Friday, March 28, 2008

Ohenewa-Olympic Wrestling Princess

dorothy, justo, adwoa, ohenewa and fule at Bollywood Bistro
Bollywood Bistro in Guelph is our favourite place to dine, especially when there is something to celebrate and this week there has been much to celebrate. Bollywood Bistro is owned by our friends, Guelph citizens, Harish and Neena Naidu. There's history spanning at least seven years which bind Neena and Harish, in love, to our hearts. Watching Bollywood Bistro rise from the dreams of our friends into the place of eastern beauty and culinary excellence it is now is a story which I hope will one day be told! I am always inspired when I eat there!

But this blog is not about food. It isn't even about a remarkable afternoon of recording Justo's Bubi songs and thererafter, a celebratory dining among friends, sistahs and brothas; it isn't even about the delectable samosa, or butter chicken or Dorothy and Justo's rapidly spoken Spanish breaking up the English spoken on our table, it is about meeting Ohenewa.

It happened just as we were done dessert, Fule, Justo, Dorothy and I, and done discussing the French president, Sarkhozy and his wife Bruni on their recent trip, when I used a twi phrase, "Ye n'ko?" translated "Shall we?"

I had already noticed the black woman sitting on the next table waiting for her food to be served. She swung around and asked, "Are you Ghanaians?"
"Yes," I said. Then in that instant it dawned on me. My eyes grew as large as oranges..."You are the wrestler", I said standing up. And she was.

I had passed her months ago on the 401 headed for Toronto and had read her name and Canadaian Olympic advertisement on the back of her car. It said something like Support your Canadian Olympic Athletes, beneath WWW. OHENEWA. COM. That same day I had googled her name and read everything about her on her website. I knew I wanted to meet her!

So I went over to her table and hugged her. Dorothy had read about her in the Mercury and she likewise hugged her, we moved her over to our crowded table and devoured her news, every bit of it. It was as satisfying as the samosas and chicken tikka masala I had eaten. Then we had to leave. Outside it was snowing...again. Spring was in Bollywood Bistro but outside it was winter. We know that in the end Spring will win over winter so we are making plans to connect again with Ohenewa and are planning to watch her wrestle in June. I was quick on the draw like a tourist with camera in hand. Here we all are at Bollywood Bistro making friends!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

LOBELA Extensions

Historias, poetas, negras, africana, madre, abuela, traumatithandes........

I'm listening to the cadence of consonants
beyond my ability to decode
feeling peace within soft vowel sounds
past organic boundaries of comprehension
because there is no threat
of my being misunderstood
in this place

Justo Bolekia Boleka has come from Salamanca, Spain to Guelph with the soft songs of his Bubi people of Equatorial Guinea to tell us a story of songs, poetry, culture and cultures, connecting and interacting with dissonance and assonance and sometimes (we hope), in harmony. He speaks Spanish to Dorothy Odartey-Wellington's third year Spanish literature class, which on this day has attracted Hispanics and Spanish speakers from as far as Toronto and London, Ontario, to hear of the little known, one and only former Spanish colony of Africa, which has been influenced at various times by the French, the British and the Portuguese... an amazing amount of colonial activity for a country of 500,000 people living on the main land and several islands.

Of course I did not understand Justo, as I speak no Spanish but did still enjoy the sounds of the Spanish language and his gestures and expressions, and his very occassional forays into English and French. I had the pleasure of chatting with him before and after and the event and do believe I have some insight into this lecturer's philosophy and persuasion. One had only to listen to his songs, to feel compelled to enter his world, where the Bubi live, striving for victory against a past and a present filled with variations of dissonance!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

It takes a Village: It takes a leader

Hillary Clinton has popularized the idea, "It takes a village to raise a child." We have heard that this is an African proverb and it sounds like the kind of nugget-form wisdom that Africans are so adept at shaping. Which ethnic group formed this proverb? Does anybody know? Is it Zulu, or Xhosa, or Ewe or Yoruba, or Akan? The idea speaks of the power of community but the effectiveness of the ratio does not cut it in todays global capitalist world...imagine 1000: 1 , the ratio of adults raising one child. This idea becomes effective when the village develops ways to raise a whole generation effectively and this is possible.....100 adults raising 10000 children. Now in her bid to raise a country, her new Arkansas -American proverb would read, It takes a leader to raise a million kids. A new ratio! 1: 10000000.
It seems people believe more in this latter ratio, for all the trouble people go to worldwide, to find leaders, make them, worship them and keep them in power!

So let us think of ways to raise the ancient child....Africa. Infact everywhere people are thinking of this same issue, from pop stars to world politicians to world banks and world bussinessmen as well as world intelligentsia, world academia, backpackers, churches, moral societies, foundations and individuals.

How hard it is! It was easy enough to exploit the ancient child and make tons of money from it when the motive was singular.....EXPLOIT! And Africa has been exploited by outsiders and insiders and continues to suffer thus. But now, because of conflicted motives, see how hard the opposite proves to be......In the end it is about MOTIVE! True change will come about when SINGULAR VISION is constructed first on LOVE and SACRIFICE. Is this possible? The commitment must come from within. But who can stand against the forces of globalism? Only China has withstood this test and is still on it's feet, with the free-world running over themselves to trade.

Sometimes it seems much easier for a person to raise a million children than for the entire village to raise a child.

The human ratio is 80: 20.... or 20:80.., This is what I have heard...
Are these statements true....?
20% of the world's population own 80% of its resources.
20% of the worlds population use up 80% of the world's resources.
20% of the world's population create 80% of the waste.
20% of the world's population oppressed 80% of the world's population
20% of the world's population provide 80% of the Aid
Which percentages do you belong to?

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Greg Coman took this motion photo of Stephanie dancing
This March break, my daughter Stephanie and I have been watching America's Best Dance Crew and we have been thoroughly entertained. I love dance and it's great that we can catch high level reality dance shows like this one and So You Think You Can Dance on TV! We have decided to take Hip Hop this summer. My first lesson from Stephanie has been the popular Soulja boy routine which I have just nailed. Now I must buy the music.

As I watch what these competitions do for the art, I think of course of African Dance and Africa and what competition would do for it. I am convinced that ours is the most vibrant of the dance forms and I would like to see it develop on the continent, raised to the professional levels found in shows like UMOJA and les BALLET GUINEENNE. At the moment professional pathways wish to annex African Dance to Modern Dance, emphasizing professionalism in relation to training for modern dance. This idea is so neo-colonialist as to make Nkrumah and Sekou Toure turn in their mausoleums in West Africa. Yes, let us rise up and make something out of the mother of all dances! Let us keep classic and folkloric forms alive and find the many possible contemporary forms which could exist.

Among the dances of Africa, the dances of Guinea have found the greatest expression worldwide. Little wonder, as the people whose roots reach deeply into the ancient Malinke culture have the fastest feet even if the Zulus have the highest leg raises. As well, they have the djembefola, whose showmanship excel their other drummer relations, in part, because of the portability of their drums and also because of the investment they have made as a people to their culture. They have been the greatest cultural ambassadors from Africa and we salute them. Notwithstanding there is great expression of rhythmic culture throughout Africa and we ajure the many peoples and cultures of Africa to you show themselves to the world.

One of my dreams is to found a vibrant school here in Guelph with festival and all, and to establish a professional level school in Ghana! Vive les arts d'Afrique.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Barack- Black and White or Brown

They say he is black, but his mother is white. Can we for some moments look at at his whiteness? Barack is half white and half black. Barack is the look of the future, blending hemispheres and pigments, blending knowledge and compassion, advocating hope. Since when has America been so well represented? He represents the past and the future, the master and the slave, the European and the African and if we look at his skin tone, he's closer to the Latinos, the Asians and the First Nations. Am wondering what's wrong with this picture? Nothing at all. This is 'the one world', 'it takes a village', 'big world-small world,' 'we are one', view, we have needed for so long. What is there to fear? Let the whites see their whiteness in him. Let the blacks see their blackness in him and let the many shades of brown see their browness in him. Barack for America! This is one story which transcends the borders of America to influence the world in a positive way!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tne News with a pinch of Salt!

In Ghana, refugees from Liberia are clamouring to be resettled in the USA. Much to the annoyance of the Ghanaian government, the Liberians at the refugee settlement are demonstrating because they do not wish to settle in Ghana and want instead to settle in the U.S.A. The Ghana government feels slighted for opening their doors and giving refuge.

What a state of affairs...The Ghanaian government has said, they are not holding anyone in Ghana. They have said the refugees can go back to Liberia, the one place they can return to without needing a settlement visa or landed immigrant permit. Liberia has been at peace for probably a decade or so, since the cessation of violence from the Charles Taylor wars of civil unrest.

Here's the problem: Apparently the U.S.A. which has taken in the largest number of Liberian refugees has determined that they have filled their quota. Additionally the war has ceased, meaning that it should be safe to return to Liberia. Of course, there is a great difference between being a refugee in the U.S. A. and being a refugee in Ghana or for that matter anywhere else in Africa. If you were going to seek refuge, I'm pretty sure you ( and I) would choose the Canada or the U.S.A., places with more wealth and greater civil liberties than other parts of the world.

So one ends up in Ghana for refuge, her cousin ends up in the U.S.A. No matter where one goes, it is a difficult road. Perhaps in Ghana one feels more equal in social terms, yet advancement in life comes with great difficulty. In the U.S.A. the feelings of inferiority and discrimination are more, yet there are better opportunities for the children growing up and those yet to be born. It seems to me that the thinking, once a refugee escapes the war, is life, peace, advancement, prosperity: the desire of all men, which is called by some, "The American Dream". Perhaps it should be called the Human Dream and the "American possibility"? (These days , even the Americans are somewhat challenged when it comes to this dream.)

Can we blame the refugees at Buduburam for wanting tickets and visas to the States? Yet, we can say that in many respects, they have lost sight of the reality of their situation- that their motherland is the only place they have real and instant rights of settlement. Anywhere else, settlement is given as a courtesy, whether in a poor African country or a rich Western nation. Courtesy is best received with gratitude. This has generally not been the case throughout time and place when one considers world histories of explorations and colonizations. As a general commonsense rule, it behoves the host to be a good host, recognizing rights and granting privileges. It behoves a guest to be a good guest, contributing positively to the life and labour of the host. As an immigrant, I take these thoughts seriously.

Monday, March 10, 2008

International Women's Day

I've been wanting to show this photo of Ewurama
March 8th was International Women's Day. I am a woman and I have never celebrated it, neither in my native Ghana nor here in Canada. Even more interesting is the fact that I have never been invited anywhere to celebrate it, and I get invited out a lot.

This auspicious day (I like that word-auspicious)was birthed early in the 1900s, precisely 1908 by the Socialist Party in the United States, where women were struggling for the vote, shorter working hours and eventually, public office- in other words " suffrage." My first encounter with that word 'suffragette' is memorable because I heard it on the musical movie Mary Poppins, and Mary Poppins was nanny to the children of a suffragette, who shouted,"Votes for Women" or may be "Vote for Women".

The day was birthed more than once, as Scandinivanian socialists decreed it to life, and it is here to stay. So why don't we hear more of it? Has it only remained with suffragetes or feminists? Isn't this something all women, indeed all society ought to celebrate whether in churches or neighbourhoods or simply among friends and relatives? Shouldn't it be a day for resolutions and undertakings, not only politically but on a more local, community, workplace level where we can decide to encourage girls at school, women who want to return to school for an education, increase employment for women in management, improve pay, access to child care, security and community leadership positions? Wow, but that's all political! I guess in the end it is really about power sharing and equality.

So go out to coffee, eat, think, talk about it: Is your home, church, work place, and school a place where equality exists for women and men? If this is not the case what can be done to make our world more accessible to all?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Ghana At 51

Panyin and Kakra...a photo of a photo

Wishing you the best of 51 years,

Ghana, once Gold Coast,

Once Ashanti, Akwamu, Ewe and Guan,

Dagomba, Ga, Dagarti and Gonja

Small bites,

Thin slices of forest and savannah,

And migrating peoples, headed south

From the fifth cataract of the Nile

Then from Wagadu- the ancient of empires,

Where the snake Bida was found,

Whose head detached, flew far to the south

So we all marched south

To find the gold and rain.

On dry Sahel lands our footprints lie

Roots pierce deeper

Than our many tongues

Finding the core at the centre of earth

We cling to the genesis of one long story

Of trials, wars, divisions

and now friendships

Seeking a future bound to each other

We could be stronger

We could be taller

Allowing the past to serve the future

And if it will not

Then let it go

Let it die

As we speak with new tongues

and sing new songs

And dream a new conciousness to life

We march on to find the gold and the rain.

At 51, I daresay we've come of age

We know the stage

We can write a new play

It is time to reach ahead for a blessing

Time to grasp a better day

by Adwoa Badoe

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Toronto Festival of Storytelling

It was Dan Yashinsky who invited me to tell at the 2004 festival opening at the ROM. I couldn't believe I would open this august event at the ROM. It was the closest I had ever felt to stardom. The moment was almost too big for me but I held my own. I had come far from that day in December 95 when I read my book Crabs for Dinner in a nervous whisper at the book launch. I have since told stories at the Toronto festival in 2005 and 2006. My memory is a little shaky but I think I told tales of Ananse on the Fools Night of April 1st 2007. Tonight, I found this photo of the 2005 festival where I told Gassire's Lute at the great Story Concert, with some of the finest tellers, including the marvellous Jan Blake!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Beauty Speaks

adwoa, during her ten minute speech on self re-making in Canada . In the photo, the mayor of KW and MPP of Conestoga.
I am thinking more and more about beauty. I want to speak more and more about beauty in particular reference to the continent of Africa and especially Sub Saharan Africa which is often displayed naked, hungry and sick and whose beauty struggles to be seen within and without. Last week I was at an event at which I told a story. It was a story of origins which explored ideas od identity and belonging. The story went very well indeed, bringing itself alive in ways I had not expected. Sometimes, I speak with a voice much wiser than my own. The response from the audience was tremendous and as I basked in well wishes an elderly gentleman approached and asked where I came from originally. Of course, I said Ghana. "Ghana is poor, right?" he said.

"No." I said. "We have had some struggles but we have found oil. It is getting better." I smiled at his confusion. Not for five minutes could he handle the beauty of the story I had told. The beauty of Africa! All he wanted to see was the Africa of rags and hunger, disease and despair. Yes, we know it is so but show us please....the Beauty! This year I have determined to increase my profile as a public speaker. In January, I spoke to the Third Age Learners on Awakening the Sleeping Giant- the place of arts and culture in Africa. Infact my speech was about beauty. Last week I spoke on 'Re-inventing Yourself in a New Environment'.
When I speak about Africa, my focus is beauty and possibility. It is my hope that we may all discover beauty in life; our lives as well as theirs, whoever they may be!