Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The first barrel of oil: 15/12/10 - Ghana joins oil states of Africa

As of 10:06am today, Ghana has officially opened the valve to pump Ghana’s first oil and has put this country on the map, irrevocably as an oil producing country.

As I write this, my Ghanaian colleagues are huddled in the boardroom, in front of the TV sharing their reactions to the live program broadcasting the ceremony, where Ghana’s President Mills did the honours of turning the valve.

Many are excited. It’s palpable. What could this new beginning mean for Ghana? What possibility, opportunity, future is held in the frightening prospect of becoming Africa’s next big oil producer?

Being the skeptic that I’m apt to be after my 15 years in Africa, I think of the dangers. Oil in Nigeria virtually destroyed the agricultural sector — which now contributes only two percent of foreign exchange earnings. The same expansion of oil led to inflation and the growing culture of corruption. Ghanaian leaders are proving they are definitely not immune to such temptations…

David Throup of Online Africa Policy Forums Blog points out that:
Ghana urgently needs to improve its infrastructure: it needs new sewers and water pipes and ring-roads in Accra, a revamped electricity grid, improved generating facilities at Akosombo, improved rail-links from Accra to Kumasi and Tamale and on to Burkina Faso, and a renewed and extended network of secondary and tertiary feeder roads through the rural hinterland.

Others will argue for improving educational and health facilities. Such development spending would generate employment in construction and ancillary services, and hopefully promote sustained economic activity and growth. In a society where 60-70 percent of the population depends on smallholder agriculture for their livelihoods and 90 percent of the population in urban areas depends on the informal sector, such job-generating spending could be beneficial. But the money must be spent wisely and over a number of years if it is not to exacerbate inflation and exceed Ghana’s capacity to absorb the spending.

These are the first days of the rest of Ghana’s life. Ghanaians are proud and hopeful. The flag is flying high and the children are so full of possibility.

These are the days where the integrity of the politicians and the maturity of the decision makers will be tested. The results will follow in years to come. The judgments must be left to posterity.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ghana Chief calls for end to poverty - buys $4.7m holiday mansion

As we made our way to work this morning, through the streets of Accra, traffic lights out, dodging potholes and veering past the maimed and legless beggars, the BBC radio featured a story about Ghana’s Ashanti King, the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.

Specifically, that the regional king, once a council worker in the UK, now on his throne in Kumasi, has just bought a GBP3million (USD $4.723m) holiday home on 22 acres in England.

By this stage I should just laugh. I have been in Africa long enough to see that the old adage “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is alive and well. I have witnessed unfathomable poverty and watched while African leaders fill Swiss bank accounts with billions and buy fleets of private jets.

The funny thing is that this time, like all the others, I am not numb enough. I still think it is pathetic and disgusting. I haven’t learned.

In October, VSO (a UK voluntary agency that works in Ghana) touted a story about the Asantehene and how he was dedicated to reducing poverty.

About how he was determined to tackle the endemic problem in his region and across the country as a whole.

As the BBC reporter described the stables and lavish swimming pool as well as the full cinema room in his new abode, I couldn’t help but wonder how many lifetimes of earnings of hundreds of thousands of poor Ghanaians would equal such a purchase.

So here are a couple calculations:

The nominal GDP per capita in Ghana is $698 (or GBP443)

This means that it would take the average Ghanaian about 6,770 years to amass such an amount.

Or to look at it a bit differently, the Asantehene could forfeit his splurge on the holiday home, and cover 6,770 of his citizens annual wages...

The Asantehene has talked a lot about targeting education, with a focus on making it more accessible and of a higher quality.

I wonder if he considered this (source):

$10 will pay for a healthcare insurance policy for a child and his or her caregiver for 1 year

$25 will pay for school fees for 1 child for 1 year

$200 will purchase 150 textbooks for 30 children for 1 academic year

$500 will pay for antiretroviral therapy (ART) for 1 child for 10 months

As his majesty walks the cold marble corridors of his new mansion, someone should let him know:

189,000 Ghanaian children could have attended school for a year with that amount; children who otherwise have no means to go.

23,615 textbooks could have been donated to needy Ghana schools

Ghanaian children could have had a better quality of life, with antiretroviral therapy for a year.

As he sips tea with global royalty, I hope he hesitates before begging for donations to aid his impoverished country, lest he burn his tongue and bite his lip at the perversion of it all.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ivory Coast faces civil war while I battle the bulge...

Well I hate to admit it, but keeping at it (perseverance), not cheating (that’s no Death by Chocolate for dessert), and exercising frequently are the basic recipe to losing weight.

It’s so non-mysterious! It’s not like finding a miracle fad diet (read Twinkie diet!), and it’s not like trying for a long time and giving up because it just doesn’t work.

The bottom line is that if you eat healthily, and keep your calories in check every day, plus exercise, it doesn’t matter what age you are, it will make you more fit, and help you lose weight (or inches – since muscle weighs more than fat).

So, since my last rant, 16 days have past (bad blogger!), and that makes 24 days since I started my quest to lose the muffin top.

I am happy to report that, despite a trip to South Africa (Cape Town for the weekend! – which is always quite dangerous on the culinary front) in between, I have not cheated, I have exercised at least every second day for an hour or so, and

….drum roll…

I have lost over 4 kilos! (That’s about 9lbs). After my despair with the scale, I left it alone for a couple weeks and voila! It rewarded me when I returned, having done my part every day in between.

So, even though this only brings me back to a starting weight from previous diets, it has done wonders. I am swimming in my fat clothes and fitting (some still snugly) into my ‘medium’ jeans!! Yippee!

Does this mean I can O.D. on Nanaimo bars over the upcoming Christmas holidays back home? I mean what is a good Canadian Christmas without the 800 calorie per glass glug of egg nog (Jack in the Box brand), and trough like quantities of shortbreads and homemade balls and bars?

I am planning on doing my best to keep the indulgences at bay for the most part. Except Christmas day of course!

I WILL NOT bring my fat jeans along on this trip… but there is always the temptation of comfy leggings that accommodate any lumps, bumps and expansions. But I resolve! And how important is it in the big scheme of things??

As a little reality check – I am sitting in a capital city, 200 miles from the border of our neighboring country, that is at the brink of civil war as I write this.

Last week two political rivals were each sworn in as president and leader of the same country, and neither is willing to step down. Power sharing is apparently out of the question (and isn’t much of a solution if you take Zimbabwe as an example!).

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The muffin-top menace of 41

My birthday is looming and for the first time I’m reflective and contemplating the reality of aging.

I reached the supposedly momentous FOUR O last year, and didn’t notice anything special. It was a birthday, I went out for dinner with friends, I moved along the next day into life as usual.

This year though, after having gorged myself through numerous holidays and business trips, I am starting to develop muffin tops! I decided that I needed to knock that off, start a diet and get back into shape.
Only it’s not happening. Not nearly as quickly as it should, or as it used to. Is this my age catching up with me?

Despite following a low calorie, low fat, no sugar, almost no carb diet for the past 10 days, my weight feels like lead, packed neatly inside my flesh, stubborn and solid - as if it’s telling me, in it’s stoic silence, that it’s not going anywhere.

I have also started exercising. At a fundraising event last weekend – where I avoided all the temptations of good wine and a cornucopia of fat and carbs at the buffet – I won a one month gym membership in a raffle. I figured it was a sign.

I headed to the gym Monday. After an hour (brisk walking – I don’t run!), on the treadmill I felt a bit dizzy and would have happily made my way home. But there is a cartel of personal trainers at the gym that pounce on all unsuspecting middle-aged out of shape newbies, and I was dragged off to an hour of torture (otherwise known as training). I left with an overwhelming sense of nausea and foreboding.

I hopped on the scale the next morning and had actually gained weight. After the initial loss on day one and two of this diet, I seem to lose .1 of a kilo only to gain .2 the next day. How is this fair? Not one cheat I tell you! Is this what happens when you’re past 40?

Headed back to the gym for more punishment again yesterday. Again I did the hour on the treadmill and again, my new training pimp tugged me along for the weights circuit. Halfway through, my legs threatened to give out completely and my stomach did a few somersaults. Could I really be THIS BADLY out of shape?! Apparently so. He did not let up though, and I finished an hour of lifting, squatting, pushing, pulling, groaning…

I barely made it home. Walking up and down stairs now is like trying to hold one’s self up on rubber bands. I have to hold the railings for dear life. And the pain! Oh, the pain. I had to take painkillers to fall asleep last night.

So this is what it’s come to.

And I gained .1 of a kilo this morning too. Thanks.

If I believed in God I would be sure he had a grudge against me. Either that or THIS IS WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE OVER 40…

For years I’ve read silly birthday cards about how everything falls apart above a certain age, and I’ve heard my mom and her friends sharing their mutual complaints about how the body doesn’t cooperate with the mind anymore etc. But in that naïve way of the young(er), I never believed it would happen to me.

We are supposed to be an evolved species! Why haven't they discovered the elixir of youth? And I'm not talking about plastic surgery, which creates scary melted wax in place of people's faces.

Jellyfish even have it figured out! (did you know there was an immortal strain of jellyfish). Just what the world needs - brainless blobs that live forever.

A few years ago I went through the same 'get fit, stay young' efforts, and with a healthy diet and some long walks, I lost the weight with ease. (Put it back on even easier I might add).

Am I destined to feel like I've been beaten up just from exercising? Must I wear my ‘fat clothes’ from here on out, and retire the slim wardrobe forever? Is it worth all this effort if nothing is happening with my physique?

Yes, I know that a healthy lifestyle is always better and cannot be bad… but just as I have come to accept that the efforts will be harder and longer now – that I’m over 40 – I come across this: THE TWINKIE DIET. Wherein some nutrition doctor loses 27 pounds eating sugared donuts…

Go figure.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Voodoo and the Juju

I love when I stumble upon a great link or some amazing photos on the net. Better still when they relate to my part of the world.

I have lived in West Africa for close to 15 years now, and apart from visits to the juju and voodoo markets in Ghana and Togo, where one can buy dried chameleons and other ex-living bits for spells and curses, I must say that I haven't been around or involved in many rituals.

Wandering through the arts centre in Accra, you come across various statues and implements that were presumably used for various traditional ceremonies, but we can only use our Western imaginations to surmise what the actual uses were.

To be invited into the secret world of the traditional as an outsider in West Africa is rare indeed. Many times foreigners are invited to watch or participate in events that are rigged up for the very purpose of impressing or intriguing the tourist. There is nothing intriguing in those.

Phyllis Galembo, a widely traveled photographer managed to gain the trust of her subjects across West Africa, and gained access to various ceremonies that have remained shrouded in mystery for centuries. As a result, she has produced a glimpse into a world I can not quite imagine - despite living here!

The photos are taken in Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana and the collection is called West African Masquerade.

The photos are so worth sharing though:

"Created for festivities and ceremonies such as weddings and burials, initiations, chiefs' coronations, and holidays like Christmas and the New Year, the costumes can be worn to disguise anyone, from a grown man or woman to a child. The subjects range from adults to teenagers, but Galembo does not know the identity of the individual beneath each mask. This mystery lies at the heart of her interest in costuming and masking — acts that allow the wearer to become something else, to change gender, or species, or even into spirits."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Letters to Shiloh - the anatomy of loss

Forks stab through soft flesh at plates, wine stains lips…

The dinner conversation lulls. I invite you in. Bursting in my mind, you are up to your mischief, a perfect story for the crowd.

You dance behind my eyes, and flirt with the room. You are alive in my animation.
I recall your stubborn beauty, the countenance with which you revered no one and the world at once. You tell us all with such charisma what defines you.

Your brother hears you and he lights up. Ever so briefly. But then he resumes chewing. Eyes cast downward. He is worried about me. Worried that you might spill out and push over my glass of wine. Splattering red like a crime scene across the white expanse of the table.

The other guests are nervous. I want them to love your antics but they wonder at the mother. A woman who could unhinge in the whirlwind of what they think is a memory.

Everyone feels trapped. By your beauty and my sorrow that bubbles underneath.

You aren’t at the table and I am the only one who doesn’t know it. Cannot see the dust reflecting in the light where you would have peeked up from underneath. Your brown hand, soft, warm, quick is not pulling at the tablecloth, toppling the fragile china. There is no reprimand for you. Only a fleeting pity for the mother.

A woman who knows a crushing void that cannot be filled by dinner conversation or the best Shiraz. A woman who lies so still in the night, straining to hear your voice in the still counterexistence of darkness.

You have not quieted in your absence. Still playing with me – dragging me to the point of tears with ease, triggered by one line from your favourite song on the radio.

Your crimson spirit so sharp, so elusive you make me crave the fiery child you were, and the boundless essence you will always be.

But for now there is dessert to serve and I must reassure the guests. I have to let go of the kite strings for now. I slump slightly in my chair, my excitement abated. The conversation resumes and turns swiftly back to the weather.

Art piece from Strange Skeletons Abstract Art, piece called Overwhelming Grief

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Whiter Shade of Pale - Albino models take to the runways

As a more positive slant on my earlier post about the plight of those with Albinism, I thought I'd share some great photos of some striking albino models.

Through exposure, and unashamedly through glorifying the lack of melanin on a catwalk, these models will help to break down the misconceptions and the fear, and help people see albinos like anyone else. Beauty reigns in a whiter shade of pale. :)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Pale Plight

Here are some faces of Albinism:

Albinism affects people from all races.

This inherited condition, characterized by the absence of melanin (which gives us our colouring), is known to affect mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

Global statistics indicate that about 1 in 17,000 people has some form of albinism.

In Africa the statistics are much higher - about 1 in 4,000.

People with albinism can suffer a variety of physical ailments, from vision problems to photosensitivity and various skin cancers, but it is the discrimination and superstitions which make the lives of albinos around the world unbearable.

In Africa the problem is endemic. Due to lack of education, many fear how different an albino child looks - hence there are a variety of reactions - all are dehumanizing.

From the belief the child is cursed to having supernatural powers; some albinos are killed at birth, others are coveted for potions in spiritual medicines.

In Tanzania and Kenya, ritual murders of albinos made international news over the past few years, but sadly the problems have persisted for these people in their communities for centuries.

In Ghana, no international attention has been focused on the plight of the albino, but it doesn't mean they are not suffering. Every day.

Let's let go of these silly superstitions. Ignorance is it's breeding ground. For the kids - let go of fear and bigotry. Hug someone with albinism today!
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