Tuesday, May 13, 2008

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Late last night, I chanced upon a documentary on the first year of Her Excellency Ellen Sirleaf's presidency of the West African country of Liberia. It ended about 2am. I was really tired after teaching dance that evening but I could not take my eyes off the unfolding real life drama on the TV screen.

What would inspire this woman entering her golden years, to attain to such a difficult and dangerous position, at a time of life when her peers would be retiring and seeking rest and pensions after years of service.

The woman I know, if she had worked hard and long for many years, would be inspired toward the comfort of a beautiful, exquisitely decorated suburban house, complete with landscaping, and a nice chauffeur driven upmarket car. Her son and daughter would probably have second and third degrees from American or European universities, and most likely would be working for corporate America and so on and so forth, in that general vein.... and why not? That is the good life. Indeed Sirleaf Johnson may have all of these as she held positions at Citibank and World Bank.

But Madam Sirleaf's older sister said their mother always said, "Ellen will be great!" Maybe that's what did it. It is my intention to research more about this woman, who walks her treadmill in the morning, dresses traditionally African, who has an unprecedented number of women in her cabinet. Ellen Sirleaf rises daily to fight against overwhelming poverty, extreme corruption, disorderly mobs (made up of exmilitia men and ex-renegade soldiers who laid waste the contryside in the days of Charles Taylor), opposition party members, (some of whom should have been tried and incarcerated for everything from war crimes to corruption) and unchecked multinationals who have exploited and mistreated Liberian workers for decades. She has very little on her side except hope and the undependable promises of aid from donors like the World Bank and IMF, who give with one hand and take back with the other hand and both feet!

Hooh! (Ghanaian groan) It's clear that her life is in danger from day to day and yet she faces confrontations as they come. She listens with grandmotherly compassion to the aggrieved, making everyone feel significant. She shoots straight with honesty and conviction in her dealings, never shying away from the difficult issues, whether with demonstrators or her own cabinet members. She doesn't run and she doesn't hide. How long can she keep this up?

She more than others, in world politics in recent times is the true revolutionary. I will be watching her as she leads this unlikely democracy, which is born out of years of civil war and loss. Indeed I will be praying for her. She will need a lot of help and I hope that America which has historical connections with this small country will find her cause worthy of real help. There will be many lessons yet to learn from her. And perhaps someone will follow her up soon with yet another documentary in the last year of her term.

I think of Winnie Mandela who began so well but was in the end affected by the corruption and dangers of her time. I wish Ellen well. " Finish hard", we cheer her on! I echo what her mother said when she was only a baby: "Ellen will be great!"

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Guelph Public Library is 125 Years Old

My librarian friends at the children's department of the GPL


Yesterday night I attended the GPL Gala at the Westminster Square Branch to celebrate all of 125 years and to promote the new main library which is yet to be born.
Sixty Guelph authors, guests and members of the public heard speeches from Norman McLeod the Chief Librarian, Susan Ratcliffe, Thomas King, the keynote speaker and Mary Mulholland of the Friends of the GPL. Dean Palmer unveiled the commemorative Triptych.
I didn't know that Guelph was home to so many authors and as our names were called we walked up the red carpet to applause. My notables were Bob Munsch, Linda Hendry, Janet Wilson and Jo Ellen Bogart, Dave Carter, Edeet Ravel, Stephen Hennighan, Amy Baskin, Jane Lewis and Werner Zimmerman.

30 million copies of books by Bob Munsch have been sold worldwide. WOW! I believe Linda Hendry and Janet Wilson have written and/or illustrated about 50 books each but the gathering wasn't about numbers and fiscal success, just simply about books and authors and the celebration of imagination. Our guest of honour, Tom King, said that writers didn't write for money. Well, making money while writing is very helpful especially if it is one's job or if one wants to spend more time doing it. But it is true that we write really because we feel we have something that begs to be said and also because we feel we can say it in such a way that people would like to read it.

There were trays and trays of cheese and grapes and so much left over at the end. The jazz by Bebopamoeba was electric, enlivening atmosphere. It was nice to meet new people and renew old acquaintances. I didn't take a camera but there were many photographers and am sure we can expect some photos on some internet site soon enough.

I would like to say thank you to the staff of the Guelph Public Library who put on a great gala and who went out of their way to celebrate Guelph authors on the anniversary of GPL, the very first public library in Ontario.

Happy Anniversary GPL!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Books Awards

Baba Wague Diakite's Art
1:30pm at Ryerson Community School, Denison Street, Toronto: About forty people gather at the library to announce and celebrate the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Book Awards. Started in 1976 by Sylvia Scwartz in honour of her sister Ruth, their family have since 2004, renamed the award for both Sylvia and Ruth whose work honoured children; Ruth as a bookseller and Sylvia as a photographer. The award ceremony was simple and sweet with the welcome and introductions by Brian McBurney the teacher-librarian of Ryerson school and Janet Stubbs of the Ontario Arts Foundation. Fule and I were the entertainment, and who better to tell of than Ananse. That trickster spider has been my favorite theme this week and as the owner of all stories, he claims even the ones in books. Ha!

Lorraine Filyer of the Ontario Arts Council, introduced the student jurors and the shortlisted books of both categories of the award: Picture Books and Young Adult books. She also gave us a glimpse of the process of choosing the winners.

Kenneth Oppel won the YA award for his book "Darkwing" and Duncan Weller won the picture book award for his picture book "The Boy From The Sun." In attendance were Carol Solway and Herb Solway representatives of the Schwartz family and the foundation, the principal of the school and other people connected with the OAC, libraries and education. There was a delightful 3 month old baby girl in pink and blue jeans and about thirty five students including the jurors and their friends. At the end we ate chocolate cupcakes and juice. Yum!

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Hand made by the artists of Puppet's Elora: Annerose Schmidt, Bev Matheson and Connie Smith.
Oh Anansi, is this so?

Yesterday, I heard two Anansi stories at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Bayview Avenue Toronto , where Fule led a drum workshop. I met two women from Jamaica and Eunice from Barbados. One of the ladies told me two stories she had heard as a child.

Anansi had three kids at a certain time by his beloved wife. One day, he brought home four fingers of plantain for supper- perhaps it was all he could afford. So he called his family together and shared them out, one finger for his wife Aso, and one for each child.

Then he returned empty-handed to his room. "How about you Anansi?" Aso asked. "Aren't you hungry?"
Anansi made a sad face and said he was happy to sacrifice for the good of his family. Having thus stirred the heart of his wife, she immediately broke her plantain into two and gave him half, which he ate quickly.

The others each in their turn offered him half, and each time, he graciously received.
Who had the most food in the end?

In the second story, Anansi said he was cured from gossiping. The other animals decided to test him so the bareheaded vulture announced that he was going for a hair cut. Try as hard as he did, Anansi could not prevent himself from asking his neighbours, " Pray tell, and where is the hair that vulture's going to have trimmed? It can't be on top of his head, he-he!"

" Gossip!" his neighbours cried.
They say it was the only time the trickster was tricked.
I say, be careful what you say when you hear wonderful things!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Ananse Owns All Stories or Does He?

photo courtesy: Puppets Elora
About three years ago Connie Smith formerly of Puppets Elora, approached me to retell an Ananse story for a puppet show. The whole idea of puppets aroused my interest immediately, having once enjoyed those strange puppets on Ghana TV, playing musical instruments with jerky motion, all those many years ago. My other memories of puppets in my youth was a Punch and Judy show I watched at the Goethe Institute in Accra, Ghana and of course Sesame Street on GBC. Yes, I believe there was a puppet show on Sound of Music too, with a yodelling goat. I trust my memory!

So I went and watched "Babushka 's Doll", a puppet show staged by Puppets Elora, at the Westwood School, to meet the puppeteers and acquaint myself with the unique artistry of puppets in storytelling. A visit to Connie's house and several email edits later, "Anansi, The Spider-Man of Africa", was scripted by Connie and I and ready to be sculpted, stitched and otherwise created, by an amazing group of women known as Puppets Elora. Later on Fule provided a sound track.

Here's where memory fails, for am not quite sure when we premiered the show at the Gorge Theatre to a fantastic audience, but I do remember the show and it was great! So here's a photo of Ananse and His good looking wife Aso-Yaa discussing who really should be the owner of stories. If you have a chance to see Puppets Elora this Spring, seize it. It is very well worth every dollar!

Annerose the sculptor and puppeteer made a mask for me, representing Nyame of the Sky, for in this story Ananse has opportunity to speak to Nyame.