose if you come out the other end having had fun and succeeded, then no harm done.

But how would I feel if the shoe were on the other foot? If my parents could have seen into my social world when I was a teenager – with evidence of every out of control party, and tweets professing that I was too hung over to get to class … well. I guess I would be equally horrified.

I am so glad the world has only taken this turn toward complete social invasion – with constant updates and photo proof of everyone’s movements – AFTER I got through the teenage years and college.

Not sure my parents would still be talking to me if they’d seen what I see now!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ghana Photo of the day

We encountered quite a few signs like this on our 5 hour Sunday drive back to Accra from Axim this weekend. Could never find out why (there was a shortage)... but it happens from time to time. Ignorance is bliss for me when it comes to matters like this anyway.

At least they were polite about it...

And inside the shop they had warm coke (power was off), and melting chocolates for the drive! :)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

When love is illegal - Homosexuality in Ghana today

Being gay is illegal in Ghana.

Under Ghanaian law, male homosexual activity is officially illegal. Criminal Code 1960 - Chapter 6, Sexual Offences Article 105 mentions unnatural carnal knowledge – and homosexuality is included in this description.

Coming from Canada, one of the most liberal countries in the world (especially with regard to homosexuality see map of sexual freedoms here), it’s almost shocking to me. The topic does not impact my life directly, but I am a definite believer in human rights, and so the subject holds a certain importance.

This topic can spark heated debates if ever broached with Ghanaian colleagues in my office – though I am usually a lone warrior for the cause, inevitably against a tirade of Christian rhetoric about the evils of homosexuality and the belief that it is an illness that can be cured, or at least prayers can be said to cure a person of it.

Today I came across this article on Ghana’s popular Joy FM site. I found it interesting both that the issue is in the forefront of the news in Ghana today, and that there is now an official Gay and Lesbian Association of Ghana (GALAG), with a spokesperson who is not afraid to appear in public. This says something.

The article points out that Ghana’s heros have come out publicly in support of gay and lesbian rights,

“Nelson Mandela said that he considered “homosexuality to be just another form of sexuality that has been suppressed for years”; Kofi Annan, a former UN General Secretary, supported gay rights with a move to extend benefits to the same-sex partners of UN staff; and as well as signing the UN declaration calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, Obama also recently spoke at a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride event, describing homophobia as an example of “worn arguments and old attitudes”.

Yet deeply entrenched cultural attitudes in Ghana die hard. There is a widespread belief in Ghana that homosexuality is a morally deprived lifestyle choice of the west. That it is not something inherently African, but a cultural export from Europe and the Americas. Interestingly there are more and more vocal African raised advocates for gay rights - including Cheikh Traoré, a half Nigerian, half Mauritian Muslim, raised in West Africa. He is currently an AIDS educator in the UK, and speaks openly on growing up gay.

Locally though, tolerance for diversity can be lacking. A Ghanaian born and bred gay man describes his alienating experiences in this article. BBC even covered an article on the subject last year.

The official line in Ghana – even from the minister of human rights – is that Ghana is ‘not ready’ for Gay and Lesbians as an accepted group. Again, it is individuals that suffer.

My amazement in all this, is that in general, Ghanaians are far more comfortable with human closeness than any western culture. It is a common sight in Ghana to see two grown men, walking down the street hand in hand, or with their hands lingering in embrace when they greet an old friend. None of this is seen to threaten a man’s sexuality. I love this about Ghanaians. In contrast, in North America and the UK, where opinion is supposedly more liberal, straight men would never been seen in such close contact with a male friend. They commonly squirm and cower away from male to male hugs, and insist on a rough pat on the back just to assert their ‘maleness’.

In Ghana, in certain instances, cross-dressing is accepted if not named. In the heart of Jamestown (a rough and poor neighborhood in Accra’s south centre), there is a man I’ve seen many times in wigs and skirts. “He’s a bit mad”, I’m told. It’s all in good fun. No one bothers him and he’s free to be himself. I suppose his perceived mental illness grants him reprieve from societal scorn…

Again, I find it amazing that homosexuality is so abhorred by Ghanaians, when - if any Ghanaian will be honest with themselves - they know all about a common practice called ‘Supi’ – which is basically a condoned (or conveniently ignored) form of lesbian relationship that develops in boarding schools between older girls and the ‘freshers'. It is seen as a way for girls to develop their sexuality, but not viewed as homosexuality outright, despite the physical relationships that develop between the girls. I would love to discuss this particular topic further and encourage my Ghanaian friends and readers to contribute…

The bottom line is that no matter what the law states, or whether outside pressure will convince Ghana to decriminalize homosexuality, it will continue to exist, despite any raging debates in Ghana and beyond about whether being gay is chosen or genetic, cultural or contrived... and individuals will continue to struggle with their identities, mostly in private.

The issue becomes quite difficult for gay visitors or even expatriates who enjoy a level of acceptance in their home countries and find themselves in a place where the very act is illegal! I know legally married same sex couples who have come to Ghana on official government posts, only to be forced to hide their relationship, for the sake of appeasing the laws of the country. Some gay travelers websites warn couples about the laws of Ghana here.

Despite this lack of tolerance though, there is a small but thriving gay community. There are even a few very gay friendly bars. I’ve been to a few ‘gay friendly’ parties, with mostly local revelers, that were some of the most fun and memorable in Ghana. After all, the gays in Ghana are Ghanaians. They have the same innate friendliness and act as ambassadors for the country just as well as other Ghanaians do. They are the sisters, brothers, sons and mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts and others - of the close-minded ones. They are individuals of this society, part and parcel of it. I personally think the place is better off for it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

5 hours of Ghanaian as art through the window screen

Whenever we make the westward drive down Ghana’s coast, I am reminded of one of my favourite childhood books – Where the Wild Things Are. Not because there are wild things (though certain things you see along that road could be considered quite wild), but because we pass through long stretches of thick rainforest. The wall of trees makes me feel like Max in the wolf costume, watching the imaginary forest grow, and I expect the huge yellow-eyed monsters to come lumbering through the branches…

I am always jolted back to reality when the forest is broken by a village, straddling the road, goats, chicken, children, women in rollers and men in ill-fitted suits… a slice of rural life, cut through by the rushing 4x4 we inhabit.

This weekend, after a presentation in Takoradi to the Oil and Gas sector (in my pseudo professional capacity), we headed further along the coast. Our destination: Lou Moon Lodge near Axim. It’s a wonderful oasis among the chaos that is Ghana. It’s run by a Belgian couple who have worked out perfectly how to take the best of the quaint village (using traditional thatch structures and local rock formations), and mix it with the sophistication and calm of a European spa. With no electricity in the area, they run all modern amenities completely on generator. They have also lucked out with a great little corner of Ghana’s mostly rough coastline. The 11 room hotel is built on a tiny, calm bay where you can swim without fear of the undercurrent sucking you along with it. Anyone visiting Ghana should make the 5 hour drive from the capital Accra – it’s worth the headaches in traffic and the increasing police roadblocks cum extortion points…

What always strikes me on these trips are the massive contrasts; the (not always peaceful) meeting of two worlds. The modern meets the ancient, the haves meet the have-nots, or more accurately, the haves pass swiftly by the have-nots on the roadside.

As we left the resort after 24 hours of pure rest and relaxation, I noticed a young guy from the sea side village next door, standing at the top of the unpaved hill. He was maneuvering himself to get cell phone coverage, which is intermittent at best... It dawned on me as we bumped along further in 4 wheel drive, that there is no electricity for miles. How do they charge mobile phones?? This is a village that is bathed only in moonlight from 6pm each evening. Where traditional drums are used for ceremonies and for calling villagers to attention. Yet he had a cellphone. Contrast! Ghana...

Below, a snapshot of the Ghana we drove through, to and from the resort.

Beautiful regal trees, tower above everything - remnants of the thick massive rainforest of the past...

But in some places, too much human waste is winning the battle against nature...

Sometimes the colours of the village are like a live painting - vibrant and beautiful and almost defying description.

There is always an array of snacks to buy - this lady sells roasted plantain and in the characterstic blue plastic bags - fante kenkey - a dish famous in the western and central regions - it is a firm maize porridge, fermented and wrapped in plantain leaves and then sold in the blue bags. No less than 100 ladies tout these pyramids along the coast.

Another fante kenkey seller, Ama Adoma, where we bought two bags on special request from a Ghanaian colleague back in Accra. (Many of the ladies name their stand after themselves, or a suitably hopeful religious quote).

Closer to Accra some strong armed boys sell yams.

At one of the tollbooths (which charge a mere 10 pesewas (equivalent to 10 cents US and seemingly hardly worth employing staff...), I saw this sign... WTF??!!! I can't even guess what the name is supposed to signify..HUNGBARK...?!!

I couldn't resist this one - it's an advertisement for a school... in case it's too blurry, it's called: Peculiar Child Academy. There was another one quite near it called Virgin Kids and Secondary School... How can they be sure? And why the word AND? Ghana does have it's mysteries...

All of this and so much more on a business trip/holiday weekend drive! I'm a lucky girl with the opportunity to see so much life around me to be in the place of others, observing, learning, growing...
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