Guest Post: Being a foreigner in a country that we want to call home

After my blog post on my 10 years in Ghana last week, I received numerous comments, ideas for celebrations (leaning towards a night at TeaBaa with friends) as well as congratulatory messages. Over the weekend, I also received a very special email as a response to my blog post from someone who understands my position extremely well, someone who is living a life with one foot in Canada and one in Ghana. I really enjoyed Rod McLaren‘s email and therefore asked him if I could share it with my readers on the blog. Luckily he said yes, here is his email.

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Good morning, Kajsa,

You just observed your ten year anniversary in Ghana – congratulations. You are one of those special individuals who have the perseverance and positive outlook on life that is required for the long haul. Good on you!

Several of your observations resonated with me and prompted me to write to you today. You and I have met only briefly, but I have followed your Facebook posts. I feel like we are connected because of the common experience of being a foreigner in a country that we want to call home.

When I moved to Ghana in 2001, I had already logged the equivalent of close to three years in the country if one took into account the two years that I taught in Half Assini 1971-73 plus the many visits over the ensuing 28 years, visits that were always a month or longer each time. In 2001, I was quite convinced that I would remain in Ghana until the end of my life, and that my ashes would become part of the red laterite soil of West Africa. Well, I didn’t quite make it. After 10 years, for reasons that have only in part to do with Ghana, I returned to Canada.

Rod McLaren with his son Akwasi.

Ghana can be very frustrating at times. I am not referring to the day-to-day life, which I thoroughly enjoyed or the “real” people (i.e. not bureaucrats), especially those in the villages, who for the most part live with enthusiasm and energy and joy. However, it can be tiring to be called obruni after a while, and especially so when that comes from someone behind a desk at Ghana Immigration Service who knows and has seen less of the country than I have and who was not even born when I learned to chop fufu. My biggest Ghanaian disappointment was not being granted citizenship, even though I applied as soon as I qualified, and followed up on the application repeatedly.

It is now six years since I returned to Canada. My return has been challenging in two ways. I have had to learn to adapt, and in some ways, this has been more difficult than the adaptations that the move to Ghana required. In the first place, Canada is not the same country that I left, due to the restructuring that had taken place at the hands of an extreme right wing government. It is not a kind country anymore – the focus is more on resource extraction regardless of the cost to citizens, Indigenous rights, and the environment.The restructuring continues under a different political party that puts on a pretty face but is still directed by the same neoliberal ideology as its predecessor.

There is another, more personal challenge, one that you mentioned in your post. Even though I am back in the country of my birth, I feel as though I am an outsider who sees Canada and the world through the eyes of my experience in Africa. It is not easy at times to find people who share a common point of view.

In spite of that, I am happy with my life. I am blessed to be living with a very generous woman. I have been able to pursue activities that are my passion. My health continues to be very good. My children and grandchildren are well. My past has blessed me with wonderful memories. Life is good.

And so I will close with my wishes for another ten wonderful years for you and your family. Carry on blogging.

Best wishes,

Rod McLaren

Guest Post: Why you should (not) read García Márquez

My dear friend Natalya Delgado Chegwin has in my view a very interesting take on the literary legacy of García Márquez, my favourite author who recently passed away. In her view, “I commend whoever has read his novels, but do not recommend them”.  I asked her to expand her (shocking!) argument for my blog. Enjoy her witty and insightful text below!

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I want to believe I have some authority to talk about Gabriel García Márquez: I am Colombian, just like he was; I come from the Caribbean coast, from Barranquilla, where he spent so many of his best years; he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, and I was born the next year; but mostly, I spent one year researching him and his work to compose my Bachelor thesis.

Thus, I have read García Márquez both as a scholar and as a “normal” person; that is like one who read literature to understand society as well as one who reads literature to jump into a new world. And the world that García Márquez presents is nothing short of magical – it is not for nothing that he is credited with the creation of magical realism. But instead of my diverging into whether or not he did, actually, create magical realism, let me jump into the true point of this post. You would expect for me, a Colombian literary scholar with some authority to talk about García Márquez, to be the most avid supporter of all of his writings. But I’m not.

I don’t think everyone should read García Márquez, especially not One Hundred Years of Solitude. The novel is not only incredibly long (spoiler alert: it spans 100 years!) but is plagued with hundreds of names (neither the use of the word “plague” nor the seeming hyperbole of the names is coincidental…). His last novel, Memoria de mis putas tristes (Memories of my melancholy whores), 2005, is an apparent apologetic to prostitution with a shorter time span and fewer characters, but not for that a better or worse read than his masterpiece.

I, too, fell in love with his Of love and other demons, considering the (his)story of Sierva Maria the best and most profoundly pure love story I had ever read. That was 15 years ago. I re-read the novel recently and noticed that what had once allured me no longer piqued my interest. You see, his novels are filled with stories that do not grow with you; they are not novels that are meant to be read more than once. Written beautifully, yes, with a masterful use of vocabulary, both colloquial and with a yesteryear flare, albeit stories that don’t change. So no, not everyone should stop what they’re doing to run to their nearest bookstore to purchase one of his novels. His novels are an acquired taste, and a difficult one to acquire. I commend whoever has read his novels, but do not recommend them.

Not the novels, at least.

Because his short stories, his journalistic reports and his essays are genius. Those are something everyone must read. You see, García Márquez was a journalist at heart, that was his dream. He just happened to discover that he was a good novelist, too, and when he won the Nobel Prize he kind of relinquished journalism for long and prosper career as a novelist. Do you want to know the real García Márquez? Read The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (1970), News of a Kidnapping (1996), Living to Tell the Tale (2002), Eyes of a Blue Dog (1947) or Big Mama’s Funeral (1962). The order is based on my favorites. The last two are two of his short story collections; Living to tell the tale is his autobiography, the brilliant tale of his amazing life, which one only enjoys more after having read most of his work. The first two, as their titles already hint, are journalistic reports, so cleverly narrated that you might just feel as if it were you surrounded by sharks or guerrilla. You see, García Márquez’s genius lies in the fact that he is able to completely spoil the climax of the story in the title, and you still are fascinated with the sequence of events.

In his Chronicle of a death foretold (1981), you will learn within the first three sentences that Santiago Nasar is shot in the morning by two Vicario Brothers. And in spite of having read this now, here, I promise I have not spoiled a thing. Therein lies his skill – you will want to continue reading.

So don’t jump on the bandwagon and try to tackle his impossible Buendía family tree. That is, unfortunately, not for everyone. Rather look through his titles and see which one interest you – I can guarantee you will fall in love. And then maybe, just maybe, you will want to know about Aureliano and the pig’s tail…

 

Text by Natalya Delgado Chegwin, illustration borrowed here.

Guest Post: When Will Ghana’s Middle Class Demonstrate?

Following the low turnout of a recent demonstration in Accra, I have invited writer Kweku Ortsin to share his views in a guest post.

It’s pretty obvious that by now political appointees in the ruling government and their families would be drinking champagne and laughing their lungs out over the failed attempt by the Truth and Accountability Forum (TAF) to mass up protest on the streets against the recent tariff increments. Some media reports suggest that while the police marshalled 250 personnel in an anticipation of a huge turnout, just about 25 people showed up for the demonstration. This is obviously laughable given what the “numbers game” mean for demonstrations in this country. But I was not surprised at the abysmal turn of events.

Let me share my personal experience with demonstrations in this country. Some years ago, I joined a demonstration organized by a political pressure group. There was a massive turn up of demonstrators running into thousands. It was very peaceful and it ended with a rally where speaker after speaker lambasted the then incumbent government. The crowd cheered and cheered with loud chants and applauds!After the rally however, something very interesting happened. On my way out of the grounds, I saw a group of people quarrelling and heckling each other. I was curious so I got closer. Then I heard one elderly woman complain bitterly in one of our local languages. I’ll paraphrase what she said:

“This demonstration is just a waste of my time. Since morning I’ve been walking and walking without even pure water. Where is the Koko they promised? Where is the Kenkey they promised? And now they want us to go home without any transportation money? This will never happen! That is why I don’t like this people. As for the other party (name of political party withheld) they pay us very well. Next time this people call me again I won’t come!”

I was shocked. It was at that point that it occurred to me that probably most of the demonstrators were all hired. Later on, I questioned one of the organizers whom I happened to know and he did not mince his words:

“My brother, demonstrations and rallies are very expensive to organize in this country. Whether you are in power or in opposition, if you don’t pay you won’t get the crowd!”

Since then I have been quite skeptical about mass demonstrations in this country. Let me cite another example to illustrate my skepticism. Soon after the declaration of the 2012 election results, some people gathered at Obra Spot, near the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, with the intention of re-enacting an Egyptian-styled Tahirir Square in Ghana. But, as most of us would recall, the protest did not last beyond three days.

Well, according to some of the protesters, they backed off when it became obvious to them that their party was not going to provide them with, “at least breakfast and supper.” They said they did not understand why they should sit in protest on empty stomach while their party bigwigs enjoyed with their families. So they dispersed not because they were unconvinced that their candidate had won, but because no one was ready to support them with “chop money”.

I have therefore no doubt in mind that the TAF demonstration failed because they probably did not have money to rent a crowd. It is sad but that is the harsh reality in our country. Our people have become so impoverished that they now have to be paid before they can realize the effects of poverty in their lives.

This is where I put the blame at the doorsteps of our middle class. It is obvious that they are the only people who can speak up or register their protests without looking forward to Koko or Kenkey or transportation money. But unfortunately, most of them are either overly partisan or they simply don’t care. That is the bane of this country! As a matter of fact, until the day our middle class rises up and demand good governance we shall continue to grope in underdevelopment.

This is a Guest Post. Kweku Ortsin is a Ghanaian writer who’s website currently is under construction, will post link here when it is up!

BlogCamp13: Content is King

Today, I am a guest blogger about my excitement about BlogCAmp13 over at the BlogCamp13 website. This year, the theme is “content is king”. A theme I love!

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In addition to musing about the theme, in the article, I gave 5 reasons to why you should attend BlogCamp13. Reason two and three are as follows:

2. To become a member of BloggingGhana. For 25 GHC/year, you get listed on our aggregator (a new one is under construction), invitations to our events and access to the most interesting network in Ghana. Our members rock!

3. Participate in the first ever Blog Awards in Ghana. To inspire content creation and showcase the excellent producers of local content, we have created an award. Nominate your favorite blog here!

Read the article in full here.

Guest Post: BloggingGhana in Zanzibar

Here is a guest post from my BloggingGhana colleague Nana Darkoa from the trip she took to Zanzibar on behalf of the group.

Three flights, two transfers and a 1-hour bus journey later, I arrived at Melia Hotel on the island of Zanzibar. My first view of Zanzibar was an aerial view from Precision Air. It was like looking at a picture of all those idyllic places I have only ever seen on postcards and what I imagined places like the Maldives, Tobago and yes, Zanzibar to look like.

The bus waiting to take us to the hotel was trotro-like but the hotel was like no destination any trotro would go to. Melia hotel sprawls across at least a 100 acres of fertile land, and is covered in lush vegetation, hibiscus flowers and various species of trees. This was the destination for a ‘Tech Camp’ for finalists of the African News Innovation Challenge (ANIC). I was there with Nehemiah Attigah to represent Blogging Ghana, a network of over 200 bloggers based in Ghana, of Ghanaian heritage or blogging about Ghana.

The very first night we arrived at Tech Camp, there was a networking event on a jetty, which overlooked the Indian Ocean. After downing 2 glasses of red wine, and indulging in canapés I participated in a speed networking event where I had to explain Blogging Ghana’s project to groups of up to 8 people. Then I had to repeat details of the project to the next group. I must have done this repetition to about 8 different groups. Justin Arenstein, ANIC’s Manager happened to be standing next to me the first couple of times I explained Blogging Ghana’s project, and I think it was in my second go round that I mentioned that Blogging Ghana had 200 members. “Ah, you should remember to mention that” he said, and so I did…throughout the Tech Camp, and this was a detail that seemed to impress people.

Training at the Tech Camp lasted for 3 days…the day of the speed networking on the agenda had been described as ‘day zero’ so depending on how you like to count, the tech camp was 3 or 4 days. Highlights for me included:

  • Learning about data visualisation – Blogging Ghana’s big idea is to build a data website which would provide data sourced from civil society organisations on one easy platform. It is our hope that this will become the go to site for members of the media wishing to write original content. This way, our journalism is driven by facts and figures sourced from Ghana (and, perhaps, in time the rest of the continent).
  • Learning about all the different technological innovations out there – mapping projects, innovative examples of citizen journalism and the various ways in which mobile applications are meeting multimedia platforms. For someone who loves technology yet is not a geek, it was wonderful to share the same learning space with geeks from all over the world.
  • Meeting developers and innovators from my home country Ghana. There were 4 project finalists from Ghana – ACT Now, Code for Ghana, Truth Gauge and Blogging Ghana. It felt good to know that innovation and entrepreneurship is alive amongst a sector of the youth in Ghana (*ahem* not counting myself amongst the youth in Ghana). The largest delegation came from South Africa, which perhaps was only to be expected. However, I was surprised that there was only 1 black South African amongst the South African tech finalists.

Tech Camp is over now and I’m writing this on a bumpy Fly540 flight from Zanzibar to Nairobi. From there I have a 7 and a half hour layover, before getting on a flight to Addis Ababa. My mind boggles at catching a flight to Addis before connecting to Accra but I know the organisers of Tech Camp had to fly about 80 people to Zanzibar on a budget. Once this trial of a journey is over, I am looking forward to submitting a final proposal to ANIC and hoping that Blogging Ghana gets the jump start it needs to encourage data-driven journalism in Ghana.

Thanks, Nana for your report and hope to have you safely back in Ghana soon!

Watch this space for updates on our proposal.

 

Guest Post by Kweku Ananse: How To Become an Employable PhD Graduate

Last week, Kwaku Ananse wrote a guest post about problematic supervisors. A main problem,he concluded is  misguided advice suggesting you focus only on your dissertation:

In our times, employers want graduates with experience, widely interpreted either as teaching, research experience as evident in a publication, or both.

This reality brings me to the issue of taking initiative outside the normal routines of the graduate program.

1.One is to visit the personal websites of other graduate students in other universities who are in the same discipline as you are.Know what these students are doing in terms of the conferences they attend, the types of publications they have (and the journals they have published in etc). Being on top of these things should alert you to what your competitors are up to.

2. Another thing outside the graduate comfort zone is to test your ideas by sending cold emails to perhaps established leading scholars in the field to give you feedback regarding your use of their analytical ideas (Here, I have to say I am hesitant with important but emerging scholars). You are not always guaranteed a response but you might be surprised how some of these scholars are interested to help young intellectuals with feedback and suggestions of recent literature. These people can be your pool of what Kajsa refers to as “informal supervisors” (see her post ‘Informal Supervisors: Surviving Ph.D‘) who can be both local (in other departments in your school as well as in your program) and as well as international.

3. One important thing to note in a graduate school is not to see yourself as incapable of publishing in leading journals in your field.

  • Read such journals and note what the leading debates are.
  • Examine such debates side by side your current research.
  • When you see a contribution that perhaps a facet of your research can make to such debates, ‘be bold’ (as they say in GH-politics) and write an article and send it out.

Several things can happen with such an approach: the paper might be rejected (and good reviewers will give you details as why the paper was rejected); paper accepted (but with some revision,either substantial or minor). Whatever the case, the plus side of taking such an initiative is that you have begun a process that is going to be part of your academic life.

This guest post is written by fellow graduate student Kwaku Ananse, one of my readers.

 

Guest Post by Kweku Ananse: Why Your PhD Supervisor is Not Reading Your Work

I am happy to introduce my first guest writer on this blog. This guest post is written by fellow graduate student Kwaku Ananse, one of my readers:

Just like most things in life, conventional wisdom posits that graduate school life is a linear process: you apply to the program of choice, you get accepted, you take and complete core and pertinent elective class classes, pass all those classes mostly with As (and Bs), and then you focus on completing your proposed thesis or dissertation. Even within the process of completing the thesis/dissertation, the accepted thinking posits that those committee members you select are the ones that eventually lead you to the finish line.

However, within my experience, being a ‘traditional graduate student’ who wants take the routine routes to complete a program should reassess such taken-for-taken ideas. One should realize that your supervisor most likely will not be the ‘ideal’ supervisor to deliver on the assumed responsibilities that he/she is supposed to provide.

There are many problems relating to why responsibilities are not fulfilled:

  1. Lack of time to read your work (but makes you to believe that all is well);
  2. Unwillingness/inability to provide you regular important feedback;
  3. Too many other ‘senior’ graduate students he/she might be attending to etc;
  4. The person reads,but doesn’t challenge you in your thinking/writing etc.
  5. Also committee members, understandably, will not like to step on a colleague’s toes (your supervisor’s) by seeming to provide research guidance that contradicts one’s supervisor’s (perhaps outmoded) suggestions.

Another reason to always be wary of the traditional route comes in the guise of ‘just complete your course work and dissertation advice’. Such advice doesn’t take cognizance of recent trends. Nowadays, having a transcript, a diploma/certificate and a dissertation under your armpit doesn’t cut it (unless of course, you already have a job security in a university/college).

In our times, employers want graduates with experience, widely interpreted either as teaching, research experience as evident in a publication, or both.

So, what should we do? Look out for Kwaku  Ananse’s next blogpost.