January 18, 2009

The "other" black gold: cocoa

I bet when you think cocoa you think South America. Who doesn't?

In fact, 70% of the world's cocoa supply begins life in West Africa: 20% in Ghana, 40% in The Ivory Coast, and the balance is supplied from Cameroon and Nigeria.

The remaining 30% comes from Brazil, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, PNG, Indonesia, Colombia, Malaysia and Mexico.

Global Social Benefit Incubator

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Global Social Benefit Incubator there.

Social Edge's site is brilliant for anyone interested in social entrepreneurism.

Global Social Benefit Incubator Competition on Social Edge - Up to 20 will win US$25,000 Scholarship - Enter by Jan 20 2009Are you a social entrepreneur or the leader of a social venture, or do you know someone with a social venture that could benefit from capacity building, in-depth consultation on their business plan and mentoring by Santa Clara University faculty and Silicon Valley start-up veterans?The Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI™) is a capacity building program for leaders of social benefit enterprises run by Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology and Society.Enter now for a chance to attend.The competition is hosted on Social Edge, the online community for social entrepreneurs. The online application for Santa Clara University’s seventh annual GSBI is available now at http://www.socialedge.org/ and social benefit entrepreneurs from around the world should complete their first exercise online by January 16th. Deadline extended to 20/1/09 08:00 GMT.Through the GSBI competition, up to 20 candidates, who best demonstrate a sustainable and scalable approach to addressing urgent human needs throughout the world, will each receive a full scholarship valued at US$25,000 to attend the GSBI program which combines 4 months of on-line preparation and culminates with an intensive two-week residential program at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley.Press release: http://tinyurl.com/GSBI2009Apply now: socialedge.org/features/gsbi

January 15, 2009

20 minutes in the life of Ghana...Elmina to Cape Coast

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read 20 minutes in the life of Ghana...Elmina to Cape Coast there.

When these women carrying beams of timber on their head passed me this morning I decided to chronicle the journey to work in pictures--it takes about 20 minutes in a share taxi (when it doesn't break down, take a detour, or get pulled over by police at barriers)--so join me in 20 minutes in the life...

...of my journey from home to work that starts here, on the side of the highway, where I flag down a share taxi and still catch myself awed...

...by the women (it's mostly women--and they usually have a baby wrapped on their back to boot) who carry heavy loads on their heads because there's no other way for them to get it from A to B: these women have Pure Grace, the slogan emblazoned on the mini bus's rear windscreen, as they are on almost every vehicle in the country that...

...stops to set down passengers who need a break...

...and almost exclusively have windscreens that look like cystallized spider's webs...

...with side mirrors to match...

...so it's best to gaze out the side windows to see the fishermen carrying nets for mending....

...where piles of Gari--ground cassava--sit in neat stacks on tables across the highway from the Ewe fishing villages...

...and fishermen's pirogues (for fishing is a male domain) sit awaiting their next dip into the ocean and nets sit stretched for mending...

...for several kilometres along the highway...

...and children sell "pure water" from aluminium basins on their heads by the highway where the Atlantic waves pound the beach...

...and billboards advertise the ubiquitous game...

...before you come upon the village where pirogues set the scene...

...and lone fishermen take stock...

...and communities of fishermen participate in a communal hand-over-fist dance to haul in the nets...

...before coming upon the lagoon at Bakaano where a thin strop of sand separates the lake from the sea...

...and you shortly find yourself entering Cape Coast proper where you can buy a timber bed frame on the side of the road...

...and avoid falling in the open sewage trenches...

...and buy an onion from a street hawker and mind the firewood that will soon become charcoal that most people use to fuel their small coal braziers over which they cook almost everything, including...

...pancakes that will soon be sold from that little green shed by a lady who piles them up in a glass case and wanders along the road until they're "finished"...

...and do a spot of chair shopping before the day gets going...

...and make a call for 25 cents from the yellow umbrella stand...

...and stop at the blue painted shop that sells stales like milk, of course, and sugar, rice, single tea bags, and other food stuffs in small portions from 5 cent sizes to $1 or more...

...and a bite of wakye (wah-chy), a dish of rice and red beans and sold in those large silver bowls along streets all over Ghana...

...so you can fill your stomach for a day at the office!

That was a 20 minutes in the life from Elmina to Cape Coast...

The Barber Shop

The barber shop is an institution in Ghana. Like most enterprising individuals, this young gentleman offers haircuts for as little as $1 and a nifty range of imported second-hand clothing and new running shoes if you feel like jazzing up your new hairdo with savvy style.

You can choose from a dazzling array of styles--see poster on right!--depending on your mood (it will grow back in a couple of weeks anyway). Which means it's a pretty safe business proposition too, really: guaranteed clientele.

The total head shave is called "sakora" and is quite popular among professional men and any mother who fears her son might go awry when the hair grows longer than a quarter of an inch.

Personally, I want the apron.

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read The Barber Shop there.

January 14, 2009

Social Entrepreneurs Mean Business

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Social Entrepreneurs Mean Business there.

I came across a fantastic little article at Tree Hugger about social entrepreneurism, a phenomenon that is transforming the economic--and therefore social--well being of communities in developing countries. Basically, business is used to address social issues and income generating projects are usually the basis of this approach, such as that of Global Mamas, here, where I have worked for the past 18 months. Here is a great story about the evolution of fair trade, social entrepreneurs and Global Mamas in the USA.

Watch this space for more news on social entrepreneurs in Ghana, Africa and other corners of this spherical world.

January 9, 2009

Lifecycle of a handbag

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Lifecycle of a handbag there.

I was wandering up the road to work in regional Ghana minding my own business when I shouted “STOP!”

I knew that stylish, red, raw silk shoulder bag hanging alongside a motley range of developed-world seconds. And those daisies! I pulled my partner over the stinky gutter and into the tiny shack shop while I plucked the shiny red bag from its latch. My jaw almost fell into the sewer when I read: “Sentosa Silk, Cambodia.”

I knew it. Unmistakable. I worked with Sentosa in Phnom Penh. I sent their signature daisy purses home as gifts. What on earth was it doing here in Ghana? I knew the bag was made at a fair trade NGO, just like the one I worked for a few hundred metres up the road from where I was standing.

I hate shopping, and I’m no bargain hunter, but I had to know the price, especially because I knew the value--raw, hand-woven silk. And I’m constantly marveling at the developing world pecking order: ambulances donated to Ghana from Iran, for instance, and Cuban doctors doing the salsa down the corridors most hospitals here... Anyway.

So I ducked inside.
“How much?” I asked the owner. She sized me up.
“Five Ghana Cedis.” (That’s just under 5 US dollars.)
I almost fell over.
“It’s worth at least 20!” I whispered to my boyfriend outside in the sweltering sun.

I wanted to offer 10. Crazy. But I knew the effort that went into that bag.

So I left it. I figured some lucky Ghanaian could be the belle of the funeral (it was red and black: funeral colours) and nab a bargain they may never realize the true value of, and that it was hand made by young men and women working hard to overcome disabilities inflicted by land mines and other consequences of the civil war in another small developing nation half-way around the world.

We stepped over the open sewers and up the hill towards the Global Mamas office where hard-working Ghanaian women brought in their own fair trade creations.

Another "what on earth" moment in Ghana.

And what is it with the Cuban doctors anyway?

"Young People These Days!"

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read "Young People These Days!" there.

What I’ve enjoyed most about the last month is listening to the staff in the office here quietly (and sometimes really loudly) discuss politics. I didn’t expect the mostly early-twenties Ghanaian men and women to give two hoots about the election (which shows how little I’ve learnt, really), but the nine of them spent the better part of their working days listening to politics on the radio, debating the pros and cons of the respective parties, their policies, and their “failings.” Divided about half-half between the two main parties (as was the country) , they argued and enjoyed their right to discuss the issues without seeming to take it for granted. If only the candidates could have fielded questions from this bright bunch.

Arriving in the morning when everyone was animatedly discussing whichever issue had come up the night before always tickled me, especially after the Presidential debate when the nine of them conceded that Dr Nduom (who did not make the final two in the Presidential run-off) had the “best” answers to the problems--and none of them planned to vote for him.

What made me smile was the simple straight-forwardness with which they debated and protested and good-naturedly chastised each other. Everyone contributed their two pesewas as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

And now all they talk about is that Ghana is changing and moving forward! Indeed, with young people like these stepping up to bat in about ten year’s time, it certainly will.

January 8, 2009

Safer in Ghana than just about anywhere on earth

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Safer in Ghana than just about anywhere on earth there.

A few months after arriving in Ghana some three years ago I realised that poverty and peace were not necessarily mutually exclusive. And it was just after the ice cream ran out (now that could have caused an international incident) on Christmas night in Cape Coast two weeks ago that I realized our motley group of “orphans” gathered around the table were safer living here--together--than just about any nation on the planet.

At a glance you would have said we were African, Asian and Caucasian. If you sat for a while you might have said we were Ghanaian, Australian, American, Japanese, and Canadian. And Ghanaians might have pointed out that they were Frafra, Krobo, Ewe, and Fanti, although they’d normally claim their Ghanaianness first (especially during the football).

The rest of the world would no doubt have spotted our religions: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheists (not exactly a religion), and spiritualists.

Why we are safer here than almost any modern nation you care to name is that Ghanaians have transcended the thorny sounding concept of “religious tolerance”; they already live “acceptance.” They don’t question where or how you pray. And they won’t hold it against you if it’s not in their church or mosque. Most Ghanaians I’ve spoken to about this are only confused if you don’t pray at all.

And Ghana is not a target for any group or other. The one thing that Ghanaians won't condone is conflict, which I discovered during my experience in and on the way to Bawku where most people were fed up with the fighting.

The tolerance, in part, stems from education; this is a country where pre-schoolers are taught, in big bold letters on the concrete chalk board, to: "Love your Christian brothers and sisters and love your Muslim brothers and sisters." The Koran and The Bible are studied equally and respected equally in religious education classes.

This is an achievement by any standards. Moreover, in a nation where every day is a struggle to eat for over 95% of the population, and in a world that is increasingly polarised by religious "difference," that something has not become a scapegoat is almost unfathomable. Yet, you can safely and openly go about your prayers on whichever path you prefer to seek God. You can also wear your political preferences and tribal ethnicity on your sleeve too. (Sexuality, however, has a ways to go.)

Which brings me to an interview with the legendary Pico Iyer on World Hum in which he said,
“I think one of the curious consequences of 9/11 is that it used to be that the rich countries of the world seemed relatively safe and the poor ones relatively dangerous, but I don’t think we can rest on those illusions now. Actually, it may be the rich countries which are more dangerous now.”Perhaps it was always an illusion. Nevertheless, one can no longer equate “undeveloped” with “unsafe.” That would be delusion. Here in Ghana I know that poverty and peace are not mutually exclusive. I feel safe. If only poverty were an illusion.

Post-election jubilation

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Post-election jubilation there.

Says it all: NDC supporters demonstrating their feeling after the electoral commission announced the outcome of the Presidential election: that's President John Evans Fiifi Atta-Mills' face stretched across that T-shirt.

January 5, 2009

Made in Ghana Limousines, TVs and much more...

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Made in Ghana Limousines, TVs and much more... there.

He didn't win the presidency, but Dr Paa Kwesi Nduom did ride in a Made in Ghana vehicle: the "Kantankan Obrempon". Kantankan is the brand name and Obrempon means "great person" or "greatness" in Twi. The Obrempon is a limousine. Yes, a limousine made in Ghana by Great Kosa Limited, the company established by...

The man behind the car, and the stereos, the speakers, the tractors, and the televisions: one Dr Apostle Kwadwo Safo, founder of Christ Reformed Church, where he often showcases his latest creations made by the 400 individuals trained to specialise in a specific area of assembly, from the beginning to the completion of a product.

Dr Safo is a trained welder who has designed and produced flat screen televisions which are constructed from the components--including the motherboard!--up at a factory at Gomoa Mpoto in the Central Region and which switch on with a clap!

These televisions look like they're from The Jetsons. Their casing is made from plywood which is carefully crafted into bubble-shaped cases or more traditional square cases and then primped and preened with the craftsmanship of a 16th Century Italian--buffed, sanded, and sprayed--until they're done and dried. And they work. So do the stereos with speakers which also increase in volume with a clap of your hands.

Maybe this is nothing new. Maybe this happens somewhere else. But he designed it here, and made it here, in a country where it's hard to find a car that won't break down after fifteen minutes on the road.

Dr Safo is garnering support among Ghanaians who are beginning to recognise that innovation has a place, and perhaps a more useful and exciting place, than the trend of acquiring pieces of paper--university degrees--that often prove useless in an atmosphere of few jobs for graduates.

After riding in the vehicle, Dr Nduom said that "Apostle Safo's feat was a clear testimony of the fact that Ghana could develop to where countries like Korea and Singapore were today." (ModernGhana.com)

Dr Safo is in discussions to build a large-scale manufacturing plant in Ghana. Perhaps the stability of recent elections will give investors confidence to put their money into this inspiring enterprise.

January 1, 2009

A Good Relationship is like Fufu

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read A Good Relationship is like Fufu there.

You may be asking, what on this bountiful blue planet is fufu?

It's a staple of the Ghanaian diet, and other parts of Africa besides, that involves mashing boiled vegetables--plantain, cassava or yam--in a huge wooden mortar with a 4-foot long blunt-ended pole hewn from a tree until the vegetables become a sticky pale ball. It takes two people. It takes a long time. (Sounds like a relationship). The ball is then dropped in a spicy soup--palm, light or groundnut--and scooped up in the right hand and swallowed (not chewed - heaven forbid) whole.

And many humans could be forgiven for asking what makes a good relationship too?

Well, I was privvy to this tidbit of wisdom a couple of weeks ago at the marriage between a Ghanaian and Canadian couple of friends.

The analogy in Ghanaian folklore follows that creating a good relationship is like making fufu: one partner is the cassava and the other is the plantain (or yam if you're up north).

When you pound cassava and plantain into a sticky ball of fufu, which ain't easy, like you're average long-term relationship, you hit lumps, like you're average long-term relationship.

So, what next?

Ghanaians believe that it is the sole responsibility of the two to address the issues--those lumps--in the relationship. In other words, to discard those things that don't help the relationship, and keep pounding away at the rest. And to solve it yourself...

"So we are the caterers in the kitchen of relationship fufu, then..." I said out loud.

Culture and language - endless balls of fu....fu....n!!!

(Oh, and I chew my fufu...)

I say: "Afehyia paaaaa" (a-fish-i-a-paaaaah!)

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read I say: "Afehyia paaaaa" (a-fish-i-a-paaaaah!) there.

And you reply: "Afeenko mbe tuyee daa!"

That means I'm wishing you: "Happy New Year" in Twi, the most widely spoken indigenous language in Ghana.

And you're optimistically replying, as you do at New Year, unless you're thinking about resolutions: "The year will go and come and meet us again."

My Resolution 1: Stop having to be the one who says Afehyia paa because you've learnt how to say the response.

My Resolution 2: be able to pronounce "Afeenko mbe tuyee daa!" by next new year, as you resolved to do last new year.
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