Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Beer Bottles Find Medicinal Use

Though the reason for buying these packets of Oral Rehydration Salts at my local pharmacy was lamentable, the packaging design was totally worth the 80 pesewas (about 40 cents US) I spent, absent any health purpose.

Made in Ghana for distribution in West Africa, the graphics are locally-motivated and culturally appropriate.

Directions (click on photo to see larger, more readable version) specify using a beer bottle (a standard size regionally, bigger than the usual US beer bottle) to measure the proper amount of water for mixing.  To a Western mindset this is complete humor, but for local use it's right on - a normal Ghana 'kitchen' is often a space outdoors and won't include marked measuring cups, but the beer bottle is ubiquitous.

Not laughable - the injunction to use clean (i.e. uncontaminated and drinkable) water.  Access to water that is free of contaminants and disease is not a given in this part of the world.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Funnier in Translation

Buying my favorite packaged-for-Europe rice cakes at my local MaxMart grocery store in Accra, I noticed someone had (very helpfully) stuck on a sticker translating the ingredients and the marketing hype.

"Ingredients: 98. % natural brown rice, sesame.  Perhaps check the rice cakes, for example, for breakfast including, as a snack for in between, at home, traveling or at work.  The recipes are as delicious as it manifolds: it tastes better with butter, honey, fruit spreads, curd, cheese, hearty cold cuts, delicious biozentrale spreads or as companion to all kinds of fruity yogurt."

It makes me laugh when I come across such examples of semi-mangled English.  These even wittier for trying (and mostly succeeding) to sound upscale.

Sometimes things are simply funnier in translation.

"…check the rice cakes…" - Check them for what?  Well, if it's my kitchen these days, for ants.

"…as a snack for in between…" - For in between?

"The recipes are as delicious as it manifolds…" - Gotta applaud the random use of "manifolds."

And I love the way "it tastes better with butter" rolls off the tongue.

I must admit that, after photographing the packaging just now, I had a rice cake with some fruity spreads.

Guess I'm a sucker for marketing hype.  Maybe things are tastier in translation, too.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Biking Accra with 500+ Friends

This past November 17 I had fun riding the 2012 version of the Cowbell mass bike ride in Accra.

Now that I have a kid to take care of my time is much less my own, and so I arrived to the starting line late.  While last year I rode more in the main pack, this year I fought traffic with the rest of the riders at the back of the group.

Thus I didn't get the rush of being in a peleton 500+ bicyclists strong, and I didn't get to see The Man With The Eggs On His Head.

I did, however, get to ride with my friend James (who kindly called to tell me the ride was on)…

…who was very ably helping a friend's son complete the ride along with the big boys.

We took the usual route through Osu and over the Ring Road…

…to Nkrumah Circle, where we cut straight down through the heart of Accra Central's Saturday market-morning madness.

There were the usual stunt men…

…hip young riders…

…and this year, bizarrely, a peace rally.

Just another day in Accra - this time with hundreds of blue-shirted riders taking over the streets.

Too bad bicyclists aren't always the biggest mass on the road.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Red, Red, Sad and Lively Red

Today Accra is red.

It's the day of the funeral for Ghana's late president, Professor John Evans Atta Mills.

In the US red is the color of love and passion.  In Spain it's the color of bullfights.  In Ghana it is the color for funerals.

In Ghana, pass by a collection of tents with well-dressed folks sitting in rows of chairs and a few dancers moving to music pumping from large speakers, and you know you've passed either a wedding or a funeral.

If everyone is wearing black and red, it's a funeral.

The black is familiar - it's what we wear to funerals in the US, too.  But the red is different.

Notice I said before that the music is pumping whether it's a wedding or a funeral.  Yes, in Ghana, people dance at memorial services.  To me this is what the red symbolizes - an admission that though a funeral is about sadness and grief (the black), it is also about life and celebration (the red).

And so, today, Accra is red.  There is red bunting wound around streetlights and road barriers all along Independence Avenue in front of the presidential Flagstaff House.  Red strips of cloth fly from the side mirrors of decrepit taxis and fancy Land Rovers alike.  A woman in a black and red funeral dress sells red-ribboned badges with a picture of the president "in loving memory."

All around Accra, street vendors sell anything red - red strips of fabric, red shirts,
red hats and bags - to be used as a mark of commemoration.

A friend tells me people have been lined up day and night to view the president's body at State House.

Walking along my local shopping strip of Oxford Street yesterday, I stopped at a tiny street-side shop to buy an electrical power strip.  The shop's barely-twenty-ish proprietor came running over.

As he helped me find what I wanted, his hips sashayed to music pumping from nearby speakers.  When I asked him why the music and the dancing, "We are getting ready for the funeral of our president," he said.

Yes, preparing for grief with music and dancing.  In Ghana, that's what funeral red is all about.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A French Tour in 60 African Seconds

I'm watching the Tour de France bicycle race, on TV, in Ghana.  

Today's breakaway group - a small number of riders who have established themselves some minutes ahead of the peloton, the main body of riders - is nearing the top of the famous Col du Tourmalet.


I want to be riding in mountains like that.  Real ones of course, not the electronic beige ones of the official race ticker.  Though I have trouble, these days, simply keeping my pace up on an hour-long, relatively flat pedal.

These days, this is the best I get for hills.

The climb to Aburi, north of Accra.

As I watch the Tour I'm waiting for something to happen.  For some rider to attack.  For someone to take a corner too fast and end up in the bushes.  Any kind of drama.

The Tour unfolds so slowly in real time on TV... even on the crucial and race-deciding mountain stages.  But if you can wait long enough to catch the decisive moments - an unmatched acceleration, a brutal crash, a solo rider just staying ahead of the peloton in the last 500 meters to cross the day's finish line first - the wait can be worth it.

Last night I saw on Facebook this photo:


I think this is hilarious, and exactly the kind of satire needed against the prevailing knee-jerk disinformation of 'Africa's' backwardness.  Nothing but conflict and starving children?  Hardly.

There's an African rider in this year's Tour de France, actually.  White, of course, and from South Africa.  But hey - South Africa is still part of the continent last time I checked.  Go Africa.

I'm writing this sort of disconnected, stream-of-consciousness post partly because I'm distracted by keeping part of my attention on the bikers on TV.  And partly because, in the larger sense, I'm 'distracted' these days by my baby care duties.  My son is nearing half a year old, now, and my stay-at-home-dad status has got my blog-post frequency way down.  But I don't mind that too much.

I like it that my son is growing up in Africa, where every 60 seconds a minute passes.  Though unfortunately I won't be riding him on my bicycle any time soon, here.  Between the taxis that come much too close to my wheels and the open ditches waiting beside narrow city roads, I won't take the risk.

I can't wait to teach him to ride, though.  And show him the fun of satire.  Maybe I'll even get him to see a Tour de France some day, in person.

For now, some little guy named Voeckler is pedaling at breakneck speed down a French mountain after leaving all his competition behind on a long day of racing that included four very hard hills.  And an African-born rider is dragging the leader of the Tour up over the last climb of the day and back onto the wheel of his chief competitor, the African-born pedaler himself in second position overall in the race.

For me, I'll enjoy my next 60 seconds in Africa.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Urban Beach, Urban Beauty

Seeking beauty in an urban environment has always something disconcerting; in Accra this means also overcoming the blatant lack of urban planning, the problematic concept of "public space" and the problems of everyday filth and hygiene.  To find beauty where it is most hidden is the artist's most daring assignment...

The vocation of the arts is in the desire to expose people to beautiful things, but the arts are selfish: in general we expect the people to come to the arts rather than the arts going to the people.  Integrating museum art and street art into one overall event allows to bring the best of both worlds together...

          -Rudek van der Helm, from thebeautyfulones.com site

I read Ghanaian author Ayi Kwei Armah's novel The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born back in my twenties when I, naively, thought I might go to Africa on a Fulbright exchange.

Then, Ghana seemed an exotic place - unable to be understood, out of reach.  Now I live here.

Six months ago I picked up a copy of the book and started to read it again.  Figured I might have a different perspective these days.  But my reading got waylaid.

I was brought back to the book last week by a group of artists who are using the novel's title and themes as a springboard for an art exhibit and happening - sharing their own perspectives on Accra life.  Anna Kurtycz and Rudek van der Helm of Studio Kurtycz, whose November/December 2011 show Neither Black Nor White I also blogged about, teamed with local artists to put together this group event.

The performance-burning of one of a local artist's installations.
While I haven't yet seen the gallery portion of the show hung at the Goethe Institut in Accra, I did get to attend an art affair that opened the companion open-air/installation portion of the show in the tiny urban fishing community of La on the edge of Accra's beachfront.

When I arrived at the event a few musicians and dancers were beginning a procession through the community's winding dirt paths.  Along the way they passed artist's photos hung on the concrete or plywood walls of village structures as well as numerous site-specific installations.

The most accessible and engaging of the installations that I saw were Rudek's larger-than-life, block-print-style portraits painted onto clear acrylic sheets and scattered around the community.  Done in black with a sparing accent color or two where appropriate, I slowly came to realize these were portraits of La residents.

Looking at a portrait titled "John Wayne," a man came up to me and proudly told me I was regarding a picture of himself.  Turns out he is the chief fisherman of the village, and I was standing outside his house; the print was mounted just by his front door.

Apparently the chief fisherman loves Westerns, and so everyone knows him as John Wayne.  His portrait carried a boat paddle and a fishing net instead of the obligatory cowboy lasso and six-shooter.

The "moving installation" of artists and La residents wearing "I (Heart) LA" t-shirts was another perfectly whimsical touch.  Were the shirts originally 'I Love Los Angeles' tees appropriated for the moment?  Were they designed and made to be Ghana-La shirts?  I still don't know, but either way they were an invitation to contemplate the vast difference between the Los Angeles metropolis and Ghana's urban beach village of La, as well as a playful comment on the appropriation/appropriateness of tourist kitsch.

Anna and Rudek's careful alliances with Ghanaian artists - and now a Ghanaian community as well - treated audience members on Saturday to a Western-style public-art display integrated into and complementary of the life of a ramshackle developing-country settlement.

Rudek's print-painting (left) of a common Accra sight  - a man with his pants half down peeing -
echoed by a human in the distance fastening his pants after some business on the beach.  Though an
unhygienic practice, the lack of access to toilets is also a justice issue.
"It's hard to tell where the art ends and the village begins," said art appreciator and audience member Laura Evans.

I felt that way, too, as I joined two middle-aged local men atop a lopsided pile of concrete blocks to get a better perspective on the crowd, the performers, and the art.  I watched local kids kick a dirty soccer ball between contemporary-art-inspired installations that would have been just as at home in the Tate Modern in London as on this hardscrabble dirt field next to the tight clusters of village huts.  I watched a small group of women stoking their open-air kitchen fires, stirring large metal pots of soup, tending to their children - as they always do - listening to the live music and regarding the art-audience-outsiders with appreciation and amusement.

And I felt that, at least for this day in the dirty urban-beach town of La, ordinary life was an artistic enterprise and art became a reflection - perhaps even an illumination - of both the mundanity and the sanctity of the everyday.

Now I'd better get back to finishing that Beautyful Ones book.

A Zoomlion (refuse collection) worker's portrait mounted by the dumpsters
where she sorts her garbage, just across a dirt field from her hamlet of La.