Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Preaching to the choir (who happens to be asleep)

After yesterday's rant, I'm due for a light and fluffy, 1-paragraph post. Here it is.

This morning at 5:40am, I was woken up by the sound of a woman shouting. At first I thought that it was someone talking in the hall outside my room, but then I realized that she was preaching. Loudly. I went to my balcony and said "tst! tst!" and she looked up. "It's very early. I am trying to sleep." She said "Oh, I am disturbing you?" Yes, you idiot. It's 5:40am. This is NOT an effective evangelism tool! Anyway, she moved a little ways down the building and finished up with a sinner's prayer and I giggled with my roommate and fell back to sleep.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Culture stress

I seem to be popular with Ghanaian men. My Twi professor included. Ugh. I sit next to him in class (we're in a conference room) and today he said "I'll sit here next to my wife today." I replied straight out "I am not your wife. I did not consent to that. I am not anybody's wife."

Culture stress is popping up all over the place. I am starting to become disillusioned and frustrated with a lot of things, but this mostly manifests itself in my critique of gender relations. I am often super resentful of the patriarchal climate here, and I take out the culture stress by getting mad at the guys in my group. They've been really good about it, but it's troubling to me that I have such resentment of my host culture.

On Saturday night we went out to a jazz club in town. We went by tro-tro, so it wasn’t direct, and we had to walk a little way (a few blocks). It was a very nice neighborhood with compound walls and beautiful houses and a gorgeously decorated mosque. But naturally, a group of 7 Americans walking at night might feel nervous and unsettled. After we got back, my friend Matt (who was the only male in the group of 7) said that he, as a male, felt responsible for the group of girls, and that it made him very uncomfortable to be walking around at night.

I completely understood this sentiment but didn't like it. To me, hearing that a man felt he had to take care of me because I was a woman was clearly unfair, wrong, misogynist, and any other number of frustrating things. It gives the impression that I will never ever be whole in and of myself. What about when I'm 30 years old? Will I have to take a man everywhere I go? In some countries, I would. Grown women need their husband's or their brother's or even their infant son's permission to travel. I think about that and want to cry. I understand the social pressure to take care and assume responsibility based on gender, but I don’t like it. More so, I don’t like the broader cultural climate that so devalues women that they cannot stand up for themselves and feel safe. Maybe I should organize a Take Back The Night march in Ghana. That would go over well, I’m sure.

Later, reflecting on this, I realized that I was so frustrated because my leadership and confidence doesn’t matter much in this situation, and that comes as a shock to me. I realized that, had something happened, no one would have asked “was Audrey with them?” They would have asked “was there a boy in the group?” and Matt would have borne all the ideological blame for any unfortunate events that transpired. For him, this is an unfair and distinctly bittersweet responsibility, one which I do not wish as an automatic role for anyone, but a burden which I believe everyone should bear collectively.

I guess I have been spoiled for a very long time. Living with extremely supportive parents who are both very strong people in and of themselves, I was raised with the assumption that I could do anything that I determined to (within reason), and that this had nothing to do with my gender, but rather with my own personal attributes. My mother does the bills because my father hates dealing with money. She mows the lawn and he does the gardening. They both cook and wash the dishes. She wakes up early and he wakes up late. These are things that my parents do- not things that women and men do.

In Ghana, though, gender roles are so differentiated that it comes as a sort of slap in the face. On one of our first days in Ghana, we had a lecture in which a woman told us “if you don’t make sure everything is right in the home, that it is clean and your husband and children are well taken care of, then you are not a good woman.” Although some gender-differentiated tasks are changing (boys, for example, sweep and cook when they are young), the broader schema is set up in a way that is hard for me to swallow.

And yet, to add to the mess, West Africa has a long history of women who are involved in economic endevors (the markets, for example), and the Queen Mother has a formal political role in nominating and approving Asante/Akan chiefs. Oh, it's all convoluted and confusing. Anyway, I'm going to try to talk about something other than gender in my next blog post. I'm sure that my 21-year-old feminist rants are not the most interesting reading material on the market.

Next time: the adventures of Richard the Rasta?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

It all falls tumbling down [or: all roads lead to Accra]

Had all gone as scheduled, we would have gone to Akropong for the Odwira festival this week. This is a traditional harvest festival which has a lot of functions, most of which I have no idea about yet. Anyway, it's been moved up a few weeks, so we'll go in October.
Not having anything planned, we decided to go exploring. Not having any idea what to do, we decided to try the Amenapa waterfalls near Akropong/Akuapem. This was supposed to be about an hour and a half by tro-tro, and we had been to Akropong before, so why not? I figured that I had all the benefit of 4 Twi classes, and knew how to say "My name is Audrey. What is your name?" and "I am from America. My parents' names are Diane and Michael." This knowledge, plus the assurance of three cell phones, four guide books and ten people in their early twenties led us to yet another adventure.

We split up onto three groups- two of three and one of four. Each group had a guide book, a cell phone, and a boy. This last element seems to be crucial in the minds of many foreign travelers. Anyway, we hopped on a tro-tro to Medina, where we would catch another tro-tro to Akropong, after which we would hire a taxi to the falls. Brad, Jordan and I traveled the first leg of the group together, and then we met Sam(antha), Kinsco and Deric and waited for 40 minutes for the tro-tro to take off. After a very beautiful (if cramped) ride, we arrived at Akuapem and crammed the 6 of us in a relatively small taxi. The driver didn't have a cell phone, so we decided to wing it and worry about getting back later. 10 white people hitchhiking in rural, mountainous Ghana? No big deal. We were sure that we would find a ride back.

After a 10 minute walk to the falls, we found what seemed like 100 feet of water and the rest of our friends. The falls were beautiful and slightly ominous. In between the rocks, there were fish which had taken the great leap and found it wanting, and there was the collective trash of months of careless hikers strewn over the ground. The water buffeted us this and that way, and Brad lost his footing and gashed his head. All the while, it was unbelievably beautiful, with moss covering the boulders and the water streaming down the rock face. I had to close my eyes just to stand there, but Little Wings (a fabulous band) was in my head and I couldn't but dance. At that moment, I missed my friends so unbelievably much- standing under a waterfall, dancing like Joke and Brian and Audrey all together, hearing music in my head that reminded me of all of them- I could think of nothing better than being there with them.

But I digress. Erika, Derek, and Jordan went exploring and tried to find a way to the top of the falls. They were gone for over an hour, and we were starting to get a little worried. Finally, we saw them staggering out of the woods, covered in scratches, Jordan carrying his flip-flops, and Erica limping. "How was it?!?" "It was... not worth it." Apparently, they had traversed the deepest jungles of Akuapem and found it wanting. I'm not sure if it was the swarming ants or the scratching branches or the shoe-destroying terrain, but they weren't satisfied.

Finally, sore and wounded (but satisfied) we set off to find a way back to Accra. All of the tro-tro's that passed us were full, but we did our best to hitch a ride. Finally, after walking about half a mile uphill, a pickup truck stopped and agreed to take us to Akuapem. We hopped in the back and enjoyed the ride. That was really the end of the story. We finally caught a tro-tro back to Accra and then went out for dinner at Redd Lobster. I got back to the dorm at about 9, and was asleep by 9:40.

Tonight is Professor Jelks' birthday, so we're taking him out to dinner.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Patriarchy and new perspectives

It's been a while since I've written, but nothing much has happened. Well, more like a series of nondescript adventures one-by-one in a row.

My biggest news is that I have a roommate! Her name is Tina, and she is moving into my room from downstairs because her roommate is a medical student who goes to bed very late and wakes up very early. I liked my room all to myself, but I am also happy to have someone who can initiate me into Ghanaian culture. She grew up in Accra and goes home fairly often.

More and more lately, I have been struck by the patriarchal climate of Ghana. No, there are no large men denying me admittance to the university, or commanding me to wear a certain type of clothing, or breathing misogynist rhetoric down my throat. However, there are subtle inflections which have begun to wear on me. Take, for example, the use of male universal pronouns. Virtually every Ghanaian professor (including our one female lecturer) have used "he" as an inclusive word. "Man" refers to all human beings (even in anthropology classes), and cultural traditions refer to male traditions. Our dance professor is a man, and he is teaching us the male versions of dances. We found out yesterday that there is also a female version, but no one is teaching the women how to perform it.

Only this year has there been a law enacted against marital rape, but it was passed with extreme resistance from many members of parliament and the President. Traditionally, there was a taboo against women playing musical instruments. However, my literature professor (a man who goes by Eddy) has been extremely good about opening my mind to the complexities of women's life in Ghana. We will be reading works by women authors, and yesterday we listened to a praise poetry recording that he did of a woman who uses poetry to subvert the system and voice her resistance. Her poetry was a song of sorts that was set to the rhythm of a millstone, where she was grinding millet. I could hear the grinding in the background- this rhythmic whosh-whosh was a substitute for the drum (which women traditionally have not been allowed to play). Also, she used her mouth to make these amazing xylophone noises. She made the same sounds, but did not use the instrument. Her song was fantastic and beautiful and somehow ethereal. I feel very priveledged to have access to these resources. My professor is one of the kindest and most humorous people that I have met since coming here. He is passionate about literature and he loves to laugh at himself and the world. Today he said "I almost became a Catholic priest. Somehow I escaped."

Anyway, this has been the most significant point of culture stress, but I have largely been able to control and/or vent my frustration. When I first got here, I was mean and nasty about broad gender generalizations, etc. Now most of it rolls off my back and I am much happier.

Friday, September 14, 2007

All African men are scum, but marry my brother.

Everywhere I go, it seems that outrageous people flock. Maybe I bring out the best in them, or maybe it's just that there are an abundance of outrageous people in the world. Either way, I met another one yesterday- a Ugandan lawyer named Rose who is here finishing her master's in law, specifically peacebuilding and democratization. For some reason, they have placed these women in their late 20's in the International Students Hostel, where they are obviously unhappy. While I am reluctant to admit that I do not fully appreciate Ghanaian food, she flat-out says that she hates it. She also says that Ghanaians are ugly, and that Africans missed a step somewhere in the past, and that is why they are not developing at the rate of the rest of the world.

I asked her what about the economic dependency issues that resulted from colonialism (monocrop, foreign-controlled economies, exploitation of raw materials rather than finished problems, lack of industrial development, commodity exports whose prices are widly variable and unbalanced, etc)? Oh, well, that's not really the problem. The problem is lack of democracy and weak state structures. But why are there weak state structures? Well, because the governmental regimes refuse to cede power, and the state is captive to the government. Thus, Uganda's president Musevini (the same one who wrote a book saying that heads-of-state should not overstay their terms) has been in power for over 20 years. So there's nothing economic about political development? Not really.

So anyway, we talked about this for a long time, and then she started in on why and how Africa had missed a step somewhere in the past, basically that the people were just not as good or advanced as white people. Well! to my white liberal American viewpoint, that is practically heresy, but what do you say when an African says it? She had an essentially cultural basis for the argument, and so I just laughed and explained that I have a hard time believing that black people are inferior. Poor, yes. Embroiled in socio-political conflicts, definitely. But I have far too much white liberal dependency theorist guilt to buy into it.

She also told me that all Ghanaians are ugly, but that Ugandans are all very beautiful, and that all Nigerians are rude. Not one to contradict people's deeply held assumptions (haha), I told her that my best friend is Nigerian, and lied in insisting that she is always very polite. I also asked her if a Nigerian child were raised by Ugandans, would that child be rude? She said that the child probably would- there's just something about Nigerians.

Then, there are the African men- they can't be trusted. They will sleep with any woman who comes around, they don't have respect for women, and some are very rude (beating their wives and the like). Before I can understand this, I should start dating an African man, and then we will laugh about it together. Also, her brother is very nice, but he is still an African man, so take him away from Africa, and he will behave because he is not on his turf. Having dated a Nigerian for 2 years (my dear boyfriend Charles), I think that I can honestly speak on behalf of all African men in saying that not all African men are scum, but some might be. Really, though, that applies to every single human being that I know, so there you have it.

Anyway, this woman was amazing and confident and spunky. She said that when she was in South Africa for her master's program, the white Afrikkans students looked down on her and would make explicitly racist comments, but she just laughed at them because she knew that she was smarter than they were. She worked for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) for a year as a protection officer, and we talked about the possibility of an internship at either UNHCR or Refugee Low Project, which works more directly in the camps.

Anyway, that's the only semi-interesting detail about my life. I'm going to the Karaoke bar tonight with my group. That will be fun and funny.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Monkey brains and bananas

Holy smokes, this computer is slow. AfroNet seems to be slipping in quality.
We started classes today, which I really enjoyed. We had Politics and Development, Peoples and Cultures, and West African Literature. Today on campus I saw a monkey tied to a tree in someone's yard. It was really neat that there was a monkey there, but sad, because there was a monkey tied to a tree on the University of Ghana campus. This really is turning out to be a wild place- packs of friendly wild dogs, giraffe-legged horses, goats, chickens, vultures, small children, and now monkeys. I sometimes sit back and puzzle at the odd bizarrity of it all.

Last night I made dinner for the group (all 17 of us!). It seems like we have pretty firm partitions and friend groups (read: cliques), and this seems antithetical within such a small group. Possibly it is only an initial protectionism which drives us towards people who seem fameiliar to us (the three main groups are the dutch kids, the guys, and th minorities... you can't help but wonder). However, I have the fortunate and frustrating predicament of not really fitting into any of these groups. There are 3 others who feel very much the same way, and so I wanted to do something to bring people together and help us to get to know each other outside of our automatic cliques. I suggested, when we got ready to eat, that we should try to sit next to someone who we hadn't really gotten to know well so far, which I now see is more of a remnant of my (elementary school principal) mother's pep talks than a practical solution to disunity within a group of college students, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. One of the guys replied "didn't you hate it when people made you do that in high school?" to which I said "no, actually I was always glad, because I knew how it felt to be on the other side of a clique. It isn't fun." but to which I should have said "no, because in high school I wasn't an ass." Either way, it was enough of a retort to let me get on with the meal, but it ruined any hope for that idea. At least I said it, though. Maybe he will start to think a little bit more about who he is excluding.

But dinner was good, overall. We had spaghetti with a tomato sauce, bread, and pineapple for dessert. I think that we might try to cook and eat dinner together every Sunday night, taking turns cooking. We'll see if that materializes.

Anyway, that's all for today. I'm working on sticking to my budget, and I only have about $10 for communication costs every week (including phone calls home), and the internet cafe is fairly expensive. I have budgeted (roughly) $20 for food, $10 for miscellaneous expenses, $10 for communication, and $5 for transportation. So $45 for the week. I hope I'll be able to stick to it. I can eat for about $2-3 per day if I eat a lot of ghanaian food (which I don't love, so that means that I'll eat a lot of rice) or peanut butter and banana sandwiches (which I'm okay with), and don't buy cokes (I have discovered that I have an active caffeine addiction). I might have to complain once in a while.

Well I spent 7 minutes configuring a paragraph that is composed of drivel and whining. That's my signal to go back to my room. Maybe I'll get a roommate today!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Kokrobite beach

Today was wonderful and amazing. We went as a group to Kokrobite beach, which is this absolutely pristine beach with palm trees and white sand and wonderful water, all together with colorful fishing boats and small children and fishermen repairing their nets.

There were a lot of Rasta's there. One lit up a joint right in front of me, and proceeded to sell little baggies of pot out of a plastic bag. It was definitely a quality operation [sarcasm inserted]. He had four-inch-across, inch-thick matted dreads (not the sexy, well-kept kind, but the kind that has bits of old animals and the remnants of past civilizations in them). However, some of them were wonderful and nice and playing soccer on the beach and splashing in the water. There were even some little kids who had dreads. Their dad had hair down to his ankles. Wow.

Although it was an absolutely wonderful day overall, men kept hitting on me, asking me for my number, etc. This makes me extremely uncomfortable.I never truly appreciated how little harassment I get in the United States, but I am starting to understand. Although it stings every part of my broader independent feminist consciousness to realize that it would be easier if I were perceived as "taken", maybe I will make up a bio for my boyfriend in the States. His name is Charles, and he goes to school at Michigan State (people know where that is, or at least the name). He is a football player, and extremely large in stature. Originally, he was from Nigeria. His family has oil wealth (and also old money?), and they came to the US when he was 5. I have no idea how many children we are going to have, but I have met his family. They are extremely numerous, and will protect me with weapons and kitchen utensils if necessary. I would love to be able to use my own friends and family as a threat, but a bunch of white people thousands of miles away don't have a chance.

I could also say that I am training to be a nun, or that I have a terminal illness, or that I am no fun at all. Or I could stop bathing and washing my clothes. I think that Charles is starting to sound more and more appealing.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Adventures in Akropong

The sun rises extremely early in Ghana, and Akropong is home to about ten thousand roosters and maybe five thousand goats (well, maybe more like ten roosters and five goats near our hostel), and they made so much noise that I woke up at 6:15am on Monday morning. What's a girl to do, when breakfast is at 8, and no one else is awake? I decided to explore the area, so I followed the sound of the goats behind the hostel, and met a girl named Chaarezie, who is 13 years old. I asked her what she was doing that morning, and if I could follow her around on her chores. She said yes, that she was going to sweep, and that I could help her. The brooms here look like they're made from a bunch of extremely long pine needles, bound at the top. It is some kind of branch or switch that is about 1.5 feet long. So I swept, and then when we were done sweeping, we carried water, which they got from a well. Apparently, I am not competent enough to carry water upon my head, so I got to carry it by my side in a bucket like the 6-year-old girls. Even then, I spilled it a little bit. Such is life. At this point, I had to eat breakfast, so I left with promises to "go and come" (the Ghanaian colloquial for "return") later that day.

About 4pm on Monday afternoon I went to Chaarezie's house where her mom and siblings were making Fou-Fou. Fou-Fou is a sticky pounded casava and plantain ball which is dipped into a broth. It is similar to the Sudza which I ate in Mozambique. It was getting close to dinner time, and I wasn't sure about the proper protocol for guests and mealtime. I guess I just wanted to find out what would happen if I stayed. So, after a minute of awkward uneasieness, we established that I was supposed to stay for dinner. At this time, it dawned upon me that the mother was using water to moisten the Fou-Fou, and that I was going to have to eat the Fou-Fou. It also occurred to me at this time that I was smelling a mixture of spices and fish (neither of which I am crazy about). I was really in for it now.

Knowing that I was obliged to eat the meal which they had prepared for me, I trudged to the kitchen store-room (where they brought my very large bowl full of Fou-Fou, three cooked fish, and peppery soup) to discover what all the fuss was about. Also, I ate my meal alone, which made it even harder for me to make myself eat. I ate half of one fish and about a third of the fou-fou ball. The family kept coming in and telling me how to eat (don't chew the fou-fou, dip it into the sauce, eat more fish, etc), and eventually I told them that it was so very good, but that I was so full I could not eat any more. I am getting very good at making up lies to avoid eating.

So that was my adventure. I felt like an ungrateful oaf for not liking their food, but Ghanaian food takes some getting used to. Afterwards, I was completely and utterly convinced that I was going to be sick with any number of diseases, but Ghanaian Stomach didn't come until a few days later, and any malaise can probably be chalked up to hypochondria.


It's been a week since I last updated my blog, and it seems that time has crept and flown, full of little adventures and minor tragedies and exaltation.

On Sunday we attended church at the Legon Interdenominational Church on the University of Ghana campus. It always strikes me that worship tends to stratify according to class and social status rather than geography or skin color. This church was made up of middle and upper class people, most of whom were somehow connected to the University. The sanctuary was like any American church that I have been to, with high ceilings, a cloth-covered alter, and a platform at the front where the officieries perform their duties. Everything about it seemed to resemble other churches that I have seen in videos and in person all over the world- in South Africa, Brazil, Mozambique, and China. Dr. McDermott would disagree with me, but I am convinced that Christianity is becoming increasingly "glocalized" in terms of income, education, class, etc. rather than geography and skin color.

After church, we ate at "Redd Lobster" restaurant (notice the two d's) and then headed to Akropong, which is a city about an hour away by bus, up in the mountains. It is a beautiful drive. As the tro-tro (mini-bus) edged up the mountain roads, we saw a full rainbow on the valley to our right. The scenery reminded me a lot of Malawi, with its green, rolling hills and forested mountains. In Akropong we stayed at the Akrofi-Christallar Institute for Christian Study. Kwame Bediako (the president of the Institute) gave a lecture about African traditional religion and philosophy, and how it interacts with Christianity and the Christian worldview. We also heard lectures about Ghanaian culture and gender roles, and about Christian-Muslim relations in Ghana.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Out of place and time

I feel like I'm finally settling into some sort of rhythm here, or at least I know how to navigate my surroundings. There are two cafes that I like eating at. One is called the Basement Cafe, and they have standard Ghanaian food- lots of rice and meat. The other is Tyme Out, which is pseudo-Chinese food with a good selection of beers and soft drinks. Apparently, there is a Ghanaian rivalry between Star beer and Club beer. It's supposed to say something about you if you prefer one or the other. So far, Club is my favorite.

The group has been spending a lot of time just hanging out, doing this and that. Since I didn't really know anyone on the trip before I came, I feel a little out of place, but after talking with some other people, it seems that everyone is feeling that way- out of place in Ghana and in the group. I think that the group is starting to develop a sense of unity and continuity. Hopefully the Ghanaian element will fall into place soon.

One interesting thing about Ghanaians is that they take a lot of pride in their clothing. They dress up for class, they dress up for church, they even dress up to go to the pizza place accross the road from campus. We Americans (and Canadians) are unused to this standard, and we shrug off things like not wearing flip flops or not drying our hair before going out. Our roommates look at us like we're crazy, but they tell us that they already know that Americans are weird, so it's okay. However, I feel like it's important to meet their standards at least a little bit, and with our hot weather hippie clothes, that's a hard thing.

People have started getting sick with various intestinal maladies. This morning Sierra went to the hospital with food poisoning. I would like to think that I will be immune from sickness, but somehow I know that it's coming.

It has been raining a lot, which is great, because the rains were few during the major rainy season (in July). When it rains, mud puddles fill up with red ochre- colored water, and tiny frogs pop up from everywhere.

I got a cell phone, and it gets free incoming calls from the US. The number is 001 - 233 - 25- 516 - 4959. At least I think it is. If you get some random person in Ghana, I'm sorry.