Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Happy Holidays!

Just a quick note about the Holiday Season in our little corner of West Africa.

It's a hoot!

We can't make ourselves believe it's already December 20- and since we will be gone for the actual holiday, we don't have a tree or decorations to help us remember how close we are to the Solstice or Christmas or New Year's.

We keep listening to Holiday songs, but it still seems like weeks and weeks until the Holidays. It's still plenty hot after all.

My sister called the other night as she was getting off work (and it was after 10pm here). My phone was blinking to me that she had called already twice, when she tried one more time. I explained I missed the first calls because we were in the pool. She had called to tell me about their new snow and the flurries that were blowing by her as she sat in the parking lot. Brrrrr!

So, as it should be, the Santas in our Ghanaian stores are jolly black men, but sadly they are not sitting on Santa thrones inviting children to tell them what they want. Most children in Ghana aren't getting much for Christmas, let alone what they really want. So basically our Santas just wander the store being jolly-ish and helpful.

There are blinking colored lights everywhere, carols on the muzak, and traffic traffic traffic! We have distributed Christmas cheer in the form of money to a list of people - the guards (day, night and weekend), our Houseboy, our Driver, and the tunnel guys. A little goes a long way, and it feels good to be in a position to really give some Holiday Cheer to people who have been such a help in getting us settled in our new home and making us feel so comfortable here.

Wherever you are I hope your New Year is as exciting as we plan ours to be. I'll be back to share more of our African adventure in 2006!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

KOA (Kampgrounds of Accra)

Okay, mundane household items day.

Our stove, well here it's actually called a 'cooker', is a very nice six burner with oven. Four of the burners are gas, two are electric and the oven is gas.

Now remember where I live. We do not have gas piped to our house. We barely have water and electricity piped to our house. So how, might you ask, do I use my gas cooker?

Give up?

I have a five gallon LPG tank in a cupboard under the kitchen counter. For ¢75,000 (about $8.30) I can fill it up at the local LPG filling station. That's what Duke and I set out to do Wednesday. I jumped in the car with my tank (well, actually, Duke threw it in the trunk) and we took off to fill it back up (but not before Duke shook it and declared it "finish").

First station. Closed. No gas.

Second station. Closed. No gas.

Whoops! Bad time to run out of cooker gas. Duke says there is a shortage of LPG all over town.

Third station. Closed. No gas.

We are running out of time to get the gas and still get to school to pick Cooper up on time, but never fear- this is Duke's town and station #4 has gas! Woohoo!

This station is near Duke's house and the man who is working there knows him and has apparently decided that Duke should have asked for more money from me (Obroni tax). Duke declined to overcharge me for the gas and the man is upset with him. They are speaking, loudly, in Twi and it's apparent that the man is angry about not getting extra money and Duke is annoyed that he would insist. Duke gets a ¢500 coin (20 cents) from the ashtray and gives it to the man without looking at him. He declines to give me details, but he I know he is weary of his countrymen trying to get money from me for nothing just because I'm an Obroni. I feel bad for him.

We get to school in plenty of time to pick up Cooper (Duke says: "I was worried we would get there and he would be having to sit and wait for us. He would wait patiently though he would also say, where is my Duke?") So, "Where is my Duke" angst averted, we are now in possession of a whole new tankful of cooker gas, which apparently will last us about five months. Unless I cook a turkey or something. Haven't seen a turkey alive or dead since I got here though, so we're probably safe from that happening.

This is a good time to point out that living with candles, propane tanks in the kitchen, showers with holes in the wall for drains, and lizards in every room of the house has caused us to frequently joke about living in the really coolest campground we have ever visited. KOA- Kampgrounds of Accra. Come visit anytime!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Christmas at the Equator

We have actually experienced this before when we lived in the southern hemisphere and were in deep summer for the holidays, but we never got used to it there either.

Today I rode my bike over to MaxMart to get some butter and raisin bread (and ended up with all kinds of other stuff I didn't know I needed until I saw it in the store!). I'm wandering down the aisles, checking to see if they have salted saltines (NO), garlic vinaigrette (NO), Koo Brand baked beans (YES), shredded mozzarella (YES), Hershey bar for Coop (NO), fresh mushrooms (NO), and some chicken hot dogs (YES), and the store sound system is playing a whole bunch of standard Christmas carols. It felt so weird to be standing there, sweating from the bike ride, wearing a spandex tank top and sandals, humming The First Noel.

I've lived in warm places in the U.S. - Houston, Tampa, Central Mississippi, and the Mojave freakin' desert! But they are none of them hot in December. They may seem that way to Canadians, but they aren't, and it snowed in every single one of those places while I lived in them, except Tampa- and even there I'm sure my timing was just off.

Ninety degrees and ninety percent humidity just isn't the stuff of Rum Toddies and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But that doesn't faze the people of Ghana. The country is only about forty percent Christian (another 40 percent follows Tribal spiritual teaching and the rest are Muslim or undecided) but Accra is decorated from stem to stern already and has been for a couple of weeks. Multi colored lights are everywhere and there are life sized robotic dancing Santas in the stores singing carols for your enjoyment. All the stores have converted a huge chunk of their floor space to toy departments, and MelCom even has those ubiquitous inflatable Snowmen for your front yard. Which is hilarious in a city where every single front yard is enclosed on all sides by an eight or ten foot wall topped with razor wire. I guess yard decorations are just for you and your friends here. ;-)

So, I'm trying to adjust my Holiday Thermostat and get into the spirit of the season- I've put a nice Christmas Jazz album on the stereo, and I feel more Christmasy already. The really silly part is that we like to celebrate the Solstice and welcome the return of the light each year, but here at the center of the globe, the Solstice/daylight difference is about 45 seconds from winter to summer.

"Hey honey, did it seem two or three seconds lighter today than it did last week?"
HA! Joke's on us.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Remodeling, African Style

One of the things we asked our landlord to do when we rented the house was make a laundry area- someplace we could install a washer and dryer. He ultimately decided to put in on our side porch, and enclosed part of the porch as a laundry room with a window to the outside and a lockable door. It's a nice little porch and looks onto the sidewalk that runs down the south side of the house (and where a nice breeze is always blowing if a breeze is to be found).

It is also the closest exit from the house to the generator, and the location of our circuit breaker and the box that switches the house current from ECG to generator power, but the porch itself was closed off from the sidewalk by a short wall with a railing. What this meant was that when we needed to use the generator we either:

went out the front door
turned on the generator
walked back in the front door
went out the laundry porch door
switched the main power over


we went out the front door
turned on the generator
climbed over the wall into the laundry porch


(in a really back-wrenching move)
went out the laundry porch
climbed over the wall and landed awkwardly (everytime!) in the landscaping
turned on the generator
climbed back over the wall

None of these options was working for us.

So last week when I was talking to our landlord I asked if we could have steps off the laundry porch. Bless his little Lebanese heart, his reply was "Can you wait until Tuesday?"

Right on schedule Tuesday, four guys showed up and started knocking down the wall on my laundry porch and built me the nicest steps. Just like that. No building permit, no plans, no fuss. They demolished the wall, laid blocks, cemented the blocks, re-squared the wall that was left, and were finished in about three hours. Now it is drying and curing.

No more acrobatics off the porch railing, no more schlepping down the driveway and back then through the house and back. WooHoo! Am I too easy, do you think? ;-)