Viewing by month: August 2010

The Many Ways it just Ain’t the Same

As I sit here and wait for what I know will be an hour, I’ve decided to blog.

Waiting…to wait is to pass time in expectation of some events occuring.

Things I have waited for this week:

  1. A bus or tro tro as we call it here- it arrives but it will not drive until it is full. So A) the driver can make as much money as possible off of his paying patrons and b) because this is a society where crowding is nothing. IT’s nothing to be squished against a portly African queen on one side of you, have her baby plunked onto your lap ( or her goat….I shit you not this has happened), have her arm around you ( for balance) and on your other side have a man…who more than likely has a goat ( and it bleets. This is the kind of stuff I wait for….and then embrace as part of my experience…every day.
  2. Interviews. I jump for joy because someone finally answers my call when I phone ( answering machines literally do not exist here so having someone pick up is a victorious moment. Once that person does pick up we haggle back and forth in our respective languages until I hear something to the effect of ” Fine fine, 2 o clock, next friday ( it’s usually a monday of the week before when I call so that’s my first set of waits), I concur….call to confirm about 3 days later ( and trim my growing beard…), then I show up for a meeting…wait for 2 hours and am usually told….” Oh sorry, he says you need to come tomorrow.” I know what you’e thinking…you’d lose it right? Well….I did some deep yoga breaths the first 7 times this happened….but I have since put my gloves on and when said journalist I am with simply accepts the fact that in his country people can just keep blowing you off I stand up and shout ” NOT ON MY WATCH.” So, lately I have been saying ” Oh you can’t meet? Well maybe the president of you country will explain to me why that is.” And sadly, they believe me because this president will in fact jump at the chance to speak to a Westerner about the many ways his country extolls greatness. I have been pulling some real live ones out of my ass lately: Like: ” Oh, well if you don’t talk to me I’ll have no choice but to , GASP, write news about the fact that your refused comment ( done tons in Canada…not so much here). So….waiting + S.J= Gloves off.
  3. The internet-Now, I wait, I will be waiting for maybe another hour ( That’s if the power doesn’t disconnect as it so often does) while some video I am trying to send to the Toronto Star so that I can maybe show just a GLIMPSE ( A glimpse is all I can manage unless I revert to doing print and sending things that go to Canada with less hassle) of what we are doing over here.

I will wait for this blog to pose now

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
Carl Sagan

Personal Update

My home and community have been without water for 5 days. I shower with a bucket and sponge and cannot do laundry….ergo I smell.

My camera is gone…..devastated but working on a solution….it involved spending as little money as possible.

Work done this week below. Love and the greatest appreciation for all of you that take the time to read this. SJ

When Kwami Minkah was little he’d take material from his mother’s sewing pile, tie it around his neck and fly around the house imagining he was Superman. He says he thinks of Superman at least once a day when he’s reporting and it reminds him that he chose this gig, journalism, because he wanted to help–he certainly didn’t get into journalism for the money.

When I went through the process of casually interviewing reporters at T.V. Africa to see who would accompany me to report on human rights stories, Kwami, or “Prince” as he’s affectionately known, was the last reporter I thought would come forward–he was too confident, I’d never bag him.

“I just want to use my journalism to help people who cannot help themselves,” says Prince. “That’s why I became a journalist.”

Prince stands at about five foot one–he’s a short stalky 22-year-old reporter with a grin that seems to take up his whole face. His smile fades, however, when I suggest walking into the slums of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Fred Chidi, T.V. Africa’s station manager, says he wants to see his journalists more inspired to go out and get more human interest stories. Half of the reporters in the newsroom have not received journalism training and as such they are often assigned stories. Though Prince and I don’t don capes, we’ve begun reporting together–a Lois and Clark of sorts–we’re going beyond today.

On this particular morning Prince was assigned a story about a public park that has become run down, I tagged along.

The park happens to be in the slums of Sodom & Gomorrah (a.k.a Old Fadama)–a settlement of over 23,000 people (according to the last census report), which lies by the bank of the dead Korle lagoon now undergoing a $67 million reclamation exercise. We were there about the lagoon and park but we stayed for a bigger story.

There’s no brimstone in the air of Sodom and Gomorrah but there’s fire. Big steaming piles of burning garbage, electronics and waste. We traipse through what the ruling political party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), tried to establish as a green space over eight years ago. Since then, an influx of illegal squatters have made their way in and the slum’s name and reputation were born. Gradually the park has deteriorated into a badland of burning garbage, human waste and slum land. Prince wasn’t even aware the area was nicknamed Sodom and Gomorrah.

After two hours through the perpetual dump, gardens that double as washrooms and slums we decide on conducting Prince’s standup in front of a fire with billowing smoke enveloping his small frame, to show the viewer what conditions children dig garbage in and what type of soil some of their produce is grown in. I stifle a pleased laugh as we walk out of the “zone.” I’d managed to convince a T.V. cameraman to go from taking wides of an area to walk through the thick of stench and squalor to get some tight shots. To go over the river and through the garbage to observe the rows of lettuce growing in fecal matter mixed with soil was powerful and immortalized through a lens. By the end, I could not help but notice the cameraman’s face–he was happy. Now, we had to go take on the boring…government.

President Atta Mills’ government has pushed to have the squatters of Sodom removed by force but various tribal leaders have banded together in a united front to combat military that has come in.

I attempt to speak to a local NDC member of parliament about why this is, it ends in him pressing 50 Ghana Cedi (roughly $40 CAD)in my palm, which I promptly press back into his hands. He responded with an expression of shock mixed with insult.

I’ve heard “chequebook journalism” referred to as discreet and I’m sure this is so. What Prince experiences almost daily is blatant, out in the open, and accepted. He says most reporters give in to the practice but with a little encouragement in the “right” direction he thinks reporters would choose integrity over money.

As we walk away from Sodom Prince jokes “ Now that’s some cabbage growing in garbage a “garbage cabbage,” he laughs. Prince has decided he’ll call me “animal” because I navigated the slums and dump in high heels. I consider the story we worked on together victorious.I wonder how he feels about the money that was pressed into my hands and my polite declining of it. I wonder if he ever feels what the average Canadian journalist can sometimes feel–overworked and underpaid.

“Superman Never Made Any Money,” a song by the great Canadian band Crash Test Dummies, is one I remember well. I quote a line of the song to Prince, he smiles at me and tells me he really is in this gig to help people. I believe him.

As the first month of my television in Africa induction closes–I am looking ahead to the workshop components jhr includes as part of each stations jhr experience. I’ve met some journalists who have maintained an integrity and inpeccable sense of reponsible, bribe free journalism. Journalism that extends beyond the politics and onto the front lines of human rights reporting. It’s my hope that senior, seasoned West African reporters will come with me to T.V. Africa and discuss maintaining integrity even in the throws of “chequebook journalism.”

Re: start following us on JHR’s site

link to my other blog.