Author Archives: Lin Abdul Rahman

About Lin Abdul Rahman

Lin Abdul Rahman is a Journalism student with a minor in Human Rights at Laurier Brantford. She is originally from Malaysia and now calls Canada home. She used to study architecture in Malaysia and Australia before discovering her real passion for writing in Canada. Lin is currently the Opinion Editor for The Sputnik and a Youth Representative of the Canada Malay Association.

Preferential treatment v. currying favours

[pullquote]There was about twenty people ahead of me. I took out my book and settled down to wait. One hour passed. Then two hours. Then three. The queue hadn’t moved by a single patient.[/pullquote]

I promised myself I would never knowingly take advantage of the preferential – if not at least differential – treatment foreigners receive in Ghana. Even though I fall into the rather ambiguous category of a dark-skinned obruni, I have, on occasion, been given more attention or faster service than usually afforded to locals. I can’t do anything about it – to refuse would have been rude – but I promised myself I would never illicit any special treatment.
Regrettably, I had to break that promise. I caught malaria despite taking regular medications and avoiding unnecessary exposure to mosquito bites. One weekend, while I was attending a colleague’s wedding, I started feeling especially sick. My temperature fluctuated, my joints ached, I was nauseated and my stomach couldn’t retain any food. Fearing the worst, I called one of my fellow interns’ colleagues at Kapital Radio. He suggested that I get checked, but he advised me to go with a local who knew the ins and outs of the system so I wouldn’t have to wait long to see a doctor.
He didn’t state it explicitly but what he meant was that I should go with someone who could help me jump the queue.
Remembering the promise I made to myself, I went to the hospital alone (My fellow interns Chris Tse and Leah Wong had gone out of town for their mid-internship break).
After asking around, I managed to get to the hospital, find the walk-in clinic, register myself and join the queue to see the doctor. There was about twenty people ahead of me. I took out my book and settled down to wait.
One hour passed. Then two hours. Then three. The queue hadn’t moved by a single patient.

I felt my nausea growing, my stomach threatened another visit to the loo and my fever was back with a vengeance. I glanced over to the man sleeping on the bench next to me – he had been there before I came – and decided I couldn’t wait anymore.

I called another friend who I thought might be able to help. He promptly instructed me to meet him at the hospital where his wife works. Once there, he ran around getting me registered and within twenty minutes, I was sitting in front of the doctor relaying my symptoms. There followed a flurry of activities – a blood test, another session with the doctor, getting my prescriptions – during which I saw my friend speak to this person or that in order to get me ahead of the line at every stop. The whole process took a little less than 3 hours.

As I curl up in my bed feeling calm and medicated, I saw the faces of the people I jumped ahead of. They were all sick and they still had to wait their turn. My stomach churned again with guilt. I reminded myself that I had gotten ahead of the line because my friend had connections at the hospital, not because my skin was a little fairer than the average Ghanaian. There is little comfort in that, but I’ll take it nonetheless.

Funeral of Kumasi’s late Chief of Imam

The late Sheikh Imran Musah served as the Ashanti Regional Chief Imam for nine years before succumbing to diabetes at age 67. He was remembered for his dedication in promoting education as a means of fighting poverty and also his love for football. An official ceremony was held on July 3 at the Kumasi Central Mosque to honour his passing and to install his successor, the new Ashanti Regional Chief Imam Sheikh Abdul Mumin, formerly the deputy chief imam. Political and governmental dignitaries, both Muslim and Christian, were present to pay their respects. They include the Archbishop of the Kumasi Catholic Archdiocese His Grace Thomas Kwaku Mensah, former Vice President of Ghana Alhaji Aliu Mahama, current Vice President John Dramani Mahama and Ashanti Regional Minister Dr. Kwaku Agyeman-Mensah. Various tribal chiefs, chief imams and imams from mosques in Kumasi were also there in their regal traditional robes. The ceremony ended with the official installment of the late Chief Imam’s successor, Sheikh Abdul Mumin as the new Ashanti Regional Chief Imam.

Listen and watch to some of the eulogies honouring the Ashanti Regional Chief Imam.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OXWyG-G3og

Do the Adowa!

Adowa is a traditional dance unique to the Ashanti region of Ghana. It’s common to see performances of Adowa at formal ceremonies with the accompaniment of Kete drummers. Adowa dancers perform shirtless, wrapped only in traditional Lapa cloths. Their movements are said to mimic the antelope, which is called adowa in Twi. An Adowa dancer customarily ends his performance by going around to collect tips from guests.

Watch the video to see how a young Adowa dancer entertained the crowd during the Neo-natal Survival Project’s end-of-pilot celebration at Suntreso Hospital in Kumasi.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2rHbOuKu-A

New neo-natal facilities for Kumasi’s newborns

Nurse Haajia Ayishatu Yakubu with a premature baby at Suntreso Hospital's Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) in Kumasi

For every 1000 babies born alive in Ghana, 48 are expected to die. Five years ago, that number would have been far higher but infant mortality rate in the country has been steadily dropping since 2006.

Thanks to improvements in neo-natal care and immunization coverage, Ghana’s newborns now face a better chance of survival. Kumasi in particular, now has three hospitals that are equipped with a neo-natal care unit.

According to Dr. Kwesi Awudzi, Director of Health for the Ashanti Region, pregnant women in Ghana often work throughout the year regardless of their stage in pregnancy. The strain of hard labour often causes complications for mothers, including premature births.

Prior to 2009, Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) was the only place equipped to treat premature births. With the help Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV), Alliance Bank and the Millennium City Innitiative (MCI), there are now neo-natal care units at two other hospitals in the city – Suntreso Hospital and Kyarapatere Hospital.

According to Suntreso Hospital’s Mother and Baby Unit’s head nurse Haajia Ayishatu Yakubu, this caused an on-going patient congestion at KATH and babies often had to sleep two to a cot. The opening of the two new units in 2009 has substantially improved the situation; aside from new cases, Suntreso and Kyarapatere Hospital regularly receive babies in critical condition that KATH was unable to treat.

Patients in the Kangaroo Mother Care therapy room at Suntreso Hospital's Mother and Baby Unit in Kumasi

During the recent end-of-pilot celebration of the Neo-natal Survival Project at Suntreso Hospital, I was shown around the hospital’s Mother and Baby unit. The beds were amply spaced from one another and only half were occupied. Nurse Yakubu said the unit does not use incubators; instead, they employ the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMA) method to treat premature babies. In a room separate from the main ward, mothers are able to recuperate with their babies strapped to their chests to provide direct and continuous skin-to-skin contact which will encourage and support the babies’ growth.

Nurse Yakubu said there have only been two deaths since the unit opened two years ago. Both cases involve babies in critical condition that were transferred from KATH.

With a project yielding such substantial results, Ghana’s health sector seems set to achieve its goal of reducing infant mortality by 2015. The next challenge facing the project would be to ensure its sustainability.

Wedding Shower at the Kumasi Central Mosque

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to attend a Muslim wedding ceremony in the zongo surrounding the Kumasi Central Mosque. The ceremony involves the bride reciting verses from the Quran with the guidance of a Mallam (religious teacher). During the recitation, guests and family members offer gifts of cash to the bride. The groom was not present as he was undergoing the same ceremony at his home. It was wonderful to see the entire community organize the wedding together. The bride was flanked by classmates from her madrasah who diligently wiped away every bead of sweat or tear on her face. Not far from where the ceremony was held, elder women of the community cooked wakye (pronounce wah-chey), a local dish of rice and beans to serve to wedding guests.

Watch the video for a snippet of the event.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fApYkwZkZg

Republic Day Lake Jam

While Canucks celebrated Canada Day, Ghana turns 54 years old on July 1, 2011. Luv FM’s twi platform, Nyhira FM collaborated with the Ghana Tourism Board, the Bosumtwi District Assembly and Platinum Consult to celebrate this auspicious day at one of Ghana’s most famous tourist attractions. Located approximately 30km south-east of Kumasi, Lake Bosumtwi is Ghana’s only natural lake and is considered a sacred site where dead souls come to bid farewell to the god Twi. From high noon till long after the sun set, the  Lake Bosumtwi shore was alive with music, dancing, games and high spirits proudly celebrating the nation’s independence.

Watch the video for a snippet of the event.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkXv7KKYwsk

The song playing throughout the video is called Borga by Sarkodie

Islamic Schools in Ghana – Educating a minority

Students in the pre-school class at Madrasatulil Muhammad sit on plastic woven mats on the floor while reciting verses from the Quran.

There is no clear consensus on the exact number of Muslims in Ghana; according to official government census, Muslims make up approximately 15.9 percent of the population. The Coalition of Muslim Organizations and the CIA World Factbook, however, say the more accurate figure is 30 percent.

Whatever the exact number may be, Muslims are undoubtedly a minority in Ghana. The building that doubles as a mosque and an Islamic school where my friend Fuad Muhammad teaches plainly illustrates that fact.

Madrasatulil Muhammad is one of the many madrasahs or Islamic schools in the Muslim-dominated Akrom Zongo in Kumasi. They are commonly known as makaranta which means ‘school’ in Hausa, the native language of Muslims in Ghana.

When I visited the school, there was some renovation construction going on. Thanks to the school’s generous benefactor – a Muslim Ghanaian businessman who lives in the US – the ground floor of the building which acts as the community mosque is now being installed with glass windows.

The classrooms above the mosque, however, remain windowless. Lessons begin right after dawn at the makaranta and it took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Whatever light that came through the doors at either end of the room was swallowed up by the bare cement walls and floor.

Seated on rows of wooden benches, students craned their necks and waved impatiently at those blocking their view of the blackboard. There are no desks; students simply put their books on their laps or the vacant spaces on the bench next to them. Students in the pre-school class are gathered at the ground level of the building. They sat on rows of woven plastic mats on the floor reciting verses from the Quran.

Students writing their exam at the Madrasatulil Muhammad in Akrom Zongo, Kumasi.

Despite the bare amenities, students at Madrasatulil Muhammad show up every weekend for their lessons in the Arabic language, Islamic history and Quranic studies. They are also given sex education since it is a taboo subject that is rarely discussed between parents and their children the conservative Muslim society.

Muhammad said that the school collects 70 peswas (roughly equivalent to 45 cents Canadian) from each student per day. The money is used to pay for some of the teachers’ transportation costs. The rest, like Muhammad, work on a volunteer basis. According to Muhammad, he doesn’t mind not being paid for his work because it is an extension of his duties as a Muslim towards his community.

Save Our Women International push for safe sex and abortions at Juaben Senior High School

Premarital sex, pregnancies out of wedlock and abortions are taboo subjects that carry a lot social stigma in Ghana. As a result, teenagers often engage in unsafe sex due to lack of knowledge and expose themselves to sexually transmitted infections. Pregnant girls usually resort to traditional remedies to get rid of unwanted pregnancies, putting their lives at risk and jeopardizing their long term health.  Save Our Women International (SOWI) is a non-profit organization aimed at remedying this situation through educational outreach campaigns to Ghanaian youths. They recently visited the Juaben Senior High School in Ejisu, a small town west of Kumasi, to speak to high school students about sex, abortions and HIV/AIDS. Students were encouraged not to be shy, to ask questions and speak to someone knowledgeable about sexual health and fertility-related matters.

Here is a portion of the event and an interview with SOWI Spokesperson, Justina Asofo Adjei.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtwsWaUQVi8

Separate Garbage and School

The Obiri Yeboah Primary School in Kumasi is located adjacent to a garbage disposal site managed by Zoom Lion, a private company contracted by the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA). About 2 years ago, the wall separating the school from the site was accidentally knocked down by one of Zoom Lion’s garbage trucks. This accident has left the school, its students and teachers exposed to the unpleasant stench of decomposing garbage, flies and the threat of diseases. Community members also often cut through the school’s yard as a shortcut to dump their garbage.

Over the course of two years, the school’s administrators have made numerous appeals to Zoom Lion and the KMA to rebuild the wall but their appeals have fallen on deaf ears. The school administrators do not have the funds to rebuild the wall themselves. Frustrated, they contacted Luv FM in a desperate bid to have the matter resolved. I visited the school with a fellow intern, Zarau Sharrif, to speak to the school’s teachers and to see the situation for ourselves.

The smell of garbage was overwhelming and the giant garbage bin across the school yard was a sight for sore eyes. We contacted the KMA to find out why the problem was allowed to fester for 2 years. The KMA officer in charge said that he had only been on the job for six months and was unaware of the problem. At the time of this writing, there has been no attempt to rebuild the wall.

A head porter selling plantain chips near Luv FM on Osei Tutu II Boulevard in Kumasi

Dine and Drive – a Ghanaian take on the Drive-Thru

In Ghana, the banana is eclipsed by its larger, more fibrous cousin, the plantain. It is one of Ghana’s main cash crops and a large portion of it is consumed locally. It is also a staple in Ghanaian diet.

Virtually every restaurant that I have been to in Kumasi serves fufu, a local dish made from pounded yam and plantains. On my morning commute to work, I see countless street vendors selling roasted plantains from their makeshift grills to hungry pedestrians looking for a quick bite. There’s also kelewele – deep-fried, golden-brown pieces of plantain in a fragrant mix of spices that are gloriously crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

As for my fellow interns and I, plantain chips are the best thing to chew on in the absence of potato chips and nachos. Plantain chips are thin strips of boiled plantains fried to a crispy perfection.

They come in two varieties; the ones made from raw plantains are salted and golden yellow in colour while the ones made from ripe plantains are a darker shade of brown and taste slightly sweet.

At almost every traffic stop in Kumasi, there would be swarms of head porters selling a myriad of things – apples, frozen yoghurt, meat pies, spring rolls, towels, cell phone credits, ‘pure water’ – and there are always at least two or three of them selling plantain chips. A single pack weighs about 250g and costs 50peswas, roughly equivalent to 32 cents.

A head porter selling plantain chips near Luv FM on Osei Tutu II Boulevard in Kumasi

Getting your hands on a pack of plantain chips isn’t that hard, even if you are in a vehicle. In fact, the ubiquity of head porters in Ghana seems to serve the sole purpose of catering to the needs of hungry motorists. Every time a traffic light turns red, you will see a group of head porters systematically working their way down the rows of cars, minivans and trucks, shouting out their wares in near-harmony. All you have to do is stick your hand out of your car window, summon a head porter with a wave and say, “Plantain chips.” If they happen to be selling something else, they will summon the plantain chip-seller for you. It’s that simple.

Watching a mid-traffic exchange of goods and money, though, can be nerve-wrecking. Oftentimes the light would turn green, the vehicle would start to move while the head porter would still be counting out the customer’s change. There have been instances where it looked as though a vehicle would drive away before a plantain-seller would get her* money, but that has never happened yet. The buyer and seller always manage to conclude their transaction before traffic resumes its speed.

Like I’ve said before, even though the whole arrangement seems chaotic to me, it is a system that works. Traffic keeps moving, head porters are able to sell their goods and hungry motorists get fed.

*I use ‘her’ since all the plantain chip-sellers I’ve seen have been female.