Thursday, May 28, 2009

Are Ghanaian Men Hypocrites?

Written by Nana Darkoa

I remember a number of years ago having a conversation with an older Ghanaian man and he said:

Ghanaian women are hypocritical; they remain virgins until they get married but when they get married they start to sleep around”.

Hmmm, that was news for me. All I had seen throughout my life was the reverse. I had seen (and still see) married men perpetually cheating on their wives, I had seen (and still see) men who have several girlfriends, heard about men who die and post mortem entire “new” families are discovered. I know people who have no idea how many children their fathers have and some who have lost count of the number of half brothers and half sisters that they have so I was frankly amazed that this man accused Ghanaian women of being hypocrites.

I have done a little (unscientific) poll amongst my friends/colleagues/acquaintances and it appears that about 90% of women have been cheated on by a boyfriend/husband/lover. I have a theory on why Ghanaian men cheat and it’s simply this:

There are no sanctions for men who cheat

Seriously! That really gets to me. What are the consequences for a woman who cheats on her husband/boyfriend/lover? Chances are he will leave her, her reputation will be in tatters and no one will be interested in hearing her side of the story.

What happens to men who cheat? Nothing! The women they have cheated on very often stay in the relationship and/or turn a blind eye to continued infidelities. The excuses that people (men and women) make for men who cheat is what really drives me up the wall, “Men will be Men”. Really? Of course, “Men will be Men” if we continue making statements like this. What one is really saying with that statement is that part of being a man is being a cheat. The implication is also that men are somehow genetically wired to cheat or are so physically weak that they cannot resist a woman they are sexually attracted to. Puh leeze! I would like to give men a lot more credit and say “Men cheat because they get away with it”

Let’s come back to the issue of Ghanaian women who play the field only after they are married. I was speaking to a friend today who originates from a neighbouring African country and according to her married women in her country are beginning to have affairs “…because after all the men do the same thing”. If we accept the hypothesis that “Ghanaian women play the field post marriage” could this be the reason why? Or do Ghanaian women cheat post marriage because they are given no opportunities to express/learn about their sexuality before they get married? Young men are encouraged to sow their wild oats whilst women are encouraged to keep their legs firmly closed. Actually who are those young men supposed to be sleeping with? It is usually girls who are perceived to be from the wrong side of the tracks or girls who are regarded as “loose”.

The real crux of the issue for me is the double standards around sexuality for women and men. However, I think the double standards have a negative impact on both women and men. Double standards around women’s sexuality prevent women from totally letting go in the bedroom (or wherever you choose to have sex). After all if you are as wild and freaky as you want to be the man starts to wonder “How many men has she slept with”, “This girl is a freak (and not in a positive sense)”.

What are your thoughts? Do Ghanaian women cheat once married? What can we do to get rid of these double standards? Any other thoughts?

Nana Darkoa

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Introducing My ‘Road Hypothesis’

In search of an alternative prediction of economic prospects, and its application to GH land
Written by

Imagine if after an hour’s drive through a principal city of any country, you could instantly conclude on the investment decision, invest or not invest. Assuming this no-go decision was based on your estimation of the country’s future prospects, then basically I am proposing that we can arrive at an informed decision regarding that by spending an hour on the roads of the city!

Now before I’m branded a fully fledged lunatic and shipped off to Pantang Hospital, let me explain the origins and grounds on which these wild seeds were sown.

There’s an oft invoked debate waged amongst economists regarding the comparative economic prospects of India and China. Though most conclude that China is undoubtedly the hare in this race, many believe that India’s democratic institutions would ensure that this tortoise crosses the finishing line first. The argument chain is simple, democracy leads to peace which leads to open markets, which promotes growth and reinforces the cycle. China, they say, is set for a crash given its lack of democratic outlets for civic expression, which will inevitably cause economic growth to lead to increasing civil unrest as the suppressed populace seeks to partake fully in the wealth creation. And thus goes the liberalist view of which I was a pupil.

A visit to New Delhi made complete nonsense of this theory. India’s future prospects are no brighter than a soot-covered kerosene lamp on a hazy harmattan night. The chaos I witnessed on the roads was enough to leave me yearning for the tranquility of Kaneshie market. Driving through the heart of Delhi proper, I was never able to discern how many lanes of traffic the roads were intended for. I imagine from atop the cars must have looked like a disorderly stream of ants, each opportunistically forcing their way through momentary openings in the army of them! As though 4-legged madness isn’t sufficient, there are the 3-legged ‘auto rickshaws’ strategically designed to be small enough to squeeze through some 4-legged stalemates yet large enough to ‘fit’ six persons! The lineage descends further into the 2-legged motor bikes and bicycles, who refuse to be outdone and at times command more than their fair share of road space. The situation on the roads isn’t fully captured by the word ‘chaotic’. Imagine amidst all the road cacophony, a mother sitting sideways on the back of a motor bike, holding on to nothing but her baby! One’s heart is literally popped out of socket as you sense you’re constantly on the brink of some very present road danger.

What makes Delhi even more special was the ubiquitous ‘Blow Horn (Please)’ inscriptions on the back of many commercial vehicles – as if drivers needed any more encouragement to add their quota to the saturated backdrop of horn blowing that prevails day and night! Fate made a fool of me when I thought my three and a half hour car journey from Delhi to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra was going to be a nice opportunity to sit back and enjoy the India countryside. Instead my driver, with his hands postured strategically for easy horn blowing, honked his way from start to finish, making nonsense of all the beautiful music on my ipod! And yes, I did politely ask him to try not to honk as much, to which he responded with a helpless up and down shrug of his shoulders and honked! Either something was lost in translation or more likely he meant to demonstrate to me he couldn’t stop honking!

I sat back and thought, not in a million years! No sustainable growth could possible thrive under such a degenerate state of entropy!

My mind constantly flashed back to the calm streets of Accra - why was nobody comparing GH to India. I dare say that GH’s economic prospects are brighter than India’s. For one, our trotro drivers though they may be creative in jumping one queue or the other, do stop at red lights (this btw, is optional in New Delhi based on one’s judgement). Our streets are walkable and not overcrowded, just look at all the street commerce weaving through vehicles. Road users respect the lanes and basic traffic signals 95% of the time. ‘Truck pushers’ and other innovative yet potentially troublesome forms of transportation do not dominate our streets. Horn blowing in Accra, compared to India’s, does not exist! This leads me to conclude that GH land is a country ready to embrace formalized institutions, whilst interlacing them with some creative traditional approaches.

For further validation of my theory, let’s journey to the Far East city state of Singapore. Road theory suggests nothing but systematic steady growth. Singapore’s roads are a model of road-heaven. Minimal horn blowing, steady flow of traffic, clean easy to discern signage, and a general sense on the roads that inhabitants are moving in unity, underpinned by a common understanding of shared goals as a nation.

Take the case of New York City – roads are nowhere near as disorderly as New Delhi or Lagos. But consider the unchecked speed of drivers on the highways and the grid streets! I am yet to come across anyone in New York who’s ever gotten a speeding ticket yet speed limits across the city are brazenly ignored! It is as though New Yorkers have been handed a laissez faire on the streets, as long as they are not killing anyone in the dark alleys. Is it a surprise then that New York is a key origin of this global crisis, wherein our greatly empowered Wall Street bankers pushed the regulation to the hilt and were allowed to do so as long as they weren’t causing any direct observable harm?

By this point I’m sure the thoroughbred economists amongst us are crying bloody murder over this hypothesis. Where are the measurable factors that we believe to be determinate to the investment decision? Where’s the regression model? The beauty of road theory is it isn’t based on much touted economic principles and models that have failed us time and time again in their predictive power. Road theory is an assessment of whether the basic human or psychological tools are in place on which progress can be jointly forged by the country’s citizens, arrived at by simply taking road users as a representative sample. It would be further validated by readers extending it to other cities around the world.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

If you think you’ve tried all the fun activities in Accra...

If you’re one of those people who’ve been in Accra so long or are so adventurous that you think you’ve tried everything, if you have the been there, done that, got a t-shirt attitude when it comes to Accra and what it has to offer, I have a question for you. Have you ever ridden an Okada in Accra? Yep, you heard right. Okada, not in Lagos, but Accra. I certainly hadn’t until this morning when I had a thrilling ride from Korle- Bu to Abelempe! Woohaaa!

For those who may not know, Okada is what Nigerians call the motor bikes which are used as a means for public transportation. Read the wikipedia definition here. It’s really like a cab on two wheels. It has only two seats: one for the biker, and the other for the passenger. I first encountered the okada during my trip to Nigeria last year. I remember thinking at the time what a great alternative to the cab that was but upon reading articles about how dangerous it was for people who don’t wear helment, in This Day, a Nigerian daily, I forgot all about it. Until two weeks ago.

A fortnight ago, I went to Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital for my routine annual physical and pap test. And what did I see on the main road in front of the hospital? A nice selection of okadas lined up and waiting for passengers. Yeah, for real! At that time, I made a mental note to maybe blog about it, but really, what had I to say except, oh did you know that we now have okadas in Ghana? So I abandoned that blog entry. But today when I went back to the hospital for the report on my medical test, I was tempted to take photographs of the riders. Then I had this crazy idea to hop on one. So I did!

Now I’ve ridden on a motorbike before. Way back in college, one of the guys from Hampshire College who was in my electronics lab class gave me a ride on his spiffy new bike. I don’t know much about bikes but it looked exactly like what one would expect a rich American college kid to own. That ride was fun. The roads were good. It was a real thrill and I even went away thinking it wouldn’t be bad to own a bike someday. But even with some biking experience –if it can be called that- I was a little wary about these older-looking bikes and harboured some doubts about the driver’s competence, but the driver handed me a helmet, I wore it, and made someone take a photograph (Thank God for camera phones) and I was ready for my adventure.

I need'nt have worried. We went through Industrial Area, through the neighbourhoods of Tesano, on to the Mallam- Lapaz highway and straight to Abelemkpe without a glitch. It was a comfortable ride. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that at certain times I felt I was inhaling the exhaust fumes from other cars. I asked the driver how long he’d been riding the okada and he said they’d been around for a year but only at the place where I’d seen them. The driver said I was a wonderful passenger, and that other passengers, especially women seem very scared and nervously clutch at him when they ride his bike. The compliment made me feel good. I sauntered into my workplace in high spirits.

All in all it was a great experience - I got to my destination faster than I would have in a cab, it cost me a little less (4 GHC), and it was mad fun! I had a wide grin on my face for the entire trip. Would I ride an okada again? Sure, why not? Should you ride one the next time you’re in the Korle-Bu area? Absolutely! There’s more to life than tro-tros, taxis, and air-conditioned luxury cars, I tell ya. A ride on an okada may be the next thing you need to check off on your list of 101 things to do in 2009. Go a little :)

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Best of Ghanaian Church Greetings

One of my colleagues at work, an Ewe man who speaks twi with a thick accent greeted me this week saying: “yɔnko dɔ” (tr: the love of friendship?). He said I was supposed to respond “biako yɛ” (tr: unity). The whole greeting and response thing made me laugh, but I laughed even harder when he mentioned that the greeting is for the Presbyterian Church close to his house. It reminded me of the Methodist church I used to attend. Their greeting was “Hail Savior” with the response “Prince of Peace”. In that church, the “hail savior” was badly butchered by the less schooled of the church members; It was not uncommon to hear “hey savior”. Then the women’s fellowship also had “Nyame edwuma na hwɛ” (tr: focus on the work of God), the response was “ ama wo dze akɔdo”(tr: for yours to prosper?). The Sunday school (children’s service) greeting was “good news” with the response “Christ died for you and me”.

Do you know if other African countries also have church greetings? I don’t remember hearing anything like that in American churches. Anyway I thought it would be interesting to do a blog entry that would discover /collect Ghanaian church greetings and responses. I’m sure you have some killer ones, and funny stories about how some people say those greetings.

Monday, May 04, 2009

A typical morning in Accra - a slice of life in Ghana

If you work on Wall Street, NY, NY., you probably take the subway to work. Every once in a while, something interesting might catch your attention. Same deal. If you work in Accra, but live in Ashale-Botwe, you probably take tro tro to work, as I did this morning. The only difference is you can have conversations in tro-tro. Conversations that can lift your mood and give you a spring in your step.

I left home this morning at about 7 pm. The clouds had gathered. Strong winds were blowing the red loose dust on Peace Be Street where I live into my eyes. Someone asked me if I wasn't going to take an umbrella. I chuckled. I don't own an umbrella :) I bought one for my mother but did not buy one for myself. It's not so strange. I mean I got to work in one piece, unsoaked. Who wants to carry an extra piece of luggage? Plus I was well prepared. Today I wore jeans, a shirt rolled at the sleeves and my red converse shoes to work. My hair is loced. No sweat. I could run if I needed to.

So when I got to my junction, I hopped onto the first tro-tro that was going to Madina. Charge? 25 pesewas. sweet! But by the time I got to Madina, it was raining heavily. Not the kind of drizzle people in London, Germany and the US call rain. I mean real tropical rain. The kind that can leave you soaked in under a minute. So i jumped off the bus and under the nearest shelter. I did not count but there could easily have been twenty other people huddled under the shelter...and talking. Someone said "ah nsuo yi tɔɔ ntem a, anka menko edwuma" (tr: *said regretfully* if it had rained earlier, i wouldn't have gone to work). We all laughed softly. Then two small kids decided to leave the shelter and brave the peltering rain. Maybe they needed to go so as not to be late for school. As they were leaving, one man said "oh nkɔlaa yi, future ministers paa o" (tr: these kids, who are future ministers). I thought that may well be true. Twenty years ago, I was that kid jumping over the brown puddles in Madina, and taking that tro-tro to school so I wouldn't be punished if I was late. Memories. Those kids may well become Ministers of State in the future. In some ways it is the beauty of life that you do not have to end where you begin...that there are ways to reach that "better life".

I smiled a little more broadly when two tro tros headed for Adenta came and one of the mates shouted:

adenta dentadentadenta down

and the second mate followed with:

adenta dadada down ...


I looked around me, trying to see if anyone else found this funny but it looks like i was the odd one amused by what is obviously a normal part of life on the streets of Accra.

Soon, a tro-tro came and i boarded it. Before I had sat down, one chubby woman also got on and wriggled her way past me onto the seat I had aimed for. She is lucky that she was older than me or I would have confronted her for an explanation on why she'd decided that only my seat would do for her. But she was older, and my Ghanaian upbringing made me keep mum. But surprised at how rudely she had taken what should have been my seat, I decided to shame her by taking the high road- I opted to go sit on the row behind instead of squeezing in by her side. She did not seem moved. It was a good thing I was wearing trousers, because I then had to jump over some seats before I could sit. Ah in the tro-tro.

The trotro lumbered on. I didn't notice when all the people got off, but by the time we got to Gulf House, close to Tetteh Quarshie Circle, there were only 4 of us in the car: The driver, the mate, one guy at the back and yours truly. The radio was tuned to Peace, Adom, or some other twi-speaking radio station. The news for the day was: Abranteɛ bia, ose wiase nyɛ ne dɛ biom. ɔbra eetwa ne mbaa nti ɔde ahoma asɛn ne kɔn (tr: a young man who no longer finds joy in life has hung himself). That's when the conversation began.

The guy at the back: na akɔlaa so deɛ ɔhaw ben a na wo wɔ a nti a wasɛn wo ho?
(tr: what problems could a child of 17 possibly have that would prompt him to hang himself?)

driver: ebi a, ɔakɔ nyem obaa bi na osuro ne a nawofo bɛyɛ no.
(tr: maybe he's impregnated a girl and is afraid of what his parents would do to him)

Mate: Ho, na sɛ wo nyem ɔbaa, wo ayɛ lucky. Wo nim esikafoɔ a ɔmo pɛ ba awo a, ɔmo nya? Anaa sister...?
(ho, he should count himself lucky if he has succeeded in impregnating a girl. Do you know how many rich people are trying to have children without success?)

Me: saa... ɛnyɛ nipa na obɛ wo?
(you're right. afterall, isn't it a human being that he will have?)

That was the first of many more commentaries and chats we had about what was on radio. By the time I got to work, I was in a fine mood and ready to be a productive citizen. Ah, the wonderful Ghanaian life!