To Be A Man Is Not Easy ~ Caught Between Two Worlds. Interview With Samuel Oteng

BosmanCoverSamuel Oteng is the name. In 1987 I went to Austria. After a few years I got the papers ready and my wife came to join me where I live, a small town called Graz. Our children were born in Austria. Two, a boy and a girl, both go to school. As a family we are settled in Graz and have no intention to move away, moving now would hurt my children’s education and their social life with their friends. My son Godfred, who is twelve, attends what they call the ‘Gymnasium’ over there and my girl Precious, who is eight, is at the primary school. Precious says she likes where she lives and she has a gang of white girlfriends with whom she feels free and happy. She also loves nature. Our part of the country is beautiful and she does not want to move to a big city. I am the same in that way, I love the natural beauty of where we live. No, we won’t move.

Also, after all, I have my work and I’m much involved in the community. Specially our church. Apart from what I said about the children and their education I have been working in that factory all my years and I do not want to lose the benefits and start all over again in London. But otherwise, yes, sometimes we dream of moving to England!

The problem is that most of our Ghanaian friends move away from Austria to the UK. As soon as they have their Austrian passport you see them going, one by one. All the time we lose more friends. It is true that living circumstances for Africans are much better in England as compared to, especially, Austria. In Austria black people are isolated because Austrians stay away from us. It makes life difficult that way. People in England are used to Africans and all kind of other nationalities and they are friendly. Of course the language too plays a role. That’s why my people leave.
As I said I am not going to go to England like my friends. They challenge me: ‘you are an Austrian citizen and so you can freely move to anywhere in Europe’. But no, we stay in Graz.

What I don’t like is being the eternal outsider. The work also is hard. I get up early come back late, hardly see my children, my wife works too, so hardly see her at all. And now we face this exodus of Ghanaian friends leaving for Britain. Others are talking about it, some are packing. We stay where we are but it is sad to stay back here alone.
Do you think I could get a job as a bus-driver in Austria? Or any job where you get in touch with other people? No. Not in Austria and especially not in Graz where we live. I tell you, in the beginning people were afraid of me. When I would board a bus for example all other passengers would look at me. I sit in the front, they all move to the back. If I sit at the back they quietly stay in the front of the bus. All the same that was eighteen years ago and things are changing. When I came I was the only African in town and people would always look at me and sometimes point: ‘Schwartze’, which means ‘black-man’ and I would just feel bad. Anyway I was lucky because I got a job. I still have that same job after more than 15 years. I work in a factory and there at my workplace I feel at home and they like and respect me there. Read more

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To Be A Man Is Not Easy ~ The Conference Participant. Interview With Osei Takyi

BosmanCoverI was invited to a conference and that is how I arrived one early morning at the airport of Frankfort. Forty three years old, first time overseas, big airport and sleepless night. I tried not to show my anxiety and then I saw my friends Rudi and Susan and they hugged me ‘Welcome to Germany’. At once I felt good. But also cold and strange. I saw no leaves on the trees. They said you are lucky it is spring now, look at the first green leaves. But whereever I looked the trees looked bare and dead to me. I was in a dream. We drove to their house and then the sun came through, I brought it with me they said! After dinner it was still light outside.

Here in Ghana sun-up 6, sun-down 6, but not over there. I was exhausted and wanted to sleep but sleep would not come because of the light and all the strangeness.
Next morning was Sunday and we went to Church. It was a huge building so I thought there will be thousands of people worshipping there but I saw only twenty-five or so grey haired people. Then we saw another church which they had turned it into a restaurant which I did not want to believe. But I saw it.
In the afternoon we drove to a restaurant with all the participants of the conference and we had pizza. My first time pizza and I had to chose between mushroom, fish, spinach, I don’t know how many choices and so finally we tasted them all and overate! That I enjoyed and that night I slept.
Next day the program started with a visit to a special school for mentally handicapped children. I was amazed to see all their equipment. The atmosphere was good, not much discipline like here in Ghana, no, a lot of liberty for the kids, I even saw some children smoking, the bigger ones, they would go out and have a smoke. In Ghana, never!

They were friendly and asked me so many questions that I was amazed how very free they were and how much they wanted to know about Ghana. They had made paintings and we were to unveil them. The week was wonderful, every day another program, discussions in small groups about development, a forum on globalization, more visits to schools and mostly meeting each other and the German people and looking around seeing the town. We were catching the European spirit. Their town was so serene and quiet, not at all like Ghana where we make noise playing our speakers and so on. I really liked that quiet, it marveled me. Even the train is quiet, straight and swift and well oiled. Two different worlds which I kept comparing. Hospitality is higher in Ghana but the noise level too. In Germany at times they are friendly and at times they just walk away from you when you ask a question. Sunday we closed the conference with a party and we all sang and danced and had fun. Then we left. I took the train to Austria to visit my in-laws there. The next ten days were like a visit to another Ghana, the Ghanaian society in Graz in Austria. The train ride was a new experience. It was cold in the train and at each station there was police who asked me for my passport and ticket. They take your passport and after some time, fifteen minutes or so, bring it back. I understand they look for illegal immigrants but I became very tired with it for I wanted to sleep and at least six times they woke me up because of papers. Then we reached Vienna and it was early morning of the next day. I asked for the train to Graz. The police came with dogs to inspect my bags and they took twenty minutes searching everything, even flipped my bible to see if nothing was hidden in it. Then I took a taxi to another station and found the train to Graz. I admired the landscape, high mountains capped with snow, so beautiful that all the way to Graz I made pictures instead of catching up with sleep. Three hours later I was in Graz and called Samuel’s wife to pick me up. She had to work so in a rush she showed me the kitchen and was gone and I was alone! I slept at once and in the evening I heard Samuel open the door and heaven broke loose! We made so much happy noises that even the neighbors came out to see if all was well. We are happy, we said. I was so happy to be united with Ghanaians again and on top of it they are my real family! While the parents worked their boy showed me all of Graz. He is twelve. He is the one who had time so after school he showed his town to his uncle! I was there for ten days and visited all the Ghanaians from Nkoranza who I all know well. Lunch, dinner, talking, dancing, music, catching up! It was small Nkoranza! In Graz we went to church with the Ghanaians, Samuel’s church, and that was great, that was real worship, a full church like here in Ghana! Like being home. The church is underground so the noise does not disturb other people. Read more

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Ingeborg Denissen ~ Negotiating Urban Citizenship. The Urban Poor, Brokers and the State in Mexico City and Khartoum

PhD – Utrecht University. Jan., 2014

Mexico City, 26 June 2008: “We are merchants, not criminals”. These words mark the banners of the protestors on Mexico City’s central square (Zócalo). Hundreds
of merchants from the “El Salado” market in Iztapalapa have come in busses to protest against the government operations in their market. A month earlier, the
authorities had entered the market with more than 500 police officers to check the licences of the merchants and forcing them to register. The authorities claimed
that around eighty percent of the merchandise was stolen or pirated, including stolen car parts and even weapons. Merchants claimed their right to work.
Although the Department of Public Security’s main reason for the operation was to promote security in the area, that of the local government was “to break with the
corporativism that ruled the market and to have the merchants pay taxes to the government instead of fees to their local leaders”.

Khartoum, 8 May 2008: dozens of army vehicles entered the squatter area of Soba Aradi to relocate the population without prior notice. Riots broke out in the neighbourhood as the residents refused to mount the vehicles. After a police officer posted in the area accidentally shot a child, the police office was set on fire by an angry crowd, killing at least eight police officers. Twenty-four people died because of the riots, and many were held in prison without due process. Public outrage particularly turned against the popular committee in the neighbourhood, with the official body of citizen representation seen as complicit in the government relocation plan.

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Bookmark and Share – Muungano And CURI Launches The Kiandutu Urban Studio

The Urban Studio is a unique interdisciplinary academic initiative undertaken to address urban issues that challenge the quality of life in cities, more particularly informal settlement. The planning studio endeavors to engage the community in an urban problem solving effort. Through an initiative of the Association of Africa Planning Schools (AAPS) implemented by African Planning Schools and SDI affiliate NGOs more than 100 students in urban planning,  architecture, design, anthropology, business, nursing, political science, urban geography and others have participated and partnered with urban poor communities, community based organizations on projects intended to make informal settlements more sustainable.

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newcitiesfoundation – Re-imagining Cities Through Architecture, Design and Urban Planning: Tweet Chat Highlights

Can architects, designers and urban planners transform our cities for the better?  What are the biggest challenges they face? Do city leaders and the general public understand the role of architects in shaping our future cities? These were some of the ideas discussed in the second of our monthly New Cities Summit 2014 Tweet chats.

Our Re-imagining Cities Through Architecture, Design and Urban Planning Tweet chat was moderated by the New Cities Foundation – @newcitiesfound. We were joined by featured guests from the media and the academic, public and private sectors. Over the course of one hour, we analyzed the crucial role of design in re-imagining the cities we live in.

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Bookmark and Share – Egypt: Living Without The State In Cairo’s Slums

Cairo — For the residents of the Middle East and Africa’s largest city, Cairo, 2013 ended with the often repeated government promise to finally provide basic services and development in the slums, where half of the city’s residents live.

But instead of waiting for Prime Minister Hazem Al-Beblawi’s slum renewal project, announced in November, to bear fruit, many are simply coping as best they can without the state.

When basic services are lacking, it is often down to slum dwellers to use their own initiative. They dig land, construct septic tanks and water pipes, install storage barrels, and raise community funds to get private engineers to build sewage pipes and connect them to the main network.

“These communities have an inherent self-reliance in finding ways to get by,” said Thomas Culhane, co-founder of Solar CITIES, an NGO that invests in solar and renewable energy in poor communities.

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