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.