Tuesday, December 30, 2008

StoryTime (ST) Launches Ms. Cleland's Debut Short Story

Dear Wo Se Ekyir Readers,
As many of you know, I keep this blog because I love Ghana and want to write about the life here, but another key reason why I maintain Wo Se Ekyir... is to keep me writing as I am an aspiring novelist. I'm very pleased to announce that I responded to Ivor Hartmann's invitation to submit a story to StoryTime, which was accepted, and recently launched! I couldn't be more thrilled!

Here's what Ivor Hartmann had to say about it: "ST is very happy to proudly present, Esi W. Cleland and her debut ST story, Choices.

In just 1099 words Esi takes us on a breathless satori of love that leaps to the skies and transcends time/space, there to fly free like Icarus and kiss the rising sun. But as the title suggests, is their love strong enough to out-soar the shears of social conventions?

A bold, vivid and heart-felt story, Choices clearly marks Esi W. Cleland as a most promising new author".

Readers, enjoy, and leave me comments on my StoryTime Page. If you like this story and any of my other works, then you should check out other new fiction by African writers on StoryTime.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

How I Spent My Christmas Holidays: A View from Ghana

Every Ghanaian child has written an essay on the topic, “How I spent my Christmas Holidays” at least once in his/her life, but I don’t think I ever wrote truthfully about my Christmas holidays. Maybe I was developing the knack for writing great fiction every time I had to invent stories about my holidays. It wasn’t because my holidays were not made of stuff that was interesting enough to write about that I had to whip up stories; it’s just that all my memorable Christmases were spent in a mining village which lies about six miles away from Tarkwa, and while I had interesting experiences there, I didn't talk about my holidays because I felt it wasn’t cool enough to warrant being talked about. So whenever I got back to Accra after spending about two weeks of my Christmas holidays in the village, I made my life easier by burying everything that had occurred there, and jumped back into my life in Accra. Oh the complicated life of the Ghanaian child- I was already being taught to hate my way of life.

That village experiences ranked low on coolness scale wasn't just a figment of my imagination. It was fact. I remember once when schools resumed after the holidays, the class clown kept telling everyone that he had called three people during the vacation. Let’s call them Adwoba, Adzo and Esi (Me). The guy said that when he called Adwoba, he was told that she had gone to the UK. Then he called Adzo, and was informed that she had left for the US. But when he called me, my mother said, “oh Esi, Esi ɔkɔ ekurase...(Oh Esi, Esi has gone to the village)”. This was quite funny, and I could take a joke, so we all laughed it off, but that guy really teased me about my village trips. I tell the story to make the point that, when you’re a kid in Ghana, you do not feel that you can come to school in Accra (I don’t know if the story was different at Nkwantanang School in Madina where my mother was a teacher, but I can imagine that if you were at Morning Star or any other such overprized school, you wouldn’t) and talk about your village experiences in the same way that people brag about abroad experiences. For one, you do not return from the village with fresh Nikes, nice-looking pens or jelly sandals (these were the rage in those times), or combat boots. We always used to come from the village with mushrooms, snails and akranteɛ. I don’t care how confident you are as a kid, there’s just no way you’re going to be talking about the akranteɛ soup you had during the holidays-Again, a missed opportunity to learn more about ourselves.

So today I thought I’d finally write about how I spent my Christmas holidays. It may be fifteen years too late but they say it's better late than never.

My christmas holidays usually began with a six-hour bus ride from Accra to Aboso. The journey to Aboso was always long and tiring, and by the time we got to Aboso, or even Tarkwa, our skins would be covered with a thin film of loose red dust. The dust came from the parts of the Takoradi-Tarkwa road which was untarred. It would collect on the hairs on our bodies so imagine my small teeny weeny afro,eye-brows and lashes, skin, and even the hairs in my nostrils covered with brown dust. I was always so excited to get to Aboso. Once there, we’d walk from the car station home. Because, we were from the city, all the villagers would be looking at us, and saying “Akwaaba o, Akwaaba o” (Welcome, Welcome). Elated, I'd beam and enjoy my 15 minutes of fame, and importance, forgetting that in Accra, I was a nobody. In my village, I was a bronyiba, and people I didn’t even know would say things like “Woarabae, awo na eenyin dei yi a” (Is it Woarabae who has grown so big?). I mean, being from the city was a big deal! Those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about can get an idea by thinking on how good the burghers feel when they arrive fresh in Ghana from Germano or Italy abontenso. Better still, just walk to the Accra mall and witness the nyatenyate young ladies from the US and elsewhere who have started arriving in droves right about this time of the year with their newly acquired slangs (foreign accents), and “ewurade, Ghana ayɛ hye papa” (God, Ghana has become too hot), comments. I saw one of these abroad people wearing a sweater-dress yesterday in Accra. She looked like someone who had just transitioned from Fall to Harmattan. I shook my head in amusement as a smile formed on my face.

Once we’d gotten home (my grandparents' house), we’d start the Christmas proper. The main highlights of Christmas in the village were

  1. Fancy Dress competition between the two fancy dress groups also known as kakamotobi (Japanese sounding Ga word for fancy dress/ masquerade costume) in the village. The two groups entertained with their dancing, climbing specially-mounted tall bamboo poles, and performing tricks at its top once they got there. The tricks included taking of their clothes and wearing new ones at the top of the pole. Some of the men walked on stilts and others danced in their costumes, swinging switches in energetic feet-stamping, arm swinging dances.
  2. Door to door singing by the singing bands of many of the churches in the village. Their Christmas carols were sung in Fanti and the house to house trips were made at dawn.

During one of those holidays spent in the village, I’d taken along a white shirt that my aunt had bought me from Marks and Spencer, tags still intact. Now that I think about it, this too is similar to the way that Ghanaians living abroad bring new clothes when they visit Ghana. I wore my new white shirt and green togas (tr: loose fitting pants). Then, feeling tres bien, (tr:good), went to join in the masquerade costume party. By the time the evening of dancing was over, my white shirt had turned brown, from my own sweat, mixed with red dust, and pushing and shoving by other dancers. No amount of washing, or blue (blue is a blue powder which Ghanaians usually add to water to make a solution for rinsing white clothing. The blue solution is believed to whiten clothes) could turn the shirt white again. I was very upset about the condition of my new white top, now turned brown, and so the brown dust has now become part of my Christmas memories.

One thing that strikes me is that I don't associate giving and receiving presents with christmas, though i'm sure that many Ghanaian families do this (even my siblings who came ten years after me have had christmas' when they received wrapped presents after my aunt's dutch friend introduced it in our family) but it's not something that formed part of my own childhood. I do however remember getting the usual bronya atar (christmas dress) which I'd wear to the village church on christmas day, but those were never wrapped.

If anyone were to ask me what images christmas brings to mind, I’d say that when I think of christmas, I think of red dust, chilly harmattan mornings, fancy dress, eating food from other people’s homes, chips, cakes, and batter-coated peanuts, danish butter cookies (because we always got them for my grandma at christmas), piccadilly biscuits, door-to-door singing, long bus rides, and snails crawling in our kitchen once we got back to Accra:)

What about you? What comes to mind when you think of Christmas in Ghana / how did you spend your christmas holidays?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Help! They want to take all my money!

In the six years that I lived in the US I no one ever asked me to lend any money or anything worth more than ten bucks, except once. That once, I lent money to a fellow Ghanaian student, who was schooling at the University of Toronto in Canada. He had a story I could relate to. It was nearing Christmas, he wanted to visit his family, and had found an airline ticket for a good price through a travel agent. However he didn’t have the money to pay for it and the travel agent was not going to hold the ticket for him past the next day. He first asked a mutual friend whom he was closer to, but she did not give him the money for whatever reason. Convinced by his reassurances that his father-a well respected minister who was at that time the head of one of the more popular Christian denominations in Ghana- had already wired him the money from Ghana, I sent him the $500 he had asked through Western Union. He made me believe that the money would get to him within 2 days. He confirmed receipt on 05/05/2004 after Western Union had also sent me a pick up confirmation email which I still keep. Then he disappeared. To put it into context, I was a rising Junior in college earning hourly wages of $7.5 before taxes. As an international student, I was only allowed by law to work a maximum of ten hours/week. A little calculation shows that even if I spent very little on myself, it would have taken me nearly 3 months or close to a whole semester to save up that amount of money. Imagine my growing consternation when 2 weeks passed and our guy had made no attempt to either send me my money or explain his failure to do so. I went through all the stages of loss and when I finally accepted it, I was glad that this had happened to me at a time when I had so little money and that having learnt from it, I was now wiser.

What I didn’t know then was that I wasn't really any better at handling such situations. It just seemed that way because no one else asked me for money, and I didn’t have any to give. Now that I think of it, I even realize that there were several other instances when people who had asked me to buy things for them promising to give me the money as soon as I got to Ghana, would pay only half of the money, and not pay the rest. What’s really disturbing about these minor thefts is that is that they were done by people who are respected in society for their smarts, their family connections or financial standing. Yep, there are people who seem to be or make believe they’re doing okay financially but somehow they manage to still need to take loans from the “poor” ones like me. That’s something I’ve never understood because I always live within my means. Whatever money I have, whether it is little or much, is always enough for me and I can’t understand people who consistently live beyond their means, then borrow money from me, and pretend they’ve forgotten they owe me.

When I moved to Ghana, a friend of mine who had been living here for many years cautioned me not to disclose to people how much I make, or they’d start asking me for money. I followed his advice to the letter, so that when he asked me how much I make, I didn’t tell him but it doesn’t seem to matter that people don’t know how much I make, they still try to borrow from me. First someone asked for a loan of two hundred cedis, then two thousand cedis, then fuel. Can you imagine, someone actually tried to make me share my fuel allowance? and then someone said (not jokingly) that I should be sharing my phone units, and then another one asked for eight hundred cedis, and yet another for seven hundred cedis, all in three months of working here. These people have to be kidding me! I live waay below my means and that’s why I’m able to save money. If I wanted to blow my monthly income, you’d better believe I could. You know how many times I’ve walked away regrettably from Chez Julie in Osu because an outfit there was too expensive for me to purchase? If I wanted to, I could buy those clothes but then I’d have to be content with living in the one-bedroom that I have in the house my father built and maybe even begin asking my friends for money too.

I don’t know if this has anything to do with people knowing that I just returned from Abrokyire (abroad) and so erroneously think I came back with a fortune or if I look like someone who has money. I swear 3 different people who smelled like confidence tricksters asked me for money in Osu on the same day. I felt sorry for the first one, and was suspicious of the second one but by the time the third person approached me, I felt harassed and exploited.

Ghanaians living abroad who chose to return home for good need to watch out for this. I’m reaching breaking point. I am resolute about not giving loans but it is still affects me negatively when people ask. I wish I could do something to stop people from asking me ever again. Equally important, how can such people be helped? Financial independence/ personal finance workshops? It is really disturbing that the people I speak of are not those who don’t have jobs but those whose incomes I could live on but somehow they can’t seem to manage properly, including bankers, and managers! There are even those who will make you buy music on itunes with your account and then not pay you the proper amount for it. It's like high class theft! With such people, it’s not that they don't have money; it’s about the proper management of it, or the mindset. What can a sista do? Help!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Follow-Up to "Joint Review" Idea - The African Food Questionnaire

Dear Readers,
The "Joint Review Project" has started. The team is setting up an african food website with recipes of african foods, and reviews of restaurants, chopbars and joints that serve those foods. Yup, we wanna check out Auntie Memuna's hausa kooko joint in your area. We would like you to tell us which foods you want recipes for. This will inform the decision on which restaurants/joints to review. As an example, if you say you want the recipe for kɔmi kɛ kena (kenkey and fish), then we'll give you recipes, and we'll also point you to you all the joints in Africa which sell it, plus reviews! so you know which places to get the best value for your money. To add an african food to the list, just fill a short form (3 questions, of which 2 are optional) by clicking on this link which points to the form.

Please spread the word to all your African friends.

Always in support of change we can create ourselves,

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Kube-ology - The Study of Kube: Lesson I

Welcome to kube-ology 101. Kube-ology is the study of kube (coconut) and kube-ology 101 is a series of kube lessons that will be given on Wo Se Ekyir from time to time, starting today. In this course, I will bring you mini-lessons that I learn about kube in my bid to become a kube-meister by talking to kube sellers and people who learned about it from growing up in coastal villages in Ghana. I am willing to bet that you will not find this information anywhere else on the internet, but I encourage you to try to find such information and if you succeed, to share your new found knowlege with other course members (Wo Se Ekyir readers). Now on to today's lesson as passed on to you from the Nzema-speaking kube seller from whom I bought 3 kubes this morning on the road leading from East-Legon to the Institute of Professional Studies (IPS) in Madina. It is the road infront of Trinity Theological Seminary, Mikesh Natural Hair Salon and Uche's Place (a nigerian restaurant)

To ensure that you remember the main points, I will tell you a story that perfectly illustrates the points.

This morning, on my way to gym I was hungry, but I wanted something healthy so I passed by all the kooko sellers I saw and stopped instead when I saw a man selling kubes packed in a wheel-barrow.

Perfect! I asked him how much it cost even though I already knew that the current market price for kube is 40 pesewas. "40 pesewas" he replied. It turned out that I had about 1.3 cedis in coins so I asked him to give me 2, but to cut the top off only one of them (so I could drink the kube right there),

as I would take the second along with me. He did as I had asked, but i finished drinking the sweet kube juice in only two gulps. I complained that the kube had too little juice and that my thirst/hunger was not satisfied by the small amount of juice. Simply put, aanso me. I told him to break the third kube and this time, I noticed that the kube had plenty juice but that the juice did not taste as sweet as the first one. I asked why, and the kube-meister said that the mature kube's are the ones that have the tougher core or white part that is usually sold with boiled corn in Ghana (and shown in photo),

but the mature kube does not have much juice in it, just as I had just noticed. The younger kubes on the other hand have the soft core, and more juice that doesn't taste as sweet. I found what he told me absolutely fascinating, but I was so excited that I didn't think too much about it. Later when I was alone and back on the road to the gym, I wondered how he was able to pick out the kube with more juice for me, but there was no one to ask. So I'll end the lesson by asking the question: If you have coconuts in a wheel-barrow, how would you be able to separate the mature ones (with little but sweeter juice) from the young ones (which have more juice that's not as sweet) ? Readers, try to find the answer to the question. I will do the same and we'll discuss by posting comments. Until our next kube-ology lesson, this has been your enthusiastic kube-meister-in-training.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ghanaian Humor

Two days ago, on the way to work, I had Odompo the Ghanaian actor in my car. Ato (my brother) sat in the back seat. We wanted to find out the latest on the election. Atlantis fm was playing music as usual, Joyfm was playing their Efpack commercial (the punchline being efpack, blows your pain away. lol), so we flipped through the channels till we got to Adom. Adom FM was giving us news. It was in twi, it sounded interesting so decided to listen. Good thing we did because it cheered me up for the rest of the morning.

Adom was reporting this piece of news from the bbc about a chinese girl who lost her hearing in one ear after his boyfriend kissed her. Now the news article from bbc is ridiculous enough, with comments like
"While kissing is normally very safe, doctors advise people to proceed with caution, wrote the China Daily"

But imagine this news being read in twi, with comments like ei, wo nim abrɔfo ɔmo adeɛ yi a ɛyɛ ɔmo yɛ yi, mekyerɛ kissing (tr:you know the thing that white people like to do, i mean kissing). hilarious! And then the reporter proceeded to comment saying something like "ɛneɛ agoro bɔne paa na ɔmo dii yɛ" (tr: they must have really played a bad game) which had us all in stitches and we started our own commentary in the car, in between laughter. Ato was acting out the typical Ghanaian child response to hearing talk of "taboo topics"; he was laughing but trying to restrain himself and pretending he wasn't really paying attention, exactly the same as I used to act when, watching tv with the parents, we saw a kissing scene-I'd be stiff, look elsewhere, and do all to look like I wasn't watching. Odompo asked "ei, eneɛ ɔmo kiss e bɛyɛ 3 hours anaa?" (tr: they must have kissed for about 3 hours). And I chipped in "ebi a na ɔbaa naa na so pɛ si esi dada (perhaps the girl's hearing was already begging to be lost). It was all just so funny, and as we finally moved on from the topic, it occured to me how messed up it is that we were laughing so hard about a piece of news that really isn't funny at all. When someone loses his/her hearing, that's not usually funny but I still laugh as I write this.

By the way I found this great photo of Ghanaians kissing on Nana Kofi Acquah's photo blog. He's a Ghanaian professional photographer. When it comes to photography in Ghana, Steve Ababio is another name you should know.

If you can't read/understand twi, please pardon me for the use of so much twi in this entry. There is just no other way to tell today's story. Sometimes english simply doesn't capture aspects of the Ghanaian life.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Ghanaian Breakfast

Because I've never lived in the UK, and my only visit there was to see a Ghanaian who did not feed me the english breakfast in the mornings, I wasn't quite sure what is meant by the term english breakfast. So yesterday I googled it. Here's what I found:

Once I'd started googling, I followed that by googling "american breakfast". The photos that came up confirmed the idea I had of it from my college days when we were fed pancakes, scrambled eggs, french toast, hash browns, waffles, toast, fruit salads, etc for breakfast. The photos are below:

So guess what I did next? Yup, you guessed right. I googled "ghanaian breakfast" and found Oto with eggs, and a cut tuber of yam as shown in the picture below. For real?! Which dadaba ( a kid with a rich father; rich fathers are dadas) or egyaba (kid with poor father; poor fathers are egyas) eats ɛtɔ for breakfast? Shiee!

So I asked myself, well, what does a traditional Ghanaian breakfast look like? Hmm. What did I expect? Milo and sugar bread with blue band margarine spread on it? Hausa kooko and koose? Auntie Azumi's waakye that the masons used to eat in the mornings? They used to call it "concrete" or Daavi's yor ke gari that I would sometimes buy when I was in kindergarten way back in the day at Aboso in the late 80s, or Nkyekyerewa?

Aboa bɛn so ne Nkyekyerewa (tr: What kind of animal is Nkyekyerewa you ask?) Hmm, some animal I bought in traffic this morning so I could write about one traditional Ghanaian food that can be had for breakfast. I had it for the first time a couple of weeks ago, when out of curiousity I bought the suspicious-looking food wrapped in leaves. Just the fact that its main wrapping is biodegradable is enough reason to buy it.

The seller put it in a plastic bag and gave it to me. See photo

When the plastic holder is removed, you see the Nyekyerewa in all its glory
Then I took off the string and the leaf covering to reveal the boiled and compressed corn and boiled groundnuts (peanuts).

Next I took off everything to reveal the part that's meant to be eaten

Then breakfast begun:)
And ended
There you go. That's a Ghanaian breakfast! How does it taste? Just like corn on a cob, except without the cob. It was warm, and it tasted great to me. If I had my own way, I'd have more groundnuts on it than mine came with but for how little it cost (30 pesewas), what is there to complain about? It was very filling and very tasty. I wonder if it would "go square" (tr: taste great) with a piece of dried kube (coconut), just like boiled corn usually "jɔms" (tr:tastes great) with kube. So maybe it was a bit too high on carbs, and a little too low on the protein, but hey, who is complaining?

What do you typically have in your homes for breakfast? My mother makes a roasted corn+roasted groundnuts+roasted beans mix which she mills into a flour, then mixes with water and boils to make a kooko (tr: someone shd please supply the english name for kooko...broth?) It's brown, much like what people call "Tom Brown" (where did the name tom brown come from?) but she calls it "weanimix". We would eat it with milk (yes, ideal milk, which i found out this morning has no cow milk in it at all...have you read the label?). Weanimix +milk+butter bread (also known as ɛnkɔdaa wɔ fie*) + home-made groundnut paste ( peanut butter)...that was enough to take us through the morning till break time! There was no bacon or ham for us when we were growing up. Speaking of bacon, my little brother Ato Kwamena (he's twelve) asked me the other day..."Maame Esi, what is bacon?" How I laughed!? I laughed because the poor guy pronouced the ba (as in back or barrack) and the con as in (conman). After I'd finished laughing, I told him what bAcOn was, and reassured him that he's several steps ahead of me since I didn't know what bacon was either at his age.

note: ɛnkɔdaa wɔ fie (tr: there are children at home) or maame o dendei (welcome home, mummy) are alternative names for butter bread. The astute bread hawkers invented the names as a marketing strategy to sell bread to travellers. In Ghana, it is common for a visitor (whose visit, by the way, is often not annouced before the person shows up) to bring along a small gift and butter bread is an adequate gift. This is a caution to those who have forgotten; Please don't go to your villages without taking along some benz bread:) lol. I should do a special blog entry on Ghanaian breads:) This is too much fun!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Abɔdam so ne ho mfaso nye dɛn? (tr: Is there any value in craziness?)

I have plenty to say but not enough time to write it out, so I'll write what should have been today's entry after work and post it tomorrow morning. But here are two quotes that always set me thinking. They're both by Kerouac, an American writer whose name and writings are synonymous with the beat generation.

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes - the ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing that you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things.

Our own Kwaw Kese calls himself Abɔdam. Is he on to something? Judging from the many awards he's holding in the picture, i'm tempted to say yeah, maybe a little. But then an older (arguably wiser) man that I spoke with thinks that the Kwaw Kese kind of music is trash and the way to measure that is check who is listening to his 2008 songs in 2010. He says that good music lives on for decades. If that's the case, are Ghanaians buying his music for lack of anything better, or are we all just wanting to partake a bit in some abɔdam?

I'd like to know your thoughts on the following:
1. Do you think you're this kind of person that Kerouac talks about?
2. If so, why, and how did you become that? If not, why not?
3. At the risk of launching into a "this is what Ghana needs" discussion, I'll ask, do you think it will make any difference if we have more people like this? Can we learn anything from the crazies?
4. Is this kind of lust for life overrated? or do people like this really change things?
5. Are there Ghanaian (or african) writers who talk about this kind of person or is this some foreign invention that has nothing to do with life in Ghana? Is Kwaw Kese it? If not, who is? Who do you know that lives like this?

When I was in college, someone slipped me an anonymous note reading "At some point in our lives, we need to stop existing and start thriving". For a the young Ghanaian man or woman, what would thriving mean? And how do we reconcile that with Kerouac's idea of thriving being some sort of crazy living that makes things happen? Just think about it. America can talk about periods in its history when people have behaved crazily. talk abt the hippies, the beat generation, etc. I'm not sure that that is necessarily something to aspire to but it seems like out of such living, many talented writers, singers, business people have sprung. The life in Ghana appears a bit too uniform from one generation to next. Can one live a normal life their whole lives and then end up becoming extraordinary? Something's gotta get your juices flowing and I don't see that this life as we know it is it. Please correct me if I'm wrong and provide me examples of times when Ghanaians have really bought into a bigger idea or notion and lived it out in our lives. Are we just a boring people? I'm dying to be part of a generation that shakes things up and I see no outlet for all this energy. Was I born on the wrong continent and a wrong time? It looks like someone locked us in a room and put a sign on the door saying: No craziness here. hehe.
I know exactly what I need. A space. About six people who like to talk, about Ghana, and life. Six people completely unlike me. Something to learn, something to teach. Young people, maybe an old person or two. Confused about life, living on the edge, creating art, music, businesses, anything, where they're making something that didn't exist before they showed up, failures, why do i get the feeling this would be so easy to find in Paris or even Italy? People who challenge me. People who own books like "bu me bE" I need to find the people who aren't so put together. Who haven't already figured it all out. Not already on the "success track". I know i'm looking in the wrong places, but I just don't know where to look.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

How Ashale-Botweians* Used Their Kokromoti Power

If readers of this blog have been paying attention, you have noticed that whilst Ghana has been preparing for its presidential and parliamentary elections for many months and there has been much talk about it on our radio stations and in our local newspapers, I have had nothing to say about it. The truth is that I haven't been inspired to blog about it. I feel that regardless of who wins the elections, very little is going to change in the life of the average person and so what is there to be excited about? This entry isn't your usual political commentary or elections report. You can check Ghanaweb.com or Myjoyonline.com for that. Instead I bring you an account of how Ghanaians voted at the Happy Home Nursery School Polling Station at Ashale-Botwe, a suburb of Accra and what is more interesting, of how the voting served as a social event which brought us together to relive old times. For those who are confused by the title of this entry, Kokromoti means thumb and Ghanaians refer to voting as a way to exercise their kokromoti power. Fun huh? The funny thing is that people actually vote with their pinky and not the thumb:) What's the twi word for pinky?

First, let me give you a sense of the polling station. The Nursery School shares a wall with Peace Be House, which is the house for which the street is named. Peace-Be Street is one of the major streets in Ashale-Botwe and separates East Ashale-Botwe from West Ashale-Botwe. There are two mosques on this street, as well as a makalanta (islamic school). I don’t know if this qualifies the area as a zongo. One of the few clinics in the area can also be found on the street. The clinic, which is owned by the famous Dr. Asare of Pantang Psychiatric Hospital is also called Peace-Be Hospital. All these landmarks serve to make the Happy Home Nursery Polling Station one that people can find their way to, and consequently one of the biggest in Ashale-Botwe.

My mother owns the nursery school, which means that I live at the polling station. On the Saturday morning, the day of the elections, at about 4:30 am, I woke up to the sound of the voices of people who had already started queuing in readiness for the voting which was to begin at 7 am. I did not get out of bed till about 6:30 am when I started off for my friend’s house at a different part of Ashale-Botwe to get my camera so I could take some photographs. Besides the front of my house where one could already find a long line, everywhere else in Ashale-Botwe, life went on as usual. There was no tension in the air, no excitement even. The few posters and party flags could be found hanging in front of people’s houses, but that was about it. By the time I returned home, the line was even longer as can be seen in the picture

Instead of entering my house, I sat under the mango tree shown in the picture, chatted with the neighbours and some other area peeps (people) and tooks some photographs. One friend helped me take the the pictures shown below until the police man in the first photo stopped us. The police man, who was being exceedingly post kaya (tr: self important?) about executing his duties explained that only those with special authorization from the electoral commission were allowed to take photographs and videos. Oh well...post kaya! To be fair, he needed to be firm which he was and so we should have been happy that here was a policeman doing something right. i.e. enforcing the rules but I didn't feel positively about it. I just felt like he was chopping post (merely demonstrating his power) .

As can be seen from the pictures, and as you’ve probably already read about most other polling stations, the voting was peaceful.

What made it more interesting for me is that I got to see area people that I hadn’t seen in years! I saw one guy (I’ve forgotten his name) who used to bully me when I was a kid and we had a short conversation. He reminded me of one other bully called Razak but I did not see Razak in the lines. Then one of my neighbours’ nephews who used to chase one of my cousins also came around and we talked about old times. He reminded me of life in those days, how we used to be, saying that I was only a little girl then and showed me a photograph of his two daughters, whilst delivering poorly concealed jabs aimed at encouraging me to get married. This guy used to be a die hard Daddy Lumba Fan. Most of the lyrics to the songs I know, I learned from him because he used to sing so loudly in his house that I picked up the lyrics. I especially remember when Daddy Lumba came out with the Auntie Atta’ ei, mɛ ware wo ba baa no, ne ho yɛ me fɛ oo, oo, oo. This guy wouldn’t let us sleep. hehe. He mentioned too that the NPP song ...Nana Nana nana ɔyɛ winner oo, was sung by daddy Lumba. I did not know that. I guess he’s still a Daddy Lumba lyrics buff. My two aunts and uncle, who I hadn’t seen in over a month also came to vote, and I chatted with them for a while. One of my mother’s friends told me dɛ nansei maayɛ fine paa (these days, I am looking nice), because I’ve gained some pounds. Most people stayed in line and waited their turn though exceptions were made for people who had to report for work, pregnant women, women with small children and people like my mother who some people felt should not stand in line since she had offered her tables, benches and her house as a polling centre. I think she still stood in line though, and chatted with her sisters until it was her turn. One of the highlights of the day was when, my friend, acted like the typical Ghana man by ogling, then photographing the duna (tr: ass) shown in the photo. If that tells me anything, it tells me that people weren't just standing around waiting to vote:) It is not too far fetched to think that area chicks might have been checking out area boys and vice versa.

By 5pm when the voting was supposed to close, the lines were still very long, and so I left with my friend, went to a nearby filling station/restaurant and had some grilled akɔmfɛm (guinea fowl) and chilled mango juice. The beauty of it is that I am a fanti chick, and undecided voter, vaccilating between the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and Convention People’s Party (CPP) and my friend is a Ga man and an National Democratic Congress (CPP) supporter, but we could have Akɔmfɛm together whilst discussing who we thought was going to win. Neither of us voted. I was not in Ghana at the time of registration and my friend was deterred from registering by the long lines.

Voting finally closed after 8pm, with the NDC winning both the parliamentary seat and the presidential votes. According to my father who stayed for the counting, the tally came to 576 for NDC and 413 for NDC. He did not pay attention to the numbers for the CPP, PNC and so on. It is worth noting that the incumbent parliamentarian who was an NPP man lost to a NDC man.

Moving forward (no pun intended), we expect one of two things. One, we'll have a president by tomorrow afternoon or two, we'll have to head back to the polls in two (or is it three?) weeks if neither of the top two candidates wins more than 50% of the votes to clinch the win. Moving past the election of a new president, what changes do we expect in our lives? I predict that very little will change in my own life. Hopefully Ghana will continue to experience steady growth in its economy, and particularly increased growth in the private sector. A couple more roads may be built and railway transport will probably remain under-utilised, Ghanaians will continue to pride ourselves in being the black stars of Africa, and an example worth emulating (delusions of grandeur? hehe...I keep hearing from Ghanaians that the whole world is watching us but listening to BBC this morning, Zimbabwe seems to be worried about their cholera problem and the USA seeks to salvage its automobile industry; Is the world really watching Ghana?), and the ever-positive Ghanaian spirit will live on, but I do not anticipate any extraordinary positive changes in the next four years. I desperately hope I'm wrong. Witnessing Ashale-Botweians at the polls has made me curious to know the procedure for becoming a member of parliament:) If anyone knows, please share, and I'll also let you know when I find out. Yep, you're thinking what I'm thinking. In the meantime, I remain interested in change we can create ourselves.

*The name Ashale-Botweians is inspired by a fellow blogger who likes to write about Accraians:)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Your Poppy Talk You Say You For No Marry Ayigbe (Wo) Man. I Lie?

The other day one of the readers of Wo Se Ekyir encouraged me, after he read “Letter to my Imaginary Friend" to use more mfantse words in my posts, adding that though others who don’t speak the language may not like it, he loved it. I think it’s great that he received the mfantsi-english so well. But I think too of all the Ga, Ewe, Akuapem, Grusi, Wassa, Ashanti people who read Wo Se Ekyir. Wo Se Ekyir is about the Ghanaian life, not the Fanti life. If I talk a lot in mfantse it is because it is my first language, my mother tongue. At one point, I was posting mfantse riddles on facebook which I’d translate in english and I thought everyone was loving it until a friend of mine, a Ga person complained that we were excluding the Gas. Hmm. I explained that the only reason I wasn’t writing the riddles in more Ghanaian languages is because I don’t know how to write in Ga or the other languages. Ona bɔni inkyɔɔ:) So I encouraged her to take a leaf from my book and post Ga riddles or even translate my riddles into Ga. She did not do that, and I ran out of mfantse riddles so the riddle time on facebook has paused for a minute but this little experience made me wonder how we can be inclusive when we speak so many different languages. Readers, tell me, when I write in mfantse, do you who do not speak it feel excluded?

I can’t think of how to perfectly segue into talking about tribalism in Ghana so I’ll just jump in. I’m not going to define tribalism or point fingers at other people or give solutions and suggestions about what the government, schools and churches can do. We've been doing that and we're still where we are:) Let’s cut to the chase. What can we do? What can I do? I need this to be an open space where I can talk honestly and specifically about how as a fanti girl, I have been socialised to reject some particular ethnic groups, but those interested can find another honest article here about tribalism in Ghana,

When I was in my mid teens, I dated an Ewe man who sang me traditional Ashanti lullabies which I loved! My favorite was one which told of the powers of Kɔmfo Anɔkye, praising him as one who could even fetch water with a basket. Sɔɔɔɔsket!:

Anɔkye e

W’ayɛ bi o

Anɔkye e

W’aye bi o

ɔde kɛntɛn na ɛko nsuo

ɔde kɛntɛn na ɛko nsuo

Anɔkye e

W’ayɛ bi o

Despite how cool the guy was, I found it necessary to tell all that he was the kind of Ewe boy who spoke no Ewe but spoke twi better than any of the other guys I knew at the time. (The way to my heart is ability to speak any ghanaian language perfectly. Akuapem is my weakness. The language dey bi me pass!). Why I needed to justify my choice of an Ewe man in this manner, I do not know. Why did I need to say that my Ewe boy was more Ashanti than the Ashanti boys? Perhaps I did it because even that early, I had internalised that I should not date an Ewe man though no one had told me not to. Later, someone did. Let’s call him Mr. Nkonyaa. He was my father’s friend who sometimes gave me a ride to that village school in cape-coast because his daughter attended the same school. On this day, he picked me up first, and on the way to pick up his daughter from his house, the following conversation ensued:

Mr. Nkonyaa: Do you have a boyfriend

Me: I have many boyfriends

Mr. Nkonyaa: You know what I’m talking about

Me: Yes, I have a boyfriend

Mr. Nkonyaa: What is his name?

Me: William Kofi

Mr. Nkonyaa: Did he go to University Primary?

Me: No

Mr. Nkonyaa: Does he attend one of the Cape-Coast Schools?

Me: No, he goes to Achimota School

Mr. Nkonyaa: So how did you meet?

Me: At Presec. Vacation classes (haha)

Mr. Nkonyaa: Where is he from?

Me: He’s an Ewe

Mr. Nkonyaa: Break up with him

Me: Why?

Mr. Nkonyaa: They’re not good people

Me: This one was born and raised in Accra, he doesn’t even speak the language.

Mr. Nkonyaa: It doesn’t matter. Break up with him

Me: I don’t think it’s fair for me to break up with him just because he’s an Ewe

Mr. Nkonyaa: God knows why he put us on different soil. We must stick to our own kind and let them stick to their own. Will you break up with him?

Me: Yes

While we were having this conversation, I was feeling quite rebellious, and I had every intention of continuing with William Kofi but ask me what happened?

Readers, I broke up with the boy. I wrote him a letter saying that I no longer wanted to be in a relationship, that is, until I saw him again the next vacation and all thoughts of breaking up flew out of my head and we got right back together. Teenage love:) By the way, I later learned that this man was the extreme type who would not even employ Ewe people in the company that he partly owned. Wow!

A year or so later, I got the same warning from my father. Now that was surprising to me because unlike Mr. Nkonyaa, my dad fraternized with more Ewe people than with Akans. Heck, I’d eaten some cat meat which he and his Ewe friends had prepared against some bɛɛma nkwan and mfantse dɔkon a few times when I was growing up. And he now turns around to caution me against marrying an Ewe man? Hmm. I didn’t get satisfactory answers from him so I asked my mother who explained that they knew of several examples in his family where women had married Ewe men and been mistreated by the man’s family either while the man was alive or after he was dead. She added that the Ewe families they’d experienced always ended up bring an Ewe bride from the village even after the man had married someone from our family. Now I could see their concern and it started to make sense to me that my dad was giving me that advice, he this cat-eating, one-man-thousand-buying, ayigbe-kente-wearing man.

About a month ago, I asked a young man who is about my age and a fanti whether he too had been warned not to marry an Ewe girl. He said that he had and that he thinks his parents would not really be too receptive toward any other tribe but fanti. This is 2008, people. It is easy to say that our generation does necessarily think like our parents but we seek their approval our choice of life partners certainly is one of those things that we ideally would want our parents to approve of. I’ve asked other young people, people with parents far more educated than mine. PhDs, well travelled, big men, and sadly, many of them are telling their children the same. Speaking of which, Mr. Nkonyaa is a Chartered Accountant. The man go school but stiiiilll, ibi tribalistic to the core! To borrow the words of my good friend M.anifest, ibi colonialistic mental. This plenty school matter, ino shɛdaa dey boa us that much o.

Let me side-track a little. I’m starting to get into African architecture. I visited and spoke with one architect who seems incredibly knowledgeable about the topic. While I was soaking up all that he was telling me, it became clear to me that you cannot fully appreciate African architecture without knowing African history. So it should come as no surprise to you that I’ve been trying to learn more about Ghanaian history and especially about the way we were before the coming of the Europeans. There’s no way to learn that without learning about all of Africa, ancient empires, trade routes, even some anthropology. The architect showed me his books with great design ideas from all over Africa. It is really exciting stuff! There is so much out there that staying in Ghana alone is too limiting. I should learn more about the Niger crosses for example. So here was I thinking that we should intermarry more, cross some boundaries, date and marry people from Mali, Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Kenya etc, and make some beautiful mixed babies. But then I return from my dream only to realise that even within Ghana, our parents are telling us not to marry across tribes. Wey kind life dat?

How can we move forward when these are the conversations we’re having in our homes yet we provide academic suggestions for what Ghana can do to mitigate tribalism? Charle, we are the Ghana. Change yourself!

If you have any stories to add, please share. Also, if the story in your home is different, Anyɛmi (tr: friend), fire away and let's keep talking.

Ps: Interestingly fanti women are also known dɛ wɔhyɛ hɔn kunnom gya (give their husbands hell) especially in their old age. One guy I met recently was telling me how one fanti woman he knows is giving his friend (her husband) so tough a time that he's miserable in the marriage. Even my mother (who is wassa) says this about fanti women. Yet no one is stopping their sons from marrying fanti women. If you ask me, I'll say there are good people and bad people. All these are stereotypes that we need to let go of in order to move forward.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bus Trip from Aboso to Accra

*This is an account of a trip that I took from Aboso in the Western Region of Ghana to Accra in the summer of 2006. The entry was written in the bus, and I thought I'd post it here because it fits with the spirit of this blog. Enjoy!

I sat in the bus and made ready for a long journey*. The bus filled up slowly. All around me, other vans getting ready to begin their own journeys. Women were busy selling epitsi, ɛmo dokon, abodoo, ɔfam, nkatsekek etc. Like connecting dots, It hit me that it wasn’t that there were no desserts in Ghana; It was simply that our desserts had never made the transition from the small villages to the big cities. Some friends of mine in Accra had never enjoyed epitsi. The villagers did not have money to expand their baking businesses and so they sold these delicious filling treats only to those in their communities or who like me on this day were passing through. For a moment only, I imagined supermarkets filled with rows and rows of beautifully packaged and well marketed epitsi. I dreamed of a day when I would come home to dinner with epitsi in a box. I wondered what it was about the box that would make the epitsi better. Why wouldn’t I buy epitsi as it was now for my Accra born friends? I wasn’t quite sure that they would appreciate it in its current skin. I feared that they would judge it by its cover and I was afraid that the epitsi would not be given fighting chance. How could we talk about going green, and then not want to eat food from leaves?

When the van filled up, a fairly attractive man who I judged to be in his late twenties or early thirties stood up and articulated in flawless fanti, tarkwa fanti (which is closer to Takoradi fanti and slightly different from Cape-Coast fanti), "enuanom na adɔfo, wɔmma yentu hɛn ho nyhɛ ewuradze ne nsa". (tr:brothers and sisters, let us commit ourselves into the hands of God). I shut my eyes, a smile formed on my face. Some things never change. After the prayer, calm fell over me. Somehow I felt that even though the van seemed really old (the kind that every Ghanaian knows causes tetanus.lol) and I didn’t have much leg room, that it was going to be a pleasant and a safe journey. I was used to salesmen praying in vans at the start of journeys and then going on to sell their medicines which they often claimed could cure everything from common cold to diabetes. What I did not anticipate was that this man was going to serve us a fully cooked and digested sermon. After the first five minutes, I started to fidget. I wanted some quiet. I had even brought a book with me to read. All around, people seemed to be paying rapt attention. Why was no one else bothered by this? Had the driver even sought our consent before allowing this man to disturb our peace? I dared not speak up. I knew that when it came to matters of God, Ghanaians were fairly predictable. If I voiced any discontent with the present goings-on, I would be seen to be strange and I may even be branded as the devil. I seethed in silence. Finally, the preacher said something about how no one paid him to do the work of God, and since a brother had to eat, he was asking that people be generous and give him something. I knew it! This was a business. It made you wonder how much of the sermon was motivated by the expected monetary gain at the end of it, and how much was God- inspired. Perhaps if people were blessed by it then it didn’t matter? It appears my fellow travelers were very impressed by our preacher man. Needless to say, the hat, which he passed around did not return to him empty. One thing consoled me. Since he was done, at least we could enjoy some quiet for the rest of the journey. We had now reached Bonsa. Much of the journey still lay ahead. Alas I rejoiced too soon, for before this man got off at the next village, he introduced a salesman, selling medicines. Oh no! Now I was really pissed at the driver. How much was he making from all this? The salesman reeked of kalabule. He had the typical Ashanti flair for convincing people to buy things they did not need. He recounted stories of people who had been cured by his medicines and who had later contacted him for more. To win more favor, he even said that he never charged a price for his medicines and that he took whatever people thought the medicine was worth to them. He reminded me of a popular Ghanaian lotto advert that has aired on tv for many years in which they ask “Why is the lotto doctor not rich?” If his medicines were so great and so widely used, why wasn’t he rich? Why was he marketing to a few people on the bus? I feared for those who were going to upset their systems with this man’s concoctions. The van rocked from side to side, and my innards shook. I looked forward to being back in Accra. The journey was getting tiresome really quickly.

Soon we got to Mankoadze, and the smell of fish permeated our nostrils. We stopped briefly in Apam. What struck me about Apam was how small it was. I had grown up thinking that Apam and Winneba were towns. From what I was now seeing with my new grown up eyes, these were villages. As we passed one village, I saw a young boy selling a dead animal by the road. He was holding it by the tail, and I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about such matters to determine whether it was a rat or a mouse. Such sights were familiar to me and yet it suddenly seemed so strange. The road was good, that is, until we got past Gomoa Adam, when we had to divert to a dirt road because it was clear- though no sign announced it-that the road was under construction. The contruction was being done by a German company. There was a white contractor or engineer or some sort, wearing a yellow engineers hat, and there were the boys, toiling away in the sun. We traveled on. The road had now become bumpy and I struggled to keep up with my thoughts and writing. One sight gave me hope. Behind a run down school building, I saw a few barefooted boys playing football. They seemed to be having such a jolly good time. At first I was down-spirited when I noticed that they were playing ball with an eaten orange but my mood improved as I watched them enjoying themselves. The less educated of my readers who may be wondering how one can play ball with an eaten orange should be assured that this is possible. Ghanaians have a special way of preparing oranges to be eaten. They peel the green or orange rind of the orange with a sharp knife to reveal the white, smooth sub layer. Then they make a transverse section of the orange just about a centimeter from the top. The orange is the squeezed from the sides to expel the juice, spitting out whatever seeds may come with it. When the juice has been sucked dry, some people turn the orange inside out to reveal and eat its innards. Others give it up by throwing it away and some little boys play ball with this. Such a sight was comforting to me on so many levels. I think that while one part of my brain wished to see these boys playing real football on a lush green turf, another part of me found comfort in this familiar sight of my childhood and almost hoped that such things would remain so my children and their children could partake in such joy. These boys were happy, football or none. We got to an especially bad part of the road, and the rocking of the bus, and the shaking of my intestines, jolted me out of my reverie. We had gotten to another diversion and all I could do was to console myself with the thought that in the next year or two, these roads would be completed and travel from Aboso to Accra would be free of road trouble.

Monday, December 01, 2008

"Joint" Review , Funny Beggars, and Long-Winded Stories

Sunday November 30th was supposed to be a regular day, and it started out being so, but ended up filling me with a lot of hope. I considered going to church but opted out and decided to go to the gym instead. I am able to work out regularly because I adopted the thinking that working out is a long-term investment, so though I don’t see the resulting daily changes in my body, I believe they’re happening. Likewise if I don’t exercise, though the changes are not obvious initially, I’d better believe they’re occurring. When I decided against going to church, I thought that if I was as conscientious with my spiritual search as I am with my pursuit of the ultimate swim-suit bod, I’d have a religion by now. That thought left me horrified but at least I admitted to myself that I’ve been looking for a religion. There’s nothing worse than a person without a belief. At least if I were agnostic or atheist, I could claim to be something. As things stand, I’m just searching, though strongly leaning towards christianity. Even that piece of my identity was challenged this morning when I found out that my father had also embarked on a spiritual search when he was a young adult but had failed to complete it because my mother, strongly against it, had thrown out his Koran, Buddhist bells, and figurines of the Buddha. Typical! Now that I know that, even the spiritual search thing is losing its appeal. I feel that I'm not that special. Here was I thinking I was doing something original, trying to find out things for myself. And my dad basically told me (without knowing that I am on this search) that he's been there and tried to do that. I’m tempted to give it up, think kɔtɔ nwo anoma (tr: a crab does not give birth to a bird), try to get into Christianity and believe with all my might. I’m still waiting for my miracle, so I’ll leave that alone for now.

Allow me to go off on another tangent but after I went off and told a whole story about religion when that wasn’t even the subject of today’s blog entry, it struck me that that is exactly what my mom does. George Gopen, one of the two people (the other is Jim Henle, a math professor) who gave me what little formal training I have in writing says that context defines meaning. In a story, context is everything. If Dr. Gopen ever hears my mother tell a story, he might spout a different philosophy. See my mother is the queen of providing context. When she is telling a story, I always get tired of listening because in her attempt to provide context, she overdoes it and the end never ever satisfies. She keeps you waiting so long that by the time she delivers the whammy, I’m thinking, I had to wait this long to get this queer/chotch (Ghanaian pidgin for little) whammy? Anti-climax. hehee. I’ll give you an example. If she wants to say that the man is sick, she’ll start by saying, the man, whose wife sells nkontomire and whose mother is a hunchback, who, if I remember I met the last time I was home from the US, has the disease that Auntie Anyele’s cousin had last year which prevented him from marrying the girl he was in love with and so ended up marrying that good-for-nothing girl who looks like she bleaches...haha. Maybe I should develop a character based on this peculiar characteristic of my mom just because such a character would be so loveable.

To get to the gym, I used the Agyiringano road that links Ashale-Botwe to East Legon. My stomach started growling about five minutes into the journey but I was already too far gone to use the Madina route. That route would have allowed me to get kube on the IPS road, but I couldn't be bothered to go back so I kept moving. A few minutes later, I spotted the kooko joint on that road which my old friend Elikem had recommended highly the previous week. At the time that Elikem told me about that kooko and bofrot joint, I was not so keen on it because I was thinking of the nutritional value of hausa kooko and bofrot (I've given up on trying to figure out the English name of this one. puff loaves, panets?,). I thought of millet, water, sugar, butter, more sugar, flour, oil, and didn't think I'd ever eat it. But on Sunday, yesterday, I was hungry so I decided to live a little. I parked by the roadside, and was about to get out when the bofrot seller came to ask me how much I wanted to buy. I was quite tickled and even cracked a smile when he referred to me as Madam. The guy was working himself up to bring Madam bofrot. Good thing he didn't know that this madam is not a madam at all but a small girl danger. He brought me my breakfast of 80 pesewas. 3 balls of bofrot for 20 pesewas a piece, making a total of 60 pesewas and hausa kooko sweetened with sugar for 20 pesewas. By the way I also had a kofi brokeman lunch (roasted plantain with roasted groundnuts) for 1 cedi. I drove a little farther, parked again and sat to sip my kooko like children suck nipples from the tip of the plastic bag which held it, from time to time, biting my bofrot like you see in the picture of me from 2006. When I was once more on my way, I thought what a great idea it would be to have a “joint review” website or blog. I bought the hausa kooko from that joint because my friend had recommended it to me. Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone could create a blog which is aimed only at reviewing joints? I got more and more excited as I thought about it. The CPP is talking about bringing change we can feel in our pockets, but now this is something concrete that if it took off, would put money in the kooko seller’s pocket, enabling her to pay her children’s nursery school fees on time so that my mother can get money to cook so I can come home in the evening and chow. This is change we can create ourselves. Maybe a “joint review” site would encourage more people to go to joints. Here is an example of a review blog. Such a blog would also help us know which joints consistently give running tummies, so we can avoid those places. There are a few joints like Auntie Muni and Katawodieso which thrive by word of mouth but there are also joints like Fulera's waakye at Madina taxi rank and the one at my junction that need to be reviewed so that they'll get more business:) I’m tired of talking about great ideas that never take off, so I’m going to have to do this myself as I’m in doing-mode but if anyone wants to take this one up (meaning this will happen this month, preferably this week), then shoot me an email and let me know that you’ve started this so that I can cross it off my to-do list. You can also email me if you would like to be a contributing reviewer. The more the better because obviously I won’t be able to get lots of content on the blog unless we have many people chowing at joints and telling us their experience.

While I was still all excited about the thought of sampling joint food, I had gotten to the Airport intersection, the one close to Walfred Services, and the Airside Hotel. If you take tro-tro from the Shangri-la Hotel to 37, it is the stop before Opeibea House. The traffic light was red, so I stopped. Then I witnessed a fit, attractive young man (a beggar) in a wheelchair wheel up to a Toyota Prado. There was an older portly chinese-looking man in the car. As soon as our disabled guy saw the chinese man, he shouted “nii haw” “nii haw” “nii haw” repeatedly whilst laughing. The windows were up and the chinese man did not hear him or pay him any attention but the beggar's laugh was infectious and it was hilarious to see him making fun of the chinese man, so I started giggling. The light turned green and I sped off to the gym, while thinking that the beggar was a riot and that he seemed like someone I’d like to know. It was just refreshing to see a beggar with a sense of humor and who reminded me that we’re all just ordinary people. It filled me with sense of hope and feeling that right here is Paradise. Where else would you meet a beggar you'd want to hang with? I wish I didn’t keep getting advice to roll up my window and lock the door when in traffic. If I had, I would have missed the fun like the Chinese man did...but that is probably the safe thing to do.