Jul 9, 2012

Na Ka Kay? (Where Are You? or Holy Molé!)

"Forgive me, it’s been two months +/nine weeks/63 days since my last blog post."

I apologize for my slack attitude towards writing on this blog - there’s no excuse , but I’ll try and come up with a few ;)

Seeing as I never really planned on staying in Ghana past the end of April, I’ve been taking the last couple of months to settle more into day-to-day life. Less of the travelling, mass family functions and drum circles. More like sparingly tending to the huge garden, helping younger cousins with homework and hand washing my laundry (boo!).

I’ve been brushing up on my Hausa skills (not to pay the bills, unfortunately) and can genuinely carry on conversations with people. I can talk about things I like, places I've been, ask questions, give opinions … "Inna da chaw" (It's good!) 
Not too shabby; I deserve a Gold Star).

I’ve been a bit more focused on professional pursuits like locking down a job in Canada (for when this daydream ends), writing content for Youth Alive’s blog and documenting regional projects around the country. We've been busy organizing graduation ceremonies for our apprentices, helping set up their shops and providing financial literacy training. Peace marches and media conferences have also been held across our three operational regions as part of the Youth in Governance project to encourage and support peace during the 2012 election season.

I pretty much wrapped up spring by keeping my nose to the grindstone but my fingers have been itching to share some of the super interesting stuff that’s been going on lately. A wise man once said that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. That must have been what motivated our little detour on our last work-trip to Molé National Park. Molé is a wildlife reserve in Northern Ghana where the animals are free to roam and live protected, with few restrictions. We woke up at the crack of dawn to get there right after sunrise for a safari. I know that plays into the "My Trip to Africa” cliché, but it was still so amazing to see. 

Well-endowed elephant ;)
We saw families of antelopes, baboons and warthogs acting like they owned the place (technically, they kind of do). The highlight was definitely the elephants. They are massive! Although this was my second trip ever to Molé, it was still breathtaking. They appear to be so large, gentle and docile, but apparently our tour-guide Chris told us that they are the second fastest land mammal (for real) after the cheetah. Another fun-fact:  elephants (in Africa anyways) actually have black skin and only look grey because of the mud/muddy water that they bathe in. Really educational J According to him the last lion was seen in 2008, so we didn't see anything else too crazy. Now I have crocodiles, camels & elephants added to my list of animals I've come face-to-face with since I've been home.

The rainy season is also in full swing now and my ‘rents and bro have all come back to Ghana to join me for the summer! Needless to say I’m super excited and it’s been good catching up and falling into back into our  family dynamic. From watching old movies, to saving our house from flooding during the rains (only in Ghana) and cooking together; we've been doing your run-of-the-mill family stuff. After so much time apart I’m really grateful for the chance to hang out with them again. We've also got a few family weddings on the go in the next couple of months which should be quite the cultural experience – we’ll see how they compare to the funerals (I have a feeling there’ll be more similarities than differences).

'Til the next randomly exciting moment!
Shee-day anzuma (Later!)

Apr 17, 2012

Ka-sani yun-zune-ga (It's Official or Part 2 in a Series of Firsts)

The issue of my true Ghanaian-ness has been the topic of much debate amongst random strangers who hear my North American accent, so I was more than ready to jump at the chance to "perform my civic duty" and register to vote. Finally, I'd have a legit piece of ID I could whip out as proof that I belong! (despite not being able to speak a local language or cook a local dish - indicators of true African pride)!

Now I know it doesn’t sound all that exciting but this wasn’t just a matter of filling in some paperwork and signing my name on the dotted line … this was biometric registration! There was going to be technology involved – fingerprint scanning AND lamination, how could I say no? I couldn’t, so I went down to my nearest polling station which happened to be conveniently located five minutes from my house.

The rules for getting registered are pretty standard; any current form of government issued ID could be used to confirm your identity and information OR you could bring two newly registered voters to vouch for your identity.( I still find this concept incredibly interesting as it seems to impede the government’s efforts to discourage non-Ghanaians and those who are not of voting age to participate in the general elections, but that’s a tangent for another time :)). With the relevant information a government official fills out details like name, age, DOB, address as well as both parents’ names before directing you to the “biometric station”.

First, you're welcomed to the fingerprint station where they employ the 4-4-2 system . So they scan the four fingers of the left hand, four fingers of the right and then both thumbs. I’ve only ever seen “bad guys” get their fingerprints taken on TV and it always looks as though the scanners are extremely sensitive and barely require any pressure to be applied on the screen – NOT THE CASE. I felt like a criminal AND a bit of an incomp when I had to go through the process twice to obtain a full scan of my fingerprints. It was pretty impressive to see a copy of my “unique” prints on the computer screen though.

Next, was the photo, le sigh. It doesn’t seem to matter how much preparation goes into attempting to looking good for a piece of government issued ID, it just never turns out as well as its supposed to. Just as I sat down to have my picture taken and asked the guy if I could smile, he smugly informed me that he had already taken it. I look offended or bored in the picture, which makes me wonder if I always appear that way :/ 

I'm also really fortunate that the polling station I registered at didn't experience any disruptions or violence (particularly from the youth) due to inter-party conflict. Hopefully the peace and tolerance observed during this first step in the electoral process is a sure sign of good things to come. Youth Alive's governance campaign geared at the youth has been gaining momentum mainly in the Upper West Region by educating and encouraging peaceful participation.

As the registration process comes to an end May 5th I'm thankful that things have gone smoothly thus far. I’m glad that I got to participate in a new system that hasn’t even hit North America yet :p – let’s just hope having my fingerprints on file with the government doesn’t come back to haunt me :)

PS I apologize for the lack of photos (i.e. NONE) but I didn't think it would be apropos to take pics at the registration station or to have "government issued ID" on display for the world :)

More visuals next time!

Apr 5, 2012

Mma (Mother or Part 1 in a Series of Firsts)

How is it mid-April already?
So far this month has been filled with a few interesting firsts.
I spent April Fool’s Day attending an event 33 years in the making …
My grandmother’s funeral!
No joke (there’s no punchline)

In Ghana it’s not unheard of for families to put off a funeral and then have a big, en mass one to acknowledge the death of a group of people. My maternal grandmother (mom’s mom) passed away about 33 years ago, and now her side of the family (based in the Upper East Region/Bolga area) was ready to have a ceremony to commemorate her and her only brother (my great grand-uncle?!). Although at the time, a funeral was held in the house where my grandmother was married, her side of the family wouldn’t have had much of an opportunity to be part of the process  given the state of communication and transportation in rural Ghana 30+ years ago.

Unfortunately for the short timing, not all of the children were able to attend. I went, repping my mom, along with six of my aunts and uncles. In true Ghanaian fashion we roadtripped it up North to Bolga in a tro-tro that stalled and started rolling backwards on more than one occasion. Thankfully we made it in one piece. For me it was a chance to see my mom’s oldest brother, my uncle Dan (55) and so now I can say I’ve officially seen all 14 of my aunts and uncles since arriving in January (I should get a prize).

The delegation - mom's six siblings & their aunt

Main compound
We did the traditional jaunt of meandering between huts and greeting relatives that I can barely trace. The most memorable part of the trip was actually seeing my great-grandfather’s house where my grandmother was raised. Despite all the development in the area the house was still as traditional as ever – thatched roofs, no electricity or running water – old school . We even slept in the main compound that night, underneath the stars (which sounds like the biggest cliché ever).

Shared wall
Retatching the roof

They say the course of true love never did run smooth, it apparently had a lot to do with proximity because we also got the privilege of walking over a mile (fun right?) to the house where my great-grandmother lived in (my great-great grandfather’s house) before she got married and had my g-ma (long family line, I know!).

View of g-ma's ma's house
Sacrificial altar near the exit

Old school kitchen
My grandmother’s cousins (58) still lived in the house and were able to tell us stories about her and how clearly they remember the day they heard the news about her passing.

Two generations of uncles (Left, my uncle. Right, his uncle)

Another of grandma's cousins

Funerals in Africa are never a bleak affair and thus we began at the crack of dawn with the 3Ds – drinking, drumming and dancing. Young and old, the entire community came out to pay their respects. The “funeral house” was packed with people as the drumming processions came in waves and the local brew of pito was fresh and flowing a-plenty.

Pito being brewed the good ol' way with millet
Drumming procession 1
Drumming procession 2

Older relatives dancing for offerings

Even though I’ve never met my grandmother I felt extremely honored to be able to participate in and be a witness to the celebration of her life. I feel like we have a special bond because I was the first grandchild to be named after her; Hawa. For this reason my aunts and uncles all call me “Mma” which means “Mother” in Hausa. I'm so proud that I get to rep my grandmother’s memory and the name we share (which is really my middle name, p.s.) forms such a part of my identity; the person I am and who I hope to become.

I write this for my mother, to her mother; where words fail us, rituals & timeless traditions will bring us back together.