Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New Adventure!

If you still have me on your feed, or just check back occasionally, we have moved again and now live in Jakarta Indonesia- I would love to see old friends from all over the world at my new blog if you feel like dropping by.  



Friday, December 14, 2007

To Ghana With Love...(sob!)

Okay, move complete, boy withdrawn from school, cars and appliances disposed of, dog shipped off to the U.S. and all that remains is to stuff ourselves and our six pieces of luggage onto the plane tonight.

As an epilogue, I'll tell you what's next for our three favorite Ghanaians.

Stephen has the option of taking over the day guard job at Ted's company house, if he wants to. But we have spoken with InterCon Security and our glowing reports of him, while not the first, are apparently what they needed to offer him a better position with their company and if that happens, he will be getting a promotion which is no less than he deserves. Cross your fingers.

Mark has decided he would like to go back to school and we have helped set him up in his own place so he can do that and not have to break in the new owners of our house. He will continue to sell phone units and mow lawns to earn money and finish his education.

Duke, of course, is going to continue driving for the company, except in a better car with a more important guy. ;-)

We will miss them, and so many other people we have to leave behind, like crazy.

For all the kind people who have commented that they will miss my blog, thank you so much for hanging out with me all this time- it's been a hoot.

If you love Ghana, you can head over to Obroni Observations (there is a hot link on the right hand column at the top) and read Barb's pithy posts if you haven't already discovered her. She is one of the people I will miss the most.

And as I head to a country that does not have free range goats and chickens (in this case free range means suburban neighborhoods) I think I might miss even them more than I realized.

One of the only goats we have ever seen tied up in Ghana lives just a block from our house and we have watched him twang at the end of his rope or just wrap it tightly around the trees for so long we had almost stopped noticing him.

But we took this picture yesterday, to remind us always... and he was obligingly wrapped around three trees.

My parting shot of Ghana and a big thank you to the people here who made it such a great ride...

Bye Bye!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

International Moving, Ghana Style

As our friends and families (and their poor, abused address books) are well aware, moving is a hobby with us (this current shift will be to our 14th home since 1978) but this particular move is a new experience for us...

After our books and kitchenware were packed up in boxes, almost everything else ended up being wrapped like packages in the red and white paper you can see everywhere...

The guys doing our packing were very typically Ghanaian- polite, careful-ish, and not only willing to take direction from us, but desperately in need of it.

This was a real departure for us- our many house packers in the U.S., and even the ones in Australia, were brisk and efficient and although they always comply with our suggestions/requests, they mostly wish we would dry up and blow away.

Not so here.

We were sought out frequently to give our opinions or instructions for a million different things, which took some getting used to after years of being trained by our U.S. movers to shut up and get out of their way. ;-)

As the day progressed, the house began to look more and more like this, everywhere you looked...

We kept them from packing the things we needed this week by putting that stuff in the "Off Limits" room, which was controlled chaos...

...and Duke spent the day looking for things to do and ways to help.

Because he is Duke.

Here he is, sweeping the dog hair off our bedroom floor in his "Boss and Mom Are Moving" clothes.

The big surprise was Elliot.

We brought him on the porch to meet the movers when they first showed up and he smelled their shoes and hands (remember, strange dogs are not generally a favorite of Ghanaians, so our movers were very brave and patient to deal with this), and then let them do their work without freaking out and barking at them.

As a matter of fact, quite often as we moved through the house, we would see Elliot getting a passing pat on the head from one of his new best friends as they went about their business.

Here he is, exhausted, taking a little breather next to one of his new pals...

Finally, all our stuff was boxed and bagged, wrapped and taped, and the container showed up.

Things were loaded into this container and will be taken to the port where they will be crated in plywood boxes and put into a Maersk sea container for shipment back to America.

Unless it falls overboard.

Which apparently happens with alarming frequency. Cross your fingers...

Here's the truck backing the container into our driveway (that's Stephen on the left and Mark on the right)...

and just a few minutes later, completely onto the property...

This was a sharp contrast to the container truck that delivered the same stuff to us in the spring of 2005.

On that day, the truck maneuvered for a good thirty minutes OUTSIDE our gate, gathering a knot of interested kibbitzers as it did.

Then it made roughly twenty attempts to back through the gate as each spectator gave advice and instructions (usually conflicting) to the accompaniment of a chorus of "Brah, brah, brah!" which is Twi for "come".

We thought, at the time, that they were saying "Blah, blah, blah." which was a great way to start our life in Ghana with a laugh.

So life in our little house in East Legon has come to an end, and we are living in a hotel this week, waiting for Cooper to finish his final exams.

It's the same hotel we lived in for six weeks waiting for the sea container to arrive from America, but in the time we have lived here it has changed ownership. With the new owners came a list of rules for the swimming pool, carefully painted on one of the signs we have come to love in this country for their clear, open instruction on so many aspects of life.

No pussyfooting language about "Intoxication"- just don't swim DRUNK, and by the way, don't spit OR BLOW YOUR NOSE into the pool.

I offer my sincere thanks for that particular instruction.

And instead of nattering about safety and liability, they point out right up front they won't be responsible for Death while using the pool. So there.

I'll post again before we make what are sure to be our tearful farewells to a swell country, and the people therein...

...in the meanwhile, be very very glad you don't have to move, and if you don't think it's so bad, please come to our house in the U.S. and help unpack. :-)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Say It Isn't So!

Well, this is the entry I have dreaded for a long time- the one I was hoping I wouldn't have to write for quite a while.

In the middle of December, we will be moving away from Ghana. :-(

I'll pause here for you to take a moment to become as bummed as I am.

We made Duke cry, and he made Jane cry, and they lied and told the girls that they had just put medicine in their eyes and everything was fine.

The good news is that they are mostly over it.

The seven of us (Duke, Jane, Christa, Erica, Us and Coop) spent the day together last weekend and Duke went swimming!

Kind of.

And while they are sad, they accept it and Duke is even a little excited because when he doesn't have us anymore he will be driving for the Project Director whom he likes very much.

The Project Director's wife is a nice woman (with a big dog, just for Duke!), but she won't let him come into stores with her and the rolling frat house that Duke and I had will be shut down for good.

No more teasing the street vendors, no more bat harrassing, no more honking and waving and hooting and "shortcuts" to Siberia. But he'll have a nicer car to drive, and that's something.

Anyway, the project isn't finished (far from it), but we had told Cooper when we came that it would be for two years. We never expected it to be really only two years, since we have never had a project finish on time, ever, but we forgot to mention that to Coop.

The time overrun coupled with the full onset of adolescence gave him a little angst about missing "real life" and just doing things "regular".

The poor kid just wants to go to the mall with friends and see a movie in a theater and load a YouTube video in less than 10 minutes. He wants to make a phone call and not have to redial four times in the middle of the conversation because the phone disconnected, and he wants to eat fast food.

I don't blame him. I wouldn't be a teenager again for all the folding money in Las Vegas, but I wouldn't have missed the first time around either, so we are taking him back to let him be a "Real American Teenager" for the last 2.5 years of high school.

He's earned it.

We have expanded his horizons so many times in so many ways, often against his will, in the last two and a half years, and he has been a trooper ever since we dragged him out of California all those years and three moves ago, coming along without complaint- it just feels right to honor this request from him to take advantage of this last period of what could be the easy life before he has to assume the responsibilities of an adult.

So the whole family will repatriate December 15 and Ted will return to finish the project on a rotating basis- time with us, time at work- living here with other company employees in a house they will share. Not the perfect solution, but one that will work.

Next week is packing/moving week.


This move is particularly complicated because we have things that will go with Ted to his new digs, things to ship by sea, things to ship by air, things to carry with us, things to sell, and things to give away.

Usually we just have a giant garage sale and move the rest to the new house.

I will try to see the humor in the coming week's events so I can tell you about the moving experience from here without going 'round the bend.

Meanwhile, I want to leave you today with some recommendations if you are ever lucky enough to come to Ghana.

If you are an Obroni, and want Obroni stuff, you will have no trouble finding it without me.

What I am going to share are the places we love that are a little out of the way or where we are often the only Obronis but that have become some of our favorite places to spend time.

Start with Chez Afrique. It's in East Legon, near the French School, off Lagos Ave. a few streets. If you want it, you will find it. Good food, cold beer, music on weekends, lower prices on weekdays. We only eat "inside" if it rains (inside means a roof and some six foot walls...)- 99% of the time we eat on the patio out front. Grilled chicken, chicken kabobs, Okra stew, kelewele, RedRed and cole slaw. We've never paid more than 20 bucks for both of us, stuffed to the gills and well lubricated.

Papa's Peace Bar. A very strange and wonderful place also in East Legon. Head for Accra on Lagos and take the first left. After about a block, Papa's will be on your right.

Osekan Resort. Easy on the resort part, but you can't beat the location, right down by the beach in a place where the waves break wildly over the rocks. You can get sea food and have your hair curled (or straightened, depending on your DNA) all at the same time. Inexpensive, good service, and a unique experience.

The basket lady on 5th Circular, near Home Touch. This woman has really nice baskets in all the good "Bolgatanga" styles and she will reward you for being a faithful customer. Even your first time she will give you a "small price", and you won't need your aggressive negotiating skills.

China Palace- the one in East Legon is better than the one in Dzorwulu, but they are both reasonably priced and cheerfully staffed, just don't get the satay. The one in East Legon is near the Living Room and American House. Follow the billboards.

Big Milly's Backyard, Kokrobite. You will find a lot of Obronis (young, backpacking, free spirits) here, but it's 100% African in atmosphere and experience. Eat lunch outdoors in the shade with sand for a floor, a picnic table to sit at, and chickens wandering through the restaurant... after lunch you can stroll the fairly clean beach and watch the fishing boats and fishermen who work from the beach here.

Aylos Bay Resort on the Volta River (on the way to or from the Cedi Bead Factory). You can sit in the shade at a large table and watch the Volta slide by (along with fishermen) and eat very good food at terrific prices served by happy, kind people. Spend the night if they have room. And be sure to check out the sculptures outside the restrooms.

And finally, even though a banana is a banana is a banana, if you are in East Legon on Lagos Ave. please stop under the big shade tree about a mile past the Ange Hill Hotel. The woman there sells only bananas, so you will be able to spot her next to a plywood clothes store. She will need your business to make up for losing mine.

And if you buy apples from your car, try to do it sometimes from the guys on the Motorway at the light in front of the Fiesta Royale hotel- 1GHC for three apples. And you can point to the exact three you want.

And try to go to Accra Central. You will make as many friends as you can handle and the experience is one of a kind. :-)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mother Nature's Little Joke

I realize that a good portion of my blog entries have soft porn involved, somehow, even if it's not intended.

You can probably chalk that up to the basically immature nature of your Blog Writer, but sometimes I just can't help myself.

When we were on vacation recently at Axim Beach, we made ample use of our little front porch, from which we were treated to the sights and sounds of the Atlantic Ocean, and the native vegetation.

Call us potty minds (and you would be very close to the mark there!), but this plant, growing vigorously between our Rondavel and Coop's, just gave us both the giggles. Every time.

If you are puzzled, here is a closer view...

If you still wonder what the hell I'm talking about, consider yourself a mature adult, and a truly Non-Potty Minded Person (which means you aren't related to me by blood).

If, however, you are snorting and maybe even guffawing, let me know and we'll get together for a drink and to share some jokes that are really in bad taste. ;-)

Ghana has fine-tuned my baser nature.

For the better.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A Crappy Problem...

Today's subject is a bummer.

But it's something that we keep getting smacked in the face with, and it's probably one of the biggest cultural disconnects we have encountered here.

Certainly it's bad for Ghana.

You know I love Ghana, and especially Ghanaians, and god knows America is not a world leader in environmental issues, but the problem here is bad and getting worse...

The beaches here are huge natural waste sites (both household garbage and human effluent), and littering is not considered a problem by the majority of the population. I won't point out the human waste in these pictures, but it's there. Trust me.

Witness these two excerpts:

...The sanitation situation in Accra is in a very bad state. Of the twenty existing sewage treatment systems in the Accra
metropolitan area, none is in working order...

[The ailing and barely functional Achimota Water treatment plant was shut down completely in March of 2005 because it conflicted with a roadworks project along the coast. Because of that, we got a news story more than a year later...]

  • ACCRA, 1 August 2006 (IRIN News) -
For well over a year, more than 80 percent of the sewage generated by the two million people of Ghana’s sea-front capital of Accra has been dumped in the ocean, untreated...

... "It is not an acceptable international practice," Appiah told IRIN. "But it is a mighty ocean out there. As far as I am concerned, it doesn't do anything bad to anyone."...


Yes, you read that right...an official of the government in Ghana said "it doesn't do anything bad to anyone." How do you begin to fight that kind of ignorance?

As opposed to the coastlines of developed countries, in Ghana only the poorest people live close to the beaches (especially in Accra) because all the garbage, effluent, and trash ends up at the beach or in the ocean.

At least the garbage that isn't just dropped directly on the streets and property of Accra.

Water "on the go" can be bought here in "single serving" sized plastic bags for a very small price. When emptied, these bags are simply dropped on the ground, resulting in a constant line of empty, discarded plastic bags on every street in the city, along with the sort of trash and litter that was so common in America (and sometimes still is) before the Anti-Littering campaigns of the 60s and 70s.

Having grown up with the Iron Eyes Cody crying a single tear for the littering of America's highways and rivers, I developed a horror of litter and littering that I passed on to my son.

But after almost three years in Ghana, I have to catch myself occasionally when I have "inconvenient" trash in my car- the temptation to just chuck it out the window is very real. It would be a small addition to a monstrously huge existing problem.

But I don't.

Thankfully my distaste for litter is ingrained enough to stop me from actually contributing to the problem, but how will we ever educate Ghanaians to the enormity of this issue before it overwhelms the city and country?

If I can be tempted, with my anti-litter upbringing and pampered lifestyle, how can you communicate the urgency of the problem to the average Ghanaian?

One of the community service projects at Lincoln School is to clean up the beach in La (the beach community in Accra). Cooper participated in that his second year here, and he came home sad, disillusioned and not a little grossed out.

The younger kids were prohibited from picking up some of the things on the beach, but the senior school kids (like Cooper) were confronted with more than just trash- they picked up condoms, syringes, and many many plastic bags filled with human feces.

On the beach.

Within walking distance of major international hotels that will never ever attract the guests they seek because of the condition of the local beaches.

Even a country as forward-looking as Ghana will be prohibited from becoming the modern destination the Ghanaian government constantly talks about and wishes for as long as the streets and beaches of the country are full of garbage and human waste.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Toothmobile

Cooper's dentist.

Remember when Coop got his braces and I told you about the dentist having his chair and equipment in a converted recreational vehicle?

Well, by popular demand, I have pictures!

Behold, the Toothmobile...

and once inside, you would never know you weren't in a regular dentist's office...

I tell you, Africa and Africans can just make stuff work. The Doc has it hooked to his generator, so there's no worries about power.

They are working on a new office in a regular building on their property, so the fun won't last long now...

but when we look back on Cooper's experience with braces we'll always have the Toothmobile.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ghana, The Beach, and Everything

October is fall break time at Lincoln school (can you believe they've been in school for nine weeks already????), so Ted burned some vacation time and we took off.

We wanted to stay in Ghana, but we didn't want to spend our time bouncing over dicey roads looking for badly signposted attractions, so we made a couple of reservations on a couple of beaches and headed west, toward Takoradi and the border with Cote'd'Ivoire (the former Ivory Coast).

Our first stay was at Axim Beach Resort, about a half hour past Takoradi, set on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic, with a nice beach at the bottom of the hill and really fun "rondavel" chalets. Here is one of the signs we followed for many miles back into the bush on the way to the resort...

Here is the stone from the entrance to reception...

You may remember that "Akwaaba" is Twi for

"You are welcome".

This is our chalet...

...and then looking downhill to ours from Cooper's chalet...

(yes, he had his very own room, complete with TV and personal remote. He was a happy boy).

And what a surprise, considering these crazy shy Ghanaians... there was a very interesting carving on the door of our chalet...

She really skeeved Cooper out. :-)

Especially since Ted and I were so pleased to have her on our door.

Cooper's door carving was some warrior or farmer or something boring, which suited him just fine.

We, on the other hand, appreciated having a door that made us giggle every time we went through it.

The beach at Axim has a very small tidal fluctuation, and the surf pounds pretty heavily day and night- people pay a lot of money for machines that replicate that sound, and we just sat on our little porch and let it wash over us, so to speak.

Although Ted and I both admitted to thinking the occasional wave set sounded an awful lot like the ubiquitous jets that zoom over our house a couple dozen times a day...it's all relative.

The beach, looking back toward the hill on which sit the rondavels...

and a shot of the rondavels themselves, nestled in among the palms...

This is Coop making the most of the surf on a day that threatened rain, but never quite managed it until way after bedtime...

When we sat on our porch, these are the views we had...

On our third night there, they had what was billed as a "Burn Fire and Bufet" on the beach.

They set up a really nice buffet after dark and then set a bonfire on the sand for our pyromaniac enjoyment. It was pretty special and very well done.

By this time, of course, poor Coop had enough of rustic African beach living, and we headed out to our next resort- a place built to attract Obronis (although it still surprises us even after all this time how many things about "obroni" hotels still scream AFRICA).

We checked into the Busua Beach Resort, from whence these views came...

(Had we been in America, we would have suspected the Disney
Imagineers of planting this island, two perfect palms
and a grassy hummock for effect. It was just too perfect...)

It was a very nice setting, with a very clean beach.

And really boring. :-)

But Coop was happy, so we sat on the beach for a few days and read our books and swam with him and just relaxed without worrying about getting any cultural advantages.

The upside was our excursion out into the neighboring village and our subsequent discovery of the African Rainbow hotel and its fourth floor rooftop bar, in which they happily served us dinner.

We sat up high, watched the ocean, and ate some terrifically good food- first by ourselves, and then with Coop when we dragged him away from his cushy hotel room and out into Africa again.

While we were busy staying in resorts and reading on the beach, we also managed to do a little exploring.

One of the first things we did was head out the beach road west toward Cote'd'Ivoire from Axim.

This particular region of Ghana was devastated in the 70s by a blight that caused a "wilt" on the producing coconut palms and wiped out the local economy. All this time later, the stumps of the dead palms linger as a reminder...

There are living coconut palms there now, but nothing like the amount that provided them with a living wage so many years ago.

If you ever find yourself on the road to Cote'd'Ivoire, this is what it would look like...

The trick is to stop before you actually get to the border- no Mexican border town can compare to the chaos and corruption of the Ghana-Cote'd'Ivoire border.

And just to keep you from wishing we had taken you with us to sample a new country, feel free to check out any travel guide for our neighbors to the West. Its current condition is simply not conducive to casual visitors.

Or visitors. :-(

But we didn't need no stinkin' foreign countries to entertain us- we had Ghana and what Ghana has is...

Rubber Tree Plantations!

Who knew?

Here is a shot of rubber tree saplings:

and here they are all grown up:

The trees are tapped just like Maple trees in the U.S., except a sticky white rubber comes out instead of maple syrup!

We wanted to stick our fingers in the collection cups really bad, but since we were trespassing to get these shots at all, we decided not to press our luck and had to settle for imagining how odd and gooey that rubber must feel...

Finally, after a week of resort living we had to head back to real life, but we stopped at one last resort to have lunch in an outdoor restaurant set directly on the beach near Biriwa called Anumobo (feel free to rearrange the "O"s and "U"s in that name any way you like- we saw it spelled every conceivable way on signs, in guidebooks and even on their own menus and Reception desk).

They served us traditional Ghanaian lobsters, which faithful readers remember from our jaunt to Osekan Restaurant in Accra. Today however, you get to actually see them (I remembered to take a picture when I had only eaten four of them and there were still some left!).

This is some seriously good eatin'.

And a lovely finish to our relaxing "All Ghana, All Lazy" vacation.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Kente 101

Ghana is (or it should be!) famous as the home of Kente cloth. It is woven by hand in sharp, bright colors by men of the Ashanti tribe.

The "usual" Kente comes in strips about 4-6 inches wide and five or six feet long. If you want a garment, many strips are sewn together to make a large cloth.

There are tons of patterns and each one means something, e.g. "the extended family is a strong force" or "God's Eyebrow" (the ashanti description of a rainbow).

Once again, because my sister Judy came to visit, I finally managed to take some (seriously bad) photos of a Kente weaver doing his thing.

In this badly exposed, poorly framed, confusing picture, you can see

a) the long threads used to weave the cloth lengthwise (this goes on for 25 or 30 feet),

b) the weaver waaa-aaay at the back of the pic, and

c) a finished strip on the far right side in front of Ted.

Heading back to where the weaving guy actually sits, for a marginally better picture you can see the "pedals" for his feet.

This is a complicated set of thingamajigs that the guy manipulates with his feet and toes to keep tension, switch layers, and who knows what kind of cool stuff that one could only understand after much practice and many botched practice cloths.

You can just barely make out the pattern of the cloth he is weaving if you click it bigger and look between his hands.

For the 50th Anniversary celebration, we bought this Kente strip from the guy down the street...

It's at least twice this long, but I couldn't get the whole thing in the picture and still let you see the details.

The fabric is good sturdy cotton-type cloth. Fairly tightly woven so you can't see through it.

When we were in the forest up north to visit the sacred monkeys last spring, our Park Ranger Guide had some kente cloth bookmarks available for purchase.

I couldn't decide on one, so I bought seven. ;-)

Here's a few of them close up...

and here's the whole collection...

And that's your crash course in Kente cloth.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Need for Speed

After more than two years without a mall, a movie theater, or a crappy fast food restaurant, and more than a year since they took away his sad little neighborhood half pipe, you probably think Cooper never gets to have any teen-aged boy fun.

Never fear.

Accra has a Go-Kart track.

I kid you not.

¢70,000 (about $7.50) will get you 15 minutes on the track in a Go-Kart held together with spit and baling wire at the La Raceway.

La is the neighborhood the track is in, near the beach. And this is what it looks like...

Not bad at all. It's a fairly long course and the turns are sharp enough and the guys hit the tires often enough to thrill themselves a little.

Because when you are 15, it's all about risk and skidding and passing your friends.

And when you go to the Go-Kart track outside America, you don't have to worry about all those pesky safety rules and liability disclaimers.

Not that they don't care. This sign for instance...

If you click it bigger you will get the full flavor of the serious nature of the danger of motor sport. :-)

And they did have this sign in the pit area...

Of course, they didn't have any flags or even a flag man. Just a few guys with a watch. When your fifteen minutes are up, one of the guys walks out to the track and points at the pit when you drive by.

Works the same.

Here's Coop and two of the three friends who went Saturday just after their first fifteen minute session. They spent the next twenty minutes dumping adrenalin and discussing how much drift they got (as in Tokyo Drift) and debating the merits of their particular Go-Kart.

Then they got ready to start their second session...

which included the track guys gassing up each Go-Kart with a little jug of gas and a Flintstones funnel.

Nana's ride needed a little help, and as one of the kids said when we were all through-

the track guys go "Oh! It's not working? Let me fix it with this paper clip."

and off they went.

It's just like home.

And nothing like home.

All at the same time.

But at least Cooper gets to be a big high school dork with his friends sometimes.