I was at the Illustrators’ Workshop when I found out Atta Mills passed away. There was a period of confusion when my colleagues and I thought that it was a rude online joke and slowly realized it was real. One by one the illustrators began to find out and discuss what Ghana would be like now. The topic on everyone’s lips now is the vice-president, and how he will handle the transition. Mills passed away of illness at 37 military hospital, which is right near my house. Coming home from the workshop there was tons of traffic. I took a taxi later that night and got an interesting perspective on the event from my driver. I asked him what he thought of Mills as a president. The driver told me that with the previous president he had been able to run his own business, but with Mills the private sector went down, the cedi was devalued, and now he’s a taxi driver. Yet, I’ve heard conflicting accounts of his presidency and am not sure what to think right now. Regardless, this will be a rough next few months as Ghana transitions to a new president and prepares for the upcoming elections. Mahama was sworn into presidency last night, a few hours after Mills died. So far, things have been relatively calm; I hope they continue to be so as a nation pays tribute to their late democratic leader. Rest in peace, Atta Mills.
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I can’t write a blog about my experience in Ghana without writing about music. Music here has come to represent a microcosm of the Ghana’s larger cultural identity. A few weekends ago I traveled with a few friends to visit the botanical gardens in Eburi, a village not far from Accra. On the way back, we (of course) got stuck in traffic, and my friend gave our car a music lesson. He explained that growing up everyone listened American hip hop. Then local young artists began composing their own beats, which others would adopt and a whole slew of similar-sounding songs were born. Now people have started listening to more local music and integrating it with new age melodies and rhythms.
But what is local music? This is a hot topic of discussion in the culture scene. A few weeks ago I attended what’s called the Talk Party series. Periodically, at a cafe in Osu- the ‘downtown’ of Accra, a panel gathers in front of an audience of Accra’s young, eager intellectuals and facilitates a discussion on a set topic. The topic of the session I attended was “Money, Power, Sex”, and the conversation made its way to music. Hiplife is the most well-known style which integrates local music- highlife- and western styles- namely hip hop. One of the speakers pointed out that although highlife is revered for being local, it is in fact a derivative of western Jazz styles. Yet, jazz is a hybrid out of Africa. It boils down to the identity of the African countries are entangled with their history as colonies, which is a sort of trite conclusion at this point.
What I’ve seen the younger generation doing here is instead of looking back towards the past for their identity, they embrace their current quirky mix of old and new, local and cosmopolitan elements of culture. I’ve recently become more active in the world of social media in Accra, and here this fervor is especially evident. I just ‘liked’ a new facebook page which has stormed my news feed. It’s called “The New Ghana”, and everyday there are a few posts of phrases or pictures that call upon people to dream big about Ghana’s future as a unique, modern nation. It’s really great to see people so motivated and proud of their country, and it makes me want to be a bigger part of it all. The only complaint I have of the campaign is sometimes they post photos of New York or Las Vegas, with the words “I had a dream that Osu looked like this.” It would be great for Ghana to get improved infrastructure, but I don’t think it should aim to be like the big Western cities- how boring would that be? There’s got to be a way for Ghana to be a contender on the global scene without conforming to Western norms.
p.s. Yesterday the Ghanaian president, Atta Mills, passed away. Expect a post on the event soon. May he rest in peace.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays after work I teach Bro. Joe, the caretaker of our office, how to use the computer. In exchange for lessons, we agreed that his wife would teach me to cook Ghanaian food. This Saturday was my first lesson. She took me to Malata market, where we loaded her bag with fresh produce, fish, and meats, and showed me how to prepare palm nut soup. I have never seen palm nuts before; they are bright red and about the size of an acorn. First, she cleaned and prepared several different types of dried fish and fresh meat and then crushed the palm nuts with pepper for the base of the soup. Cooking back home in the U.S. is considered somewhat of a posh activity for dainty housewives, but here cooking takes some serious strength. After my cooking lesson, I made my way over to the exhibition festival of Robin Riskin’s (HC ’12) organization, Nima: Muhinmanchi Art, at Kawukudi Park. The sun was out; and the park was buzzing with artists and kids painting a mural on the far wall, musical performances by the NMA artists, and general socializing and chatter. The festival was a definite success for a fellow Haverfordian.
Here are some photos documenting my Saturday:
International Board of Books for Young People Ghana and Golden Baobab organize a 9-Day Illustrators’ Workshop!
This workshop has been my life at work for the past few days. The goal of the workshop is to identify, nurture, and publicize Ghana’s top illustrators and connect them to a network of writers and publishers of children’s books. We hope that this will foster the growth of an interconnected literary community within Ghana and internationally across Africa. As we’ve been gearing up for the workshop, I have been struck by a few things about the art community:
- The talent. We are looking for the most talented children’s illustrators to apply, and one of the ways we’ve been reaching out to them is through facebook. It is amazing to me how many really young, talented artists are out there in Accra, but who are only known as artists within the network of their group of facebook fans. Hopefully this workshop will bring them into a live network of important connections.
- The enthusiasm. The arts appear to be growing in Accra, and the young generation seem to be embracing the arts above and beyond the generations before them.
- The intimate nature. The arts and cultural community of Accra is very close knit. Maybe that’s how it is everywhere, and I’m only realizing it because I’m more involved here than I have ever have been in the states. Nonetheless, Accra is a big city but often feels like a small town. Not only does everyone seem to know everyone else, but they seem to look for each other. I don’t know if I can explain it more; that’s the best way I know of putting into words what I have felt as I experience this community.
In other news, I’m halfway done with my internship. If you asked my housemates how I’ve changed since I’ve arrived, they’d say I have started to adopt the “Accra rhythm”. People here do not sit still. Every chance you are not at work is a chance to socialize and have a good time, whether it be going out for dinner or partying at one of Accra’s many clubs- especially when the weekend comes around. When I first got here, I balked a the prospect of going out on a weeknight- I had work the next day, jeez! But going out, meeting people and becoming a part of this vibrant community is worth being a little sleepy at work the next day. It’s the personal conversations I have had here that make this summer so interesting.
If you don’t have a car in Accra, there are two options for alternate transportation: taxi or trotro. A trotro is a bus, albeit smaller and more crowded than you would see in the states. I take a trotro to and from work everyday, and the characters and sounds surrounding the hustle and bustle of the morning commute never fail to entertain. There are a few random encounters, such as the guy with whom I had an in-depth conversation about washing clothes, and there are a few characters I see on a daily basis. They have become part of my routine. One such character is Audrey’s and my singing friend. At the trotro station, many venders approach your bus selling anything and everything. Our singing friend is a vender selling religious DVDs of young kids singing Christian songs. He plays the videos on a small DVD player and solemnly sings along with the kids. Early last week, Audrey had to go to a meeting in the morning so I took my first ever trotro to work alone. As I waited for the trotro to fill up, I noticed that instead of singing he was looking at me inquisitively. “Where is your sister??” Apparently Audrey and I were part of his morning routine as well: the two obruni ‘sisters’ riding the trotro at eight a.m. to Achimota.
One of the great things about working with the Golden Baobab is that, two weeks in, I already feel like part of the team. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, and it is a privilege to work with people so dedicated to such an important goal. The mission of the Golden Baobab, as we often say, is to ensure that in ten years you can walk into any bookstore around the world and find quality children’s books by African authors. An important factor in the Golden Baobab’s role in this endeavor is to make sure that we have a clear, legitimate identity, so the prize gets recognized on a global scale. This is where Audrey and I, the communications ladies, come in. So far, I’ve been working on researching for the company and doing some design work, which has been pretty fun so far.
Today we went to the Kathy Knowles Children’s Library to do some filming for a short documentary on Debbie’s story. The library is situated in Osu, an old neighborhood in central Accra, and is quite adorable. As you enter, you see a small triangular garden and are greeted by Auntie Joanna, a cheerful motherly figure. On the side, there is an area decorated with short tree stumps arranged as a type of amphitheater for story hour. The library was started by Kathy Knowles, a Canadian lady who lived in Osu and would allow the neighborhood children to read the children’s books she owned. Today it functions as a quaint community center, with story hours certain days of the week, and free computer classes for kids held in the building across the courtyard. Browsing the shelves, it was obvious how Debbie realized the need for the Golden Baobab based on her experiences here as a kid. Most of the titles I, as a Westerner, recognized- Hardy Boys, Babysitters Club, Princess Diaries- and while there was a big section on the books that Kathy Knowles published, there were not many other books by African authors.
Here are some photos from the library:
“Pure water!” is a call you hear a lot riding around Accra. Sitting in traffic in a crowded tro-tro, girls selling packets of water approach your car, balancing a basket full of pouches on their heads. The tap water in Ghana isn’t safe to drink, so we rely on these water pouches. I have yet to learn how to drink these gracefully; you have to bite a hole in the corner and slurp out the water. I should get Nana’s little nephews to teach me; they’re pros.
A lot of places here don’t have running water, including our office. There is a big trash can full of water next to the toilet, and you take a bucket of water from the bucket and pour it into the back of the toilet. I’m still figuring out the technique, so my bathroom breaks at work are embarrassingly long.
At work on Friday I browsed a few issues of a local magazine called Dust. One of the features of the magazine is a page titled “You know you’re in Accra when…” One of the statements listed went something like this: “you’ve only just arrived, but Accra just feels like home.” I have been in Accra, Ghana for five days. What the magazine says is true. It didn’t hit me until today when I was grocery shopping at our local vegetable lady, but Accra is already starting to feel like home.
I live in a house on the outskirts of Cantonments, across the street from 37 Station- a local tro-tro stop. Cantonments is a well-off neighborhood, so my house is much nicer than I expected. The architecture is striking; the houses are built low and are surrounded by walls topped with barbed wire. I have three roommates who have been serving as my guides thus far. We are an international house. Nana is Ghanaian and went to school in the US; he’s the man of the house. Audrey is French and works at the Golden Baobab with me, and Nafiye is from Sweden. Naf just moved in, but all three of them already know each other and travel in the same social circle. We threw a house-warming party on Friday, and the guests were a mix of expats and local Ghanaians. Through my roommates, I have been getting a taste of the young, rising middle class life in urban Ghana.
Yesterday I visited Makola Market with Nafiye. Makola Market is a huge market selling everything you could possible imagine. Two white girls walking around caused quite a stir. “Obruni, obruni!” the sellers called out to us, some touching us or grabbing our arms. Nafiye likes to retort with “nibuni!”, which means “black”. I was too bewildered by the scene to know how to respond. The people at the market have often never seen a white person before.
I have only been to work for two days, but I’m very excited by the agenda my coworkers have cooked up for me- and my colleagues are very nice, hardworking people. Right now, I am working on developing a sort of “Golden Baobab Glossary”, which will list key words relevant to the mission of the foundation along with facts. This will hopefully help develop the organization’s vocabulary when talking with politicians and other parties interested in what they do. This upcoming week, one of my tasks is to plan and begin computer lessons with our landlord at the office, Bro Joe. I will teach him to use the computer, and in return I will ask if I can get cooking lessons from his wife!
Today I really started to settle in, and I feel less like an outsider. I went for a short morning run, and later I went to Bojo Beach with my roommates. In the evening, Naf and I went grocery shopping and cooked dinner together. As we were cooking, Nana’s nephews ran around us, questioning our every move. We ate with Nana and some of his extended family. The nervousness I experienced yesterday at Makola Market was not there as I bought vegetables and walked through the slightly smaller market at 37 station. Now my neighborhood feels like home, and, of course, cooking makes a house feel like a home.
Helen Farley ’14 will be spending her CPGC internship in Accra, Ghana working with the Golden Baobab Prize.