Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Total Eclipse of the Sun

Today we are Eclipse Central. A total solar eclipse went right through our little corner of the world. We are temporarily famous, and a vacation destination. But if you didn't come to visit us, and that would be everyone who is reading this, then you didn't get to see it with us.

We had a beautiful, cloudless spring sky to view it, and the country was awash in cardboard "Eclipse Glasses" that you could buy for about $1.50. I didn't have any, but Stephen did and he shared them with Mark and me.

As Ted was leaving for work this morning, Mark stopped him to ask if he knew about the eclipse and when Ted said yes, Mark said:

"Do you think it will actually happen?"

:-) Science meets tribal superstition. In my very own yard.

About ten minutes before 9AM it got noticeably less bright outside, and the dogs and I went out to hang with Stephen and Mark. We all studiously didn't look up unless we were the current possessor of the magic glasses. It's astonishing how much light is given off by just a sliver of sun- it was much like a cloudy day right up until the moon slid directly into its path and BOOM! we were in twilight. At 9 in the morning.

The dogs wandered from place to place going "What? Why are we out here doing nothing?" Light, dark, it's all the same to dogs.

It was VERY COOL. Seriously cool.

Stephen's comment was "God is great!"

Mark just giggled.

And all over the neighborhood we heard clapping and cheering and then we all just stood there in the semi-dark, sneaking glances at the sky and imagining what would happen if the universe stopped and we stayed this way forever.

And then it was over. And from outside the garden walls we heard more clapping and cheering, except louder and more enthusiastic, because at least a few people were worried that it might not get light again.

The local TV and radio covered it all- including radio talk shows sharing emails and text messages from people who predicted dire things from this "unexplained phenomenon".

The scene at Ted's office and Cooper's school was exactly the same, down to the clapping and cheering. A parent at Cooper's school got magic eclipse glasses for them all, so he got a good view of what may be a once in a lifetime experience for him.

Here's a map of the path of the eclipse, and Coop in his glasses (he couldn't see the flash on the camera because of the glasses!)

Friday, March 24, 2006

It's All in the Details, Part III

Why living in Africa is a hoot.

Last week as I was leaving the house, Stephen opened the front gates for me and there, standing in the middle of my driveway, outside the gates, was a fat little goat. He looked at the car, took a second, and went "Blaaaaaaa!" before moving slowly to one side. I cracked up, which cracked Stephen up. When I came home, the same goat and his older siblings were playing King of the Mountain on a dirt pile at the small hotel they are building across the street and down a little.

We also followed this tro-tro down Liberation Road last weekend...not as good as "Who Kwons?" but still, pretty funny.

These goats hang out near Ted's office. They just trot around all day eating what they find, and at the end of the day they go home just like all the people. :-)

This is a typical sign for the local restaurants (Ghanaian ones- not so much the ones who cater to Obronis). They are almost all sponsored by beer companies- Guinness has most of them, but Star (our favorite local beer) has a good number.

This horse hangs out here most days- it's just a neighborhood street and although it doesn't look like it, she is safely tethered out of traffic.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Just Another Day in Paradise

It's Friday in the Kampgrounds of Accra

First, a little background. Here on the equator, we basically have 12 hour days with minor variations. Call it sunset 6:15 pm, sunrise 6:15 am. Both events are very fast- if you blink you miss dusk and dawn- it's just light then BAM it's dark until morning when it's dark and...well you get the idea. Ted and Cooper get up at 6 in order to leave the house at 7 each day.

Today, at 5:55 am, the power went off. No big deal- life as usual. The sudden quiet woke me, and I found Ted wandering around the dark house, stepping over sleeping dogs, watching the wind whip up outside. It was whistling through the eaves like there was a blizzard outside, but we knew it was 80 degrees. We talked about what we needed power for, and decided that there wasn't really time to wait and see if the power came on by itself because the water heaters needed time to heat up for showers, so Ted headed out to the generator.

As he headed outside, the skies opened up. One second it was windy and dry, the next second there wasn't a dry spot to be found. Ted started the generator, ran back up on the laundry porch, pulled the handle on the switchbox to change the power over from the ECG grid to the generator...

And nothing happened. The switch had become nothing more than a handle. A handle that used to be connected to the house power and now was just flopping around.

So it's still dark, it's raining like the apocalypse, we have no power, no generator, and two dogs who have, by now, woken up and started following us everywhere with pathetic faces that said, "Hello?!!?? Haven't been outside since 9:30 last night! Gotta GO!"

On to the ever-present Plan B.

Ted puts on swim trunks, takes a bottle of shampoo and a bar of soap and heads out to the back yard. With a lusty BRRRRR! he steps out into the rain and starts showering in the runoff from the roof. Not happy with the rate of flow or the temperature, he changes plans and jumps in the pool, which by comparison feels like a bathtub. Then he climbs back out, washes his hair, makes a pass at soaping up and rinses off in the roof runoff. As a final step to "clean and shiny" he jumped back in the pool and let the chlorine kill any residual B.O.

Meanwhile, Cooper is wandering around in rain-dimmed daylight, eating a banana and trying to decide how to have peanut butter toast with no electricity. He decides to go for cereal instead. The dogs have begun to follow him around since he is the one who normally lets them out in the morning, and they hope he is brighter than we are.

The rain continues coming down in sheets just to make sure we totally understand that the Harmattan (Saharan dust storms that blow through here in December, January, and February ahead of the rainy season) is well and truly over for this year. Ted gets ready for work without shaving (electric razor), Cooper gets ready for school with goofy hair (no blow dryer), and about five minutes to seven, the power comes back on.

Welcome to Ghana. Your Friday has begun.

Some hours later, the dogs have been out, the rain has stopped, and our terrifically reliable generator guys have installed a new switch for the power supply. Life is back to normal, except for a slight shampoo smell in the back yard... :-)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Cooper: Human Guinea Pig

So last week, on Friday night, Cooper said, "My foot hurts. Something bit me." I looked and the front of his left ankle had a small hole surrounded by angry skin and the whole ankle was a little swollen. He thought he'd been bitten by a giant red ant at school the day before.

I put some Benadryl gel on it, gave him some Motrin, and watched it. Over the next two days, it got much less swollen, less angry looking, and seemed to be healing. Then Monday afternoon he came home from school with a hideously swollen ankle, a hole surrounded by very angry red skin that was warm and getting warmer. EEEEK!

We couldn't get a Doctor's appointment until 11:45 today (Tuesday), so I went into mild panic mode. I dug through the medical kit the company gave Ted when he started traveling to Africa and found some Benadryl tablets and some Amoxycillin. I stuffed two Benadryls and one 250mg Amoxy into the kid and smeared the site with Neosporin. After a night in bed and two more Amoxycillins it was less swollen and slightly less colorful. I sent him to school for the morning.

At 11AM Ted and I picked him up from school for his first African Doctor's Appointment. We had no idea what to expect except that this Dr. was vetted by the company and had been doing a good job for our expats in Accra. He was educated in the UK and had come back to Ghana with his skills. So off we went.

His office was in an old but reasonably tidy medical arts building that was a maze of rooms and hallways. We entered through a porte cochere that opened into a foyer and hallway. On the left side hallway was a doorway marked "Nurses Station" and in that room was a desk with two women at it. Cooper sat down at the desk and the nurse wiped a digital thermometer with a tissue and stuck it in his armpit. Then she took his BP with an automatic cuff. Both normal.

Once that was done, we continued through the 'nurses station' out a different door and were in a large waiting room with about a dozen other patients and a TV that was showing a Nigerian soap opera. After about 20 minutes, the nurse came out and told us that when the current patient left "Consulting Room 1" (there were three consulting rooms, all opening directly into the waiting room) we could go in. We were unsure when it was our turn, but the nurse came back and waved us in, so...

Inside the room was a large desk, two visitor's chairs, a bookshelf full of books and an exam table with cotton sheets and a kente cloth runner on the end. The Dr. was at his desk. He greeted us, and examined Cooper's foot as he sat in the visitor's chair next to the desk. Then he moved to the exam table and the Dr. started to work on him.

Diagnosis: definite infection, possible "Tumbo" bug. We had to ask for a repeat of the tumbo bug thing, and I'm sure I still have the name wrong, but that's what it sounded like. The bad news is the little bugger burrows under the skin and can be seen when the wound is opened, wriggling around. The good news is, Cooper doesn't have one. We don't think.

The Dr. cleaned the area really well and put some xylocaine on it and then messed around with it (while Cooper was a brave teenage soldier) to make sure he didn't see a bug and to get some of the pus out. Then he put disinfectant on it and covered it up and gave us a prescription for amoxycillin (double the dose Dr. Mom had been giving him) and some antibiotic cream to put right on the angry bite spot.

Cooper claims he didn't scratch it. He claims he doesn't remember the bite, just that there are ants all around the school yard. He claims he showed me as soon as it became troublesome. Ah, life with a young teenager. Vague, evasive, and...uh...vague. :-)

So now we wait and watch and heave a sigh of relief that one of us finally tried out medicine in our little corner of the third world and met a terrific Dr. with a good bedside manner and the double benefit of a good education and a local knowledge of Bad Stuff That Can Happen.

Final note: I stopped at the Pharmacy to pick up the two prescriptions and was reminded why I love Africa. Keep It Simple Stupid is the phrase of the day. I showed my prescription to the pharmacist, he said he had the Amoxycillin but not the Antibiotic cream. I said fine, he slapped the Amoxy box on the counter, crossed off the half of the prescription he'd filled and gave the sheet back to me, I paid the lady at the front and left. Entire transaction time: roughly 2 minutes.

To fill a prescription.

And I got the medicine in the original packaging, with the information insert and expiration date right there and the dispensing instructions written in pen on the box- one pill every 12 hours. No muss, no fuss.

Five pharmacies later I got the cream. Same simple procedure, just a little harder to find. :-) And I still have the prescription, with both items crossed off.

I'm putting two little pictures of The Owie here for the curious (and for Grandma and Aunt Judy). They are NOT pretty, so be warned before you click them to make them bigger...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Day at the Beach

We are a coastal city, although since we are such a large coastal city you can drive forever and never see the ocean. We live on the north side of town and the beach is on the south side of town, so we don't even get an ocean breeze up here, but we definitely go down where the breezes are as often as possible.

There are a couple of swimming beaches in Accra, but the coast itself is very underused as a leisure destination and rather overused as a public toilet, so you have to be careful where you swim. Or walk for that matter. Once again, it's a matter of using what you have to make up for the great many things you don't have, and the ocean is right there for the locals, unlike, say a metropolitan sewer system with indoor plumbing for all. Or plumbing, period.

So anyway, we aren't terrifically fond of the closest swimming beach. It's part of a resort hotel and charges for parking, then on the beach you are swarmed by extremely persistent entrepreneurs trying to sell you everything from necklaces to carvings and they aren't shy.

So we head out of Accra across the coast a little ways (about 20 miles) to Kokrobite Beach (koh-kroh-bee-tee). The water is that lovely aqua green/blue of the tropics and we park at Milly's Backyard (restaurant, bar, rustic lodging, beach access) where you can get a nice meal and have doorstep access to the beach from the parking lot. That's Milly's back behind the palms and the flag of Ghana. :-)

The restaurant is a raised thatch roof building overlooking the ocean with a sand floor and about eight heavy wood picnic tables with benches, nicely shaded by tons of palms that blow in the breeze. The bar is an open air thatched roof affair with tables and chairs scattered around on the sand, and the lodging is in small individual buildings that we have not seen inside, but seem, as we casually walk by, fairly rustic.

There are lots of fishing boats (giant canoes) here and a couple of vendors- who are contained in plywood stores and wait for you to come to them, thank you very much. There are a few palm thatch umbrellas on thick poles at the top of the beach, and lots of space to lie down and bake in the sun, if you want.

The surf in Ghana is fairly tame- but the southern exposure makes for some nasty rip tides, so you have to be a little careful here when taking a dip in the ocean. The water is almost too warm, but it has a faint coolness that makes it ideal for swimming. Coop and I would like it cooler, but Ted likes his water lukewarm, so we are all reasonably happy with Ghana's corner of the ocean.