Sunday, October 22, 2006

Violence against Women and Inequality of the Sexes

UN figures show that in the world, 1 in 3 women are brutalized or forced to have sexual relations. In the developed world, violence against women presents usually as domemstic abuse but in parts of the world where wars are raging, and in the aftermath of such civil unrest, there is often widespread abuse and raping of women at large. This is the situation in Congo as was shown on a TV documentary recently, where in the villages women endure recurring gang rape by out-of-control soldiers and rebels, with no protection or recourse from their governments.

In many places in Africa we have a lot to do to curb violence against women, and to legally and socially grant women equal standing and respect in society. Traditionally, such rights have not usually been accorded women. Neither have these same rights been given women anywhere in the world without a fight. If it is a fair statement to say that African men usually adore their mothers, then it is fair to say that they are as an overgeneralization somewhat unable to extend that same respect toward their wives. This basic discrepancy between sexes must be addressed from a legal, social, religious and spiritual point of view. This basic human right must be taught in schools. Women should not be considered fortunate when they find succesful and equal relationships, this is the way it must be.

Whatever religion one practices, God did not create inferiority in one sex versus the other, only different strengths. We cannot reiterate this often enough, if we are to possess a better world. Civil rights belong to all. Here's another of my poems on the topic.


Should the showers fall tonight
We will lie out in the rain
Let lightning tear up the middle skies
Into shards and shreds of dignity and hope
Like the bloodied flesh in which we lie
Tainted by the sons we bore
May thunder echo against valley walls
Summon the panic that beat in our chests,
And mothers hear what the sons have done
By the stories we tell under the light of the moon
The other night not too long ago
When womb was slain by tens and billions
The rebel army retreated at dawn
At the blast of a whistle
To hide vampire teeth from the light of day
At dusk be not deceived!

Should the showers fall tonight
May they wash away our yesterdays
And sweep them with the current,
Out of sight, out of mind
To join the waterways of the deep
And mingle with the salt of the sea
Where we stand knee deep in turmoil
With the ocean all around
May healing return to us again
With the surge and sway of synchronized waves
Sent by the wind from the far side of the shore
Mix in powders of bark and herbs
And the roots of drifting green seaweed
Add to this the healer’s words
The songs of the mighty archangels

Should the showers fall tonight
We must hear the refrain of earthly choirs
Sister to sister, sing my song
Stand with us by the unbroken wall
I let drop my tears in a river of hope
reaching out to your store of strength

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Queen Nanny on Young Street

I could have sworn that I met the unyielding spirit of Queen Nanny just yesterday. I was telling stories to seniors in Toronto, working them up to have a good time singing with me while I told them trickster stories. And I was succeeding until I asked this lady if she might tell me her name to use in my song. So far I 'd had 100 percent success until I stopped in front of this lady and politely said, "Ma'am would you tell me your name please?" "You wouldn't be able to say it." she replied. "OK," I said moving on.

The other ladies on her table said her name aloud. Since I was able to pronounce it, I used it anyway. She did not protest. That was good, I thought. Things went well for the hour. Only a few had dozed off and most of my audience seemed truly entertained. Some of them came up to say thanks as I packed my stuff to leave. Then Queen Nanny came up. She who had studiously refrained from looking directly at me throughout the performance( she had been knitting) , now came toward me. I didn't hear what she said because her voice was small and she had a peculiar Caribbean accent that I wasn't used to. She looked at me with a marked frown and severe lips so I knew she wasn't saying, "great show!"

Usually people from the islands love to hear trickster stories, particularly Anansi stories.
"Pardon me," I said.
"You didn't shake your hips like you were supposed to. I know those things!" She declared with bold accusing eyes.
"Oh, I thought I was telling stories," I said.
But she had turned her walker the other way and was already walking off.

Right then I thought of Queen Nanny, the heroic queen-mother of Jamaican maroons, captured and enslaved off the west coast of Africa with her brothers, (most likely Akans, and perhaps Ashanti) who led her people courageously in their struggle for freedom and independence on a strange land. How had she done it? She must have been a very compelling and charismatic person, forthright and perhaps intimidating such as this woman who had not smiled throughout my presentation but had none-the-less sat through it all.

Did my Africanness - my accent, clothing, stories and songs irritate Queen Nanny, who had been betrayed by other Africans so many years ago? Who is to know? I am a writer and a storyteller; I imagine , I speculate, I make connections, I weave plots.
Is it irritating for people of Caribbean descent when they are mistakened for Africans and vice-versa? Is it irritating for African Americans and African Canadians when they are mistakened for Africans or Caribbean people. Is there some kind of attitude; racism or some kind of 'ism' between different black groups in diaspora? Certainly in Africa there is still much tribalism among closely associated groups and such feelings are often encouraged and manipulated by a few who stand to gain political power.

Here's a poem by Adwoa Badoe: The Ships

It is this interruption which by itself
Has brought us sorrow upon sorrow…
We had wanted our seers to describe the heavens to us
Dresssed up in geometric metaphors, red, white and gold
Constructed in riddles, pictionary,
In-scratched on the rock faces of Gambaga scarp
We pleaded with our prophets to foretell our future lives
Staring in the furnaces of soothsaying blacksmiths
Reading the scattering of fine grey ash
When the smoke was spent and the fire long dead
We yearned for our artists to paint us black
Asymmetrically posed against the myriad forms of nature
Giving sight and color to the wind and the rain
And the cloying smells pervading the unknowable forest
Our desire was for our griots to mold our legends and heroes
From the distant fragmented past to a future among the stars
But this was not to be
Once the ships sailed in to shore

Like a chasm in our souls is the sea which entered life
The emptiness we must embrace if at all we would proceed....
(One foot after another
Chained to these memories
Dangling from iron hooks in the sky)....
To heal the keloid scars of otherness
Which having torn blood asunder
Continues still to direct dissensions
Which long ago robbed Wagadugu
Of her brilliance among the planets!
All this came to be when the ships sailed in to shore
Then they sailed away
Taking you awayfrom us
Leaving us in-te-rrup-ted for five hundred years,
till...“hello there, have we met?
I ‘m sure I know your face from a memorable place”

Monday, October 16, 2006

African Dance is Alive and Well in Guelph

What do teenage girls, young adult and adult women have in common at the Guelph Youth Music Centre? They are all doing African dance. My classes are full of strong exuberant females who are just happy to be moving to the rhythm of live drums, trying out fun, exotic and yet natural movement which the body was designed for. They are dancing with ease and liberty; exercising, shaking off the stresses of work, school and home and forgetting their responsibilities as they focus on the lesson. They realign body, soul and mind through the complex polyrhythms which vibrate through their bodies from the drums. It is heady business, euphoric and exhilarating, ending in sweat and release. In my classes are three mother and daughter students and a fourth mother daughter duo of which mom is a drummer. Something about the community of dance and the circle of women. To my mind it is most important for women to play and dance and flaunt themselves for fun and joy. It is part of being a woman. That is why every year I take pleasure in our full dress recital which we perform for family, friends and general public. If it is a long time since you danced, and really moved your feet and legs and hips and spine, then perhaps you should consider trying an African dance class to connect your self to the rhythm of old woman earth.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Last night Fule and I were in Kichener at the Trinity United Church on Frederick Street for a volunteers appreciation night. The se volunteers had served only months ago to bring Lori-Ann Livingstone's dream to life: KW's own cross cultural (Latitudes) storyfest. We had performed at this remarkably well organized festival in April with a host of other performers. Now at last the tireless volunteers who had missed the fun were going to enjoy a bit of it.

The evening began with the tastiest finger foods from samosas to bite size sausage rolls, spring rolls and meat balls, pita bread and assorted dips, crackers and cheese and a delightful tray of cheesecake and other sweet squares. We were so intent on eating, we started five minutes later than the start time, with me rushing to settle my food in the belly. Spirits were high and we felt cosy, relaxed and like we were among friends. There was the welcoming address and an explanation of the night's agenda. Then I was given the microphone. We sang Fanga for a welcome and a blessing. My theme for the night was "Community". I told one story from Uganda and another from among the Soninke and those went down really well. We sang again to end my halfhour piece with Fule's accompaniment on the djembe.

The next few minutes were used to explain the needs and plans for the next festival including community initiatives supporting kids learning ESL and new immigrants. Lori-Ann received a surprise appreciation gift, a wall piece which read: "Home is where the story begins." James Gordon then regaled us with songs and stories connected to Kitchener and his other travels. It was altogether funny and very pleasant. So the evening ended and we braved the harsh October wind to return to our cars for the return journey home. I wish Latitudes the very best. It has had a good start and it promises to do much for the KW community.

For myself, I took a couple of business cues from the organization and also from James.
Dr. Mohammed Yunus has won the Nobel peace Prize for his tireless work against poverty through his Grameen (micro finance) Bank. We salute him!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Jiwani, the U o Guelph and The Masai Fundraiser

The University of Guelph has committed to raising $100000 toward the Lesotho HIV initiative in support of Anne-Marie Zajdlik's campaign. Last night there was a dinner at the UoGuelph's Peter Clark Hall where Alastair Summerlee, the university's president chaired and/or emceed. I can't tell for sure because we (JIWANI) were the entertainment and were mostly engaged in transferring our drums from car to hall, getting dressed and rehearsing to quiet finger drumming in the coat area. The hall was full, bedecked with well dressed ladies and gentlemen and white table cloths on wine. We saw Mayor Kate Quarrie who left right after Anne-Marie's speech, to catch her sleep before the 7am start to her City Council day. She left with apologies, regrets and well wishes. Two years ago, Her ladyship of the Royal City and I sat together during a Girl Guide Award dinner where I performed Ananse stories from Ghana.

This time though she really missed the high energy Jiwani ensemble, performing our vivid and vibrant re-creations of the Koukou, Guinea Fare and Sorsonner dances of Guinea. I also told an Ananse story: How Debt came to Asante (Ashanti). It is quite the story. Did you know that before colonialization there were only two Ashanti words for loans/ debt and after colonialization there were probably five more words created to describe the various manifestations of interest on loans.

Anyway I met Dr Summerlee, personally. Guelph being the kind of place it is, I discovered that his child took piano lessons with my nephews from the same teacher years ago.

People who made donations at the event came out with a designer plant in a brick, each brick signifying the building of something concrete or symbolic. I'm yet to discover what, but this I know: they are building health for someone somewhere.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik and Masai Clinic

I met Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik last year when Masai Clinic was officially opened in Guelph, Ontario. We were introduced by the very dynamic Susan Watson who advocates for foreigh trained doctors , called IMGs (as if we were some kind of anti-missile weaponry). Anyway Susan is great and when she asked me to play for Anne Marie's Masai Clinic official opening, I agreed and went along with Fule and Bamidele Bajowa to perform. By the time the afternoon was over, we were very impressed with this woman who has fought for the rights of HIV positive patients in our tricity area. I think she used her personal funds to buy the building which houses the clinic in downtown Guelph. It was at the opening that she announced her decision to fight for Africa's HIV infected populations and particularly for the Lesotho project, spearheaded by Stephen Lewis and the Ontario Hospitals Association. Her aim is to raise $1,000,000 for the Lesotho HIV initiaitive. Since then we have provided some entertainment for some of the fundraisers here in Guelph which have been supported and organized by another amazing woman, Joanne McAuley. In the process Anne Marie has become a well sought after speaker. She has also won the Y(M)WCA Woman of Distinction Award for lifetime achievement.

Anne- Marie is of particular interest to me because like me, she is a trained physician. I have this feeling that our ages may not be that wide apart, but I could be wrong. Perhaps I'm way older! As a writer, I think of the contrasts that would work to enhance a great plot: while she works in the medical profession as a product of Canadian Medical Schools, I work in the arts due initially to frustrations in the (anti-missile ) IMG program. But I'm not complaining, the ARTS to me seem to be a gift from God and the many ancestors who passed on earth long before my time. I feel that I have received an inheritance of immense proportions which I am to direct in such a way to give ultimate glory to God and upliftment first to my fellow Africans and then to all others. Anyway I look forward to how my life as an artist evolves, especially considering the modern day needs of Africa and then the rest of the world. I imagine that the time will soon come when I can tie in medicine with the arts to fullfil the totality of who I am, as I straddle two countries and two continents to which I belong, Canada and Ghana; Africa and North America.
If you haven't given to Anne-Marie's initiative do so--- at least Ten bucks as James Gordon's song goes, "What is it to you?"

Please do something about HIV in Africa. There are many other smaller initiatives that need your help too!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

African Dance Class -the book

African Dance Class by Adwoa Badoe
Photographs by Wolf Kutnahorsky
Scholastic Canada Ltd.
ISBN 978-0-7791-6464-6

It is such a great pleasure to announce this new work published by Scholastic Canada for their Literacy PLace for the Early Years program. The book is so vibrant with photographs of the kids who attended my fall dance session. One can almost hear the drumbeat and see the kids in motion. The text is also very lively. This book will keep my memory of teaching dance in Guelph long after I have retired from it and I'm glad for such a keepsake.

Michelle is riveting as the star of the book and I think she's going to gaze at this book a million times before she's done with it. I think every school which sees it will order it with the entire program. Some things in life a re a treat and this is one of them.

Tomorrow Jiwani performs at the University of Guelph for a Maasai fundraiser. I'm really looking forward to that.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


The third annual Hogbetsotso festival was celebrated by of the Southern Ewe Association of Toronto on Saturday 7th October. It was my second time of attending with our African dance and drum troupe, Jiwani. I love Hogbetsotso first for the drum music of the Anlo Ewes dictated by the base Atsimevu in compelling dialogue with the dancers. Next I enjoy the obvious delight that Ewes have in their culture and traditions and I love the young dancers who perform the various dances.

Two of my nieces perform with this group and my cousin Gustav Quist is the Emcee. I must mention Mike who adds a lot to the performance of Misego with the natural rhythm of his movement as well as his leadership. Mike has three daughters who dance and the youngest daughter who must still be in preschool, is as amazing as the others.

The Hogbetsotso mystery is a pot cooking over a single log fire . It is a symbol of what unity can achieve. The Ewe have a long and difficult history of migrations and wars but in the end, their unity inspite of differences has made them to be one of the best knit groups accross state lines in West Africa. Hogbetsotso celebrates the escape of the Anlo Ewes from the wicked King Agokli of Notsie.

I must also complement the well designed costumes of the dancers. For this festival, we were honoured by the attendance of Ewe chieftains in our midst from Toronto as well as from the U.S.A. We were also happy to receive the honourable Jake Obetsebi- Lamptey, minister of tourism and diasporan affairs of the Republic of Ghana.

What could make the colourful Hogbetsotso better?
1. A definite effort to start on time whether the hall is full or not.
2.Perhaps an afternoon festival instead of a night festival to ensure that families can attend.
3.One suggestion from my point of view is to teach the youth and particularly the girls not only to dance but also to drum.

Here's a poem by Adwoa Badoe

The Drums of Africa

Poly-rhythms of our drum songs
Imbued with healing energies,
Replacing splintered soul
By specific slap-base-tone
Combinations of palm, stick, finger
Against leather of camel,
Goat or zebu oxen
On carved lenke hardwood shell
Wood will not sing and neither will skin
Unless the drum master calls out the tunes
By ancestral ear preserved
Deep in the forest
Where spirits drink palm wine
The rhythm is in my backbone,
I conceive it in my womb
I twist and turn and shake and make
When I hear the songs of Africa,
They call to me by name
When I hear the drums of Africa
They beat, they beat for me
I’m healed, I say
I’m healed again
Will drums alone save us?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Catching up!

Since July when I last wrote, I have performed storytelling at the Hillside festival and we have taught African Drumming and Dance at CAMMAC which was a great retreat for our family. We met wonderful families who were so enthusiastic about music. We had a time of it. I even wrote a poem about Lakefield:

Canoeing at Lakefield

Canoeing at Lakefield
Where only one
Fingertip stirs the lake
Just where it fills
Through the hairline breach
On the basin floor
Where earth sits secure upon the waters brow
Sending waves on a ripple course
One follows fast after another
And ever widening circles move
An unfurled leaf along a course
Languidly floating between B flat and D
And those who travel on Lakefield lake
Sing joyfully to the distant shore

After Lakefield I returned to writing. I have this manuscript which I plan to publish as a book guide for the DVD performance: The Griot's Journey.

September brought us all down to earth, with kids returning to school and studio programs running! This fall most my classes are full and bursting with enthusiasm. I am so pleased! I am teaching the Djole-an exuberant dance from Guinea.

September 7th to 9th was the Eden Mills Writers Festival weekend. On the Friday I met Natale Ghent, John Vaiilant and James Bow at a workshop for Grade 10 CELP students of Centennial CVI. I enjoyed the students and the various presentations. On the Saturday I returned to Eden Mills to attend a workshop where master storyteller Dan Yashinsky presented along side Sandra Sabatini and Nicole Brossard. Sunday was the festival proper which I relished for its simplicity, excellence and reverence for nature. Sabitini was brilliant. I met Stephen Henighan there and was happy to have his company. Danielle Schaub's book is out 'Reading Writers Reading'. It is a beautiful book and I'm very honoured to be in it- as I looked five years ago. I am in very good company.

We (Jiwani) performed at the Guelph for Africa event where Stephen Lewis delivered an impassioned speech on HIV in Africa and particularly Lesotho. We were glad to stand up for Africa and show off her colour and spirit in dance, drumming and song. James Gordon and Friends performed 10 Bucks and other songs. James was great as usual!

In September We won a Ghanaian Canadian Award of merit for promoting African Culture. That makes 2 awards so far since last year. That's it for now.