when in ghana. . .

This is a series of post that I wrote while completing an MSU Study Abroad program on “Disparities in Health Care” in Ghana. Our group was based in Accra at the University of Ghana, Legon and we stayed in a hostel in Shiashie. We traveled often: Volta Region, village of Klikor, Kakum National Forest, Volta Dam, Cape Coast, Kumasi, and Osu was a usual hangout. The posts are all pictures and reflections during that 6 week program in Ghana. The first post is a research paper I completed for a class about “development” in Ghana.

i. The Quest for Development: Aid to the Rescue in Ghana
ii. off to the continent of my dreams
In Ghana:
1. something you can taste
2. water by day, apples by night
3. for the love of america
4. scenery and speed bumps
5. aljazeera, acrobats, and aloe
6. imperialist footprints: the development story from the inside
7. the quest for the west
8. what is so important about ethnicity?
9. the value is the same
10. weekend of the obrooni [obruni]
11. two voltas, one ghana, three africas
12. the nature of africa: rhythm and socialism
13. image of america, the blinding lights
14. inside africa
15. definition of development
16. . . . keep your promise
17. the chinese influence
18. snapshot of health in ghana
19. a mixture of black, white, red
20. the longest driveway
21. when in ghana
Returned:
22. when not in ghana. . .
23. the land of culture, africa
24. the caramel apple of globalization
25. cynicism from a jaded summer
26. the crouching tiger and the curse of black gold
27. rastafarian confusion

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the universal currency of being under the weather

Review of Healing and Curing: Issues in the Social History and Anthropology of Medicine in Africa
by: Megan Vaughan

Everyone everywhere gets sick whether it is a common cold, a serious disease, or even a life-threatening virus. Likewise, communities across the world work to heal these illnesses and afflictions. Megan Vaughan reminds us that illness and healing are everywhere; there are unwell bodies everywhere and always attempts to heal those bodies. Illness and healing are regular, even normal, features in our lives. However, as Vaughan notes, illness and healing have different definitions and meanings in different areas of the world and within different cultures. How then can we unite the rhetoric into one common topic for academics to discuss?

One of my first thoughts goes to the international organization, Medecines Sans Frontiers (MSF, Doctors Without Borders), and their work across the globe conducting medical missions. How are they able to work towards comprehensive fighting of illness and healing when there are so varied ideas of illness and healing? Do they have anthropological training? Are they equipped with a cultural guide?

Vaughan notes that in Feierman’s article he cited Gilbert Lewis’ work in Papua New Guinea.

Lewis had defined the universe of misfortune by determining who was and who was not ill according to scientific criteria, and then observed how illness was diagnosed and treated within the community. As Feierman pointed out, this was a radically different anthropological approach to that taken by Victor Turner in The Drums of Afflication, a study in which illness appeared to have little independent biological reality, but was described as an important stage in a social drama. (284-5)

Lewis’ work was both innovative and radical in that he worked to apply his Western scientific knowledge well at the same time watching and learning how local communities treated illnesses.
I’d have to say this idea is no longer so radical and more likely than not has become the norm for those working in organizations like MSF.

Among ordinary people in cases of illness caused by sorcery, or in other words by one person’s aggression against another, the course of treatment developed into a contest of power between the medicine men working for and against the sick person. The patient could not recover unless his supporting healer proved fully dominant, and therefore capable of ending the contest of strength. (286)

An issue often arises between separating metaphor and symbol from biological reality in discussions of illness and healing. This is an especially important context in Africa where illness and sickness can refer to actual disease as well as spiritual imbalances or curses. Recognizing the overlaps of science and culture within medical practice is key to effective healing. If culture is ignored in scientific medical realities there can be terrible consequences. But, where is the boundary of biological science in medicine?

More often we have to choose between approaches, since we simply do not have the textured evidence which might allow us to trade both the extent of biologically defined illness and the cultural experiences and constructions of that illness. I would like to argue, then, that we might want to learn something from the new well-documented pluralism of African healing systems. (287)

Something that I have studied and seen is this pluralism of African healing systems. Most notably in Ghana the traditional healers and birth attendants are integrated into the formal health care system. They are provided training and certification and often work alongside those practicing Western orthodox medicine.

[…] we neither have to be totally biologically ‘blinkered,’ focusing exclusively on the disease vector, nor do we have to go so far down the road of social constructionism as to render ‘biology’ totally passive. (287)

Beyond various relative understandings of illness and healing it is important to break into the realm of colonial medicine in order to understand certain inadequacies in response to illness and failures of healing. Vaughan notes that the study of colonial medicine has been one of the areas that has illuminated most clearly the limits of colonial power (288). In Africa, she writes how, “colonial medics were simply too thin on the ground and their instruments too blunt to be viewed either as agents of oppression or as liberators from disease, and studies of African demography confirm this view.” (288)

Although colonial medicine may have been more an inadequate colonial department, it is important to look further and apply the past to the present. The impacts of Western diseases brought by colonial powers ravaged Africa. Because of perceptions of Africans and lacking colonial medical systems, these new diseases were not addressed. A history of disease patterns doesn’t reflect on colonial medicine, but the responses to disease patterns in Africa does. Colonial responses to illness reflected problematic representations of Africa and Africans and so the historical medical accounts are filled with issue.

[…] of course there are many important differences between theories and practices of twentieth century biomedicine, and those of African healers, but in order for us to understand these differences the practice of scientific medicine in its various forms needs to be specified with the same attention to detail as are those of its African counterparts. (291)

To conclude, I applaud Vaughan’s call for medical practice to reflect the pluralism found in Africa health care systems. She writes a compelling piece and hopefully her ideas are heeded at least in medical work conducted in Africa.

definition of development (revisited): beauty in the palm of your hand

Last summer I wrote about the definition of development after having a conversation with an incredible Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana who was really making the most of his time and abilities. The conversation that we had really made me think about the term ‘development’ and what it really means. Before that conversation and since I have been working to create my own definition, or rather I have been working to make the term stand for what I believe development should be all about.

This is what I wrote from Ghana on 7 June 2007:

This discussion with Alex really made me think about ‘development’ as the word was thrown around a lot that night. Alex has said that he really likes the Peace Corps model because it deals with integration. A volunteer is placed in a village or area and works with the people to improve their situation. This as opposed to some large organization or institution just giving out money to big plans they believe will work. But, what is the definition of development? Who gets to determine what development is? Who is allowed to call one developed or developing or underdeveloped? Is development all based on a desire or push to become Western? Yes, I think in the very recent past it was and really still is to a degree, but for me development holds a different definition. Development for me mirrors positive progress in people’s lives. Development should be based on getting and giving people their basic needs (rights) for survival and life. Even in this regard the almighty ‘West’ needs development.

Now my development studies have become more involved and I will apply certain paradigms of thought and different theories of development from many different minds. Before I get into theory I want to begin by tackling the continuously difficult task of writing a definition of development.

Development is a loaded term and cannot be the way that we approach others in need. From President Truman’s “launch” (Wolfgang Sachs, 2) of the idea of development in 1949 during his inauguration speech in which he declared “underdeveloped areas,” the West began a long blinding road on which the US would always be number one with no need for ‘development.’ Development in this sense creates an inferior to superior relationship between those who need help and those who have the resources. This is where the idea of the ‘third world’ comes in. Two years ago I wrote on the idea of the ‘third world’ and how the term’s use perpetuates bad ideas in development. The notion of being better because of circumstance is an extreme detriment in development work. In actuality the West is developing just as much as those we deem ‘underdeveloped.’

We are developing the way we see the world and how we react or act to the different situations that various people face. We are developing our ability to care and show compassion, the most basic human action, to those who need our help. We need to start developing a process to assist those who most need our help. We need to develop our government’s actions to fit the size of its big words and statements. The world’s people need to recognize that we are not separated by very much anymore, except maybe our prejudices and false perceptions. We are not so distant as to claim we live in different worlds any longer. The distance is only in our minds.
From: new world discovered 3 September 2006

Development and its Uses

Truman called others ‘underdeveloped’ and what we have now seen is the disparity between rich and poor has grown exponentially. The ‘underdeveloped’ were not able to come closer to the ‘developed.’ We began calling some countries ‘developing’ as they adopted our ideas for governance, economy, liberalized markets, and modernity. This began the ‘era of development’ and Wolfgang Sachs provides us with an excellent quote:

“Like a towering lighthouse guiding sailors towards the coast, ‘development’ stood as the idea which oriented emerging nations in their journey through post-war history. No matter whether democracies or dictatorships, the countries of the South proclaimed development as their primary aspiration, after they had been freed from colonial subordination. Four decades later, governments and citizens alike still have their eyes fixed on this light flashing just as far away as ever: every effort and and every sacrifice is justified in reaching the goal, but the light keeps on receding into the dark.” (Thomas, Ch. 1)

Here is where we can draw on a theme of ‘development of the mind.’ This idea has been grown on the backs of the very people that ‘development’ seeks to assist. Born of colonization which promoted a certain nihilism of colonized populations and modernization as a result of capitalist systems imposed on those populations, the development of the mind made people think that they weren’t good enough and that they did not have the capacity to do for themselves. This is also a mentality that can be found within the slave and Black populations of the US. When a people is subjugated it takes a long time to redevelop the thinking that is not rooted in subordination. Everything was made simple and efficient for the imperial masters to control and capitalise on stolen wealth. Esteva importantly notes that for people to embrace ‘development’ they have to first perceive themselves to be ‘underdeveloped.’ (7) In this sense development negates the very person seeking to improve their life through ‘development’ because, “it undermines confidence in oneself and one’s own culture.” (Esteva, 8) The nature of ‘development’ almost always forgets about history and culture. Economists come at development with the idea of a level playing field that just needs to be built upon, but that is never the case. Histories of colonization which spurred war and violent conflict cannot be sliced out of development work. Colonized populations often had their histories and cultures re-written. In the case of Rwanda a homogeneous people were divided and pitted against one another. In South Africa culture was bound by ‘bantustans.’ In every corner of the globe a system focusing on mass production and the attainment of ‘wealth’ was imposed on traditional ways of life, cultures were and are altered as a result – sometimes even discarded. The “standardization of desires and dreams” (Wolfgang Sachs, 4) resulted and now we have ‘development.’

What we also can look back and see is the use of ‘development’ as a “weapon in the competition between political system.” (Wolfgang Sachs, 2) The Cold War led to a widespread allocation of ‘rogue aid,’ that is aid that is given without restriction and without being tied to a government or ‘development’ agency. This ‘rogue aid’ was given to win over world leaders to the side of the US or Soviet Union. Development as a weapon has created long-term effects that can still be seen as countries fell to dictators and authoritarian regimes fueled by ‘rogue aid’ and their militarization by Cold War powers. The ‘era of development can also be called the ‘era of the Cold War.’ (Wolfgang Sachs, 4) Our privilege and ‘wealth’ does not give us a free ticket to ‘develop’ the rest of the world or tell them that they are living poorly. If the world was to be ‘developed’ entirely we, as a global society, would be reduced to a dead population living on top of each other on a barren planet devoid of all nature because we exploited both ourselves and our habitat. In some areas of ‘development’ I would even say that the West has taken irrational steps backwards.

Paradigms

There are three non-distinct paradigms or theories of development. The first is what we have seen for the past four decades since Truman’s statement on underdevelopment. Development as Modernization puts forth the idea that the “modern money economy should and would overcome the traditional subsistence economy.” (Ruonavaara, 2000) This is where ‘development’ has acted as a “Westernization of the world” (Wolfgang Sachs, 4) and the beginnings of a failed system that does not serve people’s needs.

In the 1980s Alternative Development came into fashion to deal with the failure of Development as Modernization. The problem here was a misuse of privilege. Scientific knowledge was favored over all as professionals and experts came in as ‘facilitators.’ The positive of Alternative Development was the greater focus on people and ‘including the excluded.’ Women, minority groups, and the actual people being ‘developed’ were engaged in their own development. The failure of this paradigm was the hierarchical structure of facilitator and underdeveloped community, the lack of agency given in development, and the focus on modern and scientific knowledge as the only way to go.

Now there is the paradigm of Alternatives to Development or what some call Post-Development. This is an absolute “rejection and the replacement of the Development as Modernization model.” (Ruonavaara) Alternatives to Development employs re-membering people into society, a step further than ‘including the excluded,’ participatory and cooperative practices, as well as allowing “professionals and non-professionals to talk about development in new ways.” (Ruonavaara)

I say these paradigms are non-distinct because it is often difficult to specifically define approaches to development in reality as one paradigm or the other. Often it is easy to place certain development practices within the paradigms, but not the actions of an entire agency or organization.

Definitions

Alan Thomas tells us that the term ‘development’ is used in three main ways:

1. as a vision, description or measure of the state of being of a desirable society;
2. as an historical process of social change in which societies are transformed over long periods;
3. as consisting of deliberate efforts aimed at improvement on the part of various agencies, including governments, all kinds of organizations and social movements.

Chambers (1997, from Thomas, Ch. 2) defined development as just ‘good change.’ Thomas breaks this down excellently in his second chapter and the important concept to note is the ambiguity of ‘development.’ People have different ideas of what change is, of what progress entails, and especially of how we should get to that good change from where we are now. The nature of the defining is how ‘development’ happens in reality.

Cowen and Shenton write, “The burden of development was to compensate for the negative propensities of capitalism through the reconstruction of social order. To develop, the, was to ameliorate the social misery which arose out of an immanent process of capitalist growth.” (Thomas, Ch. 2) If capitalism is to be a working system of self-regulating markets then everything must become a commodity. The problem here is that everything cannot be a commodity: life, mind, dignity, equality – these cannot be bought, sold, and produced or regulated by any market.

Jeffrey Sachs talks about development (economic) in relation to a ladder, (Sachs, 18) where once you reach the first rung you are set on your path to development. This falls in line with the Development as Modernization approach. The problem with Sachs’ definition is that he creates a linear model that does not work in reality, people are often moving up and down the ladder – or not even on it because development can not focus solely on the economic. The political, social, and cultural must also be taken into account. Sachs’ other problem arrives when he defines poverty as a trap. This definition takes out all history and accountability in relation to one’s poverty. It discounts how one got into poverty in the first place or how a country or community lives in poverty.

Wolfgang Sachs defines development as, “an amoeba-like concept, shapeless but ineradicable. Its contours are so blurred that it denoted nothing – while it spreads everywhere because it connotes the best of intentions. The term is hailed by the IMF and Vatican alike, by revolutionaries carrying their guns as well as field experts carrying their Samsonites. Though development has no content, it does possess one function: it allows any intervention to be sanctified in the name of a higher goal.”(4)

Responsible Development– My definition:

Therefore all past implementations of development as intervention, as hegemonic control, as a political weapon, as a ladder, as Westernization, as capitalist, and as modernization have led to a more underdeveloped world where people are not valued and all that matters is the production and perpetuation of the current system for those are the forefront. Wolfgang Sachs says, “The idea of development stands like a ruin in the intellectual landscape” and “its time to dismantle this mental structure.” (Thomas, Ch. 1) I already wrote about the idea of development of the mind and so now how does someone from the West who wants to help those in need around the world engage in ‘development’ that will actually produce the desired results for people?

My definition of development falls along the lines of the ‘alternatives to development’ paradigm. I believe very strongly in people-centered development that is needs based. Where there is a focus on individuals as part of the whole and not on just numbers of people assisted, growth of GDP, or increase in production. I want to see development that uses what works and not just what looks good. Development that strengthens local communities and connects them to others, that evaluates itself often, that doesn’t ‘other,’ that spreads a cooperative mentality of interdependence, that believes in the co-evolution of people with nature, that does not feel guilty, but responsible, that uses unsustainable development to adopt sustainable practices. Development should be a resource for people who have historically and systematically been subjugated and oppressed so that they may have agency and actualize their own development. I am a strong believer in a communal and cooperative living style, this is a ‘modern’ idea based in practices of traditional societies. My definition of development is not an ideology, but rather it draws on wisdom from historical experience.

Development should be a vision that is defined by the community as a whole. I believe strongly in empowerment where the ‘developer’ does not act as an overseer or facilitator, but a resource and a support. This is where development needs to become a redistribution of power and resources that will transform the way institutions have worked. Along with empowerment comes the idea of participation. Both the ‘developer’ and those to ‘develop’ need to be participants on equal footing in the development process. In this way communities are able to develop themselves and take into account their social and cultural practices without being controlled by an outsider. Development as we have seen pushed for a conformity of global society – development should instead embrace diversity and equality in difference.

My economics mirrors the ideas of E.F. Schumacher where he focuses on economics as if people mattered. Schumacher uses Buddhism as an example of people and nature centered development practice. He writes:

“Simplicity and non-violence are obviously closely related. The optimal pattern of consumption, producing a high degree of human satisfaction by means of a relatively low rate of consumption, allows people to live without great pressure and strain and to fulfill the primary injunction of Buddhist teaching: ‘Cease to do evil; try to do good.'” (62)

He also writes about production at the local level for the local level and how that lessens human consumption as a “rational way of economic life.” Schumacher notes that now (1973, even more now) the human population lives parasitically on the earth, the market is an institution of individualism and severs all responsibility. (46) Development needs to be about wellbeing of both the individual and the world around them.

The examples of subsistence and traditional communities are excellent, ‘small’ examples of how development should work.

“A world of ‘humanized’ production, based on a small scale but modern and scientific technology, a world of co-operation in villages and small towns, a world of enriched social relationships growing out of a process of production and exchange that is under human control rather than ‘alienated’. . .” (Kitching, 1982, p.179 from Thomas, 35)

There are many examples of this and even now practices within the ‘developed’ world are moving towards subsistence and small scale, cooperative and local. Within the ‘developed’ world there is a growing number of local farmer’s markets, organic growers, and alternative organizations focused on serving people’s needs. Even Barbara Kingslover’s latest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is based on locally grown, locally purchased food as a way to develop a more environment friendly and people friendly society. This local food movement is growing fast.

Some may try and say that it is just a phenomena as food and fuel prices soar, but really it is a long held style of living rooted in historic, traditional knowledge which we are finally returning to: a method of living that is more holistic and accounts for the co-evolution of humans and nature. Evidence of these traditional practices is still seen today. There have been attempts to return to a historically sustainable way of life through movements like Kibbutz in Israel, Ujamaa in Tanzania, Revolutionary Inter-Communalism within the Black Panther Party of the US, as well as implementations of communes, cooperatives and collectives in the Western world – some that begin as far as 200 years ago. There are distinct reasons why these models have failed to achieve widespread results, but the most detrimental effect brings us back to the idea of ‘development of the mind.’People are too often trapped in a system’s way of thinking and living that it is too difficult to cut out un-necessary desire or it creates an inability to see beyond the current status quo and way of life.

One example of a community that was self-sufficient, sustainable, and at peace with others and its environment was the Ladakh in northern most point of India next to Kashmir. The Ladakh were a traditional indigenous community that operated on communal living. They lived with no strain on the natural environment. There was no pollution, excessive noise, or a lack of resources. People worked on their own time and used what would be called ‘primitive technology.’As soon as modernity and ‘development’ entered the scene the sustainable way of life of the Ladakh disappeared. Modern society claimed to understand and control the natural order, with energy and capital intensive, consumptive, and environmentally unfriendly practices. The elderly no longer had a role in the community with the creation of Western schools and business because of this young people did not learn tolerance and responsibility at an early age. Modern society broke down family and community ties. Agriculture was no longer an acceptable business, pollution grew, the status of women fell as men felt more and more insecure in the ‘modern world.’ A community where there were no constraints, no stresses, no violence, no capital or pollution was turned into what we now see on a worldwide scale with the propagation of capitalism. Polluted environments, where everyone is in a rush, and once you can no longer produce you have no place in society. We now live as parasites on the earth as opposed to co-evolving partners with the earth. We now value products and productivity above people. There are many related examples across the globe of communities like the Ladakh. Now the Ladakh Development Foundation exists to empower the community to improve itself.

It seems with all this understanding of history, ‘development’ should become a simplifying of life. We should re-learn traditional values of these communities and apply them to our own lives. Living non-hierarchically, with community consensus, subsistence, and holistically. There are too many broken people, we need to reverse our practices and rewrite our theories. There are many efforts now developing across the globe to spur a “green economy,” one that attempts to place the environment at the core of our societal progression. It has had mixed results, but the majority good. Where gardens are established on roofs (green roofs), community parks take the place of abandoned factories, and bringing people out of poverty is the norm. The Green for All organization is working to build an inclusive “green” economy that will assist and benefit everyone.

Green For All believes a shift to a clean, green economy can improve the health and well-being of low-income people, who suffer disproportionately from cancer, asthma and other respiratory ailments in our current pollution-based economy. Such a shift can also create and expand entrepreneurial, wealth-building opportunities for American workers who need new avenues of economic advance. In other words: we believe that the national effort to curb global warming and oil dependence can simultaneously create well-paid green-collar jobs, safer streets and healthier communities.

The notion of a growing or strong nation or country by way of its GDP or economic output does not give a comprehensive definition of the development of a country when people are a means to an end. And so ‘development’ at national and state levels is irrelevant when there are people who still live without their basic necessities at the small-scale, local and community level.

rastafarian confusion

This summer while in Ghana, I befriended a group of Rastafarian drum makers and performers. The Rastafarians became the good friends and highlight of my study abroad group’s time in Ghana, but I remained skeptical. The day that I first met the Rastas was a day in the market. I am an avid (extreme amateur) hand drummer and was drawn to their drum stand in the National Market for Art and Culture in the capital of Accra. Well these Rastas became our good friends and guides around the city we were constantly warned by others to be wary because Rastas are known to steal your things and women. I remained wary as the talks of their beliefs did not match up with their actions. I began to wonder what exactly were the beliefs of a Rastafarian and why? Why did they always seem high with happiness and love? “One love” was their favorite phrase. They would always tell us that we were all brothers ans sisters, no matter the color of our skin because we bleed the same underneath and we had the same color pupils. While many told us to be wary others revered the Rastas for the skills that they shared and the knowledge they imparted. With the great rhetoric they spoke, there always seemed to be an underlying end goal.

Upon returning to Ghana I immediately jumped on the knowledge train that we call the internet to learn more about the Rastafarian movement. Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I is considered God incarnate and also as the Messiah of the Holy Trinity (in the Bible), since he is the only black leader of an independent African country. Rastafari comes from the Ethiopian term “Ras” which means head or the equivalent of duke. The religion employs the spiritual use of cannabis and a number of afrocentric teachings, inspired by the works of Jamaican, Marcus Garvey well known for his “Back to Africa movement in the US, 1920s. The Rastafari movement gained popularity through reggae music and well known artist, Bob Marley (his wife still lives in Ghana). The “first Rasta,” Leonard Howell, built a commune that grew to over 5000 in Jamaica.

The teachings of Rastafari focus on love and respect for all living things. Born of an oppressed people, forced into slavery, Rastafari is seen as a response to the racist negation to black people. It gave cause for black people to have pride in themselves and their heritage. Stressing closeness to nature ganja, dreadlocks and ital foods are common characteristics of Rastas. Well there is a lot more to the belief systems of the Rastafari, one of my favorite teachings is the rejection of -isms because they have created so many schisms in modern society.

Back to my experience in Ghana – I saw some of these teachings espoused by the Rastas we met. However there was a gap in the actions and it seemed there was an undertone of making a profit off of the American students and getting close to the American ladies. But I cannot say that I have met anyone who has abided by the creed they profess in the lives they lead. No Christian, Muslim, Rastafarian, or any other follower of a doctrine (that I have met) has never swayed from their belief system. So well the Rastas in Ghana may have seemed to be shady individuals, they really taught me more than I could have imagined. From drumming and advice in Ghana, to my later pondering back in the US.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

the crouching tiger and the curse of black gold

Oil fouls everything in southern Nigeria. It spills from the pipelines, poisoning soil and water. It stains the hands of politicians and generals, who siphon off its profits. It taints the ambitions of the young, who will try anything to scoop up a share of the liquid riches—fire a gun, sabotage a pipeline, kidnap a foreigner.

What more can I say. The National Geographic article lays it all out in the first few lines. Nigeria represented a story of hope and promise, NG asks ‘What went so wrong?’ “Everything looked possible – but everything went wrong.” The NG article goes on to describe a trash heaped scene with black smoke filling the sky, streets with craters and ruts, peddlers and beggars crowd car windows, and vicious gangs rule the streets. This is a description given about Nigeria’s oil hub, Port Harcourt, right in the middle of oil reserves bigger than both the US’s and Mexico’s. But where does the oil money go?

Nigeria’s oil boom began back before their independence in 1960. Still a British colony, oil was discovered in a creekside village not far from Port Harcourt. Few people at the time ever thought that Nigeria would become a world oil giant from this seemingly small discovery. Decades later multinational oil companies moved in and turned the inaccessable wetlands into an industrial jungle of 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometers) of pipelines, 159 oil fields, and 275 flow stations, their gas flares visible day and night from miles away. This was an amazing technological achievement, but the physical environment was the easy hurdle as the social and cultural environments remained to high to jump. WIth over two dozen ethnic groups having a history of fighting over the riches of the delta, the oil companies had no idea what they had just jumped into for the idea of a sweet profit. Laying of pipelines and construction of oil infrastructure disrupted the fragile environment of fishing seasons, animal habitats, as well as splintering ethnic tensions.

Oil in the delta looked so promising and held so much potential, but Nigeria still failed to help its people. Addicted to oil money, the people grew increasingly corrupt, using sabotage and murder to get a fix of the wealth. The people who could have lived better lives are now left nearly hopeless and poorer than before the discovery. The world has reached its peak oil production so we will see prices rise from here on out, but every time there is a killed security guard, an attack on a pump station, kidnapped foreign oil worker, car bomb set off, or oil rig overrun the market price of oil shoots up. It is not difficult to see why these frightening occurances happen. This increased frustration among the people of the Nigerian delta is creating a worrisome environment teeming with militias ready to escalate violence. With little or none of the oil money reaching the people how can they remain satisfied? The oil money grows on trees and remains in the uppermost branches without getting to the roots (Micinski 2007).

In July, the shining example for Africa, Ghana discovered oil deposits. Ghana has been in an energy crisis for a while now. While I studied there in May and June we expereinced frequent power outages. When we visited the Okosombo Dam, which provides all the power for the country as well as some for Togo, Benin, and Cote d’Ivoire, it was explained to us that with such low water levels at the dam, enough power could not be produced. President John Kufuor has said that this find will make Ghana the ‘crouching tiger’ of Africa since its discovery of oil. I only hope that Ghana does not become another Nigeria.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

cynicism from a jaded summer

I have been away from writing for a while and this is my attempt to convince myself that is it still important to share what I think. I have been doing a load of thinking since my summer travels. Upon returning from Ghana I started work back at my blue collar job full of racist, sexist, mostly ignorant co-workers, using the term ‘rednecks’ would be too clique, but I just did. At any rate they started off the extreme of the comments that I knew I would receive. Why would I go to Africa? Did I get a number of different diseases? Did I get AIDS? Many co-workers noted that they wouldn’t have even stepped foot off of the plane onto the African soil and I must be either very brave or stupid. These and other questions are starting to not even phase me. They still bother me, but not as much as they once did. The most common question with a hint of no interest behind it is, “How was Africa?” Well if I could easily sum it all up in the few short sentences that will hold your interest for more than two minutes, then I might try and let you know. Sadly the majority of people really do not know how Africa is or have the slightest inkling to discover. This is again not new territory for me and I am not surprised. This is what most worries me. Am I becoming jaded and cynical to a degree? I like to pride myself in working to not become jaded and to always be an optimist, however – people make that difficult, as much as they make it easy. There are just so many interesting things taking place on the African continent and so many thoughts and reflections that tag along that I cannot possibly focus an entry on just one instance – and that is the idea of this blog – to create a place for the contents of my mind that need to spill.

Since returning I have been doing a lot of work with my organization, S.C.O.U.T. B.A.N.A.N.A. We are launching our Year of Water Project in Michigan to fund community wells in 8 different African countries with an organization called Charity:Water. Chapter Action Boxes are being sent out to all 18 North American chapters. The ‘Handbook to Making a Difference’ is almost complete and now we are just waiting on the button order. I have found that applying myself in action has helped to combat the negativity of all the questions asked after returning from Ghana. I have stayed away from reading too much of the news of Africa, kept to the simple ways of a small city life, and have attempted to relax a bit. Now I can do so for no longer. There is too much happening on the African continent, there is too much to do here to raise awareness and there to save lives, there is too much to remain idle for too long. And so I am back at it. There is a wealth of issue I am set to cover, so there may be a large influx in entries over the next few days.

I didn’t have much time to do any great reading from my long ‘List of Good Books to Read,’ but there was one in particular that I enjoyed a lot. I would like add a brief review of a book that I finished this summer. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay was a book that I had difficulty putting down. It is based in the time period before World War II (1939) and follows the life of a young british boy from his difficult days as a child at a Afrikaaner boarding school, to his climb to intellectual superiority in a new town, and later to his days as an accomplished teenager. All the while the boy is growing in his educational, spiritual, and professional capabilities – and working dedicatedly to one day becoming the boxing welterweight champion of the world. It is called a classic novel of South Africa and I think this tag fits because the book follows the development of South African society. The boy has no difficulty in accepting a person for who they are and often works diligently to assist the oppressed African people. The boy becomes respected by both Africans, for his language abilities and assistance, and white settler descendants, for his academic skills and athletic accomplishments, alike. Definitely a story that was spearheading for the future and one that gives an exciting story of adventure, accomplishment, and Africa.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

the caramel apple of globalization

Crunch, Mmm, the peanut chunks trapped in delicious caramel tastes oh so good. You bite and are rewarded with a mouthful of inticing caramel and nut flavors – all of a sudden that deliciousness is tainted by an odd sourish, crunchy, mushy apple flavor. What? Where did this apple come from, I like the outside best. This is the caramel apple of globalization – the outside is so delicious and appealing, but once you hit the apple and core, the fun has ended. Granted this all matters if you run with the majority and toss aside the age-old wives tale of eating an apple a day to keep the doctor away. Too many of us see this doctor everyday – there is no escaping this doctor because all too often globalization is used for ill, just to get the caramel and nuts, not the healthy fruit of the free market, fair trade, and multi-lateral agreements.

Globalization is seen as the harbringer of much ill in the world and the truth of this idea is undebatable. All one needs to do is visit a small community in a ‘developing’ country and the negative impact is obviously seen. Globalization, being a negative, can, if used properly, be a positive and can lift poverty from oppressed peoples. Some of the caramel of globalization’s apple I have seen firsthand in my travels of Uganda and Ghana. Trash, more specifically plastic, has created a scar on the beautiful African landscapes sought by all. This trash is piled, burned, and thrown anywhere. The great evolution of plastic was an amazing invention, but has created problems elsewhere. This goes along with the ‘quest for the west’. The Western pop culture permeates everywhere. This an odd development if you ask me because the cultures evident in African societies are so strong and have such beautiful histories and traditions. Maybe the youth in those societies do not think so, that must be a youthful commonality – rejection of old tradition. Terrible western hip hop is loved, most everyone is walking around campus with their earphones in and MP3 players out – you would almost mistake this for an American campus, but for the heat and the obvious difference in setting and language. The love of technology and having a piece of technology is great. Many places we visited, the youth asked us if we had headphones to give them. This interest in technology could also develop into a positive of globalization. There is also the adoption of the word term ‘fastfood’ at typical Ghanaian food stands. Let me tell you, at least in Ghana, there was no such thing as fast food.

Globalization is defined as the sharing of ideas, technology, inventions, thoughts, education – it is an idea as old as the world itself, so why in recent years has it become such a harbringer of ill and a harsh word to the ears? Globalization brings in an international influence that can be seen as an extreme negative, but in some places international involvement is important to foster a strong economy. The idea is to make the right decision so that exploitation of people and resources does not happen. The economist, Joseph E. Stiglitz, attempted to write a book to explain this idea of ‘Making Globalization Work,’ I would recommend the book, but also look into other perspectives. Globalization can be used for as much good as it is used for ill. The important thing is to use the idea of globalization wisely, as with everything else at your disposal for power. I see the crises of black gold and other important resources in African countries ripping the people and governments apart. Globalization does not have to be the end, globalization is the means.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

the land of culture; africa

Culture is not very easily defined. Anthropologists give us a few attempts at definition and the real meaning must lie somewhere in there. In 1871, Tylor called culture, “That complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by a man as a member of society.” Keesing and Stathern stress the idea of culture in their definition, “systems of shared ideas, systems of concepts and rules and meanings that underlie and are expressed in the ways that human beings live.” We can at least gather that culture is a set of guidelines, whether written or unwritten, which are meant to direct a society. We think less about our cultures as being guidelines and can see culture as more of a means or way of seeing things from a perspective. In Culture, Health, and Illness, we can learn that there are different levels of culture: culture as a ‘facade to the world at large,’ culture as the assumptions known to a group, and culture where the rules are taken for granted and implicit, impossible for the average person to be aware.

Africa is often called the ‘land of culture.’ This I believe is an accurate title. From my studies and travels I have come to see that there is most definitely these three levels of culture and so it is easy to see why this title was given. There is the outside view, often ignorant view, of Africa as a vibrant land, etc. There is the level of culture within the people, depending on where you travel, which you can easily be a part. There is the level of culture where it is easy to see that there is no way that you as a traveler can ever hope to understand or take part. Culture exists at these three defined levels and so much more. Africa truly is a land of culture. But what more is there to culture that we miss when we travel or study a country, a group of people, or a society? Do we often miss the deep nature of culture?

Here is a glimpse of the culture of Ghana by way of drum and dance. I had the joy of seeing this display of culture in my travels of Ghana and in each region we visited.

An aspect of culture that I found very intersting to my work and studies is the idea of investing in death. On our travels of Ghana we visited a special business of coffin making. These were no ordinary coffins. They were in the shape of fish, cars, trucks, castles, coke bottles, artillery, and deer. The coffin is made to represent the life of the deceased person. However there is a greater issue in the coffin business. Often there is no money spent on healthcare or medicines, but when the person finally dies from that lack of healthcare they are given a funeral where expenses are relatively lavish and much is spent to celebrate the person’s life. No matter how easily they could have been saved from an investment in their life, instead of their funeral and death. For this reason funeral ceremonies and deaths constitute a large part of Ghanaian life. Yes, death is part of life, but in this case death is becoming life. The Medical Health Insurance Scheme being promoted and launched in Ghana, so there is hope that there will be a greater investment in health and life.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

bombs bursting in air. . .

Independence Day, the 4th of July, let freedom ring – but are we ‘free at last?’ Today is a day that means a lot to Americans, or at least it should. In many other countries, especially African countries, independence days receive more than just one day and have celebrations that take over weeks. Here we celebrate with fireworks, family get togethers, remembering the troops, community events, and other random events set for just one day. Independence Day is something we have come to take for granted. We know that we are independent and ‘free,’ but we do not really understand what that means. We shoot off fireworks, blasting explosions in the sky, shaking our bodies – but what we do not realize is that ‘bombs bursting in air’ means something completely different to the rest of the world. Explosions, bursts of light do not represent independence in many places – these are signs of danger and create fear. A rocket’s red glare has a frightening consequence and that does not end often in freedom. I began really thinking about how people from other parts of the world would view our independence day when I attended the Seeds of Peace International Camp in Maine the summer of 2003.

The camp brought together teens from areas of conflict to learn dialogue and conflict resolution and more importantly learn that kids on the other side of the conflict were just like them. It was an amazing experience and helped to set my future path studying international relations. While I was there the 4th of July happened and there was a worry that the booms and explosions from the fireworks might frighten or panic some of the campers during the night. This is when I became aware of the fact that while we enjoy setting off fireworks for fun, independence is not so fun in other parts of the world and, sadly, independence is not for everyone to enjoy.

Since I just returned from Ghana I can say that there were huge celebrations for Ghanaian independence, the first African country to gain independence from their European colonizers, Britiain. They had month long celebrations since it was their 50th anniversay of gaining independence and even while I was there three months after the celebrations, events to celebrate independence were still happening. Ghana is independent, but right after their independence not everyone was free. There was political, economic, and social troubles before Ghana reached its relatively stable situation today. I wonder if the US ever had this problem? Or have we even tackled this problem? We are independent from our ‘homeland,’ but does everyone have freedom. Is independence synonomous with freedom? We are free in the sense of George Washington and the founding fathers, but we are not free in the sense of Martin Luther King Jr. – the price of freedom is often talked about, but do we truly understand its full meaning? The price of freedom is at your doorstep and within your own self. What do you appreciate about being free?