Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Rock the Vote

I got an unexpected email last week. I received a note from the American government asking for my vote. I was excited and nervous. I am not 100% sure whom I will vote for. Now that I have the ballot I must start researching.

Here, for your pleasure, is a peek at the New York state ballot for Brooklyn [to be official: Kings county] that I just downloaded.

I promise to fill this out within the next seven days and then mail it within the next seven days. [Devil, thy name is procrastination.]

For a bit, I was torn about voting. I was helping decide what person should take office in America. Because I live in Germany, my actions seemed a bit over reaching. After I got a kind tongue lashing from my friends in America and my German husband, I was back to energetically voting again.

Wish me luck.

Monday, September 24, 2012

How I spent my summer

My trip to Ghana, like my first trip to Paris, was the result of a television.

Like many Americans, I had created a nonviolent hatred of the French. They are just so arrogant and evil. On my list of cities to visit before to die, Paris was on it but not near the top. But then Paula Deen changed that. I always felt an affinity for Paula. A few years ago, she went to Paris and was so overwhelmed by what she saw, ate and experienced that she cried. OK, if this city had this affect on my hero, I I knew I had to go.

I had a similar experience with Anthony Bourdain. The sour chef goes all over the world and complains and bitches and moans his way through life. Many love his deft hand creating putdowns that immediate put a picture in your mind. However, I find that the most boring part. It is extremely easy for man to create negative quips. I was impressed with his intrepid adventures. He ate what people who lived in a locale ate; he drank what they drank; he took part in what they took part in. I, the lover of comfort, saw his immersion and was impressed. There are a few places where he seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself. In 2007, Ghana was one of them. I kept that place in my back pocket until it fit my life. That time was this year.

Last fall Asmus and I decided to make our big trip to Ghana this year. We expected some major changes in 2012 and this trip was going to be the last adventure. I was so excited. My resolve to be positive almost died during preparation. I love my Black brothers and sisters but around the world, we all have problems with clear instructions. We were trying to figure out how to get a visa but the website didn't give clear directions and I couldn't get a person on the telephone. Plus, we had to get immunizations that stretched out over about five weeks. Then we had to figure out what to bring because we needed clothes to accommodate the high heat and humidity and then to protect against malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Once all that was figured out, I relaxed. That occasion occurred about five days before we left.

The view of the town of Ho from our hotel. We were living at cloud level.

I was determined to enjoy Ghana for what it was and not what it wasn't. I brought wet wipes to deal with hole in the ground that served as toilets. I brought bottled water to drink and rinse my teeth with after brushing because people are supposed to avoid drinking it. I filled up my iPad with season 5 of Entourage to entertain myself at night. I was not staying at the Hotel Adlon or eating at Michelin-starred restaurants and that was cool.

What actually happened was that I was smacked in the face with poor people everywhere, bad roads or no roads, dilapidated homes, and other bad things. I was also surrounded by people working hard, villages using tourism to build a school, delicious local food, cool and economical [for a foreigner] fashion, and other great things. Those positives far outweighed the negatives.

Many people cannot gather the money to pay for their children to finish high school. Those that do have trouble finding jobs in a nation without a lot of industry. Instead of grumbling, they get to work. People are selling something wherever there is an empty space. It is impossible to find out where the official boundaries of Accra's Makola market are. Sellers even sell things on the street next to the sidewalk. There are people selling things right next to embassy gates, with the exception of the American embassy [everywhere around the earth, people harbor a strong hatred of America. To accommodate the latter, there are barriers around American diplomatic outposts]. Some artisans create and sell rattan furniture outside the Australian embassy. At night, prostitutes sell their wares on the grass outside the British embassy.

In ten days in Ghana, one person begged us for money. We were sitting at sidewalk table at a chop bar [a casual bar] in the small town of Ho.  A drunk man asked us for money. Before I could fully understand what was happening, someone from the restaurant fly out and pushed him into the street and out of sight. It was surreal.

I was so struck by how positive everyone is. Ghana has borders created by the British. Various peoples called this area home for centuries. Now they live peacefully within the nation. One taxi driver told me, "Whether you are Ashante, Ga or whatever, we are all one. We are Ghana."

Unlike America, where there is a sense of unfairness that often evolves into anger, which often creates theft, murder and vandalism, Ghana has little crime. People just make due. We gave a woman who had a baby strapped to her back a ride. Until she bumped into us, she was prepared to walk about three miles in the sun. People cannot find jobs and the government does not have enough money to support them or train them or spur job growth, so people just start selling something. It can be annoying and a bit sad but I am so impressed.

I am not proud because I am not Ghanaian. I am not African. While all the people we met treated my like a cousin, no one treated me like a sister. When I walked through Accra's chaotic Makola market, my dress, backpack and hair required calls of "America! America!" People I spoke to were happy to see me and told how they really wanted to visit America one day [and they didn't think they ever could. Ghanaians must have a lot of money in the bank before the American government will bless them with a visa to visit.]. However, I was not one of them. That's cool with me.

Everyone in Ghana was also nice to my white husband. We were prepared for them to yell out "Obruni!" [White person!] but no one did. Guidebooks noted this and our white tour guide at an Accra museum told us to be prepared. He was no big deal.

Even though I am not Ghanaian, it was nice to be one of crowd of brown faces. In Germany, I am one brown face in a crowd of white faces. Strangers remember me after I have walked by a place twice. It was relaxing not to stick out.

Meda ase, Ghana. [Thank you, Ghana.]

An advertisement for a breakfast drink.


I just came back from Ghana and here are a few shots.

Akwaaba [Welcome] to Ghana!

Fishing boats on the Atlantic, off the coast of the city of Elmina.

Wooded area where friendly monkeys live.
The village of Tafi Atome supports itself from tourists who pay to frolic with the simians.

A tourist like this.

An area of the Shai Hills Reserve.
Starting around the 1600s, the Se people lived in the hills, grasses and caves of this region.

Accra Beach, which sits in the center of the capital. The unattractive and cost-free beach attracts a lot of  Accra natives. The sandy land sits directly behind Independence Square (unofficially Black Star Square. The Ghanaian flag features a red horizontal stripe, a yellow horizontal stripe and a red horizontal stripe with a black star sitting in the middle of the yellow stripe. The Black Star is the "lodestar of African freedom."), the expansive parade grounds, where Ghanaians celebrate their independence each year and other important occasions in the nation's 55-year history.

This government building is covered with the traditional colors of mourning, red and black, in honor of the July 24 death of its president, John Evans Atta Mills.
The capital was draped in red and black and signs honoring him were installed throughout the city.

Ghana is a nation in contrasts. The number of educated and middle class is growing. The outskirts of each city is alive with new home construction. At the same time, poverty is everywhere. There are not enough jobs for everyone. Amazingly, there is little crime. Instead of taking from people who have, people make their own way. Everywhere you go. EVERYWHERE you go people are selling something. There seems to be a clearly-defined division of labor. The women elegantly balance foodstuffs on their heads -- water, fried plantains, milk drinks, meat pies, etc. In their arms, men carry everything else -- phone cards, flash lights, miniature flags, toilet paper, etc. I felt immense anxiety for these entrepreneurs who often hawked their wares in traffic. They calmly snaked around cars with their offerings. while I almost had a heart attack.

Sales on the sidewalk.

Here is an elaborate stand on the side of the road. Because the commerce at these stands and on the street, there are few brick-and-mortar stores in Ghana. This stand sells welcome mats, brooms, rakes, mops, backpacks, speakers, televisions, computers and other random objects.

Intellectual W.E.B. DuBois was invited to live in Ghana by Joseph Nkrumah, the first president Ghana. Tired of the struggle in the United States, DuBois moved in the former British officers house in Accra in 1961.
He was 93 years old.

The grave of W.E.B. DuBois. It is located at the W. E. B. Du Bois Memorial Centre for Pan African Culture. His former home is the base of the center. His gazebo was turned into the mausoleum, which also hold the remains of his wife, Shirley.

The view of the Atlantic and dining tables for our hotel in Elmina.