Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pictures for Previous Posting

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Here are a few pictures relating to my last post.
A removal order for a road-side shop

A new street sign in Tamale -- this is the road my office is on.

Kintampo Falls, during an EWB retreat

Another removal order for a road-side shop

Monday, February 19, 2007

Return to a (slightly) Changed Ghana

It’s taken many hours of movement (and many hours at a standstill) but I’ve arrived back in Tamale, in northern Ghana.

It started with a 21-hour voyage from Toronto to the Ghanaian capital of Accra (including a stopover in Amsterdam – I got to wander the streets and buy a pair of Che Guevara socks and I found a world/indie music store with excellent West African CDs).

I was surprised by how much the return to Accra hit me – it was very strange, coming back to Ghana after an almost two-month absence.

I think this is in large part due to the fact that Accra is very foreign to me – as Tom Owen has pointed out, with its streets congested with cars, mini buses and motorbikes, its sidewalks congested with hordes of people and stands, its pollution, noise, and heat, Accra is much more intense than Toronto. Last year whenever I would travel south from Tamale, I would feel like quite the small town boy rolling into the big city.

This time around, I stayed in Accra for two nights at a friend’s home, and then caught the 8am bus to Tamale. It left relatively on time (8:45am), and we rolled along towards Kumasi, the first major city on the way. We made it an hour and a half out of town, when the bus starting producing death-throe grinding noises and pulled to the side of the road. Four hours and one bus technician later, we were back on the way, with people grumbling about the STC (the state owned transportation company) – this kind of thing is the rule more so than the exception for STC. After a few more minor breakdowns and 2 hours of repair time in Kumasi, we finally made it to Tamale. The time: 3am. By the time I finally made it to my friend’s house (my old room is full of my landlord’s rice now) the mosques were firing up their sound systems for the call to morning prayer – sleep was difficult.

Tamale has changed a bit in my two month absence. There are now street signs up on the larger streets, revealing names I hadn’t know about before. However, the word Tamale is written in colour, with “Tam” in blue and “ale” in red – giving the signs a beer ad flavour (I’ll get a picture up soon).

The main street in the centre of town is being “decongested” – all the local shops, which are set up on the side of the street in small shack-like buildings, are being cleared out. Apparently they’re being relocated to two satellite markets in town, but I don’t know the details on this (nobody seems to), and I’m dubious about how effective these markets will be. The main strip was a major commercial hub for the city, and I worry that relocating all these shopkeepers will put a major dent in their sales.

Today I also drove by the foundations for a new fountain, near to the brand new stadium being constructed by a Chinese contractor. A fountain in Tamale seems more than a bit quixotic – my neighbourhood only has water once a week, so where they’ll find enough water to power a fountain all week, and why they’d want to when so many people are without potable water in town, is beyond me.

In any case, this all seems to relate to Ghana’s 50th anniversary – the 6th March will mark 50 years of independence for Ghana from British rule (the first sub-Saharan African nation to gain this status), and they’re sure to celebrate. Beautification projects are ongoing across the country.

Ghana will also be hosting the Cup of African Nations 2008 – an African soccer tournament. It’s for this reason that the new stadium is being constructed.

These two events are certainly exciting, but I can’t help but wonder if the preparations leading up to them are doing more harm for the people of Tamale than good.

One thing that certainly hasn’t changed is the warmth of the people – my friends in Tamale, people at the internet cafĂ© in Accra, the food vendors I frequented last year. I’d forgotten how great it is to be made to feel so welcome in a foreign land, and for this, Ghana is unparalleled.