Wednesday, 28 August 2013

July 11
                Language class today focused on phrases rather than phonetics. I have been frustrated with Ewe class so far because we have been focusing completely on the linguistic side of things. Language is learned by doing, not by studying, and while I see the benefit of pronunciation and the interaction between sounds, I find linguistics extremely dull and I don’t retain much. But today was useful phrases and I was much more engaged. I am still very aware of the difference between replicating and committing to memory and I wonder how much of this we will retain when we get to the Volta region
                The lecture on Highlife with Dr. John Collins was quite fascinating. He seems like such a captivating person. I wish I could just sit down for a beer with him. He has so many stories and he truly lives within highlife music.
                Before Drumming class, Nathan took me to the pharmacy to get me something for my cough, which has been getting progressively worse since we left Canada. As we were waiting to speak to the pharmacist, the cashier, a very tall black girl, walk right up to me with an aggressive look on her face and said. “Hey! Obruni! Asang” And she kept repeating it forcefully, each time making me more and more uncomfortable because I didn’t understand her and she seemed angry. The she said “Iya” When I timidly repeated she cracked a big smile, shook my hand and introduced herself as Annabel. And that’s how I learned how to say “How are you” and “I’m fine” in Twi.

                Tonight was Beth’s birthday, so we went out to Osu with Brown and Kofi, the young men who have been our teachers. We had dinner an sat on a bar patio where they serenaded the birthday girl. Brown got us all playing a drinking game that involved playing and speaking in rhythm. Even the drinking games have percussion here! I won two out of the three rounds I played.
July 7
Today is Sunday and we were given the assignment to go to a church service for field work. We met a Roman Catholic named Pascal who offered to take us to mass.
The first thing I noticed was the choir. A fantastic group of 25 or so singers all in their 20’s and 30’s, with a smooth and animated conductor. Their tone was gorgeous and though i admired their training and cohesion, it was very different from the traditional African tone that I still can’t figure out how to replicate. The hymn were mostly in Twi with some phrases in English, but nothing in Latin. The style of music was very much like modern praise music, and even incorporated some traditional elements. Not at all like the heavy Kyrie Elesion that I associate with Catholic Choral Music. Although I wasn’t sitting in a good place to see the instruments, i believe they were using organ, rattle and gongong.
The congregation was large and very well dressed. Men in button down shirts and polished shoes and ladies in colorful dresses and heels. As they are attending mass at the University campus, I will assume that they are mostly educated and well off. Everyone was very somber and focused, even during worship, which seemed uncharacteristic for a Ghanaian gathering.
The service was long with the usual Catholic rituals like spreading incense, reading prayers and responding in chorus. I thought it was odd to refer to Catholics as missionaries considering the history of the area. But, as people are choosing to come here they must believe that at least some of the things the missionaries brought to their ancestors were positive.
Beth noted, and the others agreed they we were not very warmly received. No one smiled or greeted us, and some of the group felt we were getting dirty looks. My take on it was this: We look like tourists. We already stand out for our skin color but our dess and our looks of uncertainty give us away. We were clearly there to gawk rather than participate. Mass is highly regimented and I could understand how someone unfamiliar with the routines would be annoying and disruptive. we experienced two examples of this. During communion, the congregation folded down the kneeling bar and knelt. Beth and Taylor, who were in the front row, didn’t see this and Pascal had to get up and show them. During the receiving of communion, Alana, who is Catholic, told us that non-catholics cannot accept the bread, but that we could ask for a blessing. When I did, the woman refused and was rather indignant with me about it. An usher told me later that only a priest can give blessings.

In the afternoon we visited Ashiama, another poor neighbourhood.We pulled up to the performance complex and found it closed. Everything is on “Africa Time” here. While we waited, we entertained ourselves by practicing the Akabagor bell and parts of the Gahu dance. One women was entertained by our efforts and came down from her porch to correct our steps. As usual, we were followed by a crowd of children.
                After a long wait, we were me by Adam, the lead drummer, and Nova the composer. During question period, I intentionally asked if there were any female drummers. The answer was that there was no specific rule against it, but there rarely are any. Yesterday, Auntie Jay said it’s because women don’t have the muscles for it, and some drums are forbidden to women. Whatever the reason, it’s definitely  a gender roll fixture. I feel so lucky to live in a society where the gender lines are blurred, and I have never felt barred from any activity because of my gender. In fact, I’ve always taken great pride at being good at male dominated activities.
                Finally, the funeral began. I will not attempt to describe all of the sights and sounds, but it was amazing. The first portion was a performance by the dance and drumming troop. The athletic prowess and graceful coordination was unbelievable. We were very excited to recognize some of the steps from West African Music Ensemble, although their movements were much faster than ours.
                The people at this gathering were all Ewe, but we are not in the Volta region, which is their traditional home. They are part of the mini diaspora which Professor Avorbedor describes in his article “Ewe Rural Urban Interchange.”  They are a community of people who came here in search of work and sought a cultural society to maintain cultural ties to home.
                Interestingly, the participants at this gathering are almost all middle aged. There were plenty of small children around, but they seemed to be barred from participating. Perhaps they are not allowed to participate until they are competent in music and dance, or are old enough to appreciate it’s significance. But where are all the young people? There were no teenagers and no mid 20’s other than the drummers and dancers. Are they just busy with other things, or do they not feel a strong connection to home and tradition?
                Then came the Kinka which is a communal activity. Almost immediately, a man named Victor saw me tapping the rattle part on my lap and motioned for me to join him. I had played this particular rhythm before, but when new ones were introduced I learned them quickly. I was sorry to be missing out on the dancing, but I was in my element on the percussion. Pretty soon I started to notice men and boys pointing at me. I think a white woman drumming competently was a bit of a novelty. A few people had asked to play the Kidi and Sogo drums and had been politely told no.  The drums required special skills, and this was not the place to start learning. Towards the end, one of the younger men pointed at me and said “give her a drum. She can drum.” And so I was permitted to play a Kidi drum alongside a group of expert drummers. Kinka drumming starts out easy enough, but the patterns get more complicated as the song goes on, and by the end I was barely hanging on for dear life. But I was clapped on the back and my hand was shaken by every man. I was so honored by that recognition.
                As a thank you to our hosts. Michael had a us sing “Afrika duplo low,” a song Nova had written. Even with the help of the ensemble singers, we were really uncomfortable. We have the idea in North America that only formally trained singers should sing and nothing should b performed until it has been rehearsed to perfection, instead of the more hands on process of trial and error.

July 6
Today we did a tour of W.E.B. Du Bois’ house. He was a prominent scholar and considered to be the father of Pan-Africanism. He was very close to president Nkrumah and lived the last years of his live in Ghana. Most of the information I already know from the readings, but the thing I noticed most was the condition of the books in his personal library. He is portrayed as such a revered personality, and yet the valuable knowledge, personal passions and original compositions are rotting away. Our tour guide really didn’t know where the money to restore them would come from but he said it was their top priority.
We then went into the mausoleum where he and his wife are buried. It is a gazebo which was once his favorite spot. Along the walls were 6 Akan stools like the ones we used to use in WAME, each engraved with an Adinkra symbol
As we left, Michael and the tour guide struck up a conversation about modern music in Ghana, whether groups still incorporate traditional elements, and how the older generations are reacting to the change. Possibly it’s globalization, possibly it’s that the youth are too distracted to learn traditional music and pass it on.
Last night I had a panic attack. I won’t go into the details of the circumstances but it did raise an interesting cultural experience. In the first world, we are used to having a private space to cry, so grieving is mostly done alone. But here in the echoey hostel, even with the door closed everyone can hear you! In most cultures, grieving is done communally. In our culture, it’s embarrassing. Ours is probably the only culture in the world that employs professional counsellors to help us deal with depression.
At the end of the day we visited the JayNii foundation on the beach in Jamestown. This is an organization that provides funding and education to street children from the slum. We were greeted at the entrance by Auntie Jay, one of the founders of the program. The children sang and dance for us and we joined in.
Then we walked along the beach and headed into the slum. We were overwhelmed by the sights and the sounds. First came the fishing boats. Huge hollowed out canoes that made us think of voyageur canoes from back home, only these were cut from whole tree trunks with an axe-like chizzle. The thought of such a large ocean going vessel being made completely by hand is amazing. I wonder where they get the tree trunks from in a bustling metropolis like Accra?
Then there were the kids, which were my primary focus for most of the time. They seemed to come out of the woodwork. Little boys and girls chasing us , hugging us, grabbing our hands and chanting “how are you?” The others were a bit uncomfortable being hugged by strange dirty children, but I was in my element. Only when a little boy pushed his runny nose into my belly that i realized how dirty they all were.
Now I will attempt to describe the conditions. the first shocking thain was the urine and feces in the street where the children and the stray dogs and cats play. The houses, which seem to be just boards and a tin roof are only big enough for one room. We could even see people sleeping. How many people live in one house? They must not keep very many possessions. I can’t help but think of my packing list and how extensive I found it. I bet I have more belonging in my suitcase than these people have in their entire house.
The further we got, the more uneasy we felt. Not for our safety, but for the awkwardness of the situation. We were so aware that we were staring and we felt intrusive. The bus ride home was very somber.
On the way back to the bus we heard a great roar and a crowd of young men streamed into the street. A soccer match had just ended and the local team had won. We saw the victorious team ding a victory lap in a crowd of fans. Only, the jog resembled a dance with each foot falling at exactly the same time. In a place where one person can have so little, music, sports and community are not just entertainments, they are livelihoods. They are sources of joy that people clig to because humans need happiness. The problem with us is, we have so many sources of happiness that no one alone is sufficient.
On the somber and tense ride home a few of us jumped out to get a beer, and after some friendly conversation we were starting to feel better. We decided to take turns flagging a cab, and on my turn i was charged twice what the boys were offered.
We stopped at a liquor store and struck up a conversation with a small group of middle aged men sitting inside. Somehow, we discovered that the owner, whose name was Sam, and I both had a recent birthday, so he invited me to join him for a drink, which turned out to be a large snifter of cognac. I lively conversation ensued, most of which was blurred by the cognac for me. What I do remember is that all of the men were educated. Sam was in finance and his friend was a pilot. Both had been to Canada. Sam had actually done his degree at Queens University, and his favorite hockey team was the Edmonton Oilers.

Sam had two distinct scars, one on each of his cheekbones. He told me that as a child he had epilepsy and his parents had taken him to a medicine man for a cure. They cut his cheeks with a knife and put herbs into the wound and he hasn’t had a seizure since. It is so hard in western society to believe that that would work, and we crave a scientific explanation. But in this man, traditional and modern both have a place.
July 5
Today we began with an orientation of the University. The international studies building has a beautiful tiled courtyard with golden Adinkra symbols on all of the railings. These symbols have special meanings and significance to Ghanaians. I recognized several of them from the reading about Storytelling.
One thing I am finding difficult is the fear of interacting with strangers. I am already afraid that i might have picked up a “professional friend.” Canadian women get a lot of warnings to be careful of foreign men and the sense of stranger danger has really stuck with me. I worry about how gender roles will restrict my field work. How will I be able to interview people if I am afraid to trust anyone?
On the walk back, we observe that here in the University it really doesn’t feel like the third world. The people are well dressed, the cars of mostly new and often expensive, and the architecture is beautiful and well kept. Even our hostel is comfortable and clean and not lacking in any amenities. But in Ghana, school costs tuition from grade 7 up, so those that make it to University are the richest portion of the population. As such, the campus is not an accurate sampling of Ghana.

July 4
Today was spent climbing in and out of vehicles. Undoubtedly a great way to see the city, but not the most leisurely activity. We started the day in the market, where we bought fruit from a young girl who giggled at me when i tried to say “Medasi” to her. then we bought water from an older woman named Mary. Mary is a clever businesswoman who takes advantage of her proximity to the University international hostel by getting to know all the international students by name. As a result, whenever any of us need water or other mundane items, we all go to Mary.
So far, I feel very safe here. People are polite and friendly, but not pushy like in South Africa, or full on intrusive like in Cuba. I don’t feel so much like a walking bag of money here. The one exception is  the kissing noise that men and boys sometime make at me. A man grabbed my elbow today as I walked down a crowded street. I shrugged him off hard and shot him what Joe described after as a look of death. In Canada, it is very rude, even an assult, for a strange man to touch a woman in any way, and so my reaction once again showed my Canadian-ness. It was reflexive, and i didn’t know how else to react.
We decided to go to Osu for lunch and chose a “chop shop” just off the main road. Here my Canadian-ness really showed as I waited quietly and politely to be served, and by the time i got the server’s attention she yelled at me. My friends’ orders had already been processed and why was i just standing there? So rather than fight her, I just didn’t eat.
In the evening, we went to a film screening and concert. The first band was called “ This House is Not For Sale” who describe themselves as ‘highlife fusion.’ A trumpet, bari saxophone, drums bass and acoustic guitar/singer. The music was upbeat and lively with distinctive pop and jazz influences, but also with a strong African flavour provided by the lead singer and guitar.

The second group was lead by Koo Nimo, who I have read is Ghana’s most famous and influential folk singer. The band was made up of almost all traditional instruments and was very recognizably African in it’s style. It was a great example of classic palm wine guitar, using traditional instruments and rhythms, and original lyrics by Koo Nimo.
July 3
Happy 28th Birthday, me! Here begins the biggest birthday present ever: an adventure in Ghana.
First night in Ghana. We arrived safe and sound with no major catastrophes. In New York a three hour layover turned into five when JFK airport was hit by a storm. Once the flight was finally ready to leave, the American flight attendants had their hands full trying to get the passengers to form on straight line. Jill had told me that queuing is not a well observed cultural norm in Ghana, and this confirmed it for me. That is, I suppose, one of the many European customs that i take for granted.
Once we arrived, our first task was to exchange money. I broke $400 American into Cedis, but the lady at the till (who was asleep in her chair when i approached the window) changed all of my money into 50 Cedi Bills. I have since discovered that nothing in Ghana costs as much as 50 cedi and small verners never carry enough change for that. Of course debit and visa are out of the question. It makes me realise how dependant on big chain stores and manufacturers we are in North America. My generation never carry cash because we don’t need to. Literally every store has a debit machine. Even my school has one to accommodate the spending habits of our families. But here, the economy revolves a lot more around small business and change is a valuable commodity.

The next task was selecting a taxi. we carted our bags out to the curb and batted away several would be cab drivers while Tyler pulled out his ipad. We had been warned to be careful who we accept as a cab driver and Tyler wanted to reread the instruction email. We eventually agreed that the cars labeled “taxi” were safe enough, flagged one and climbed in. At the gate of the University campus, the guard stopped us. Our driver got out and argued with the guard for a good 20 minutes, while we sat in the back seat bewildered. Apparently, they expected him to submit his license, and then pay to get it back when he left the campus. In the end, he just paid the money up front and kept his licence. This confirmed what I’ve heard that bribery is  common and often expected here.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Aug 10
Today was the official wedding ceremony. We all dressed in our nice clothes and crammed in the sweaty van for the drive to a city called Ho. After the usual round about directions we arrived at the Royal Charismatic church. It’s a pretty basic hall, but its decorated in streamers and balloons and colored chair covers just like weddings back home. The service began with worship. A choir of about 10 and a back up band performed and the congregation danced. The music was gospel, but distinctly African, and I’m assuming it was in Ewe

                When the bride came down the isle with her father, she was dressed exactly like a western bride. Her dress was a strapless corset with a flowing skirt and a long vail. She wore a string of pearls and white gloves. Amazin how yesterday’s engagement ceremony was so African and the actual wedding is so saturated with western culture. The service was much longer than the ones back home, in English but wuth an Ewe translator. Both the minister and the translator were animated and extremely dramatic. There was the exchanging of vows and rings and a signing of a registry just like back home.

Then came the part that we were unfamiliar with. A man in a white smock took the stage and began to prophesize. At first he started with the general word of the lord, and then his focus became more specific for 5 cedi you could line up on the stage an d he would tell you your personal fortune. All of the news was good. As you’d expect for the price of 5 cedi, all the women would marry and have successful children and then men would find success in business. Then he would put his hand on the person’s forehead and push them over. All of us were a little bothered by this part. Probably because we didn’t believe it was real. In our culture, ministers don’t shout and jump around, and no one claims to be able to conjor the word of God on demand. The fact that he charged money and his new was always good made us even more skeptical. We are so much more judgmental of bizarre cultural events when our own religion is involved. We believe we know the right way to do it because it is so close to our hearts.