Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Child Witches Plague Ghana

Sometimes when I’m sitting at my modern desk, in my air-conditioned office, sipping a Diet Coke and writing e-mails to colleagues and clients around the globe, I’m inclined to forget that just outside my window lurks a world caught up in many ways in ancient and crippling beliefs.

Sometimes the headlines of the day for Accra catch my attention and bring the reality of the clash of worlds and cultures to a resounding crescendo.

Today’s headline did the trick: ‘Mother Goes To Jail For Whipping Daughter With Wire’. The story goes on to explain that a mother in Accra had beat her 5 year old daughter to the point where she was bleeding profusely all over her body – and the reason given was that the little girl was a witch. Seriously.

We're not talking the pointed hat, long black haired, wart on chin witch of Halloween fame, no - we're talking the unwarranted, unfettered prosecution of unassuming, poor, innocent people.

Modern Ghana is a place that witchcraft, or certainly the belief in witchcraft, is rampant. The belief forms a strong part of the cultural milieu in Ghana. Despite the work of missionaries over the centuries, despite the global village where such ideas are exposed as being ignorant and backward… witches are alive and well and apparently all over Ghana in the form of small children and poor elderly women.

Just Google the words ‘Ghana’ and ‘witch’ to see what is really going on.

Northern Ghana is home to over 10 massive witch camps – each housing up to 1000 people – the majority of these are young children. Soak that in. THERE ARE STILL WITCHES CAMPS IN GHANA IN 2010. All of these people have been banished from their villages for all sorts of crimes, including allegedly killing people who died from ‘mysterious illnesses’.

Some estimate that there are over 10,000 identified witches in the country.

Abuse and denial of basic human rights is the norm in these camps. As pariahs of society, none of these people can depend on the social catchments that the poor majority depend on – no one wants to help. And there is no recourse for these people either, since none of their crimes can be proven or disproved. An accusation is all it takes.



I found an interesting article written last week by Ghanaian journalist Caesar Abagali, where he compares the witchhunting in Ghana 2010 to the Salem witchhunts in the USA in the 1690’s. Ghana, there is a long way to progress if this is where we are at.

The bottom line is that in both cases, the fear of the masses is/was able to run rampant, and people accused and convicted without legal trials, as long as the accused were poor and powerless.

In both cases, the culture of the time, allowed for ignorance to prevail over science and reason, and many opportunists with charisma jumped on the wagon to stir up the fear and public sentiment. The result is that innocent and vulnerable people are victimized – and to a tragic extent.

Education and empowerment on a massive scale are the only solution. But sadly, it’s not only in the impoverished Northern villages where the ignorance exists – today’s story of that poor little girl in Accra attests.

When I lost my son to a mysterious 3 day illness some years ago in Accra, in our grief and disbelief, some of his Ghanaian relatives insisted that a curse had been raised, by way of finding a reason… And I’m sure that many a witchdoctor made his share of money off that fear, in claiming to exert revenge on the person, the witch, who caused this horrific event.

As usual – none of this ever helps the children. Not those we’ve lost, nor those who live under the wrath of adult ignorance. Ghana, what does this say about us?



To borrow the lyrics from Barry Manilow:

I am your child
Whatever I know, I learn from you
Whatever I do, you taught me to do
I am your child
And I am your chance
Whatever will come, will come from me
Tomorrow is won, by winning me
Whatever I am, you taught me to be
I am your hope,
I am your chance,
I am your child

Friday, September 3, 2010

Breakfast in America, lunch in Bhutan - What the world eats each week

Fourteen years ago I underwent 'food baptism by fire' in Ghana, having arrived in the country as a Canadian and shipped unceremoniously into the home of a local family, invited from day one to eat all my meals with them.

I spent the first few months missing diet coke and salads as well as the junk food I'd come to love, while getting used to a diet of spicy, palm oil slicked soups with mystery meat chunks and heavy carbs in the form of fufu, banku, plantain and cassava.

Though I lived with a 'rare' middle class family in Ghana, I was shocked by how cheap it was to feed the family of 5 - 7 including my son and I. Nothing came from a supermarket (might have had something to do with the fact that there were no supermarkets), and almost everything was fresh and cooked from scratch. No processed foods (except for the ever-popular but nasty sodium laced Maggi cubes used in every soup and stew!). No snacks or junk food. Beer and coke were offered up on special occasions and were quite cheap as well. (Ghana still uses the refillable bottle system and families have a case of each at home which can be returned and filled again for quite a reasonable price).

I used to meet up with fellow volunteers on the weekends and take trips to the one store filled with foreign groceries - Kwatsons (which later became Koala). We'd walk up and down the aisles and marvel at the things we recognised and couldn't afford... Iceburg lettuce at $20 a head, Frosted Flakes at $15... but for the most part the things were just not available.

Today, my life as an expat is quite different, as is the availability of goods from around the world, in the cosmopolitan city of Accra. We have a mall, supermarkets, choices. My diet today is quite different. Lots of salads and diet coke when I want it. Our weekly food bill has also skyrocketed.

To live a true expat life in West Africa, enjoying all the food comforts of home will run you between $200 to $350 a week for a family of 3 or 4. That doesn't include nights out at restaurants which constitute the majority of social interactions.

Considering that close to 50% of Ghanaians earn about $1 a day, or $30 per month, our $1000 a month on food is indulgent at best, grotesque at worst.

It has always amazed me how people manage their money here - how they can feed their families with such little resources.

I found an amazingly intriguing glimpse into the food lives of others, courtesy the great bloggess Skinny Gourmet, and just had to share.

This excerpt is from a book called Hungry Planet - in which a sampling of families from around the world open their homes up and show us exactly what they consume in a given week. Each family is photographed with their entire weekly food/drinks spread in their kitchen, and the amount spent is recorded to the penny.

Fascinating. It says so much about culture, about wealth and poverty, about who we are and where we come from. I wonder how I'd feel displaying my weekly shopping in the same way?


Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide

Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07





United States: The Revis family of North Carolina
Food expenditure for one week $341.98





Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11




Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca

Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09





Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna

Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27




Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo
Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53




Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo

Food expenditure for one week: $31.55





Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village

Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03




Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp

Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23



So many things are striking - the sheer cost of living in Germany, the massive prevalence of process and take-away foods in America, the absence of all processed foods in Egypt and Bhutan and the glaring poverty of the family in Chad with just over $1 a week to feed a family of six.

Next time you head to the Piggly Wiggly or Safeway or Tescos or Pick n' Pay, think of this exercise. Where do you fit in?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Africa sings it's goals

8 Goals For Africa from 8 Goals For Africa on Vimeo.

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