Monday, January 30, 2006

Clean Up Day!

New Experience Day: Saturday was Accra's "clean up exercise". All businesses were closed from 5AM to 12PM and no commercial vehicles were allowed on the roads. During this time, everyone was supposed to work on clearing out rubbish and detritus from their space.

It was a limited success. About 10AM we went out to see what Accra was like with no Taxis and no Tro-Tros. About 80% of them were idled, but there were still quite a few rolling around town. There were a LOT of unfortunate people hoofing it down Liberation Road who couldn't get any transport and needed to be somewhere...all the stores were closed (and I mean all - brick and mortar, container stores, plywood box stores, roadside Cell phone unit vendors- everyone!), and although we didn't see people actively cleaning up, that had more to do with late rising (lazy) Obronis than with lack of enthusiasm by the citizens of Accra- even at 10AM things just generally seemed tidier around town.

There were also lots of fires. Fire is the usual way to dispose of things here- we have garbage pickup, but it's costly for a Ghanaian (about $11 a month) so most things are burned. On clean up exercise day, there were a huge number of fires burning all over town.

We got this note (click picture to make it large enough to read) from our security company explaining why our guards might not be at their post lickety split Saturday morning. (We weren't sure if this meant that there would be no shift change or no guards at all...) In any case, we needn't have worried- our Saturday guard, Paoli, is nothing if not reliable. He is about 70 or 80 and his son is one of our night guards. He isn't quick and he isn't strong, but he is very kind and he was at his post bright and early Saturday morning just like every Saturday since we moved in.

I asked Duke about the clean up exercise and he said:

"We are hoping to make this happen every month. If we can do that, then our city will become very neat!"

I'm skeptical that the merchants will agree to losing 7 precious hours of custom every month, but you never know.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Africa in Bloom!

This entry is for the people who wonder about the flora here. I know it's the dead of winter for most of you and figured you would appreciate my equatorial garden ("my" being a term I use very loosely, since I didn't plant it, don't cultivate it, prune it, water it, or take care of it in any way. But it
is in my yard, and I do pay the man who makes it happen. That has to encompass "my" somehow...).

I snapped a picture of every single type of bloom we have right now, except the marigolds. Why not the marigolds you ask? Because you all know what they look like and because I detest marigolds. They are stupid and gold and ugly and if you like them, I hope you plant lots and lots in
your garden. Just don't send me pictures of them, please. :-)

Each of these pictures can be viewed larger if you click on them. That will make some of them blurry of course, but that's the breaks. You can have focus, or you can have detail. Sometimes you can have both, just not always.

What I haven't seen much evidence of is bees. Surely they are here to pollinate all this glorious color, but they don't buzz around much if they are.

All this stuff has pretty much been in bloom since we moved in last June. It just keeps going. And growing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Duke and I Do Accra

Today Duke and I had to run errands. I needed to book our tickets for the next vacation (Spring Break Safari! Woohoo!), get an extension cord, get two lamps for the (too dark) house, get fire extinguishers for the big house and the boys' quarters.

We left the house at 9am, just in time to get caught in a massive traffic jam caused by the President (of Ghana) heading for the office. In order for that to happen, traffic is stopped along the route as he passes, which isn't that big of a deal except for during the two minutes traffic is stopped, it backs up on the main arteries, all the feeder roads, and into the neighborhoods. Then traffic is allowed to go again and it's chaos. Everyone is late, everyone wants to be first, no one wants to let anyone else squeeze in/by/through. The trip from our house to Liberation Road is about 3 miles. It normally takes 5 to 10 minutes. This morning it took 40. Eek.

Finally we broke free onto Liberation Road (a major multi-lane artery through Accra) and headed to South African Airways office. The very kind woman (with gorgeous eyes!) happily made my reservations and then asked me to return next week when the ticket printer would be working. Booking each vacation is a new adventure in patience. Since I usually flip on the computer, type for twenty seconds and book online with the click of a button, I'm getting a crash course in patience, Murphy's law, and some other less charitable virtues.

On to Orca, the sort-of department store near the beach where we have found the only reliable supply of lamps in Accra. Homes here all have plenty of overhead florescent lighting, ours included, and most people don't see the need to supplement that with incandescent lights. We find the bright white lights difficult to spend a lot of time under though, so we have put lamps in most rooms to provide a warmer light than we get from the overheads. Unfortunately, the lack of demand makes them hard to find, and what you can get is usually 60 watts or less. Difficult to read by at night, especially when the power is being piped to the house at a revoltingly low voltage...(Usually we have to squint when we have been hanging out in the ECG supplied light and then one of us flips on the generator so the lights are on full power. Eek! Brightness!). So today I got another small lamp for the office desk and a halogen lamp for the dining room to replace the 100 watter that was in there, which I moved to the easy chairs for reading purposes. Hopefully that will eliminate the worst of our lack'o'light problems.

Then we drove into Africa. :-) I love when we do this. Duke gives me little courses on how Africans live, which is way more interesting than how Obronis live.

In order to get the three fire extinguishers I wanted, Duke planned for us to go shopping "locally" which means going to a place with wall to wall shipping container stores (usually named something like God is Great Auto Supply or He is Risen Hair Salon) and talking to people he knows who will make us a deal because they have little or no overhead and won't "cheat" me like the big Lebanese run stores (MaxMart, Orca, Koala) who charge "really high prices" because they have "air condition, lots of employees, and fancy displays"...sez Duke. And of course he's right, but what he doesn't see is how impossible it would be for me to shop his way- I have no contacts, and my skin usually makes me subject to the "Obroni tax" on foreign morons. But having him take me is smooth sailing. We drove deep into a neighborhood I had never been in before and ended up on a narrow one way street with a solid layer of parked cars on one side and hundreds of "auto supply" stores on both sides. Anything you can think of from hub caps to spark plugs was on offer. Steering wheel covers, alarm systems, batteries, jacks. Anything. I'm serious. Duke takes me to his chosen container store and sits me on a nice little bench out front while he tells his friend what we want. They talk (in Twi, of course) and finally the guy disappears for a minute while Duke explains he has gotten the price down from ¢200,000 to ¢180,000 apiece. The guy comes back with one extinguisher and it's exactly what I need- multi purpose, small enough to lift. So we wait while another guy disappears to get two more. Where they go, where they get the extinguishers from, I haven't a clue. I'm sure some trading of some sort was going on that I couldn't see from my comfy little bench.

Then we get in the car and head for Central Accra to get the stuff necessary to make an extension cord (you can't buy them here- they have to be made from cord and plugs. Again, no demand). Central Accra is a nightmare of traffic and congestion at the best of times and today Duke wasn't optimistic about our chances trying to get in and out, so we drove up to the edge of the city center and parked.

On the sidewalk.

In front of an Office Supply container store.

Duke shoos me out of the car, takes me down two steps to the front of the store, speaks to the proprietor in Twi, and she promptly grabs a lawn chair for me, sets it up in the shade and offers me a seat. While I'm doing this, Duke runs (literally) around the corner and down the street, headed out on a mission to get me an extension cord (or the makings thereof). He has taken the equivalent of four bucks with him. (n.b. I can't go with him, for the same reason I can't push my own grocery cart, carry boxes of bottled water, move furniture, etc. It's simply a given that white women are pretty fragile. And no matter how many times I am exclaimed over for carrying my own groceries or for moving a sofa, the facts don't change and I'm regularly deposited while a Ghanaian does the legwork/heavy lifting.)

The woman who owns the store apologises for the fact that her store is hot(!). I assure her that it is actually very nice in the shade and that I sweat no matter what. She waits a minute or two, then fetches a nice piece of white cardstock that she gives to me and insists that I use to fan myself. Duke has asked her to take care of me and she is afraid I'm going to collapse from the heat while under her care. This kind of thoughtfulness and sympathy is so common, I worry I'll start to take it for granted. Not so far though- I'm continually touched by the genuine goodness of the Ghanaian people. I'm really relaxing into some good people watching from my storefront lawn chair when Duke returns (again running) with the perfect extension cord- it's eight feet long and white! Absolutely perfect. And he got a deal on it and hands me back a bunch of money from what I had given him. We thank our store owner with nothing more than a smile and hit the road again, headed home, missions accomplished.

Monday, January 09, 2006

From the Equator to Snow and Back Again

Happy 2006! We spent the holidays in the UK. We promised Cooper cold and perhaps snow, and delivered on both. We have a copy of the Daily Mail to prove it, with the headline SNOWBOUND! Except we weren't snowbound, thanks to some happy accidents.

The snow didn't start until Boxing Day, which of course is the day we rented a car and left London for points north and Scotland. We didn't care- it made the scenery beautiful and since we both learned to drive in snow and spent years driving on the left side of the road in Australia, we didn't really have any trouble. We stopped for the night in Leeds, then York, made a side trip to Thirsk to see the "James Herriot" stuff and then headed to Edinburgh. About three o'clock, the roads iced up. And I mean right now. We were basically out back of beyond and came up to a roundabout (traffic circle) where a car had flipped onto the center island and was in the process of having its occupants cut out as a helicopter waited to airlift them to hospital. Eek. As we exited the roundabout we were about sixth in a line of cars slowly making their way up a slight incline, all of us losing traction and skewing slightly with the effort. It was starting to snow heavily. Ted said,

"I saw a small hotel back in the last town we just went through, what do you think about going back there for the night?"

Being unwilling to take over at the wheel and knowing we were 90 miles from Edinburgh and 90 minutes from darkness, I told him that would be fine. Best decision we ever made. The B&B was The Duke Of York and we got a lovely room with a nice fluffy bed, a soft comfy rollaway for Coop and a very nice pub and dining room. The people who owned it said there was 90 miles of basically nothing between us and Edinburgh except a fairly high mountain pass that would surely have been snowed in completely within the hour. Sometimes Ted is SO smart. :-)

We took a long walk in the snow which thrilled Cooper who stayed outside to build a snowman on the The Duke of York's patio while Ted and I ducked inside to warm up and have a pint. Or two.

It snowed all night and most of the next day, but we took a more westerly route and dodged the dangerous roads.

Edinburgh was one of our most favorite cities ever. A truly ancient city, just soaked in history and atmosphere. We could have spent a week there and not done all we wanted.

As we headed back toward London for New Year's Eve (Hogmany in Scotland seemed like too much for us this trip), the weather got even worse on the East Coast, but we didn't see so much as a flake of snow the whole way back on the western side of the island.

New Year's Eve we got a room on Trafalgar Square and joined a couple hundred thousand of our closest friends at Big Ben to ring in 2006. It was a neat experience but we have NEVER been in a crowd that big and don't intend to ever do it again. Cooper remarked that he now understood how people are trampled at soccer games. Hopefully he got his fill of mega-crowd events too.

After that we left for the Cotswolds to see Bath and Stonehenge. Both are very cool- we spent hours at Stonehenge listening to a very good audio program and circling the stones slowly while soaking up what it must have been like there 5000 years ago.

And just like when we returned from Amsterdam, it was a relief to get off the plane in Accra and enter our warm little corner of the Earth. We hadn't been out without coats and hats and stuff for more than two weeks and our feet were screaming for sandals so they could breathe again. Of course Duke was waiting for us at the airport with a big smile and the closed up house wasn't even terribly awfully hot.

So Ted went back to work today and Cooper is back to school Wednesday and we're waiting to see what the New Year brings.