Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Still More Odds and Ends

When we are out running errands and things we try to remember to bring the camera so we can capture the fun and/or interesting things we see. Often we forget, often we haven't got time to snap a picture because of traffic or whatever, but here are a few of our recent shots...

I have talked about buying furniture and stuff from the roadside, and although each place is a little different, this place is at least typical...

That's Ted headed over to talk to a guy about some small baskets with lids (which we didn't buy because he wouldn't budge off his original price- and the first price quoted is NEVER the real price, so we must have looked like suckers that day).

Note that you can buy everything from upholstered sofas to wooden baskets here- that's also typical.

Sometimes we are just tickled by businesses- this one is in the Shell station near our house.

While you get a fill up at the pump, you can get a haircut and email your Mom. One stop convenience.

Eddie's just cracks us up. No frills. No fuss. When he's open, the padlocked doors are flung wide and his meager stock of groceries (many past their expiration date) is available for sale.

Finally, our favorite car repair picture ever.

Who has the money for a hydraulic lift, or even a garage with a pit?

Need to work on the undercarriage of a car?

Get five friends and have them help you tip the car over onto four unmounted tires.

Voila! Instant access to the bottom of the car. (Try not to think about what's happening to the fluids in the car while it's being worked on...we can't bear to).

When Cooper saw this picture, his reaction was- "What's the big deal? I see that all the time."

We had to remind him that what seems commonplace to him now certainly didn't when he first came here, and challenged him to remember seeing this method of car repair in the States.

The light slowly dawned.

Also worth noting in this picture is the building being constructed in the background. This is very typical construction- each floor being held up by a forest of bamboo poles, and much to the chagrin of my Civil Engineer husband, no matter how tall the building the support beams and floors are never any larger or given additional reinforcement. Gravity and load are not part of the construction equation here... (we won't even mention OSHA).

That's the latest Odds and Ends roundup- enjoy your holiday season and I'll be back next year! (I have to say that here because I don't have any elementary school friends to say it to anymore). :-)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ghana, My Way

For this one entry, I would like to speak seriously for a moment in an attempt to put this blog, and our experiences here, in perspective.

My purpose in starting this blog was to keep my family and friends up to date with our adventure in Africa, and although I have attracted many new and interesting friends along the way, my point is still mostly to offer some glimpses of our privileged, somewhat sheltered, life in Ghana. I can't change my skin color, I can't (and won't) try to live with less money, and there is no way for me to shed my native culture- one that is so different from that of Ghana.

So my posts tend to focus on the things that catch my interest, things that are very different from what we are used to, things that are new or that make me shake my head in wonder.

I'm not trying to minimize the poverty, or the problems. I'm not an apologist for the damage done to this and other African nations by colonial governments, and I'm not going to waste your time with my take on the political situation here (especially considering the embarrassing and needlessly confrontational government my own country is exporting to the world).

I can't fix Africa's problems. I can't fix Ghana's problems. I can help my little corner of the world and my Ghanaian friends, but that is between them and me.

If you find my descriptions of life here simplistic- so be it. The day to day drudgery is no more interesting to write about than to read. But I have had enough feedback from people who have lived here and loved it as I do, (and who miss it now that they are gone) to know that my perceptions of Ghana are accurate.

We live with appalling shortages of everything from electricity to water to medical care. But they are appalling only to people from a first world country used to an incredible amount of security, civil liberties, solid infrastructure and a strict adherence to rule of law. I do not try to push my American sensibilities onto Ghanaian culture or the Ghanaian people, but I can't help seeing life here from an American perspective- that's who I am.

We are guests in this country, a fact that we try never to forget. The Ghanaian people have been almost universally welcoming, helpful, friendly, open, and kind to us. I hope that anyone who has been with me through all these entries can understand that without my explanation.

Beyond that, this is my experience- it can't be anyone else's and doesn't try to be. It is what it is.

Thanks for reading. :-)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Beads! What Else Happened...

The bead factory in the previous post is not too terribly far from our house- just a couple of hours on some fairly good roads.

We took off early Thanksgiving Day- notable mainly because it's the time of year close to Christmas when Ghanaian Police Officers (thankfully just a few of them!) have their hands out, looking for a little Christmas Cheer (read: bribes from Obronis and anyone else they can intimidate).

We were clear of Accra, and moving through a checkpoint when a policeman on the opposite side of the road spotted obronis riding in a new car and made Duke pull over. He told Duke to get out of the car, bring his license, and show his safety equipment.

In Ghana, every car must have two reflective strips on the front and back bumpers, an insurance sticker and registration sticker- both glued to the windshield, a fire extinguisher, a reflective road triangle, and a driver with endless patience.

As opposed to the only other time we have been stopped capriciously by the Ghanaian police, this one was hoping for more than he would get by just asking for "something small for the boys" (that guy, last year, cost us ¢10,000 or about a buck)- so when he got to the safety equipment, knowing it was his last chance to nail us for something, he declared that we were supposed to have TWO triangles.

Liar liar, pants on fire.

Duke expressed surprise and told him we would surely get another one ASAP.

No dice, Duke. This officer was bent on getting some Christmas cash.

After Duke puts away the safety equipment and accompanies the officer to the passenger side of the car, Mr. Policeman looks in the car at the three obronis and asks us how we are.

We tell him just fine, thanks.

He waits.

We don't start crying or handing him money.

He starts jabbering at Duke that he must have two triangles and that his "transport officer" should have known that.

We know enough to let Duke do the talking, and so we sit politely and wait for the next scene in the play.

Cue Mr. Policeman, to Ted: "Do you have something you want to say to me?"

Ted: "Yeah, I guess I do! I hadn't realized that we needed two triangles. Is that a new law? Because my company is very stringent in its safety program and we are usually on top of any new regulations."

Mr. Policeman: "You need two triangles!" then to Duke: "I am taking your license, you can pick it up next week at court."

Duke: "Okay. Please write me a ticket so I can prove that I have a license but that it is with you until next week."

Mr. Policeman: "Okay! I will write you a ticket!" then to Ted: "You wish to speak to me?"

Ted: "Nope- like I said, I'm surprised my company didn't know about the new regulation but I'll be sure to check on it tomorrow!"

Duke: "May I have my ticket please?"

Of course by this time, Mr. Policeman is annoyed and sweating because he hasn't got a leg to stand on. If he writes Duke a ticket he will have to basically sign a paper saying he is lying about two triangles and trying to extort money. And we are apparently too stupid to know that this is the part where we are supposed to hand over piles of cash to avoid court.

Freakin' obronis won't play.

In a fit of pique, Mr. Policeman chucks Duke's license back to him and says, "Get another triangle!" and stalks away.

It took every ounce of restraint in my body to keep from yelling "WAIT! What about our ticket Fatboy????"

... and I was biting my cheeks really hard to keep from speaking because Ted usually kicks me in the ankle when I mouth off to the immigration twerps at the airport and I wasn't sure what he would do in this Duke knows what to do and it's always best to shut your mouth and let the native speaker do his thing.

Duke gets back in the car, with a big goofy grin on his face and we are off again into unexplored territory where the regular, friendly, hardworking folk live and play.

The rest of the drive to the Bead Factory was uneventful and after our tour we looked for someplace to eat lunch, finally settling on a 'resort' with restaurant situated slap bang on the banks of the Volta River. We ate outdoors at a table just feet from the water's edge. Can you beat this for atmosphere?

(this is Duke enjoying his warm Coke)->

We lolled in the shade, wandered the grounds and ate lunch. Ted wanted to visit the little boys' room before we got back on the road, so he wandered up to the bathrooms. He was back within a minute, asking for the camera. This is why...

Back on the road, we found ourselves following a truck load of people. An open truck FILLED with people, all headed down the road and glad of the lift. When Ted raised the camera to shoot a picture through the windshield they all started laughing and posing.

As they turned right to leave the road we were on, they all waved and shouted goodbye. God, I love these people (Fatboy notwithstanding).

A little further down the road, we were suddenly confronted with a sign that said "Road to Accra CLOSED. Diversion".

We stopped, looked at the sign, looked at the dirt and gravel piles ahead of us and dithered for a minute.

Then Duke spotted a policeman and asked him where the diversion would take us. The policeman said basically it went around by way of Siberia but if we didn't mind a road under construction we could continue if we liked. While Duke was clarifying this statement, a pickup came from the opposite direction and told us the road was easily passable.

Since we LIVE on a dirt road with gravel piles, we were blissfully unafraid, and after thanking the pickup driver and policeman, we headed down the [closed] road to Accra.

When they finish, it's going to be a spectacularly beautiful, wide, road. The scenery is unbeatable, the point where we entered the road is a couple thousand feet up in elevation and it curves gracefully all the way down to sea level and home.

But we were frequently glad to have a 4X4 nonetheless.

Here are a couple of shots I took after telling Duke to stop the car so I could share the experience with you all. He did not understand why I would want these pictures, but he often does not understand us, so he just smiled and did as I asked. I wanted pictures of the really tricky, ditchy parts, but Duke was busy driving us safely home and I couldn't bear to make him stop in mid-ditch so I could snap a few shots. ;-)

We were home well before dark, for the first time in our explorations of Ghana! Whooot!