Monday, 10 November 2014

Better or Worse...NOT BROKE!


‘You know, as a guy, you need to have some stuff before you get married. I mean at least your own little place, a small car and some savings in the bank. Nowadays, marriage, women and children are very expensive…not like in your day’ was the asinine answer I got from the delusional 28 year old dude when I asked him why he was leaving it so late to get hitched. I suppose I handed him that on a silver platter but I’m still a bit sore that the moron used the phrase ‘not like in your day’ in reference to me, as if I was approaching retirement. Idiot!

Anyway, this is a sentiment commonly expressed by the vast majority of young men these days (at least in this part of the world). Honestly, most, if not all of what they say is probably true. I mean c’mon, I got married at 27 on a shoestring budget to my wife who was 25 then. The entire budget of our wedding and engagement ceremonies could not have been more than 6000 GHS (1765 USD).

In contrast to the above, I’ve attended some weddings over my past 4 years in Ghana that make my eyes water simply thinking about the cost that went into the planning and execution. Some of the calculations I’ve made, having a good knowledge of the cost of goods and services in Ghana, have been well over 30 000 GHS which isn't a mind-bending amount of money in and of itself. It’s just that most of these people would be lucky to be earning 2000 GHS (588.24 USD) per month (pre-tax). That means even with a combined annual salary of 48 000 GHS (14117.65 USD), these guys are blowing so much more than they can afford. And for what really? One or two days of a carbon copy event where Unique Flora gets to showcase their latest in tackiness? Where Tasty Treats caters by serving multiple rice dishes, fried chicken, tomato sauce and other run-of-the-mill dishes in their very blandest incarnations.

Although it may not seem like it, I really don’t have anything against weddings per se. What I don’t get is this requirement to spend such vast amounts of money, you don’t have, on an event that turns out mediocre at best. It’s not like Ghanaians are such great gift givers either. Let’s face it, most people turn up at weddings having prepared to scoff down and drink as much as you can throw at them without the slightest consideration of giving anything, not even a paperweight.

Okay so if you ignore my rant, the point I’m trying to make is that if you’re lucky, life is reasonably long and you and your chosen partner will have a great time exploring its ups and downs. Whatever you do, don’t start if off with a wedding ceremony that you can’t afford. Here’s my advice for the ideal simple wedding…

1. Keep it small.
For the life of me, I’ve never understood people who say their guest list is 500 people? What the f*ck is that about? Are you planning to storm and capture a small city? If between the two of you, you personally know 500 people then there’s a real problem somewhere! No, seriously, from experience and in my opinion you shouldn’t invite more than 180 people to your wedding ceremony. That’s roughly 18 tables each seating 10 people. As a rule of thumb, fewer is more manageable.

2. Never send out an open invitation.
Okay, I get it; you’re a church goer and just so happen to go to a church where the congregation is moderate to large. Again, I get all of that. But does that mean that you have to invite EVERYONE from church? Really? Seriously, make a list that looks something like this;

a.      People I HAVE TO invite i.e. in-laws (unfortunately), parents, siblings, closest and best friends, Pastor and his wife (not entire family), a couple of church mafia - you know the type I mean right? Oh, and the same rule applies to your work folk. Unless you have a small office of 5 – 10 people, don’t friggin’ invite everyone. They’ll forgive you in time (usually when the first and hopefully cute baby arrives).

b.     People I’d like to turn up but not sure if they will. Acquaintances, peripheral family members, your kid’s headmistress, the proprietress of the school you’d like your unborn child to go to when he/she arrives…get the drift?


c.      People who you don’t care much for but are obliged to invite. You know the type I mean…dad’s friend from 20 years ago. The one he’s still competing with and wants to stick it to with his son’s/daughter’s wedding ceremony. Yeah, uncle who’s-his-face from where-the-hell?


3. Spend most of your money on your honeymoon
.
Of all the advice I could possibly give you, this is probably the best and most relevant. First of all, if you’re gonna spend a great chunk of your savings/loan/ransom/blood money on your wedding then a nice getaway for the two of you is after the madness and build up is just what the doctor ordered to help deal with the resulting anti-climax…or what he would order if he had any sense. Truth is, planning and executing a wedding ceremony, if you’re mad enough to do it yourself, requires the mental fortitude of a Greek god(dess). There’s a lot of build up to the day and what follows that day, if not planned thoughtfully, can be somewhat anti-climactic. Spend some money on something nice.  A trip that will capture your (plural) imagination; whether it’s something secluded and relaxing or something adventurous or even outlandish. Spend the bulk of your money on you (plural) and start your journey of marriage in style.

4. No kids!
These little critters are adorable (especially when they’re not yours) but not at weddings. Most parents have horrible parenting skills and can’t control them and they end up doing inappropriate sh*t at inappropriate times. Make sure your invitation is sent out with following sentence;
No kids please…they’re lovely but why not leave them at home this time around and come and have a fun adult day with us. Guess what, when they’re not around, you can brag about them better. Yay!’

5. Kenkey at a wedding?
You’re kidding right? Guys and girls…seriously, why the hell would you even consider serving something that puts beautiful (if somewhat tacky) clothing side by side with shito, hands and hand washing utensils? Unless you’re catering for the event at Asanka Locals, avoid kenkey, banku, omo tuo, tuo zaafi, fufu, ɛtew, akplɛ…etc. It’s just a dumb idea.

There’s a whole bunch of other dumb sh*t I’ve observed at these garishly tacky events and I’m definitely going to touch on them in another post. But before I close this post off, there’s one particularly idiotic trend that needs a mention;


  • BAN the f*cking iPad/Tablet amateur photographers that ruin the event for everyone.
Okay so I get that everyone and their dog can now afford a smartphone/tablet/phablet. But when during the; cutting of the cake, kissing of the bride, first dance, all one can see is a sea of retarded morons trying to capture the moment on their cheap shitty little devices or humungous ‘look-at-my-beaten-up-first-gen-clunky-looking-ipad’, I consider the entire event a failure. People, crowd control is key! Get one good photographer to deal with the entire event. Setup an Instagram, Flickr account, upload the loveliest and best pics and share the details with your guests.

You can now tell your guests to sit the f*ck down and let everyone ‘enjoy’ the event.

This way, you prevent that unfortunate picture, where you’re caught at the wrong angle by a sh*tty little Techno or RLG phone…you know, the one with the no megapixle camera from before The Matrix. It’s smart to take control of what the world sees of your wedding.

Stay tuned for more on champagne popping (and the playing of the ‘pop champagne’ song), annoying/inappropriate MCs, multiple ‘cake cutters’, preaches who love the sound of their own voices, insufficient food for guests and so much more…

Friday, 20 June 2014

Pushing Back - Immigrant Attitudes in Ghana



So there I was, minding my own business when I simultaneously felt and overheard a disturbance in ‘The Force’. A noise that I’ve become all too familiar with since I started working in Ghana. A noise that is as offensive as it is unnecessary. The all too familiar noise of the immigrant verbally berating a Ghanaian. In this case, it was a manager, Indian man, verbally assailing his driver for not returning to the office fast enough after dropping off another manager at an important client meeting. It took every ounce of restraint I had in me not to walk up to this individual and deliver the atomic bomb of bitch-slaps across his smug face. Instead, I mustered self-control, as is expected from a corporate professional such as myself, and decided to write about this common bad behaviour exhibited by many immigrants and directed towards Ghanaians, in Ghana. 

Ghanaians seem to have an insatiable appetite for taking abuse (verbal) from foreigners in the work place, whether they’re at fault or not. Maybe it because we're so goddamn passive about everything that happens around us and would much readily let 'God' handle things than actually deal with anything ourselves. We [Ghanaians] are a truly non-confrontational, accommodating & easy-going bunch. While this may be viewed as a good trait, it also leaves us vulnerable in a lot of ways. Savvy immigrants quickly notice this and exploit the f*ck out of it, readily dishing out unnecessary verbal abuse for the most minor of infractions, mostly because they can get away with it.

For over 10 years, I worked in the UK and US and irrespective of my fair share of f*ck-ups, I was never ever verbally assaulted by a line, senior or departmental manager. Granted, I was far from the kind of employee that had a f*ck-up a week, but I worked with some people who would be more useful to society, earth and the universe if they were employed to watch the grass in my front lawn grow. Not even they ever got shouted at for being that way.

But back home in Ghana it seems to be an okay thing for Ghanaians to be routinely verbally abused by immigrant bosses. It doesn’t help that the biggest employers, save the government, are foreign owned companies with mostly immigrant management teams. So not only do majority of Ghanaians have to deal with and overcome the innate inferiority complex that comes with being black, but also have to deal with the workplace glass-ceiling that is inevitable in these companies. I digress…back to shouting and public humiliation.

I was in a 3 way conversation with 2 immigrants, an Indian and a Ugandan the other day that went like this;

Ugandan: ‘I love Ghana, the people are so calm. I mean it’s 8 o’clock on a Friday night and most men are already home sitting there looking at their wife’s face. Unheard of in Uganda!

Me (Ghanaian): ‘A lot of foreigners find Ghana’s pace a little too pedestrian and the people a little too timid and non-confrontational.’

Indian: ‘Yeah, I can totally speak to the non-confrontational thing. I’ve never seen a set of people who are so docile and timid in my life.’

Me: ‘Explain’

Indian: ‘Okay, so there’s this guy in facilities who arranges for accommodation for visiting engineers. One time, on one of my projects he wasn’t able to get the apartments I had requested. I went totally mad.
I was effing, blinding and swearing at this guy and he just stood there with this dumb smile plastered to his face.’

Me: ‘He said nothing?’

Indian: ‘Nope, the more I shouted, the more he smiled and said nothing. It was as if he was enjoying it. I know it wasn’t his fault but I was so mad I just needed to take it out on someone. But that’s how Ghanaians are.’

A little bit of me died!

How is it possible or even allowed for this kind of behaviour to exist let alone proliferate in Ghana? How is it possible for an immigrant, an alien, a non-native, a foreigner to come into someone else's country and behave like this towards the owners of that country? When I play the situation in reverse, it makes even less sense. Imagine me, a black man from Africa, going to the UK, and working as a senior manager in a well-known IT company like IBM or Microsoft and treating my white driver with the kind of disrespect described in the conversation above? What do you think the outcome of something like that would be?

I’ve experienced 2 situations where foreigners attempted that kind of nonsense with me Ghana. The first one was with a young Pakistani man who I was replacing in a particular position at a company I was newly joining. Let’s call him Navid. Now he was coming to the end of his tenure and we were well into the 3 month transition process. It was a moderately tense situation and keeping a cool head was key to successfully managing all the moving parts of the situation. I was required to dig through archived emails to get some information on a fault that was closely related to the situation we were then facing. This young, overly aggressive man, wanting to posture for the crowd of other managers that had gathered to assess the situation, decided that he was going to use me as fodder for his misguided cause. I can hear those of you who actually know me chuckle…

Navid: ‘Have you got the information?’ (Irritated and slightly raised voice)

Me: ‘There’s tons of related data, I’m getting there.’ (Calm but assertive)

2 minutes pass by

Navid: ‘Where are we with the info on the last incident? What the hell is taking you so long?’ (voice raised and visibly irritated)

Me: ‘Give me a couple of minutes to make sure it’s the right info. It’s important that we get it right.’

Navid (shouting): ‘What the hell are you doing? Haven’t you used email before? Or do I have to teach you how to use email as well…?’

Me: ‘Navid, first of all, you don’t get to speak to me like that. I’m not an imbecile and you shouting doesn’t add value to this situation.

Pause for dramatic effect…

‘You’re supposed to be my trainer, a job that you’re currently failing miserably at. If you think you can’t continue with this handover process in a respectful way towards me, then kindly let me know so that I can ask for you to be replaced by someone who CAN actually do the job.

Navid: (Stunned silence)

Me: ‘So from now on, I expect nothing but respect from you. Are we clear?’

Navid: (Silence)

Me: ‘ARE WE CLEAR!’ (Slightly raised voice, direct eye contact, oodles of assertiveness)

Navid: ‘Yes.’

I often wonder what possessed this man on that day? What gave him the impression this kind of thing would fly with a person like me in my own country? Was is simply bad leadership? Was it something deeper? In any case, he'd done this kind of thing before and gotten away with it every single time.

Ghanaians reading this, I implore you to look out for and check this idiotic and undeserved behaviour exhibited by foreigners, against our people, in our land. Remember that this is our country. Many of us have had to put up with lighter skinned races in our various travels; The institutional racism we all experienced, the patronizing comments like ‘you speak so well’ after you've given a killer presentation (as if eloquence and confidence were never traits expected from you). Those times when white friends denigrated other races in your presence, forgetting that you yourself were of a darker skinned race.

Let's be absolutely clear;

I’m not asking us to reverse the roles and be nasty or racist towards foreigners in Ghana.

NO, DON'T DO THAT!

What I'm asking is as follows;
Demand the respect that is owed to you as a native of this land.
Let no Indian, Lebanese Pakistani or White man think they can come here and disrespect our people and subjugate them to any form of abuse, verbal or otherwise.

This message is to the Ghanaian middle class and elite; protect our less educated and less privileged kin-folk, those that don’t have the education or intellectual liberation to realize that a lighter skin colour is not a superior skin colour. And again, I’m not necessarily asking for aggressive, belligerent confrontation.

For those Ghanaians reading this that are in managerial or influential positions, call out your non-Ghanaian colleagues who are prone to this kind of asinine behaviour. Bring it up in staff meetings, make it a topic of discussion. Show them that we’re switched on to this nastiness and we’re willing to talk about it openly and even prepared to take some action. I know this blog piece is horribly nationalistic but it is written out of frustration and necessity. THIS IS OUR F*CKING COUNTRY. Let’s own it!


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Right Amount of ‘Straight’

Image courtesy: www.organicbeautytalk.com/your-nappy-hair
I was recently on set with my wife, shooting a TV commercial for a well-known brand of carbonated drink. I wasn't actually part of the cast and crew but this was a weekend shoot and I was there to offer moral support to my wife and make sure that our weekend wasn't a total bust. As always, the cast was a selection of phenotypically perfect individuals: young, vibrant and beautiful in every observable way. The kind of people that I refer to as ‘aquarium fish’ because they’re obviously kept in certain optimal living conditions of comfort that keep them ‘fresh’… so to speak.

There was one particular girl however that caught my eye. Unconventional in her look, in a pleasant girl-next-door kind of way with a visibly introverted nature. Compared to the others, her clothes were less showy, looser and more conservative. What I found most interesting about her look was the wicked Afro this young girl was rockin'. Proper, full-on and unadulterated nappy hair! It was unusual against the backdrop of other girls wearing high-end (and some cheaper) weaves, perms and braided hair extensions. Bold even!

The look incidentally took me back to the previous week, when I’d had a minor Facebook spat with someone about comments I’d made with regards to Black women and their hair. A dear friend had expressed her disgust in a post about Black women relaxing the hair of children as young at 3 years old. Invariably, the conversation shifted from its focus on children to a general debate on Black women and their hair. I got slated for suggesting that the Black woman’s dislike of her natural hair stemmed from a deep-seated loathing of its appearance based on a complex history and subsequent sustained campaign that suggested that their [Black women] natural hair was unattractive and needed to be managed. Some even use the word ‘tamed’. I certainly didn't think that Facebook, being the transient platform that it is, was the best place to have this discussion as it involved a deeper explorative discussion into issues of Black history, slavery, race, gender and identity.

Now anyone who knows me you will tell you that I'm a bit of a know-it-all and will readily take you up on any topic that piques my interest. Now the lengths to which Black women will go in order to change, hide, alter their hair to almost anything that isn't nappy is a topic that always piques my interest. Needless to say that I've had this discussion many times over however every single time I’ve had the discussion about perms and hairpieces with the Black women who wear them; the response has always been the same. ‘It’s [the perm or weave] easier to manage.’ I’ve often wondered about this particular response because it’s never made much sense to me. How could a weave or perm be easier to manage than one’s natural hair? After all, isn't it simple a question of applying the right amount of moisture (via water or product) and combing it out? Isn't it a simple matter of twisting it into a style or braiding it in corn-rows? What about Bantu Knots aka China bumps. Was there something I was missing? After all, I am man and these things, in particular, often seem overly simple to my kind.

But that day on set with my wife and the phenotypically perfect cast brought it to life for me. That was the day that I understood what was meant by ‘not easy to manage’. Okay, so it was almost time for pretty, girl-next-door with the rockin’ Afro to go on camera. Costume, check! Make-up, check! Hair…erm? It wasn't quite right and the Creative Director for the shoot (my wife) asked the hair and make-up artist to do her magic and make the hair look good!

All hell broke loose! The make-up artist approached the nappy hair like it was alive and growling at her. Never mind the stupefied, ‘what the f***' expression on her face, but no equipment in her box of tricks was tailored to deal with and defeat the fabled ‘nappiness’. Worse still, pretty, girl-next-door with rockin’ Afro had not been looking after said rockin’ Afro properly, combing only the edges occasionally and leaving the inner thickness of the hair to manage itself. The result was a thick tuft of hairdressing pain and misery. She tinkered with the hair for long while, twirled a couple of times, approached from a different angle and eventually decided she’d had enough of this hair melancholy. She simply didn't know what to do with this tangled mess of keratin atop this beautiful Black woman's head.

Luckily, my wife had recently ‘discovered’ her own hair and the countless ways it can be managed naturally thanks to www.naturallycurly.com; www.blackgirllonghair.com; etc. This new discovery came after many years of battling with different products and treatments to get her hair ‘manageable’ (code word for straight). The new-found knowledge was invaluable in that moment. Armed with a sachet of pure water and a wide toothed comb, my wife got to work on the hair and well within 15 minutes, transformed the seemingly ‘unmanageable’ hair into a beautiful bouncy Afro to die for. An extra 5 minutes to decide on what style to go for and another 2 minutes to implement the 3 or so hair clips that resulted in a lovely asymmetric hairdo that was eventually used in the commercial.

Yes, I know this example over-simplifies the debate and I certainly don’t expect all Black women to go around sporting different types of Afros. I’m (in an overly-simplistic way), trying to address the ‘difficult to manage statement’.

Let me be absolutely clear about my position on this debate. I believe that every Black woman has the absolute right to wear their hair however they choose to, whether naturally or chemically altered. I am not the hair gendarme and don’t intend to coerce or guilt anyone into conforming to any particular style or other based on MY belief system. YOUR HAIR IS YOURS TO DEAL WITH HOW YOU PLEASE. However, I am a black person and whether you like it or not, the way Black women wear their hair is of huge significance, politically and socially to me, my family and Black people in general. Especially when I get people commenting on the texture of my children’s hair (one having visibly softer hair than the other) and somehow insinuating that the one with coarser hair is less fortunate. So before you blow your top at the atrocities I’m spewing…take a Valium and chill!

I think one of the many problems; especially in this part of the world is not just a perception of unmanageable hair but also one of a lack of knowledge about how to properly manage black-people’s natural hair. Standard training for hairdressers does not include the proper management of natural black hair, with the proper products and techniques. Once the hair has been chemically altered and straightened, only then is it manageable.

One doesn't have to look too far and for too long to find countless articles and blogs about the history and politics behind Black women and their hair. The discussion is a heated one but despite which side of the fence one stands, the history behind Black women’s hair remains the same. It’s a shame that in Sub-Saharan Africa, history in schools is taught in an extremely narrow-minded and myopic way, exploring only the events and dates rather than a more holistic way to include the subsequent effect of slavery on the collective persona and image of the black person. An image that explores how 400+ years of abuse, subjugation, brutality etc. has forever changed the perception of the black person about himself. Slavery, its effects and aftermath in modern Africa are so much more far reaching than the dates we’re taught to memorize in order to pass exams.

Just to touch on my Facebook incident a little. This continental African who now found herself in America living the dream took offence to the fact that I suggested that Black women expressed a fair amount of self-loathing where their natural hair was concerned. While this is in no way the case for ALL Black women, there is a healthy body of literature and research to suggest that majority of Black women genuinely believe that they don’t have ‘good hair’. Good hair, simply meaning hair that appears straight and silky in nature. In other words, hair that looks Caucasian in nature. Rather than go into a long thesis about this issue, I’ll rather refer you to people who have studied and written about this much more eloquently than I could ever achieve.

'We have more disdain for our hair and do more to change its natural state than any other culture as a whole.'

‘Many African American women still think that the natural state of their hair is cumbersome, unsavoury, or even disgusting'

I can throw countless other references at you but I'll assume you get the point.

No doubt, before the imposition of the White man in the Black consciousness, Black women had so many styles they could achieve with their hair. I’m certain that as far back as hair has existed on the heads of Black women, they have found interesting ways to manipulate it for the sake of enhanced beauty and cleanliness. That was never the argument. What I am stressing in this case is the relentless need to chemically alter the appearance of one’s hair in order for it to appear straighter so as to conform to a standard of acceptance or beauty of a race other than one’s own. This dear reader, in my opinion, is a direct artifact of slavery.


So to the Facebook girl who offered me ‘several seats’ while she attempted to rip me a new a**hole with an inane and ill-directed argument, why don’t you take back one of those seats and sit right beside me so that I can educate you about your history. Of course, you, and every Black woman are and should be free to do whatever you want with your hair but also do yourself a favour…know your history, ALL of it!
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I want to know my hair again, the way I knew it before I knew that my hair is me, before I lost the right to me, before I knew that the burden of beauty-or lack of it - for an entire race of people could be tied up with my hair and me…

Before I knew that my hair could be wrong-the wrong colour, the wrong texture, the wrong amount of curl or straight. Before hot combs and thick grease and smelly - burning lye, all guaranteed to transform me, to silken the coarse, resistant wool that represents me.


I want to know once more the time before I denatured, denuded, denigrated, and denied my hair and me, before I knew enough to worry about edges and kitchens and bur- rows and knots, when I was still a friend of water - the rain's dancing drops of water, a swimming hole's splashing water, a hot, muggy day's misty invisible water, my own salty, sweaty, perspiring water…’


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Saturday, 8 February 2014

No SEX please, we're Ghanaian!




I can’t speak for all of Africa but I can for Ghana. And with the exception of a few countries, I know I can safely say that what applies to Ghana applies to most of Africa. Now Africa is this weird and wonderful place that has recently come to the attention of the Global Media Machine. There have been a great number of advancements on this continent, due in most part to aid from Europe and the USA. Africans themselves have done so very little to lead the charge regarding their own development. The Chinese have taken over our markets with their unstoppable economic might. The Latin-Americans have taken over primetime TV with their telenovelas and the Nigerians have taken the rest with their (awful) Nollywood dramas. Ghana music seems to be the only truly Ghanaian thing that is holding its own in this new globally aware Ghana. Even then, Ghana music has been overly influenced by American hip-hop themes of money, ‘swag’, violence, and sex. Yes, sex! Sorry to burst your bubble if you thought I was leading up to some great exposition entitled ‘Africa: The AmeriEuroChinese battle for global dominance. A native African perspective.’ I’m sorry, but this is about sex!

In Africa, why are we taught, from a very early age mind you, that sex is a bad thing? A thing that invariably leads to abandonment, disappointment, disease, suffering, an almost certain unfulfilled future, hellfire, brimstone and the clutches of Lucifer? And when I say sex, it’s by no means restricted to the actual copulative act of a boy/girl and man/woman ‘doing it’ so to speak. It’s that, and everything else that sex represents; hand holding, kissing, canoodling, masturbating and pretty much anything physical that can give any sort of carnal gratification.

I remember when I was dating the girl who became my wife. This is not a story set in 50's Ghana when sex did not exist in the Ghanaian consciousness and only happened behind closed doors. And when it did happen, it was always done missionary style and very quietly and conservatively. No! This is a story set in the late 90's, well into the information age where majority of the population were aware of and frequently downloaded and shared porn or ‘blue films’ as Ghanaians call them.
She was in film school and I was in university. During my visits to Accra, I’d frequently go and visit her at the hostel (as a good boyfriend does) and stay late. At the end of my visit, we’d walk hand-in-hand to the roadside where I’d get a taxi to go home. All very cute but not the point! EVERY single time during this 15 minute post-visit walk, motorists (taxis , private cars etc.) would frequently slow down, attempt to catch a glimpse of us in their high beam and promptly shout out some sort of asinine, humourless and frankly unnecessary remark along the lines of ‘Get a room!’ There was once a taxi driver actually slowed down beside us and asked us ‘The thing you are doing, is it good?’ We were holding hands.

I was ever so slightly confused. No arms around the waist, no tight provocative holding. Nothing of the sort! We were simply holding hands. This nonsense in a country that frequently advertises and promotes the use of potent aphrodisiacs on primetime radio and TV (well before the watershed period). Potions and concoctions that would render a man god-like in the bedroom with the energy to pound away for hours on end. And when you were done inflicting penile annihilation in the boudoir, your woman would be all too ready to acknowledge your godliness in an uncomfortably 50’s America submissive way using phrases like ‘me wrua me pa wokyew, eden na wo pese meye ma wo?’  ‘My master, how else may I serve you?’

Fast-forward to 2013 and Ghana hasn't changed much where sex is concerned. The charismatic Christian movement has taken over and is driving the agenda and rhetoric about sex and its place in our society. It is unashamedly spewing out its restrictive and ultra-conservative message about the uncleanliness of sex and its spiritually destructive nature. African movies have become bolder in their depiction of nudity and sex often showing strong sexual themes of rape, violence and sexual abuse (usually against women). Sex is still portrayed in these awful movies as something negative and destructive, a vehicle of sorts, through which women are abused, punished and subjugated in society. The school curriculum (at all levels) is still devoid of any coherent, cohesive sex education and the communities are absent of anywhere an individual can seek advice about sex and sexual health. It’s a mess!

I’m a Whatsapp user and I think it’s an awesome mobile communications app. Just a couple of months ago, a friend of mine sent me a video via Whatsapp with a message that said ‘You have to see this. Hilarious! The little girl is hard oh.’ ‘Hard’ in this context means ‘bad-ass’. Now being of Ghanaian heritage but European upbringing and mind-set, there’s some sh*t that I simply don’t expect to see when the words ‘little’ and ‘girl/boy’ appear in a sentence. Instead of a video which showed a cute little girl on stage in front of a 10,000 capacity audience at the Accra Sports Stadium belting out a funky gothic rendition of the national anthem, I saw 30 seconds of a 5 minute child pornography video involving a 5/6 year old girl and what must have been a 3 year old boy.

Yes, the video was disturbing, very much so. Especially since I had kids of my own and couldn't imagine this happening to them. What was even more disturbing was the fact that throughout the day, at least 6 more people sent me this video remarking on how ‘bad-ass’ the little girl in it was to be doing the things that she’d so obviously been taught to do by someone much older. Not one person mentioned the fact that the content of the clip was horrifying and deplorable. Not one person mentioned the fact that the poor little girl was probably being abused by someone much older. Not one person mentioned the fact that she was probably damaged for life unless a professional intervened and helped her through this. It was actually supposed to be funny!

I was supposed to watch 5 whole minutes of child pornography and find it outright hilarious. There are very few things in this world that can make my stomach turn. This did the trick!
But still, in 2013 Ghana, the collective consciousness of the people finds it hard to accept even conservative public displays of affection. Hand-holding is more accepted these days you’d be happy to know but that’s about it. Kissing in public is still very much something that we should expect to come along with flying cars or bionic limbs. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. If you’re Caucasian, Lebanese, Asian, Latino or any other race that visibly has less melanin than Black people, then you’re allowed to do whatever you want really. If you’re a Black man with a visibly melanin deficient woman (or vice versa), then again, you can get away with pretty much anything that is done in Europe. Black on Black however is held to a completely different standard. A more ‘culturally civilized’ standard which would see us express our sexuality only behind closed doors. Ghanaians expect white people to be ‘loose’ and ‘immoral’. After all, we've watched enough American TV to know about the 3 date rule. We've seen enough romantic comedies where sex is given easily but love is the ultimate goal; the decoupling of sex from love.

The third world is the way it is for many reasons; corruption, illiteracy, religion, apathy, economic slavery etc. That’s not to say that more ‘developed’ cultures are much better but I’m not doing an analysis of what or where is comparatively worse. If we get into that argument, then any and everything is okay because invariably, there’s something worse somewhere else. The fact that many other countries may be worse off than Ghana doesn't make Ghana’s situation okay!

So this is my bit to Ghana. Sex is not a bad thing. It never has been.  Let us not let the dogmatists, the uneducated, the culturally repressive, and the religious right-wing in society lead the charge in determining where sex belongs in our society. Let us not raise a generation of people who are scared of openly talking about it. Like taxes, sex is with us to stay (the good, bad and the ugly). Let us disambiguate it, demystify it and enjoy it!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Circle

'Circle'
a short story by E.Osei-Poku


A woman carrying several sacs of cassava dough temporarily blocked his view. For thirty minutes he’d been following his mark, Anthony Ezra Tamakloe, the charismatic yet unorthodox CEO of Active Chapel. Away from the pulpit and behind the scenes, he was known as Mr Tony Money, a name that was a far cry from the pious devout man of God that he portrayed to the world. Tony had come from nothing. Absolutely nothing! A bastard child conceived on a night of drunken sex with a kelewele vendor. He never knew his mother, who’d apparently dumped him at the front gate of his father’s house two days after he was born. His father, an automotive spare parts dealer in Kumasi, had a knack for hitting. Hitting frequently and hitting hard. Tony ran away from home at 7 and made his way to Accra, the big city.


Yes, he’d been following Tony Money, a ‘devout’ man of God. This was something he’d done many times before. Many had died by his hand and Tony Money would be the next. He didn’t need a reason; he didn’t need a cause, just a sizeable cash amount deposited in an account of his choosing. 70% payment now and 30% on completion of the task. Tony was a high priority ‘task’ so the cash amount was large. Larger than he’d anticipated but he’d still negotiated for considerably more following the initial offer.

He sidestepped the woman carrying the cassava dough, effortlessly. Even in the thick human traffic of Kwame Nkrumah Circle, his lithe muscular frame wove through the crowd like an alley cat. Heart beating steadily, adrenaline coursing through his system keeping him alert, focused, light footed. He was the hunter. He was the master of his art. He was the top of the food chain. Just a few hours ago, he’d been sat on the floor of room 149 at the Niagra Hotel with his weapons meticulously laid out before him. So many to choose from and each with its merits and history. Every weapon he owned had tasted blood, every single one had its story. For this kill, the weapon had to fit. It had to make sense. He’d eventually settled on a Dauntless 3.34” solid titanium Phil Boguszewski compact hunting knife. There was something almost worship-worthy about the beauty and curve of the knife. This was the one he was going to use to take out a religious man.
He mentally located the position of the knife on his body, sheathed horizontally in the small of his back just above his belt. He knew exactly where his palm would land once he reached for it. He knew exactly how the blade would unsheathe when he called on it. He knew exactly where and how he was going to place the blade to inflict the death blow. No rehearsal needed. Experience had been a good teacher.

He had closed the gap between him and Tony, the Kwame Nkrumah Circle fountain a couple of 100 metres ahead of them, Ɔdɔ Rice behind him to his left and the Vodafone building across the road to his right. The human traffic between them was dense and bustling, mostly phone vendors hawking a variety of original devices mixed in with countless cheap Chinese imitations. He had to further close the gap and be within striking distance before they reached the overhead foot bridge. That was where the human traffic was densest. That was where Anthony Ezra Tamakloe would take his last breath before meeting the maker he’d preached to so many about.

With little effort, he picked up the pace, a brisk walk just short of a trot, cutting and weaving through the crowd painlessly. A few beads of sweat were now forming on his brow but they were inconsequential. The sounds and smells of Circle had all but faded to nothingness. He was of singular purpose and every impulse, every synapse, every nerve ending, every muscle fibre and tendon had been repurposed by his body to fulfil his one objective. KILL!

Having closed the distance between them he slowly and expertly reached for his knife. As expected, his palm landed exactly where it was meant to, caressing the cold but familiar titanium handle. He savoured the feeling and let it linger for a second. With an ever so slight flick of the wrist he decoupled the press stud that held the blade in place and felt the smooth motion as the knife broke free of its restraint.

Then he felt it. The same agonising death he’d inflicted on so many before him. Cruel, cold and precise. The blade that expertly punctured through his 3rd intercostal space was flat, fierce and skilfully wielded. He suspected it wasn’t much unlike his own. A weapon he would have liked to own himself. The pain shot through his body like nothing he’d experienced before. He was powerless to stop it and had been completely caught unguarded. His killer knew it and he could feel him savour the moment. That moment of absolute power and control! That moment when the sniper sees the bullet tear down his target through his scope. He felt every cruel motion of the blade as it twisted its way through his pleural sac into his lung and towards his heart. His killer was good. It would be a single blow kill, clean and clinical. There would be little blood to show for his death as he’d most certainly bleed out internally.

How had he not seen this coming? The blade twisted its way through his heart, rupturing his left ventricular wall. Blood gushed into his lung. This was his end. An elegant death inflicted by a superior hunter. Within seconds, the knife recoiled and was free from his body, inflicting even more damage on its way out. Life drained out of him. He dropped his Phil Boguszewski Dauntless blade and clutched the point of entry. There was no point looking for his killer. He’d be long gone, merged seamlessly with the bustling Circle crowd. More life drained out of him.

He looked up in the direction of Tony who’d stopped just ahead of him and was staring directly at him, waiting to meet his gaze. Their eyes met momentarily. Tony raised a finger and shook it as if to say ‘tut tut’. He stared for a moment longer and then nonchalantly turned and continued on his way. Within moments, Tony Money was gone!

He leaned against a post at the foot of the overhead bridge and waited to die. It was ironic how life left him in one of the liveliest places he knew. The thought made him smile.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Cleanliness? Godliness? I’m sure there’s a saying.


You live in a FILTHY COUNTRY!

Filthy, a common sight throughout Accra
Picture courtesy of: http://edition.radioxyzonline.com/pages/news/05302013-0818/12395.stm

I live in a residential estate in Teshie/Nungua, a nice, relatively clean and quiet suburb of Accra. A few weeks ago, at the height of the rainy season, I woke up feeling particularly 'green thumbed'. The earth was calling to me and my garden tools and I was going to oblige. Prune back some trees, de-weed the lawn, transplant some seedlings and generally give the foliage a good once-over. Besides, gardening was the one activity that kept dearest wife and overly energetic kids away from me for fear of being roped into performing some horticultural activity. Ceres herself was on my side today and nothing was going to get in my way. All suited and booted up, I stepping outside the house and was immediately and brutally assaulted by the putrid smell of decaying flesh. Something had died…very close by!

I went outside and saw my neighbour, Kofi, standing outside with a shovel, bucket and a very perplexed look on his face. Without speaking, he pointed to a spot not 15m from our houses. There was a black, bulging polythene bag stuffed into the gutter, blocking it and causing the sewer water to dam on one side. We both slowly made our way in that direction expecting the worst. The smell was almost unbearable. We carefully liberated the stuffed bag from the gutter and gingerly made a hole in the side of it to check the contents. I was convinced that we may have to call the police.

Fortunately we didn’t. Some IDIOT had stuffed a bag full of innards, heads, feathers and all other inedible parts of several chickens/roosters. I guess the moron didn’t have two brain cells to rub together to come up with a decent way to dispose of this so waited till everyone in the neighbourhood was asleep and then, without a shred of common sense or decency, simply dumped it into the nearest gutter he could find. Retarded you say? I beg to differ, I’ve come to find that this is very common behaviour in this country.
I could go on about several other cases involving dead pets carelessly tossed onto rubbish heaps or simply left by the roadside but I’ll spare you the ordeal.

Ghana is a dirty country. It may sound harsh but I dare you to challenge that statement! And don't come back with some asinine comparison of Ghana to an even dirtier country like Chad, as if relative dirt is supposed to be okay. Let me be clear. Less dirty is not a valid argument. What's maddening about the dirtiness in Ghana is that most of it is completely unnecessary. I'm talking about an entire nation that thinks it's okay to leave our sewers (gutters) uncovered, build latrines over said open sewers and allow people to urinate in them for a small fee. Shockingly, the same people then wonder why an entire area stinks to high heaven.  Someone please tell me why this is necessary. On separate occasions, an African American, Zambian, Kenyan and South African have all asked me, and I quote;

'...Osei, why do you have open sewers in the capital...?'

Not knowing how to respond to this unwelcome but sincere question I simply shrugged on each occasion and said;

 'We've given you Azonto now you're asking for covered sewers too? Ungrateful foreigners...'

In Ghana we seem to have a chronic unawareness of the environment. The very few that actually know that something called the environment exists are so bloody apathetic in their regard of it that they may as well not matter. I mean the number of times I've driven through town and seen people confidently walk out of their houses only to empty the contents of a chamber pot into the...wait for it...open gutter! If you really want to see how careless and completely moronic Ghanaians are about our environment, I beseech you to take a swim down the in the Odaw River towards the Korle Lagoon and see if you don't emerge from the other side as some sort disfigured mutant with super powers. We have completely killed off this river with the sheer amount of garbage and muck tossed into it over the years. It's ironic that the area around the Lighthouse and Korle Lagoon is locally referred to as Lavender Hill.

Swim anyone? State of the River Odaw
Picture courtesy of: http://www.dvafoto.com/2013/07/valentino-bellinis-bit-rot-project/
Oh, and our local markets, well they're completely environmentally deplorable too.

-   Agbobloshie
-   Makola
-   Salaga
-   Kaneshie
-   Madina 

They're built with absolutely no regard for order, cleanliness and convenience.  Agblobloshie on a rainy day anyone? Didn't think so. Almost all of the organic, not-so-organic and God-knows-what-else waste is conveniently dumped into the River Odaw that flows close by. The least of all the evils mentioned above in my opinion would be Madina or Kaneshi market but even those are a far cry from anything resembling clean. These major markets are built in an extraordinarily cumbersome way so that they are unable to cater for the convenience needs of both vendors and shoppers alike. To compound the problem, they have been allowed to grow and sprawl uncontrolled, like a cancer. There are very few, and in some cases, no access to public toilets and so the vendors resort to ‘clever’ ways of relieving themselves and disposing of said relief, usually in the River. It’s actually quite remarkable that more of us don’t end up with dysentery, typhoid or some other such food/water borne disease.


But with all that said, at least Ghanaians appear to dress nicely and claim to live in clean homes. Thank God for small mercies.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

No Country for…err…Babies?

No Country for Babies...picture borrowed from http://blog.marshotelonline.com/2008/11/13/if-wise/

Okay, for those of you guys who have never had kids, let me disambiguate the experience for you. Yes, babies are cute, sometimes. Babies are annoying, most of the time. Babies devour any semblance of a personal life you may have, all the time. Babies all but destroy your sex life, proven fact.

Don’t let the mothers fool you. They have a completely different experience from fathers. I mean c’mon, evolution and biology have structured it all in a way to ensure that the bond between mother and offspring is strong. If you’ve ever had the pleasure/displeasure (depending on your ‘ick’ tolerance) of witnessing the birth of the child, you’ll notice that immediately after the child is delivered, it is placed on the mother’s bare skin (skin to skin contact). It’s easy to see why you’d think that this was simply a nice gesture but the practice is actually rooted in some sound science. You see, there’s something called oxytocin…blah blah blah (click here if you’re really interested).

Let’s put the science of mother/baby bonding aside for a second. Let’s also put aside the ‘I don’t know what the f*ck is about to happen to me’ cluelessness of the new dad. Let’s instead turn to some of the cultural practices, ranging from the ‘Huh?’ through ‘What the F*ck?’ to the ‘Holy Sh*t!’ that our society inflicts on its new-borns. 

Could that be any hotter?
According to many ‘old’ and apparently ‘wise’ Ghanaian memes, a baby is born incomplete. I could agree with this sentiment if by ‘incomplete’ they meant that for instance, at the time of birth a baby does not have enough mental and physical capacity to be able to fend for itself in the most basic of ways. I could maybe buy into that. But no! That’s not what they mean. According to my mom, nanny and every over 50 year old woman, when the baby is born, there are several sores (ulcers) that haven’t completely healed (of course this is bullsh*t but let’s play along). To aid the process of healing these said ulcers, they employ the use of hot; actually scratch that, STEAMING water!

The first of these ‘ulcers’ is in the head. Yeah, you read that right, In the kid’s friggin’ head. One treats this effectively by massaging the baby’s head with a towel, soaked in ‘I’m about to pluck the feathers off a chicken’ steaming hot water. This is done at least twice a day much to the displeasure of the usually helpless mother. I’ll simply not describe the emotional state of the baby during this treatment.

The second of these ‘ulcers’ is in the…wait for it people…anus. Yes, one of the most sacred and in some cases, revered effusive passages. To treat this (at least the flavour of it I saw, and there are many), you get a small plastic cup and punch a nail-sized hole through the bottom. After bathing the child, turn him/her over, spread his/her about-to-be-thermally-abused butt cheeks, fill the cup with hot water and let it slowly drip from the bottom of said perforated cup directly onto child’s anus. This ‘remedy’ is apparently good for treating the non-visible and most possibly non-existent anal ulcer that every Ghanaian baby is unfortunately born with.

I won't even talk about the location of the third ulcer, too gruesome to tell.

Cover me, I’m cold!
Another consequence of being born Ghanaian and incomplete is the fact that Ghanaian babies are almost always cold. Always! I remember once taking a stroll with my baby boy in the front yard of our house. The idea was the give the little chap a whiff of Ghana’s characteristically humid and dusty but fresh air, as he tended to spend most of his days indoors. I’d even cracked out one of baby boy’s new Mothercare onesies, a cute little sleeveless and legless number. I mean c’mon, how was I supposed to know that if he wasn't swaddled and thermal insulated Eskimo style ‘the air’, and I quote ‘will pass through the soles of his feet and make him catch pneumonia…’ leading ultimately to a certain emphysema & pneumonia related death.

Did I mention the need for a hat? No? Well, apparently that’s a must in humid 28°ish weather for Ghanaian new-borns. Otherwise, just like you guessed, ‘the air will pass through the soft part of the head…catch pneumonia.’ leading ultimately to a certain emphysema & pneumonia related death.

The head covering stupidity goes even further. Shockingly, for Ghanaian babies, God and evolution together decided that two nostrils weren't enough to breathe through. Therefore the fontanel (soft part of a baby’s head) is yet another mechanism by which the Ghanaian baby breathes. Baby got a blocked nose? Rub some eucalyptus or better still, some ‘Chinese Robb’ on the fontanel and see that blockage disappear. But here’s what happens to that idiocy when it’s put to the test; if a baby breathes through the fontanel (even partially) why are we so intent on covering it with headgear all the time? Wouldn't that be like an adult stuffing a piece of scrunched-up toilet roll up a nostril?

Seriously folks, this ‘the baby will die from cold’ thing goes even deeper, both figuratively and literally. Okay, so my wife is on a video shoot with her crew and a major client. She is pregnant and luckily, unlike other women who crave weird and sometimes harmful or unhealthy things during pregnancy, she just wants ice. That’s it, ICE! Being the resourceful person she is, and the boss, she manages to procure a cup of ice chippings in the middle of rural Ghana to satisfy her not-so-weird craving. There is a little old lady present when she starts chomping down the ice. Cue #unwantedadvice

  • Little old lady (look of disapproval): ‘Young lady, you shouldn't do that, it’s not good’
  • Wife (completely bemused): ‘Why?’
  • Little old lady: ‘The baby will catch a cold…’ There was more to that statement but by this time my wife’s anti-idiotic speech filter had kicked in, so even though the little old lady’s mouth was moving all my wife heard was radio static ‘shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh’.  

The ‘weight’ of starch
This one is my current personal favourites, even if it’s because of the sheer stupidity of it all. Now mummy dearest is a smart person, usually. She has good insights and lots of #unwantedadvice to share about raising a child. Her most recent exploit was to edit the diet of my newest baby boy to exclude starch(es). I say starch but what she actually meant was exclusion of cassava and all related cassava products; gari, tapioca, eba etc. This advice had been slowly building up but finally came to a head when at 13 months, my very boisterous and healthy baby boy was still not fully walking but well on his way.

Apparently, starch isn't good for children since it’s too ‘heavy’ and makes them feel lethargic. But not all types of starch do this. For instance maize is fine, so is rice, so is yam, so is potato, so is millet, so is sorghum, so is wheat…the only exclusion seems to be cassava. Go figure! Needless to say that this gem of sage information/advice has been shelved in the same area of my brain as Big-foot and alien abductions.

Alas, I’ve got one more kid to go and I’m pretty certain that we’re going to have HIM here in Ghana. That means 2 or 3 more years of logic defying idiocy from people who should simply know better. If you’re experiencing, or have already experienced some of what I’ve said (and I’ve only just scratched the proverbial surface), why don’t you join me in this resistance of all things stupid and getting the word out to potential parents of Ghanaian babies…’if at all in doubt, ask your doctor/midwife.