Thursday, June 21, 2012

Chinese presence, being European and a security guard (Week 3)

The Chinese presence in The House is beginning to show. Now, I count eight of them. And they’re noisy. All of them are basically nice guys, at least when talked to in a small group. But the thing is that they like to empower their cultural identity a lot. This means that they will stick a lot together and communicate in a language that no-one else understands. They also spend a large portion of their time searching for good enough Chinese food. So they come here and they do a lot of stuff their way. I guess all this parallels the general situation in Kumasi, Ghana and Africa, where the Chinese are overtaking many roles formerly kept by westerners. These include aid and trade, as is already well acknowledged in most development discussion. In Kumasi, for example, it is a lot easier to find a Chinese restaurant or supermarket than a European one. Also the Chinese are known for doing whatever they do cheaply, effectively, in their own way and without asking many questions. In short, they are easier to deal with than westerners and don’t intervene in local dynamics precisely because they like to keep to themselves.

On something like the same topic, it’s fun to notice how well I identify myself as a European here. When travelling in Europe, I feel there is a strong feeling of differences between nations, people and different groupings sticking together. But in a pretty global setting like The House (the only continents not represented so far are South America, Australia and Antarctica), it actually feels like you’ve known every new European that arrives for a long time. It makes me see stuff in a new perspective. Being a European also attracts a fair amount of interest and even respect, but it seems that this is nothing compared to looking Asian. For instance, Guy, my roommate, likes to bring anyone Chinese along to any important meeting because “it gives him some credit.”

I think in the last post I wrote something about local politics and the power of the local Asantehene (the Ashanti king) Osei Tutu II versus that of the national, modern style government. Interestingly enough, I found a blog post online ( about the following day, stating that overlapping traditional and “modern” governance systems often seem to lead to urban violence. The comments are based on a new, wide research project conducted around the third world. This, obviously, is not the case in Kumasi, however. Why? I still need to get some locals to talk about this and will try to follow up on the issue (if no-one opposes). Is the Asantehene an exception who is especially willing to co-operate with the government (they still strongly maintain that he has a lot of power and does use it)? Or is this one more example of how Ghanaians seem to be able to avoid violence and conflict better than most nations in West Africa? This stability has, in fact, lasted through the reign of several Asantehenes.

The YES Project is growing in personnel. It now consists of me, Carter from China, Jasmine from NYC and to new, silent Ivorians, Daniel and Alima, of which the former one is a new roommate of mine and a tremendous footballer. The new guys are very active and eager to participate. The two last mornings, they’ve been up hours before me and sat on the veranda waiting for the faintest possibility to follow one of us (“The veterans”, a respectable two weeks into the project…) to any meeting or other activity. I have great expectations of them! As for the project itself, we are closing in on a date and a venue for the Big Thing. On Tuesday, I visited Kumasi Technical Institute (KTI) with Daniel. KTI is a huge technical school with education lines for almost every imaginable hands-on profession. Without hesitating, the headmaster first introduced us to a vast emptiness called the main auditorium that would easily seat a thousand persons (which we will never be able to lure there) and then immediately called in a meeting including all the heads of the different departments in the school, just to present us and our project! I have to say I felt very embarrased but also flattered by the attention. The result was that KTI will basically do half of the organizing work for us through their capabilities and facilities.

Overall it has been reassuring to see how easily people are to be gotten behind the project; fortunately, they recognize youth unemployment as a key issue in Ghana just as well as any of us. If only this would translate to provision of hard funding in addition to equipment, human resources etc. for the project…
A comment for anyone thinking about travelling to Ghana: you might find extensive photographing a bit uncomfortable. Whenever I produce a camera (an inconveniently large one, I’ve now understood), I’m surrounded by either by kids wanting to get in the picture (which is ok and even fun by me) or people asking for me to pay for the pictures. I’ve managed to ignore (which is the advice given to me) or escape all but one of them. Anyway, not much taking pictures in peace when in populated environments!

The character of the week has to be security guard at the CAL Bank office at the KNUST Campus, which you find right at one of the entrances to the campus. Initially I found him as a strict and dull looking man, even dangerous and a bit scary. A security guard, in other words. One recent Sunday I tried to get out quite a lot of cash from the adjacent ATM, of which the machine failed to deliver a single pesewa. The machine from hell was however successful in diminishing the amount of money on my account and even gave me a receipt on the supposed transaction. Embarrassingly, I may have lost my temper a bit, which caught the guards’ attention. After politely offering help, he directed me to the bank office, from where they directed me to my own, Finnish bank, who told me I cannot deal with the problem online but instead have to send a bunch of signed papers back to Finland by mail… It is weird how much work some banks do in order for you to not get your money when you need it and/or something goes wrong. Anyway, now, whenever I enter the campus and walk past the guard and his office, he wants, to an moving extent, to know whether I have gotten my money back yet. So I’m providing him with updates on the situation almost every day. If anyone knows a good way of letting him know that I appreciate his concern (over a problem that actually has nothing to do with him), let me know!

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