Thursday, January 31, 2013

The International Rugby Season beckons and i'm a Scot...and always will be.

I suppose my father gave me my love for the game.  He was a good player...physically he was nothing like me..he was probably 5'10" with broad shoulders..and he was a prop forward..front-row for those speaking a different language.

Although he was a Watsonian, he played for Broughton Former Pupils. He was described as being a stalwart of the club as a player, referee, committee member..and i imagine that is what he was...a stalwart. It has always been a good word to describe him, i think.  He played and refereed well into his 40's ...and when he met my mother, he promptly turned her into a Broughton FP tea girl..and i'm sure that she was a stalwart at that!!

I know that they were both huge supporters of the Scottish rugby team ..and in (much) later years i loved poking through the programs that he kept from international matches..home and away. He had programs form before the start of World War II ..and so i learned about players like Wilson Shaw

My father's connections meant that he acted as one of a fairly large number of stewards at Murrayfield, then and still, where Scotland plays all its home international rugby matches, and when i and my brother, David, were old enough, my Dad would get us into the schoolboys' enclosure..which is that set if seats (benches?) that are closest to the playing field fact they are on the grass!

i have vague memories of some early games ..but whether these are real memories or planed ones, i don't really know.
I think i remember seeing the Scots get hammered by the Springboks..48-0?  during a very bad run of results.

I remember Royal High School games..PP's and FP's better.  We (i'll include myself tho not by rugby-playing prowess) had some great, great teams..especially the PP's...ouf ..remember ToTo Blake, Dode Farlowe, Gavin Lockhart, Pringle Fisher, Arthur Orr, even Francis WWW Dick..who was..quick!

Other international games i can remember wrt players but i don't remember the dates. I remember players like Peter Jackson of England, Cliff Morgan of Wales, Jackie Kyle of Ireland ..and Scots..well i remember Jimmie Nichol, a High School FP, who played scrum-half ..and i think i remember him stealing a try off a Cliff Morgan mistake. But also Arthur Smith, Ken Scotland.
I do remember a huge 0-0 tie with the All Blacks who had Don Clarke and 14 other assorted behemoths..when was that..mid-50's?
Later, i remember Laughland and Shackleton...hmmm, not always fondly..and players like Alec Hastie, Hugh McLoud, David Chisholm..all Borderers.  I probably went to every home international for 17-18 years until I left Scotland to move to London as a computer programmer in 1964......a what???? when??  how???....maybe even why????
By that time, JPFisher (Pringle Fisher) was a solid member of the team that he went on to captain. He was in the Army Medical Corps and played club rugby for London Scottish which in those days supplied almost half the Scottish team..and were very entertaining to watch.
On this the 30th anniversary of Scotland's last win against the Auld Enemy (England, of course), i am reminded that i was at Twickenham in ..could it be 1963  (or was it 64) ..for one of the most famous games against England.  We'd driven down, in the mist and sleet and snow and rain on the Friday night, and it rained all day,  Scotland led for most of the game..could it have been and Alec Hastie try ..or David Chisholm until, unfolding in slow motion, Andy Hancock ran 80+ yards in the mud and Pringle Fisher's desperate dive couldn't stop him.  I think that we were across the pitch from the start of his run..and we were at the 25 (as it was then ). I can still see his was as if it was in slow-motion.  The game finished tied 3-3.  It was a terribly sad ride back to Scotland that weekend. after i moved to London (64-68) i probably became a TV viewer of international matches.

Then..on the road..a year in Spain..not much to watch there..tho i did take my dad to Bernabeu to watch Real Madrid v Athletico Madrid when my parents came to visit.

then the US..Atlanta, Georgia..then New York.  In these pre-internet days you couldn't even get the results never mind see the games!   Cross-country assignments and it was only back in New York in the   mid 70's that i finally caught up with 5 Nations rugby (pre-Italy).
There were a lot of rugby-loving ex-pats in Manhattan and tapes would eventually arrive..usually Monday or Tuesday of the weekend's games and be shown in the (likely) Irish bars in the 40's thru 80's on the East Side..Drake's Drum, and a couple of places in the 40's.
Then more dry years for rugby as i  laboured in the Mid-West until i returned to NY in '87.  Then it got interesting.  First it was ...waiting in an Irish bar until after midnight on the Saturday for the arrival of a motor-bike courier from Kennedy airport with tapes of the day's games..taped in Dublin and carried, i swear, by an Aer Lingus stewardess to NY on some crazy flight.  I can be excused if i don't remember too many of the details of these games..tho an Eric Peters try comes to mind.
It worked out that in my second NY stint, i spent a lot of time in London on a project and so did actually get to see games.  The company i was with then, Telerate, a financial information company..US Treasury prices, etc..had a box at Twickers!!!  and it was Rugby World Cup time too!!  

But, unquestionably, the highlight of my NY-London time was that i was back in Edinburgh to visit family..and was at Murrayfield for David Sole-Gavin Hastings-Craig Chalmers-John Jeffries-Finlay Calder-Tony Stanger!!

..but there is also Gavin Hasting's sublime inside pass to Sean Lineen in Paris

By then, fortunately, international rugby via satellite had become a big deal..even back in New York.  It was a special deal and it posed its own problems!  Hmmm..the games will be shown starting at 0800 on Saturday morning in your favourite Irish bar where the food is as bad as the beer is good.  and two games later/4 hours stagger out into the daylight..and .well, you can imagine the rest!!

Scotland had good years and bad years...hmmmm

They had a great tour of New Zealand..Grant Fox v Gavin Hastings

After NY..San Francisco and Silicon Valley but that made time differences even more surreal.
Again, of course, it was only in an Irish bar...the Sunset District...that i could regularly watch there..but given the time differences..and the bar..i could never tell whether the games were live or not..and given the locale, it didn't seem to make as much difference!  BTW San Fran has the only Scottish bar that this world wanderer has ever found.  And it's's the Edinburgh Castle on Geary..but it has a performance space where 'Trainspotting' was first read..and where on a drunken promotional tour of the    US by various Scottish writers, i got to meet my long-lost cuz, James Kelman, prior to his sojourn as writer-in-residence at the University of Texas.  

Sometime later...through the fog. i found myself ..trying to find myself actually after sickening of all the greed in the software many stock options are you going to grant me to come work with you????  and i will need more to stay in 3 months!   i found myself out of that 'profession' and in Italy...hmmm do i remember why..yea has to do with a life-long love of Latin and Mr Gobel (sp?) 's classes...amo, amas, anat..etc.  Anyway, Rome is a good place to catch up on rugby..and football... now.  My place ..probably known to many, was the Abbey Tavern, just beside the Piazza Navonna..and i spend many weekends there..i think.
And i go to watch Scotland v Italy in that great little stadium on the Via Flaminia.  2002-2004 and then again in 2006.  Very hard work!!

i did get to see Mike Blair make his Six Nations debut and i was sitting beside his dad and mum!  We lost..all these italian losses...NEVER EVER could figure out how or why!  Although i could never forgive Dan Parks for the last one.  But the matches were fun.

Then 2005, i watched the draw in a a bar in Vermont!!!

Then Peace current 'profession'...and 27 months in Romania.  I actually did get to watch a B game in Bucharest.. Maybe there were six other Scottish supporters.  TV games..not ever..but at least we had internet so i could 'follow' the games through the BBC website..though they always had 10 times as much to 'say' about English games than Scottish games

Back to the US to build a house and hang out in Napoli with an NGO..hey..back up to Rome to watch rugby..Napoli definitely doesn't do rugby!

And then off to Ghana in June 2010 for another 27 months..extended for another 12..with Peace Corps (i'm an American now, you know....not!).  Ghana is mad for football..Premier League and Messi and Ronaldo. and so they have even in fairly rural areas..sports bars that show football (dmm..they're not really sports bars in that they don't serve food or alcohol..but they show the games...for 55 cents admission!
But there are ex-pats here and so there is rugby!!  All the ex-pats, driving around in SUV's etc live in Accra..and i live in...rural Ghana ...but i can get to Accra..And WILL on Saturday watch rugby.

John Beattie notes that it is 30 years since the last victory at Twickenham.  Who knows.  I liked Andy Robinson ...but i'm beginning to think that he didn't inspire the team..and Frank H certainly didn't. Maybe Scott Johnson will.

So spare a thought for this lost Scot forever hoping, praying. I'm glad that it is a flat world..and that i can still get to watch Scotland play..just as I did 60+ years ago!  Game is a bit different now though!


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Slaughter of the Innocents In Connecticut

i am really having a hard time dealing with what happened in Connecticut yesterday.  Not so much that a strange, perverted young person would think that this is the right answer to his problems ..because weirdness comes too easily..but it strikes so close to home. Perhaps, now that i spend so much time and invest so much emotionally in teaching, or perhaps as a grandfather i can feel the almost unendurable agonies of the families of these so-young children who were slaughtered at school.  I simply can not imagine the torment.

But also, it's the unavoidable fact that this happens, with more and more frequency, i might add, over and over again..although arguably this is the worst..20 children..none aged more then 10!!!! simply horrifying.  I can not imagine the mental screw-up that pumps 100 bullets into children.

And it does happen more and people have more and more disposable income, as guns get more and more powerful.  Someone wrote that it is easier to buy a gun than a pet!!
These guns have only one purpose..that is what gets me...they are not for hunting..or even, for self-protection. They are designed and manufactured and MARKETED on their capabilities to kill and maim as many PEOPLE as possible in a very short other words they are madmen's weapons!

I'm not 100% sure that i've ever been in a gun shop..but i think possibly yes, in Texas, or New Mexico..hah!   where else would it be!  But guns are so easily and CHEAPLY available

will this ever stop?  not in my lifetime.       But i hope this President, for whom i've voted and campaigned twice, has the guts to go after the gun lobby but....i doubt it

The USA..the Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave...the richest (and terms of natural resources, size, etc) country in the world, the leader of the free world, the #1 SuperPower....and yet its gun-control laws..or more correctly, it's gun-lack of control laws ..make this kind of carnage, oh so easy, oh so frequent. Oh so forgettable..will we remember Newtown, Connecticut in 6 months time? Or when it is repeated in some other place.

The USA is such a mystery to me..despite the fact that i have lived (here) (mostly) for the last 43 years..and i am a US citizen.

It seems to have such a frontier, rugged individual mentality and ..yes, respect for violence. Old movies...Gunfight at the OK Corral, High Noon..later ones..Rambo, Terminator..then the Godfather or Reservoir Dogs.  But that's bullshit..this is an immigrant nation...most families don't go back more than 2-3 generations.

Is it an intellectual problem or an identity problem?

ah, now we come to the hard part...I'm a dual citizen, the UK and the US.

And the UK and the US have a special relationship...a common language, many common traditions, a genuine closeness.

But it is impossible to compare attitudes towards guns and gun-owning and gun-using in the US and the UK.   There is a huge difference.  Yes this happened 10-15 years ago in Dunblane...but legislation tightened and it hasn't happened since.

So if we're cousins across the ocean why are we so different when it comes to guns?

Random thoughts...

The US truly is a mongrel nation and the Founding Fathers arrived/settled/came to prominence when the land/country was mostly unexplored, untamed land (duh...belonging to the North American Indians)

The Founding Fathers were predominantly English...with their own reasons for settling in the Americas.

The country is new, compared to many/most at about 250 years and counting.

 99% of Americans  are of immigrant it 1, 2, 3, 4. 5, 6 generations old now.    At the time of the American Revolution ..some 250 years ago..the colonies occupied probably about 1/20th of the present USA..and almost everyone who would call themselves Americans were English/British.  The population of the United States of America in 1764 was probably less than one million..i'm too lazy or angry to check  (current is > 300M)...ouf, probably a lot less than 1 million!!

The USA has been populated since then by invited immigrant waves from Europe, Asia..and oops, you're in West Africa, richard ...from West Africa as slaves...and then Europe again, and again..those damn Irish!!

And then 150 years ago..the USA invented modern trench warfare and prisoner of camps..but came back together again as a Federation and abolished slavery....bit late on that weren't we??

the common language misdirects ...the common tradition misguides.

It is inconceivable that what happened in Newtown, CT could happen in the UK ...............or France or Canada or Japan and yet it will happen again here..and over and over again.

Why..for me, it is simply that we will not face up to the truth..that the blood of Newtown is on all lawmakers...and on all our hands for not getting our elected representatives to outlaw owning people-killing weapons.
This American flaw is real, addressable ..and without addressing, a terrible and growing stain on the the American definition/national identity.

Please let's change it.


Friday, November 23, 2012

It's been a long, long time..and a tough road in some places it is end-November, post-Thanksgiving (..and T'giving is every adult's favourite family holiday, isn't it?)

and despite the prediction of the last post..many, many moons ago..that i would not renew, I did and now i am 2 and a bit (less than 3 months) into my third year in rural Ghana....AND I'M WONDERING NOW IF THAT WAS THE RIGHT DECISION!!!!

Oh, It's Thanksgiving and i miss my family..and i had a bad spashdown yesterday in Accra when out running..asphalt, granite chips..and my six-point landing..heels of palms, elbows, knees...which i can still see in my mind's eye..really seems to have jolted my body..and gashed my knee, still bleeding 36 hours later..and bounced my psyche. What am i doing here? What is it that keeps me here?

Am I stubborn or driven or committed or stupid..?  or addled, deluded..and my knee hurts like hell..from my ungraceful landing yesterday.

All of the above?

I like what i the JHS school and i do recognise that i am making a difference in a number of children's lives...half the children in the school now are library book borrowers..some borrow 2-3 times a week.  I've met the goal of making the Library a more important place, a more useful place in the life of the school and the students.  But this is despite the fact that the school must be termed dysfunctional...a school that does not meet its goals to educate and support the student population. A school that doesn't even seem to recognise that such are its goals!  Too many of the teaching staff seem to think that that school exists for them to operate their power plays, their plots, their own agendas.  Students seem to be the last thing on the minds of most of the teaching staff.  They routinely beat the students, they routinely send them off on their personal errands, they routinely don't bother to show up!   The only clock in the school ..that the officially-appointed end-of-period bellringer goes by... was 12 minutes fast for a whole day..and nobody (but me..) noticed..and nobody cared!!!

It is depressing, frustrating (including/not including the theft of  our/my DVD player and all the HP, Indiana Jones, Star Wars DVD's that i brought from  the US) and sad.
But if i keep telling myself that ANYTHING that i can do to help the children is a good use of my time and my life, it should be OK to continue, right?

Maybe not?

What effect does this time here have on me...physically, emotionally, intellectually..socially/personally (whatever that means!).  Hmmm..not so good and there is a cumulative negative effect over time.  AND 2 1/2 years is a LONG  time to spend in rural Ghana.

I'm skinnier, lost a lot of muscle, I've learned to be more patient and to handle alone-ness better and i have no doubts about what i've done..BUT i feel tired and fed-up now.

It is impossible to be truly successful here. It is impossible for me to be truly successful here. No matter how one defines it for a volunteer. And maybe more so for an unaligned volunteer (ex-PCV) like me.

What would be success, though?  Impossible to define but wouldn't it have to be something more than just helping some children.  And is there an 'enough' factor in this?  Have i helped enough with enough children?  I suppose that i could reasonably say that I have left my mark with the libraries (all of them) and they will endure...mostly.  Isn't that enough?  Why did i come back?  Because i didn't think i had done enough?  If so, have i now done enough?

I find it hard here.

It's a cultural thing ..a collision of unknown and different cultures.

No matter how hard i try..and i do's a thoroughly different and for me, impenetrable culture here. I'm always on the outside looking in.  Oh i learn things about the culture almost every day but learning about and understanding are two different things.

But what does that mean?  It means that where i am, in rural Ghana,  i'm the complete outsider, the yevu, the odd-looking ostrich, and that no matter how friendly i am, and how friendly they are, we are so different, we're of such different worlds and we communicate so poorly that it is almost impossible to have an interesting and substantive conversation here with depth... and that even ignoring the fact that it often seems impossible to spend any length of time talking to someone here without constant time-outs for phone-calls and messages!    Of course, maybe that's the way the whole social media thing has taken over in the US now? Or the UK?

But that's very difficult and suffocating for me.......i like to converse, to debate, to argue even and i'm certainly interested in and involved in the outside/the whole world.  I have lots of interests in things outside my life in Srogboe.  And i'm slowly dying from lack of good conversations!

And to the extent that it is impossible to have good conversations ...i find myself diminished.
Other times, places when i've travelled i have been with, met lots of people of whom the meeting enhanced my life...getting stoned with a French arbitrage guy who lived in Switzerland and whom i met  at a caravanserai in Urumqui (western china) or a French guy, a professional clown?, who was researching routines in Kyrgyzstan..or some/a few PCV's along the way, my friends in Italy, people i've sat beside on planes........or the people that i met and was 'traveling with' in London for the Olympics.  Even meeting Brian A in Edmonton!

Here..nothing.........I've been divorced from fellow-PCV's for my entire service this neglected corner of Ghana..
It seems impossible for me to have a real friendship here.   But why? Because i'm a yevu, i don't speak the language, etc.   Nope..its that our interests, backgrounds, experiences, hopes and dreams, and priorities are completely different.
And this comes out strongest now  means when it comes to community help, community activism, community funding.     We are at cross-purposes or cross-expectations because we are from different worlds.

And i'm so tired of the expectations of me...sure PC, i know you warned me. But it seems that even more so since i became an ex-/ a non-PCV that everybody expects that i will ante up the money for whatever it is anyone suggests needs to be done..for the school, for the library.   A couple of people from the Director of Education's office in Keta were at the school recently and visited the Library..Oh they liked it  fine but they said, you need more light, better ventilation!  Shit, i know that  but did you bring any budget moneys?  Nope..the yevu will get it done!  They're not the first people to note this either!   I'd say..hey, gift horse and mouths, folks, but i think no-one would get it!
There is always, always, always the expectation is that i will come up with the money..after all it was mostly my idea to do this library.....but, but, but..isn't this the community's school??????? Well, yes, but that doesn't have real meaning.

And so i'm tired and unhappy and my knee hurts..yes, Paul, Godsway, Michael, Nathaniel, Sanity, Divine, Martha, Vivian, Satsufui, Loveth, Gabriel to name but a few..all benefit from my being here and helping and teaching classes and i have fun doing that..but aren't there limits??? don't there have to be limits..or is there a point in time when one says OK..i've done as much as i can do?


are there?

I'm tired of the heat, i'm really tired of the school nonsense, i'm tired of petty pilfering, i'm tired of bugs, i'm VERY tired of the community's unwillingness to get their sh-t together to actually do something good for the has been done in the community down the road (proves it is possible..right!)

I'm tired of the ..expectations, the assumptions.

How tired?

Hmmm, not sure on that. I can leave any time i want..and will

i feel sometimes that this is destroying me..not just muscle mass, but brain cells..and there has to be a point when one says ' mas..'     (to quote Roberto Duran)

There does have to be a point in time...right????

Friday, April 6, 2012

It's been a while..

..and i'll say that not having my Macbook for almost 3 months ..waiting for the Apple Reseller network to get their act together..which is maybe never...means that i can't access my photo libraries and that has always been a big part of my blogging.

But, in truth the last 2+ months, have been unsettling and difficult while i've gone through the will he/won't he extend in Ghana for another year dialogue.

i think that dialogue is at an end..but i rate it only 90% certain..and it has certainly gone back and forth.
I'm not extending!

There are good working/helping reasons to stay but there are strong 'fed up with the shit and politics' reasons to not extend. But in the end, i think the strongest set of reasons that i won't and should not extend for another year come from looking in a mirror and reflecting on how i am day-to-day. Africa is hard on me and i've been here now for almost 22 months. It's hard i've said a number of times...on every aspect of one's being, clothes, muscle mass...getting to be scary..books, anything /everything electrical, sleep patterns...probably overall health and longevity. I'm used to it here but my guess is that the deterioration..for such it is...would accelerate in a third year. I need some time to recover and get stronger....and not just a couple of weeks!

In the last few months of watching Six Nations Rugby in Accra at weekends, i've met quite a few ex-pats and i recognise that the ex-pat life in Ghana is quite nice..and i idly consider it. but PCV life in rural Ghana is very very different. I try to live on 300 GH cedis a month (about $165), electricity, food.. whereas they tootle around in SUV's, live in a-c apartments and shop for all their food in ex-pat supermarkets..and get paid 10 x 0r 20 x 0r 30 x times what i have. One's ex-pat dollar or pond or euro goes a lot further here in Ghana than in the US or Europe but $165 is not a lot. Of course, how one lives and survives as a PCV is also a function of rural Ghana the only place i can shop is the open-air market ..every 4 days.

why ever then would i consider extending?

Because Africa, certainly Ghana, is a unique and very different experience for one who has lived a striving life in the Western world, and especially the US

Towards the end of what has to be recognised and accepted as my useful life, Africa represents either a different kind of 'challenge' or a different kind of 'finis'.

(and i do come out of this adventure with a clear intention to go on, to do something else like this..another country probably...and i like Africa for many many reasons.)

i would go on record, also, as saying that i like Peace Corps- i take great pride in being a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Despite what i've said about how wearing and grinding life as a PCV is, i would probably have extended if i could have got past the ...shit, the rural community politics, the small-town and small-minded pettiness and jealousies.

I like being here a lot/most of the time....although i've never been sure why.

Obviously daily life here is very different from any life i've ever led - including two years as a mostly lost PCV in Romania 2005-2007.

Given that i've noted many times that Ghana, rural Ghana, is not beautiful, charming, cute, fact it is fairly ugly-lots of half-finished, never-to-be-finished breize-block dwellings and plastic trash everywhere- then what is it?

It's the people and the challenge/opportunity of trying to understand a completely different culture or state in the years 2010-2012.

I am an observer...and this place and living here is very very interesting.

And as a yevu-white person-it seems OK to be an observer...people don't seem to mind being observed.

So, as i insist that i like it here, what is it that i like? I supose that it is the simple accessabilty of the people that i'm with..and especially the children. In the US..even in a small community like Bar Harbor, Maine...for one reason or another people of all ages, including the very young, are very reserved and cautious-and certainly incurious- of strangers, or even people who might be vaguely familiar. But people in rural Ghana, especially, are definitely curious...and with their constant 'yevu, yevu..' cries almost respectful of one's presence amongst them. They are agendas-apart from the occasional '..give, me, give me..' hands-out opening. and they smile and they love when i do my usual stunts for them. So in every day in my new 'adopted' small town i have many fun interactions.

I will miss these interactions more than i can possibly know just now..because there are dozens and dozens of such every day and i enjoy each and every one.

They are fuller and more frequent than ever i could have imagined...and that's before i talk about the reception/interaction at schools!

I am an everyday presence at these schools..imagine that in the good ole USA!

and maybe what i'm doing in establishing Libraries is genuinely useful and long-lasting.

so what's the hard part? That comes from the description of my role here and being caught between the NGO that built and funds the Library and the community and its self-appointed rulers who think that the Library is theirs (they focus principally on the monies in Ghana that are used to operate the Library on an ongoing basis)

In the work i've done with Lumana, the micro-finance operation here, and with the schools for the additional Libraries that I/we have established, i've had no problems at all. Sometimes it takes an age to get things done and it can be frustrating but nobody (incl. me) gets really upset and there is overall a mutual 'understanding' of what we're trying to do here amongst all the parties.

But the relationship with almost everyone associated as 'advisors' with the Whuti Community Library has been much more complicated.

On one hand the WCL is seen as an ongoing source of funds/money to (be distributed by the chiefs) be locally spent on Library Services, and on the other hand, i am seen as the access/gatekeeper to the ALAD riches and therefore the person with whom they need to arm-wrestle to get Mo' Money.

This last creates many problems with the mostly-uneducated people who run or think that they run Whuti.

It creates a complex relationship with, let's say, the Library Committee Members, who want access to the money..and this PCV who stand old-fashionedly between them and the money (the ALAD accounts) but also since they're always talking about someone else's money (...and they're VERY MUCH lacking in financial expertise) they are very difficult to deal with and they think that i am blocking them from the money..and virtually cheating them of what is rightfully theirs!

I'm not cheating them..i am trying to show them the realities of the financial situation that 'we' are in but they don't get it...a function of poor education and some hopeless belief that yevu money will last forever.

And so as a PCV, i find myself constantly at odds with them..about money and control of the LIbrary. They make no contribution of time or money or energies vis-a-vis the Library..but they think they should control all these aspects. And i think that being at odds with a community about money and control of a local establishment as big as this Library is very very unusual for a PCV.
Additionally, they have a very selfish and parochial attitude towards their PCV... I am theirs and should barely even set foot in adjoining communities no matter the cause!

These are frequent squabbles which i can't win and which leave me feeling awful and unmotivated and i often feel as if i'm being watched and that my daily behaviour will be censured.

That then is really what drives me away..because they are too often what i take 'home' in the evenings and it is them and their pettiness and their squabbles that wake me up in the middle of the night. And it would not change if i extended.

Either as a group or as individuals, i have very little respect and good feeling for the people of the Library Committee who have never ever cared about the children and who only care about power. Power..what a joke...but i suppose within a small community, being chairman of the Library Committee is a big deal.

There have been too many bad days with these people. I have to work hard to see past them and to focus on what has actually been done.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I think I begin to understand...and I DO NOT LIKE IT AT ALL!

My last post was six weeks ago when I was raging about local politics....but i didn't know the half of it then ...probably not even the quarter of it. The 'system' here is patronage..and at the rural level, it is dispensed by chiefs.

Almost every piece of contracted 'business' that is transacted it an agreement to build walls, or permission to put up a wayside food stand, or (let's say) an NGO hiring a local person to work in the new Community Library, or the 'fees' charged for operating a little stall in the Anloga marketplace, is a 'transaction' that, as a matter of course, goes through one of the local chiefs. They decide who gets hired and who gets black-balled (a meritocracy it isn't). They decide who can set up a business and who can't.

It's a very old-fashioned system and goes back long before colonialism and before independence. it was the way it had always operated-tribalism. In Ghana/The Gold Coast, the colonial system and the tribal system co-existed, side-by-side, and the colonial system really only operated at the high end and the tribal system continued as before..with only the occasional war between the two groups. Unlike colonies in East Africa or South Africa where large chunks of land were given over to white farmers the tribal system controlled the land all along.

After Independence, in 1957, Ghana tried to impose a few different nationalism, socialism, maybe even extreme socialism, and now what would we call it ... a vaguely Western-style democracy..with reasonably fair multi-party elections, a powerful presidency but no presidents-for-life, an executive, a legislative and a judicial branch and a 'market economy'..if one is being reasonably generous. But the tribal system still operates underneath that because the reach of the government and the civil service doesn't really extend to a community or an area like ours...some government monies are spent here but not much. There is very little evidence of government here in Whuti apart from its single Primary School run by the Ghana Education Service. There is no Health Service here (and no doctors), no Post Office or Police presence ..hell, the district capital even ordered that our speed bumps be removed as unauthorised .

In return, of course, the community pays no taxes..there are no property taxes; i would be very, very, very surprised if there is a single Personal Income Tax payer residing in Whuti ;and I would be equally surprised if there is any business in Whuti paying Business Taxes.

In other words, the government barely exists at this level.

So back to patronage and the tribal system of disbursing does that affect me, why do i care?

i want to get this right and i want to get this said clearly..and it hasn't been easy for me to see the Library's future through the mists.

So maybe, first a few facts.

The Whuti Community Library (and the Computer Centre) is wholly funded and always has been, by a small, committed NGO in the US which has operated in Ghana for fifteen years and this could be called the NGO's Act III..the Last Hurrah. Indeed, Acts I and II (set in other parts of Ghana) are over and did not end well. Because of the NGO's founder's age and other concerns, this work is almost certain to be ALAD's final effort. (ALAD = African Literacy, Arts & Development Association )

The Community Library has been operating successfully on a daily basis since 22 September 2010, i.e. 16+ months ago, six weeks after I arrived in Whuti. And the Computer Centre has been operating on a daily basis as a revenue-generating internet cafe since 15 November 2011 (Thomas' 10th birthday). Less than three months then and the revenues are very small because we have no high-speed connection and because there isn't a lot of disposable income round here. But it might get better.

Notwithstanding the fact that we have been operating the Community Library for 16 months..with as many as 500+ users a will be officially opened on 21/22 July 2012 with a ribbon-cutting and speeches, and dancing and drumming, etc. It will be a fine occasion with (hopefully) lots of dignitaries present, including ALAD's founder.

It costs between $500 and $600 a month to operate the Community Library and Computer Centre...and the internet cafe earns less than $20 a month. The founder of ALAD has committed to funding the Community Library's operations through at least the end of 2012 and possibly into 2013, but he has a declared intent to step down as ALAD's president in mid-2013.

And then what happens?

There is no real plan just the vague hope that the community will find ways to sustain the library financially.

The community have no real likelihood of coming up with a deep-pocketed external funding source to the tune of a committed $7000+ per year. It is also highly unlikely at the moment that ALAD will be able to come up with a committed long-term funding source.

Only a resourceful, enterprising, imaginative, concerned (Ghanaian) organisation could possibly come up with the necessary funding and at the moment such does not exist for the Library.

It is possible to conceive of such a (Ghanaian) organisation with the Whuti-Srogboe or Srogboe-Whuti diaspora ..and certainly Dr Sam's wonderful work in nearby Atorkor says it is doable.

But...try to superimpose that on Whuti and the chiefs and elders of Whuti and it just doesn't work.

They are intellectually dull, they are poorly educated, they are committed to the old ways and the old system, and sadly they actually do NOT care about the children.... which is surely why we're doing the Library! (..or I thought it was!)

The PCV has been lucky. He has got things going..and, believe me, 500+ Library visitors for a community library in Ghana is HUGE! And computers too, for children who've never seen them.
And a JHS Library and a Primary School Library also!!! recap, the Community Library Opening Ceremony is in late July 2012, which, coincidentally is my COS date, and the ALAD founder will be here to discuss the future...knowing that he and ALAD will not fund the Library much longer..

..and knowing that it will take a Mighty Heart to come up with the 'deal' that will ensure the Library's future and knowing that he doesn't have such a candidate.

....and knowing in his heart, as I know in mine, that the local chiefs and elders will never come up with the money to run the Library and that they'll simply wait for a miracle from outside.

The founder will be between a rock and a hard place at the Opening Ceremony. He will be under extreme pressure to turn over the Library and its operating accounts (..the money!!!) to the community.Under all the possible scenarios that I can come up with, he will be obliged to do that.
From that moment on, the Library will begin to deteriorate ..maybe almost imperceptably at first but it would get worse over time and I shudder to think of the Library in 18-24 months

Disintegration is not an overnight will happen gradually, day-by-day, week-by-week.

What does 'deterioration' actually mean in the Community Library...well, books will start to go missing because the current levels of care and attention will slip; the place will get messier because there won't be anything like the current attention to keeping the books on the shelves in order and maintenance will be downplayed; computers will go walk-about as the chiefs and elders claim their privileges...and then as the money runs payment of salaries, etc..and the Library won't be able to stay open the same number of hours, etc

This is the future..this i know.

Does it have to be this way? Not if the Founder was willing to put his foot down and refuse to turn over the Library and the accounts to the community..the self-appointed committees..until a new organisation with strong Accra representation and a commitment and ability to raise funds was established. But when he comes here in July he won't be willing to go head-to-head with the chiefs and elders. He wants a Love-In and so he'll agree to turning things over to the community without receiving any evidence that they can raise funds for ongoing operations.

And so my situation...

I have an option to extend here in my current assignment for six or twelve months..perhaps even longer.

I don't want to leave because I enjoy my work, I feel proud of our efforts to-date but I would be EXTREMELY uncomfortable and MUCH less effective after the Community Library has been turned over to the community simply because the staff would no longer report to me and I would then have no authority to stem the deterioration. Currently the staff reports to me on all operations and I work hard (some might say very hard) to keep our standards high. I would be completely sidelined as far as the Library is concerned and these standards would slip. Yes, I could continue to help at the JHS Library and the Primary Library and in the ordinary way that would be OK though it would hardly fill my time.

I have been very seriously considered extending for another year where the goal would be to establish and implement a plan for long-term financial sustainability for the Library.....and that would certainly fill my time and be rewarding. But it has always been clear that long-term financial sustainablity for the Library depended on bringing in outsiders and creating a new, small, committed organisation with fund-raising capabilities to operate the Library.

Unfortunately, it has become very evident over the last six-eight weeks that the wolves are gathering and the chiefs and elders are deliberately excluding those who stand between them and control of the Library and its accounts ..the money!!(and that includes me, of course) and those excluded are in fact the ones (again, including me) that I had hoped would be a part of a new organisation to run the Library.
It isn't a surprise that they would be excluded AND that I would have thought of them as the right local people with whom we could have gone forward because, of course, the qualities in them that appeal to me are those that the chiefs and elders fear...independence, clear thinking, activist, and owing no particular loyalties to any local chief. And that description pretty much applies to me also!

And so I can't extend, I won't would be too hurtful to stand and watch after July without any influence to correct or shape things.

I can walk away from Whuti with the Community Library and the Computer Centre ..and the JHS Library and the Primary School Library ...all running and probably as good as they could ever be. And probably Whuti-Srogboe now has better and better-run Libraries(3) and aComputer Centre (free to students for 3 hours per day) than any community in Ghana!!!!

I will be sad for the children for whom so few seem to care..because i certainly do and they know it.

And I will miss my daily life in Whuti for a long, long time and it will be difficult for me when I return to the US but I will learn to live with that and I will focus on the next 'thing' whatever (and wherever) that is and I will accept the fact that i could never have changed the system here and that it was my success that made that apparent.

And so, the only question is how long i stick around to watch this.

The counter-balance is that on a day-to-day basis i am helping children.

It will become more and more difficult after the end of this school year in early July. Diminishing returns. Probably impossible.

I don't want to can i stay, how long can i stay?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Integration? Understanding? it what you will it is a roller-coaster ride

It's different here..duh, that's news?
My emotional attachment to the community and its people goes up and down, round and round.

I consider extending for another year and then i reject at the prospect of an impossible year dealing with the rural community politics and the jealousies focused on the Library ...built by the yevus..dig up the floor and there has to be gold underneath. and the NGO's funding (as with all NGO's eventually..) dries up.
To some and too many..yevu = money and if that 'some' aren't getting it then someone else is..and why him, why them ..AND WHY NOT ME?
The factions in the community with different families, different funeral groups, disgruntled individuals ( know who i mean) become clearer the longer i am here and the more they sap any go-forward energies that the community might have. To spend so long in meetings arguing over the inconsquential..who is recognised on the Library's appreciation wall and who isn't? And whether this self-appointed committee should have authority and budget control over the Library ..even though in truth it is 'he who pays the piper who calls the tune' and so far these committees have not supplied cedi one to actually operating the Library...ALL the money to date and for the next year or so comes directly from the US.
The petty jealousies that surround the Library and its funding from the US are truly disturbing and take a lot of understanding.
It is hard for me to accept that a voodoo-curse has been placed on anyone because he must be getting lots of money from the white man and they who sought out and placed the curse want that money. And yet, i see with my own eyes the effect it has on the cursed individual who seeks a spiritual cure from that which make him seem so scared and so sick. This is here..and if he and his family believe that he is cursed in this way then it surely doesn't help for me to say..fooey, can't be real. If he believes then it is real. And so I can not ignore it especially when his cursed person is integral to any real improvement in the literacy levels in the community.

In my clearer moments, i say..ignore it, it truly is nonsense..and of course, it is..but the effect on the community politics is not nonsense. The man, my friend, is vulnerable and can be attacked.

For a community with no money, pays no taxes to the District, no market, no speed bumps even, can't even ante up the rent money to pay for this PCV's accomodation which by 'contract with Peace Corps' they are obliged to do, they have some amazing arguments and circuitous discussions over control of a purse that does not exist...the yevu NGO's funds to operate the Library.
Factions and animosities go back a long time...the biggest expense that any family will ever incur is funeral much so that people contribute for years to funeral co-operatives..and still families go into hock to pay for funerals even after bodies of the dearly departed have remained on ice for months and years while money was raised to properly send them off on their Calls to Glory. I still don't get funeral co-ops...but on the other hand, who on the other hand wouldn't go for full colour posters bemoaning the tragic departure or 15-foot high erections (oops) lamenting the loss. If i die..then please..etc

But anytime there is money then there are jealousies and plots and murders most foul..and bubbling cauldrens and so funerals are highly politicised and stories abound of funds going astray etc.

i'm just trying to help the children and build libraries and find ways to actually teach children but it gets becomes impossible; grand openings get hijacked and then postponed indefinitely while the non-worthy, non-contributing groups argue as to who runs the show.
Cruelly, i wonder why more of the people I know don't rise up and say 'enough..what about doing something for the children?' but they can't, they have no power and they aren't listened to..small wonder they get disillusioned .
The more i know, the less i understand.

Friday, December 2, 2011

why is that i seem to like it so much here in Ghana?

..there is no easy answer to that question..but I do.
perhaps the answer gets lost in time for i've been here for 551 days (tho, again, who's counting) but to not know why is copping out.

I like it because...

i like it well compared to...

it's different and new and i'm young and therefore i like it.....well, that one isn't right!

I came here, as opposed to there, because i wanted to see if i could hack it in the heart of Africa and also based on the experience of the last few years, i wanted to help and to try make a difference.
Even if i didn't know what 'help' or 'making a difference' really meant here i thought that it was worth a try.

I had the confidence of Romania and Itaca in Napoli to convince me that if the opportunity was really there then i would be able to grasp it. And that is basically how it has worked out. And that, of course, is hugely encouraging when i contemplate the future (argggghhhh!...the future..does one have such at your age, RWK?)

Life here is, of course, very different from Maine and the USA and one's daily life is laughably so sometimes.

You think to yourself sometimes as you haul water from the well to 'flush' the toilet or to take your 'bucket bath', can this be me? Then you remind yourself..yes, this is you ,and every day for 2+ years it is one of your daily chores.

After Romania, I had figured out that it isn't the privations that get to's things in your head. So one can get past the heat, the bugs, the power outages, the lack of running water, the lack of good diet variety in available food, the Spartan accommodations ..because these are just how it is a small rural community in Ghana and you can't change it. From Romania, i know what destroys one's resolve is not being able to actually do anything useful and that, I learned, is partly luck in one's assignment but largely, it is whether or not one finds good, local people to work with which may well be related to the approach that one takes to one's Peace Corps asignment. For the first 8-9 months on site here, I was carried by having a good site with a clear set of 'To-Do's' but for the last 7-8 months it has been finding some really good people to work with.

In truth, I've never had any of the bad times here that I had in Romania..given that i am allowed to forget getting mugged in Tamale and getting robbed of my Macbook..and getting attacked by my lunatic counterpart, Cephas, in the library here in Whuti one morning....all so last year now!

And i have a lot of really pretty good days one after another.

It is hard to properly describe them and i doubt that i can do them justice but there are simple, unique, heart-warming, funny, childish, laughing, encouraging bits to every day here..not just an occasional Tuesday or Saturday, but every day. and although each day has many, many bits that are the same as yesterday each day also always has completely unique bits that make me laugh out loud or think or cringe or simply not understand and so go on the 'think about this sometime' list.
It's hard to describe or explain though.
I am not integrated here..not really. The gap is too massive but i certainly feel that i am an accepted and enjoyed part of the community. The community, for example, seems to know when i'm gone for even a couple of days and welcome me back when I return. That makes me feel good because surely it means that they know why I am here and what I am trying to do at the Community library and in the schools. And all the daily greetings from people of all ages say the same thing.
And too, at the level of my 'sponsors', there is now a clear recognition that I am doing my best and working hard for the community - which is a substantial change after the 'difficulties' of the Cephas era.
Do I love Ghana, the country..its colour, its culture, its geography? Nope..i don't but I do like the friendliness of the people and in trying to understand the country and its people, i've tried to understand the complexities of independence and the struggle to keep up with the competitive world. And in the course of that, one develops a lot of sympathy for the country and more importantly its people.
I can not honestly say that i ever really developed much sympathy for Romania.

So what is it exactly that i like so much?

Well, it's the people and my daily interactions with them.
It's a life I've never known before and it is fun. Cautiously we'll say that it is good, and it certainly make me feel good.
Some of the interactions in the Library and the Schools are serious, trying to help or trying to understand...but others are just informal and fun but I believe that fun interactions with children are actually good for them and for me also.
This amount and this variety of interaction is simply something that i have not had before in my life...and I like it very much.

The huge change is that for the last few months and for the foreseeable future, i will be working with a diverse group of Ghanaians on community projects ..the two new libraries and raising funds to make the Community Library sustainable.
For me, that makes life a whole lot easier..not fighting city-hall all the time, and it means that others who also have choices, understand and are willing to involve themselves and to support in many different ways, the work that WE are trying to do in this area.

...and yes, that will make it doubly difficult to walk away in 7 1/2 months.

I think liking it here as i do also relates to why i came here, why i signed up for Peace Corps again but this time with only Africa in mind.

I still want to think that my life still has purpose (small 'p') and Peace Corps gives me both the opportunity to 'help' if i can and if i'm lucky and the situation wherein i can gain a unique perspective and even insight into life in Africa by the way it sets up assignments...2 years
in a rural setting, living as a sort-of ordinary person.
With that in mind then, being 'productive/helpful' as i have been here makes me like being here more and affording me the opportunity to meet and interact with many, many people, often on an everyday basis, and to be in homes and in the schools on almost a daily basis, and in Whuti's workplaces-the Library, the fields with farmers, and on the beach with fishermen, also make me like the place more.
And i am getting that unique perspective on what it is really like here...though i am a long way from understanding it.