Tuesday, February 09, 2016

2016: New Beginnings

Goodbye 2015. My 2015 started with so much hope and potential. This was after the absolutely smashing year that was 2014.
2014 was a never-ending roller-coaster of success and great surprises professionally. There was the book chapter followed by another book chapter. Earlier in 2014 I attended a wedding in Germany that allowed me to meet up with some of my girls from undergraduate. There we were - all reunited 1000s of miles from college. Truly good times. 

2014 progressed and there was the last minute invitation to give a talk in Copenhagen staying in a 5 star hotel (that was in Danish-Swedish drama The Bridge) to a room of about 500+ people. The Bridge is amazing by the way. The talk was a success and it was thrilling. 2014 continued on. There was an invitation to a conference in Nairobi, meeting up with my good friends from graduate school. There was another trip to Dublin for a conference and reuniting with my high school BFF and meeting her husband and adorable sons. 2014 could not get better. The pinnacle was surviving my PhD defence surrounded by friends and family. 

So it appeared that the only way was up for 2015. It started out well but things crashed and burned quite soon. Things did not work out as expected. The grant that I pinned my hopes on did not materialize and my beloved Ghana continued to derail.

Granted I got to travel to Beijing, intern in Washington DC and make a triumphant return to the city that still has my heart - New York City. There I was in New York City after almost a decade, feeling the warmth of the subway steam and hanging out with my girls again like we did in the 00s. 

It turned out that 2015 was the year of bitter reality checks and reflection. Then I made a major decision. I quit my job and left the institute I had been affiliated with since I left the US and relocated to Ghana all the way back in 2002. It was a hard decision and one that may cost me in the long run but it was something I had to do.

So now we are in 2016. I started the year treading into completely unfamiliar waters.  I have relocated back to the part of Africa I spent my first 18 years - Southern Africa. It feels like coming full circle. This is a quite unfamiliar Southern Africa though.

It has only been  a few weeks but I am starting to adjust to life in Northern Malawi. I am living 5 minutes from Lake Malawi and a glorious beach. The area is quite isolated and sometimes all I hear are chickens and dogs barking. There are the occasional monkeys in trees, cows passing by and of course goats eating grass. It is a great time for reflection and hopefully, a very productive time. It has been a big gamble and if it does not work out, at least I would have had an enriching experience. 

The end of the glorious drive to my new (rural) base

Saturday, September 26, 2015

One nation under Goats

A billy goat
Source: Ghana Ministry for Agriculture
Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that goats seem to feature quite a bit in our lives in Ghana? They are like the devil in that Rolling Stones' song Sympathy For the Devil - goats are everywhere! 
Not only does goat light soup feature prominently in menus across the country, but there are countless other instances that this popular animal makes meat un-related headlines.

Here are just a few examples that come to mind:

1. The goat serum HIV cure debacle of yore:
HIV virus attacking a human cell
Source: Science magazine
Back in the mid-00s, a huge storm brewed in Ghana over a supposed HIV cure derived from goat serum. An eminent local scientist was at the centre of the storm. There was hope, there were headlines, there were press conferences, there were accusations, there was anger and then there was nothing.  Sadly, the curative powers of goat serum were later put in doubt. This was not after an escalation in the sales of goat light soup at chop bars across the nation.

2. The curious case of presidential Dead Goat Syndrome:
Fast-forward a decade later to the "DGS" episode. Talk about an analogy gone awry. President Mahama, our esteemed Commander in Chief, attempted to use a metaphor (?) to describe his imperviousness to strikes and demonstrations across the nation. This analogy was made during an encounter with Ghanaians in Botswana:
"I have seen more demonstrations and strikes in my first two years. I don't think it can get worse. It is said that when you kill a goat and you frighten it with a knife, it doesn't fear the knife because it is dead already.
"I have a dead goat syndrome"
President John Dramani Mahama
Source: Ghana Daily Graphic Newspaper
Unfortunately for him, the result was a statement that was largely mis-understood. One unintended interpretation was that the president was setting himself up as a lame duck president with little concern or interest for his fellow Ghanaians. Clearly a case of goats lost in translation. 

3. A gentleman prefers goats...
Ghana is currently in the midst of startling revelations related to alleged massive corruption of judges and judicial services workers. 
This is all thanks to the intrepid reporter Anas Aremeyaw Anas and his fearless team of crusaders. They are like the much-needed heroes in Gotham City. The judicial scandal stories are damning, shocking and in some cases a tad bizarre. Apparently, all sorts of goodies were proffered to sway judges. These gifts ranged from money, yams, goats and even "a massage". Perhaps the most curious revelation was that one judge allegedly rejected the offer of a sheep in favour of [Ghana's most beloved animal] the humble goat. Do you blame him? We love our goats. 

4. The other goat judge before the new goat judge:
What is it about judges and goats? Even before the judicial scandal, there was another case involving a judge ordering a goat thief to be marched through the streets of Akyem Swedru for his crime. The supposed goat thief was also ordered to hang the stolen animal around his neck with a placard that said “I am a goat thief”. Unfortunately for the goat judge, the sentence was deemed a tad questionable and he was asked to proceed on leave while a judicial review delved into the case. Looks like someone went too far. 

Well, these are just a few examples. Hope you can see that we are a nation entranced by this humble animal. Sounds to me like much ado about goats. 

Got goat examples?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Back in the B.A.D: Some impressions

Greetings from the Beacon of African Democracy where the sun is shining and there is a cool breeze blowing. I have been busy telling anyone that would listen that the weather is much cooler than the sweltering heat I experienced in Washington DC and to a lesser extent in New York City just a few weeks ago. Things in the B.A.D seem to be progressing. We just experienced a 36 hour power outage and it is generally hard to work out what exactly the loadshedding schedule is as it all appears to be random.

I've been here for a few weeks now and here are some pictures of my impressions.

1. New structures, new views
View from the new Tetteh Quarshie Interchange footbridge. Seems that when it comes to infrastructure, Ghana and Accra are slowly progressing...Shame we can't eat roads, power our houses with them or drink them.

2. To bleach or not to bleach.....

Beautiful Africa with beautiful people with silky, sun-kissed skin that they are proud of. Well, billboards in Accra will tell you otherwise. On a little walk to Accra Mall, we spied billboards very close to each other advertising tantalizing skin lightening products. Interestingly, one advert uses the irony-soaked hashtag entitled #Loveyourself. Perhaps the irony is lost. Well, unless they are actually saying that us with dark skin cannot possibly love ourselves. Very sad.

3. Street names are upon us

Lovely to see that the Accra Metropolitan Assembly has finally rolled out street names. Only problem is that our street name is not the one we thought we had. Also, our street name does not tally with Google Maps. Does that matter?

4. Election Fever that came and went

The non-partisan partisan District Assembly Elections were upon us a few weeks ago. To be frank, I do not know the issues or candidates in my area. I did check out some nifty posters though. On election day, I was hit by the bitter realization that I was extremely old. This was after I ran into one of the [hanging out-sitting-on-the-curb-with-his-boys back in day] area boys. He wildly called to me from across the street to go and vote. The amazing thing was that he was one of the candidates running for a seat in the Accra Metropolitan Assembly. I guess no one knows the area like an area boy. Alas, I had to signal to him that I am am not on the new voter's register...Sigh.

Still on the elections, I found this intriguing flyer at home. It urged voters to vote for "a woman" in the election. I understand the spirit given that there are very few women represented in politics. I may be taking the intended message out of context but seeing it as it is, I am just wondering whether competence of every female candidate is assumed?

5. Of half-wits and idiots
Sadly, some people are still idiots. A few days after I arrived, some half-wit chained their bike to a tree outside our gate on our property. I left a note threatening to dispose the bike. They took the bike at the end of the day and tossed the note. I am now in possession of a needle to provide a slow, memorable bike puncture next time they decide to use our flower bed as a parking facility.  If this is your bike, be warned.