Preparing for Ghana @ 50

On Tuesday March 6, 2007 Ghana celebrates 50 years of independence.

Not All are Celebrating
“This celebration, I do not own it.” I’m at one of the many US embassies around Accra. I get to know the guards at these places, seeing them from week to week, and at this particular embassy, they always take note on how I arrive. Am I walking, biking, taking the trotro, or taxi. Today I’ve arrived in the Patrol and they remember it from when we had it last fall. Our friends the Jernigans have left it with us again as they are overseas for a month attending a missionary conferences.

I’ve been asking the Ghanaians I have contact with about how they are going to celebrate Ghana’s 50th, and the embassy guards surprises me. “This celebration, I do not own it,” the youngest one says, and an elder guard echos it but adds, “not at all,” except said in the Ghanaian way which sounds more like “not at tall,” with the emphasis on the last word, tall. “The people are suffering, and the government, what does it do?” Much is said about how the 20 million dollars that this has been set aside to spend on the celebration, mainly asking “What have they done with it?” The feeling is that it has lined the pockets of the ruling party faithful, that and buying new cars to carry the foreign dignitaries around.

Accra has also been given a face lift, “they have sacked the sellers,” which means the huge numbers of market ladies hawking stuff in Accra central have been temporality rounded up, driven away, or arrested, giving the whole downtown a sort of eerie deserted feeling. Pride is high, with people dressing in Ghana@50 cloths, displaying the Ghana flag, and a general feeling of anticipation.

Besides being its Golden Jubilee, or 50th anniversary, this is also the first time Ghana has been stable enough to really pour itself into a celebration (both the 10th and 25th were proceeded the year before by a coup or revolution). In fact, in 1982, then dictator Flight Lieutenant JJ Rawlings canceled the 25 years anniversary after leading his second not so bloodless coup in as many years (1979 & 1981). Both times the leaders of the previous government were executed. When you think about it, this is the first time Ghana has had a living former president who stepped down after successfully serving his term of office. The big question has been will this former president and his not-in-power NDP attend any of the festivities. So far they have exhibited a rather sort grapes attitude, and today in the paper, we learn he has declined, saying “my conscience and my principal do not permit me.”

Some of this reminds me of America’s bicentennial back in 1976. I was in 10th grade and remember how that year was completely dominated by the celebrations, and I remember the feeling after we watched the fireworks over the statue of liberty on TV, of now what. I wonder what Ghana will feel next week. I was at the local American Airlines office, and I asked how the two Ghanaian ladies there would celebrate. I don’t know their names, so I call them Light and Dark, because of their skin color. Light isn’t so light, but Dark is so dark, her skin looks almost blue in the fluorescent lights of the office. I’ve been at to American several times this week trying to arrange our flight back to the states. It’s a bit of a racket, last June we bought round trip tickets, but the furthest out American lets you to book a return date is nine months, and so we set a temporary date, which happens to be March 6, Ghana’s 50th. To change the return date, American charges $200/ticket, so we’re going to have to pay an extra $1000 to fly home. I’m getting to know Light and Dark well, and so I ask Light about Tuesday’s celebrations. “She can’t celebrate,” Dark says speaking for her friend, “she is in mourning… her husband died three months ago.” “And she can’t either,” Light says about Dark, “her brother died… so we’re both in the same soup.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, putting on my best pastoral face, then ask, “what did you mean by ‘we’re both in the…’”
“Same soup,” Light says, “We’re both in the same soup, it means we’re both in the same situation, and so we can’t celebrate.”
“A-heh,” I say. “You Ghanaians have such funny ways of saying things,” and we all laugh. I keep trying to bargain Light down on the $200/ticket, but so far she has not reduced the price for me.

Load Shedding Suspended
Another way Ghana is celebrating the 50th is to suspend the “Load Shedding exercise,” of cutting off our power every fifth night. The have bought extra power from Nigeria and Ivory Coast, stockpiled water in Lake Volta, and are running some generators to supply extra power. Of course there is still light off every now and then, but at least for the next two weeks, it won’t be off for 12 hours or more. But something else has happened, we have a borrowed generator. The week after both Suzanne and blogged about more light off than on, one of our missionary friends, Michael Mozley, offered us the use of his old generator. As a missionary, he had asked his supporters to raise the funds to buy a plant, or really large whole-house generator, and they had, in a few days, raised the money to purchase one. It took us about a month to get it installed, seems that the previous tenants of this house had had a plant, but when they moved out, they (or someone else) pulled up the wiring. So Friday, Sammy the Electrician put the wiring back, installed a new throw switch, and installed the generator. That night, the second night of the no black-out period, it was light off. I had wondered if we were going to get to test the hook up before I paid the balance to Sammy, and so in the dark, Stephen the guard and I started it up, and there was light, and it was good, and our generators joined the chorus of other howling neighborhood generators, and I thought, “Oh, so this is how the other half live.”

Our friend Tatum (the fugitive) writes in her blog about having a foot in both worlds, and tonight as our generator is running, the lights are on, the fridge is working, and fans are blowing, (that and the Patrol is back in our driveway), I’m feeling a little less like we have feet in both worlds, or are in the same soup as many Ghanaians. I’m feeling privileged, and it worries me, because I don’t want that feeling to turn to entitlement. Its not a big generator, it won’t run an Air Con unit, or even a microwave, but it does keep the food from spoiling in the fridge, the lights on, and a few fans blowing on us, and that is enough. After an hour, the light comes back on, we can see it our neighbor’s house (who does not have a generator) and his lights come on. Stephen, makes the switch and turns off the generator. The really cool thing is an hour later, its light off again, and before I can react, Stephen has turned the whole thing on. I go out to supervise, and he says, “I know generators, its what security does, turn on generator.” Now I’m feeling even less in the same soup. Its one thing to have a generator, and another to have your security turn it on for you. Still it is really, really nice to have the fans, and not worry about the food, and it makes Momma happy and you know what they say.

Since we have been here many of the main roundabouts (or circles) have been covered by a rather unattractive wicker fence. Inside they have been preparing for the 50th, and these past few days around town, the walls have come down, and we can see their work. The funny thing is that the statues were covered by burlap bag, or lately, a Ghanaian flag, and it sort of gave them a kidnapped-hostage look, and now they are being set free. In Biblical times the year of Jubilee was also a time to set people from all debts. I’ve decided to follow that practice with our guards who each, at times, have borrowed between $25-$50, and have been slowly repaying it week by week. They, like the guards at the embassy make so little it is embarrassing to me (the guards came with the house). At the embassy, the eldest guard, roughly my age, makes ¢700,000 a month. I know, they showed me his pay stub, and asks, “how can I make it on this little?” He has four children, and has their school fees, along with rent, food and transportation, and can’t do it on roughly $70/month. “We are suffering,” they say to me, “and the government, it does not care, how can we celebrate… we have not money.” I want to give them what I have, but I know that is not what they are asking. They are asking that someone to listen, to witness their plight, and so I tell them I will write about it, and I vow to will do what I can for those who work for me (or at our residence). I ask if this is about they mean by a Ghanaian idiom, “Monkey day work, Baboon day chop,” except that I ask in an open ended question, “What is it that you say…, Monkey day work, ummm ”

“A-heh, Monkey day work, Baboon day chop, yes, yes” he says, but with such disgust that I wonder if I’ve made a mistake. It means those who have might have power, the monkey works all day, but the baboon, who is stronger, just eats (chop is a word for eat), and these guards feel like the money who has to work all day, and still it isn’t enough.

And so Ghana, as I have said so many times before, is a land of contrasts, a land of many soups, of which are not equal, nor shared.

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