Monday, September 24, 2007

Chili Peppers!

On our very first road trip we saw tons of Ghanaian Red Chili peppers drying on the roadsides and at the time I thought to myself, "I'll have to get a picture of those sometime."

Cut to now, more than two years later and I finally got my picture.

Dopey me was thinking those peppers would just hang out waiting for me and my camera, because, hey! this is the equator and everything blooms 365, right? D'oh!

Luckily, when my sister was here, we were covering some of the same ground, at the same time of year, and VOILA! lots of roadside peppers, drying in the sun.

This is very much along the lines of the pumpkin patches in Mississippi that so astonished us (and provided our friends with no end of mirth and merriment)- where hundreds of Hallowe'en pumpkins were left on an empty lot on Brookway Blvd., unattended at night, and no one thought (or saw fit) to steal, smash, or otherwise annoy them.

In Ghana, if you didn't chop and stack that pile of wood on the roadside- don't even think about picking it up and taking it home to your cooking fire.

If you didn't build that furniture on the roadside, "locked" up for the night by being tied inside a plastic tarp- don't consider taking it home for the family room.

And if you didn't PICK those chilis, don't pick those chilis UP.

They aren't yours, and no Ghanaian would consider taking them.

So there they were, on the side of the road.

Or more accurately, in the middle of the road- drying in the sun, unattended.

I'm sure there were people keeping an eye on me from somewhere not too far off- even if they weren't the chili owners.

"What on Earth is that Obroni doing NOW?" ;-)

These chilis will be used to make "Ghanaian Gravy". Not shito (that's got fish and stuff in it), but the basic oil/onion/chili paste that is served in small bowls with small spoons with every Ghanaian meal whether you are in a Chinese restaurant or a neighborhood chop bar.

It's thick, it's dark and dangerous looking, and it's lethal.

Whenever we eat with Duke, he always mixes chili gravy into his rice.

And we always moan and congratulate him on his asbestos constitution, because even though we can eat a lot spicier food that we did when we were less well-travelled, we still can't manage about 60% of Ghanaian heat.

Interestingly, these chili peppers are also used as Elephant Deterrents. Seriously.

Apparently elephants don't like chili peppers, so cloths are smeared or soaked with a paste of them, and hung near crops in the north part of Ghana- instant elephant repellant.

If only you could smear it on yourself and get them to stop and lick you before deciding whether or not to kill and eat you, it could be a lifesaver. Although your skin might never recover.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ghana, Meet My Sister

My sister Judy was here this past week, and she got a whirlwind tour of Ghana. Or at least the parts of it we could get to in a week.

And that meant, of course, that I got another crack at the the Kpandu Pottery works and the Cedi Bead Factory.

More pottery!

More beads!

And both places had all kinds of new stuff. Color me happy.

If you've been reading since the beginning (the last pictures of Kpandu were sometime around October of 2005) you will be pleasantly surprised by the tidy new "showroom" of pottery.

Here's Judy trying to decide if she wanted a bowl with bumps on it (she ultimately chose a different bowl).

Everyone here was so happy to meet her- Duke has had the whole week marked on his calendar as he looked forward to driving her around Ghana.

And we had a lot of fun seeing Ghana through her "new" eyes, having forgotten how things looked to us long ago when it was all so strange and different.

The passing parade didn't disappoint, either. We followed a truck full of thatch for some village's roofs...

and a tro tro overloaded with people and smoked fish...

and yesterday, as a parting gift, we were lucky enough to run across two enterprising young men and their cart...

Judy took the picture- I was so excited I forgot I had a camera too!

These four wheeled carts are very common here and young men and boys pull them all over Accra with a variety of salvageable goods on them.

A long time ago we saw the hulk of an entire burned out car on one and never hoped to have the good luck to spot something like that again when we had a camera with us.

Go ahead and spend a little time wondering how they got the car onto the cart at all... :-)

We spent a good chunk of Wednesday afternoon with Duke, Jane, and the girls- we went to a local play ground with a bunch of fun kid stuff to play in and on, and then piled onto the porch for pictures...

As we wandered through the Tetteh Quarshie Arts and Crafts Market for the second time Friday morning, searching out the perfect gifts for her family, Judy (with Duke's enthusiastic help) used her newly acquired savvy about negotiating the cost of items and almost gave the poor woodcarver a stroke trying to settle on the price for a small carving she wanted.

It was a hoot watching her and Duke tag team this poor man who had been pleased to see us return.

I know we overwhelmed Judy a little, and she will never complain about Illinois potholes again, but I hope when she got on the plane Sunday morning she wished she could return to our little corner of Africa and all the smiling people.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Mark, Small Business Owner

Whew! Did you miss me?

Since my last post school has started, and along with it came all the back-to-school craziness including Back to School Night which we never miss because it's the one night all of Cooper's teachers tell us how much they like him and what a charming, funny guy he is.

Because later in the year, for the mid-semester Parent/Teacher Conferences, we hear about how charming and funny and disruptive he is... not as much fun, although over the last eleven years we have gotten used to it, and until 3rd grade his teachers considered him more charming than disruptive.

We have a pledge from him this year to buckle down and try not to get shut out of every decent college in America because he is so charming and funny and disruptive (which translates into lazy and unmotivated and scraping by on the least amount of work possible while getting the most amount of laughs in class...).

Anyway. That's where I've been.

But this post isn't about Mr. Charisma.

This one is about our Mark. And his new store.

Actually he's had it all summer.

In Ghana you can have a phone in your house, if you have electricity and stuff and you are cabled up to the phone company. We have electricity (usually) but no phone cable, nor do many of the people in this neck of the woods. Or neck of the palms.

You can have a mobile phone, if you can afford one (the basic ones here go for anything from about $90 U.S. to $500 U.S.), and can afford to keep buying SIM cards for them (pay-as-you-go calling).

You can use a pay phone, if you can find one- I've only seen them outside the Ghana Telecom offices, although there may be more around I haven't noticed- suffice it to say they aren't common.

Your final option (and a popular one it is), is to go to a Phone Vendor. The are set up all over Accra- and for that matter, much of Ghana.

The vendor gets a 'transfer chip' from the cellular phone company (which costs a buttload- around $500 U.S.), and then they set you up with a phone and a banner and you are open for business.

We floated Mark a loan for his chip, he scored a box/table, a bench, and an umbrella from which hangs his banner.

Then he set up shop on Jungle Road about a block from home.

Here he is this afternoon, with Elliot who loves Mark dearly but can't stay at the store because even though he behaves he scares away customers.

Jungle Road is a busy place- lots of traffic, both foot and car, lots of activity day and night. Good for business.

Unfortunately, everyone else thinks so too, and within two blocks of Mark's store there are at least four other Phone Vendors on any given day.

But you know by now that Mark is a swell guy. He is cheerful, friendly, cute as the dickens, and I believe pretty attractive to the ladies.

Whenever we leave the house, if we go past Mark's Phone Store, he usually has a few people on his bench. Even if they aren't all paying customers, the other umbrellas rarely have anyone under them.

We choose to believe that Mark is the most popular phone store on Jungle Road.

And he has already paid back a big chunk of money while still sending money home to his Mom, so we are pretty sure that we are right.

Yay Mark! We are so proud of him, and he loves that phone store.

His work around our house is never neglected. Everything gets done and done right, but then we see him wander by the front window and down the driveway carrying his umbrella and phone, off to his second career.

We always make a big deal out of waving to him when we drive by because he always has such a big smile on his face.

We hope having Obronis make a fuss around his store is good for business.

And if you are ever in East Legon and need to make a phone call- look for our Mark! ;-)