Tuesday, November 6, 2007


October 4

Finality. So this is it, back in Canada. We’ve been back about three weeks and I am struggling to write and digest so much of the past eight months.

I don’t want to trivialize with summaries and photos. I want the whole story to be told. I don’t want to perpetuate the myth of Africa, it is not my story to tell. I want to share but am conscious of boring people. I also want to scream at friends who talk of broken dishwashers and car insurance and how much is too much to spend on a new pair of shoes.
I feel as if I can’t relate.

London: a blur, a noiseless vaccum of black clothes, round shoes, hollow faces and seeming order. Crying children everywhere.

Toronto: Canadian flags, more order, confusion over the simplicity of access to banks, food, communication. Bored. Claustrophobic. CN Tower disgusts me.

Nova Scotia: So many trees, colours and drinkable air. Walks in the forest with Mabel. Family warmth.

Calgary: rodeo wedding. A young girl carries the Canadian flag on horseback while the national anthem plays. I sing along and feel tears in my eyes. Good food and company make the stories and pictures from Ghana easier to digest.

Kumasi, LUV FM, tro-tro rides, fufu and goats all seem very far away right now; physically and emotionally. The world of a month ago and reality are so different and reconciling the two is impossible. Time and certainty over the next step in our lives will no doubt bring reality closer into focus. For now, I remain nostalgic for Ghana, or rather the randomness, the spontaneity and craziness of it all.

8 months riding on four wheels

September 10

The top-heavy tro-tro heaved left, then right, and teetered into a mud hole. The engine revved, people were silent and I checked that I had my Yukon health care card (no idea how it would help on a mud road somewhere between Togo and Ghana.) Again, a heave right, another sway to the left and the trees came too close. The van full of 30 people and a gaggle of children came close, dangerously close, to tipping over. All but the back row, where we were sitting, exited carefully and slowly. Later the men would laugh about the hole as they wiped mud off their shoes. At the time, no one was laughing though.

Such was how our final tro-tro ride began in the tiny village of Kpalime in the central part of Togo, near Ghana’s border this week.

Traveling by bus with 30 Africans is a mobile glimpse into a slice of life on this continent. The women we shared nearly 10 hours of time with were mostly Muslim, market women. We carried our small backpacks while they carried rucksacks full of onions, maize, buckets of oranges, baskets and children. We spoke English and French, they spoke Twi and Hausa. The language of endurance is universal though. We ate, pissed, endured angry border officials and police officers and sang along to Celine Dion together. We ate the same food, felt the same cramps that come from sitting in the same position for hours and felt the terminal heat.

When a small child fell asleep on my shoulder I was reminded of the community we’ve been part of, and for the most part welcomed into during the past eight months. At times it’s been trying, frustrating and just damn hot. Other times it’s been beautiful, warm and peaceful.

Later, the child’s grandmother helped hoist me into my seat, flashing a toothy grin and shifting her right butt cheek when she knew I needed a bit more give on my left butt cheek. Now that is giving.

The mind moves swiftly when the body is forced to stand still. I couldn’t help but think about the parallels between eight months in this country and how so many of the emotions I’ve felt here I also felt during that tro-tro ride. All that is frustrating, endearing and glorious about this place rolled out of me as the bus weaved through dusty villages and into the capital city of Ghana, Accra.

Take the heat, the absolute requirement of patience, the woeful smile of a child, the stern eye of an elder. The smells, the joy of feeling like I belong, and then the realization that I don’t and won’t ever. The hierarchy that guarantees I am ushered to the front of the line is also the same hierarchy that says a woman eats when her husband tells her to. The authority, the guns, the covert bribes exchanged between the tro tro-driver and police along the way. All of it close and personal and again, to my eyes, gloriously disastrous.

Am searching for meaning, for connections to this place during our few final days here. I am anxious to return to Canada but not ready to let go of the adventure and my final tro-tro ride quite yet.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Leaving Ghana

Wednesday September 12, 2007

It goes swiftly now, faster than words can be wrapped. In Accra on the day of departure with too many ideas in mind, I cannot hold. I can only let them flow, now, and maybe later write epilogues of all the things that did not get written.

Such thinking shifts my brain into list mode. I didn’t write a blog yet about my trip on Lake Volta, although the Calgary Herald took a story; haven’t written about our voodoo wedding, although that will make a good column in the Yukon News; adventures in Togo are still waiting for the pen. But we have run out of time.

To London tonight. Sometimes I thought this moment would never come, but it is upon us. This time tomorrow we’ll be in the UK, heading to my cousin Katherine’s home.

We carry with us more than we came with, and not all our belongings can be seen. The simple truth is that this place — this African nation, this Ghana, this place where we lived — has affected us in unforgettable, inexplicable, unexpected ways. Neither of us will ever be the same.

But isn’t that the way of life? The people we meet and the places we visit make their mark on our memory, and we bring them along.

Now it’s time to pack these things in our little room at the Beverly Hills Hotel in central Accra. Get everything together for the afternoon drive out to the airport, then ask the manager if we can keep our things here past check-out. Then once more into African streets.

Some goodbyes we’ve said, some we’ve yet to say. But it’s the hellos I look forward to most, now.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Leaving Kumasi (Part 2)

September 3
Axim, Ghana

The list wasn’t long but a few people I had to see in order to make a good clean break with Kumasi. I had a good connection with all of them.

I arranged their names not in priority but by geography. I promised Lynnette, a girl who works a small variety shop out at KNUST campus where we lived for seven weeks, that I would print her a couple photos of the Volta Region, part of her country she’d never seen. I like keeping such promises, and it so happened I was headed out there anyway, to see Michel.

Michel’s a friend I made covering the Ghana@50 celebrations six months ago. He’s an engineering student at KNUST and an active Christian evangelist. We managed to stay off religion but talked a lot instead on politics and Ghanaian life.

I left Michel on the tro-tro when I got off at Children’s Park, which is part of Asokwa Trish and I walked through many times, she more than I. I put in a call to Bontai, a reggae DJ working nearby and made a date for later, to drop off a CD I made for him called ‘G-Mac’s White Boy Mix.’

Hells Bells
And Justice For All
The Witch
Sure Shot
Guerrilla Radio
The Kids Aren't Alright
46 and 2
Lounge Act
Give It Away 4:42
Fat Bottomed Girls
Sympathy for the Devil
Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1
Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2
Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 3

Bumped into White Man by good fortune.

He’s been shuffled off in recent weeks by the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly that employ the police to harass street-side vendors, to get them away from the areas the city is trying to beautify for the 2008 Africa Nations Cup, which will meet in January. White Man keeps getting in trouble for selling shoes across the street from Kumasi’s stadium. I gave him my sneakers to sell.

Saw Priscilla too, who does hair down the street from White Man. She and I always say hello, but she’s more Trish’s friend than mine and always asks where Trish is. That’s about the extent of her English, and Trish speaks much better Twi than I do.

Down the road to Silver Ring to bid farewell to Eman, the boys and the house we made home for five months here. But Eman wanted to find out if a couple of parcels we never received had come in the mail, and agreed to meet me at the post office the next day.

So I went to the Dish to wait for Sheriff and Bismark, two dudes we met at Silver Ring who have become friends. Smart guys in their mid-20s caught in a social caste that keeps them mopping floors when they should be studying at university. Bismark reads more than any other Ghanaian I met and I gave him several books. Sheriff is a good-natured no-shit guy who calls things the way he sees them, and wants us to find him a white Canadian wife so that some day his kids can have a better chance.

Likewise, the last thing Evans asked me was to find him a Canadian girl. Evans and his brother, Charles, are filmmakers in Kumasi who we got to know fairly well. Evans like to share his work with us — he’s made several feature films — and I never had to heart to tell him what I really thought, except that I don’t much care for the soap opera genre.

Bontai bailed on our meeting. That left it up to him to call me, and he never did.

Our final day dawned and priority one was to get my bicycle to Ado, the old man in Adum to whom I promised the bike. Had to get the tire and pedals fixed again first. I should be feeling some shame that I didn’t ride daddy pomco at all in the last two months, but I don’t. There comes a time when a man can no longer work with inferior equipment, and pomco was wrong on so many levels is was nothing but an inconvenient pain in the ass. Ado know this very well — he saw me every day I rode it or walked it to the British Council — but he wanted the bike anyway to rent to people in his village.

Eman and I met at the post office, but no dice. The generosity of out family will therefore default to Eman, who’s decent enough.

I forgot to meet with Kojo, who I used to call Crazy Man, this homeless dude who sits writing all day in Adum, preparing a civil liability court case. Ditto with Moses, who stuffs pillows in the cemetery. But I couldn’t see everyone.

Went out to the Jesus Café for some final emailing. Too bad Peter wasn’t there. So then to Brigina Catering for a final ho-down with Trish’s colleagues.

And now we’re at the Axim Beach Hotel, listening to the surf crash outside our door. Drove down with Christophe and Virginie and Eliot for the weekend. They left yesterday. We leave today.

It’s our last week in Africa and we’re saying goodbye and looking forward to what comes next. (G)

Leaving Luv

August 31
Kumasi, Ghana

Leaving a place is difficult, leaving when you know you probably won’t return even more so. The goodbyes at LUV FM were a little more poignant, the hugs fiercer and the desire to hang onto the memories stronger as compared to other goodbyes from workplaces, cities or communities.

Strange that just a few short eight months ago I couldn’t wait to leave this place; today I long for another week. Another week to understand, to help shed light on stories that eight months ago I knew so little about and to be part of a newsroom that I am proud to say I was part of.

I’ve been reluctant to share my day-to-day experiences at LUV FM and my general thoughts on working with Ghanaian journalists on these pages. It is the Internet, after all. Bizarre, shocking, hilarious and sometimes painful experiences happened during my time at LUV FM; these stories aren’t easily translated here, or perhaps anywhere, but rather will unravel with time. I’ve also been incredibly frustrated, disappointed and angered by much that I’ve witnessed both within the radio station I was placed and within the non-governmental organization that I was working for. Hasty blogs full of ranting is not the place for these musings.

Days at LUV FM were often hilarious: grown men who by night deliver live commentary on football games crooning with Celine Dion; entire mornings spent dancing or reading the paper; the irony with which one reporter typed a story about corruption and later accepted an envelope of cash from a high-ranking police officer. So too were days when I felt as if I had very little to do and no real purpose. Often the most I would do on those days was eat a bowl of fufu with a colleague.

The communication and frequent miscommunications are what I will remember.

The debates about a woman’s role in society; the show host who declared on air he’s never masturbated and to do so would be to sin against Jesus; and the ongoing Twi lessons (me saying I had sex with the king when I meant to say I at a rice dish with groundnut soup).

There was a randomness to my work that I will now relish. All newsrooms have fluidity, an urgency to report breaking news, but in Ghana the news is often so bizarre, it’s comical. The 13-year-old boy and his mother who brought hundreds of spectators into luv fm’s studios because a doctor claimed he had a “pot belly.” The doctor who refused to tell his patients they were HIV-positive because it made him (him!) feel uncomfortable and numerous stories on witchcraft and chieftancy disputes, which required a certain amount of patience and a flexible mind to understand. Stories that seemed comical on the surface were really just so foreign, all I could do was laugh to make sense of it all.

And then the randomness of not having running water (no toilet) or power, or the chickens running through the car park.

There were times that also weren’t so funny. The incidents of sexual harassment on my female colleagues were daily. I had to fight hard to carve a niche for myself – a white woman with a husband, no boyfriends thank you very much. I had to find the line between a culture that believes men are better than women and blatant sexual harassment. I had to fight for my own personal space but also be welcoming. I made a few enemies at LUV FM, but I made far more friends, dear friends some of them.

I have learned much from my Ghanaian colleagues. They say they’ve learned a lot from me. I have no idea. I do know I’ll miss the dancing, the heated debates on homosexuality and even the fufu lunches. (T)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Last Day in Kumasi

August 30, 2007
Kumasi, Ghana

Up before the roosters again today with thoughts of what comes next running through our minds. We cannot stop these runaway ruminations; sinking into unconsciousness each night is a fight that resumes a few hours later, when a sense of urgency about Life pulls us back. But that’s travel.

It’s the whirlwind that we opened ourselves to a year ago, when we picked Ghana and said ‘Why not?’ Trusting fate to deal us a fair hand we went to see how they do it on the other side of the world. Now, eight months later, maybe we know something we didn’t, even if that something is more about how little we know.

There will be two versions of this entry, mine and Trisha’s, but it’ll be up to her to publish the alternative version, for our experiences have been quite individual. I, for instance, have the luxury of a few moments now, at the start of the day, when she has left to walk to Luv and I have the salon chez Christophe to myself, to write some few things about the state of my being.

We’re back in the land of lists now, plotting heavily for our re-entry to the motherland. Prospects, there are always prospects, and options, but we are rapidly nearing the harvest, when we’ll stop sowing seeds of possibility and start reaping decisions. We never knew what we would do after touching down in Toronto again, and those unknown logistics occupy our waking minds. Then we make lists, some for the short term, others for the longer.

My list today starts with laundry. Gotta get things cleaned, now, while we have access to a bona fide washing machine (is THAT a treat). Planning to pack some bags that, ideally, will not be opened until London, two weeks from this time of writing. So the London clothes had best be clean.

Number two on my list is “To Blog.”

Then I’m off to Adum, the centre of this city we’ve called home for nearly eight months. Armed with the camera and my bicycle. Both have malfunctioned: the camera operates fitfully and I will keep it, while the bike is a singular disappointment and after getting a flat fixed for the umpteenth time and replacing the cheap plastic pedals that broke off once again, I will give it to Ado, my 80-year-old friend who sits outside the British Council.

Eman, the manager at Silver Ring where we stayed five months, has agreed to meet me at the post office to lean on those fuckers and find out what happened to a couple of packages that were sent to us and never arrived. After that I’ve got a date with Kejetia, Kumasi’s sprawling central market and transport hub. Got some photos to send on a bus to Yeji, and a quest for a poster tube.

Later on there will be time for some internetting at the Jesus Café — a few emails, questions to be answered about costs and schedules of travel in Canada as well as the States. Back to logistics, yes, but then tonight Trish is hosting a party for her colleagues at a restaurant down the road, where our fond farewell will continue.

And then the beach for a few days of decompression, reflection, more planning — can’t ever get away, it seems. Not from the mind, never. Time’s winding down but the blog, like the travels, ain’t done yet. (G)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Stepping out of African misconceptions

August 27, 2007
Kumasi, Ghana

*Step one (more to come)

The first time I wore high heels in Ghana I ended up chasing a story about a dead baby found in a Kumasi gutter. Despite the heels a colleague and I chased the story well: down back alleys, through people’s homesteads that spill out onto the streets and over and around heaps of garbage, their children and livestock. Somehow, I navigated in style.

Ghanaian women navigate similar if not more chaotic and muddy streets every day. For this and the way they dress with the shoes to match they deserve a round of applause (quiet pitter patter, runway style applause.) They are far more stylish than the average Canadian woman: a dashing pink belt with polka dot top, a pinstriped business suit with daringly high red heels or a camouflaged print with a fine black lace skirt. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so impressed, or rather surprised. Admittedly, before I came here I had no idea Ghanaian women would be so well dressed. I came with grubby tank tops and old jeans; ‘It’s Africa,’ I thought. But like so many preconceptions about Africa, I thought wrong.

Through the course of six months I’ve spiced up my wardrobe, as bleak as it may be, with shoes. They’re everywhere in this country. In markets they come in heaps. On streets they’re displayed on plastic tarps laid on the ground beside gutters and among the general clutter of life in Ghana. The secondhand shoe trade in Ghana employs thousands of people. The shoes are, as my friend and colleague Abena says, “works of art.” They are also cheap and irresistible.

I now have a shoe man. His name is Kofi and he knows I have an eye for Nine West shoes. He gets his shoes from the UK by boat. He, and he alone, has the power to release the shoes, pair-by-pair, or step-by-step if you will, from the crate. These are shoes that have danced: wedding shoes, prom slippers and fancy party high-heeled little numbers. These are the shoes that people buy, wear once and give to goodwill or something similar in the UK, and so feel good about themselves. That, or the person dies and their shoes, like everything else, are given away.

From the UK to Ghana, Kofi’s shop is the place to be on a Friday afternoon. Women arrive, spend hours trying on shoes, digging through piles, commenting, suggesting and encouraging. Recently I was told to sit and try on shoes that a woman thought would look good on me. I did. Later I returned the favour when a woman was looking for flats in size 41.

One person’s trash is truly another’s treasure. The shoes in Ghana are far from trash – they are inspiring, confidence building, expressions of creativity and ultimately a great addition to an already fine wardrobe. (T)