Thursday, March 08, 2007

Dress to Impress...

or not.

It is two days after Ghana's big celebration. Patience, our cleaning lady, was working when I returned home. She asked me to help fold some bed sheets before she popped out the door to grab some fufu and fish soup for lunch. When she got back, we talked for a while about the jubilee, our families, houses and food. She is an interesting, opinionated and curious woman, and the only Ghanaian I get a chance to speak to regularly enough to get a bit of an insider's glimpse of this country. She is the oldest of four sisters and two brothers, and is the mother of a 6 month old daughter, Isabella.

Patience knocked on the front door on March 6, just to say hello and tell us that she was headed down to Osu with Isabella slung on her hips to see some of the Jubilee. I offered her my freebie Ghanaian flag to wave, but she declined. We wished her a good time and good luck with the crowds.

Today it was interesting to hear her impression. What I thought were Ghanaians having a crazy good time, I think she found just a bit too busy. What she noticed was the "plenty, plenty people and lots of white people" milling about Osu. Fair statement. Osu seems, after all, to be the place where most white people go for groceries, restaurants and small retail, and yes, I mill about Osu fairly regularly. Perhaps her assessment was just a bit skewed since most of the Ghanaians that would normally be in Osu were likely just a few blocks away at Independence Square. Not really important to me, but it was kinda funny to hear her say it. I think she had fun although it sounds that even she found the temperature hot and steamy.

Believe it or not there is some hub-bub surrounding the ongoing/recent Jubilee. First is that the President wore a suit, white shirt and tie instead of the brightly colored and wildly patterned traditional kente cloth. I asked Patience what she thought about this. Not surprisingly, she thought it was a snub to Ghana. I explained that I had not really given it much thought until the hard feelings were mentioned to me. Guess I'm used to seeing male world leaders dressed in a clean, crisp boring gray (or dark gray with red or blue tie in DC) suits afterall. She seemed to excuse me for not noticing. I started to explain "perhaps" just what President Kufuor might have been thinking. Perhaps he went for the suit when he realized he was going to get his 15 seconds of TV exposure on CNN, and was attempting to show the rest of the world that Ghana is no longer "the Africa you studied in junior high." Dress to impress??? I have no idea, but quickly realized I wasn't going to convince Patience otherwise. In the end, I think she is right in feeling a bit snubbed. Similarly, there is a photo circulating of former President Clinton with former President Rawlings - both dressed in kente. Ok, Clinton must have been melting in his gray suit, white shirt, tie AND kente wrap. Patience, you have to agree with me on this one. Come on now....

Of course there is the controversy over the expense of the celebration ($20M US), the overwhelming amount of garbage produced, and the much more complicated question of whether or not Ghana has prospered under their independence. I really do not have enough background on these subjects to feel that I should toss around unsolicited opinions.

Completely unrelated...I returned from a nice solo 57 mile road ride out west of Accra along the XX road. The road has recently been repaved, and probably had a shoulder added. Traffic still moves along briskly for the most part, but at times it seems like you're riding along inside the wheel well of whatever truck might be belching diesel exhaust chugging up an incline. I caught up with a Brittish (?) cycle tourer on his way to Ivory Coast. He started way up in Mali two months ago. We rode together for a mile or so, before I wished him happy/safe travels, and I turned around for Accra. Man oh man there was a ceaseless headwind from the west that required much effort to maintain 16mph on the way out. The return trip was effortless crusing at 22mph though. Fun! Traffic was still gridlocked in Accra three hours later.

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