Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Speaking of things for sale on the roadside...

There are lots of vendors on the sides of the road. Some are 'stores' in shipping containers and some are just tables with fruit or baskets or traditional African clothing. One common thing for sale roadside is coconuts- the vendor sets up early in the day with a huge pile of coconuts- green ones, not the brown hairy ones- a table, and a machete. He proceeds to whack the top of the coconut with the machete until it is tapered and then sets it on the table. Customers come and pay for a coconut, the vendor whacks the very tip of the coconut off and the customer drinks the contents. Watching them whack away with a machete while holding the coconut is a frightening thing for a person like me who should never be trusted with a large sharp implement, but they are fascinating to watch nonetheless.

Another enterprise is hawking just about everything to cars stopped at intersections. It's technically illegal and occasional sweeps by police send the vendors running in every direction, but there is no way to stop the practice all over, so it continues on a massive scale. On any given day, while sitting at a traffic light, I will be offered toilet paper, lighters, maps of Ghana, plantain chips, bags of ice water, loaves of bread, gum, breath mints, chamois cloths, toy cars, peanuts, popcorn, chocolate milk, apples, meat pies, blue jeans, newspapers, and countless other items. A simple head shake will send most of them on their way- many just walk by without slowing unless they see a signal from you, and a very few will stop at any car containing a white person and insist that their item is "cheap" and something you need very badly. They almost always make me laugh, which makes them laugh, and usually causes them to ask me to buy it just because I think they are cute. So far I have never bought anything from the people who pass my car...

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Let's Talk Currency

Ghanaian cedis are trading right now for about 9000 to the dollar, U.S.

The largest cedi note is ¢20,000 (that "cent" sign is used to mean cedis here)

The adventure here is going to the bank and getting cash to have on hand. Write yourself a check for 5 million cedis. Get five HUNDRED ¢10,000 notes (one time I got 1000 ¢5,000 notes!). At the ATMs you can choose up to ¢800,000 cedis in a single withdrawal. The wait time as the ATM whirrrrrrrs through that many notes is impressive.

Now imagine where on your person or in your purse you will stuff five hundred or a thousand bank notes. Start stacking those dollars up and get an idea of how much paper that is...

In Ghana, the bank or Forex Bureau (money exchange) will, as a matter of course, give you a black plastic shopping bag into which you can put your millions of cedis.

Purchases are routinely counted by electronic counting machines like banks in the U.S. have for counting large amounts of bills.

On the other hand, there are some lovely bargains, especially in groceries. For the equivalent of 50 cents, I can get a yard long baguette or a loaf of sliced wheat bread, for $1.50 I can get a loaf of raisin bread- all fresh baked and sliced to order. I can get a pineapple for 50 cents, and 10 bananas for 60 cents. When we first got here, I bought a wicker loveseat and three wicker club chairs, all with back and bottom cushions, plus a wicker side table, all for $220, and a teak sideboard for $250.

When I'm being a spoiled American and insist on something like Trix or Pop Tarts or Campbell's soup I will pay easily three times what it would cost in the U.S., so it tends to even out somewhat when I cave in to cultural cravings.

Ghanaian money is, like most currency outside the U.S., different colors and sizes. The 1000 cedi notes are tiny, almost like Monopoly money, and the 20,000 cedi notes are slightly larger than U.S. bills. In between are 2K, 5K, and 10K bills, plus coins in 500, 200, 100, and 50 cedi amounts. The 500 and 100 being the most fun- 500 is a heavy golden coin sized between a quarter and a nickel and 100 is a quarter sized coin with a silver band outside and golden center. Of course that 100 is worth only about a penny.

Monday, August 29, 2005

In the house...

So here we are, and FINALLY we have internet service. Much of the delay was Ted's two week trip back to Texas the day after we moved into the house. Cooper and I were so busy learning how to live in Africa on our own (without the hotel staff to back us up) that we didn't have time to do any of the leg work for peripherals!

The house is a hoot- not a square angle in it anywhere and if you put a marble at my kitchen door it will roll all the way to the sink, some twenty five feet slightly downhill from the door. Ha!

Life in Africa is best described as 'tenuous'. In a very basic way for the natives, and in a more "convenience" way for expats. As I type this my voltage regulator clicks regularly trying to compensate for the wild fluctuations in voltage, and the computer is hooked up to that, a surge protector, and a UPS, in addition to the usual computer stuff. Electric power is not a certainty at any time- we have a diesel generator and 500 gallon fuel tank to power the house when ECG power (Electric Company of Ghana) goes off. Water is also not a given- at any time it simply stops flowing from the main city supply, and we have to switch over to the electric pump (dependent on ECG or our generator to run) that supplies water to the house from an 800 gallon giant black plastic water tank in my back yard. Not that you can drink the water. But we use it to shower, brush our teeth and make any food that will be boiled anyway. :-)

Having said all that, life here is good- and surprisingly easy, thanks to local culture and custom. We have a "houseboy" named Mac. He isn't a boy and we pay him the equivalent of $90 a month. We kept him on to help while Ted was out of the country and figured out that it would be best to just keep him forever. He takes care of the yard and landscaping, and takes great pride in keeping all the outside areas clean- he mops the porch and pool area, washes my windows every week, sweeps the pool, takes care of the garbage, and a million other little things. He is totally self directed and works SO hard.

Cooper (aged 13) has always been the designated dog poop picker upper and it's part of his commitment to having his own dog, but when I told Mac that Coop would be doing that he almost had a stroke. Coop came in the house after the first time I sent him out to do it and said

"I think I got it all, but the guard and Mac kept following me around telling me not to do it!"

I went out to explain and got this:

"Little sir CANNOT do it. That is a job for the houseboy. Please do not let him do that again!"

Heh. You can imagine who Cooper's favorite African is. :-)

We knew when we rented the house back in April that it was directly on the airport flight path, and we decided we didn't care. Turns out we were right- although it was a little hairy to get used to right at the start. The airport is about 2 miles away as the crow flies and there is only one runway, running north/south. All planes land from the north (where our house is) and we are literally in a direct line with the runway, so as the planes come over, they are directly overhead so unless we recognise the paint on their bellies we don't know what airline they are- we can't see the tails until they are way past us. They are about 200-300 feet off the ground as they pass over, and it's loud, but only for about five seconds. Kotoka International gets about 15-20 planes a day, 10-12 of which are jets and the rest turboprops. It's a different way to live, but surprisingly undisturbing. The advantage is that our location is less sought after so the drain on power and water is not as bad as other areas just a mile or so to either side. Ted's Managing Director lives very near us, but has water only one day a week (their tank is 30,000 gallons!) and constant power outages (we still have most of our original generator fuel after more than a month in the house).

Cooper loves his school! It really is kind of neat - it's an international school but run by Americans, so he has the best of both worlds. There are forty nationalities, the top five being, in order, Korea, Ghana, U.S., U.K., and France. Back to school night was last Monday and Ted and I are thrilled with his curriculum and teachers. They are accredited for the International Baccalaureate Program which is recognised by the Universities in Europe and America as superior to whatever he would be getting in a U.S. school, so woohoo! His french teacher is from France, his gym teacher speaks like Princess Diana, and his Math teacher is from Moosejaw Saskatchewan. Ha! He gets out at 1pm every Wednesday which thrills the poop out of him, and his first long holiday break is in October, ditto the poop.

Welcome to Africa!

So here we are in Africa. In order to share our experience with family and friends who are interested, I've started this journal. Don't expect continuity or a reasonable order to events- if I can get online I'll post whenever I can, hopefully fairly often. Enjoy and I'll be happy to reply to specific requests- just leave me a note here!

The posting times will be Ghana time (GMT). We are five hours off CDT in the U.S.