Sunday, July 30, 2006

Odds and Ends

Two things I thought you would like to know.

First, the recent Miss Universe Pageant.

We didn't get the telecast here, but a friend (thanks Jill!) told me that Miss Ghana was voted Miss Congeniality for 2006. Faithful readers will not be surprised, but it's nice to have outside validation of my perception of Ghanaians as the friendly, gentle people they are.

Yay Ghana! (and note that this beauty is also 6'2" tall! I am by no means a terrifically tall person in this country at just 6' tall.)

(photo courtesy Miss Universe Inc.)

Second, here is a picture of our house taken from a satellite!

We are the red roof at the top of the page. The house was still under construction, and if you squint you can see that there is no landscaping, the pool is empty and the driveway and guard shack are unfinished. I included the dirt road at the very bottom (it goes in front of the other red roofed house) because that's the one in the last posting about dirt roads (the one with the guy in red and the big rock on the right side). :-)

The top end of the house is the LR and the bottom end, right side is Cooper's room. The kitchen is right where the house juts out below the pool.

That concludes today's odds and ends. Hope you enjoyed them!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Road Rules

Ghanaian roads. Ever evolving, always under repair, rarely striped or shouldered.

We marvel.

Many roads start as tracks, mostly for pedestrians. Once the grass is trampled and killed, a few cars may start to follow the tracks for convenience.

Like this one...

If the track goes somewhere, it becomes busy enough to become a dirt road. Not like a fire trail dirt road in America, but a bumpy, rain eroded, rock strewn dirt road like in Ghana. We take a few of those to get to our house most days.

Like this one...

Then there are the legitimate dirt roads- these are graded through streets that begin at a paved place and continue to another paved place and are heavily used and occasionally maintained (with the notable exception of one very near our house on a pretty major path to the A&C Mall that I can't even take my little station wagon on because I scrape bottom at least three times trying to navigate the pits and holes in it!).

LIke this one (definitely NOT the one I excepted above). :-)

Between Jungle Road and the Shiashi Loop (a main route from our house to the rest of Accra) is what we call the The Village Road. It was a dirt road when we first moved here and suddenly one day, they paved it!

Paving in Ghana is like this- a graded dirt road is left to settle and be packed down by constant traffic. Once that happens (could be years, here), an incredibly thin layer of asphalt is laid down to pave it. It's not even technically asphalt- it's kind of a tar/something mixture- but it hardens and makes a smooth, roadworthy surface.

Until a little bit of wear and water start to loosen it.

Then we get potholes down to the barely concealed dirt road beneath. These pop up randomly and plentifully, especially during the (just finished) rainy season (the first of two).

The solution?

Road crews.

Hundreds of them. As the rain eases, hordes of cheap Ghanaian road crews spread out all over town and start filling potholes. Sometimes with the asphalt-like stuff, sometimes with cement(!), sometimes with just more dirt, hard packed. Labor is cheap here and it's astonishing how much they can get done in a day.

How do they know where to go and what to fix? They just go where these little white squares are.

How do the little white squares get there?

Other hordes of cheap labor have been trucked around Accra for weeks, carefully hand painting these squares with brushes marking all the spots that should be repaired.

Imagine if this would happen in the snowy Midwest every spring! ;-)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Stephen, Professional Guard

Our day guard, Stephen, was sick this week.

We didn't know this. All we knew was that he didn't come to work on Sunday or the next three days. The substitutes sent by InterCon were perfectly nice guys, and good at their job, but they weren't Stephen. We love Stephen.

We love that he tells us when we screw up and don't do things "the African way". He is professional to a fault, kind to Elliot and protective of Cooper. He takes his job very seriously and would never let anyone harm us or even wish us harm if he could stop it.

A good illustration of our Stephen is the day I came home from the store with three cases of water. When he saw that I carried my groceries inside but didn't close the hatch on the station wagon, he came to see if he could help. I gratefully loaded him up with a case of water, took one myself (which drove him batty!) and headed for the house. I was already in the kitchen when I realized Stephen wasn't behind me. I turned and saw him waiting on the porch at the front door, and when he saw me he said,

"Please Madame, may I enter?

Gah! Yesyesyesyesyes! You silly wonderful man. You are standing there holding fifty pounds of water and still trying to make sure you don't overstep your boundaries.

That's just a tiny example of why we love Stephen. Remember back to this time last year when he was insisting to me that picking up dog poop was NOT a job the "little Sir" should be doing, and remember how proud he was of me for knowing that Brazil was totally offsides in their match with Ghana?
You start to get the bigger picture, right?

So to have him gone was disturbing at first and upsetting as the days went by. Wednesday morning Ted and I talked. We knew that Stephen would never leave us voluntarily without at least telling us. Which meant he was either sick or hijacked to some other less deserving Obroni house where he wouldn't be appreciated.

But it wasn't like he could call us and tell us where he was. He doesn't own a phone. We could call InterCon, but getting through to a person who would actually be able to shed some light on the situation is never a winning proposition- too may layers, too large a language barrier, and a tendency for them to take all phone calls as complaints rather than people just seeking information ("Is there a problem with the substitute guard?"). Which would start a whole round of supervisors showing up at our house demanding the subs explain why we are unhappy (which we aren't) and asking us what we would like them to do (Nothing- just find Stephen!). So we were definitely trying to avoid a call to InterCon.

Finally though, on Wednesday, we were feeling desperate and a little worried, and making plans for tracking him down when Mark knocked on the front door. When I answered, he said Stephen had been sick and was here to talk to me. I looked out to the driveway and still didn't see Stephen. Mark said he was outside the gate.

You see, Stephen wasn't on duty, and he didn't feel he was entitled to enter the property any other way, so he was standing outside, on the street, hoping Madame would deign to come and talk with him.

I ran down the driveway and dragged him through the pedestrian gate, gave him a big sloppy American hug and told him how happy I was to see him and how much we had missed him and how glad I was to know that he was okay.

Okay being a relative term.

His face was all swollen and lumpy and his right eye was very bloodshot and angry looking. He had indeed been ill and was finally feeling well enough to get on a tro-tro and schlep clear across town just to make sure he still had a job at our house.

Sigh. I just kept jabbering at him while he stood there looking embarrassed (but relieved) and finally I managed to convey to him we would be looking forward to his return as soon as he felt up to it and that he would be our guard for as long as he wanted the job.

Yesterday morning, he returned to work, resuming his 12 hour day, six day week, hurry up and wait job. His eye is still a little puffy and he has a few odd lumps near his chin, but he is in uniform, he is chipper and he is back with us where he belongs.

I guarantee InterCon doesn't pay for sick days. I also guarantee that if we tried to help him with his lost days' wages he would decline with embarrassment. So Ted and I are already planning a special bonus payment for his Christmas envelope this year.

We want him to stay with us always, and we aren't afraid to buy his love. ;-)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

From the Mouths of Babes

Duke has two little girls. The older of the two is named Christabelle. They call her Christa, and this is her, sitting on our front porch, about two months after her third birthday.

Unlike American children, she hasn't had someone pointing a camera at her every twenty minutes since she was born, so me crouching in front of her jabbering away in her second language was understandably puzzling.

So what we have is a picture of a puzzled toddler. But trust me, she is a hoot. She is bright, inquisitive, and confident.

We were her first Obronis.

And we scared the jeepers out of her at first. But Cooper, in his usual way, charmed her with his casual friendliness and shared his markers and paper with her so she could draw us pictures for our fridge.

Cut to now. It's been months since she was at our house, and although I get hilarious stories from her Dad and talk to her Mom on the phone occasionally, none of us has seen her since that first visit. The last time I was at their house, she was in school (pre-school), so I had to be satisfied with terrifying her baby sister, Erica, with my white face and incomprehensible speech.

But Jane (Duke's wife) made Cooper an African dress shirt with the most beautiful embroidery and I was so excited at the perfect fit I took a picture of him in it right away for Duke to show Jane as soon as he got home.

Christa appropriated the picture, so Duke quizzed her:

"Do you know who that is?" (expecting her to say "Obroni!")

but her reply was,


Duke was amazed, but not yet convinced, so asked,

"And where is Cooper from?"

Her reply:

"Grandma Obroni's!"

Yes, that's right. I might have neglected to tell you that Duke's little girl calls me Grandma Obroni. A fact that my (way older- ha!) sister finds hilarious. Granted, I am (barely) old enough to be Christa's mother's mother, but Jane is quite young herself and I'm years from being an actual grandmother.

At least I'd better be.

But Christa doesn't care. I am, and always will be, Grandma Obroni.

And she sleeps with Cooper's picture.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Lariam Dreams

Before we moved here, malaria was much on my mind.

Should we take anti-malarials? Should I give them to my (then) pre-teen? If you do a simple Google search on Malaria, you will start to get an idea of the magnitude of my problem. Coupled with the fact that malarial mosquitoes are ONLY female, only come out at dusk, and only bite around ankle level, the whole issue gets more complicated. People who claim they have been bitten "repeatedly" are often talking about bites during lunch on their arms by male mosquitoes. A lot of people who claim life altering effects from some drugs can't even spell the drug name properly which makes me question their reliability as sources.

Western Doctors don't skimp on their advice to take anti-malarials, and my husband's company is very clear on their insistence that all employees take proper precautions against the disease. But that's the "party line" and doesn't cover the many issues surrounding the use of anti-malarials. And honestly, the things my husband's company doesn't know about living in Africa would fill the cargo hold of the next Africa-bound freighter...

Finally, after tons of research and soul searching, we decided to go ahead and begin taking Lariam (mefloquine) and to give it to our son. This particular anti-malarial is administered once a week, in pill form and of the options available made the most sense for us.

I tried to ignore the problems it had caused with people who had a history of clinical depression.

And the stories of Gulf War vets who had committed murder (usually of their families) under its influence.

Thankfully, after more than a year of taking it, I can report that we are not homicidal or paranoid, and in fact the effect of the drug, at least on our son, has been completely unremarkable. This is a relief, because we seem destined to be outdoors at dusk and it's kind of spooky how, when we do get bitten because we forgot to DEET up, it's only on the ankles. We assume it's the girl skeeters that are bitin' us. So we hope our drug therapy will help keep us safe, and only occasionally wonder if we are doing the right thing...

You see, Ted and I have what we now call "Lariam Dreams".

These would be dreams that are more vivid, more "real", more "in your face" than normal. In our Lariam Dreams, we are able to do all the things you normally can't do in your dreams. We can run, we can scream, we can fight back without feeling like we are fighting through jell-o.

This is nice for the dream.

Not so nice for the dreamer.

I have lost count of the times we have had to gently shake each other into wakefulness during a vivid nightmare where the dreamer has become a running, screaming windmilling entity who is, at the very least, twitching and moaning in their sleep, complete with whole body goosebumps.

It's a conundrum. I truly enjoy being able to scream for help and yell at the bad guys in my dreams, and being able to actually run from them is a miracle of dream science, but they are so much more 'real' and vivid these days, I wonder if the trade off is worth it.

The good news is, when we cautiously questioned Cooper about his dreams these days, his answer was "I don't remember what I dream about." Phew! At least one of us is still sane.

Then again, I despair about what my sleeping life will be like when I stop taking Lariam and can no longer run or scream in my dreams. When the characters in them stop making sense and start being goofily impossible again. Will I start waking in the wee hours in protest of them? Or will it be a blessed relief when I start having dreams about purple goats as house pets in a house I've never lived in, on Pluto?

Only time will tell.

Monday, July 03, 2006


Well, Ghana's hopes of World Cup Domination were dashed on the shores of Brazil, but we are so proud of our Black Stars!

The country was awash in flags, lanyards and goofy hats. Duke brought us a flag (he was wearing his as a cape) and here's Cooper in his goofy hat.

If you watched any of the World Cup games, you saw the terrific Ghanaian sportsmanship, unlike some other teams who shall remain nameless (but whose name rhymes with Shmittaly). Because that's the way Ghanaians are in their everyday lives- kind, gentle, concerned with others (except of course, when driving, but none of us is perfect).

And I thought Ghana passed the ball really well.

And they have pretty good ball control.

So they have four years to work on those goal shots. They can get the ball and get it to the opposing goal- they just have to figure out how to get it past that pesky goalie!

Anyway, for a first try at the World Cup it was a darned good one.

And even though it wouldn't have changed the outcome, that Brazilian in our third and final game was SO offsides. If there is one thing we learned from the season Ted spent coaching Cooper's team, it was offsides.

When I took plantain chips and cokes out to the guard shack at halftime (Mark and Stephen were watching on our extra TV there because Stephen wouldn't leave his post and Mark was keeping him company), I was ranting about the missed call and Stephen laughed and said,

"See, even Madame knows it was offsides!"

He was so pleased with me.

Just wait 'til 2010!