Tuesday, September 30, 2014

HISTORY, CRAFTS, AND FRIENDLY STRANGERS

Janyn and I have planned a busy day.  There is much to pack into the few short days she has here.  “I think we should take a taxi.” Janyn quickly agrees.  Taxi’s are cheap.  TroTro’s are more fun.  In the end taxi’s are more efficient and save time.  Our backpacks are loaded with water, nuts and other essentials.


We are on our way.  Matthew, the security guard, greets us and opens the gate.  We walk down the dirt road and within seconds we flag a taxi, negotiate the price and are headed to Independence Square, also known as Black Star Square, in the heart of the city.

President Kwame Nkrumah commissioned the square in 1961 in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Ghana.  It is the second largest city square in the world, the first being Tianamen Square in China.  It has two monuments, a large stadium and the arch.  There has been some controversy surrounding the square.  First, some felt the money could have been put to better use and second the name of the stadium.  Originally named Accra Sports Stadium, the name was changed to Ohene Djan after the first sports director in 2004 and quietly changed back to Accra Sports Stadium in 2011.

We are dropped off and walk over to the Accra Sports Stadium.  At one end of the stadium is the arch with rooms that I can only guess is for dignitaries.  At the other end is a soldier standing guard, representing their struggle for freedom, a common theme in Ghana.  The Stadium is used each year in observance of Ghana’s Independence as well as sporting and inaugural events.  Ghana hosted the African Cup of Nations at the Stadium in 2008.  It is easy to imagine 30,000 people in the stands cheering the Black Stars with a deafening sound.  Today it is peaceful and quiet, with a pleasant ocean breeze cooling the heat of the day.  There are only a couple of men under the arch, one looking at his phone and the other sleeping on the ground.

We walk past the stadium and head to the Gulf of Guinea.  It is time to put our feet into another foreign water.  There are homeless living on the sand.  As we move toward the shelter built from large branches and pieces of wood, we hear “Akwaaba”.  A word that is written and heard often, “Welcome”.  We introduce ourselves.  “Eta sen, my name is Ama”.  Janyn responds “Abena”.   These are our Ghanaian names.  They are hungry and want us to bring food on our way back.  They are not the first to make this request and I'm sure we will hear it many times again.  With no food available, we are again on our way, dipping feet into the water and walking along the sand and up the road. 

We walk back through the stadium and to the round-about.  Carefully, we cross the road.  Cars have the right-of-way and will not stop for pedestrians.  This is something I remember well from my days in Saint Lucia.  Like most areas, the grounds are unkempt.  Weeds are growing and there is trash on the ground.  Two men are sleeping under the arch, but again it is easy to imagine Ghana’s first President Nkrumah and QueenElizabeth here in the very place we are standing.   

We are headed to the Nkrumah Memorial site about a mile down the road when two Ghanaians standing outside the Cultural Arts Center stop us.  The title of this center is a bit misleading as it is actually a place where artisans gather to sell crafts.  They want to give us a drumming lesson.  I explain we are not there to buy.  We are on our way to the memorial site.  Of course, that is ok with them.  They know if they can get us there, we will buy something.  I am impressed by the marketing technique they use.  Many in Ghana will give you an experience, not just ask for a sale.  It is clever and it works.  I’m teaching marketing in Ghana and there is always something I can learn.

We agree.  It sounds like fun.  We walk into the center and into their shop.  There are many wood masks, bowls, drums and paintings sitting on shelves and hanging on the walls.  We sit on the bench and they begin playing drums, some of which are traditional Ghanaian Drums.  They give us each a drum and show us how to use them.  It is a good experience.  Of course we look for something to buy and decide on a wooden bowl. 

I design a custom bowl with two symbols representing independence and transformation along with my Ghanaian name etched on it. 

They take the bowl to be carved and I follow to watch him.  In terms of the Supply Chain, I decide there is someone who makes the bowls, someone who carves the bowls and the retail shop that knows the customer and what they want…hmm, the very subject I will be teaching next week in my Marketing Class.

I find Janyn in another shop negotiating a price for a pair of Ghanaian pants.  She makes the purchase and we are on our way, a few cedi’s less than when we started, but well worth the money and the time spent.

Just around the corner and only a ten minute walk is Nkrumah’s Memorial site.  We pay the Abruni price to enter the grounds.  It is very well kept, peaceful and beautiful.  

It has beautiful sculptures sitting in two pools of water with a path between them leading to Nkrumah’s Mausoleum, where he and his second wife are buried.  

We walk up into the gravesite and I think about this man.  A leader who took the country to independence, who was imprisoned in his early years because of his beliefs, but in the end let his ego stand in the way of greatness.  I wonder, did he die a broken man? Was he angry in the end?  Or, did he accept his fate with dignity?  I don't have the answers to these questions, but there is one more: Does he now know that the people of Ghana accepted him back and gave him what is considered by many as a proper burial site?


A testament to his downfall is just a few feet from this site.  It is a statue of him.  His body to one side and his head on the other, destroyed during the 1966 military coups d’├ętat.


We walk through the mausoleum and to the museum steps.  There is a Ghanaian taking pictures of other Ghanaians.  Janyn says, “Would you like me to take a picture of all of you together”.  They respond, “No, he isn’t with us.  He is taking our picture.  Come over hear and take a picture with us”.  Huh?  Really?  Alright!  They are beautifully dressed and we stand next to them, backpacks, shorts and t-shirts; strangers bonding for one quick picture.  Turn-about is fair-play and so we ask them to use our camera for a picture of them.  We are a novelty and I accept that.


It is a small museum.  We walk through the timeline of Nkrumah’s life and then move on to see the artifacts, his furniture is at one end of the room and traditional clothing at the other end.  Pictures are not allowed. There are gifts he was given and pictures on the walls. 

The most interesting pictures were of President Kennedy with Nkrumah.  In the same grouping were Castro and Khrushchev.  I know they are trying to show heads of state in this group, but I also know that these pictures were taken at the height of tensions during the Cold War.  I wonder what Kennedy was thinking as he was standing beside a man who was leaning away from Democracy.  I also wonder about the political motivation of the United States Peace Corps as Ghana was the first country we supported.


After an hour we were off again.  We need to fit in two stores and buy something for dinner.  We catch a taxi back into Osu and go to Global Mama’s, a fair trade store for artisans.
Again we risked our lives to cross the street to go to Trashy Bags, a store that recycles old billboard material, used water bags and other discarded trash to make, among other things, purses, computer bags, wallets, reusable grocery bags.


And now it’s time to get back to why I’m here.  We return home, just in time to change and catch a taxi to Webster to teach my Management Class.  

We get home that night after 10:00 p.m. knowing tomorrow will be another early start, but not knowing this will be one of the most interesting and memorable days here in Ghana.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Black Stars

It’s difficult to understand the people without knowing something about their history.  When I was in Saint Lucia, I had a lot of time to read books, research the National Archives, talk to my village friends and chat with elders sitting on their porches and smiling while telling stories of the “olden days”. 

I don’t have enough time here to reach the depth of knowledge I would like to have. This trip is simply a short two months.  It is unfortunate, but I am attempting to learn as much as possible about Ghana so that I can apply this knowledge in my classroom upon return.  I have learned from talking to people, asking endless questions, visiting cultural centers and museums, visiting villages, connecting with a Peace Corps Volunteer and researching information on the Internet. It is with caution that I write what I have learned, knowing I am a novice in Ghanaian history.

Janyn arrived Saturday afternoon to begin a marathon around Accra before continuing on to Kumasi.  I am living in Accra and have a list of things I want to see.  Even though I’m directionally challenged, I know enough to get us through this part of the journey.  Ashley, the Peace Corps Volunteer I have hooked up with is going to get us through Kumasi.  Her village is just a short 45 minute tro-tro away. 
We spend Sunday at the French Cultural Center in Accra.  There are many ExPats and it feels somewhat strange to be in Ghana and among a diverse group of people from all over the world.  

We tried to attend a cooking demonstration, not to learn how to cook because that is not something I do, nor does Janyn.  No, We attended to eat the samples.  That is something we do.

As the demo started, the Ghanaians got up and stood in front of the table blocking the view of the Abrunies (foreigners) who follow their own cultural rules.  It appears they don't have the same rules and the chef encouraged them saying, "Yes, come up and watch".


It was a strange kind of day, but we agree that we are having a good time.

It is a National Public Holiday to observe Ghana’s first president, Kwami Nkrumah and the founding fathers of Ghana.  Most everything is closed.
I explain the little I have learned about Ghana's past to Janyn.  We will be going to Museums tomorrow and also visit the site where Nkrumah is buried.  

The British ruled the Gold Coast and the Ashanti from 1821 until they gained their independence on March 6 1957.  The Ashanti is the largest subgroup in Ghana.

The "Big 6" were responsible in large part for leading the way to independence.  They are pictured on Ghanaian currency.  Kwame Nkrumah became the first President of Ghana.  

In his early years, Nkrumah was a leader in the United Gold Coast Convention, seen by the British as a radical organization.  Blamed for organizing a riot, Nkrumah and other leaders were imprisoned in 1948.  Servicemen were angry about the high cost of living and not being paid their due.  The United Gold Coast Convention was accused of organizing the protests and its leaders were imprisoned.

After Nkrumah's release, he broke away from the Gold Coast Convention and formed the Convention People's Party (CPP).  He began organizing cocoa farmers and women to join in the movement to make a better life for themselves.  He became a national hero. 

Nkrumah demanded independence and became known for two major initiatives.  First, he gathered the resources and financial backing from the British, the United States and the World Bank to build the largest lake in the world, Lake Volta. The Akosombo Dam, a hydroelectric power plant was built on the river.  The intent was to bring Kaiser to build a large aluminum factory powered by the dam.

The map shows the proportion of the lake.
 

Ghana was in its infancy when it received abundant resources to build a thriving society.  Unfortunately, it is widely reported taht corruption ensued and the country divided as the vision became diluted.

Nkrumah's second focus was Pan Africa.  As the first country in Africa to receive independence, Nkrumah became a pioneer in the Pan African movement which I've also heard referred to as the United States of Africa.

As Lake Volta resources dissipated, arguments ensued over how the money was spent. People increasingly believed the vision would not become reality.  There were five attempts on Nkrumah’s life.  In the aftermath of these attempts he became more dictatorial and declared Ghana a one party system.  When he disagreed with a judges decision, he simply gave himself the power to overturn the decision.  Democracy eroded and the people were disillusioned.

In February 1966 Nkumbah took a trip to China and there was a military coups.  He never returned.  He lived the balance of his life in Guinea as the honorary Co-President.

After first being buried at his birthplace of Nkroful, Ghana, he was later reburied in Accra.  It is said by some that after years of resentment, people feel ashamed for the way he was treated.

So, with that much knowledge we are planning our trip to Independence Square, the Nkrumah Memorial Site and an unexpected side trip to the Arts Cultural Center.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here's a short video about Black Star Football that you may find interesting.








Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Brief Intermission





I am taking a short intermission break and will leave you with E.T. Mensah's Ghana Freedom.  I am going to experience some of the many things that Ghana has to offer in the next week.  This country has so much to see and I will only sample a few of those things during my time here.  This song was written in celebration of Ghana's Independence from the British.  Ghana became an independent nation on March 6, 1957.


Friday, September 19, 2014

THE STRATEGY OF MONEY

For one reason or another, money in foreign countries intrigues me.  I wrote a post on Eastern Caribbean Dollars when I lived in Saint Lucia and I’ve been thinking about this post for some time now. 

Inflation in Ghana is rising and people are complaining that the money they make doesn’t keep up with their expenses.  The conversion rate to one United States Dollar is 3.59GHS.  I’m told the average teacher in a village makes about 800GHS.  I have nothing to verify that, but expect it’s close to fact.  Peace Corps Volunteers here only make half that amount.  A one mile cab ride can be anywhere from three cedi to five cedi depending on negotiation skills and motivation to save a few cents.  Ten banana’s might cost one cedi and a pineapple cut and packaged is three cedi.

So for a traveller from the United States, Ghana is an affordable country.  The biggest problem here?  Figuring out how to pay people for the asking price.  It’s a game.  I don’t know the rules and they won’t tell me the rules.  I have a strategy that I will get to at the end of this post.

I have yet to find a place where credit cards are taken.  They are pretty much useless.  The first day I was here, I borrowed money to eat.  None of the ATM’s worked.  The second and third days were the same.  Finally on the forth day I found a working ATM and punched in a request for $200, but of course the machine gave me 200GHS.  Yikes!  How could I not know that?  Oh well, at least I had money.  Yup two crisp 50’s and 5 brand new 20’s ready to spend.  Nope, not so fast.  You see, those bills are pretty much useless.

And, here is where the game begins.  NO ONE makes change voluntarily.  NO ONE.  Wherever I go, unless it is the supermarket, I must be prepared for four options:
1.    I have the correct change to pay them
2.    I just give them too much and tell them to keep the change
3.    Stand my ground and wait for change.
4.    Go to the bank and trade in all the money for ones and twos

One of my students tells me that it is a game they play with foreigners.  They feel many will just cave and resort to Option 2 because we have “more” money.  She’s right, many times I do.  If something costs 4 cedi’s it’s easy to just give them five and be done with it.  It’s only about twenty-seven cents and a whole lot less stress.  Sometimes I have the exact change but I won’t spend it.  I find it better to go with Option 2 rather than give up my precious ones and twos.  There is something to be said of hoarding.  These bills are a premium possession. I was here several days before I even realized they made bills this small!  No one ever gave them up for me.

I have three money related stories.  Sometimes these stories take my breath away when I ponder the cultural differences in the world.

Last week I needed a seam in a blouse mended.  I got out my sewing kit and discovered there was no needle.  Just down the road, there is a woman who sits in a small wooden shack with a cement floor.  The doors wide open exposing the entire shop and giving her a good breeze through the back door in the heat of the day. She has an awning covering for a small porch.  She is a seamstress and this is her place of business.

I ponder the walk to the small shack.  It is a hot day and I have just returned from things I wanted to get done.  It’s best to do things before the sun soaks into a humid and sticky environment.  I debate whether to go back out, but it’s only a five-minute walk.  I grab the blouse and as I walk I out the gate, I hear the generator to our house kick on.  Oh, the electricity is off.  I wonder if she will be able to repair this.  Maybe I’m walking down there for nothing, but I continue.  She is open.

As I walk up, she is cutting fabric on a table.  She is making a dress.  Next to that table is another where her sewing machine sits.  There are lots of pictures and patterns of dresses she can make, some formal, some are red and black, the colors worn at funerals, and others more casual.

I show her the seam and she indicates she will do it while I wait.  It will cost three cedi.  I have 2 ones and a five.  I watch her fix the seam and laugh at myself about worrying if she will have electricity.  She handles the manual hand-cranked machine adeptly.  She clearly does a much better job than I would have if I had been able to do it myself.  I hand her the five.  She has no change.  Option 2 is the right choice.

There is a rule that I have learned.  NEVER show them you have small bills!  They will want them!  They will sometimes demand them!  I have learned to be aggressive about this.  I want them too!  I think there is a rule that the person with the most ones wins, although I can’t be sure as there are no written rules.

I went to the sandwich shop a few days ago.  My bill totaled twenty-six cedi.  I know he has change.  He does a good business there.  I’ve been given change there before, using Option 3.  I searched through my backpack until I came up with a twenty and a ten.  But he saw that I had exact change and demanded it.  No! This is a contest of wills.  I am competitive and I want to win the game of having the most ones.  I politely explain that I need my ones for cab money so he must come up with the change.

I have learned that when I think paying will be a slam-dunk, well…there are no slam dunks.  My sister will be here on Saturday for a week.  This trip is short and we want to make the most of it.  On top of our list is a visit to Kumasi.  We will visit Ashley in her village, explore Kumasi and attempt to find Ntonso, a village known for ink stamping.  Because time is limited we will fly there and back.  It’s only a forty minute flight.

I called African World Airlines to book the flight.  No problem, they have many flights to choose from.  I book it and have my credit card ready.  But wait!  You must have guessed.  They don’t take credit cards!  Nope, I have to go to Zenith Bank by the next day before 2:00 and give them the cash and get a receipt.  I am further instructed that if the airlines does not send me an email confirmation, I must call them to figure out why not.  No problem, I can do this.

I am going to need cash to pay for this ticket so I pack my ATM card, phone, and whatever else into my backpack and head out for the short walk to Zenith Bank.  I use the ATM and ask for 1000GHS.  The machine laughs at me.  Next I humbly request 400GHS and it responds much more positively.  That worked so I try it again.  Works again.  SCORE!

I walk into the bank and have no idea what to do.  No one really pays attention.  The last time I was in a bank was when I lived in Saint Lucia.  I smugly think to myself that Banks are so yesterday…but here I am, living in yesterday, and actually enjoying the adventure.   Finally, I am escorted to the front of the room and a woman offers me a seat and hands me a form to fill out.  I give it back to her along with 400GHS and she points to the tellers.

I wait in line for the teller and she fumbles around for at least ten minutes trying to figure out what to do with this money.  She asks the teller next to her, and manages to give me a receipt.  I'm not confident at this point.  This may be the reason I was given detailed instructions on what to do if I didn't receive confirmation.
While I’m there I say,  “can I get 20GHS in ones and 40GHS in twos?”  Yes, she responds as she takes my money.  Then she tells me to take a seat and wait.  I waited twenty minutes for the bills.  I’m not sure why.  I take pictures of this strange process while I wait.  After several minutes she motions for me. She put the bills through the counting machine several times before the right number came up.  Then she stuffed them in an envelope and I was on my way a mere hour and a half later.
1.    Hoard small bills wisely.  I am in control of when and who I want to overpay! Always have small bills and never willingly spend them.  Keep in mind this is a competition and I have a need to win.
2.    Get rid of those useless 20s and 50s whenever there is an opportunity.  They just take up space.
3.    When retrieving exact change, do it in the most efficient way, spending the largest bills possible.
4.    Learn to be comfortable in the discomfort of standing my ground.
5.    Determine how I will carry a three-inch stack of bills around with me while hiding all these small bills.
6.    Be prepared for surprises, especially when I think something is a slam-dunk!
Now, I need to figure out the pesewa thing.  I wanted to buy peanuts a couple of days about and they wanted twenty pesewa.  I have a few coins but they aren’t with me – No one has ever wanted them before now!

Ya gotta love foreign countries!