It’s World Refugee day and it got me thinking of the role Ghana has played over its history in hosting whole groups of people who migrate as a result of hardships back home. The most recent example is that of Ivorians streaming across the borders as a result of a post election dispute between current president Alassane Ouattara and deposed leader Laurent Gbagbo. In the 90s, Ghana opened its shores to Liberians fleeing their decade-long conflict. This Ghanaian hospitality has been on display though since the late 50s when intellectuals from all over Africa and the diaspora settled in the newly Independent State.
Despite this welcome and efforts to make people feel at home, it is never easy leaving familiar confines to an unknown world. This was made evident in January when I spoke to a young woman who was suddenly thrust into the role of parent, guardian and protector of her siblings who had been sent from Abidjan to Accra to escape what was then inter communal violence. The story I wrote is below. On this World Refugees Day, I am reminded of the costs of war, famine and hardship; refugees.
“It is New Year’s Eve and Alida Bohoussou was in church in Accra, Ghana with four of her six younger siblings to ring in 2011. Like many in this Catholic congregation she had a laundry list of requests for the upcoming year. But foremost on her mind was a new place to live. And she needed to find that quickly. She had been given an initial deadline of December 31 to move out of the hostel she lived in. After church, she trudged home with her brother and sisters, the thought of going to New Year’s parties inconceivable.
Alida is from Cote d’ Ivoire, Ghana’s neighbor to the west. For the past decade, it has flirted with civil unrest but tightly-contested elections held November 28 and the resulting electoral dispute have brought it dangerously close to the brink of armed conflict. And as though this protracted post-election crisis in her country is not enough, the 30-year-old Ivorian national is now forced to contemplate being homeless. The hostel owners’ plan is to construct a hotel in its place.
In the last two months, Alida has switched roles from student to guardian. After the first round of the Ivorian elections, tension slowly built in the Abidjan residential area where their parents’ home is, forcing her 24-year-old sister Larissa to relocate. Then three more younger siblings, two sisters and a brother added to her responsibilities after the second round of voting which resulted in competing claims to the presidency. The two youngest remain in Cote d’ Ivoire with their parents, a university lecturer and a businesswoman.
Meanwhile, the crisis drags on with no end in sight. President Laurent Gbagbo maintains that he is the rightful winner and refuses to heed the calls of many in the international community to hand over power to Alassane Ouattara, the opposition leader who is widely acknowledged to have won the elections. The latest news is that diplomatic efforts have resulted in an agreement for both leaders to hold talks and resolve the impasse amicably.
It is tempting to analyze the actions of the main protagonists as though they were pieces on a chessboard enacting a power play – until you are exposed directly to the human costs.
Alida came here two years ago to study networking at the Intercom Programming and Management Company (IPMC). Prior to finishing her course in November she looked forward to a return home to apply the skills she had acquired. Now she is left with few job prospects and mounting duties.
“We are praying to God to solve this problem because we can’t stay like this,” she says.
She says she was in Cote d’ Ivoire at a time when some Liberian women, displaced by the conflict in their country were left with no choice but to become sex workers. She is determined not to suffer a similar fate. “We can’t do prostitution here to get money. Never!” she affirms.
Alida and Larissa express an unshakeable faith that the situation in their country will become normal again. Still, their search for six-month leases and their plans to enroll the Larissa, Jocelyn, Ursula and Benjamin in English language courses betrays an uncertain future.
Larissa finished studying fashion last year and unlike Alida, she only speaks French. She says that she would like to return to Cote d’ Ivoire as soon as possible so she can look for a job. But she is also eager to make the most of her time here and she hopes it starts with classes at Alliance Francaise.
In the meantime, they resign themselves to an unusual situation, a split family across borders reconnecting daily via phone calls. They stay current with news from home through those calls and news bulletins on international broadcasting stations.
With Ivorian food like ‘attieke’ that they prepare, they are brought as close to home as is possible – waiting for the first indication that home is safe again so they can regain some normalcy.”
NB: Alida Bohoussou would not have been counted as a “refugee” in any official count.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Tom Friedman’s New York Times article of June 28 got me thinking. Among other things, the article mentioned America’s need to invent its way out of this economic crisis. As he puts it, “necessity breeds invention” and he says if America is at the forefront of new ideas, the country’s promise will be renewed. Broadly, he makes the argument that whichever country uses this crisis to create new goods and services that make our lives easier will create the most prosperity for its citizens. According to Friedman, the country that “endows its people with more tools and basic research to invent new goods and services is one that will not just survive but thrive down the road.” He goes on to make comparisons between the U.S. and two of its main competitors Russia and China. He argues that Russia is complacent in this crisis because they rely mainly on appreciating oil prices to survive and criticizes Chinese attempts at censorship.
Anyways, I just wanted to give a little background. Like I said, it got me thinking a bit about Ghana. I thought his arguments made sense but I wondered whether Ghana was even on that level of thinking. Are we encouraging some of these attitudes in our schools, across all levels of the educational system? Are students in higher education(universities and colleges) and further down preoccupied with innovation or are they only worries about the next exam? Recent BECE results where slightly above 50 percent of students passed suggest that whatever the country is preaching, students are failing woefully. If my education in Ghana is anything to go by, little attention is paid to innovation and new thinking. The educational system rarely rewards creativity. We just chew what other people have invented and then pour it out on whatever exam paper we are scheduled to take.
Now, it seems the whole country is waiting for that black gold to start dripping in large quantities so we can bath in it and all become rich!!! So, soon it is not inconceivable that we would be looking at the pendulum-like swings that oil prices perform and holding our collective breath. And yet if Friedman is to be believed that may be the last place the nation wants to be.
Any thoughts?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
I moved to Washington DC a couple of weeks ago and so far I have had no complaints. I got to visit the capitol on the first day of orientation at school and that was quite a thrill. Walked by the door of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Wanted to peak in and introduce myself but you know the Capitol po po were in full effect. Not in full enough effect to prevent a theft of a television but hey.
I figure I should give a rundown of my day. My day starts in Burke, VA which is about an hour’s commute from downtown. I get downtown, settle down and wait for the morning meeting or simply go where I am directed. At about 5 p.m. I leave and come home.
It’s pretty simple but I have to say that the metro seems intent on using the 18P bus route to train the rookies and that has caused some anxiety at times. The first day I took the bus, the driver was late. He was new. He had to rely on the regular commuters to direct him. It turned even more comical when the guide alerted him belatedly that the turn was coming. As he turned swiftly so as not to miss the turn, he says, “Man, you gotta tell me earlier than that!!!” Imagine that.
Yesterday morning, there was another new one who was heading in the direction of Richmond. Again, a good samaritan stepped in, took charge and 20 or so minutes behind schedule we arrived at the Pentagon finally.
Now, I know the metro opens doors and apparently it does to a lot of new drivers but come on man.
Otherwise, DC is a nice city. I could get used to it.
I hope this signals a few more posts but I can’t promise.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
A black man may be guiding us but some things are still very much the same. The sad truth is one cannot run away from being young and black in a major city like Chicago.
It has taken long enough but for the first time since I arrived in the land of milk, honey and cookies, I had my first direct encounter with profiling two nights ago.
I had just left the newsroom at about 10.30 p.m. and was walking to the train station on Adams and Wabash streets because all the red line trains heading northbound had been rerouted.
Here I am freezing my valuables off, my hands in my coat pocket, school bag on my back, head trying to stay warm in my hat, and walking as briskly as I could. A cop in his comfortable looking ride is driving behind me slowly. He eventually pulls up beside me and asks me to take my hands out of my pocket.
Motherlanders, I wish I could have insulted him to his face but I just pulled my hands out and insulted him in my local dialect.
My people, I am suffering in this land oh!!! The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Ok, ok, I know I am acting more hysterical than I should be. After all, it could have been worse. He could have popped one in my *** like they did to this guy in San Fran and I would be getting my wish of a flight home but in very different circumstances.
I am sure there are people who have been profiled and had it much worse but this opened my eyes even more. Whatcha gonna do people?
Any thoughts?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Oh how I miss you guys so. The last 24 hours have been somewhat different. I have been feeling some tingling sensations in my chest. But before you freak out I am not getting a heart attack or anything. From time to time, I miss you guys and home sooooo much that I get nostalgic, the memories start to flood into the membrane and the blood pumps into the ventricles at a more rapid pace and before you know it I am spending money I don’t have to buy a phone card so I can speak to someone, anyone from home. So it goes when your life, in the form of loved ones, is scattered into so many pieces all over the world. But don’t weep for me. In my brooding I did some digging and I found some joy.
Her name is Asa, a Nigerian singer I heard about a few weeks back but never bothered to download. She is good and I urge you to check her out. And not because she is one of you as in a fellow motherlander but because she is indeed really soulful. She is reggae, hip hop, neo-soul, afro beats, afro rock (ok I may just have made that one up but you get the picture) and I am sure much more. Oh, actually, when he sings in Yoruba I see bits of Angelique Kidjo.
On a side note is there a Naija artist these days who doesn’t cite Fela or King Sunny Ade as an inspiration? Either it has become cliche or these men are just that great. In the case of Asa, I choose the latter.
So my three personal favorites on the album are “Jailer,” “Fire on the Mountain (It reminds me of some song we used to sing in primary school),” and “No one knows.” Oh and I also like “Bibanke” and, and… Ok, so I love the whole album.
Any thoughts on her music?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 16 so far )
I am back and I know you are wondering how come I am writing so soon. Unusual, ain’t it? Well, it’s because you guys seemed so excited to have heard from me recently I thought I would spoil you. I listen to you the masses and seeing that you have flooded my comments section expressing your desire for more, here you go.
I did a story today on the struggles of comic book stores in this economy. I know, I know. It seems like every story these days from Fui TV has some variation of the phrase “In these tough times…(fill in the blank for type of store or activity) is struggling.” Well, dudes if it weren’t so tough our President wouldn’t be jetsetting all over the country in his spiffy ride and giving we the people money like it is printed in his backyard. Yesterday $790 billion stimulus. Today, $75 billion foreclosure rescue. Tomorrow, saving the world package. Estimate- priceless.
After so much money does anyone even pause and think about how much money is being printed? Ok, I digress. Actually, let me redigress. Motherlanders, I know you hear of all this money and ask yourselves how can I get some bailout? Well, I will send some to you in remittances so no fears.
But speaking of our superhero President, I saw him today. Of all places I saw him in the comic book store. I walk in and there he is chilling with Spiderman. I thought to myself he better have his spidey senses finely tuned because as far as I can tell, the stuff is not going to stop hitting the proverbial fan soon. Ok, I know I am sounding pessimistic today. Trust me, that will all change after I receive my tax credit or is it a tax cut?
Whatevs. Here’s where I sign off. Oh, before I leave I hope you gleaned from my rambling that comic book stores are indeed struggling. The Obama covered spiderman copy may have helped sales some but sheesh give the man a break. Who said saving the world was easy? Spiderman, spiderman, friendly neighborhood spiderman. He can’t win all the time now can he?
Any thoughts?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
How goes it out there? Hot and humid I presume. Well, I am here to report that things are not quite the same here in coldville. After record 40 degree – 50 degree weather over the last week, week and a half, the Chicago gods have pulled the plug. Oh and yes motherlanders that is in fahrenheit just in case you thought perhaps I was talking about a heatwave.
First, there was some snow last week friday. Now, I know some of you smart and curious folk have already accessed your internet and seen that it is still about 40 degrees and you’re thinking I am an alarmist. Stop your noise and look at the seven-day forecast. Out here we can’t afford to live in the moment. We look ahead to the drudgery. I know you’re saying to yourselves, well why bother looking if you know misery is just around the corner. I say to you, don’t be ignorant.
Don’t you know we have to know how many layers we are going to wear?!!! And whether to put on the sneakers or those ugly , expensive but very essential boots? And many more things but why bore you? You’re probably in a rush to go sailing or surfing or sunbathing or some such French activity.
All I can say is do you. Until the next time, au revoir.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
So last week Thursday, I did a story on this guy who owns a harmonica customizing company. His name is Brad Harrison and he seems like an amazing guy. He was certainly an amazing interview. I don’t even know where to start because if I met a guy like him every week I do a story, my job and life would be so much more enjoyable and easy. He made carrying my awkward camera bag and equipment more than worthwhile.
Why, you ask? Like, what is so special about him you mean?
So, in 1995 I think it was, he basically was at a bar when he saw a musician playing a harmonica. He became so fascinated (as I was mind you when he was playing the instrument in his office) that he went out and bought one. He said he practiced daily. He went on to meet a man, who he describes as his mentor, Joe Filisko, who he describes as a guru. Filisko taught him many things about the harmonica including showing him the harmonica’s intestines and bowels and basically describing in intimate detail how it functions.
As if he wasn’t hooked already, he too all the knowledge and started finding out more about the instrument. Dudes, you should see this guy work. I even asked him whether anyone has accused him of being a mad scientist. He laughed and said yes.
Anyways, he eventually got contracted to work for Suzuki to do some work on their harmonicas. Oh by the way, who knew Suzuki made harmonicas? He continued to invent other ways of improving the harmonicas performance. In his mind, he wanted to give the instrument waaayyyyy more range. Anyways, thanks to his invention, they do. Suzuki, recognizing a good thing when they see one even offered him a large sum of money to sell his invention and work for them.
After much anguish, he said no. He wanted to create jobs in Illinois. He says he has a six month wait list for customized harmonicas and is planning on expanding his factory in Rockford. He will be releasing his own line of harmonicas later this summer. The first one out of Harrison Custom Harmonicas is “B-Radical.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )
I am sure you were expecting a riff on peach cobbler and so on. I didn’t realize y’all had become foodies. I tell you there is a term in this country for everyone. Foodie, Liberal, Conservative, Greenie (ok, I think I just made that up but you get my drift). Oh and how I digress as always.
Anyways, this week it was back to the future. Sort of.
I had an interesting story for my broadcast class that was inspired by a Wall Street Journal article on the resurgence of cobblers. You know, those people who put the craft in shoe repairs. Basically, I wanted to find out whether people were trying to save more by using shoe repair services. I met a gentleman who is originally from Mexico City and he was gracious with his time. Ricardo Tovar has been in the U.S. since 1991 and he is a cobbler. He learned the craft from his father who learned from his father and so on. As he put it, there is no real school to learn how to become a cobbler and therefore for the most part you learn it from tradition.
Amazingly he also makes shoes. He told us of someone who came to him to order shoes and a bag made of alligator skin. Imagine that, shoes made with alligator skin. They can’t have been PETA members.
Until next time.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
It has been a minute. I took a sabbatical. As you may have noticed from my last two posts I traveled to see the elders. All went well. There are many stories to tell from the journey but too little time and space to recall them all. During my hiatus, a lot has changed. Both my presidents are black. I will be getting no lamborghini anytime soon though.
Over the next few weeks, my posts will focus on my work in school. I am taking a broadcast class and so far I have met a 90-year-old man who was going to President Obama’s inauguration, an African who was responding to it. Tomorrow I hit the pier to see an exhibition on boats. I am trying to find out who has the cash to buy these things in this economy. I mean for crying out loud, I assume you can only use a sailboat in Illinois for at most six months of the year.
I will likely learn something new though. I hope to have pictures and an account of my day.
As you can see, I am still hitting those pavements hard!!! Not to say I wasn’t while the posts were not flowing. In fact, over the next couple of weeks I will be posting some archives.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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