apologizes for my last blog being broken into chunks and the delay but this site is rubbish and they won't load. It's taken me weeks to get these up!
Umm, not sure how forgot to put this in my last blog, but eddie and i went to church! We went with a lovely local projects abroad staff member, Eric. It was a Pentecostal service and they conducted it all in English because of our presence! There was a lot of singing and dancing (and me looking really awkward). Eric made Eddie bringing his guitar and he had to get up and do a gospel song! The congregation knew the song and went crazy for it - Eds became the golden child, how ironic. Towards the end we had to stand up and introduce ourselves which wasn't too painful. Any who, afterwards (it only went for 2 hrs, some go up to 5!) Eds asked me what I thought of it, I thought it was great. He then asked if I was comfortable with the talking in tongues? "what? I thought they were just singing in Fante?", "no jacs, that was talking in tongues, conversing with god", "ohh well, what I don't know can't hurt me."
Took the kids on an excursion a couple of weeks ago which was an absolute pleasure. We took them to a place called Hans Cottage where they could swim and look at a crocodile (which is loosely caged). We picked them up from the village in a tro and had 18 children plus 4 adults on board. They were so excited but as we got into cape they all went silent as they were looking intently out the windows - your in the big smoke now kiddies! The pool was a hit! Only a couple knew how to swim but the others all hung in the shallow end. Keeping an eye on the 18 month old was an effort and a half though! As they started to get their wits about themselves we started on swimming lessons. One of the volunteers is a swimming instructor at home, so that helped and so did the copious amount of floating rings. It was a fantastic day!
My relationship with the kids seems to grow and change every day. All of a sudden it's gone from 6 volunteers to 2 and we've both been here 8 weeks and both have 5 wks to go. We are getting hugs when we arrive and kids hanging on for dear life when we finish for the day. We gotten to know their individual personalities (through a language barrier this isn't an easy task) and their barriers towards us have come down significantly. The other day when I arrived I was playing chasey, then I had 2 girls (margaret and Elizabeth) braiding my hair for an HR while I had a six yr old (Christina) telling me that I wasn't obroni (whitie) anymore, I am now obibini (brown). Then steph and I spent the next hour with Ruth, Margaret, Elizabeth and Lord getting a Fante lesson while I had Clement (who's 9 but is the size of a 6 yr old) curled up in my lap just wanting quiet time. Steph (who's also Aussie) and I were discussing what we thought our role would be here and we both thought we'd be more helpers in looking after the kids. How wrong we were. They are so capable and independent - they run the home doing all of the chores from collecting water to cooking to washing clothes and bathing the baby. We somewhat assist them with these tasks and help with homework but mainly we are company and pay them attention showing them interest and enthusiasm in what they are doing. They love it and are so responsive. We love it too and it is highly rewarding. This week it's been all about Find-a-Words! I've been making them in the evening and photocopying them on the way to the orphanage. We've done names, colours, animals, countries, body parts... I'm running out of themes! Perhaps we'll do adjectives next!
Etiquette is something I want to mention here, perhaps not for your benefit but my own personal record. This region, being an English colony, I think has acquired particular etiquette traits which stem from the colonial era. When the kids at the orphanage come home every afternoon, they all come up to us one at a time and curtesy or bow and say good afternoon. As much as I've asked for them not to do this, I am Madame Jacqui or Madame Jack depending on how excited they are and how many syllables come out. the males get sir. Eddies name tended to blend into one, which sounded somewhat like Seddie. If I walk past anyone older then me (complete strangers) in a quiet street, I always say good morning or good afternoon and I always get a response. I think it's expected that I acknowledge and respect my elders. Then there's our table setting. Our family cooks over hot coals, sits on the floor and eats with their hands. Hence, cutlery and a table is foreign to them. Our table is set with cups and sauces, a pile of plates and cutlery, and hot water and tea bags (which no one uses as they have turned nasty in the humidity). Again, I assume that this set up stems from colonial ideals.
Disability is also something worth a mention. in cape you don't really see disabled people, sone blind people though. This entails a child escort leading the blind person round all day. I have seen a couple of down syndrome people here too actually. Downs has that distinct look and in Africans it is EXACTLY the same but with black skin. This one particular boy was gorgeous - he had a razor without a blade in it and was looking at his reflection in a car window pretending to shave his nonexistent beard! In Accra we saw lots of disabled people though. They were generally paraplegics who were sat on skate boards with their tiny skinny limp legs crossed in their laps. They sit on the road pushing themselves along the ground with thongs on their hands, going up to car windows begging. Eds was extremely generous with these people (cause the government is certainly not going to be helping them out enough). Not sure I've said this before but there is income taxes here, however people earn virtually nothing & have to go in in person to pay their taxes. Consequently, no one does. The gov really doesn't have much to work with if there's no fiscal revenue! Back to disability. I think I've talked about the leprosy camp before that some of the medical volunteers have worked at? Well these people are just herded up & placed together and left to live/die on their own accord! Kathrine the beautiful Swiss girl I was living with, started this placement. She started going in and sterilizing and changing the dressings on these peoples wounds & she funded all of the medical supplies herself! Another volunteer is leaving her placement in cape to go inland to the middle of nowhere to work in an orphanage for disabled children. Again this demonstrates how people are abandoned. I don't really blame the families for this to be honest. People are so poor and don't have time to look after their able bodied children let alone disabled ones. It's so sad
For the newspaper my boss wants me to write on an area of interest, so he organized a meeting with the director of social services for me. I was thrilled! I read up on state policy, pulled out the fanciest corporate clothes I had and off I went to meet up with local government. On arriving at the office my high expectations of what was to be came crashing down. The "office" was a concrete room with ripped up Lino and the "reception" area consisted of a big old wooden desk with nothing on it bar some papers and a bible and an old woman sitting there reading it. "hello, I'm here to see Felicia", "she's not here", "I have an appointment with her for 9:00", mind you it was 9:45 - I was ready to be there for 9:00 but my boss functions on Ghanaian time. "what time do you expect her to be here" "10:00", "ok I'll just wait then". 10am start hey? Not bad considering everyone else starts at 8am here. So I sat there waiting - 5mins, 10mins, 15mins..... The "receptionist" got bored reading her bible so she pushed it aside and lay her head on the table and had a little nap!!! After 25 minutes I phoned her and she said she was 5 mins off, which she actually was. We started the interview.... "so, I've read up on the states policy regarding vulnerable children and orphanages and it's an impressive document in line with international human rights standards", "that's good but that's not my area of responsibility - that is a federal responsibility", "so what exactly is your your role?", "welfare", "does that include children", "yes", "but not orphans?", "no". OHH come on! Work with me here woman! All the research I had done appeared useless and I had no idea what her actual role was and had no questions prepared! "please explain to me what your positions entails then?". She went on to explain in a very cold matter of fact way that she works in Community Care, Child Welfare and Protection & Juvenile Justice. All of these areas and projects sounded wonderful - very thorough. So I asked "who carries out these jobs? Social workers? And where - in hospitals or community centers?", "no, I'm the only government listed social worker in cape", (cape has about the same population as Adelaide!) "what? How is one person meant to do all that! Why on earth doesn't the gov employ more social workers?!", she threw her hands up in the air "I know!?!" then her harsh exterior came crashing down as she realized I wasn't being a noisy western white woman rather I was genuinely interested and cared bout what she did. I had explained to her earlier that I was studying social work at home but that didn't seem to faze her. From then on the interview was much more relaxed and I got a lot of interesting information out of her. In reality though, what she says she does and actually does are probably 2 very different things. She can't possibly pull off half the things she says she does - she is one person in a big city. She explained that social workers education is paid for by the gov but the gov has an employment embargo on at the moment so no one gets employed by the gov and NGOs snap up the educated. What the!?! Why would the gov do that? She couldn't give me a strait answer on this one... But it all seemed ludicrous to me. This is child welfare we are talking about! In Ghana it's about protecting children from child labour, child prostitution and looking after orphans - how can that not be a priority? Her area in community care is all about helping families out so children don't become orphaned. this is extremely valuable - it's about PREVENTION guys, not cure!!! I decided to play it safe with my newspaper report on this and make it more on an awareness piece. I described what she was trying to do and how progressive the programs are however, they are being greatly hindered by the lack of financial and staffing resources.
I've just written the one story for Central Press so far and it should go to print next week, but I've done a number of photo shoots. I'm really enjoying these cause I get to go to random things with minimal pressure. Monday I went to an equity conference. It involved bigger companies explaining that they are there to mentor and can invest in small companies to assist them in growing, then the exit the business when they've made their money back. Logical, useful, strait forward? Apparently not... The question, what if they steal my business idea, was asked 3 times! The minimal investment from the small businesses was 25,000 cedi (20,000AUS). "if my business is worth 25,000 obviously I know how to run a business and don't need your help!" some man yelled very aggressively "why is the base investment so high?". Dude, you think that is a decent sized business? your missing the point - they want to help you grow!!! They want Ghana to expand from all of these little unstable businesses to internationally competitive big ones!?
On Saturday I was told I was shooting the president! Woop woop! Didn't know where, turned out I was going to a festival. The president was a no show but there were dozens of chiefs there. It was fantastic and mildly intimidating! I rocked up with my editor, people every where and pushed our way through a crowd and popped out on the other side in the middle of a u shaped arrangement of tents which sat a couple of thousand people! I was standing there in shock in front of all of these people, being the only white person and having no idea what protocol was regarding the chiefs - my boss kept going up and greeting them making sure he bowed down lower then them. So I just busted my camera out and walked around bowing at these chiefs who were dressed in the most colourful togas and decked out in the most impressive gold bling! I don't know if they appreciated my courtesy, or if they thought I was international media or if they just liked having their pictures taken and being made to feel important, but The response I got was great! Once I'd acknowledged them, they sat up, adjusted their togas, puffed their chests out and looked strait down the barrel of my camera! My shots are amazing just quietly! I was thrilled. This week is the cape coast festival which I'm shooting and the president will apparently be at that as well.
The cape coast festival is a huge deal but ironically it's based on all of the traditional fetish beliefs not Christianity (fetish is the really old school traditional superstitious African stuff). It's about cleansing spirits, making offerings to the gods and predicting what the fishing season to come will hold. A cow is being slaughtered today which most of the volunteers are going to and they cant believe I'm not interested in going. No thanks guys, I really don't want to see a life be taken and watch the poor w*** slowly bleed to death! Looking forward to the more official stuff on Saturday though!
Two note worthy Ghanaian moments last weekend (1 bad, 1 good):
#1: walking down the street I'm approached by a 40 yr old woman, well dressed, wig on, healthy looking "obroni, give me 10 cedi". I stopped dead in my tracks, kids begging is one thing but an adult woman??? "I BEG YOUR PARDON?" I firmly said. She obviously didn't get the sarcasm, but did the firmness as she lowered her price, "give me 1 cedi". "Are you serious? WHY?", "chop" (which means food), "wow you really have some nerve! I've worked my arse off to come to your country to look after 18 helpless children! I think your old enough to do the same and put food on your own table!" and I stormed off. I was immediately fearful of the reaction I may get but she was carrying a huge bucket on her head so I figured she couldn't come after me in a hurry. I snapped cause I've had enough of the begging. she looked healthy enough and was hanging out in a wealthy suburb, so I was really taken back. Actually I really shouldn't assume peoples situations, but it's hard not to and it's tedious having people beg and being put in this situation all the time!
Eddie had an interesting one as well! But before I go any further I should probably state I'm not a cold heartless b****, but I don't believe in hand outs. Aid comes in thick and fast here and doesn't appear to achieve much. Constant skimming off the top means little is left to trickle down to the ones it's intended for, so why make them rely on it. If you want things to be different, you have to act different - things need to change at a grass roots level. Thus I don't do hand outs easily and that's why I'm here in person - to teach and instill new ways of thinking. My tactic has been, when a child asks for something, I micmic and repeat them, "no, give me your shoes", "no, give me a pineapple", "no, give me 1 cedi". They tend to be shocked and not like this and walk away.... Not in eddies case. The child asked for 1 cedi, so Eddie did the same back. The child then dug deep into his pocket and pulled out 25 pesawas (22cents) and offered it to him!!! Wow that one just back fired! Eds felt horrid, refused it & gave the boy 1 cedi. Moments like that reinstall my faith in mankind.
#2: a salesman asked me where I was from, "ohh Australia, i have friends there. Are you from Melbourne or Kangaroo?", perplexed but strait faced I said "neither I'm from RADelaide, see" as I pointed to my T-shirt which said 'i heart RADelaide', "yes yes" he replied "I know RADelaide". Hell yeah you do brother!!!