Thursday, May 31, 2007

Africa Day Getaway Weekend

Africa Day was May 25th, so we took advantage of the three day weekend to go celebrate Africa and hang out at the beach...(we were helping chaperone the "Anti-Prom" - the brainstorm of one of Coop's friends who was not interested in the Junior/Senior Prom Friday night, considering the impracticality of finding a prom dress/tuxedo, and all the attendant trappings in a third world country. We were pleasantly surprised that the kids understood the dilemma at all, and happy to hang out at the beach with them as an alternative.)

We headed to Elmina, about 2.5 hours after you clear Accra (which took 45 minutes!) and the next town after Cape Coast. Our destination was the Coconut Grove Beach Resort therein (or, as it said on some of the lounge cushions- Coconut Groove Beach Resort). ;-)

Elmina has a 'castle' too- remember that is the name for the huge British built whitewashed stone buildings they put up as forts and "holding tanks" for Africans being sold into slavery. Having been to the castle at Cape Coast, we decided to forego the dubious pleasure of seeing another.

You'll just have to imagine Cooper's deadpan delivery as he expressed a desire to NOT visit the Elmina Castle by playing tour guide...

"This is where we lived, ate, went to church, and sold human beings for profit. Here is the dungeon we kept them in without food or light, here is the door where they were loaded into smelly ships like cord wood. We hope you enjoyed your tour."

If you didn't know its purpose and history, though, the Elmina Castle would seem a very nice place, I suppose...

About a mile down the road is the Coconut Grove. This is the view from our room...

and this is the restaurant...

...and after dinner we sat here and just watched the ocean and relaxed...

The hotel is pretty nice- albeit with the usual Ghanaian touches (foam mattresses, line dried towels, showers without curtains or doors, etc.), but when you are hanging out at the beach with nothing you have to do, it's swell.

There was a village just outside the hotel grounds, and I apologise for the quality of this picture, but I include it because it's a good (if blurry) representation of the village. Those are mud houses, with palm thatch roofs.

Many of the people in Elmina are fishermen as evidenced by this inlet near the castle...

This is just a part of the "fleet" that moors in this inlet. Most of them were out fishing when I took the picture.

Here's a shot of an almost finished boat (they are carved from a single tree trunk and then painted bright colors)...

Lots of the village homes had fences around them, and all of them were made (logically) from palm fronds.

Coop has seen Ghanaians making these fences and he says they just do it- making it look so easy and simple.

We know it's not.

As we headed back to Accra, this was our parting scenery along the roadside...

Pretty good weekend. Pretty nice country.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Mimosa Time!

Living this close to the equator makes the seasons a little hard to distinguish, although we do have dry and rainy seasons, the Harmattan, and relatively cool summers...

Even so, though, we are puzzled (both of us being completely retarded when it comes to botany) by the abundance of happy, flowering, leafy plants, trees, and bushes 365 days a year.

How do they do it? How do they know winter isn't ever coming? How do they 'rest' and recuperate from the hard job of making flowers and leaves and fruit?

Our yard is one big flowering extravaganza, and has been ever since we moved in two years ago (see my entry for January 2006 wherein I posted pictures of every flower in our yard...), not to mention our fabled PawPaw Tree (see May 2006- The Papaya Wars).

The exception to this rule is the Mimosa tree. The trees themselves stay fairly nice and leafy year 'round, but they flower only once a year- right around now.

Like they know it's spring.

And they go crazy.


Is that not gorgeous?

A man who commented on my previous post pointed out to me that there was a good Mimosa to see near the University, and I agree- we had already taken this picture last weekend!

We aren't the only ones marveling at these abundantly flowering trees.

So I figured you all would like to see them too. :-)

If you've never been here, feast your eyes. If you used to live here, remember the riot of Mimosa Orange all over Accra every spring...


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The End of the 'Cedi Shuffle'

We're gettin' new money!

It was actually announced at the first of the year, but with the changeover happening at the end of next month, things are starting to pop! In addition to what's pictured above, there will also be one and five cedi notes.

The currency is being 'redenominated' on July 1 because, as I've mentioned before, you have to cart around buttloads of currency to pay for even small purchases.

It currently takes an excess of 9000 cedis to equal a dollar.
If dinner for two costs the equivalent of 50 bucks, you have to have almost a half million cedis to pay it. If you are lucky enough to have scored ¢20,000 notes on your last trip to the bank, you still have a pile of bills too thick to put in your wallet if you expect to then fold said wallet in half.

It gets really ugly if the bank only had ¢5,000 notes on the day you went. That would mean you need 100 bills to pay for dinner. About an inch of paper money. Yikes.

So, with the redenomination, the government is knocking four zeroes off the designated currency. Your ¢10,000 notes will become ¢1 (one cedi), a dinner bill for ¢500,000 will become ¢50 (fifty cedi).
It will soon be possible to pay for dinner or a basket of groceries with one or two bills! Yippee!

Laugh if you will, but I can't remember what it was like to hand someone a single bill to pay for anything, ever.

We get new coins too! And considering that the average Ghanaian-on-the-street spends money on a lot of things that are incredibly inexpensive (kenkey, tro-tros, newspapers, etc.) they will be in pretty good shape to use coins.

Right now it takes two of the largest denomination (500 cedi) coins to make a dime. And two handfuls of the 50 cedi coins to make the same dime.

The new coins are pesewas (what they were in the old days before they became valueless and were withdrawn from circulation) and in addition there will be cedi coins.

All the stores are supposed to be displaying their prices in both the old and new cedis (and some actually are...) because the two currencies will exist side by side until the end of the year.

The gas stations have all switched their pumps, so my liter of petrol (or fuel- don't say gas!), costs me 87 pesewa. I think. But for now I just have to switch it back to the normal ¢8,700 per liter that I will still pay until July 1. (...and for those of you in the U.S. frantically doing the math- feel fortunate to pay whatever you are paying because it adds up to more than $3 a gallon here. Eek!)

There have been lots of TV and Radio ads with little vignettes and jingles to help educate us on the switchover. "The Value is the Same" song is a big hit with Duke's oldest girl. ;-)

And if you need help, there are handy dandy conversion charts like this all over town...

You can read a lot about it (if you care) at this website, which also contains links to the audio stuff...(click on the Media and Press at the top for commercials and jingles).

And if you can't remember the old money very well, my August 30 2005 post has pictures and everything! (just click the August 2005 link on the right and VOILA!)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Cooper Does Good

Cooper's school requires community service from their students, more as they get into High School.

One of his choices this year has been to give up a couple of his weekends to travel to a nearby rural village and help Habitat for Humanity build a house.
He was given a disposable camera to take both times and 'forgot' to use it both times. So we have no pictures. :-(

But our boy now has some fall back skills.

He can make cement blocks (the size of cinder blocks but without the holes), he knows how to use a pickaxe to trench for a foundation and then lay the foundation. He can plaster a wall that has been built from the cement blocks.

It's not the sort of house Americans are used to seeing in Habitat is not part of the equation and electrical wiring is an "add on" for people who can afford to have it done for them. The doors and windows are framed up and the house is built around them.

Rather than just the recipients of the house helping with construction, any villager who can help, does. And the whole village opens their own homes to the kids who come to help. Each village home that can takes one to three of the Lincoln students for the night.

Cooper has learned to take a bucket shower, how to cope with livestock (mostly roosters) wandering through his room at night, and how to be a gracious guest in the home of people who are sharing what they have with him, even though it's precious little.

The kids take the equivalent of about 13 bucks with them to help with the cost of feeding hard-working teenagers (and help buy cement in the bargain!).
After dinner on Saturday they play a game of soccer with the village players and get to spend time just hanging out with their hosts.

Probably the best part is that he always comes home happy and exhausted. We couldn't buy the life experience and knowledge that he is getting for free from his time in Ghana.

Since I didn't get any pertinent pictures, I'll share a close up of the almost-fifteen-year old when he was just six months. He lived up to his early promise. ;-)