Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Look Around Town...

So if you were to get in the car with us on a Saturday, here's some of the places we might go...

This is the A&C Shopping Mall, about 1/4 mile from our house. It's a wonder here- easily the largest one- stop shopping place in Ghana, and the President of Ghana actually came to dedicate it last fall. They had a big Invitation Only party in the parking lot to celebrate. We weren't invited, so we just wandered over and circumnavigated the whole place, gawking. ;-)

It has a little of everything- groceries, housewares, clothes, books, toys, a dentist, a hairdresser (if you have African hair), an ice cream shop, liquor store, bank, two restaurants, a Forex (money exchange), and a flower shop.

Cooper's skateboard/inline skate half pipe is in the back of the parking lot and there is a small playground in front of that.

This is Oxford Street in Osu. If you are looking for Obronis- this is the spot to find them. There are a lot of African crafts and souvenirs for sale along here, quite a few Obroni-type restaurants (not spicy, serving drinks with ice, sandwiches, pizza, etc.), and hundreds of little stores selling everything from cell phones to refrigerators to computer supplies.

Frankie's is a hotel and restaurant that serves really good sandwiches and has a second story view of Oxford St. while you eat. We like to eat there and watch both the passing parade and the shell shocked tourists 'fresh off the boat' who stumble in looking for familiar food. :-)

Our favorite (and only) Smoothie store is just around the corner from Frankie's. They have the BEST smoothies- made with mangoes and peaches and all sorts of good fruit, easily as good as Jamba Juice, but for about $2.50.

We were sitting on their patio under an umbrella watching these kids play soccer on a tilted parking lot. They frequently lost their ball on the slope down to Oxford Street, but it didn't dampen their enthusiasm.

If you are a police officer in Accra, you qualify for Police Housing.

This is a close-up of one building- each door is a single unit- you may live there with your whole family. If you are killed on the job or fired, your family has a week to vacate the premises. But it's a sweet deal for the average Ghanaian. Utilities are paid and you live rent free as long as you are employed.

In this second shot, you can see how deep the buildings are (or aren't). Not a lot of space, but safe, dry, and free of cost to their occupants.

This billboard is on the same street as the Police Housing. They are pretty common- I don't know if they are effective.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Simple Solutions

So Monday morning, Ted's company car wouldn't start (again) and he needed to take my new (to me), 13 year old (reliable) Opel beater to work.


We assumed the problem with the company car was the battery (again), so once he dropped Coop off at school and got to work,
he sent Duke back to the house. He had taken money with to give Duke so he could go buy a set of jumper cables since this is apparently an ongoing problem with the company's crappy car (hereafter referred to as the Honda).

Duke didn't take the money, he just smiled at Ted and came on up to the house. When he got here, he raised the hood on the Honda, unscrewed the coupling for the post connections and removed the battery. Then he raised the hood on my little Opel, did the same thing, and put my battery in the Honda.

He started the Honda, then did everything in reverse.


We don't need no steenkin' jumper cables. For all we know, there isn't any sucha' thing in Ghana. Who needs a jump start when you can just switch batteries? It even eliminates that pesky 'negative or positive first', 'am I gonna blow up?' question.

Somedays, we feel like babes in the woods. ;-)

Friday, February 17, 2006

A Rose By Any Other Name...

Okay, it's time to 'fess up. I've talked before about adventures in English and the trouble we have understanding and being understood, so in our defense, let me say that we were having to translate from the Lebanese accented English to Ghanaian accented English with our American accented English ears. You with me?

Our houseboy, who doesn't do house stuff and isn't a boy, is also not named Mack. His name, bless his little pea pickin' heart, is Mark.

He answered us for four months as we wandered around the yard or knocked on the Boys' Quarters door, saying:

"Mack! Yoohoo! Oh, Mack!"

He apparently thought we were eccentric. Or just rude. But we had the right consonants and he wasn't going to correct us and be rude in return.

Then we got a note about some household stuff from him signed,

"Thanks, Mark."


It took a few weeks of us saying "Mack-Mark" every time we talked to or about him, but he is finally being called by his real name around here.

This is our Mark:

And while we're on the subject of the people who make our lives here so easy and help us so much, here is Stephen (our Day Guard) and CodyBill the dog:

And once again, our Duke, once again with CodyBill the dog:

Remember, as you look at these last two photos, that Ghanaians are not particularly comfy with dogs (think back to the night they flew in to Accra and we cleared the tarmac by opening CodyBill's crate!). The first time Stephen saw the dogs, he went quickly, but with dignity, into the guard house and firmly shut the door. The first time Duke saw them he actually hopped a fence to get away from them. They both have copies of these pictures with which to amaze their friends and family.

Poor Mark is their new best friend. If we let the dogs out and then can't find them, we know to look in the boys' quarters where they are bound to be hanging out, hoping for a head pat or food handout. Sometimes when he hears us calling for them, Mark will march them back around the yard to the front door, and they just stand by him and look at us like innocent children with that "What?" expression on their fuzzy faces.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

White Woman Driving...Part Two!

It's official. I am driving myself around Ghana.


As of a week ago, I am the proud owner of a 1993 Opel Astra Station Wagon. TA DA!

It's got no radio, no air conditioning, 282,000 kilometers, 3 cylinders, 5 speeds and crank windows. It came here from Hamburg Germany (Duke assures me I did not want a car that has been used in Ghana- they just take too much punishment here). Opel is part of Vauxhall and Daimler and there are hundreds of these little station wagons being sold in Europe, driven for 10 years then shipped here to be used as taxis in Accra. Hopefully, when we leave it will be easy to sell because of that.

The guy who sold it to me and his assistant cracked themselves up telling me it was "a white car for a white lady". Ha! Cracked me up too.

We (when I say "we" I mean Duke scoured Accra for me, found a bunch of cars for me to look at, haggled the price for each of them before I arrived on the scene, and helped me make my decision. Since there were two of us involved, I say "we", but of course, Duke did all the work, as usual. We paid him a finder's fee, and WE found me a car. Ha!) had it narrowed down to this one or a 1994 model that had airbags and half the miles on it, but it had a new high tech engine (the modern no-carburetor ones).

The lower miles and airbags made the '94 slightly more reliable and safe, but no one in Accra can fix it- they simply don't have the computers you have to hook 'em up to in order to diagnose a problem. For my little '93 carburetor engine, though, the mechanics who can work on it are as thick as flies on honey and the parts are easily obtainable.

We changed the oil (beyond dirty), filter, fuel filter, spark plugs and will do the oil and filters again next month because the poor thing probably hasn't had a decent glob of oil in it for a year or more...

So now I'm officially a Ghanaian driver with my own crash mobile ready to bully my way through the streets of Accra.

More or less.

Mostly less. ;-)

I can now get my own bananas and pineapples instead of waiting to do it when I'm out with Duke (we are usually in desperate need by then), and with my nice big station wagon back end, I can go on my own and get more groceries than will fit in my bicycle basket- woohoo! I have a parking permit in case I need to go pick up Cooper at school and I can run to Ted's office or a friend's house anytime without calling for Duke and waiting for him to pick me up (and co-ordinating whether or not Ted needs the car or if it's time for Duke to pick up Cooper...).

I still need (and want) Duke for trips to the busier, crazier parts of the city and it's really nice to have him drop me off and be the one who has to worry about parking.

And not to worry how many local beers I have at lunch. ;-)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

It's All in the Details, Part II

Here's a good picture of a cluster of signposts. Since well over half the streets in Accra have no name, it's necessary for businesses to have a sign pointing consumers their way. Notice that each little board has its own red or white triangle pointing the correct way to that particular place of business.

There are clusters of signs at most intersections, and they make me think of the signs that pointed the way to all the summer cabins in Wisconsin, except instead of 'Crane's Nest' or 'Whippoorwill Hill', they say 'Areeba' and 'Excel Logistics'.

Two things to point out:

...the signpost for Liberation Road. This is a major multi-lane street that runs from near our house on the far north side of the city all the way to the ocean on the far south side (because of our position on the African continent, our ocean beaches face south!), hence the street sign with an actual street name.

...and the sidewalk. It's made up of thousands of little pavers- three inch thick rectangles of cement that are put in completely by hand. We have watched them do this on the new interchange by our house, and marvel at the skill it takes to lay a reasonably level, reasonably solid surface like this with nothing more than your hands, a shovel, and some sand. Labor is cheap here, and machinery is expensive, so most of the jobs that are done in America by a couple of guys and some Caterpillar product are done here, instead, by a small army of people with their bare hands. The street sweepers here are not the big noisy slow moving behemoths that we are used to- they are just a couple of guys moving down the road with household brooms.

This second picture is a good illustration of a couple of things. These are the mid-range local stores (the low end is a table, the high end is a steel shipping container). They are plywood and always look just like this with flat roofs and little tiny stilts holding them 8 inches or so off the ground. They are used for everything- food sellers, clothing makers, auto supplies, you name it. They are on every roadside, all over Ghana, wherever there is space.

I don't know the requirements for having one as far as permits go, but these guys didn't meet them, so the city (AMA- Accra Metropolitan Something or other) came through and spray painted "citations" on them. "Remove Now" is painted along with the date. If you are building without a permit, they spray paint "STOP WORK" right on your building with the date.

These guys got painted on January 24, and all the stores are still there in the second week of February, so I'm not sure what happens now. I do know there are a lot of REMOVE signs around town painted on places that have dates from last year, so...

This last picture is of "local brooms". It's a common sight to see Ghanaians sweeping Ghana with these. They cost less than a dollar, and they work pretty well, especially for sweeping a smooth dirt area (like where people would sit in their yards and pound yams or hang their wash) and for the areas (like our driveway) covered with the rough pavers. They are laying on our driveway in the picture, and of course those pavers were laid by hand too!

When we first got here, I went out and bought a regular (for me) straw broom with a nice long wooden handle for our houseboy to use. I had seen so many people using the local brooms and it looked like a backbreaking task. Naturally, in my wise first-world way, I thought I would make his life easier with my modern six buck broom. He smiled and took the broom and occasionally uses it for suitable jobs, but what he uses 90% of the time is his local broom. It's more efficient for the work he does and much to the surprise of this Obroni, doesn't take much more effort than my fancy shmancy broom. I keep learning. :-)

Monday, February 06, 2006

It's All in the Details...

I finally got a picture of one of my tunnel traffic guys- remember, the rasta guy who's always ready with a smile and yells AMERICA! every time we go through the tunnel? You still can't see his neon green safety vest, but I thought it was more important to give you a close up look at that priceless smile. I love this guy.

In the same vein, think back a ways to my visit to the DMV- or Licence Bureau as it's called here. Well, here's a picture of it. The entry gates are closed and locked because we took this on a Sunday. On any other day, it's bedlam and what you would see is a picture of a vaguely green building behind dozens of cars, hundreds of pedestrians, and probably the close up hand of a policeman trying to stop me taking pictures of "official buildings". We'll do the throngs some other time, but for today, I wanted to get up a picture of the actual place. It's a fairly large complex of buildings, all just like this one, with dozens of offices, large waiting areas, holding areas, testing areas, and hallways. Everything is open air, just covered by a roof, except the offices which have Dutch doors and jalousie windows. It is also one of the only public buildings in Ghana with public urinals- and plenty of signs on the walls reminding patrons not to pee on the building.

"Please use urinals!"

Presumably women are welcome to hold it until they get home. I know I surely do.

On the subject of "Official Buildings- Taking Pictures Of..." we have installment #2. This is our local police station. Each area has its own police station- Cantonments, Kaneshie, Adabraka, Abalenkpe, Osu, etc., and we are no exception. This is the East Legon Police Station, about three quarters of a mile from my house.

When I took this picture we were sitting on a dirt road that intersects the street the station is on. We were very casually sitting at the stop sign, inching forward to make sure the policeman on the porch was blocked from view by the nice SUV. Ghanaians can be touchy about photos of official stuff, mostly military, but we didn't want to take any chances. ;-)

Inside this building is a small jail/holding area complete with bars, a long counter behind which the duty officer stands, and just lately there has been an official silver "East Legon Police Patrol" vehicle that drives around the neighborhood. It's quite a hopping place many nights- just someplace to hang out. Any given evening there will be a dozen or more people just sitting around talking and enjoying the evening air. Otherwise there are no police cars assigned to us (those are blue and have POLICE written in big white letters on them).

Later this week I'll do some more pictures with details. Let me know if there are specific things you wish you could see/hear about. :-)