Saturday, March 24, 2007


There are five cows tied up outside my compound house – outside my window, specifically. They just showed up one day, tied to the withering trees which provide a tiny amount of shade – particularly important, given we’re at the height of the dry season, with the sun at its strongest.

I really don’t know why the cows are there. But I’ve gotten used to not knowing what’s going on. Not that I don’t ask questions – that’s the first thing that EWB teaches you to do. But questions inevitably lead to more questions, and in the case of the cows, seeking more information is just going to make me tired. Plus, I like a little mystery in life.

So I know that they (the cows) are owned by the landlord of my house. I also know that they’re being fed old dried cassava that the family has been laying out in the sun. Furthermore, I know that the cows make a terrible racket at random times during the day and night.

However, one time at which they moo like clockwork is 4am. It’s at this time that the mosque, which finds itself right next door to my house (and has always been there – it didn’t just show up) starts its call to prayer over a bellowing sound system. I’m pretty sure that the speaker is pointed directly at my window, as the sound of the muezzin chanting “Allahu Akbar” hammers me from my sleep without fail every morning.

The chanting is really quite beautiful, under most circumstances. I particularly enjoy it at dusk, as the sun is almost gone and the smoke from cooking fires rolls slowly onto the streets.

But at 4am it’s a different story -- especially now that the cows are there to add to the fray. I’ll normally press my pillow over my ears, and fall back asleep. But my co-workers insist I should start praying – I’m awake, anyway, so why not?

I may have to buy some ear plugs.

Clip here to listen to the sounds outside my room (mp3 format).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Golden Jubilee

I’m listening to a CD called West African Gold. Put out by Rough Guide, it’s a collection of West African music from the late 50s to the early 80s. The first track is by the Ghanaian high-life pioneer E.T. Mensah -- the “King of Highlife” according to the liner notes. It’s called Ghana-Guinee-Mali and is an ode to the independence of these three countries. The upbeat funky music is partly a product of the optimism of the late 50s and early 60s in Ghana.

Ghana was a trailblazer: the first sub-Saharan African country to free itself from colonial rule. Let by an intelligent, educated visionary, Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana was supposed to become a model nation for Africa.

As the lyrics in the Mensah song go:

Ghana, Guinea, Mali Union
Has laid down a strong foundation

For redemption of Africa
For which we’ve been strongly fighting

It’s now 50 years after Ghana’s independence. And unfortunately, the consensus among people here is that Ghana has not met the expectations it set out in 1957. Ghana is still a developing nation, with a myriad of problems facing it, as anyone here will tell you.

But all the same, that’s not to say Ghana is without pride. Indeed, people are proud of many things about Ghana – its democracy, its peace, its exports.

I attended the Golden Jubilee celebrations with my friends Sheriff, Stephen and Kristy. When asked about the day, Stephen: “I feel very proud to be Ghanaian. I think today is a remarkable day in the history of Ghana, that everyone will want to celebrate. It’s Independence Day!”When pressed on why he’s proud to be Ghanaian, Stephen says, “I am proud to be a Ghanaian because this is the day Ghana has been liberated from its colonial power. So we are now doing things on our own… I’m most excited because the flag of Ghana is being hoisted. It’s being raised very high.”

And the red, gold, green and black star were certainly being raised in full force. The weeks leading up to 6th March saw the streets flooded with a myriad of Ghana-themed products: key chains, flags of all sizes, shirts, posters, pendants, tags. Special fabric made to commemorate Ghana’s independence sold incredibly well.

And the people were out in full force at the Police Park, which had undergone recent renovations – a brand new stage gave the place a major facelift (although I heard part of the scaffolding collapsed during the show, injuring several people). There were thousands upon thousands of people packed into the park, there to witness marching schoolchildren and police officers, and to strain to hear the words spoken by local dignitaries (the sound system wasn’t quite strong enough).

The atmosphere was more social than formal – people walked about together, observing the masses. Vendors could be seen everywhere, selling oranges, ice cream, cakes, water. Friends chatted and laughed and ran into each other at every turn.

As the sun became so strong as to make the dusty park unbearable, the crowds dispersed. That evening, it seemed that all the city’s youths descended on the main taxi rank for a night of music – the streets were packed with thousands of youngsters. Apparently the night was capped off with an impressive fireworks display, but I didn’t see it.

In retrospect, the day can be seen as a great success. People were proud of their country and displayed this pride. It was fun – a celebration.

But despite the crowds, and despite the colours, as the day unfolded it all seemed to lack the energy that was unleashed last year during the World Cup, when Ghana beat both the United States and the Czech Republic.

That was a moment of unbridled spontaneity, when Ghana did what no one, not even Ghanaians, thought possible: toppled two of the world’s best soccer teams. It was at this time that Ghanaian pride shone brightly through its problems.

People took to the streets then, with makeshift drums and hastily drawn flags, to celebrate the great levelling that had just occurred on the international stage.

Perhaps the spectre of 1957’s missed potential is still too strong in Ghana today – too strong for people here to truly express their pride on their Golden Jubilee. Perhaps this international levelling that happened at the World Cup hasn’t shown itself enough times. Perhaps people are still waiting for the day when a World Cup match victory is not a surprise, a day when they’ll have the confidence to look back on their past and say that their dreams had, indeed, been realized.

I have faith that this day will come.