Some times i don't know whether to laugh or cry in Ghana. I spent the other Friday with the news paper who organized for the human rights volunteers from Accra to come join us. We went and visited 2 coastal villages who are renowned for child labour and child trafficking. It was explained to us before we got there that these are fishing villages which are extremely poor thus utilize their children in the workforce. Also the parents have been known to send their children to other areas where the fishing is better - we are talking about a truck which was intercepted with in excess of 100 children in the back. The human rights volunteers generally go into villages ask about problems then come back and educate. For example explaining to parents that they are abusing human rights by making their children partake in the labour force and not send them to school or informing the locals that they are being exploited by the oil companies by having their land taken or making them live in toxic areas. This is done in culturally sensitive ways.
We when we got to the first village the local elders were gathered and a big community meeting was held. Everyone introduced themselves then it was question time. What is the main source of industry here? Are children required to work? Do children travel to work? Nicely nicely they danced around the point. The response was that the parents need to travel for work so they kids go with them (this is slightly untrue - there wasn't a parent on that truck). Then they starting b****ing bout the quality of education and that's why they don't send them to school. Then they blamed the kids for not taking themselves to school????!!! What the? So, someone asked "what do you think the village needs to improve?". Response: more boats and fishing nets. You recon? Come on! Everyone is a fisherman and you don't sell your fish outside your village! Your super poor - what your doing obviously isn't working for you. How about diversity?! The traditional sense of education probably isn't that valuable in areas such as this because academics are no use, they need trades people. Trades that can construct and maintain basic infrastructure ie construction, sanitation, health. As for making the kids work, its somewhat understandable cause if the kids don't help out, they don't get to eat at night - its generally done out of desperation.
In situations like this, you can't tell people that what they want (boats & nets) is probably not the most useful/logical thing and we can't move mountains and just suddenly start a VET institution. What do you do then? Bang your head against the wall is where I'm at at the moment and trying to decided whether to laugh or cry? I'm leaning towards cry cause solutions and change don't seem easily obtainable....
Saturday was a much better day and very interesting. It was the Cape Coast Festival which celebrates the beginning of the fishing season and is based on fettish tradition. I find this interesting as it's about cleansing spirits, making sacrifices to the Gods and containing the spirit of the devil. Given that this is an extremely Christian area, i find the hype surrounding a fettish celebration slightly hypercritical - elements of the festival are actually really feared by some locals. It got underway 2 hours late, in true Ghanaian form, but when it started it was on! I was there with the newspaper so I had a prime position. There was a procession of people and chiefs being carried in chairs on peoples shoulders through the streets then into the main arena which sat thousands of people. I got to stand in the middle of that arena and get up close and personal to the chiefs, all of the singing and dancing and especially the possessed women! There was a lady (of course it was a woman) at the beginning of each group who was loosely tied up and being held onto by 3-4 other people. These ladies also had a pillow and a huge white ornate box thing that they carried on top of their heads - this was to ensure the devil was contained within them. Kwamina, my editor, was explaining all of this to me at the time. I said to him, "you'd be spewing if you were the one picked to play the crazy person! How do you get picked for that role?" he looked at me thoroughly confused. Ops! That's not a 'role', they are 'truly' possessed according to the locals! One of my local seniors was telling me about the festival and how he won't go to this parade because he is terrified that he may become possessed by the devil by being near these women! He was being 100% serious and looked really nervous at the thought of it! Closely behind the crazy ladies were the fetish priests. These were generally ladies and looked amazing! (obviously not doing a good job if the women are still possessed by the devil! Just kidding).
After the procession came through, there was traditional dancing which reminded me of Aboriginal dancing, but with a few more high kicks. Then there was the President!!! There was security every where! Snippers on roofs, police, the army riot squad, black 4wds with tinted windows and the token men in suits running next to the car. It was very funny watching this wanna be CIA scenario but also nerve racking - too many people with guns for my liking! However the president arrived and had the customary hand shakes to do. Kwamina kept emphasized how important it was to get the shot of the president shaking hands with the chief of chiefs! Pressure was on! I was front and centre, prime position, ready for my shot, then as the president approached the argie-bargie started! There were elbows, hips and shoulders! I was the only female and the only white person in the pack but I wasn't letting that get in my way! I pushed just as hard back and held my camera up high over all of the mens heads (it's a fairly short nation, I'm 5'9"), pointed and shot and hoped for the best! SUCCESS!!!!!! I got the best shot of the hand shake - front page! I was shaking! I was thrilled and so proud!
The rest of my weekend was interesting - I went to a house warming with steph which more so resembled a wedding reception, then the problems with my host family peaked or perhaps I just got to my threshold. They refused to cook my lunch for the 4th time that week and I found my host brother stealing red handed from my bag of activities for the orphans. Done! I've come to realize that the begging, the filth, the laziness and the lying is only indicative of my host family so I requested to move houses and it happened the following day. I'd had enough of the stupidity and prejudice and wanted to finish my time here with a smile in my face. My first host family makes a lot of money out of having volunteers however there is no accountability for them so the family has become complacent in fulling their duties in regards to cleanliness, feeding us, respectfulness and simply being hosts - I wasn't even shown where the bathroom was when I arrived, let alone receive a phone call asking my where abouts if I disappeared for a weekend. For the amount of money I paid to be here I do not believe that is good enough - I'm not a fan of being exploited.
My new host family is wealthier but what I appreciate the most is how much more educated they are! I have 2 new mums, mama Joyce and mama B, who both work and who have good English! I received hugs and smiles from all of the family on arrival. I've been fed meat and vegetables, have showered without my shoes on and gone to bed not sweating cause this house is so much cleaner and cooler! It's lovely. I'm so much happier (plus mama joyce's house has this distinct smell to it which reminds me of mum and dads house in Darwin). The little children are also wonderful. They want to play, read books together and join them in watching Hercules! I was home sick, fighting off a cold, and I was asked how I was doing and checked on during the day! I was I asked if I needed to be shown how to do my washing. I didn't although the grandma thought I did and couldn't help herself but to get her hands in my bucket and show me how. This family are true hosts who truly care!
Another thing that's really added to the last couple of weeks is meeting two girls from Accra, Esi and Akua. These girls started visiting the children's home of hope every second weekend as part of their university community service. Since graduating they have continued their visits and started their own NGO. Their NGO involves basically finding street kids and children being forced to work, then finding their parents and asking why they aren't going to school. It always stems back to money - can't can't afford school or they need the older kids to work to help support the family. The girls explain why the kids should be in school and fund these kids education out of their own purses. Esi and Akua are 23 years old. I not only admire them but are able to relate to them better then any other Ghanaians I've met cause they are well educated and closer to me in age. Steph and I love having them round so cause we can ask them anything and everything! And trust me, we have had plenty to ask them about cultural difference. They are also fantastic role models for the children.
We've had an extra child during the school holidays hanging at the orphanage during the day. We think her name is Priscilla, however it is pronounced Pursela. We think she is 5 or 6 years old, however we are told she is 3. She does seem to have an IQ of a 3 year old mind you... We think she is a bit special - this is due to the way she looks and acts. We still adore her and she is hilarious, but she is hard work, has no English and is slightly unhygienic. We've tried to involve her in all of the holiday activities yet she struggles to keep up, yet she is not aware of this and appears to be having a ball in her own little world. We have subtly asked questions about her but no one will admit she has a disability, however they explain the shackle with a bell in it that is permanently attached to her ankle as being there "cause she used to be sick". What the?
So, I've witnesses poverty all round the world but never been able to capture it on film for a number of reasons. This trip I decided I really wanted to photograph a poor family and try to really capture Ghana since I've been here for so long and really want people to be able to visualize what's been my reality. I didn't want to do this in a rude, invasive, exploitive way though... So I asked Elvis what he thought and he agreed to organize a family for me and I buy them a bag of rice to show my gratitude. I did the shoot and it was amazing! The 'home' was a 3m x 3m room with nothing really in it, including no bedding for the mother and her 5 children who live there. I Can't wait to show off my photos from Ghana - I'm really happy with them and feel I really captured this family. Also, Dark skin photographs amazingly! there's high lights and low lights and shape, ohh it's beautiful!
I now want to pay my respects to Kero, my dads best friend, who suddenly passed away on Thursday. Dad, Kero's children, Tina, Rick, Kingsley and Jimmy my deepest sympathy. I wish I could be there for you right now dad - I'm sorry.
Mum rang and broke the news to me while I was at the orphanage. I was shocked and shattered to hear the news for my dads sake but also cause I've known Keran for years and used to work for him. I was sitting on a little stool by myself in tears on the phone to mum when one of the kids spoted me. He immediately went and told the others who came into the room to stare at me. You don't really show emotion here - affection through to sadness, so to see me openly crying and crying quite hard was really confronting for them. Our baby boy was gorgeous, he instinctively came and climbed onto my lap and cuddled my legs and just looked up into my face with a troubled look on his face. Steph eventually ushered them all out so I could hear mum speak and steph later told me that they were all is the next room terribly worried and silent and compared it to waiting to being sent into the principles office. She chatted to them all saying it's ok to cry and show emotion. After getting off the phone I took myself round the front of the orphanage to try and compose myself and tried to work out if I could tell the kids why I was upset. I decided against it as Life is dispensable here as death is a lot more common. As I sat there I realized there were little eyes peering round the corner. It was 2 of the boys, samuel and clement, who I have consoled when they've cried on a couple of occasions, "Madame Jacqui, please don't cry", "I'm allowed to cry boys, I'm very sad bout something" and they just sat with me a while keeping me company. I finally composed myself after having a lovely long chat with another volunteer, taylor who's all of 17yrs of age but you wouldn't realize it, and made my way inside. Clement just sat next to me looking all sad and wouldn't talk which was in contrast to checking on me earlier, it was odd. Then I thought perhaps it had upset him to see me all upset, so I kept him by my side and held his hand to show him I was ok. One of our little girls, Christina who is 6 but the size of a 3 yr old, came and curled up in my lap and looked me square in the face and said, "please don't cry any more, I don't like to see you sad". This made my chuckle with love and full of emotions as she suddenly came down with a raging temperature (this is indicative of malaria - they suddenly come crashing down with a horrendous temperature, then their fine the next day) and she slept in my lap. I looked down at her in my arms and thought, "well you know what Christina... I don't like to see you abandoned by your mother or like seeing you with malaria, so I'd appreciate it if I could just take you home and make you healthy and show you the love and care you deserve, SO THERE!"
Something that has become glaringly clear to me here is how busy and consuming our western lives are. We rush from on thing to the next with so many responsibilities that we seem to overlook or no longer have time for some of the little, yet very valuable things. Like greeting a stranger in the street, spending time with family (and I mean lots of family - my new house has 8 children and I'm not sure how many adults or how people are actually related to one another - that doesn't matter here) and just generally having time for yourself to stop. I've "stopped" here like I haven't stopped in years and it's wonderful! I've read 2 novels for fun! I've been able to mosey through the markets taking my time looking at fabrics, beads and carvings and not have a pending appointment. I've sat with new friends and talked, debated and analyzed everything going on around me. I've stopped and watched the ocean. I have the time to actually enjoy the things I enjoy. It's the little things that count. It's the joy of the little pleasures, the company, the rights and the choices I take for granted. If you don't acknowledge those little things (and this is especially true of my work in the orphanage with minor victories), then the big picture can be overwhelming. it's all about keeping focus and making the choice to invest in our "things" of value and take enjoyment from them.
TICK!!!! I've checked off something on my to do list.... I backed a child! I took a couple of yards of material to the orphanage and learnt how to tie a baby to my back! I'm a bit excited.
Unfortunately I have to finish this blog on a terribly sad note. We had one of our little boys taken away yesterday.
Kofi-Janet age 6 came to the orphanage 9 months ago after his parents died in the ivory coast and he was sent to live with a great aunt in Asebu because his elderly grandmother could not look after him. In 9 months he did not have an extended family member visit him... Until yesterday. His grandmother decided she wanted him back. And like that he was gone! Elvis broke the news to us and we were all in disbelief and holding back tears. It was evident that Elvis was upset too. He said Kofi had been in tears and he didn't get to say goodbye. There are no laws to protect vulnerable children like this - there was nothing he could do. To our horror Elvis also said "I pray they don't sell him or kill him...". The harsh reality is, at the age of 6 (but the size of a 3yr old) he'll probably be forced into child labour to support and look after an elderly grandmother.
The other children in the orphanage were clearly shaken this - there was odd behavior and tears. Their brother and friend was taken and I bet they are fearing a similar fate. We are gutted - we got home and I cried and steph vomited.
We called Kofi an 'old soul' cause he looks so troubled & like his lived. Out of all the kids, he's the one that we wanted to know his true story the most - he'd be one of the most vulnerable. This is a tiny, innocent, defenseless child. The orphanage was Mecca compared to his other options. This is definitely up there as the lowest point of my ghana experience. I'm really struggling to process this one - this is all so foreign, wrong and difficult for me. I know things are really different in regarding who brings up your children, every host family has a ring-in or 2 (my new family has 3!), but this is more like child trafficking - I feel helpless and mortified. I don't want our kids taken from us against their will and terrified. I'm praying for his wellbeing.
Just over a month till I'm back....
Goodbye Kero and I hope you are safe Kofi xo