>Medal? Yes, Please But First A Good Pension!

> Recent debates over the costs for the National Awards that took place on July 3rd in Accra make me think of the campaign in my birth country long before I was born where social democrats fought for social benefits before medals to the affluent. It seems like that is still a battle that needs to be fought.

Apparently only the medals for this big gala with the theme “Branding Ghana for a Prosperous Future” cost more than 1,4 million USD. Of course that annoys people in a country with many, many problems that could be helped significantly by that same amount.

Not surprisingly, the sitting president defends the the gala and claims all the medals were “legitimate” and “constitutional”.

Its been a whole circus, starting when the opposition leader was nominated for a big medal and later turned down the honor. Others were happier saying that this exercise proved that Ghana was a real democracy. Then there were information that there had been no bidding for the medals, then that the contract, and thus cost, was given to provide medals not just for this year, but for the following two. However, the biggest discussion has been around the most expensive piece of gold, the “Grand Order of the Star and Eagles of Ghana” or the medal President Kufuor created for himself – as the newspapers write, he himself suggests it is an insignia which each new President will be given as he or she is sworn into office, to be worn on all formal national occasions and be given a replica when stepping down only if desired.

The president’s spokesman’s addition to the same discussion was not convincing:
“We hope no one is suggesting that the State Chain to compliment this sword should come in brass.”

– Ehrm, yes! Brass would have been wise and done more for the “Branding of Ghana” than the dusty ol’image now provided of an Africa with leaders in gold chains and big palaces oblivious to the strife outside the castle walls.

Pic of the discussed piece of gold, borrowed and slightly cropped from ghanaweb.com

>The Birth of A Good Health Policy

>Since July 1st of this year, maternal health care in Ghana is free. I have seen this fantastic policy being carried out in front of my own eyes since my husband’s niece gave birth to a beautiful baby boy on July 5th. She did not know about the new health care initiative and a few weeks before the birth she asked me for the 90 GHC (as much in USD) to be able to go to the hospital for the arrival of her baby. The alternative for her, as for so many other Ghanaian mothers-to-be, was giving birth at home.

Then the policy came into effect and in stead of providing the money, I was there to help out with acquiring the free care. Together we filled out numerous papers and forms, searched for a photographer take four (!) passport photos (the day of the checking out was a Sunday so the photographer had gone to church). The mother had to sign up in advance (she did so on the 3rd, two days prior to the birth). I believe that together all these things possibly can serve as red tape, making it too difficult to obtain the free policy. But if you do succeed, and this is very good news, all care and medicine related to the pregnancy is free. South Africa has the same policy since 1994 with very promising results.

According to one of Ghana’s main newspapers, this initative has already become a success in Ghana. Over the last two and a half weeks, over 50 000 expecting mothers have registered with the scheme which is funded in collaboration with the British Government (42 million pounds over 4 years).

Maternal mortality rate is a big problem in Ghana and with the spotlight given to it by the UN Millenium Development Goals (“Improve Maternal Health” is Goal No 5) finally, a big step has been taken to improve the situation for mothers in Ghana.

Update: I found a BBC web-discussion on how to stop the maternal deaths in Africa with some interesting insights from fellow Africans.

>Fashion Update: Nanna Nilson

>
What you see here is my favorite outfits on the Accra Fashion Week catwalk presented by Nanna Nilson (walking with one of the models in one of the pics). The last photo is from sneaking in backstage after the show. Some of the models had changed and the model in the coolest dress made from dried grass is posing in our midst.

>Me Tiri Ye

>
The heading means “I feel lucky” in Ghana’s biggest local language Twi. And that is just how I felt stumbling across Google Twi Kasa – Google in Twi!

I mean, it isn’t strange, its the first language of 40 percent of Ghanaians, which translates into some 10 million people. For some perspective that’s more people than the whole Swedish population!

In the official statistics Internet users in Ghana are still few, but on the street in Accra and other bigger cities there are many Internet cafes (most successful is this one), information technology courses are popular and social networking sites for Ghanaians keep springing up. Some hope Ghana will follow in India’s footsteps and become an IT-economy. Well, then this is a definite first step.

Pic generated with this site.

>Obruni News

>

Ghanaian TV3 aired this clip on a white (“Obruni”) public transport worker or “tro-tro mate”.

– An Amazing Thing, the smiling news anchor calls this young anthopologist’s new trade.

If not amazing, so at least a peek into Ghanaian everyday life on the road. It is interesting that when Swedish news anchors smiles about the first flower of spring and such for an ending to the reports, this is what makes it to the news here in Ghana.

So with greetings to the Swedish anthopologist who just left Ghana…

>Everyday life

>The wonderful, however non-exciting, everyday pace has reached me here in Ghana. Everyday, I kiss my bf goodbye in the morning, go to work, eat lunch with the same crowd, work a few more hours and then take a taxi home. At night we might do some visits, maybe go out to eat and then – it has of course already been dark for a while – it is time to go to sleep. I dream my vivid dreams (as always) and am awoken by the sun shining into our bedroom around 6 am.

But I mean, there are also stark differences in this “everyday life” compared to the “everyday lives” I have led before. For instance, before I never before saw the green tail of a gecko disappear into my wardrobe when opening my underwear drawer. I did not use to go for lunch to a “chop bar” where most of the customers order goat or snail soup. Nor for that matter meet a (living) goat family everyday on my way to lunch. I never used to celebrate when a supermarket opened in my town, now I do. (That was yesterday, and it just made my week to be able to have salad, hard bread and goat cheese for dinner). I never before used to come home to my own house. Complete with a man. Also, even if I feel I have gotten used to the way things look around here, I do sometimes remember to marvel that the soil is copper red, the nature deep green and whole trees can be covered in flowers, that people do actually carry suitcases (even backpacks) on their heads with ease, that men dress in big colorful prints and it looks good. And that every plant looks different from the Gotlandic nature I knew in my earlier life…

In the picture my favorite Ghanaian grass. Its every strand looks like a bouquet of Swedish “timotej” grass. And yes, I am aware that in my previous life I probably would not have mentioned “goat” three times in a short text like this one.

>Small world

>What are the chances? The current project I am working on is a pilot project for my organization on strengthening Ghana’s government structures to consider migration issues in relation to social and economic development, or as the experts say enhancing policy coherence. My job in all this is to be the assistant of a Ghanaian expert my organization has hired. We plan to bring stakeholders together and design both a short term and long term plan for how different governmental sectors and organizations could work together on migration and development.

Today our expert is in Brussels attending a round table session at the Global Forum on Migration and Development, a forum that is one of the outputs of the UN High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development back in 2005. He is presenting a paper on the Ghanaian situation as a case study for the discussion.

Anyhow, so I go to the website to check out the arrangements for the round table and I find that the SWEDISH GOVERNMENT is organizing this very discussion and that the SPEAKER is the migration and development expert from OECD’s Development Centre, Jeff Dayton Johnson, whom I have met on a number of occasions in Paris when I was interning with the OECD last year. So, right now some Swedes in suits and Jeff are sitting next to our Ghanaian expert discussing ways forward! How I wish I could be there, but at this point I guess I should be happy for coming so close on three angles…

>IKEA fluttering south?

> Just when I was starting to feel a bit sad I do not have access to IKEA when starting my home here in Ghana, I found this ad. Quality furniture!
Somehow, I however doubt that Swedish furniture magnat Mr Ingvar Kamprad would sidestep his successful concept of selling packaged products in big warehouses of his own. It just doesn’t seem like the Ingvar I know liaising with “Yellow Butterfly” when expanding his business into Africa.

>Looking for a house

>
The last week, I have been happliy exploring a new world – the real estate business. My bf and I would like to rent a house in our town, preferrably on the northern side close both to his job and to the motorway to Accra and my job. We would like to have at least three bedrooms (this is how you measure house size in Ghana, number of bedrooms)to accomodate 1. ourselves, 2. a couple of visitors, and 3.a relative that is to live with us and help out in the house alongside his studies which we would be paying for (Ghanaian CSN…). I would like a garden in which I’d grow papaya, banana(!) and maybe mint for Mojitos and he would like a safe spot to park. He would like a kitchen that is clean and a walk-in storeroom, I would like to be close to a main road so that I can catch a taxi and go to town myself.

When shopping for a house one is sadly apt to follow one’s feelings instead of one’s reason. I have seen all kinds of houses: small, huge, dirty, pink, non-completed, attatched, cute, dull, and even one with a tiny indoor pool! We have talked about preferences and budget. Still, what one remembers when trying to make an informed descision is how the light fell into that one livingroom, how that next-neighbor seemed so friendly, the idea of that I could do morning yoga on that rooftop (ok, lets for now disregard from that I am a late sleeper), the nice floor tiles in the master bedroom, and how a table on that verandah could be the perfect place to eat dinner.

Today, we have an appointment to see a house in community 11 (perfect location) with four bedrooms. I’ll keep you posted.

>Nostalgia

>
What is it I really miss from home? The climate, some of the foods, my friends and family and being able to walk down the street and not wanting to capture at least 3 things on camera. Yesterday, I went to the capital with my boyfriend. Apart from one evening in an Accra restaurant this was my first visit in the capital since I came. We shared a taxi there, which took no more than 30 minutes still we ended up in a different world. We found ourselves in the hip Osu district of Accra. A place where big cars and obrunis (white people) are as common as yellow-and-blue taxis and bibinis (black people) in all other corners of Ghana. At the popular spot “Osu Food Court” I had an opportunity to choose not only between goat soup and different types of yam, but also hamburgers, pizza, coffee and cake (!) and other western/American dishes.

So what did I choose to eat? After some two weeks of local specialities I have come to really appriciate like spicy soups and stews, fish and chicken, carbohydrats in sticky balls and fruits new to me I went with…Pepperoni Pizza. Why? I don’t even eat pizza all that often in Sweden. Later that day, I had the opportunity to discuss this phenomenon with a Swedish newfound friend. We agreed that even though we came to experience new things it is just too much novelties at the same time. The heat, the smells, the early mornings, the animals running about, the new sounds, the different ways of buying a fruit/taking a taxi/shaking hands and the fact that it is impossible to blend in…all this make us inclined to once in a while look for the well-known. Even if it is a sad Pepperoni Pizza.

In the picture new friends Annie and Johnny visiting in my mother-in-law’s house.

>On beauty

>
Coming to a new place, there are always things that stand out making you reevaluate your own home. Here in Ghana, there are many such things. Today, I will tell you about one.

Ghanaian women. They are really beautiful and they come in all sizes, I mean ALL sizes, there are the extremely thin ones, the medium sized, the short, the tall – but above all, the voluminous women. They are many, they are everywhere. It is clear they are viewed as very good looking. They sport their selves in nice curve-hugging outfits and do not seem at all self conscious about being too big. In music videos when girls come by the cool rappers’ house, yes, they are all plus sized.

This makes the think of my own country. How has it affected me to constantly be confronted with the message of “thin is beautiful”? In an article on Ghanaweb.com today, the story of how Ghanaian models wanting to make it abroad are turned down because of being “fat” was featured. Is this how we want it?

Since I came here, I have not once held my breath to look thinner. I have not stood on a scale. And I am telling you it feels good.

In the picture Akosia and her baby girl dressed in Swedish colors.