Okay, so I have been back on the continent (by the continent I mean Africa) for about 2 weeks, and I have finally been re inducted into the genetic makeup. And by ‘re-inducted into the genetic makeup I don’t mean that there was an official welcoming ceremony where I was the guest of honor…or maybe that was actually the case. Basically, I was down with malaria for a while, but I’m doing pretty well now. Why on earth would this girl choose to focus on something as serious and scary as malaria? Well basically because where I’m concerned, anything is open to analysis.
First off, I did get an official welcoming party — hosted by the mosquitoes. So I guess now this means I should be off limits to all mosquitoes? (fingers crossed). Secondly, it just re-emphasized a lot of the things that I learnt during my first week here – regardless of marked differences, we are all the same. I am as susceptible to malaria, HIV/AIDS, discrimination etc as any one of you are. There still exists a huge amount of good will amongst people – I was literally overwhelmed by the willingness of people to help me out, or just the very act of showing concern – Merci a tous! And most importantly, the resilience of Africans is simply amazing.
Okay so the focal point of this entry has to do with the resilience of Africans. Last weekend – being July 5th – we went on a trip to the Pink Lake where salt production occurs. Although we did not get a chance to see the lake in its pink state (it appears pink due to the crystals and microorganisms in the water and the effect of the sun and wind) we did get a chance to interact with some of the workers. So basically the lake operates on a hierarchical structure where the men are in charge and the women work for or under them. So there are the boat/canoe owners who hire other men to ride the canoes out to the middle of the lake to gather the salt.
These men are paid about 8000CFAs (about 20 dollars) for each boat they fill with salt (and it takes a while to fill the canoes…probably one a day). Now the men who ride out on the boat also contract women to transport the salt from the boats to the shore (with basins that the women carry on their heads) and these women carry basins of about 30kilos on their heads and make an average of 50 trips from one canoe to the shore. What is the compensation for this obviously tiresome and strenuous venture? 25 francs per basin …. that about $3 for all 50 trips of 30kilos each.
Now, this is already a sad situation, but add in the heat (and the heat here is soooo intense!), the fact that these women have families they have to feed, the fact that they are part of cooperative socieities and cannot negotiate prices on their own, and the fact that they have to deal with whatever their ‘contractors’ tell them, and you wonder how these same women had the time and energy to share their stories with us and still smile. If this isn’t the definition of resilience then please tell me what is. Oh, and just in case you’re wondering “Where in the world do I fit into all of this salt business?” – Well, this same salt is exported to various countries within Africa and outside of Africa…and especially if you live in cold countries…its this same salt that is used on the ground to prevent slippery streets and avoid road accidents…so once again, WE ARE ALL CONNECTED. I will try to upload a video/pictures so you see what the pink lake looks like.
This weekend (being July 12th) we went to Pompeguine to visit a writing institute set up by the renowned Ghanaian author Ayi Kwei Armah. He is well known for his book “The Beautiful Ones are Not Yet Born”. Basically, the institute holds a 9-month writing workshop for selected participants with a book idea. They handle all of the processes – from brainstorming ideas, to planning chapters, to writing, editing, book cover design etc. The only aspect that is ‘outsourced’ is the printing/publishing area. One of my friends, Ayesha Haruna-Attah just completed her 9-month course and is about to publish her completed work “Harmattan Rain” (Look out for it…I’ll try to keep you abreast on its development). Mr. Armah was generous enough to interact with us and tell us more about the institute so many of the YOWLI participants were pretty excited.
Like many of the experiences I have encountered I try to keep an open mind about situations, and this experience has been no different. I believe that everything has some value to it, if you just look hard enough and remain patient. I am learning about things I never knew existed – obstetric fistula for one, and meeting such empowering personalities that I cannot help but overlook what shortfalls come my way. One of such inspiring people is Naana Otoo-Oyortey,the Executive Director of the Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development: FORWARD (http://www.forwarduk.org.uk/). This woman exudes positivity, even when she’s had a hard day and is tired. She is always willing to help out and discuss issues. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to meet her, and its amazing how I never met her in Ghana (she’s Ghanaian) but had to go to the US, then France, then Senegal to meet. Destinies Intertwined at its best.
Okay, I believe I have gone on for long enough, but there is so much more to tell. I can only hope that people get some idea of the things I am learning cos it is my objective to share as much as I can (Sharing Is Caring). Alors, in the meantime, take care, enjoy your summers, and if any members of the mosquito squad come looking for me, do me a favor and tell them that I have already been initiated so they should leave me be.lol.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.