Culture in Transition


An old friend stopped by the African Rainbow a few days ago, driving his good old trusty Citroen sedan. It was wonderful to catch up on each other’s news – he lives in the Eastern Region and he and his wife have been operating a community kindergarten for some time. We also share an interest in cars, and he was showing me some of the electrical “challenges” that he has been facing with his car. As we walked around the vehicle, I spotted the decal pasted on the boot. It struck me that it represents a wonderful approach to life and so I thought I would share it with you.

The Last Sunset of 2009

Sunsets near the equator are always a rushed affair – one minute the sun is there in the sky, and if you take your attention of it for a second, the next thing you know, it is gone. It is Universe’s way of reminding us to stay focused on the issues that we consider to be important and to be open to the unexpected.

I almost missed this shot yesterday because I had not given it my full attention. A short time earlier, my youngest daughter, who lives in East Africa, suggested that the last day of the year would present a wonderful photo opportunity, with the sun setting just as the full moon was rising.

Seizing her suggestion, I went to the rooftop, camera and tripod in hand, about 20 minutes before 6:00p.m. A lovely red sun was sliding towards the western horizon, with pink clouds adding dramatic effect, and initially I thought I could capture the event without the aid of the tripod. I took a few shots (one which I have posted) and then decided the tripod would provide a better platform for those last few rays from the sun. By the time I attached the camera and extended the legs of the tripod, those lovely pink clouds had utterly obscured the sun and I completely missed those last rays which I had been intending to capture.

The Full Moon ushering in the New Year

The Universe has many ways of influencing the way in which we experience our lives. Once the sun had set, I turned my attention to the moon. The Harmattan intervened, and prevented me from seeing the moon rising above the horizon.  The moon only became apparent an hour or so later after it was well on its nightly ride across the sky. Once again, it was Universe’s way of instructing me to embrace the unexpected – the anticipation of seeing the new moon on New Year’s Eve was certainly not lessened because I could not see it when I thought I would, but rather it made me more appreciative when it was possible. Thank you, Universe.

Blessings to all. Happy New Year.

Today I connected with a new Facebook friend, Bee Bronson, who posted an item in her blog http://undergroundcoyote.blogspot.com/ about something that she witnessed at her home near Berkeley, California. It reminded me of an incident that I witnessed three years ago here in Ghana. Here is the account that I wrote at the time:

Last Friday, I took people to Accra to catch their flight back to Canada. On the way I passed through a road construction area. There were three large trees beside the road and the bulldozers had cleared the area around them. I remembered these very old trees and that section of the highway from the time when I used to ride my motorcycle from the Western Region of Ghana to the capital city, Accra in the early ’70’s – it was always one of the high points of the trip – one could sense the power and wisdom of those old trees, visible for several miles in the distance, acting like sentinels guarding their domain of scrub and bush on the coastal plain as they had for likely the past hundred years or more.

I returned on Saturday from Accra and the traffic was stopped at the same place on the road. From my vantage point, it was quite apparent what was going on ahead. A dozer and an excavator had been assembled at the site – two of the trees were already down, and those of us in the line-up watched as the third one was pushed over. The dozer charged at the base of the tree while the excavator used its bucket to push high up on the trunk. The tree did not give up without a struggle – finally its roots could hold no longer and it tilted over and slowly came crashing down. As the main trunk hit the ground, the larger limbs snapped under their own momentum, and the tree lie there, broken, like a slaughtered animal, looking up at the sky in shock and bewilderment.

I felt a sharp pain in my chest and experienced a deep sense of loss at that moment. I wondered if anyone else on the road who witnessed the event shared my feelings.

I had recently been reading Patrice Somme Malidoma’s book “Ritual”, in which he discussed the connection that his people in Burkina Faso feel for their natural surroundings. Malidoma’s condemnation of the “Machine” culture of the Western world was ringing in my ears at that moment and I wondered if there are enough people left who can still “feel”. It was tradition, and still is for those who practice it, amongst the Plains Cree where I grew up in western Canada to make an offering to a tree that they were about to harvest, asking the Tree Spirit for forgiveness for their action, and explaining their understanding that the Creator had placed the tree there for their use, and thanking the Spirit of the tree for its life. It was a matter of respect for nature and the earth mother.  I have seen similar rituals performed here in Ghana when traditional herbalists are collecting the various ingredients for their medicines, but increasingly this does not happen as Ghanaian society follows the West in its quest for “development”.

While the human race tries to define “progress” and “development”, we often forget the trade-offs. I am quite certain that the engineers who were re-building that highway could have found some way to route it around the trees, providing an momentary blessing for travelers as they passed by. The presence of those trees would have reminded them of the bounty and the beauty that the Universe has provided. No doubt the “budget” would not allow such an expense, and so the trees had to go.

Yes, I guess I am a ‘tree hugger”. My father and my grandfather both planted trees on our farm, and I continued in that tradition, planting and tending trees on the farm on which I lived in Canada, and also on my small farm here in Ghana. Today when I read Bee’s dismay at the loss of “her” trees, I felt a connection with her, as well as gratitude to know that I am not alone. We must then be grateful to those who do still feel. It is not easy to be optimistic as we watched the environmental degradation that continues around the globe, but we have no choice. To give up is not an answer and so we all move on the best we can. 2010 – here we come…

Anansi chooses his steps very carefully

There is a cautionary tale being played out in the inner courtyard, just a few yards from where I am sitting. A very large and very colourful spider has cast a web and is busy luring in his/her prey. Two butterflies and an undetermined number of other insects have been caught and the wings dangle from the web like forlorn skeletons swinging aimlessly on a thread.

Anansi (the Twi word for spider) is known as the trickster, and he/she is very adept with his/her words. He/she is a charmer, conjuring up lovely images to draw his/her audience in, all the while plotting ways in which his/her personal situation will be advanced. He/she weaves his/her web with great dexterity, knowing which strands are safe for him/her to walk on and which to avoid. Beware Kweku Anansi, masterfully setting a trap for the naïve and innocent. He/she comes in many forms, as politician on the podium, as pastor at the pulpit, as lover in the lovenest.

Kwabena Nyarko

The African Rainbow Resort was blessed with serendipity when it opened in December 2002. The walls in the dining room and bar were bare and our decorating budget was exhausted. Just about that time, a young artist from Takoradi was looking for places to display his art work. He brought some samples to show us and right away a relationship was formed. Since that time, Kwabena Nyarko has gone on to display his work in various prominent locations in Ghana. He has gained widespread acclaim, within Ghana and abroad, and he has become a well recognized artist of growing repute.

Recently, on the opening of West Coast Wine Outlet at the African Rainbow, Kwabena was invited to display a selection of his paintings in the flower gardens. Fishes swirled through the bushes and gathered along the walls. It made for a very colourful afternoon, highlighted by the presence of the artist himself.

To see more of Kwabena’s work, go to http://www.crossgalleryghana.com. Or stop by his gallery in nearby Azani. You can also reach him by e-mail fishgallery_99@yahoo.co.uk and by phone +233(0)20-9306202 or +233(0)277-459992.

Back in Africa, and happy to be home. It was great to visit friends and family; to return to harvest fields in Saskatchewan; to experience three out of four Canadian seasons in the space of two months; to be inspired with new ideas and future projects.

And this is your heads up, folks – stay tuned as plans  evolve for a coming together of First Nations people in the Home of All Nations. 2011… the intention has been set; the countdown begins.

Northern Cree

Red Bull Singers

Red Bull Singers

Poundmaker Singers

Poundmaker Singers

Sign above the door to a local drinking establishment

Sign above the door to a local drinking establishment

I have been a bit slow since our evening of salsa dancing on the Rooftop of the African Rainbow, but there is something from Saturday afternoon’s presentation that keeps coming back to me. It is time for me to wade into a topic which has been weighing on me for some time.

On the weekend, our hotel hosted an awareness creating conference on the topic of prostate cancer. One of our guests is a medical doctor specializing in cancer research and treatment, with emphasis in the sphere of public health. During his presentation, he compared the availability of information and treatment for breast cancer, which is only experienced by women, with that of prostate cancer, which is only experienced by men. The doctor told us that the National Health Insurance Scheme of Ghana provides payment for treatment of breast cancer but not for prostate cancer.

The doctor went further to talk about the reasons for the discrepancy between these two treatments. He spoke about the way in which the concept of “women’s empowerment” has left men in a disadvantaged position, and for no reason other than the fact that they are men. The example of prostate cancer illustrated the doctor’s point.

The concept of “women’s empowerment” is a western idea, and one which grew out of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. This was a time of the Peace Movement and a time when “people of colour” were pushing forward their rights, particularly in North America. As a naïve and idealistic socialist, I was a strong supporter of all of these causes. It was clear to me that men and women had equal rights, just as people of all races and sexual orientations were entitled to be treated with those same equal rights.

In a similar way that Christianity made its way to this continent, well-meaning people brought the women’s liberation movement to Ghana. Those people came with views based on the perspective with which they were familiar – i.e. a western context. As a result, it is currently in vogue in “development circles” to address “gender equity” when foreign aid packages and programs are being decided. In fact this has become so much the case that issues which address community as a whole are often given little or no consideration, in preference for those which purport to enhance “women’s empowerment”.

In anticipation of the daggers of indignation being drawn, let me hasten to say that I am all in favour of women’s empowerment BUT with one proviso. Let us ensure that the empowerment of women is accompanied by the empowerment of men, as well as that of children. Let us recognize that empowerment of one segment of society at the expense of another is not empowerment at all but rather a form of that which we are trying to rid ourselves and that is colonization and enslavement.

When I read about foreign NGO’s and aid agencies talking about the way in which this or that project which they have undertaken is going to “empower women and children”, I smile to myself and think about Kejetia and Makola and Fumso and Bolgatanga and Agona Nkwanta and Kasoa and all the other markets, big and small, in Ghana. When walking through any one of those places of commerce, it is clear where the power lies. Yes, perhaps the western business world may still be dominated by men, but in the marketplace, it is women who rule.

And so before we leave the topic, let us return to the issue of treatment for men’s prostate cancer. Let us here in Ghana not be led astray by the western world. Let us remember that women make up half of the population while men make up the other half, and let us ensure that equality and empowerment is practised in all directions. Remember, men and women, we are all in this together – if we are all sisters, let us acknowledge that we are also all brothers. Let us also ensure that policies which are made in Africa and Ghana are based on an African and Ghanaian context and not one from the western world.

No Shaking

In a recent blog post I exposed a problem that was experienced by an American tourist as he was departing through Kotoko International Airport. The incident involved the improper actions of three Immigration Officials. Several readers have requested that I provide a follow-up to that incident, and I am pleased to relate this reaction from one representative from the Government of Ghana.

Yesterday I forwarded to the Deputy Minister of Tourism a copy of a letter which outlined the incident. In a very quick response (less than five hours after transmitting the message), the Deputy Minister called me to learn more details and to let me know that he shared my concern. He assured me that he will request a meeting with the Head of Immigration in order that the matter be properly investigated and rectified. Wonderful! This is precisely the response which is required. This is the kind of action which will keep our country moving forward.

There are two other sides to this incident which I would like to bring up. Two years ago I submitted my application to the Ministry of Interior to become a naturalized citizen of Ghana. That application has been in the hands of Immigration officials since that time, and I have been assured that the processes will soon be completed. I confided in a friend yesterday that I have been somewhat reluctant to push the issue of the Kotoko incident too far because I did not want to jeopardize my application. He correctly pointed out to me that “no country is worth becoming a citizen of if you have to compromise your values in order to gain citizenship”.

My friend went on to point out that we all have a responsibility as citizens to speak out when we see situations which are not correct. Failure to do is the way in which countries cease to be ruled by just and transparent laws. Of course he was right, and the response from the Deputy Minister has allayed any concerns which I may have harboured. No doubt those in charge of the Immigration Service will also wish to see this problem solved because they do not want the actions of the officials of a few to reflect badly on the Service as a whole.

There is yet another aspect of what has unfolded and it is this: in the 8 years since I returned to Ghana to make it my home, I have witnessed a profound change in attitude in many of the government agencies with which I have dealt. I have seen men and women acting out of a sincere sense of responsibility and with professionalism and self-confidence. These people are a new generation of bureaucrat, people who are of a generation younger than my own (I am now 61), people who do not exhibit the attitudes which we used to have to endure in dealing with anything of an official nature in the early 1970’s when I first came to Ghana.

It is this new generation, as exhibited by the Deputy Minister and many others in agencies as diverse as Immigration, Internal Revenue and Education, who will move this country forward. These people in turn rely on the citizens of Ghana, each of us, to act as guardians of our working democracy by always keeping them on their toes. Let us all take our share of shaking things up when things need shaking.

Stay tuned, for more updates on the incident at Kotoko, and on my application for citizenship.

Obama is coming - will he be allowed to leave?

Obama is coming - will he be allowed to leave?

Recent media coverage has given a lot of attention to the hopes which have been attached to the visit of President Obama to Ghana. This week, the Minister of Tourism, Mrs. Juliana Azuma-Mensah spoke about the positive impact of the President’s visit, and she  once again reiterated the importance of tourism to the economy of the country.

Meanwhile the reality that faces some of the tourists who are already in the country has illustrated that there is more work to do in areas other than cleaning up the town of Cape Coast. On Tuesday, four days before the arrival of President Obama, one of our guests, also American, went through a harrowing experience at Kotoko International Airport when he was catching his flight to return to the United States. This man had a valid multiple entry visa which had recently been updated when he traveled to Cote d’Ivoire and re-entered Ghana. He was returning to the United States after spending considerable money during his stay in Ghana, and was planning to return at some future time for repeated visits.

Immigration Officers pulled him aside in the Airport and accused him of being in the country illegally. He showed them his American passport and valid visitor’s visa, but to no avail. After being threatened that he would be put in jail, and with the fear that he miss his flight which was soon boarding, the gentleman offered the officials a payment. After much argument in which they requested a larger sum, they finally accepted $300 and allowed him to board the plane. He left Ghana, traumatized by his experience, and firmly convinced that he will never return to this country.

The Minister of Tourism has recently referred to the Obama visit, stating, “Ghana must hang out all her best wares to be captured by the cameras to enhance our domestic earnings for economic growth.” It is clear that there are some Immigration Officials at Kotoko International who are taking the Minister’s pleas quite literally – they are ensuring one of two things:

  1. They have enhanced the domestic earnings of the Immigration Service by collecting this additional fee

OR

  1. They have enhanced their personal earnings for their own personal economic growth.

Is this the experience that the Minister wishes to be captured by the cameras?

Is this the thank you that the Government of Ghana is offering to American citizens who have come to this country to spend money? Perhaps  the Minister should turn her attention to matters other than some of the short term window dressing on which her government has suddenly and lavishly spent money if she is sincerely devoted to increasing tourism revenue for this country.

This is not the first time that we have heard of these kinds of incidents at Kotoko. It is imperative for the Government of Ghana to take seriously the issues that beset potential tourists who experience difficulties in getting visas to come to the country, and even more importantly, it is time for the Government of Ghana to ensure that the lasting impression of Ghana that a tourist has is one created  by their positive experience while in the the country  instead of an incident such as the one which our guest experienced this week at the last point of exit – involving greedy Immigration officials at Kotoka International Airport.

Prairie Steel Products, Clavet, Saskatchewan

Prairie Steel Products, Clavet, Saskatchewan

Occasionally incidents make us aware of the way in which we are all interconnected on this globe we call the Earth. Actions, large and small, taken in one place will have effects that we often don’t anticipate. Global warming is perhaps the most ominous example.

Other times, we see the connections and they give us a “feel good” sense of belonging to the larger community of mankind. Recently I snapped this shot. A citizen of Dixcove was walking the road which connects his village to our village of Busua. He was happy to have something to keep the hot sun off his head, and I was happy to enjoy a connection to my home province of Saskatchewan. Greetings to the good people in the little village of Clavet, with a special hello to those who work for Prairie Steel Products.

Dixcove, Ghana meets Clavet, Canada

Dixcove, Ghana meets Clavet, Canada

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