Archive for August, 2009



Back to the real world

gayle.goossen
DATE: August 27th, 2009
POSTED BY: Gayle

In June we presented a report on teen’s use of social media. Our research group was statistically relevant and represented teens in a unique demography — church. According to Reginald Bibby about 21% of teens attend church regularly. Interestingly our survey found the media habits of church teens very similar to generals surveys done by other organizations.
Recent research surveyed the teens and their parents to discover what the parental influence was on teen internet habits. The results are fascinating.
The Benenson Strategy Group examined how social networks affect kids and families. The results indicated a significant gap between parents’ believes and kids’ actions.49% of parents say their child was age 13 or older before starting unsupervised surfing, but just 14% of teens say they actually waited this long.
The survey of both teens and parents found that many teens use the internet as a forum for gossip, sharing and blowing off steam, but others are also engaging in bullying and risqué behaviour online.
Parents do not realize how much time teens spend on social networking sites. 4% say their children check social networking sites more than 10 times a day, but 22% of teens do. 23% of parents say their children log in more than once a day, but 51% do. 12% of teens with Facebook or MySpace pages admit their parents don’t know about the account.
Kids hiding things from their parents is not new to this generation. The gap between parents and children has always existed. I’m not even sure that the delusion of parents thinking they know everything about their children is new.
What is new is the ease of access to information and world-wide influence — both good and bad. It is much more difficult to control children and teens in an environment where access is so free.
As an advertiser, I have am excited about the potential. Through new media we have a lot of opportunity to send our message.
In my role as a communicator I have a responsibility to use wisdom and discretion in the forms of advertising I use and the way I communicate.

The final leg

gayle.goossen
DATE: August 11th, 2009
POSTED BY: Gayle

We are crowded into a very large plane. First class stretches luxuriously in cabins and on beds. They arrive to TO looking refreshed, groomed and together. I am falling apart, My hair is sticking out in all kinds of directions and flattening to my head in others…. Two days on a plane isn’t helpful. My clothes are stale – I feel sorry for Connie who has to pick us up. We can’t smell that good — even though we all showered and put on clean clothes when we left. I have no idea how many hours ago it was. We have been through so many time changes, that the hour is meaningless to me. I just remember getting up in Ghana, riding a canal boat in Amsterdam, and now I am back in a plane. My computer clock says 7:12 — but I’m not even sure where that is! We have 2 1/2 hours left on this flight…. and then, through customs one more time.

We hardly have seen the breadth and depth of Africa in two weeks — we did see a lot of airports. But we have had glimpses of an Africa that is struggling to get out. There are no easy answers. An African man chased after us the last morning of filming. He shouted angrily at us in his tribal language. The Assemblyman and Community Fishing Chief with us told us that he was asking why the white man no longer came with money, but just came with cameras. They needed money — not pictures.

Throughout the trip we have worked very hard to build relationships with the village elders and leaders, asking them first before we take out our cameras. I looked back and I said, “We want to tell your story to people in Canada, so they can help. But we won’t just send money — you need clean water, toilets, jobs — giving you a few pennies today won’t help that. You need leaders like Mary and Comfort and John and Cromwell and Walter who walk alongside of you, helping you to build your future.”

But I came with a $5000 dollar camera, clean clothes. I am fat and healthy. I have a safe home, a bed, a kitchen, enough food to eat. I have attended university. I have a job. I could have easily given him a few dollars. It is always a tension. Because I can give money — but money alone won’t solve the problem. There needs to changes in the balance of power. The white and the black working together. Attitudes changed. New hope given.

The last village we visited was just outside Accra. We asked for the population — but no one knows. The community is growing. There are at least a million people crowded together in a maze of shanties, drying clothes, smoking fish and young boys playing cards. The economic foundation of the community is fishing. The men go out to fish and the women smoke the fish and take them to market. The children work alongside their parents, young boys going with the fishing boats, their agile young bodies untangling the nets — often getting tangled in it themselves. They have no toilets, so they defecate in the sand alongside the sea — imagine — 1,000,000 people and what that adds up to. They pee in the small ditches running throughout the community. The children wear unlikely t-shirts – purchased from used clothes markets. They are walking billboards for American sports teams, shoes and beer. Some wear almost nothing — it’s winter here, although the heat and humidity almost suffocate us. Some children and parents are wearing coats and hoodies.

Young girls are carrying babies — Mary tells me that the child is their grandchild — the girl is under thirty. Women are servants. They cook and clean; they sell in the market; they care for the children. A man looks for a woman with a strong back and a willingness to work — he chooses three to five hardworking, child bearing women to do his work. Young girls, their bodies just beginning to become womanly are used for pleasure. That momentary pleasure multiplies the population quickly. Girls that are only 12 or 13 become mothers — but they don’t become wives. Few children go to school. Their parents need them at home to do the chores. The cycle of poverty is multiplied as the generations grow… yet resist change.

Sixty-four churches are scattered throughout the community. I asked how the churches impacted the community. The Assemblyman made a sound of disgust. He said they do nothing but keep the people ignorant and caught in their web of authority. The churches were big and looked nice. A stark contrast to the shanties the people lived in. They were walled. The people are not sophisticated. They accept religion easily. Christianity in many forms proliferates — but the preachers get rich and fat. Their children go to America to go to school. There is no Mother Teresa loving these people — or simply obeying the command of our Heavenly Father to care for the orphans and the widows; to share a cup of cold water with the thirsty, a crust of bread with the hungry. There are pastors who request offerings for the sins of the people — money the people don’t have, food they need to feed their children.

Change will not come quickly. Because it requires impact from many levels: first of all the people themselves must desire more than a dollar from a passing white woman. They must come to understand the need to learn to read and write. They need to work towards building and economic foundation — so that their children and grandchildren will have jobs. They must petition the government for change. Corruption and self centred interests are ordinary. They themselves must learn to understand the difference between serving God and religion — too many are trapped in religion. The pastor is powerful, persuasive and pressing. They are frightened of the curse of the gods. Even if they attend a Christian church, they still believe there are many gods. They don’t fight for their rights because they are afraid. Women, especially resist change. They are afraid that change will strip away the insignificant autonomy and control they have. They have so very little power or choice, they don’t want to lose their place, such as it is, in their social structure.

We spoke to a mother who gave her daughter to the fetish priest as a payment for the grandfather’s sins. The gift of the daughter was to break the curse of the sin. The daughter was 7 or 8, she doesn’t remember how old she is. She doesn’t keep a journal because she can’t read or write. She wakes up with the sun and goes to bed when the sun falls behind the horizon. She doesn’t know the months of the year; she plants in the rains and harvests when the crop is right. So the little nine year old girl went to work for the fetish priest. She slaved in the fields all day and when his lust raged within him, she provided her malnourished body for him. He didn’t feed her or provide clothes for her. Her mother had to leave the family and work in a nearby village so she could provide food for her enslaved daughter. Her mother looks away as she speaks. Those years were extremely hard.

The young woman was liberated when she was 18 — after serving the priest for nine or ten years. She stumbled home carrying her youngest child with her, not knowing what the future held, how her parents would welcome her. They took her and her child in. Her other three children stayed with the priest. She doesn’t see them. She is a farmer now, eking enough out of the dusty soil to feed her children and to sell in the central marketplace. She speaks little — many of the questions we ask her are incomprehensible to her. We want to know how she felt — she doesn’t know that she could feel.

In my western penchant for speed, impact and measurable results, I want to build a school, put in a water well, install an irrigation system, plant healthy crops and fertilize them so they grow lush and sweet. Certainly the humid winds would feed the plants and help them to grow. But as I watch, I realize that my need to change the community does not reflect their desire to change.

Change will come…. I am convinced of it. Because there is a young man who grew up in a traditional village. His parents deserted him and he lived with his aging grandfather who was a peasant farmer. Because a Canadian woman believed in him, he has completed his primary, junior high and high school education and is now in his third year at the University of Ghana. He is studying agriculture because he can see that the ways of the past are no longer sufficient and he wants to take care of his grandfather…. I ask him what his grandfather says. His wide grin gets even bigger, his white teeth sending our white balance off the charts. “My grandfather? Yes, please,” he says. “He is very happy.”

I am convinced that change can happen because there is a young man named John who left his home when he was 11 years old. He wanted to go to school, but his family could not afford it. So he moved to the boarder community and pried coins and dollar tips from business men and wealthy Americans who crossed at the boarder. Unlike his friends, he stubbornly refused to spend his money on drugs, alcohol or women. He saved every penny so he could go to school. He took his social work degree and today he is working in several different villages, inspiring the people to change. He is the first step to the future.

We can’t judge another society; nor can we transplant our own traditions into their soil. But we can listen. We can walk alongside of them, become their friends. Invite them into our lives.

In the fishing visit on the outside of Accra we noticed that many of the women were wearing dresses of the same pattern — white and black, the white a stark relief to their pitch black skin. Mary told us that Saturday was the day for naming ceremonies. The people of the village gather to celebrate the birth of a new child and, together, they name her.

We pray that one child’s name is hope.

A chance encounter

gayle.goossen
DATE: August 7th, 2009
POSTED BY: Gayle

August 5th

It may be happenstance….. and it might be a small miracle.

South Africa Airlines could not get us to Ghana for 2 days. I had emailed Joan and James Alty just before we left for Africa, just to tell that that I would be in Africa. They, as luck would have it, we were forced into staying in Jo-burg. I had all but forgotten about James and Joan because the return email told me that they were out of the office and would not be able to answer my email for a few weeks. Then I got a note from Joan last night. They live 6 hours outside of Jo-burg, so it wasn’t really an option to see them. But they introduced us to Pastor Mpho Putut, a vineyard pastor serving a congregation in Soweto (on the outskirts of Jo-burg). I got the email at 11 p. at night. While having a local pastor tell us his story would be ideal — we realized that the timing was just off.

But I sent him and email anyway.

I stayed up until 1:30 am in the hopes that he may be a late night emailer. He wasn’t. At around 8 am the next morning, just on the off chance that he would be available, I called him. He generously offered to take us around Soweto. I am amazed at how small the world is. Pastor Putu is very involved in taking members from our congregation at the Meeting House around as they visit the project we are working on in South Africa with MCC. He is also one of the key contacts for the Out of Town program out of Canadian Mennonite University. He calls Paul Kroeker a dear brother in Christ.

He met us at the hotel and took us to Soweto. As we drove he told us his story and the story of his people.

I live in a nation where our freedom is never question. Opportunities are available for every citizen. The government doesn’t draw lines. We toy with the ideas of democracy and talk about rights — which, to Pastor Putu, are really privileges. He told us this story:

A man steals a bike from his neighbour. For many months he uses that bicycle for his own purposes. His neighbour is powerless to get his bike back because his neighbour refuses to admit that he has stolen it. He treats it as his own. But after a long while he feels sorry for what he has done and he takes the bicycle back to his neighbour and says, “I am sorry. For I have taken you bicycle. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” The neighbour, humble and forgiving, says, “Yes, I will forgive you.” And the man who stole the bicycle gets back on it and rides it home, freed from the guilt of his theft.

As we drove, he told us that he was arrested many times in downtown Johannesburg because he was not carrying his card. Even though he was born in South Africa. Even though his father was born in South Africa. Even though his forefathers had invested their lives in the land and the future of South Africa, he was black. And a black man did not have permission to walk where a white man lived. He was expected to stay in Soweto, where he belonged.

His father, his friends fathers and thousands of other fathers came to Soweto to find work. Often they left their wife and their children behind. The were given shelter in barnlike structures that had nothing — not even a bed. At night they through a light blanket on a concreat pad and prayed that their bodies would revive so that they could work another day. The men were men, not animals. They needed the comfort of their families, the support of friends. They ahd nothing. They sought out women to be their friends and mistresses while they were seperated from their families. Children grew up with no father and their mother was overcome in the raising of her children, farming the small plot of land and doing everything by herself.

Pastor Putu had no one to show him the things a father should show a son — when his cheeks grew soft hairs, he had no idea how to shave. When he needed manage his home, he had no example, for his father had been a prisoner of the mine. When he looked for a mentor to show him how to become a husband and a father, he had to look outside of his own home, because his own father was stolen by capitalists who wanted gold. Pastor Putu wanted a better way, so he struggled to go to school. He discovered democracy — a nation where the people have a right to have a voice in the governing of their country, city and municipality. He showed us the 10 rights that his people had dreamed about in 1955 — the year I was born. But still have not realized completely.

Each dream was something I take for granted every day.

As we walked through the morning with Pastor Putu, I wondered if the very strength of our own country was slipping through our fingers.

Ironically, I had recieved an email from a journalist in the morning who wanted me to comment on an article written by a professor at TWU which commented on the increased stress on today’s student because of Facebook. And I looked at the students who were walking on the campus in Soweto — a campus that is only a few years old. They are the first generation of black young people who have the opportunity to go to college. Their parents dreamt of having enough food, being together with their family, have a safe shelter for the night… they never even imagined that their children would learn to read.

I am willing to fight for a democratic society? One where each member of my community has the freedom to live in a safe home, work 40 hours a week, have the right to a basic education, the freedom to till the land they own and use the resources that are a part of their own nation.

It has never occurred to me to fight for democracy.

He walked with us through a monument to the past. For many years Soweto was only a dormitory for the mines and for the labour jobs in the city of Johannesburg. People lived in long row houses, that weren’t homes, they were small cubicles where people slept at night, before they made their way to their work. They were not even really communities. The dream to make the community a thriving environment where the more than 2 million citizens could live freely, buy necessities from their neighbours, trade skills, goods and services was far from their imaginations. Today the community has built a market. A huge covered structure provides booths for many people to seel their goods: vegetables, hand made crafts, fruits, meats, cheeses… everything you can think of.

In the centre of the market is a food court that is built of brick. The roof is a tall tower made our of sheet metal taken from the slum dwellings that many of the people used to live in. Each rusted and twisted sheet is a reminder of the past, giving each child the gift of the journey to change. Pastor Putu believes the past is important to remember, so that each child who recieves the gift of education and a career remembers the painful journey their parents walked to give them a democratic state.

The injustice of Apartheid are a painful reminder of the power of authority and wealth. The clash of cultures in one nation is not new — nor do I expect will disappear. The believe that a black child was born to serve, created to bow to the power of the white child, unable to understand the complexities of the written language, math and science has no meaning for me.

But before I step back into my world, I want to hang on to the dignity in which God created all people — in his image. Our imaginations are so much smaller than our creators — yet, each day God performs a miracle and opens our minds to a new idea, a new thought, a new understanding. May I never see the world as finite or predictable. May I be open to seredipidous laughter when I realize that I have only seen the elephant from the eye level of an ant and suddenly, miraculously, I am given the opportunity to see the elephant from the perspective of a swallow.

The shrinking world

gayle.goossen
DATE: August 4th, 2009
POSTED BY: Gayle

Still in Jo-burg. South Africa Airlines has determined that we will have a little R&R. We are in a very nice hotel — on their bill. But we are also missing key days for filming which is very, very disappointing. TIA (That is Africa)
We did a little visit to the local mall. I’m not sure if it is comforting or discouraging to see that the local mall in Johannesburg, South Africa could be Square One in Toronto.
Ironically, I was snagged by a young sales woman who tried to convince me to buy some extremely travel savvy make up. She also offered me a book that would show me how to use that makeup. Now, you have to understand that I have been without a blow drier or velcro rollers for 9 days. Multiplying the stunning and fashionable me is my attire of 2 skirts and a pair of whatever those pants are called that just go beneath the knees — tied together in a very effective look with an oversize sweatshirt with Salem printed over my matronly bosom. AND, who would know, it turns out that the makeup product was made in Toronto. Why wouldn’t I buy several — for only $8700Ran — somewhere just over $100. And then drag it back to Toronto in my little back pack…. I did not succumb to her excellent sales pitch. She was clearly disappointed.
The prices here are pretty much like Canada. I resisted buying too much, because I could by it all at home — I am holding out for something really cool in Ghana.
We have until just after noon to explore Jo-burg — what are the chances that we could actually see something interesting?

South African sun

gayle.goossen
DATE: August 4th, 2009
POSTED BY: Gayle

August4th. 7pm Johannesburg
The sun was warm and the wind cool. The mall which we explored on our afternoon of killing time because South African Airline flights were messed up by delays was just like Square One. It’s hard to remember that we are thousands of miles from home when so many of the things look just the same.
The UK influence here is strong. BBC dominates the TV.
Our final word was that we are unable to make a flight out of South Africa today and have to wait to late afternoon tomorrow. Our filming schedule is compromised but we are going to see if we can maximize our time in Ghana by working mega long hours.
There is no efficiency in travel. We have spend 50% of our time waiting. TIA (That’s Africa) is our most common phrase.
Kevin left his mowing the grass only running shoes in Zambia — he thought the cat peed in them at home and couldn’t stand the smell. Gord tried to convince him to buy $2 sandals — he may be slightly embarrassed by the white socks and crocs look that Kev is sporting now.
I turned down 56000Ran worth of makeup this afternoon — it’s hard to believe that looking at me one would think that I even use makeup! I have to admit, it was slightly tempting to drop into a salon and doing something with the mess my hair is in right now!
One more leg of our trip — we hope that this is the last of the surprises we have run into.

winter in Africa

gayle.goossen
DATE: August 4th, 2009
POSTED BY: Gayle

The sun is warm and the temperature is around 22 Celsius. The staff at the hotel and the children here are all wearing coats. The Canadians are tempted to go swimming but the pool is pretty cool.
We are in Johannesburg for one day minimum. We are still waiting for the airport to clarify our next leg of flights. We have not heard anything yet.
So we sit tight until we hear. We think the first flight out of here will be at 7 p.m. tonight. The other option is to wait until late afternoon on Wednesday and fly out then.
The hotel is nice — not extravagant. The courtyard is pretty and the pool looks inviting until you stick your finger in it. Then you think that it would be smarter to just look at the pool.
Kevin is getting a sweat shirt. He is really enjoying the trip… his love for potatoes is really paying off.

chaos

gayle.goossen
DATE: August 3rd, 2009
POSTED BY: Gayle

There is a saying here: well that’s Africa…. that has become much more meaningful to all of us here. We are stuck in Johannesburg — we are unsure just what is going to happen yet. Our flight out of Zambia was delayed by 2 1/2 hours, which made us miss our flight to Ghana. They are telling us that there is no flight until Wednesday, which means we miss two days of filming. Ghana is the strength of IN in Africa.
At first they told us that we could catch the flight to Senegal and then on to Ghana and be there first thing in the morning… but that seems to be impossible.