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 CafĂ© 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)