Monday, October 24, 2011

jhr AUCC Official Executive Handing Over

JHR-AUCC President Ernest Lartey delivers his welcome address.
As the start of classes drew closer at the African University College of Communications, members of theJournalists for Human Rights School Chapter held their official Handing Over Ceremony.
“For me, this was significant in the history of the chaper,” says Danny Bannah, two-term president of the school chapter. “This is the first time JHR AUCC is handing over – officially handing over.”
The event was to officialize the transfer of administrative responsibilities from previous executives to the newly elected team. The event was also in recognition of the accomplishments of the previous year’s executive team and as an induction for the administration of the chapters new leaders.
The event began, as all events in Ghana do, with a prayer of blessing, followed by a welcome address. As the theme chosen was African Wear, the room was filled with bright colours and beautiful patterns. All which matched the uplifting energy of a room filled with empowered students passionate about human rights education.

Rotary Launches Road Safety Campaign

Local street vendor Cornelius Apeku receives free eye exam during the Make Roads Safe Campaign
The Rotary Club of Accra-Labone in partnership with the Motor Traffic and Transport Unit and the Driver and Vehicle Licencing bureaux have launched a Road Safety Campaign aimed at educating Ghana’s motoring public.

This initiative is a result of increased numbers in traffic related deaths, as according to the MTTU’s nation wide accident statistics. These are numbers Officer Simon Tenkuu of the MTTU says the country can not be proud of.
“The traffic situation in Accra is becoming quite disturbing,” he says. “When it comes to the accident rate at the metro police, it is high – due mostly to indiscipline of drivers.”
According to the MTTU nation wide accident statistics, traffic related deaths were up to 1,679 in only nine months, between January to September 2011 and traffic related deaths remain the number one cause of fatality between those aged ten to 24 in Ghana.

Thanksgiving in Ghana

Thanksgiving dinner in Ghana
Our Thanksgiving adventure began with a three hour trip to the one place we figured we could get a turkey – Shoprite. This meant hoping on a tro-tro, switching over twice, and patiently waiting as the process took it’s sweet time. Most often we shop at local markets or roadside stands, but for this occasion we wanted to go all out.
On our way, we stopped along the roadside to buy hardboiled eggs and salsa then flagged down the bicycle carrying fanmilk – the closest comparison to an ice cream truck in Ghana. As we waited for the next tro-tro to come, we couldn’t help but laugh at how different – and to us random – the daily events of our lives had become since leaving Canada three short months ago.
We wandering the aisles of Shoprite, a typical Westernized grocery store located in the largest mall in Accra, and chose items for our dinner celebration, eliminating those that could still be purchased at the market closer to home. The cost of a turkey was an arm and a leg – and since we each only had two – we decided to scratch that and improvise with chicken.

Friday, October 14, 2011

It's Time to Get Writing

Writing has proven difficult. Wether it be finding the time, the words, the energy or ability I have found it difficult to express my thoughts, feelings and experiences.

I could describe at length why I feel this is but will synthesis by saying at the end of the day it was a chose. Our time is our own, our words are an essence of our experiences and our energy a result of the combination. 

Reflecting back, so much has happened and all with significance to be shared but at that point time, for whatever reason I could not. And this, I would like to change. 

Since by arrival and after my lapse in writing, there have been moments when I look back and think, “I should have wrote about this, I can't believe I didn't share that,” and I grow angry with myself. A result of this is the continuous inability to express my stories and experiences - for I feel I will never be able to catch up.

Part of me believes part of the struggle has been that the past few months have seemed like a roller coaster – waiting so long in line and then here, it's your turn. You're living it and you're scared, excited, energized, nervous, liberated, confused and sometimes disoriented and sometimes you keep your eyes closed and then all of a sudden – it's over.

I think I fell into this pattern. This experience has been an array of overwhelming emotions, something I expected and what I was looking for. 

My mistake, was not taking ownership of these emotions at the time of. As they are a result of only myself - my thoughts, my values, my beliefs, my experiences and my expectations. I made a mistake, I didn't take the time to properly reflect and identify what was taking place around me – or within me - and I feared so greatly the inability to catch up I forgot I could just start over. Pick up, and begin again. 

My words should not portray an image of unfortunate events but rather a journey of personal exploration and self discovery. This journey has had it's ups and downs – as every journey does. You'll pass through valleys and gulfs. Climbs hills and pass shorelines, sometimes you excel and others slow down. It is all part of the journey and what makes each unique.

I must strongly state that I have enjoyed every aspect of this experience and am thankful - to the point of near explosion, but I choose not to romanticize the process and give equal recognition to the struggles of this journey as well as the overall accomplishments. I have enjoyed every moment - challenges, bumps and bruises, sunny days, rainbows and lollipops - but we've had them all. 

And no real story would be complete - if not honest - without them. 

This small piece of writing is my acknowledgement of the fear that I have been carrying with me – fear to share my experiences for how they may be perceived. “Is this good enough? Will people understand? Will they judge me? Does it do the truth justice?”

These thoughts continue to run through my mind and cause me much grief. 

Chances are, many may not understand, people will always judge and everything can't always be good enough.  But words will never justify experience - real life experience - but that does not mean they are not worth writing down.  As it is the best option we have for sharing ideas, provoking thought and proving to the world certain events took place.

It's time to get writing. 
I have decided to make a choice and commit to making time to exchange my experiences with those interested in reading. I would rather attempt and fail then not try again - and if I don't begin now, I will return to Canada and will not have anything written of my experiences to reflect on. An if I don't begin now, I may not begin at all. 

So, I am going to write. I will reflect. I will do my best to express myself to an audience that is just like me – passionate but unsure, intrigued, cautious and best of all, curious.

Without struggle there can't be accomplishment and without celebration we can never acknowledge success.   

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Biking as a Tool for Women Empowerment

Woman on Bike participant Alba Kunadu Sumprim before the ride.
To view original posting, click here

 In Ghana’s northern regions bicycles are used as a necessary means of transportation, but in the capital city of Accra, this is not the case. Cycling in the city can not only be dangerous, but attached to social stigmas – especially for women cyclists.

This is what Alba Kunadu Sumprim, along with ten others, discovered as participants in the Woman on Bike workshop, which is also part of the Prêt-à-partager art exhibition. The purpose is to explore the limits and possibilities of bikes in an urban West African atmosphere with particular significance to biking as a tool of female empowerment.

Sumprim is a British born Ghanaian and a participant in the workshop. Sumprim says back in England, cycling was a key method of transport for her and part of her daily routine. She has spent the past decade living in Ghana and says this workshop gave her the courage and confidence to get on a bike for the first time since her arrival ten years ago.

“When I first started I was a little scared,” she says. “It’s a matter of confidence… as I became more confident I realized it was my right to be on the road with everybody else.”

Based on her experience riding in the city, Sumprim says she has felt social discrimination as a female cyclist, stating one man she met while riding told her that as far as he was concerned, the only women who should be on bicycles are villagers, women from the north or foreigners, and Ghanaian women in Accra, should not be on bicycles.

“It is all about status – and riding a bike says that you are poor. That is the perception. I think there is also a gender thing, we have very typical ideas of what women can do and what women can’t do,” Sumprim says.

This is the type of discrimination the workshop aims to eliminate. Sandrine Micosse-Aikins, co-creator of Prêt-à-partager art exhibition in collaboration with the German Institute of Foreign Cultural Relations, says the initiative is related to ideas of freedom and Pan African Empowerment.

As a German-Ghanaian, she says female empowerment is an important issue for her and feels biking is something people in the city aren’t practicing and aren’t claiming as their right.

“[It's] about promoting biking as a practice available for women, especially Ghanaian women,” Micosse-Aikins says.

The women involved in the workshop agree the perception of female cyclists in Accra and the discrimination towards them is not something that is going to vanish overnight. It is, however, something they believe they can work towards and plan to continue.

Zohra Opoku is a German-Ghanaian, avid cyclist, artist and coordinator of the Woman on Bike workshop. Opoku says this workshop is just the beginning and they have started to think of actions to strengthen their goal. It begins with public interaction, she says.

“In terms of empowerment it is something that has to grow,” Opuku says. “I think this is good. People will see more bikes on the streets because of our workshop.”

In addition to the empowerment associated with female riders, Sumprim states that although the workshop is focused on women and female empowerment, it has potential to extend into the greater community.

According to her, less traffic congestion, decreased pollution, lower economic demand for oil and overall health and fitness are benefits of the cycling initiative.

“It is Woman on Bike because it is a novelty, but society in general can be empowered… it is actually a huge thing for society as a whole,” Sumprim says.

From Intention to Interpretation

First posted on Journalists for Human Rights: Field Notes

Reflecting back - written August 28th, 2011 

View from Kokemlemle Guest House in Accra, Ghana.
On the roof of our guesthouse in Kokemlemle, we sit and enjoy the African breeze that comes with the setting of the sun beginning around 5:30pm. In the company of our local friend, we sip Ghanaian produced Gulder beer and reflect on day’s events.

We are soon joined by a fellow from Germany and a young lady from Sweden. Staying at a guesthouse we often meet travelers, mainly volunteers, from around the world. The gentleman is traveling Ghana and Togo for a month, visiting his brother and will be joined by his family. The young lady arrived in Accra the night before to begin her short-term volunteer work at an orphanage outside of the capital city.

“Welcome to Ghana, what do you think so far?” I ask the slim blonde woman.

Her eyes widened and her grin lit up her face.

“Thing’s here are crazy! Everything is unorganized – it is so different than Sweden,” she replies.
Circle Overpass - leading to Kaneshie Market in Accra, Ghana.

Typical view of Accra traffic. 

Commuters Crash

First Posted on Journalists for Human Rights: Field Notes

The evening was dark and the air crisp as we embarked on our journey to Accra from Ghana’s Western Region. It was not much past 7:00 pm but the quiet, urban roads made it seem as though the whole of the country would be asleep.

The route home was anything but smooth, potholes causing our tro-tro to veer from one side to the other. The vehicle remained silent despite being at full capacity, including three passengers per four rows, plus the small child strapped to his mothers back. We were approximately two hours into our seven hour journey and I had finally managed to reached the point of dosing off.

As my head rested on my hand against the window, I was Instantly and abruptly brought to attention. I was temporarily blinded by the headlights of oncoming traffic as we were forced between the two lanes of the highway.
Initially, I was overwhelmed with confusion until the realization sunk it; we were going to crash.

Our tro-tro after the crash.
Read Full Story

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Best shower ever – there is hot water!

Just over a month has passed with us living in Accra; we have stayed in three different neighbourhoods in three different houses and have packed and unpacked our bags well over three times. We have been patient and are adapting well. Only one final move left until we reach our permanent accommodations for the remainder of our six month contract - making a total of four houses in four neighbourhoods.

Currently, we are privileged to have been invited to stay at a friends – and words can not describe the contrast. We have moved from a middle class area, to a lower class compound and are now staying in an upper class gated complex. We stayed in a guesthouse in a rapidly developing area, each day eating breakfast with people from all over the world to a shared-housing compound with limited water and electricity, being surrounded by wonderful children, learning their games and waking up at 5am each day to their not so happy shrieks, the morning rooster ritual calls, honking cars and hand-washing of our neighbours right outside the bedroom window. – We are now in a gated community with a night guard, three bathrooms, a swimming pool, our own bedrooms (yes, we had been sharing), full kitchen, house cleaner and you wouldn't believe it.... hot water!!!

When we arrived we were in awe – it was absolutely beautiful. We felt as though we were entering a resort. It was a complete contrast from the style we had previously been living. This home has all the amenities of an average home back in Canada - washing machine, full size refrigerator, air conditioning, television, three bathrooms - all of which are now perceived to me as luxuries. It's interesting to recognize all the 'everyday things' we tend to take for granted in a developed country.

After packing, moving, walking, working; a shower was a must! It was necessary to remove the dirt-tan I had gained over the course of our day. I was already looking forward to a good scrub and have mastered the art of a good cold shower – but to my surprise, I could not believe it.... “THERE'S HOT WATER!!!!!”

The irony and appreciation was humorous. I had completely accepted the fact a hot shower was not something I would endear until my return to Canada and I was okay with that. Initially I said even if I had the chance I would probably pass down the option to bathing with hot water - I was convinced I had grown an appreciated tolerance for cold showers, as it wasn't abnormal for our water to be shut off for up to three days at a time and any water at all was a relief. I was also afraid I might lose my built resistance to the cold showers immediately after I enjoyed a warm one. But unknowingly receiving this surprise was different and I gratefully accepted. It was by far, one of the best showers I've ever had ... I couldn't have felt cleaner :)

I've realized it isn't until these 'daily luxuries' aren't constantly available that you stop expecting them and become grateful. Take a page out of Chairperson of the Council of Canadians' Maude Barlow's book – water is not a commodity.

Thank you hot shower, I appreciate you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Trip to the Western Region with AUCC jhr Chapter Members

At 5:00 am we were to meet near Kanishe station – one of the largest tro-tro and transport hubs for travel in Accra - before beginning our journey west. We waited for the remainder of our group of 7 to arrive. We would then take a tro-tro towards where we would stay in Bogoso for the next 3 days. In accordance to GMT – Ghana Man Time – we boarded our bus at 6:30 am, which was only an hour and a half later than scheduled.

In the meantime, Cheryl and I wondered on a mission to do what we do best; find breakfast. After walking the stalls, accidentally knocking over bread on a stand with our backpacks (cough, Cheryl, couch) and replying to inquiries of our destination with 'breakfast', we found a lady making fried egg sandwiches; our favourite. This would keep us satisfied until our departure.

For 11 cedis we would travel approximately four hours to Tarkwa, where we would switch tros and continue on to Bogoso. The drive itself was incredible. This was my first time heading west out of the capital city and two friends from the University where I work – The African University College of Communications – were incredible window guides. As we traveled out of the city, we left the smog behind and entered a surrounding of lush vegetation and quaint African villages.

We passed a section of Cape Coast and saw the castle from a distance and drove passed the first secondary institution to have been built in Ghana. We discussed each of the towns we passed and what they were known for. The types of trees and fruits they blossomed, the names of different rivers and where they would lead. We saw elaborate local markets and small homes made of adobe-clay, wooden sticks and tin roofs. The roads were lined with flowering trees, corn fields and plantain trees. We compared our countries climates and our friends were always shocked when I told them 90% of the fruits in Ghana don't grow in Canada – it is just too cold.

We discussed politics and the decline of agriculture in Ghana that began in the 1980s with foreign aid and lack of farming substity. I learned of the rural villages my friends had left to come to school and the strains of farming labour their communities endure. We discussed work related injuries and the movement of Ghanaian independence that began with Kwame Nkrumah. All the while travelling red dirt roads, attempting to avoid pot holes and semi-slowing down for speed bumps.

As we transferred from Tarkwa to Bogoso and onward to Prestea – the community in which we were to meet with the chief to discuss permission for a future project, the roads grew progressively worse. This was a result of the intense weight of transport vehicles used for the production of mining companies which are widely present throughout this area. Ghana is known for having vast amounts of gold; a reflection of the countries prior name The Gold Coast.

Our walk up one of the streets in Bogoso

Ernest and Danny on the streets of Prestea

AUCC - jhr chapter members

View from Prestea

A closer look at impacts of mining on the community of Bogoso

Many of the people we met in Bogoso (town we were logging in) and Prestea (community we were visiting during the day) were employed in relation to mining companies – production, sales, engineering, equipment, security and ownership. We met one American who was part-owner of a mining company, sharing the title with the chief of the village they worked; some hours outside of Bogoso. He said there are some companies that produce over US$1 million a day. We were told the amount of profit that stays within Ghana differs depending on the company but is never more than 20 per cent and up to 85 per cent of mining companies are owned by foreign investors – including Canada.

The Bogoso and Prestea mining properties together have produced over 13 million ounces of gold, in accordance to Canadian mining company Golden Star Resources Ltd.. Mining in Prestea has more than a 135 year history and has taken numerous ownership adjustments. Initially a primarily underground operation, Prestea was comprised of different licenses operated by independent mining companies until 1968, when the post-independence government decided to amalgamate. Due to lack of sustained investments the industry took a declination and in 1985 the Government of Ghana secured a loan with the World Bank to rehabilitate the mines. In 1988 the decision was made to privatize the mines.

In addition to poor road conditions, mining has many negative impacts including deforestation, exploitation of traditional lands, displacement, poor working conditions, contamination of waterways and land resources and health implications including tuberculosis and skin diseases. Impacts of mining are universal and all situations share common themes. I have seen similar examples of this throughout the state of Chiapas in Southern Mexico, where impacts of mining are prominent. Throughout Central and South America mining opposition movements have begun in attempt to resist the implementation of extreme mining expeditions, many with limited success. Nonetheless, awareness on the impacts of mining are reaching the people affected and expanding to the global general public, specifically with the support and monitoring of international civil society organizations.

Mining production does provide positive benefits, but as mentioned by a store clerk in Bogoso, the majority of these benefits are short-term and unsustainable specifically in comparison to the irreversible damage caused in the process. I am interested in continually monitoring the impacts of mining, both positive and negative, in local and global communities and specifically the role Canada will play.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A look at local human rights issues in Accra

The past weeks have been busy and eventful, meeting with human rights representatives within the community. In order to grasp a greater context of human rights issues within Ghana -with a specific focus on Accra - we met with human rights organizations, advocates and representative stakeholders to identify common areas of importance and local initiatives.

By doing this, we have gained a stronger understanding of how to incorporate an honest and progressive approach of human rights into the workshops and curriculum we will be creating with local media and journalism/communications students. ____________________________________________________________________________________

Firstly, we met with Programs Manager of the Human Rights Advocacy Centre Daniel Asare Korang. He described the work of the HRAC as having a three tier umbrella - focusing in research, advocacy and legal representation.

Within these categories Korang described key human rights violations which are most dominant in Ghanaian society. These included false imprisonment, domestic violence – including assault and defilement, estates dispute, police brutality and employment abuse. The rights of homosexuality and those with mental health conditions were also highlighted as key issues and initiatives in which the HRAC has been increasing their involvement.

Homosexuality and mental health are issues in which the HRAC believes people are not receiving equal rights. People living with mental health conditions are often ostracized in Ghana, and in the continent of Africa as a whole, and are not seen as victims of a mental condition. Often people suffering from mental health problems will be sent to what are called 'prayer camps' and although not always, are commonly reported as tortured or abused in an attempt to 'rid the demands' within them.

The issue of homosexuality within Ghana has proved to be controversial with many religious organizations and government officials opposed to the notion entirely. In Ghana, carnal sex is an illegal act and just last week Ghana's Western Region Minister Paul Evans Aidoo ordered all homosexuals to be arrested. Although numerous non-government organizations and human rights advocacy centres are not in support of this action, there were little who came public in support of homosexuality.

The HRAC is one of the few who has come public with their initiatives which support the rights of homosexuals and they are working closely with individuals who have publicly announced their sexual orientation. The goal is to build a solidarity network within the homosexual community in order to progress their rights and bring awareness and education to the public on the issues and concerns related to homosexuality. The HRAC says regardless of sexual orientation people deserve equal treatment.


Many people in Ghana believe same sex orientation is a choice and a sin in reference to the bible. Many also believe same sex partners, specifically men, are the leading cause of Ghana's aids rate, which sits at a prevalence rate of 1.7%, the lowest rate so far in West Africa, according to statistics from the Ghana Demographic and Health Survey (GDHS).

With these arguments and more, the issue is not culturally accepted and is strongly opposed by the public. The controversy and legal rights of homosexuality within Africa has received international media attention and continues to be a heated topic of debate.

For further information, read Ghana rights groups warn of anti-gay hate campaign by local reporter William Yaw Owusu and jhr trainer Paul Carlucci.

We paid a visit to Numo Blafo III, Public Relations Advisor of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to gain an understanding of the process of decision making in Accra. In comparison to Canada, the AMA is equivalent to our city council.

Similar to Canada, the AMA is separated into departments, each with staff of specific expertise. When we asked of current projects and initiatives in Accra by the AMA we received word on a new bylaw in effect which states hawking is now deemed illegal and all hawkers, if caught, may be arrested and jailed.

Hawking is a form of street vending. Men and mainly women and children parade the streets carrying cargo of goods to sell balance on their head. They weave in and out of traffic in an attempt to catch commuters, especially during hours of high traffic when cars are unable to move for extended periods of time.

Blafo says this bylaw has been passed in an attempt to 'lower the rate of vehicle related accidents'. In the meeting Blafo said the number of people getting hit by traffic was high and continually on the rise and so the bylaw was created and passed. As the number of street hawkers is often extreme, we are unsure of the process of arrest but understand the AMA will have officers patrolling high traffic areas.

A greater issue, in my opinion, would be the alternative to income for this large group of people. The majority of hawkers live in and around the city of Accra and rely on the income from hawking to support themselves and their families. If the arrest of hawkers become strongly enforced, I struggle to see an economic alternative for many of these individuals and families especially with lack of access to higher levels of education and training.

In relation, the finances necessary for full implementation of this bylaw would be substantial. Police officers would deal with hawkers as opposed to more severe crimes and the justice system would have to accommodate the trials of hawkers before their sentences. The jails would then need to accommodate the number of hawkers arrested, which can be up to 90 days.

A related issue is the process of the justice system in Accra and throughout Ghana. Often, people will be charged with minor crimes and without money for bail, wait in jail cells until their trials. Because the current justice system is not able to tend to the trails at a fast rate, the accused are forced to wait months and sometimes years before their trial begins. When they receive their crime sentence they must pay in full, without taking into account the time of imprisoned while awaiting their trial, which is often months to years.

Although the bill was put in effect as of April 2011, it is not fully in practice and hawkers are evidently present on road sides throughout Accra. For further information, read Accra Mayor declares war on street Hawking.

Friday, July 22, 2011

So, I moved to Africa?

Since arriving in Accra things have been interesting - and different than my other experiences of travel. In ways it doesn't feel like travel, it feels like we have moved to live a different city in a different country.

We have been looking for a home, identifying parts of the city, figuring out transportation, establishing frequently used routes and choosing the markets to buy our groceries. We have had to learn about garbage disposal (or removal as there is no proper waste removal system in Accra), where to buy water, what to do when the house water supply runs out, how to sufficiently bucket-shower, how to hand wash our laundry, where we can withdraw money, where to buy a mattress, a phone, internet stick, additional converters, beer and anything else we realize we need.

We have learned how to haggle taxi drivers for fair prices, how to flag down a tro, how not to get stuck on a tro, how not to get entirely lost in general, where the 'obruni' (white/foreigners) spots for food are (when our tummies are telling us not to be too adventurous), where locals gather and of course deciding on our favourite places to celebrate the day with a beverage.

We have begun new jobs, met new colleagues, made new friends - all the while adjusting to an entirely new culture. Each time one moves they must adapt to a new sort of culture - changing neighbourhoods, towns, cities, provinces, states - each signifies it's own identity and culture. For us, we have left the continent in which was home and the differences in culture can seem extreme.

The differences are great, although at times intimidating. We are surrounded by new sites, new people and new language (the official language is English, Ghana was previously conquered by the British and originally inhabited by tribes each with their own dialect). To us, everything is new.

It is interesting to live your life the way you would at home – have breakfast, brush your teeth, shower, get to work, get home, have dinner, go out, go to sleep – but do it in a new continent.

Everything is new, exciting and comes with difficulties.

It took me time to establish why this round was different and then it hit me – like my semi-daily cold water showers – I had moved to Africa!

Something you'd think was apparent and obvious yet somehow easily forgotten. Each of my other long-term travel experiences had some aspect of support – when I moved to Spain as an Au Pair I went through an organization and lived with a family, when I backpacked through Europe we were going day-by-day, when we stayed in Mexico we travelled as a group through an NGO and had logistical details arranged – when all of those things are taken care of it is much easier to focus on the tasks ahead and even then can be exhausting. It is an incredible experience to re-teach yourself how to live out your day.

In respect to all mentioned, I have noticed instances of personal growth since my arrival. I have over come fears, questioned my purpose, identified my needs and integrated to the best of my ability while still staying true to myself.

Now that we have established the functions of our daily routine, I am looking forward to what the next leg of our journey will hold. We have made trustworthy friends, established an understanding of the logistics of the city, entered our work places and have confirmed final living accommodations to begin August 17th. We have gained insight into Ghanaian culture but have yet to begin grasping a full understanding of the true complexities.

We have touched the surface and I am eager to learn more, dig deeper and go upstream.

David - Our good friend and staff of the Kokomlemle Guest House in Accra.
If you ever come to Ghana and want to stay in the city, he's your man!

Our attempt at buying and bringing home a new mattress.
half way through mission taxi runs out of gas.
He runs ... we wait.

Zions -Thai Food Restaurant. Off Oxford Street in Osu, Accra

Surprising image of dinner in Africa?
There are many options of middle to upper class restaurants located throughout the city of Accra. You can find almost anything if you are willing to pay the price.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The journey is half the adventure

A personal update from Ghana

As many who live in the city know, it can be nice to get away. We spent our first weekend in Ghana by heading out of the ever busy city of Accra in search of a beach and a beverage.

A group of us headed to the city centre to find a bus, car or tro-tro that could take us to our chosen destination - Estuary Beach Club at Ada Foah. When we arrived to an African style bus terminal, we were blown away by the organized madness. There were hundreds of vehicles, driving in every direction, men yelling here, women selling there. From a first-timers eye, it almost impossible to figure out even what direction you were facing let alone which vehicle was heading where. The locals, however, navigated around like it was nobody's business.

After attempting to locate signs, time tables or travel information, we finally accepted the guidance of one of the many local drivers who had been nagging and gabbing at our arms to give us a ride. We followed the driver to his car and negotiated a price. For 15 cedis each he would take us all the way to Ada Foah, which is located about 2 hours east of the city of Accra.

Once arriving in Ada Foah, we laid eyes on a busy street market. Similar to those in Accra, locals were selling items of all sorts - garments, tools, fresh fruit, burnt Cds, shoes and more. As we weren't in the mood for spending money we continued on to the beach side, and for an additional five cedis each we were driven directly to where we would catch a boat to the beachfront where we would be staying at Estuary Beach Club - where the Volta River meets the Atlantic Ocean.

As we grabbed our bags and exited the car, we decided to purchase some water to quench our thirst. As we did, we saw what is called a “chop bar” located beside the store, and thought 'Hey, what better way then with an ice cold beer!' Surely enough, it seems no matter where you are in the world, there is always cold beer.

We decided to be adventurous and try a taste at the chop bar, which is a small family run road side eatery. It's nothing fancy, usually extremely cheap and only has one dish on the menu. Today's choice: fufu in soup with meat. Fufu is a dough like substance made from pounding cassava while adding water.

Cheryl, friend and jhr intern, decided to give it a go, which the locals found quite entertaining. We made friends with one of the children as well as the owner, George. Once our meals arrived - feeling not as bold as we did when ordering - gave it a shot.

It was a ball of fufu, a piece of goat (chicken for Megan), covered in a soupy-like liquid. They provided us with a bowl of water to wash our hands and we were instructed to dig in – using our hands as utensils and the fufu to absorb the soup.

The only word to describe it was SPICY. By far one of the spiciest things ever – ever, ever!

We did our best, but unfortunately were not champions. We were unable to empty our dishes, which can be found as quite disrespectful (although clearly not our intention). We explained to the cooks how wonderful a meal it was, but that we filled up fast and, as newcomers, we were not quite used to the strength of the pepe (spice).

The chop bar had won.

We finished our beverages and followed George to the waterfront, where he said we would ride on a small boat, to a bigger boat, which would take us to our final location. As we set off we noticed we were heading towards a dredger ship, which was clearly not the boat that would be taking us anywhere.

As we climbed aboard we were introduced to two friendly Lebanese men who had been working on the dredger for the past seven months and would continue to for numerous months more. Staying vigilant, as always, we accessed the situations and agreed it was safe to stay. We discussed their work, past travel experience and opinions on Ghana.

Soon enough we decided it was time to go, as the sun sets early in Ghana, often as early as 6:30pm, and we wanted to be off the water well before then. We climbed off the dredger and headed towards the beach where we would be staying.

We pulled up and were greeted by a group of our local friends and jhr trainers. We ordered a delicious plate of chicken and rice - the everyday meal staple of Ghana - and enjoyed the sounds of the waves the bongos, the smell of the fresh air and cooked fish, and the company of good people.

Estuary Beach Club was breathtaking. We were surrounded by water and entertained with routines of local dance and music by the campfire.

As always, morning came to soon and it was time to go.

Which is an adventurous tale for another time :)

Ghana jhr crew at the chop bar in Ada Foah.

Owner of chop bar, George and friend.

Cheryl gives the fufu process a try.

The final product: lunch at the chop bar.

Myself and George on the boat to Estuary Beach Club.

Waterfront at Ada Foah.

Estuary Beach Club.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Our first week in Ghana and what a week it was!

July 7, 2011

Until I arrived, it was difficult for me to imagine what my time in Ghana would be like.

What did Accra look like, sound like, smell like? Were the people friendly, was the city dark and dangerous? How should I dress, where do I go, how do I get there? What would we eat and how was the night life?

These of course, were all concerns in relevance to my personal life here in Ghana as opposed to my professional life and work load, we will have time to get into that later.

Since arriving only a week ago a lot of these concerns have been answered and any anxieties associated with them have calmed.

As mentioned in the previous blog, the traffic here in Accra is hectic. It was also the first thing I found completely mind boggling. The city is loud, very loud and all the time. There is a high level of pollution and each night I clean out my nose – thoroughly. The streets smell of exhaust and fire stoves and although lined with garbage, what I will remember most of Ghana is the beauty of the people. Pleasant and easily approachable, the locals value relationships and spend a lot of time communicating with one another. They do not hold back and verbal exchanges of agreement and/or frustration are openly expressed, and loudly. Many people will stop you to talk and I can't count how many times I have been asked, “can we be friends.” When unsure of where to go, as most streets do not have road signs and often people don't remember them anyhow, locals are always willing to guide you in the right direction. Even if the best they can go is insist on “ you go straight, straight,” they do their best and in many ways are right. For a short period of time, we must always walk straight.

On a personal note, we have spent the last week running in and out of appointments. We have met with the previous jhr interns and have been introduced to staff and students at the African University College of Communications (where I will be working with my colleague from Global News, Cheryl Oates), the reporters and news editorial staff at The Daily Guide (a private daily newspaper where Paul Carlucci, a Canadian colleague who worked in magazine and news writing, will be working), as well as staff from two local radio stations Joy FM and Citi FM. We have had the privilege of meeting staff at the UNHCR and staff of the non-profit organization The Peoples Dialogue. Both which are locally based international non-profit organizations working on poverty reduction and human rights issues within Accra.

Some of the week has been a blur – but we are coming around nicely. We have been meeting many interesting personalities, both in our placements and out and I am extremely looking forward to beginning work at the AUCC on Monday.

Tomorrow we hope to be moving out of the Kokomlemle Guest House, which has been amazing and is where we have been staying since our arrival, and into the house in which we will be staying for the remainder of our time in Accra.

View from our Guest House in Kokomlemle

View of average, everyday traffic from our cab window in central Accra

Garbage surrounding a stream heading through the city

Canada Day at the Canada High Commissions Office

July 1, 2011

Just because we weren't in Canada didn't mean we weren't going to celebrate Canada Day.

Every first Thursday of the month the Canada High Commissions Office hosts an international get together, geared towards introducing expats from around the world and welcome them into the community. The July gathering was dedicated in honour of Canada's birth.

The Commissions office hosted a BBQ with Canadian beats and trivia. The property was great with a roofed patio, indoor bar and outdoor swimming pool. They had paper boat races and it was an opportunity for us to meet fellow Canadians working in Ghana.

As friends and family celebrated the festivities at home, we raised our glasses in Accra and gave thanks to our homeland from afar.

Cheryl and Michelle - celebrating Canada Day, eh!

Megan and Paul - Happy Canada Day from Ghana.

Spending my birthday in Ghana!

June 29, 2011

One thing I must insist on highlighting is the way in which we celebrated two extremely important events; the days of birth for both myself and Canada.
The day we arrived in Ghana was June 29th, also my 23rd birthday. At first we were quite tired after a long term of travel and were not going to plan anything spectacular, especially since we had just arrived and were unaware of where to go.

Lucky for us we ran into former jhr intern and current freelancer with the Toronto Star Jessica McDiarmid, who was very familiar with Accra and was willing to show us the ropes. We made our way to Tawala, a beach side bar with straw tiki huts and tables in the sand. Every Wednesday is Reggae night and so the place was surrounded with the beats of musical heroes such as Bob Marley and Lee Perry. We drank Ghanaian beer and watched the locals gather around campfires made on the ocean's sand.

As the evening passed we were introduced to the local gin in celebration of the festivities. Although quite tasty, many compare it to a state of petrol.. let's just say it can be a little potent. Our crowd had grown and more locals had joined us, a good friend and jhr colleague Megan Ainscow, who will be travelling north of Accra to the city of Tamale to work at Diamond FM radio, thought it would be a great idea to restate the fact that it was my birthday. As I was sitting down a Ghanaian named Thomas reached across the table, for what I thought, was to cheers. To my surprise, beer started tipping out of his glass and onto my lap. Small at first, then a little more, and then a bit in my hair... Silly me, I thought he was simply intoxicated and failing at a toast so I stood up to help steady his glass. This is when the remaining content fell directly over my head and soaked my entire upper body. As the local crowd cheered and clapped, I saw the jaws of the interns drop and heard, “Thomas, no!! She's new!”

This is when I learned the local birthday ritual of pouring any liquid content over the head of the birthday girl or boy. Soaked and sticky, I still laughed. It was an interesting welcome to Ghana.

As the night continued the music got louder and the crowd grew larger. The tide moved in and began grabbing at our feet and the legs of our tables and chairs. Before we knew it we were dancing with our feet in the Ocean. It was a fantastic birthday celebration and great first impression of what the next six months in Accra hold in store.

Cheryl, Michelle and Megan. New jhr interns in Ghana.

Aftermath of being covered in beer. Sticky but smiling.

Celebrating my 23rd birthday with new friends at Tawala Beach, Accra, Ghana.

Monday, July 4, 2011

We've made it!

After a week long of training, over 20 hours of travel and 5,000 miles we have reached what will be our home for the next 6 months in Accra, Ghana.

Accra is one of Africa's most democratic and modernly advanced countries. With an estimated population of 3,963,264 in 2011 with an estimate of an additional 3 million extending into the shanti communities surrounding the city center. Accra is internationally recognized as a leader of it's continent and was the first African country to gain independence in 1957 and was rpeviously known as the Gold Coast under the ruling of the United Kingdom.

As a first timer in Ghana, or Africa for that matter, stepping off the plane and being driven through the chaotic city streets of Accra was fast, exhilarating and chaotic. All of the streets are connected by one main road called the Ring Road and the traffic that builds here is unreal! There are next to no working street lights and the roads are rarely patrolled by police or law enforcements for safety purposes. It is not uncommon to be cut off, nearly sideswiped or approached by beggars and street vendors knocking on your window. From your vehicle window you can purchase anything from CD's, newspapers and soda to belts, posters and cell phones. Children ride in the front, the back and on laps without seat belts or car seats and there is no regulated emissions test furthering the extent of pollution.

Here in Accra the vehicles always have the right away, so pedestrians look out! African nations have the world's highest road traffic injury mortality rates in the world and traffic related accidents are one of the largest causes of injury related mortality in Ghana with 29.6 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants per year. Between watching for oncoming cars, potholes and open sewers and persistent street vendors, commuting through town can be a journey all of its own. With the consideration of these facts and many more, it is true what they say, everything in Ghana takes at least three times what it would back at home.

As previously mentioned, the city streets are filled with vendors and panhandlers. This serves as a main source of income for many families and is a large portion of the informal market and lower class economy. You can buy anything from jewellery, clothing, shoes, street food to electronics and more (especially cell phones and TONS of them!). We purchased our phones from a business who partners with a company in the UK and receives ship loads of used cell phones and resells them. This is a huge industry within Accra and throughout Ghana and is a useful way of recycling cellphones. Often many people have numerous phones as some service providers can be more or less accommodating based on your location. It is also extremely common to exchange digits, even with first time strangers and on average you may be asked a minimum of 5 to 10 times.

Strangers may also declare their love to you in the streets and ask you to wed. The requests are usually harmless and can be veered with a simple, “no thank you,” “next time,” or “my husband wouldn't like that.” But don't hesitate to be stern and assertive if your new friend is not getting the point.

The nightlife in the city is one which flourishes with energy. The music industry is quite active with local artists often taking the stage to perform. All music can be found depending on your taste and within the three nights we have been here we have danced with our feet in the Atlantic Ocean listening to Raggae music at a beach bar, jammed to the Bare Naked Ladies at the
Canada Day Celebration held by the Canada High Commissions Office and sipped wine while enjoying the sounds of local jazz and the most bad ass clarinet player I've ever heard!

Needless to say, Accra is full of life. Although it will take some getting used to and I will face many challenges along the way, I have no doubt I will adapt quickly and love it. My time here has just begun and I look forward to the adventures each day in Ghana will bring me.

My journey has just begun.

Please Note: Photos to come

Friday, June 24, 2011

Yet's time for pre-departure!

With a little less than a week to go before heading to Accra, Ghana for six months with Toronto based media-development organization Journalists for Human Rights, pre-departure preparations are wrapping up!

As when planning for any international travel, there are absolutes that must be taken care of. Some which may seem obvious and some which may be not so obvious. Once decided on the destination I like to arrange my preparation requirements into categories, it helps keeps me organized and focused!

To Do:

Travel Arrangements/Flight bookings/Accommodations

Visa/Travel Documents

Travel Doctor/Vaccinations and Medications

Travel/Health Insurance

Packing/What to bring

Personal - Where am I at? what do I expect?

Travel Arrangements/Flight bookings/Accommodations
With a consistently increasing interest in travel there are many options as to where to stay, who to fly with, when to go and so on. Check in with numerous travel agents and consult with friends and family who have travelled to the location in which you are heading to make sure you are arranging a trip that works best for your needs. Remember, everyone has a different opinion on what is 'absolutely the best' so make sure you ask a lot of questions to guarantee your satisfaction.

When finalizing your travel arrangements make sure to shop around for best prices and services. Secure exact dates and times and keep an accessible record of all travel contracts and documents (having an electronic copy in your email account eliminates the risk of losing or misplacing them).

Visa/Travel Documents
Visas and travel documents are extremely important and requirements may vary depending on the country you are visiting. Make sure to begin your research well in advance of your travels to limit stress, cost and possibility of not obtaining one. In many cases travel documents or visas are required to enter specific countries and without proper documentation you may be declines entry, which could clearly be the beginning and end to a very disappointing travel adventure.

Depending on the country and the consulate documents can take anywhere from same day (express) to numerous weeks. Make sure you have read and filled out the application form accordingly (sometimes even things such as writing in caps is essential!) and triple confirm you have included all of the required documents. Be sure to confirm visa expiration dates and renewal processes once in host country, as often the initial document must be revised upon landing. This step is extremely important and can sometimes be a stressful process so be prepared to check this one off your to do list in advance.

Please Note: Sometimes visas/specific travel documents are not required until arrival within host country, in which case lucky for you! Just make sure you understand the specific process of obtaining the documents when applicable.

Travel Doctor/Vaccinations and Medications
Similar to travel documents, often health preparations can be a lengthy (and sometimes expensive) process. Needless to say, this step is one of the most important as taking care of our personal health is always a main priority whether at home or abroad. Depending on your travel destination, and especially when travelling out of country, arrange an appointment with a travel doctor specific to your destination. Making a separate appointment with your family doctor or nurse practitioner many be useful as they have a stronger sense of your health history, may have additional insight and may have more time to discuss some of your health concerns in greater detail than your travel doctor.

Listen carefully to what the doctors say, ask questions and take notes if you feel it necessary. There will be a difference between vaccinations in which are required and medication which are a recommendation. Do your homework and understand your options; talk to friends and family whom are frequent travellers who you trust and gain a variety of insight into the matter. Health issues abroad are always something we would like to avoid but the next best thing is being prepared and knowing how to respond to them.

Travel/Health Insurance

As mentioned previously, this too depends on your destination. If you are travelling within province you may not have to worry if you are already insured for health coverage. If you are travelling out of province or out of country, it is always a good idea to confirm the agreements of your coverage to guarantee you have a strong understanding of what is and is not covered. For travellers going out of country this step is extremely important as some countries may not offer health coverage. If you have regular benefits you may already be covered so make sure to check the policies of your business/companies benefit coverage for the specifics of your trip. Often benefits will provide health coverage but not travel insurance. Discuss with a travel agent specific details of each policy before purchasing and make sure you are confident with your coverage. Often it is a good thing to think worse case scenario and see if you feel confident with your coverage, if so proceed, if not try a different package.

Packing/What to bring

This can be fun – and a pain! For those of us who are not so practical, we may end up bringing far too much. For those who like to pack light, may not bring enough. Pick your poison but make sure you are prepared to adapt to your load and please, bring the essentials. Many say less is more and when it comes to luggage of travel this is definitely true. Although having 5 options of outfits for each meal on your trip may be nice, remember you must carry this luggage, often in crowded areas.

The content in which you bring is what is essential. Make sure you have covered the basics from start to finish, beginning with appropriateness. When travelling consider the communities in which you will be visiting and pack accordingly to the cultural norms. For example; your attire would look differently travelling to the beach then it would a northern first nations community. The best place to start is clearly with research to gain an understanding of practicalities of your destination, such as climate, cultural customs and activities. Once you know the purpose of your travels (business vs travel , adventure vs. luxury) and what your trip's agenda may include you can begin packing accordingly, especially in combination with the findings of your research.

Always Remember:

Please Note: The list below is a vague description of commonly used items, regardless of destination. For a proper, more effective packing list plan according to the descriptions listed above based on the specifics of your location.

-Underwear and socks
-Light Sweater

-Heavy sweater/jacket
-Comfortable walking shoes
-Camera (I-pod, computer... don't forget the chargers!)
-Toiletries (including any medications)
-Travel Documents
-Cash, debit and credit

-Dress clothes/Evening outfit (just in case, you never know who may invite you out to dinner!)
-A day bag (makes day travelling more convenient)
-First aid kit
-Notebook/travel log
*Any required comfort items or specifics from home

A common recommendation is to have the essentials for at least one day and one night in your carry on in case, by chance, your luggage does not find its way to your destination. This happens far too often and those who have their toothbrush and an extra set of underwear are always happy they thought ahead!

Personal/Where am I at?
For me, one of the most essential steps in preparing for pre-departure, especially for long durations, is acknowledging where I am at. This could mean numerous things depending on the individual. Often when I engage in travel it is to learn about a new culture which inevitably involves certain instances of confusion, discomfort, struggle, irritation, denial, sometimes anger, acceptance and celebration.

Understanding where I am at mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually will help me to stay grounded and move forward in identifying my needs abroad as well as my fears and possible struggles. Through identifying these obstacles it makes it possible to establish a plan to overcome these challenges, enabling the highest level of success and enjoyment for your adventures abroad.

Often it can help to document this process. Whether it be in a public forum such as an online blog or simply for personal use such as a journal, diary or travel log!