Wednesday, June 2, 2010

From Slum to Sexy !

It was Friday May 28, 2010. One of the most interesting, confusing, inspirational, awkward and alarming days that I have had so far.

I woke up in the morning very early as every other day, got ready, put on my black pants , white dress shirt and my zoomlion ID card on and left to meet Jess and Dave at rawling circle where we planned on meeting to take a taxi and later a tro tro to work.

Our work schedule for the day was to find candidates for the recycling program that is to be run next week in one of the assigned areas. There are three areas that we chose to run the experiment on, first is the Adenta area considered the high class, the East Legon the middle class and Nima the low class aka the slums. By friday morining, we had spoken with people and found good candidates from the Adenta and East lagon areas. And on friday we were to go to the Nima region and continue the process.

I knew that the Nima area was considered one of the poorest areas of Accra but I didn't really have a picture or a description of it in my head, specially since to me Accra looks all relatively the same and NOT that it is all the same because it is not, but the areas that we usually travel to are very consistent looking. But this was a slum area.

Once we arrived in Nima I got a chance to talk to the locals and spend a few minutes with them and ask them questions related to their waste management challenges and diffculties. I spoke to women whom spend most of their time just cooking, washing clothes and taking care of children. And this might sound very typical but the process is much complex in reality that it may sound on a computer screen. Mostly because to connect with these people, one has to get over one's own life style and try to sound sincere and caring enough to gain the other party's trust, at least enough trust for them to stay committed to the experiment. And it is hard because people are different from one another. And in most places if you are different... in a sense that you are richer or more "beautiful" that other people, then you will acknowledge your differences. After all there is approximately 250 million people that have subscribed to facebook ( according to google) and most of people at least on my facebook friends' list have the most glamorous pictures of them, in beautiful clothes at beautiful places..advertising to the world how beautfil their life really is...... including me.

And this day was special to me because I had assumed that coming to Accra would allow me to at least partially disconnect myself from the "glamorous" world. Not that the Canadian way of life is very glamorous, but my own personal life in Canada is.

And I loved this day. I just loved it. I talked to a woman that was washing her dishes at a corner of a very tiny narrow street as sweat was dripping off her face, and another lady who was taking her washed clothes from the ropes while her baby was tied to her back as she told me the necessity she saw in having a plastic recycling system in her area (refer to pictures).

I did not want this day to end. Talking to these women and just observing them for a little while in their own environment was an amazing experience. And I'm not gonna lie, I was very proud of myself. At this moment I felt strong, happy, useful and thought this was the very purpose of this trip. For me to see a reality with my own eyes and feel and touch things. And not just rely on the TV, or the internet to get some skewed version of what struggle is. All the people that I come across were hard wokring people and they were stressed YES.... but also grateful for what they had. And YES they were SKINNY but strong ..... not helpless as I had seen so many similar looking faces on TV back home.

So yes I enjoyed this day more than words can express.

Approximately 5 hours later I decided to attend a FASHION SHOW along with jess, David and David's room mate. It was friday, I had a fabelous day with amazing people at work and going to a cocktail fashion show just seemed like cherry on the cake. I did not really did not give it much thought.

It was the oddest experience, being in a slum in the morning and 10-15 hours later being on the roof of a Mercedes-Benz building which was next to a holiday inn hotel ( there is one very close to my house in Windsor) and watching outer beauty being promoted. And yes there were couple of very anorexic female models that scared me.

But the weird part about this whole experince was that I was critiquing the clothes, I was telling Jess and David ( David's room mate, they have the same name ) which dresses I liked the most and which shoes I did not think went with the outfits. I suppose that's called normal behaviour at fashion shows. There was salsa dacing going on and I remembered how I really wanted to join Western's salsa dance club.

IN CONCLUSION, I have mixed verdicts about this whole day. Is the world of glamour, a money driven motivated people never to be escaped? Or is it just me that somehow gets linked to a world where you are what you look like. And I have a stong opinion about this because I feel that the middle eastern culture that I come from does put a huge emphasis on outer beauty.

But at the same I wonder maybe it is good after all that several minutes away from a slum there is still a fashion show going on and nobody is concerened about refuse disposal issues, maybe it is an indication of development ......little hints here and there that say to one, people rise above their circumstaces. That one does not need to travel to paris, or toronto or New York to see a fashion show...... if you are from an African country.


  1. wow, this post gave me goosebumps. what you experienced in the slums is exactly why i want to travel to different parts of the world. i hope one day i will get to experience the feelings you did first hand. be safe! miss you <3

  2. Hey Andrea,

    First of all I'm sorry for the late reply to your comment and second of all I really hope you do get the chance to travel overseas to a developing country, it is absolutely amazing.

    I remember being at the fanshion show and just having fun. But what I didn't really mention in my post was that when I got home I felt some sort of embarrassment ! I thought I had done something wrong and had gone against my values when I attended the fansion show.

    But looking back now, I think it is important to be in touch with both worlds.... the sexy and the slum. And as this world continues to grow and develope the distance between the two will decrease, that is what I am hoping at least.

    What still confuses me is the role of culture and importance of perserving tradition. I think part of the reason why I felt embarrassed when I got home was because I thought I was among a group of people that was really trying hard to be Western. And I honestly don't know the role of culture in development. Should people include culture as one of characterstics of development. What if keeping culture as part of development would decrease the number of jobs and all the comfort living that is offered by" western" influenced development?

    I didn't mean for my reply to become to long but hopefully it made some sense.

    let me know what you think Andrea.


  3. Hey Kate :)

    Ok, for your first question, "Should people include culture as one of the characteristics of developement", if I understand this correctly I would say yes. Globalization is largely influenced by Western and Asian countries. For obvious reasons, you wouldn't see a country like Ghana for example influencing globalization elsewhere but it would happen the other way around. One thing I don't like about globalization (despite the good it does) is how it can ruin a culture or specific group of people. There is an example I just learned about in which a Native group up north used globalization to keep their language alive. The story made my day! It was something about having internet installed in the remote area where this group lives, but rather than conforming to the standard English keyboard and settings, they approached Microsoft and asked them to design a keyboard and system using THEIR language. Without this being done, their language would have died out eventually, but having a computer that uses their language will help to preserve it. Isn't that wonderful?! By using culture (in this case language) as a characteristic of develpment both the corporate side and the people benefitted from the experience. Please tell me if I am going in the wrong direction here, I would love to elaborate on this topic but I don't know if I'm going in the opposite direction of what you are asking for. I didn't quite get the next question you asked- could you explain it in a little more detail? Looking forward to your reply,