Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ghana vs Brazil

I dare you to ask a Ghanaian if that second goal was offside...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Ghana 2, USA 1

You know, after that last entry I honestly thought things couldn’t possibly get any crazier here.... And then yesterday Ghana beat the USA 2-1, making it the first and only African team to advance to the second round.

I’m not going to lie and say there weren’t tears welling in my eyes as the final whistle sounded and the broadcast became dubbed over by the theme song (which was, of course, mostly drowned out by the shouts and cheers of everyone around me). What a moment! Everyone is bouncing off the walls and has been since yesterday; it seems no-one has stopped smiling or laughing since the final whistle blew. This means so much for every Ghanaian and the hope this country has for its team is almost overwhelming.

I also got a shirt made from a local guy. Pretty cool, eh? I asked him to mimic the Black Stars’ uniforms and am really impressed with how it turned out… Stephen Appiah is the Ghanaian team captain and is an absolute workhorse out there in midfield. He also scored the winning goal today over the #5 ranked team in the world! So far the shirt has been overwhelmingly well received; and the shouts of “nansaalah!have been replaced with “Appiah! Appiah!!”—a welcome change. The shirt has had the added bonus of ensuring that I won’t hear from fans like the one I mentioned in the last entry, since everyone now is 100% sure what side I support.

Right now I’m writing this at our NGO’s office. The local cell-phone provider, ONETouch, has given everyone unlimited free calls until 12noon in celebration of the Black Stars’ victory. The result is that everyone in the office has been on the phone all morning calling everyone on their contact list. All the other EWB volunteers use another network called Areeba, though, so I don’t really have anyone else to call…. Meanwhile I just glanced down to see a stack of Daily Graphic newspapers from over the past week; 6 of the 7 papers’ front pages are exclusively about the Black Stars.

(I left the picture of the papers back home in Hain, so will add it next time I’m in a city.)

So after beating the #2 and #5 ranked teams in consecutive games, Ghana must play Brazil, the #1 ranked team in the world. Not exactly an easy schedule. You think everyone here would be worried that the odds are against them. But, yet again, everyone I’ve talked to is quick to point out that Ghana’s under 17 team has a winning record against Brazil over the past ten years. They say they usually are almost always able to control possession against Brazil and the deciding factor is usually whether or not the strikers can finish, which hasn’t been a problem as of late against the other top teams. Basically, most Ghanaians are more than confident that their team can handle Brazil.

Let’s just hope they’re right…

Monday, June 19, 2006

Ghana 2, Czech Republic 0

Saturday was World Cup magic for Ghana.

It seemed a pretty impossible situation, though you would never think so on the ground here in Ghana. After dropping their opening match 2-0 to Italy, the #48 ranked Ghana had to beat the #2 ranked Czech Republic to keep their World Cup hopes alive. Though most of the foreign media didn’t give Ghana much of a chance to win, everyone I talked to in Wa was completely convinced that Ghana would be fine. Their team shared this sense of confidence; the Ghanaian captain actually laughed at reporters who told him their chances were slim. Simply put, Ghana has a fantastic side and they know it.

The game was to start at 4pm. Earlier in the day I welcomed Ian, a fellow EWB volunteer, to the Upper West, as he had just been transferred to an NGO in Wa. Shortly after checking him into the hotel, we set off with one goal in mind—finding a good spot to watch the game. Most of Wa’s streets were emptied as everyone crowded around the few small TVs that were around in the outdoor bars. We checked our watches and realised that it was already a minute or two into the game, and so made our way towards a nice looking hut with a big crowd ….

We were still 10 meters away from our destination when suddenly the entire place exploded into celebrations; people were jumping over the few chairs and tables, hugging each other, dancing on or around anything in sight and screaming GOOOOAAALL!!! Ian and I exchanged an excited grin and went running into the madness high-fiving everyone we passed. Eventually the place finally calmed enough for us to see the replay on the 15” TV that everyone packed around. It was a beautiful play and the first World Cup goal in Ghana’s history. Despite the fact that it was a series of replays, the bar treated every showing as a new goal, exploding into a fresh set of cheers, chants, and celebrations each time they saw the ball go into the net. Ian and I just looked at each other and burst out laughing; it was shaping up to be a good afternoon!

As the game got back underway there was an overwhelming feeling of hope and excitement in the room. It was clear that we were in a football crazy crowd as every good pass or play was met with enthusiastic applause. The funniest element of the match to me was that everyone was so confident in the Ghanaian squad that they essentially assumed every shot on net was a goal, which led to a lot of excited confusion for Ian and I since the preemptive celebrators usually jumped up in front of the screen and we could never tell whether or not it was an actual goal (didn’t usually matter for the Ghanaians, they celebrated anyway).

Picture this exhilarating euphoria extended over 120 minutes and that’s basically how the rest of the game went….

I’ve always said that Canadians are generally obsessive about their hockey. And I think that’s true; we love it and can never get enough. But, frankly, the Ghanaian love for football makes us seem indifferent about our national obsession. The post-game celebrations of their 2-0 victory were unlike anything I’d ever seen; the streets of Wa were absolutely swarmed with people! Everyone who owned any type of motorized vehicle packed it full of their friends and went flying down the streets with the horns blaring. Ghana’s World Cup theme song—“Straight to the Top (Come on Black Stars, Ghana)”—could be heard blaring from every TV and stereo set in the city. Ian and I laughed and sang along with the music, high-fiving and hugging everyone we passed.

Most people were very quick to ask us where we were from and which team we supported; and they were even quicker to embrace us at our answers. I don’t even know what I could possibly compare the celebration and atmosphere to; I’m struggling to find any words that can convey the overwhelming sense of hope, pride, and sheer jubilation that pervaded the air. People we passed shouted to us that “now the world can see how well Ghana plays football!” It was a near-religious triumph for a country that absolutely breathes the sport but struggles to promote its wealth of talented athletes on the global market because of limited resources.

However, as we neared the hotel one particularly interesting Ghanaian enthusiast ran up to Ian shouting “We beat you people! We beat you!! We were shocked. As two people who were sporting bags with Canadian flags and were walking around screaming “Two-Nil!!”, “Go Ghana!” and cheering with everyone else, this absolutely floored us. But it also opened our eyes. This dark insight into the mentality of a former British slave colony changed our mood for the rest of the walk home as we began to see the true depths of the celebrations and what this victory really meant for Ghana and, likely, all of Africa. This was more than a simple sporting victory and it was more than a great underdog story. This was a symbolic triumph that is dear to the hearts of every Ghanaian. This was success despite harsh oppression; this was Ghana succeeding in a world where the odds are stacked against them.

I only hope that it’s a sign of things to come....

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A New Beginning

I haven’t been able to think of a ‘good’ update for quite some time. In fact, I’ve resorted to posting a couple random entries without much thought just to reassure myself that I’m not slacking and am still providing posts for people back home. But I think it’s time to be honest with myself.... The problem isn’t “writer’s block.” I have tons of things to write about and do so easily so long as I know I won’t paste those thoughts on this journal.

But why won't I paste my thoughts on this journal? This is, after all, supposed to be about my personal reactions and reflections to everything I’m seeing here. So why the obsession with trying to craft a blog in which every entry is a carefully constructed self-important message instead of just honestly explaining what’s going on?

Tons of things happen that are more than worth writing about, and I’m constantly fighting intense feelings of guilt, pity, joy, hope, and frustration. But for some reason I don’t write or post about this because I’m afraid of the ‘message’ that I’ll send home about Ghana. But you know what? It’s not my duty to adequately sum up the essence of an entire country in a few short entries to everyone back home. It is, however, my duty to be honest with myself and, subsequently, with the people who read my thoughts.

The fact is that I feel guilty. I feel guilty about being a rich white kid in an area where 80-90% of the people live on less than a dollar a day. I feel guilty about living a life full of possibilities and opportunities that people here will never have (and that I take for granted). I feel guilty for always telling myself that this placement and its hardships are only temporary. I feel guilty about spending most of my time like a tourist who’s having a summer of a lifetime touring through people’s poverty and writing self-aggrandizing entries about it.

I’ve taken this weekend off and have run away to Wa until I can feel in control of myself again. I was given a nice pep-talk last night from a personal hero and new-found friend; she went on a very interesting adventure of her own last summer and at one point in her travels wrote a list of realisations that I feel are only too relevant to my situation a year later:

  • Your first job in life is to be grateful for what you have, experience, and are.
  • You are free.
  • Many, many people love you.
  • Yes, you are a rich white kid.
  • Lucky you. Enjoy it.
  • There are many, many impoverished people who feel that their only chance at achieving significance is acquiring as much wealth and opportunity as you have.
  • Yes, you are a tourist.
  • Lucky you. Enjoy it.
  • Folks back home like the writin', or seem to.
  • Poof! A Reason for Being.
  • Your best bet at achieving significance with your life is being yourself.
  • It is not your job to be special.

This is the point where I am determined to start writing about what I want, when I want. This is the point where I decide not worry about people judging how I spend my time and if my desires make me a bad person. I need to admit to myself that it’s ok to run away to an internet café or to lock myself up in my room with a book if I feel like it. I need to be happy and I need to want to do what it is that I’m doing because, frankly, doing anything grudgingly won’t serve anyone.

It’s time to accept the fact that I’m on the journey of a lifetime that I’m privileged enough to afford. It’s time to stop trying to write from the point of view of a faultless, thoughtful development worker and to start writing as *me*. I may not always be fascinating and I may not always make a clear point—hell, sometimes I might sound like a complete emotional idiot who doesn’t know where he’s at. But you know what? That’s ok; it just gives me something to look back and improve on. Start here and move forwards; I'll figure it all out eventually.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Writer's block

Who knew you could get writer's block when almost every moment of every day contains experiences worth thinking and writing about? I’m overwhelmed with ‘having nothing to say.’

he problem is that the things that used to amaze me are now simply normal, everyday occurrences. Jenn Dysart, who is a long-term volunteer from UNB whose blog is here, said it best in EWB’s last e-newsletter:

“The run-away goat in the middle of the main street hardly warrants a second glance. The lady carrying a suitcase on her head, a baby on her back, her arms full of plastic bags and wearing no shoes is no longer a rare sighting. And children playing with toys made purely from old dirty milk cartons, bent wire, or empty bottles no longer evoke pity, but admiration at their ingenuity.”

I just went out and photographed a few random things around town. Here’s what I got:

I actually haven’t quite gotten used to this yet…. This particular herd of cows is pretty average by local standards, though they’ve actually all put on weight since I first arrived, thanks to the grass that came shortly after the rains. I’ve been told that by the end of the rainy season they will fill out to look like the cows we’re used to seeing back home in Canada.

Both Mike and I have tried many times to carry water or containers on our heads; the result has simply been a lot of spilled liquids and strained neck muscles. It’s not as easy as it looks!

There’s no paved roads around here, so dirt roads have become a common sight. The ground is a very intense red-brown not unlike the beaches in PEI.

That’s all for now.

I do have a random request, though. I'm out of the loop in terms of news, especially news from home. However, someone sent me this link (http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Politics/2006/06/06/1617548.html). Is this a joke? Can anyone send an email to brynferris@ewb.ca and explain how the heck this is even possible??

Monday, June 05, 2006


This weekend marked my first full month in Ghana and, for the first time since starting work, I took a couple of days off over the weekend to travel. As luck would have it, the Peace Corps was having a meeting at the same place a few EWB volunteers wanted to visit; and so Mike and I set off for Mole National Park.

A remarkable chunk of land in Northern Ghana, Mole National Park is located just outside of Damongo (where Kyle and Dan are placed). I’ve been told that it holds several hundred species of plants, animals, and birds and spans over 2600 square miles, making it the largest National Park in West Africa. The park itself is probably one of the closest approximations of a tourist trap that Ghana has, though with some good investment and advertising it could easily pull in at least ten times the revenue. That said, the “Mole Motel,” where all guests stay, was still slightly ridiculous to me after becoming accustomed to my living conditions in the Upper West. There was electricity (fans!!), running water, sinks, toilets, and even working showers. Across from our room was a bar which served a huge selection of drinks and had a menu that offered strange items such as “grilled chicken,” “hamburgers,” “omelets,” “French toast,” and “French fries”; each for what was, until now, the equivalent of a week’s spending in Hain (ie: 56 000 to 64 000 cedis = $7 or $8). The people in the park were almost all white; it was super weird to be around tourists after a month of roughing it as a volunteer; trying to fit into the culture. I remember being shocked at the things some of the ‘tourists’ would say to the guides, or what they get mad at them for (like snapping your fingers and pointing where to go, which may be rude back home but is totally normal here).

The place also had an in-ground swimming pool. I feel this deserves a paragraph in itself because it absolutely blew me away; I wasn’t quite sure what to make out of the fact that there was a giant pool of water for our convenience in a district where many people struggle to find enough clean water to drink each day….

Our trip to Mole was an adventure in itself; I could take hours to tell the story to anybody back home but I just summarise it to fellow volunteers in a simple phrase: “Ghanaian travel difficulties.” Needless to say, it was unnecessarily long; we finally arrived in Mole 5pm Saturday, about 34 hours after leaving our place outside Hain. Upon arriving we discovered that Mike had missed his meeting and that the other 7 EWB volunteers that had come arrived a long time ago and were off somewhere searching for elephants. I decided I was best off waiting for them (and my hamburger) in the morally questionable yet thoroughly enjoyable swimming pool.

Fast-forward to 7am the following morning. With everyone else having taken the 4am bus back to Tamale, Ben and I decided to set out on one of the morning safaris in hopes of seeing the elephants that had eluded everyone the day before. Fortunately for us, we weren’t 2 minutes into our hike when we spotted a group of ten of them of to the left at the top of a ridge. Cameras in hand, we excitedly followed them all the way down the cliffs to a small field, where, the guide explained, they usually wait for the rest of their herd to arrive. After a short while the elephants moved on to a nearby watering hole, where we watched them play and bathe for the better part of an hour. I took a series of pictures and videos of the elephants jumping into the water and on top of each other; unfortunately the videos are too large to upload here.

After we moved on from the watering hole we made our way past groups of baboons, warthogs, water bucks, and antelope-like animals whose name I forget. My favourite moment of the tour came when one of the other Canadians in our group pointed to a warthog and said “hey look, it’s Pumba! Where’s Timon?” The tour guide responded “yes, those are warthogs or ‘Pumbas’.” He then turned and mumbled something about not knowing what language ‘Pumba’ was… I had trouble containing myself when I realised that so many tourists had made Lion King references that he thought it was an actual name for warthog in some foreign language. Oh well, at least I know I’m not the only one who spent the entire weekend playing the Lion King soundtrack in their head….

After the tour we made a point of doing as little as possible for the rest of the day; resting by the poolside, looking out over the cliff at the endless land, and chatting away about our thoughts and experiences over our first month. It was really nice to see the other EWBers again; even in silence there’s an overwhelming feeling of mutual frustrations and understanding. One of the most subtly frustrating parts of the placement is that there’s never a complete level of understanding or communication when communicating with co-workers and community members. As a result, Ben and I stayed up far later than we should have sharing our thoughts with each other; excited by the fact that we knew we could be totally open and that other could identify with our thoughts. Though it resulted in us both being exhausted when we returned to our villages, the communication was very necessary for our sanity.

In retrospect, the whole weekend was far more beneficial than I could have imagined. Seeing everyone at Mole felt like seeing old high school friends after spending a couple years apart.

I can’t even imagine what it’ll feel like to see them at the end of the summer….

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Random thoughts and responses to comments

Apparently there were people that, for some reason, thought I looked like I was sweating a lot in one of my last sets of pictures. This actually made me laugh out loud:

My friends, this is 100% pure “it’s 40 degrees out and I just biked several kilometres to work while drinking several litres of water” sweat. Anything else pales in comparison.

On an equally random note, those who know me know that I have a very strong liking for random graffiti; websites like http://postsecret.com and www.picturesofwalls.com are something slightly more than obsessions for me. Well, as luck would have it, Ghana is absolutely chalk full of various sayings and messages; some of them brilliant, some of them not. No matter where you go it seems there’s always something written on the tro-tros or buildings. I’ve spent most of my time in the cities in awe, thoroughly amused and amazed by some of the things I saw. However, as I soon found out, most of the ‘graffiti’ writings that I was seeing were actually the names of shops; since the owners couldn’t afford any real signs they simply wrote the name on the outside of the building. The reason that I didn’t immediately understand that these were store names was because they were so deeply religious and odd.

Admittedly, I was told before coming to expect to find some pretty hilarious and religious names for stores and tro-tros; but nothing could have prepared me for what I’ve found so far:

Bryn's Favourites
“Satan dies naked here spot”
- “Cocaine rice”
- “The Lord he giveth salvation air conditioner ent.”
- “Fear woman”
- “Jesus is the owner metallurgy”
- “The world is not our home ent.”
- “The Lord blesses his faithful inc.”
- “As if but not”
- “Covered in the blood of Jesus electronics”
- “Sharp corner fast food on a sharp corner”
- “Cow ey get no tale”
- “(Just) Kill Me”
- “Quick action spot”
- “Psalm 16:23”

I am far too easily amused sometimes…