Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ghosts of Ghana, Arise!

Ghost of Ghana, Arise!

Remember the poem, Old Roger? In case you don’t, allow me to paraphrase: Old Roger died and went to his grave. They planted an apple tree over his head. The apples grew ripe and were ready to drop. Then came an old woman to pick them all up, but furious, Old Roger got up from his grave and gave her such a knock that it made her hop painfully away. Now, that is what I wish would happen at Osu Cemetery, and for that matter every cemetery in Ghana.

Osu Cemetery is the national memorial where dignitaries and fallen heroes are buried, as well as some elders who own plots there. However, thanks to some ruffians, those who have passed away are doing anything but resting in peace. One Sunday on my way to Accra Ridge Church, the taxi driver happened to drive by the cemetery. I had to blink twice to make sure that I was not hallucinating. Young men were playing soccer right there on the tombs of the dearly departed. I was so astonished that I asked the driver to pull over.

Bare-chested men, sweat glistening on their torsos, dribbled and headed their ball over graves, using spaces between two tombs on opposite sides as goal posts. The goalies dived down and somehow managed not to scrape their knees. While the players jumped and dashed after the ball, others cheered, jumping up and down on more graves. Still others, feeling drowsy in the late morning heat, sprawled across cool concrete tombs under the shade and dozed off, their legs hanging over the edges.

As I watched with open mouth, three friends laughingly made their way to the shady wall and fumbled with the buttons in front of their trousers, and soon, fountains in varying shades of yellow sprang from their organs, spraying nearby graves. The taxi driver assured me that this was regular practice, especially on weekends. Evidently I had lived outside Ghana for far too long.

There was a time when Ghanaians were deathly afraid of ghosts. People believed that the mere mention of the dead would rouse ghosts who would drag us down with them into the netherworld. Anytime someone died, I slept with my sisters, huddled under a blanket, eyes shut tightly. I had to have the lights on because in the dark, the furniture in the room would develop arms and legs and start marching towards me. Okay, that was unhealthy, and I am glad we are not as superstitious as we used to be. However, we have gone too far.

Yes, the dead do not feel, so playing soccer on their tombs does not hurt them, but it is still an affront. Osu Cemetery is the equivalent of the Arlington National Cemetery in the U.S., and it is unimaginable that people would play soccer there, much less urinate. Because Arlington Cemetery is revered and guarded, tourists flock to the site to pay respects to fallen heroes, or merely visit out of curiosity.

Perhaps the Ghana Tourist Board could be persuaded to spruce up Osu Cemetery, get the military to patrol it or do something that will lend it some dignity. I know it will take some persuasion for the government to act, what with the petrol crisis, budget deficits and all, but for goodness sake, let’s do something. Surely, for a people that make such a fuss over funerals with lengthy rituals, this is not too much to ask.

Until then, now would be a good time for ghosts to make us believe they exist. Therefore, I call on all you folks lying beneath the concrete slabs; arise and knock down the footballers!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Orange Prize for Literature winner Chimamanda Adichie and the single story

As a Ghanaian-American writer, I have had similar experiences as Chimamanda who expresses herself brilliantly. Here she is, in her own voice:

If you have any trouble, kindly copy the address and paste directly on your browser. The video is called Chimamanda and the single story.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Ghanaians, hello; colonialism has been over since 1957!

Okay, I'm peeved. More than slightly. Ghanaians, when will you stop this nonsensical self-imposed colonialism???!!!

During my tenure as International Specialist for the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service, some American teachers and I visited an elemenatary school in Ghana. I was appalled to learn that new students, we're talking six-year olds, had to be able to communicate well in English before being accepted into a good school--Ghanaians parents choose schools for their children. The result of this stupid practice is that the younger generation can't speak their native language anymore. Parents want to get their children into the best schools, so right from birth, they speak English to them. This is wrong on many levels.

One of the fallacies of education is that a child will get confused learning two or three languages a time. Because I bought into it, my American-born children couldn't speak Fanti, my native language, for many years. Even now, they speak it poorly. While it is true that children mix up languages when learning more than one at a time, they learn to sort them out by the time they are five or even earlier. At four years old, I spoke Yoruba, Ashanti Twi and English. By fourteen, I could speak French, two additional Twi dialects and Ga. Okay, so maybe I have a flair for languages, but I've seen it happen here in America. Children whose parents speak their native language to them have grown up bilingual. My friends' children are examples. A native Czech spoke Czech to her kids; now the children are bilingual and have excelled at school. One graduated from Georgetown University and another from Boston University. My aunt in Springfield spoke Fanti to her children. They grew up speaking English and Fanti, and have done exceedingly well. These are children growing up in America. So why is that those growing up in Ghana can't speak their own language? What a travesty!

What is even more troubling is that some of these Ghanaian parents can't speak English well. I"m talking about those who didn't even make high school, who speak a halting English with faulty vocabulary. They raise children who say things like "No, he have came and took my book." This actually makes the teachers' job harder. It's like trying to mold cement after it has hardened. Fortunately, the educated children, especially if they go on to the university, learn to speak English well, but then they can't have any meaningful conversation with their parents! There's nothing sadder than not being able to have a deep conversation or share jokes with one's parents. Ghanaians are humorous and use lots of proverbs in their language. A lot of meaning is lost in translation. Children who can't communicate with their parents end up despising them, which leads to conflict. Even sadder than that is the loss of culture, something parents pass on to their children. Ghanaians have a rich culture, from the naming ceremony when a child is born, the outdooring at three months when the child is celebrated in the community, puberty rites, etc., etc. How are these going to be conducted?

Let me digress to grumble about the current notion in the English-speaking world that grammar isn't important. Oh it is!! One must know one's language thoroughly before one can even learn another. As a French/Spanish teacher, it was infuriating to have to explain English rules to my students.

It is important to know one's language well. Language defines a people, whether you're American or Ghanaian or both. Bottom line, learn your language well; it's your heritage. People need to have a good understanding of their culture so they can cut out what is unwholesome while embarcing newer ideas. That's how we grow as human beings. So Ghanaians, stop demanding English before enrollment. Stop teaching your children that their language is inferior and hence their culture is inferior. Embrace the best of both cultures. Colonialism is over.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Even in God's house, Ghanaian men rule

When you're homesick for Ghana, there's nothing more heartwarming than visiting a Ghanaian church. I took to doing that a few months ago. You enter the church and suddenly, you're in Ghana. Everyone is dressed in traditional wear. The music is Ghanaian and loud. The people are dancing, laughing, including the pastor and children. After church, and I kid you not, you come out to find people selling homemade Ghanaian snacks like 'sweet bad', fried, crunchy chips, and beoflot (Ghanaian doughnuts) and groundnut cake. The Ghanaian worshiper is pragmatic. People get hungry after singing and dancing, so why not make a little money as well as worship? But this past Sunday, I saw something that was tragically funny.

The pastor announced that a couple had a testimony to share about the goodness of the Lord. Said family lined up in front of the stage and the pastor handed the microphone to the husband. The husband talked and it was about how his wife entered some sweepstakes or something and won a car. I mean the wife WON. Then the pastor gave the mic to the wife because she had something to say. She had received a call that armed robbers were in her parents' house. She talked about how helpless and frightened she was, how she knelt to pray, how her father had no weapon but grabbed the Bible and said to the robbers that he would use it as a weapon, how the robbers, typical of Ghanaian criminals, decided to leave him alone and left without hurting him. While the woman was still talking, her husband just reached over and grabbed the phone from her and talked about the goodness of the Lord. He was a bore. The woman had no other reaction than to smile and start dancing. I'm glad there was no conflict, but I wondered if she would even consider telling her husband later not to disrespect her in public. Did she even know it was disrespect? I doubted it. If someone like me mentioned it, I would only be told I was a trouble-maker by my fellow women. Women have made some strides, but we still have a long way to go.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Wash, woman, wash!

When I was a child, I used to resent the fact that women had to wash twice a day, morning and evening. Men, on the other hand, didn't need to. The idea was that a woman received a man's sperm and, like any receptacle, her vagina needed to be emptied of the "unclean stuff". Of course, people no longer think like this, but still, a woman who doesn't wash twice a day is frowned on. I resented the implication that a woman was unclean. Nowadays though, I've come to enjoy bathing twice a day. Short of a massage, nothing feels better than a well-scrubbed, oiled and perfumed body, ummmm.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Marriage and courtship

My nephew got married yesterday, and it got me thinking about marriage in Ghana. Contrary to what people think, Ghanaian families are stable. The men take pride in their virility and seldom abandon their children, which is not to say it never happens. Men do stray on occasion, and recently, women too. I object to either sex straying, but culturally, marital infidelity is not an acceptable reason for breaking up. In fact breaking up is strongly discouraged, unless your life is in danger.

The best way to court a Ghanaian girl is to go to her house and meet her parents. This immediately tells them your intentions are good. There's nothing they hate more than a horny man skulking outside their home. Of course, it makes things a bit difficult if you want some privacy. Here's a song by one of my favorite artists, Ofori Amponsah entitled "You're my Cinderella." You'll see an example of how a Ghanaian parent reacts to a man chasing her daughter. Wishing the newlyweds a long and happy marriage.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Auctioning virginity

I normally don't watch Tyra, but in-between Wimbledon and commercials, I flicked there. I was just in time to see two lovely college girls who wanted to auction their virginity. A man was prepared to pay $3 million for one girl. Wow. I honestly don't understand how any woman can do that. In Memoirs of a Geisha, Sayuri's virginity was auctioned. I felt sorry for her when she had to submit to that weirdo of a doctor slipping his 'eel' into her without foreplay.

There was a time where Ghanaian men wanted to marry only virgins. Now, there are songs like

Ashawo maame
wo ara na me do wo

Whore mama
You're the only one I love.

The song goes on to describe what the man feels sliding into her, how she feels like tuo za fi, a dish eaten by people of northern Ghana, a slippery soft mush eaten with okra soup. What a long we've come. Now, an intelligent woman has no qualms about selling her virginity. I can't help feeling a profound sadness. Whatever happened to love?

Here's the song, titled "Rakia", the object of the songwriter's love:

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Want to play tennis in Ghana?

I don't know about you, but I've been riveted to the TV, watching the Wimbledon championships, enjoying my favorites: the Williams sisters. When they first burst on the scene, I was surprised to hear that tennis was considered a "white" sport. The most popular sport in Ghana and most countries is soccer or football. But the second most popular one is tennis. After work, most people head for the tennis courts and play until dark. Most of the courts used to be grass, but now there are lots of clay courts and some hard courts. On Saturdays and Sundays, people play in the mornings, followed by a long, leisurely brunch. Players drink beer as well and sit chatting in loud voices until about four when they start drifting home. In fact, about once a month or so, there's a party after the games where guests eat, drink and dance until late at night. In most clubs, the men seldom bring their wives, because, ahem, that's when girl-friends show up. Go figure!!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Wetting my feet

I'm new to blogging, but I'm going to do my best!

Last Saturday, my best male friend in Ghana got married. Good luck to him! I really like the bride. But you know what's funny? The wedding was yesterday although they were already married. Ghanaians are so funny. They do traditional marriages, called an "engagement", a rather elaborate and expensive ceremony unifying the two families. The man has to buy all kinds of things for the girl: clothes, ring, Bible, jewellry and booze for the family. That's marriage. But thanks to past British colonialism, Ghanaian girls don't feel properly married unless they've said I do the western way. Which is why half the time, the girls are pregnant at the altar, something that makes foreign missionaries frown--yikes, they had sex before marriage! Anyway, congratulations twice to the not-so-newly-weds!