Tuesday, October 7, 2014

MAKING SENSE OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

As a pupil, I was taught in the Ghanaian classroom that the response for "thank you" in English was "you are welcome". I have always found this a bit funny even as a child. How did "you are welcome" become the response for "thank you" I always mused. I used to say to myself "ah, but this does not make complete sense? Where are they welcoming the person to?"

 Then, my recent interactions with some Americans gave me a very huge shock. (And Americans can be nice and enthusiastic). So imagine an American saying "no problem" (with a high-pitched voice) after you have said your "thank you". When I heard "no problem" the first time, it sounded so funny, I nearly laughed my lungs out. I was like "really!!!". They say that? 

But thinking about it again this morning, I realized there are all kinds of "funny" things about the English language. For instance, take the expression "how do you do". I think the right response should be "I am fine" or something similar to that (And I am not being prescriptive. I am only being practical). But well, as strange as English can be, we are told the right response is "how do you too". 


In Ghana now, if you ever make the mistake of asking a young person how s/he is doing, s/he will end up saying "I'm good" (meaning I'm fine). And I don't know if this a LAFAian thing (and we wouldn't want to go into a long discussion of where this is coming from) but seriously, what will people say if they are not well? "I'm bad", I guess (LOL).

 Trust me, anytime any day, I would choose my indigenous languages over and above English as the medium of expression for some of these things. "Yen daase" as a response to "medaase" in Akan makes more sense to me. Likewise it's Ghanaian English counterpart "don't mention". 

Monday, November 4, 2013

PRAISE THE LORD + ONE


Kwaw Ansah's "Praise the Lord + One" has been showing at the Efua Sutherland Drama Studio (University of Ghana) for two Sundays now. 

Apart from a few issues here and there (which I will mention shortly), the film was to a large extent a realistic portrayal of the state of religiosity in Ghana today. And indeed if the reaction and comments of the viewers is anything to go by, one could say the movie was well received.

 It is the kind of movie that speaks to the Ghanaian in ways that other Ghanaian movies do not. Someone actually told another person in the audience yesterday that "yeah, these things really happen... they do.... people go to bathe in the sea because a pastor asked them to". While trying to convince me to go and watch the film, one of my professors had said "you will see yourself in it." And did I? Yes!

It is assumed that women are the ones being influenced by the neo-pentecostal one-man churches. I found the reversal of the situation in the movie quite interesting. The film did not perpetuate the popular idea in the sense that  the women (wives) of the story seemed much more reasonable and skeptical than their husbands. I really do not know whether to see this as good or bad but I feel a balancing would have been better.

I also feel that certain scenes could have been taken out of the film. For instance the flashback showing Proph. Joshua asking Apokuma questions about the family was unnecessary. The suspense would have been much more sustaining if that portion of the film was taken out. Once that side was shown we were able to predict the actions of the pastor. And in any case, the scene where Proph. Apostle Frank says Apostle Joshua brings the information and he makes it profitable was enough to tell us that something fishy is going on.

Finally, the ending of the story was too preachy. I think that we got the message so for Mr. Commey to talk plenty at the end was a bit unnecessary. Good art should show rather than tell. The film did a good job showing us what it wanted us to see... we got it... we didn't need to be told what the message of the story is.

 Having said this, I must reiterate this movie is very relevant as far as religion on the Ghanaian scene is concerned.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

STATEMENT OF PURPOSES AND THE BUSINESS OF SELF-PROMOTION

I don't like to talk about myself and the kinds of things I am doing and hope to do in the future. Apart from this, I am a Ghanaian and per the training I had from home, self-promotion is not something  that comes easily to me. Self-promotion makes me feel very uncomfortable. Very very uncomfortable... I also don't like it when my so-called achievements become topics for a natter.


I'm a very simple person with very simple needs (pretend you didn't read that... I doubt if I'm that simple). The only thing I demand of the world is the opportunity to be on a good graduate programme so I can chase my dream of teaching. And apparently, the ability to promote oneself is a crucial determinant in the selection of candidates for graduate programmes in all universities. Unlike other requirements, one can't get a waiver for this.... So this is how I came to be saddled with the tedious task of writing a statement of purpose.


Everyday, I waste paper, ink and my own precious time in the name of writing a statement of purpose. God knows how many months I have tried to do this...and failed. I won't call this writer's block because I have enough material to fill several pages... I know what I want to do... what I have done before... what my convictions are....And I know exactly why I want to be on a graduate programme...So this is no writer's block... This is just me resisting the whole business of self-promotion.


(Say I'm exaggerating) But I feel I've been caught between Scylla and Charybdis... I need a statement of purpose for my application to be complete (but I'm afraid I'm not handling this business of self-promotion quite well). Forgetting about the application is like saying "to hell with  grad. school" and that means "to hell with teaching" which (for me) means "to hell with my life". My God, how do I save myself?

  


Saturday, September 21, 2013

CREATIVE PEOPLE BUILD A NATION

I really do not know what's happening to me these days. I often find myself remembering things, events, incidents, conversations and people from my childhood. It almost as if I'm living in the past. I don't know what to call it. Escapism from the assault of the harsh realities? It feels good anyway. And Funny enough, these happen only when I'm in the bathroom.

Just this Tuesday (while in the bathroom), I found myself singing one of the popular marching songs of our Junior Secondary School days. Nothing triggered it. It just came like "tongues".

/Children of the land gather courage
J.S.S has come to save all/ 2x

Chorus
Only handle the tool with care
And the psycho-motor skill shall flow ooooo

/Parent of the land don't be afraid
J.S.S has come to save all/2x

Chorus
Only handle the tool with care
And the psycho-motor skill shall flow ooooo
Source: http://gheinews.blogspot.com/2013/03/ghanaian-independence-day-in-humjibre.html

By the time, I got to the second stanza, I dropped my sponge and was actually hitting my pale as I marched left, right, left, right around the small cubicle. I remembered with extreme nostalgia, how we happily marched to our various classrooms singing  songs, with the accompaniment of the booming sound of the drums. I have always been serious and even as a child I tended to think deeply about matters. I was therefore surprised to realise (on that Tuesday morning while taking my bath) that I had not even considered the meaning of the song let alone its implication or purpose. It dawned on me that this song may have been composed (by whoever) when the J.S.S system was introduced by Rawlings' P.N.D.C government. This song was meant to encourage and allay the fears of both pupils and parents. But as to whether someone bothered about pupils understanding song is another question.

In many ways, education in Ghana has become very mechanical with both student and teacher gaining little out of it. And by education, I mean all kinds of education (formal and informal) including religious education. As a child, I spent about half of my life in the church and activities revolving around the church. I still remember the ways biblical verses and prayers were taught. Sunday school teachers seemed to be experts in forcing verses down the throats of children. I also grew up in an Islamic community (and as an adult, I regret for not attending makalanta. It was much more convenient and fun to pretend to be moslem so as to get some free koko and koose during Ramadan) and I always passed by a Koranic school every morning on my way to school. I always wondered, even in those days, if the pupils in those koranic classes understood all recitations they made in the class.

Today, when I sit in church I wonder if adults ever think deeply as they recite Psalm 23, John 3: 16, the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer.  There have been complaints of politicians not being able to recite the national pledge and or even sing the national anthem. That's another thing. The question is for those who can recite the anthem or pledge, do they understand the content and how has that affected their lives and their relationship with the state and the rest of Ghanaians. I believe that if the anthem and pledge is taught differently with emphasis on meaning and content, people will be selfless and be much more inclined to be scrupulous.

I wish every Ghanaian will read Dickens' Hard Times. I do not see any difference between the Ghanaian educational system and Thomas Gradgrind's. We have become so focused on pushing facts down the throats of students. We forget that facts in themselves are not sacred and that what we call facts can actually be massaged and misrepresented to achieve a particular purpose. Facts are important but we also need to develop the imagination of our pupils because it is only through this that our students will deal with the problems of the state.

We must understand that creative people carry a nation. We cannot a build nation if we are constantly borrowing from elsewhere. One of the main problems with our educational system is its colonial heritage. We forget (or probably do not know) that colonial education was meant to produce "krakyes" and "catechist" who will promote the colonial agenda. Today, nothing has changed. Sadly, we are not even copying well and as products of such educational system we always have to deal with situations in which our very competence is constantly questioned. I find it ridiculous that after all these years of studying English, some universities ask and even insist that Ghanaians write IELTS or TOEFL to prove their competence in the English language.

We can decide to be quiet about our cheating politicians and their corrupt ways. We can decide to be mute and not speak because we want peace. We can decide to joke about things and leave all things in the hands of God. But please, please, please.... whatever we do let's not kill our kids by doing nothing about our educational system. We must contextualise the production and reception of knowledge in our school system. We must learn to invest in our educational system and by investment, I do not mean cut down trees and build useless structures. And please, let's take our educational system from the hands of politicians.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

DO WE HAVE URBAN PLANNERS IN GHANA???

I consider myself very fortunate to have seen the exhibition on "The Post-Oil City: A History of the City's Future" twice. First in Johannesburg in June and then in Accra just yesterday. The exhibition was opened at 7:00p.m at the Goethe Institut yesterday and will continue till the second of October. Folks who are interested in taking a look at the exhibition may pass by. Having said this, I would like to go back to some of the issues that came up at the opening yesterday.

There were two addresses and these were given by Prof. Wellington (a former scholar of Architecture now working in Heritage Studies) and Mr. K. Asubonteng, a Geo-analyst from the U.N University at the University of Ghana, Legon. From their address, it become clear that
  • Climate change is mankind's own handiwork (of course, this is too obvious)
  • Climate change is itself a challenge to humankind. It is the kind of challenge that makes us realise that we need to be responsive and responsible if we want to ensure our continous living on planet earth. 
  • with the needed commitment and political will, we are likely to come up with innovative projects that can help us in dealing with climate related issues.
In his address, Prof. Wellington, rather jokingly,  made reference to the fact that while working within the area of architecture, people used to ask him whether there were urban planners in Ghana and he often responded "yes" and added that he was one of those urban planners. If indeed there are urban planners in Ghana, I wonder the extent to which their work has impacted urban life in Ghana.

It also became clear that there was a strong link between ecology and economy, a point that Ato Quayson stressed in his presentation on Osu, Oxford Street at the Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (JWTC). I really do not get the reasons why there is a sudden and indiscriminate felling of trees in Ghana. Accra has become so grey and dry because for some reason, we keep cutting down. While other countries are placing emphasis on green environment, we are busy doing the very opposite. We erroneously think that cutting down trees and replacing them with tall buildings is a sure sign that we have finally arrived.

The exhibition itself is informative, providing crucial information on innovative projects such as the Masdar City, Xeritown, Curitiba's Inner City and the High Line in New York. It is stimulating. It is actually meant to provoke discussions on climate change and its impact on urban life. For me, the exhibition seems to suggest that though urbanisation  is a major cause of climate change, urbanisation is also a possible means of dealing with climate change.

Friday, August 9, 2013

BROWNING GIVES ADVICE ON LIFE'S SMALLER CHALLENGES

Until I received the book titled "NEVER HIT A JELLYFISH WITH A SPADE: HOW TO SURVIVE LIFE'S SMALLER CHALLENGES" by Guy Browning, I had never heard of Browning and even if I had heard of him, I couldn't care less about who he is. But reading his book (which was a gift), I guess I am learning "to live life with a sense of humour."

The book deals with a wide range of issues from sports, health, dealing with neighbours, politics, religion to love and marriage. What for me is very interesting about the book is the ways in which he combines wits and honesty as he issues out his so-called pieces of advice. And trust me, if you make any mistake in following some of the advice he gives, be sure to expect the opposite of what he seems to be promising you. Below are some of the interesting statements I found in the book:

"They say the devil makes work for idle hands. He also makes work for other parts of the body and this he calls exercise."

"Women have a much deeper and more intense relationship with ice cream than they do with men. That's because with ice cream you get a lot more variety and a greater sense of physical satisfaction."




"A church service is basically aerobics in slow motion. You have to get up, get down, come forward, and turn around, all to background music with a kind of Mr. Motivator figure in front. You even get your own mini aerobics mat hanging on the chair in front."

"In Britain, we have a great system where we all go into the booth, vote for the person we most want as Prime Minister, and end up with some local village idiot as our MP. That's why Prime Minister Question Time always sounds like village idiot feeding time."

"One of the quickest ways of appearing deep is to say, 'Or is it? after somebody has said something. Or is it? You can get a similar effect simply by transposing the key elements in any sentence. For example, when someone says, 'Women are the power in the home,' you could immediately reply ,'Yes, but home is the power in the woman.' Just make sure there isn't anyone even deeper in range who then might chip in with, 'I think you'll find that power is the home of women'.

What seems great about the book is also the fact that each chapter (is very short) and can be read within a short space of time. Moreover, it is easy to read and if you are a fast reader you should finish in a few hours but trust me, it is the kind of book you will like to read again and again especially when you are lonely and wish to be entertained. But I must also say that there are points in which some jokes fall flat in your face but still if you need to laugh or just while some time away just pick this book up and read...

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

GOD DIES BY THE NILE-- SOME RESPONSE FROM READERS


Yesterday, I happened to be at a discussion in which Nawal El Sadaawi's God Dies By the Nile was extensively discussed.  I was forced to read this book because friends and colleagues who had read it kept recommending it. Moreover, quite a number of reviewers seem to have hyped the book so much so that I promised to read it as soon as possible.  And I am glad I have finally done so.

I did not particularly enjoy the book because of its many grim and horrific descriptions. There is something about the descriptions that drains the reader emotionally. The description of the circumcision, for instance, was so graphic that for a while I held my breathe... and then l felt the pain. It felt so real.  

I was also totally weighed down by the helplessness of the characters in the face of gross injustice. I felt so sorry for Zakeya and her family and I kept wondering what I would have done if something like this had happened to me.  

I am beginning to feel that my reaction suggests that Nawal achieved her purpose of writing this book. Looking back, I realize that the exaggerated (almost bizarre) narrative mode is probably a means through which Nawal hoped to expose the unfair treatment meted out to the women and peasants in an Egyptian village. 

Many of the people at the discussion did not like the story. In fact, a number of people were disappointed and these were some of the explanations they gave:
·       That there are several gaps within the book (For instance, we are not told how Nefissa got pregnant. It is only at a certain point in the story that we begin to suspect that the Mayor has something to do with her pregnancy). 

  • ·      That the book contains repetitions (For instance, there are two instances in which girls are punished by their fathers for non-compliance and in both cases the descriptions are very similar).
  • ·    That the story seems to lack focus. A number of issues are lumped together and as a result, some important characters and issues are not fully developed.
  •    That the treatment of the men is quite unreal. For many of the men discussants, the book is propagandist because it seemed to engage in the usual male bashing that is often associated with feminist writers.
  • ·       That one could easily predict the turn of events within the story

In spite of the disappointments of the discussants, we had some very stimulating discussions on the book. We agreed that some parts of the book (the description of the Old man's accident at Cairo) clearly revealed Nawal's storytelling skills. One of the many questions we asked is Who is God in the story? Is it Allah, Society or the Mayor? A point made by one of the discussant linked the ending of the text with the recent revolution in Egpyt but this was not pursued. For me, this was highly significant because apparently Nawal often ends her novels with some kind of revolution. One of the questions I kept asking myself (in relation to Zakeya's revolution) was whether it had any impact at all. Given the situation in Egypt now, I am beginning to wonder if a revolution will indeed cause a change. I am quite pessimistic when it comes to the human capacity to ensure justice and fairness. I feel that as far as humans continue to live on earth, there will  be wickedness because the story of mankind is itself a vast history of injustice and inhumanity. 

I think that it is very easy for people to label this book as a feminist piece but the book goes beyond that. It is also about religion and politics and the ways in which these can be used by calculating individuals to achieve their selfish aims. It seems to me that in this book politics and religion together come across as one big con game and the characters in the story (including the Mayor's cohorts) become helpless victims of the system and its representatives.