March 11, 2013

Accra ~ not the jewel of West Africa

i think most people who have never lived in Ghana have the wrong view of what it is like.  yes, it is basically a peaceful land without obvious tensions amongst different peoples.  yes, the Chinese are here building new highways and roads; there is a variety of restaurants and shops scattered all throughout the city, and a second 'mall' has opened.  and yes, it has successfully held democratic elections since its independence.  but it is definitely not a place i would call a jewel, nor a world-class destination..

we live in Accra.  we have recently seen it described online as 'the Jewel of West Africa 'and becoming a 'world class destination' -- a great place to spend one's money for a holiday vacation.  to anyone i know, whether living in poverty, of the working class, or an ex-pat from another country who lives in a big house, Ghana is 'collapsing', 'falling apart' and compared to 'what it was like living here in the 1940's..'  perhaps the difference is actually living here, rather than being a visitor for a short time who is surrounded by the luxuries of the hotel and tour bus..

i cannot speak for what it's like in any area outside of Accra, nor can i speak for the traveler who stays at a posh hotel with the pool and spa, or the wealthy people and high government officials who navigate through life here at a level far beyond reality to the rest of us.  what the rest of us are experiencing living here is a common experience:  the country is not functioning well at all.

despite all the hype about discovering oil and selling it to foreign nations, the nation has progressively gotten worse over the past several years.  fuel (for generators), electricity and water are all very scarce.  traffic is terrible -- there is no public transportation system provided for those without cars.  jobs are very difficult to find.  unemployment is high.  almost everyone in the middle-class struggles to send their children to a simple private school because of the exorbitant rates, while public schools are renowned for being ill-equipped to effectively provide an education to the masses who have no alternative.  the masses of youth who cannot afford to attend secondary schools (which are not free) end up without any chance of receiving a GED and are left behind this ever-evolving world of exclusivity for the privileged.

many people who have pipes going into their homes have water flowing only once a week.  all classes of people pay to have a water company to come and fill up a huge tank or two to supply water to the home and/or neighborhood.  most of the time the company brings bore water instead of the filtered water that is processed throughout the city pipes.  they will charge you the same amount of money but you will see a discoloration and have a slight odor and salty taste to the water. 

it's been 35 hours since the electricity in our neighborhood went out.  we are the only house that has a generator.  in the past 2 months, the usual amount of time for 'lights out' averages 10-12 hours.  it has been rotating between nights and days.  this is a common phenomenon but it is getting more frequent and unreliable (despite how we prepay for electricity).  as thankful and grateful as i am that we actually have a generator and enough fuel to keep it going, i cannot separate myself from others and accept this extreme condition for the masses.  even if they don't have electricity in their home, they will be able to see at night from street lights and walk to the corner shop to watch a tv program together; they will be able to charge their phone at someone else's house and drink cold water from the shop..

yesterday when i went to visit my neighbor -- who lives in a wooden shack that sits on cement blocks and who has no electricity or running water -- i was intrigued to hear her start talking about how the government doesn't care about its people.  she knows that greed and corruption of money are 2 reasons why systems break down.  she knows that after 50 years after independence, the country could have progressed more than it has.  she realizes that pipes and wires that were set up a long time ago require maintenance and replacement.  but more than anything, she trusts and believes wholeheartedly that those people who are irresponsible and selfish will reap what they sow.  i listened and shared that commonly held feeling by Ghanaians that it is a shame how so much of the wealth of this nation is being consumed by the selfish desires of a small minority of people.

in addition to these basic systems falling apart, there are a few more things about living in Accra vs. passing through as a tourist which detract from its description as a 'jewel'.  it does not have a beautiful downtown area to walk through, or any of the attractive features of cities like Kampala, Nairobi or Dar es Salaam.  there is not one public park to have a picnic or kick the soccer ball on a grassy field.  the beaches of Accra are polluted, the roads are falling apart and very congested most of the time, and the food and housing are extremely expensive compared to most other African cities.  of all the families we have met from the kids' school, many have chosen to leave, while others are discontent and feel there is nothing to do as a family except stay at home or go visit another family (unless you are willing and able to spend a lot of money to go to a sports center or swim at a hotel, etc.)..

for as long as i live here, i am choosing to appreciate what i do enjoy and appreciate about Accra.  i like buying local food for a small amount of money, being able to get a drum custom made from the craft market, and enjoying some good music.  i appreciate meeting many goodhearted, God-loving souls and an abundance of bright-eyed, smiling children who appreciate you being friendly to them.  it's a short list but it's essential to be content wherever we live, no matter the circumstances or how far it is from being like a precious jewel.  this is how i am striving to live here in Accra..

No comments:

Post a Comment