Monday, March 22, 2010

World Water Day 2010

Before I begin this blog post, I would like to begin by acknowledging the US House and Senate Democrats for passing one of the most monumental pieces of legislation my generation will ever see (well, that is until Gay Marriage becomes federally recognized by law): the passage of the US Healthcare Bill.

“We pushed back on the undue influence of special interests. We didn’t give in to mistrust or to cynicism or to fear. Instead, we proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things.” - President Obama

Hoorah! Hoorah!

In my life though, today I am celebrating World Water Day! Per the occasion, the End Poverty Ghana Coalition organized a basic sanitation and clean water now program for the entire Ashaiman school district (approx. 2000 schoolchildren and about 8 local schools). The main activities involved raising awareness of water and sanitation and forming the world's longest toilet queue. That's right...THE WORLD'S LONGEST TOILET QUEUE!

So you can imagine...I pulled up to the schoolyard to find nearly 2,000 schoolchildren lining up to use the toilet, shouting and chanting "We want water!" and "We want toilets!" and "Wash your hands!"

The program raised awareness of the scarcity of water and its significant and inherent importance to the existence of life. Though water has been characterized as a "universal human right," thousands upon thousands of people on our planet do not have access to clean, potable drinking water.

Today I learned that in Sub-Saharan Africa, 7 out of 10 people lack access to safe sanitation; 40% are forced to drink contaminated water; and finally, that preventable diarrhoea kill 2,000 African children everyday (

Attending the "Basic Sanitation and Clean Water Now" program was a great opportunity to witness the work of NGOs being organized in the field. It was also a great opportunity to understand how Ghanaians are tackling water and sanitation issues in their own communities. Following the world's longest queue, the Ashaiman municipal director was able to announce projects that are laid ahead within each school in the Ashaiman region to institute more sanitary toilets.

I will take time to post more pictures and the speeches later. But for now, Happy World Water Day!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Few Reflections

Ghana has seriously forced me to breach all of my personal and professional comfort levels. Since I’ve arrived, I have been confronting my irrational fear of insects such as spiders and roaches. I’ve learned that I can withstand temperatures greater than my internal body temperature for hours at a time. I’ve begun to learn how to live communally and cooperatively. And I’ve begun to learn how to communicate cross-culturally on the professional, personal and academic level. Each experience is uniquely challenging to me. Since I have spent a very considerable amount of time planning and academically, socially and personally preparing for this experience, I feel confident that the challenges I face will further my personal and professional growth.

This mainstream culture and society is not one full of luxuries, nor is it a culture of consumerism. For the most, people do not take the “every day” things for granted such as: flushing toilets, potable water, roads, the internet, television, natural and healthy food, and other technologies. It is not that Ghana is lacking but that Ghana is different. I have consciously chosen not to compare or make the connection that one world is developed while the other developing. There is no such connection; such a connection is a myth, a fable, a social and cultural construction. Ghanaians have their own culture, their own professionalism, and their own lifestyles, just as in America, though we may not even understand that we are, indeed, not “normal.”

Perhaps the only effective way to understand culture is to live within another culture. Only then will you be able to step back to see that you are part of a culture like everyone else. Concepts of culture in America are often tainted and misrepresented. I am not referring to Culture, with a capital “C” but culture, something naturalized, indiscernible and often times invisible. In fact, there is such regional culture within the US as well. In particular, it is the regional cultures that I miss the most.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cape Coast

Today we arrived back from a three day trip to Cape Coast, just west of Accra. We left on Friday following a presentation from the USAID at the U.S. Embassy here in Accra. The presentation was an informational presentation of the health and sanitation issues that USAID and other charitable organizations are working on around the country. USAID tries to tackle a broad range of issues including maternal and infant mortality rates, access to potable water, preventing and treating HIV/AIDS and providing protection from malaria to Ghanaians around the country. They have quite a few hefty goals to say the least. But at least it was a great presentation of some of the gender and health problems trying to be confronted through policy.
We spent the weekend at an extremely upscale hotel in Cape Coast called Coconut Groves. A lot of celebrities have spent time there such as Will Smith, yessss the Fresh Prince of Belair!,Denzel Washington and the Williams sisters to name a few. Although this time there was a bunch of women missionaries from the States, so we had to bear with that for three days. However, it was so beautiful and located directly on the Atlantic coast. There is so much fresh fish and seafood being caught on a daily basis; it’s Ghana’s largest fishing town. That being said, I ate 9 small lobsters in one day.
During our time in the Coast, we visited both Cape Coast castle and Elmina castle. These castles were the castles used to store slaves before they were exported to South America, North America and the Caribbean between starting in the 15th century. The slave trade continued for nearly 300 years, only ending in the mid-1800s, around 1853. It is estimated that nearly 10 million African slaves were exported through these castles: one of the largest human migration in history. That being said, we took two extensive tours of the castles; more specifically, we toured the dungeons and cells where the humans were contained: beaten, raped, starved and tortured for months to years at a time. I can’t describe in words what if felt like to be there, the dungeons were rancid. They reeked of 300 years worth of decaying flesh, bones, feces, vomit, menstrual blood and urine. In fact, samples of the dirt in the cells have been taken and have shown to contain traces of such. Most dungeons had no windows; a few had some peepholes. However, the colonizers were Christians. In one castle, there was a church that was set directly above a torture chamber. After the tours, it was hard to understand how the British, Dutch, Portuguese and even Africans legitimized the slave trade. But the slave trade was part of the broader economy; utilized human labor in order to increase crop production so that the economy was able to produce more goods and more wealth. But I cannot help but to ask myself: what is the price of a human life? There is a Ghanaian proverb that states: the human body is more beautiful than gold.
Yesterday, we packed and drove out to the Kakum National Forest, the newest and the most popular national rainforest in Ghana. Clearly, this is because they have a famous canopy walk that contains seven bridges that are 60 meters from the ground, nearly half a mile off the ground. You can see photos of our experience of the walk above. It was beautiful.
Today is the Independence Day. Ghana is celebrating 53 years of independence since Kwame Nkrumah declared indepdendence from the British colony, making Ghana the very first free and independent nation in Africa. Ghana is founded on two principles: freedom and justice. They use the black star to represent justice, freedom and the unity of black Africa. In addition, Ghana’s flag, three stripes of yellow, green and red signifies yellow for gold, green for agriculture and red for blood shed in the name of social justice. Because of the holiday, we’ll be starting out first day of work on Tuesday. Tomorrow we’ll be exploring our office location within the city. I am excited to get started on projects and to be furthering my research on grassroots resistance to water privatization.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Journeys in Ghana: Week 2

Since my last post I have done a bit of extensive traveling and exploring. Last week, we took a trip to the Volta Region in Northeastern Ghana to visit the Wli Falls. It’s a large waterfall located in the middle of a mountain. It is water that is sourced from a natural spring on the top of the mountain and falls down into this very small pool of water.
We stayed at a lodge at the foot of the falls. A German couple, Sabina and Bernard, had been hiking up the falls owned it; they loved it so much they decided to retire there. They have opened a lodge that supports the local economy by attracting tourist from around West Africa and Western Europe. In addition, they employ locals from the Volta Region and buy fruit, vegetables and other foodstuffs from the local community farmers and producers. Sabina and Bernard also have a garden of their own on the property. There are also locally made products such as wood carvings, jewelry, skirts, shirts, quilts, hats, etc. It was very clean and felt like home.
The next day we hiked through the forest to the lower falls; we saw pineapples, experienced palm wine from the palm tree, and crossed nine bridges before we arrived at the falls. There, we were able to swim in the pool below the falls and then swim IN the waterfall! It was great. It was a nice break from the noisy, polluted and smelly city center.
We had a day off and spent the day next to the pool, drinking lagers and writing e-mails to friends. The sun was so hot; I burned in about twenty minutes. But it was nice to spend time next to the water. That night, we had a welcoming ceremony. A dance group
Then, we headed out for Kumasi, north of Accra. It takes about four hours buy bus. We visited the Kente weaving village and bargained for Kente cloths. We also toured the King’s palace and the history of the Asante tribe, hit up the cultural center and then tackled the great Kumasi Central Market, the largest and most complex market in all of West Africa. It is a very complex market to properly describe because the market is on such a massive scale. There are frequent fires because the mix of goods, electricity and sheet temperatures are so humongous. There is a picture above.

Please let me know if you want me to expand more. I am working to secure an internet connection at the hostel.

Miss and love y'all so very much!