As I write this, I am sitting outside of my room at the Presby guesthouse in Kumasi, Ghana. July falls during the rainy season here, so after leaving the extremely humid weather of Accra (stepping off the plane felt like stepping out of an icebox into a state-sized sauna) the Kumasi weather has been cooler at times than I expected. The West African weather has been tolerable at the worst of times, but mostly it’s been delightfully warm. Everyone here gets up very early, often before 6 a.m., to start their day in the cool of the morning. It’s not that anyone really has a choice – the roosters will wake you up by brute audio force if you fail to do so on your own accord.
This is our first Saturday in Kumasi. After our first week of chasing NGO representatives to get some leads for our CIDA reporting, meeting with a radio host about how to improve her weekly segment on youth issues and assisting the Kapital Radio news journalists both in the field and in the newsroom, we’ve decided to call it an early night. In lieu of an evening out, I’ve been reading some new Canadian fiction in an issue of The Walrus that I stuffed into my suitcase before I left Toronto. This has put our Canadian culture and the rich Ghanaian culture into sharp relief. Up to this point, we’ve been so saturated by the vibrant colours, sounds and smells of the Ghanaian cityscapes that I’ve barely paused to consider the two in comparison. Ironically, all the mentioning of Queen Street, Montreal cafés and snow within these short stories makes me think of the drumming circles, kente cloth, and banku (a maize food staple) that surround us here in Ghana – realizing just how distant the everyday experiences of Canada really are makes it easier to recognize and appreciate the cultural riches here that have taken their place. I’m super excited about a festival that’s happening later in the summer. The name, roughly translated to “The Big Sunday,” refers to one day when drummers, dancers and merchants representing many traditional Ghanaian tribes gather on the grounds of the Ashanti king’s palace.
Everywhere we go, there seems to be a rhythmic pulse in Ghana. Every morning, there are children singing outside of our windows at the school beside the guesthouse. The harmonies multiply on Sunday when traditional praise songs can be heard pouring into the streets of Kumasi until well into the afternoon. And of course, with the World Cup going on, the energy in the streets is heightened. We were lucky enough to watch the first match of the Black Stars before leaving Accra. Seemingly, the entire city was outside on Oxford Street (a main drag in the bustling neighbourhood of Osu) watching the game on large television screens. During commercial breaks and after Ghana’s brilliant win against Serbia, everyone was dancing, turning Accra into one giant street party. I used to think the spirit of Montrealers was impressive when the Habs were in the playoffs, but we’ve got nothing on Ghanaian Black Star fans.
We visited the Asawasi region Community Centre earlier today where voter registration was taking place. The place was bustling with people in both Western and traditional dress, and the amount of women present was astounding. According to Amanita Ibrahim, regional coordinator for Amnesty International and a director for the Empowerment Centre for Women and Children) women vote in overwhelmingly higher numbers than men, but very rarely do they run for political office. Even so, it’s a very exciting election coming up, particularly regarding the participation of women. In speaking with Alhajid Mohammed, a regional party coordinator, he told me that more women than ever are running in the district assembly elections in August. He credits this to the fact that a woman, Nana Konadu, is currently running to lead the NDC (the New Democratic Congress) into the national presidential elections of 2012.
I managed to talk with one female voter about why she feels the need to vote. For her, it is an opportunity to make a difference in issues she cares about, particularly youth issues. I’d love to speak to more women to find out what their impetus is to participate in politics, but few at the voter registration spoke English.
Though English is the official language, the dominant language on the streets of Ghana is Twi. Almost 40 other languages and dialects circulate in the country. For now, we’re sticking to picking up some Twi phrases like ete sen (how are you?) and meda ase (thank you). Stay tuned next week for an update on our time at Kapital Radio and the progression of our feature articles, but for now… da yie (goodnight).