Monday, July 23, 2007

Pieces from Obuasi

July 17-19
Obuasi, Ghana

When I should have taken a picture

A small child, maybe three years old, squats atop a huge mound of garbage in a community near Obuasi, about an hour’s drive south of Kumasi. The mound is taller than the highest building in a 10-kilometre radius. People are selling oranges, meat pies at the base of the mound, and a mechanic shop spills out from the foothills of the heap. Meanwhile, the young girl is crouched. I watch her; she uses her left hand to wipe, somehow managing to balance herself atop layers of trash. I’m not the only one watching. A tin can’s throw from the girl sits a vulture about the size as her. We both watch. I walk away and the bird stays, no doubt hoping to claim its piece of paradise.


Mob justice – do you want my cell phone?
Am walking back to the guesthouse with a colleague when a crowd gathers in front of us. They’re yelling. It’s difficult to see what’s happening in the dark as I struggle for firm footing on a road that’s quickly turning into a mudslide. I hear screams that sound like a wounded animal. We stop and ask what’s going on and are told a young man was caught trying to steal a woman’s cell phone. “It’s not that serious,” my colleague says, pushing me on. “They won’t kill him.” Is that supposed to be a relief?

Where am I?
Ama, 17 years old, strips naked and sings. We watch from a distance and a staff member of the Pentecost Prayer camp is instructed to clothe her and tell her to calm down. There is an oboruni visitor, says the pastor.

Later Ama’s mother explains that her daughter ate cake that had a concoction in it, a mixture of juju (aka voodoo) and cocoa, and that’s what made her “mad.” Ama is in chains; she clings to me, calls me her friend. She speaks in Twi, her voice shakes and she tugs at the chain on her ankle.

Another girl, visibly mentally handicapped, flails her arms, moans to communicate and cries out when people approach her. She’s eight and wants to move freely but can’t.

A man who uses a blue plastic bucket as a drum becomes tired and folds himself onto the hard cement floor.

He unwraps scraps of paper from the cloth that he uses as a shirt. He says this is his cash and extends his hand asking for a thousand cedis. “Give me thousand, thousand,” he says.

The pastor prays, hands in the air. Women surround him, murmuring “Jesus, Jesus,” competing to be heard over each other’s voices. Adding to the din are the disabled girl, who keeps moaning and the chained man who keeps chanting, “thousand cedis, thousand cedis.”

Destitute and depressing

A 100-year-old Ghanaian man looks a lot like a tree trunk; gnarled but somehow strong. The 100-year-old man I met recently is living at what the government calls a home for the destitute. The owner calls the man an ‘inmate.’ His eyes belie his situation and tell a story that upon a hurried, sideways glance looked desperate. I averted my eyes wanting to respect both his age and his Muslim beliefs.

He, a man who had a stroke 12 years ago, and a blind mentally handicapped boy whose family left him at a bus stop a few months ago are classified as Ghana’s destitute. Living amongst them is 70-year-old Ernest. White, British, wealthy and married to a Ghanaian woman half his age who works at the home. We meet, he extends a hand, that same hand later gropes his wife, his wife’s sister and anyone else who comes within reach. He, unlike the rest of the ‘inmates’ chooses to live here. (T)

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