Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cape Coast - Two Days With My Ancestors

I never had much appreciation for  Ghanaian history until I moved to America. As a teenager living In Ghana my connection to history mostly rested with my Cultural Studies teacher in the classroom. Once school closed everything remained there, except for the knowledge that stayed with me- partly because I needed to know them for my exams. Now, in the United States, even as a teenager, I never fully understood the emotional reaction to African history, i.e. slavery, by African Americans. I thought they overreacted with slavery this and slavery that and repatriation there and what not. It wasn't until I hit about age 21 and began exploring and growing curious about my history that it hit me: that the Cape Coast and  Elmina dungeons are a BIG deal.

Being away from Ghana for about 12 years has helped to produce a great appreciation for a history that is part of my identity. When I decided to go on a two-day vacation in Cape Coast (located in the Central Region of Ghana) just to get away from the noise in Accra, I was unprepared for what lay ahead. In my mind, I was going to relax, rejuvenate and connect deeply with nature (all of which I did). What I didn't realize, though, was that in order for me to experience this I had to undergo some needed pain.

One view of the Cape Coast dungeon
The goal of the first day at Cape Coast was to explore, the first destination being the Cape Coast dungeon (I refuse to call it a "castle" because it's far from that). I went with my friend and two other friends (also visiting from America) that we had just made at the resort. At the dungeon, we were first asked to visit the museum unsupervised while we waited for our tour guide. The museum experience was mild  - I teared up a bit but it was nothing intense. And then it was time for us to begin the actual tour. We began with the male dungeons, which turned out to be emotionally draining for my friend and one of the new friends we had made. My eyes clouded with tears from time to time, but the emotions weren't unbearable so I decided to continue to the female dungeons. That's where everything began to build up for me.

The female dungeons were separated by a walkway that led to the "Door of No Return," the door that led to the sea and ships. Now, as an advocate for women's empowerment, it was difficult to remove myself emotionally from the scene at the female dungeons. As the tour guide provided details, all I could do was to place myself in the story. One of 150 women crammed into the small space fighting for fresh air provided by two small windows located very high up the closing walls. I envisioned myself being dragged out by a guard or "master" forcefully stripped naked of my clothes and raped however many times, just like that. The shame, the helplessness, the violation, anger, sorrow, disgust. I envisioned myself being thrown back into the small dungeon with the other 149 women only to find out later that I was pregnant as a result of being raped by a man who used me to gratify his sexual desires or fantasies. I envisioned my ancestor going through this, a great great great grandmother or aunt or cousin. I wondered exactly what their thoughts were, the fear; their countenance, unexpressed emotions; the state of their hearts, yes, their hearts, which should have been a wellspring of life for them.

I was beginning to feel hot and getting lost in my thoughts. The tears were coming down now. Was I really seeing a mother with a child cowering in the corner or were my thoughts coming to life? Just then the guide's voice interrupted me and I went outside.  He then announced that there was one final stop to make on the tour : "The Condemned Cell."

This was a very small cell created for defiant slaves, all of whom were men. The story behind "The Condemned Cell" is that all of the men who resisted capture were placed here, 50 at a time. This particular cell had no windows or lights and once the door was shut it wasn't opened until the 50th person died of hunger, thirst and mental frustration. Everyone in that cell breathed in the rotten smell of human decay until the last person was gone. On the interior walls of this cell are markings of teeth and nail scratches by the prisoners. To better demonstrate their state of mind, my tour guide shut the door of the cell and turned off the light before narrating the room's historical relevance. This was my breaking point. It felt as though my spirit were connecting with whatever was there - the heaviness was unbearable, the tears uncontrollable. I brushed them aside and forced myself to stay and feel it, feel them, yes, my ancestors, but i couldn't. I could no longer listen or stay in the cell. My tears were now falling in fat amounts on my cheeks and I immediately asked to be let out.

For several minutes, the fresh air outside couldn't console me. I felt drained, literally. I know they were there. It never once felt like I was listening to a historical account. No. It felt present. They were present. I finally understood the journey. It was real.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Accra Floods - Will Gov't Overlook Once Season Ends?

Almost every Ghanaian's response to the storms that have destroyed parts of Accra has been: "Government won't do anything about it." Because they've heard the rhetoric surrounding Accra flooding in years past.

A cab driver I took yesterday at Adabraka would not stop ranting about how terrible the situation was, taking me through areas heavily affected by the torrential rains: people drying their clothes on sidewalks or fence walls. One shop I witnessed displayed brand new air-conditioners apparently filled with water being dried in the sun. What tore my heart the most was the destruction of shelters, mind you, these are low-income areas. These folks are already struggling to survive under previous conditions, how much more now?

A co-worker told me that on his way to work he witnessed victims being pulled out of overflowing bridges. One end of a particular bridge was sealed off with a net to prevent victims from falling into a larger part that had turned into a mini river. Whoa!

One disheartening story is of a young man who took on the task of alerting people of the flood only to be taken away later by the water. Another is of a family at Kasoa that spent the night on their roof top because their house was flooded.

This issue of ineffective drainage systems causing disasters in Accra in the wake of such events has existed for many years. Each government comes into power with empty promises, the opposition comes only to do the same. On yesterday's Minority Caucus on MultiTV's "The Caucus," Kwamena Duncan, Central Regional Secretary of the New Patriotic Party, stated that something must be done about this problem, forgetting that his party was in power for eight years and did absolutely nothing about it.

It's not enough for the president to go out giving condolences. What I saw in the streets of Accra yesterday was simply heartbreaking. And traffic had quadrupled. A 10-minute drive turned into a 45-minute drive.

It is common knowledge that politicians are deceptive, but this is plain wickedness.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Respects to the Dead, Tears for Libya.

When the Libyan revolution began in February I remember thinking to myself, "Whoa, these folks are brave." The fear of Colonel Gaddafi, I realized, had trickled down to me, despite the fact that I had openly spoken against the man on national radio (of course, behind the safety doors of the United States). I have followed the events with keen interest, at one point feeling hopeless when the rebels appeared to be losing ground. My emotions traveled with the curious journalist in me, eager to see, feel and hear everything. There have been moments when I wished I was in Libya, covering some of the events and recording people's stories. I've resorted to watching various web videos of the conflict, but at no point have I cried...until this morning.

The Beep published a story on Friday that just ripped my heart. You can read it and watch the video here. I pay my respects to the dead by shortening my words in this piece. I'll leave my rants for a later article. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Love Letter to my iPhone

To preface, you know that I'm no techie but I thought I should share this with you.

You know, when I was with Blackberry 8520 I thought that was it. His features and browsing capabilities/interface made it very convenient for my lifestyle. I swore BB was the one, and the furthest I was going to go with gadgets because I've never been one to hop from one gadget to another.

But then BB started displaying his true character: My thumbs constantly hurt from typing since I received large volumes of email, I wondered how long I could take such an abuse; the screen was too small and the storage space wasn't enough. It was just a terrible relationship. 

But with you, though I know you're imperfect, I feel as though I have made the right choice, you have just what I need: big screen for a better browsing experience, touch screen that doesn't hurt my more abuse! Not to forget the huge storage capacity and features that enable me to browse my very own closet on my phone!! Ahhh the thrill of that! BB couldn't give me this amount of pleasure. Sad. 

You know, I love that in the middle of the night when my fingers itch to type I can just reach over my bed and grab you...ahem...I still enjoy scribbling on paper first, that's something I'll never grow out of, but you already know that, love. 

So baby, I cherish this relationship we have. I'll remain faithful to you but if you start acting up, I won't waste time getting rid of you. Until then, let's enjoy each other :-). 

Monday, August 1, 2011

African or American? I Know.

Last night I had a conversation with someone - a childhood friend it took me weeks to remember - that made me want to write this short piece about identity.

In one of our conversations I mentioned that I was part American, which didn't seem to sit very well with him as though I were denouncing my Ghanaian heritage. His response was, "Just because you've lived somewhere for some time doesn't mean you're no longer Ghanaian. Linda, you are a Ghanaian ok. You were born in Ghana and lived here for quite some time." Ha! Of course, his response didn't sit very well with me either because anyone who really knows me can attest to the fact that I WEAR my Ghanaian heritage as though it were my lifeline and I flaunt my African-ness because I AM proud! I tried to explain to him that by saying I was part American had nothing to do with identifying one's self by way of birth or legal right, though those are valid, but instead based on values, perspectives and way of life. Obviously he didn't get it at all and still somehow believed that I was denying my Ghanaian heritage just because I had lived in America for the amount of time I did, how sad.

Sad because of the narrow-mindedness I have witnessed in some Africans, myself included sometimes. For years, I never identified myself as American when I lived in the United States. I was always the Ghanaian or African. I even created a special slot for myself on last year's (2010) census forms: For the part that asked about "race" I added "African" to the categories (since we're always included in the African American slot) and checked the new addition. I always made it a point to state that I was African, although I must add that I had assimilated very well into the American culture: my work ethics, the way I related to people, my choices in food, the activities I enjoyed and preferred to do, my speech/accent, my views on social and even political issues, the list goes on.

The interesting thing about this is, it wasn't until I relocated to Ghana that I realized how much of an American I was, although I could've fought anyone who "accused" (note I placed "accused" in quotes) me of such a thing four months ago, as though being American or claiming to be American were a filthy thing.

Which brings me back to an area I diverted from earlier. There seems to be this notion held by some Africans, or perhaps I should say some immigrants, that a person can only be one thing, in my case Ghanaian because I was born in Ghana and any strong identification with another culture is some sort of "sin" or abomination. Heck no! It will be a tragedy for me to deny that parts of what make me "Linda" or "Abena" is American. I grew into the woman I am today in America and this woman was formed by life events shaped by the American experience. Important decisions I've made in my life as a result of these experiences were influenced by Ghanaian and American values, not just one.

So yes, I refuse to deny that I'm part American just to get "my people" off my case.  I'm not embarrassed to say that I embrace parts of the American culture that I have grown to identify with. I didn't migrate to America when I was a full grown adult at age 25 or 30. I was a teenager whose identity hadn't fully been formed yet and definitely had room to grow. Am I happy that were the case? Heck yeah! Because I believe that I possess a very rich perspective by being able to merge my Ghanaian and American values.

So how will I feel anytime I hear the American national anthem? My heart will continue to swell and tears will cloud my eyes in the same way they do when I hear the Ghanaian national anthem. And I'm very proud of that.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Taxi Ride + Radio = Politics

One of the things I'm enjoying in the three months that I've lived in Accra is my taxi ride. There's something special about riding in a cab in the morning on my way to work, listening to a radio talk show (mostly political) hosted in the local language and observing the driver's and audience's reaction. Whoever thought Ghanaians didn't love politics has been lost for a while! And whoever thought Ghanaian women fit the general, stereotypical role, assigned to African women, of being obsequious with little or no ability to form opinions of their own is in for treat, ha!

I've been amazed by how women take to the radio to voice very strong views about political issues in the country and suggest solutions to them. Callers range from women lawyers and professionals to illiterates who may not have the academic knowledge, but still believe have opinions to contribute to a topic. And the same applies to the men.  

I love my taxi rides, really. I love watching and listening to say, an illiterate taxi driver suck his teeth at a comment made by a caller or host and offers a solid opinion/solution. I love the vibrancy of Ghana's political climate - the freedom to speak your mind (although there have been few reports of alleged abuse by those in power towards overly outspoken opponents) and feel that you belong, that even if actions do not take place, someone is listening to your voice. I simply love it.

After 54 years of independence I'm proud to see my people progressing, politically, although there's much more work to be done.

Hopefully in 20 years, a 10-year-old girl can sit in a cab, listen to a political radio talk show and have enough knowledge to engage in a dialogue with the cab driver. That would be sweet.

Friday, June 17, 2011

New Beginnings, Same Ol' Habits?

Hi blog! Sorry for the five-month hiatus! Phew! What a cool couple of months!

So, I've been living NOT visiting or staying but actually living in Ghana for about two months now. My short stay, I must say, has been packed with much fun, crazy excitement about the unknown and, of course, frustrations! Ahhhh, who can live in Africa without getting frustrated, really?

Here's one for you:

I recently resolved an issue with some employees of Electricity Corporation who kept postponing an appointment to work on my electricity pole. It took almost one week for an issue as simple as tightening the wire on the pole to be resolved, a task only ECG workers are authorized to perform. When the electricity folks finally arrived at my house, the line's man to fix the problem tried to sell this cock-and-bull story about my wires being in need of replacement and that he could supply new cables, get this, for GHC 300 (roughly $200) and charge a workmanship fee of GHC 50 (a little over $30). Now, $200 for electricity cables and $30 workmanship fee aren't much if you live in the U.S. But to even sell something of this sort and for that amount in Ghana is simply ridiculous. Not to mention that my house is not a new building to be in need of new electrical cables! Oh my! Dude was obviously trying to find a quick way to make some bucks because he picked up my American accent, figured I was fresh in town, and thought he could dupe me! Ha! Little did he know my eyes are wider and brighter than an owl's!

I returned from work rather late that day only to be briefed on the story. Apparently someone from my household had given him the GHC 50, after which he promised to return in a few minutes to fix the problem because he needed to pick up equipments from the office. Mind you, this was about 8 a.m.and guess what? At 7 p.m. the line's man hadn't returned from the office to fix the problem after 13 hours! And oh, he had switched off his phone. I definitely went into flip mode. Now, there are absolutely no words to describe the fire that imploded in my chest at that moment. We'll just say the mad African woman in me emerged. Of course, I reported the incident to someone higher in command who apologized and told me the cable story was ridiculous! So after threats of taking this to the police and practically calling all phone numbers I had for the ECG workers, the line's man finally came the following day to fix the pole. Ummm, he fixed the line alright AND returned the GHC 50. That's what I call a consumer exercising his or her power..

I refuse to believe that a nation such as Ghana, the first African country south of the Sahara to gain independence, cannot empower its citizens to stand up to crooks like this line's man. That such a person can be given so much dirty power to be used at the expense of others. I understand the culture of giving "tips" for EVERY WORK someone does for you in Ghana, even if it means performing duties the person is already getting paid for. I understand that, although it doesn't make sense. But I REFUSE to give power to anyone whose only job is to take advantage of me and other citizens of Ghana. That's doesn't work.

I believe these issues can be solved only if Ghanaians would stand up to these people.We need to feel empowered enough to say, "No, I won't allow you to take advantage of me. I pay me taxes, Ghana is mine as much as it is yours. I respect the words of the national anthem and I take my country and her people seriously."

Now I'm getting ideas... 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Introducing Obaasema Online TV

Interview With 54 Kingdoms
It's here! Obaasema Online TV was launched this week (1/27/11). Check out my two-part interview with two of the continent's burgeoning entrepreneurs: CEO and President of the clothing line, 54 Kingdoms

(Part 1)

(Part 2)