Posts Tagged With: Ghana

Ghana: 1 Year Reflection & New Adventures

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This month marks one year since I left for Ghana. I’ve been missing it a lot – the place, the people, the weather. Thinking back and remembering where I was at this time last year, when everything was so new. I’ve sat down a few times to write a retrospective, looking back on my time in Ghana and I can’t seem to find the words. I’m confident that they will come, they’re just not here yet, or at least they aren’t organized. I know that the experience was life changing – as cliché as that sounds. I came home older, more sure of myself and more patient than I was when I left.

It has also opened up many new doors. I started this blog as a way to keep family and friends updated about what and how I was doing in Ghana. But I was absolutely blown away when I realised that people I don’t even know from places I’ve never been were reading. For someone who never liked anyone else reading her writing – this was huge. In a lot of ways, I think that Ghana helped me to find my voice and encouraged me to use it.

Near the end of my internship I heard about a blog called Girls’ Globe through Twitter. Their aim was to raise awareness about issues impacting women and girls across the world and they were looking for bloggers. I contacted Julia the founder and soon joined the team. If you’ve been followed this blog, you know that I’m particularly passionate about gender issues; being the gender advisor for the Ghana YMCA and all. I was so excited by Julia’s vision for the blog and couldn’t see myself not being a part of the movement she was trying to start.

But there was something else that compelled me to add my voice to this women’s rights advocacy platform. Being in the field of development I find that the voices of the very women we are trying to advocate for are not given the same platform to tell their own stories as we give to others trying to tell the story for them.

As a woman of colour born in a developing country and raised in a community of strong women of colour, I feel compelled to throw my hat in the ring and contribute to this discourse on behalf of my mother, my aunts, sisters, my cousins and especially my grandmothers. I find that the struggles of girls and women in our communities aren’t given the same attention as others. So as a blogger for Girls’ Globe, I try to use our platform to talk about things that are close to my heart. I haven’t quite figured out what my physical presence as a woman of colour in this movement means, but I know that it’s significant, at least to me.

And so begins my next adventure. And as with most of my adventures, there is the possibility of travel. The Girls’ Globe team has a fantastic opportunity to attend the Women Deliver conference in Malaysia this May. It will give us (the 12 blogger team) the chance to meet each other, to network with others working to promote the rights of women and girls around the world, and to listen to some pretty high profile guest speakers. I am amazed at how life seems to always lay these fantastic opportunities along my path. I’m just doing my best to recognize and take advantage of them.

In order to go to Women Deliver, Girls’ Globe launched a fundraising campaign and we only have three days left to reach our goal of $12,000USD. Your support would mean the world to me, you can check out the campaign here.

Thank you’s & some Girls’ Globe supporters

This blog is called Collecting Stamps because I set a goal for myself to fill my passport with stamps before it expires in 2014. So far I’ve already surpassed the pages filled in my previous passport with just under a year to go. I am looking forward to the adventures that will accompany the new stamps.

I will leave you with this quote from my twitter friend Amina (aka @sheRoxLox), which is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read:

I write for all of you nomad traveller women. My Grandmama. My Mama. Me. I write for you – women who travel fearlessly with *home* on their backs. The one’s who traverse all corners of the globe meeting, touching, learning, sharing, living, loving, breathing, being. I write for all of you nomad traveller women who have given me the courage, bravery (and ability) to get up and go…to see the world. To see its colours. To taste its fruit. To breathe its air. To touch its people…because the world is much too much to be ignored by women like us, too beautiful, too big, too much for women like us. I write for all of you nomad traveller women journeying far and wide but also finding comfort and solace within. I write as much for you as I write for me. I write because I am slowly beginning to understand that *for a woman to travel can be a feminist act.* I write for the strength of our backs and for the weight of our feet. I write for global communities, movements and love spaces. I write for us all. I write for love.

You can read about her journey here

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For the Love of Custom Made Clothes

My co-worker Ben and I

I took a lot away from my time in Ghana and much of it I’m now trying to find space in my closet for.  As it turns out, I came home with a whole new wardrobe.

Traditional fashion in Ghana was one of my favourite things.  Ghanaian people have serious style and it’s easy to see why when the process of having clothes made allows for such creativity.

I would go to the market and peruse until I found 1, 2, or 5 fabric patterns that I liked (on average GHC 5.00 per yard).  Fabric shopping was at times overwhelming, but always so much fun.  By the time I left Ghana the vendors at my usual spot in the market knew me far too well…one told me that if she had a son she would offer him to me for marriage.  Then I would take the fabric to my seamstress along with a drawing or picture of what I wanted made.  In all, I had three seamstresses and a tailor. I almost had a shoe-maker but restrained myself.

This is how I justified my new wardrobe:

  1. I was supporting the local textile industry
  2. I know where my clothes were made, by whom and under what conditions.  My tailor and two of my seamstresses had small shops, and one seamstress was my neighbour who sewed in her home.  I bargained a lot in Ghana, but never on clothes.  The clothes were so beautifully made that I was happy to pay whatever they asked, which as it turns out, wasn’t much.
  3. It was far cheaper than clothes at home. On average a top or skirt was 10 Cedis, dresses and pants were from 20 Cedis to 30 Cedis. ($1 CAD = GHC1.9)
  4. Everything looks good on if it’s custom tailored!

One thing that getting clothes custom-made does is make you aware of your body.  Ghanaians like to comment on physical appearance in general, and nothing encourages commentary more than someone holding a tape measure up against you.  Actual quotes from two of my seamstresses:

“Your shape is nice oo” (Ghanaians use “oo” for emphasis similar to how Canadians use “eh”)

“Your breasts, they are very small. If they were bigger it would look so nice”

Gotta love the honesty!

Other fun exchanges with the seamstresses occurred when having short dresses or skirts made.  In Ghana showing your thighs is a little taboo.  I say a little because short skirts and dresses are common at clubs, just not for day-to-day wear.   Seamstresses tend to err on the more conservative side, so I felt a little awkward asking them to make me short things.

The quality of the clothes I had made was excellent, and for the most part I loved everything.  There was however, an unfortunate bedazzling incident with what was supposed to be a basic a dress.  In an effort to make it extra special for me; because it was too plain; my seamstress took some creative liberties with a glue gun and some silver stars.  That dress didn’t make it home with me.

I think that the outfit I’m happiest with is something that I had made for my mom.  Without seeing my mom, one of my seamstresses made her a traditional outfit just using her measurements.  Mommy loves it and so do I!

Mama in her Kaba and Slit

I am also in love with the clothes I had made for myself and thought it appropriate to share pictures.  I started a fashion show for my family at home of everything I had made, but then I got tired of all the wardrobe changes – a model, I am not – so the pictures are of most, but not all of my new clothes.  Note that I chose pictures based on what showed the clothes best, not how I look.

Photography credit to Junior West, the best little brother ever.

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Castles – The Unromantic Kind

Today is the International Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition as designated by UNESCO.  Ghana is well known for two former slave trading castles that were built on its shores centuries ago, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  I’ve had the chance to visit both the Cape Coast and Elmina castles since I’ve been here and it seems most appropriate to share my experiences today.

I went to Cape Coast first, a few weeks ago and I didn’t know what to expect.  My only other experience with a slave trading port was James Island in The Gambia, which I visited in 2009.  James Island was small, isolated (I had to take a boat to get there), and more like ruins than an actual structure.  It was nothing like Cape Coast. The castle was built by the Swedes in the 16th century and changed hands between European settlers before it was conquered by the British in the 17th century and used for the slave trade.

I expected that I would have time to mentally prepare to see the castle, but instead felt like I almost stumbled onto it.  I went into town with friends to get breakfast and there it was with restaurants and shops all around, tourists filing into and spilling out of the entrance, and Ghanaians just going about their business as if this large reminder of the slave trade wasn’t looming over town.  I was instantly more emotionally impacted by it than I thought I would be.  Just seeing it from the outside made me uneasy.  Inside the castle we took a guided tour through the courtyard, dungeons, living quarters of colonialists, and out through the “Door of No Return” where we were assured that unlike those who walked through the same doors towards boats destined for the Americas, we would be able to return.  The guide was great and I wondered if they ever get tired of telling the same horrific stories and if they become numb to the awfulness.

I met a woman from Cote d’Ivoire in our tour group who, upon learning that I am from the Caribbean held my hand and commented on how difficult it must be for me.  And it was difficult.  It felt so real.  The most appropriate word I can think of to describe the experience is “eerie”.  It was eerie to stand in the dungeons and know that hundreds of people were crammed in there, that you can’t see the bricks on the floor because of the buildup of human waste now hardened to the floor, and that people died in the place where I stood.  Even when I was on the beach afterwards, I couldn’t help but look up at it.  That castle got to me, it felt like a ghost.

This past weekend I went to the Elmina castle which is just down the coast from Cape Coast.  It’s a much older castle, built in the 1400s by the Portuguese.  The tour was similar, though the castle is much larger and the architecture very different.  It’s strange to find a structure that is the manifestation of such ugliness so beautiful, but it is.  Emotionally Elmina was a different experience; I’m not sure if it was because I had been to Cape Coast so it wasn’t as much of a shock or that the group dynamic was different, but I felt less deeply troubled for the most part.  One part of both tours that got to me were the stories of rape.  At Elmina I stood on the balcony where European colonialists would call the women slaves into a courtyard below and make their selection.

An interesting part of the tours for me was seeing who the other tourists were and how they reacted.  In Elmina there was a group of Europeans in my tour group; I think they were Dutch – the Dutch also ran Elmina for a period.  I found myself on one hand curious about how the experience would affect them, while on the other wishing that I didn’t have to share my experience with them.  That experience being of someone descended from slaves, with ancestry mixed with British and Portuguese a few generations back, unsure of how that mixing came to be; and feeling deeply connected to the history of the place in a pretty troubling way.  I know that the Dutch people on the tour (or contemporary Europeans in general) weren’t personally responsible for slavery; but if I feel so connected to and impacted by those enslaved people who are my people, it’s difficult for me to completely separate others from their history. Our history.

 

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Sources:

http://www.ghanamuseums.org/forts/cape-coast-castle.php

http://www.ghanamuseums.org/forts/fort-st-george-castle.php

If you are ever in Ghana, I would definitely recommend visiting the castles. But the admission charges listed in the above links are wrong!

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What does a Gender Advisor do? (Hint: I don’t advise people of what gender they are)

After moving back to Toronto from Halifax, my goal was to find full time work, save, pay off debt and generally settle down (ie. less gallivanting around the world).  Having a Master’s degree under my belt, surely I would be able to find SOMETHING in my field relatively quickly. Oh how wrong I was!  After a very humbling few months of job hunting, I eventually figured out that if I wanted to pursue a career in international development, I would need international work experience.

After a few interviews, I was offered a seven month internship through Youth Challenge International, funded by CIDA in Accra, Ghana as a Gender Advisor for the YMCA of Ghana.  My position was preceded by another Gender Advisor intern who worked on the creation of a Gender Equality policy for the Ghana YMCA.  I will be continuing her work through three major projects:

The first is to work with the YMCA to implement the Gender Equality Policy.  This will include making sure that all of the staff, volunteers and board members have read, understood and are on board with the policy.  I will also be leading group sessions to decide how best to meet the targets of the policy, and then monitoring and evaluating the progress of the policy implementation throughout my time here.

The second part of my mandate is to work with the regional branches of YMCA Ghana to design, implement and report on specific gender equality programmes.  And lastly, I will be working with YMCA volunteers and members of the community to assess what kinds of programming would be most beneficial to girls and women; then finding ways to provide that programming and recruit more young women to the Y.  I’ve also managed to add coaching a girls’ soccer team to my official work duties.

A lot to get done in 7 months, but I’m so excited about my work and have a wonderful group of coworkers, who I will write about in future posts.

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The Journey

I have spoken to many people who have been to Ghana and haven’t heard a single negative thing (+1 for Ghana!).  I have overwhelmingly been told that Ghanaians are the friendliest people and that I will have a wonderful time in Accra; so this is obviously going to be the beginning of my newest love affair with a country.

I’m often teased about being too friendly to strangers, so if Ghanaians are as nice as I am told, we will get along just fine. My friends and family often worry about my safety because I generally talk to or at least greet anyone I meet on the street – Case in point, some words of advice I received before leaving: “Whenever you feel the need to say good morning (to a stranger) DON’T!” Fair enough, sometimes I talk to shady characters I meet on buses in Central America and end up getting robbed.  BUT sometimes, I smile and make small talk with the right people and end up getting upgraded to business class; as was the case with my flight to Ghana. This was the first time I had to worry about which fork and knife go with which course on an airplane (free wine however, goes with all courses).   My journey, which took me from Toronto to London, then London to Accra, was off to a good start.

Aside from the upgrade, there was little to report about my trip – although British accents and a pilot named captain hook were highlights for me.

I arrived in Accra on Monday night feeling hot, anxious to get settled and trying not to think of seven months as a long time.

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