Distance

Two cool kids, 1990s

Being far away from home, in such a different place, has allowed me to distance myself from events happening at home. Sometimes I’m grateful for that, but sometimes I really want to be there.
I’m not sure how to write this. I know some of my family members read this blog, and I wish I was there to talk to them about it in person instead of trying to express myself here, publicly, without conversation.
Also this blog is fundamentally about me, and what I want to say right now shouldn’t be.
A week ago, my grandfather died. For years he’s been joking about death but I never thought it would actually happen. Even though he’s been sick for some time, it just didn’t seem like a possibility.
I’m still not sure how I feel. My reaction is buried under coping mechanisms and trivial distractions I’ve invented for myself. It might hit me when I go home to a different world in twelve days, or it might hit in the next few hours. But nothing changes the fact that my grandfather was- and still is- one of the coolest people I know. So is his wife, my grandmother. There’s photographic evidence of that.

Two cool kids plus baby, 1960s

All the best, Ted Coughran! If I can live my life just half as awesomely, love my family with just half as much joy, and live with just half as much humor as you- you and Gram, I will be happy. I wish I had told you that.

Advertisements

I needed existentialist tales and songs from the American Bible by wrathful Elvis in a sphere-shaped lacuna

Living in Ghana is really good for reading books, because there’s lots of free time and usually no internet access. This is great! Now the internet seems really boring to me, and I’d rather read Tales of the South Pacific than goof off on Facebook or other such nonsense!

Our ISEP group at the dorm has established a very fluid, organic community library type thing. Once you give your book to someone else, there’s no telling who will eventually be reading it a few weeks later. Right now, I have a few books floating around out there and a few in my possession. It’s time to pass Velvet Elvis on to the next person!

Here are some books that I’ve read in Ghana.

The cover is inexplicable.

The Lacuna. I recommend this or anything else by Kingsolver, especially The Poisonwood Bible.

Another red and yellow book.

A Case of Need. Michael Crichton’s first book. The protagonist is a little racist, a little sexist, and annoyingly full of himself, but the plot is entertaining. All about abortion before abortion was legal in the US.

More deep sea shenanigans than expected.

Sphere. Also Michael Crichton. I liked his books when I was in middle school, but reading stuff by him now is a little embarrassing. The plot is good though!

You can only escape from here by playing tennis or getting on Oprah.

Miriam’s Song. I’m glad I read this in Ghana. It’s written by the sister of the guy who wrote Kaffir Boy, which I read a few years ago. A true story set in South Africa during apartheid. I feel like I can understand a lot more of it now that I’ve been to Ghana.

My favorite book. Yay for reading it for class!

Excerpts from Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Fear and Trembling, The Brothers Karamazov, The Gay Science, Daybreak, Human All Too Human, The Will to Power, Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, The Twilight of the Idols, The Wanderer and His Shadow, The Myth of Sisyphus, Existentialism is a Humanism, and Being and Nothingness.  Various authors, for my existentialism class, either shoot me now or listen to me tell you how exciting it all is.

...will have more post impressionist cities.

The Post American World. I felt so educated after reading this! It’s very informative, and I gained some perspective on development and America’s place in the world. About politics in the US, Zakaria says, “For many on the right, illegal immigrants have become an obsession. The party of free enterprise has dedicated itself to a huge buildup of the state and police powers to stop people from working. The Democrats are worried about the wages of employees in the United States, but these fears are now focused on free trade. Though protecting American firms from competition is a sure path to lower productivity, open economic policies are fast losing support within the party.”

Surprise surprise.

The Bible, study version. Really helpful as a reference for discussions/arguments with friends at Sports Clubs. Just flipping to any random page can open up a whole new world!

This book is chock full of trampoline metaphors, so I think that's what's going on here.

Velvet Elvis. Some guy’s thoughts on how mainstream Christianity needs to change. Written for Christians. Some parts are infuriating, but mostly the book made me feel optimistic about religion in America.

I don't get the ending.

The Grapes of Wrath. I’m glad I read this in Ghana. I think that otherwise I would have been able to distance myself from the way the characters lived because I would have thought they exclusively belonged to another time. But now I’ve seen that people today live like that! Another place, not necessarily another time. I really liked it, which is surprising because Melora hated it, but I guess that just goes to show that even the best of us can be wrong!

War, what is it good for? Writing books.

Tales of the South Pacific. Reading this now! The first two lines are awesome. “I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific. The way it actually was.”

Anyone want to recommend a book to read? I have three weeks left.

How living in Ghana made me an atheist (oh the irony!)

“Everyone knows that Africans are some of the most religious people on the planet,” says my Psychology of Religion professor, a Ghanaian. I agree. Religion is a part of daily life here, percolating into our classes, conversations, and activities.

I sit next to someone new in class. After we get past names and how are you, she asks me if I’m a Christian. No, I tell her. She asks, what are you?

I’m filling out a survey for someone’s senior thesis. One of the background questions asks if I practice Christianity, Islam, Traditional African religions, or Atheism. Choose one.   

I walk into a lecture hall five minutes early to find one of my classmates preaching. Everyone says “Amen!” right before the lecturer arrives, and the young preacher to scrambles back to his seat.

My group is getting together to prepare a presentation for class. We start and close the meeting with a prayer thanking God and asking for help with the project.

At home, religion is not present in casual daily conversation. No one assumes that you’re a Christian. Professors don’t ask all the Traditionalists in the class to raise their hands. Here, people want to be able to define my religious identity and understand what I believe. Answers like, “I’m undecided” or “I don’t know yet” don’t really fly, because most people I meet are in very stable places in terms of their relationship with God/the creator and they genuinely want to understand why I don’t know what I believe.

At home, I’ve been in a very privileged position because I’ve never had to decide or declare whether or not I believe in God. Due to that, I hadn’t decided. I thought about spirituality and truth a lot, and I had many conversations with friends about it. But I’ve never felt pressured to make a decision. I’ve never had to think so much about the fact that religion is part of who I am instead of just what I believe, and I’ve never felt so defined by my beliefs or lack thereof.

Because of all this emphasis on knowing what one believes, I’ve developed a sense of urgency for defining my beliefs. This has led to a decision that I am confident about. I’m an atheist. I don’t think that God exists. If someone proves that God exists, then I would believe it. Until then…

Spirituality is still very important to me, in the sense that I’m amazed by the universe. I find it awe-inspiring that elbows, iguanas, oak trees, eyesight, love, and the citric acid cycle are all the products of evolution. That gravity and magnetism and everything that defines us and all the parameters of our lives arose from chance. That I can think. The fact that the world is the way it is, despite the improbability of it all, is so amazing that I can’t comprehend it. I fall on my knees before the vast implausibility of my life.

In Ghana, “atheism” isn’t a dirty word like it is at home. I can tell people I’m an atheist and they won’t be disgusted or mistrustful of me. They may try to convert me and they will likely try to start a discussion about why I believe what I do, but they are not judgmental or outraged. Atheism is accepted here. Not that I feel victimized at home- it’s just that the negative connotation that exists at home doesn’t exist here.

I like to think that I’m equally tolerant because I don’t respond to the passionately Christian Ghanaians I meet with (admittedly uninformed) questions like, “Why don’t you see Christianity as a symbol of your own, recent colonial oppression?”

So at this point in my life I’m an atheist. I can’t say that won’t change, and I hope you don’t hate me for it.

Now, all I need is some sort of written guide that will help me shape my beliefs and behaviors! Preferably written by an expert, or even a prophet, of atheism… oh wait. I guess I’ll just read Richard Dawkins.

From http://foo.ca/wp/2008/04/15/i-call-it-intelligent-falling/ (views expressed do not necessarily reflect my own)

In Ghanaian theater, there’s no such thing as a rhetorical question

Dr. Livingstone, I presume?

Adam, Kate, Scott, and I are sitting in the second row of plastic chairs, swatting mosquitoes and downing handfuls of sugary popcorn. We aren’t as vociferous as the other members of the audience, but we are laughing a lot and taking notes. At the University of Ghana, plays seem as much about audience participation as they are about memorized lines. Throughout the entire production of a play, the audience responds vocally and shouts advice to characters. Rhetorical questions are answered.

The play is called “Through a film, darkly,” and my friend, Caitlin, is playing a British woman who married a Ghanaian and moved to Ghana. Her name is Janet. The first act is funny and informative. It addresses issues like how foreigners have difficulty integrating into the host culture (Ghanaians in London and Londoners in Ghana) and how some Ghanaians react to globalization that is increasingly changing their world.

In one scene a family of Ghanaians is listening to jazz music when their neighbor, who is a white man, knocks on their door to tell them to turn it down. The mother is worried that they were disturbing their neighbor, but the father laughs and said, “I don’t know why I should worry my head about some white man with no sense of humor.”

This frank discussion about who is Ghanaian and who is white is not politically correct in American culture, but Ghanaians are very conscious of people’s origins. It is very important what region you are from in Ghana and what local language you learned first.

Then the Ghanaian character who is married to Janet laments, “Most people think I’m lost to Africa because I’ve married a white girl and I like the white man’s poetry.” I think dialogue like this is very interesting because it shows an African’s response to American/European culture and how people here live with a sense of pride for their own culture.

Janet depicts white people in Ghana in humorous ways. She has a cat whose health she worries about and she mispronounces Ghanaian names, much to the delight of the audience. Most people in the audience just laugh at Janet, but one person shouts “Go back to your country!.” This really surprised me because I haven’t heard anti-Obruni sentiment like that before. Most of the time, people here are exceptionally friendly and welcoming.

One Ghanaian character is especially confrontational towards Janet. He asks, “Why can’t you leave us alone? I suppose you are also writing a book about Africa.” His wife scolds him, but Janet happily and apologetically replies, “No, he’s right, I am writing a book about Africa.” The idea I’m getting here is that Africans resent the fact that outsiders are so interested in studying their culture. So I wonder how to strike a balance between curiosity about someone’s culture and the desire to study someone’s culture so much that it becomes intellectual othering.

This idea pops up again later in the play when a Ghanaian tells the story about what happened to him when he went to college in London. He befriended and fell in love with a white girl there, but then he was betrayed by her. He exclaims passionately, “Do you think it’s fair that she used me as a specimen for her thesis in anthropology?”

By this point, we were all laughing helplessly. The Ghanaian’s friends reassure him that he would have “tired of her cold love” anyways. I don’t think my love is cold!

Anyways, by the second act the play switches from meaningful commentary on culture clash to Ghanaian-style soap opera. The more emotional moments were accompanied by flute music. Here’s some dialogue:

“I was a virgin when I met you!”

“I have known the woman you have spent and I have loved her!”

At the end of the second act, the soap-opera-instigating characters died in a car crash, leaving the stage open for more discussion about culture. One of the final lines was “It takes faith and courage for an African to keep his soul outside of Africa” because of the “little looks” and “thoughtless little remarks” made by natives of England and America.

I loved the play. The acting was really good and the writing was so interesting. Hopefully there will be time to go to more theater productions before leaving Ghana!

Quote of the day, from the Ghanaian married to Janet: You will piss your pants if you think we are still living in Livingstone’s Africa!

I hate CNN because of Osama bin Laden

Four hours ago, I woke up to a text from Travis about how Osama bin Laden was killed last night.

Then my roommate, Efua, who had also just woken up, said, “Did you know? Osama bin Laden was killed! I’m sure you are happy.”

I texted some friends about it. Then Efua and I turned on our radio to listen to the BBC news. We heard Obama’s announcement and quotes from leaders from all over the world- the French president, the German chancellor, an Egyptian brigadier general, a Pakistani mayor, a Russian diplomat. They all expressed their happiness and relief and cautioned that this doesn’t end terrorism.

I went downstairs to have breakfast with some ISEP friends. Jokes ensued. Evan alleged, “From what I heard, Obama challenged Osama to a gentlemen’s duel.” We talked about what this means. Is al-Qaeda finished? Will bin Laden be seen as a martyr? Why was his body disposed of so quickly? Is Obama guaranteed reelection because of this?

From what I heard on the BBC and from some of my Ghanaian friends in the dorm, people all over the world are happy about this but cautious to declare what it actually means. The response seemed balanced and intelligent.

Then I left the dorm to find internet access.

Right now, I’m sitting in an internet café in Accra. CNN is playing. I can’t think of the last time I was exposed to such terror and bloodthirsty rhetoric. The newscasters are worried about how Muslims in Africa and the Middle East will respond to this. This is in addition to their use of phrases like “Islam’s terrorism”. They seem to be painting a picture that the rest of the world disagrees with the idea that terrorism should be combated. That’s not the impression that I get from “the rest of the world”, and I’m there right now.

It’s infuriating. How can the popular media betray Americans like this? Why are they fueling paranoia and fear? It’s bizarre and not realistic at all. It’s understandable, if barbaric, that people are celebrating so much in the streets in DC. But why all this dangerous and irresponsible rhetoric from our “news” sources? If you’re watching CNN or any American news channel right now, please keep in mind their inexplicable and hazardous bias that only fuels violent sentiment. I don’t understand why they are intentionally so inflammatory. Are ratings worth the lies?

Quote of the day, from Travis, via text: So Osama bin Laden has been found and killed, which I guess is a good thing, but I find it disgusting that people are celebrating the death of anyone.

Countdown until I go home: 0 lectures, 1 month, 11 exams

46 slogans seen at Makola Market this morning

God time is the best, but I thought God was timeless.

I just got back from a trip to the biggest market in Accra. On the way there, I decided to start writing down the slogans that are on the backs of taxis and trotros. This is a small sample because I didn’t have time to write them all down, and I couldn’t catch a lot of the slogans that were in Twi. Even some of the English ones make no sense to me. Here they are!
LOOK SHARP
BLESSING (two times)
FEAR NOT
PS – 23
GYEƐ ONYAME (praise God in Twi)
EMMANUEL (four times)
ƐYƐ MMƐRƐ
GOD’S TIME
NEVER
STILL YOUNG SHALL GROW
CHRIST NTI
KRISTO NTI
UNDER 12
AGESHIENKA
BELIEVE IN GOD
LUMBA
TRUST IN GOD
DABƐN?  (when? in Twi)
THE BLOOD OF JESUS
AS IF BUT NOT
CONFIDENCE
THE BIBLE
BLESS THE CHILD
YESU DEA
NO TIME TO DIE
ENDI HƆNƐ AKYE
HIGHLY FAVOURED
YES! IS JESUS
DON’T RUSH
GOD’S PROPERTY
BY THE GRACE
BY HIS GRACE
ONE DAY
ABOTERƐ
JUDGEMENT DAY NO BRIBE
THE SAME GOD
FINE BOY
CASH DO GOOD
WITH GOD
GOD IS GREAT
STILL POWER
GOOD NAME
GIVE ALL TO GOD
THINK ABOUT JUDGEMENT DAY
GOD IS POWERFUL
FOCUS

And two I wrote down yesterday:
THE MONKEYS ARE CONFUSED
Still 2 + 2 = 5 WHY?

Unfortunately, I didn’t see two of my favorites, NO WEAPON and PRAISE GOD – ALLAHU AKBAR.

A homeboy calling for passengers