Culture in Transition


NO WHERE COOL

I “snapped” this lorry one day in 1972 when passing through the coastal town of Elmina. I expect that this slogan could be a favorite of tourists visiting from temporate climes as well as politicians who may find themselves in the hot seat for any number of reasons!

BECAUSE OF MONEY

“Sika Asem” is a common expression in Ghana. Money matters. In other parts of the world people might claim that “money is the root of all evil” but in the Ghanaian marketplace, SIKA (money) is what makes the world go round.

In this scene outside the Half Assini Market in 1973, we see women negotiating prices for their commodities (smoked fish and yams) and a mammy lorry waiting to carry them home with their wares.

The Poor Shall Rise

This lorry sat on the side of the street for the entire time that I lived in Half Assini in the Western Region of Ghana, from 1971 to 1973. I was told that it was waiting for repairs which was not surprising since that was a time when vehicle parts were very much in short supply in the country. The roadside fitters were (and still are) very adept at finding ways of keeping vehicles on the road, often fabricating replacements from a variety of unlikely sources. At times, even their ingenuity encountered situations which were impossible to remedy without original parts. The effect was to leave drivers and their mates without jobs; the lorry owner unable to earn anything for his investment; and villagers with one less means to get to market.

I have been particularly fond of the slogan on this lorry because it speaks to the indefatigable faith that so many people exhibit when faced with hardships. In spite of continuing challenges, the village people of Ghana continue to demonstrate that faith, and in that I find a great deal of inspiration.

My CUSO experience began two years before my posting to teach in Ghana in September of 1971. It started when I attended regular meetings of the local CUSO committee on campus at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, listening to the experiences of RV’s, discussing the pros and cons of various development approaches, gaining a better awareness of development issues in the world.
It continued after my return in 1973, again attending meetings (irregularly because I did not live in the city), and maintaining contact with other RV’s, following up on issues that pertained to the organization. Like most who had gone through the CUSO experience, I valued it as a life-changing one, and I wanted to repay it. I made financial contributions, initially rather modest based on my financial ability, and increasing as my circumstances improved.
Then the CUSO office in Saskatoon was closed. The local committee ceased to function. I felt that CUSO’s supporters in Saskatchewan had been marginalized. I continued to make my contributions, but I did so begrudgingly. In 2001, I left Canada and returned to Ghana to take up permanent residency in that country. My contributions ceased – I turned my financial resources towards development issues that I personally encountered in Ghana. Contact with CUSO also ceased.
This summer I have been visiting in Saskatoon. My name was added to an e-mailing address with SCIC and through it I learned of the recent CUSO meeting in Saskatoon, held to inform potential volunteer applicants about CUSO-VSO, followed by a get-together with CUSO RV’s. I attended the meeting.
Several observations came out of that experience. There were only a handful of barely interested people who attended the first part of the meeting, and only a slightly larger number of RV’s who showed up for the potluck supper which followed. These numbers are in stark contrast with the numbers of enthusiastic RV’s and potential volunteers and financial supporters who attended similar events during the 70’s and 80’s.
I was not surprised. The level of dissatisfaction here in Saskatchewan with the direction that CUSO took when the regional offices were closed continues to impact upon the interest, or rather, lack of interest, in the organization. An analysis of numbers would most certainly show the disproportionately high number of recruits that Saskatchewan placed overseas during the time up until CUSO closed the office in Saskatoon. If the recent meeting I attended is any indication, that niumber must be greatly reduced. It would be interesting to also know how the level of financial contribution compares – has that also dropped off?
It appears that CUSO has not kept in touch with the large base of people who at one time supported it in a very significant way. Some of the RV’s at the Saskatoon meeting were shown a list of RV’s for Saskatchewan. The list was a long one, not surprisingly, and it was particularly noteable because it was so obviously out of date. At a time when communication has become much easier, it would appear that CUSO RV’s have chosen not to maintain contact with the organization which most would agree has had a profound impact upon their lives.
It is not my intention to revisit decisions that were made in the past. I was not privy to those decisions or the discussions that went into reaching them and there is little to be gained by rehashing old issues. However, it does seem to me that the organization, now with the amalgamation with VSO, may well benefit from reconsidering past decisions.
We should not underestimate the many positive effects created through the maintenance of regional CUSO offices and their associated local committees. The Saskatoon office operated on a shoestring budget, relying heavily on voluntary help from the people who made up the local committees. The ongoing involvement of these volunteers evoked valuable commitments from these individuals. It generated awareness in the public of development issues and of the activities of the organization. In addition, it also attracted the financial contributions of these committed individuals and those with whom they had contact and ensured a steady stream of potential recruits.
This is in stark contrast to the current approach that the organization is taking. One “Public Engagement Officer” is expected to somehow “engage the public” in the four Canadian prairie provinces single handedly, and if that were not enough, she now is expected to also “engage the public” in Alaska and a sizeable part of the Western United States of America!!! It is not surprising that she has only made it to Saskatchewan on two occasions in five years – she is, after all, only one person. It is also not surprising that the “public” did not show up at the meeting, or that there is very little awareness of an organization which, in the past, had become almost a household name in the province.
Most certainly the primary work of a development organization must, by definition, be done in the countries in which it has designated to be its target area. The question that comes to my mind is this: how much does the success of that work rely upon the support – political and financial and social – from its home base?
Times change – organizations also change. Nostalgia has little value. The Sankofa bird symbolizes for the Ashanti people in Ghana the importance of looking back at where we come from as we make our plans to move ahead. I would encourage those who sit on the Board of Directors of CUSO-VSO to give serious thought to ways in which RV’s and former CUSO supporters can be drawn back in and included in its operations rather than left to feel alienated.
RV’s from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s especially represent a considerable resource pool. Many are either retired or nearing retirement age and have accumulated valuable life and work experience. Some may consider being reposted, and they can provide valuable advice for projects that are being undertaken by the organization. In addition, most are in the best position of their lives to contribute financially. Here in Saskatchewan, I have the very distinct impression that this pool of resources is not being tapped and if that is the case, then it is at the loss to the organization.
This year’s anniversary provides a special opportunity to look at the past in order that the future can be improved. I will soon be returning to my home in Africa, and I wish the very best for CUSO-VSO as it maps out the course that it will take in the next 50 years. Nante yie (walk well).

“How did you walk with the elephants?” That was the question I was asked on Facebook recently in response to my post that I had walked with the elephants in Mole Game Park in northern Ghana. The question was posed by a Christian minister and that prompted me to give it more thought.

I suppose in a way, the question is easier answered for me because I am not constrained by the currently fashionable teachings of evangelical or charismatic Christianity. I was born into and raised in a Christian family, and was baptized as a baby long before I had any say in the matter. As soon as I left home after my high school, I dispatched with the restrictions of Christianity. Throughout my life I have found much more resonance in traditional spiritual beliefs, in my homeland in Canada with First Nations peoples and here in Africa with those who still adhere to their traditional beliefs. These are the ideas which have defined the core of my spiritual being and have reinforced a respect for the natural resources with which Spirit has blessed us.

This leads back to the question – how do we walk with the elephants? Well, we walk with them in the same way that we walk with the smallest ant that crosses our path, or the butterflies that unexpectedly flutter in and out of our space, or the birds that greet us each morning when we awake, or the spirits that inhabit the streams that provide us with life-sustaining water and the great trees and small plants that inhabit our forest and which cure our physical ailments.

There is a greater force running throughout all of these which sets in motion the circumstances that we encounter each day of our lives. It is up to each of us to make the choices which will be most advantageous to all, and therein lays the challenge for each of us. The blessing which our brother/sister elephants have given us  is this – through their size they capture our attention and force us to focus on the most fundamental questions of our existence in this sphere. Let us express our gratitude for these mighty beasts, and let us act in such a way as to ensure that they will be with succeeding generations to offer that lesson to them.

Check out this unique design.

Here is an opportunity for poets from Ghana to have one of their poems published in an anthology – see the notice below:

Submission Guidelines

RHYTHM INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION SOCIETY OF EDMONTON

SUN AND SNOW 2010 ANTHOLOGY

Please keep in mind the mission of Rhythm International Foundation of Edmonton when submitting your poem.


“It is our mission to make this world a more healthy, peaceful, creative, caring place to live, one project at at time, based on one or all of our objectives.”


This anthology is intended to promote creativity as well as a connection between African and Canadian writers/poets.   At the same time we are working towards raising money to help get water to the Dixcove Hospital which is located just outside Takoradi, Ghana, West Africa.  Money raised from the Anthology will go towards the Society and the Dixcove Project.  For any further inquires about Rhythm Foundation please email Michelle at terrian.mlb@hotmail.com.  Thanks for your participation!

WE ARE A NEWLY FORMED SOCIETY AND THIS IS OUR FIRST ANTHOLOGY AND PROJECT.  IF FOR SOME REASON WE DO NOT GET ENOUGH MEMBERS OR CONTRIBUTORS TO COMPLETE THE ANTHOLOGY THOSE POETS WHO HAVE BECOME PAID MEMBERS WILL HAVE THE OPTION TO HAVE THEIR MEMBERSHIP REFUNDED AND THEIR POEM RETURNED OR REMAIN ACTIVE WHILE WE CONTINUE TO WORK ON THE DIXCOVE HOSPITAL PROJECT FOR WHICH THEIR MEMBERSHIP WILL HELP WITH.


DEAR POETS;

Please read the POETRY SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS carefully.  IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO FOLLOW SO THAT YOUR POEM CAN SUCCESSFULLY BE SUBMITTED.   WE ARE A VOLUNTEER ORGANIZATION THAT PROMOTES CREATIVITY WHILE DOING GOOD WORKS AND WE DONT HAVE A GREAT DEAL OF TIME TO SPEND ON EDITING…..so please help us all do a good job by submitting correctly.

YOU are invited to submit one 30-line poem and one 75-word bio for the 2010 SUN AND SNOW Anthology. Each poem and bio together gets one page in the anthology.

Poems and bios that fail to meet the specifications for the anthology may need to be edited or worse may be rejected. Editing may unintentionally change the meaning of your poem or bio.  In order to have a poem in the anthology you should be a paid member of the Rhythm International Foundation Society of Edmonton, exceptions will be made for those Canadian or African poets who can not afford to contribute to membership but wish to help with the Dixcove project by submitting a poem as their contribution.  If space is limited then paid members will be chosen first.


INSTRUCTIONS:

Poems must have a title.

-Maximum length of poem allowed is 30 lines and this includes a one-line title and blank lines between stanzas. -Please don’t use double spacing as those spaces will be counted as lines.
-Maximum width of poem is 58 spaces
-Please do not SUBMIT your biography in broken-line form
-PLACE YOUR BIOGRAPHY RIGHT BELOW YOUR POEM, on the same page. USE YOUR NAME AS TITLE OF BIO – this will identify your poem.
-If you do not submit a bio, your bio will appear in the form – “WALT WRITER IS A CANADIAN OR AFRICAN POET.” (which ever the case may be)

TO SUBMIT via email…..send to;   rhythm_int@hotmail.com

If your poem and bio have no special formatting such as italics or bold, you may submit them in a plain-text email message. If they do have that kind of formatting, please submit them via email message set for HTML/rich-text formatting or use a Word attachment.

DEADLINE for poem and bio submission: APRIL 28 2010.

Recently I have been trying my hand at amateur videos. This is my most recent effort. Give me some feedback – like, dislike, technical advice, etc.

Anchored drilling rig in Sekondi Arbour

A strong harmattan morning was settled in over the coastal region of Ghana yesterday morning. This drilling rig has been anchored just outside the fishing harbour at Sekondi for many years. Its purpose, its origins, it futures are obscured from most of us, much like the rig itself in this photo. And like the the obscured rig, the various agendas of big business and local politicians are equally unknown to those of us who walk the streets and tend the farms and work the markets in this West African country. We have seen what has happened to other African countries which have the double-edged “blessing” of black gold, and we all hope for better things in our country. Yet each day’s newspapers carry stories about this discovery and that rumour and those promises… and we remain with our questions unanswered and our hopes yet to be fulfilled.

Be very certain

that

You can taste the salt air

in every snowflake that touches your tongue

and that

The energy that crumbled houses in Haiti

quivers in the foundation of your own home

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