Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Toothmobile

Cooper's dentist.

Remember when Coop got his braces and I told you about the dentist having his chair and equipment in a converted recreational vehicle?

Well, by popular demand, I have pictures!

Behold, the Toothmobile...

and once inside, you would never know you weren't in a regular dentist's office...

I tell you, Africa and Africans can just make stuff work. The Doc has it hooked to his generator, so there's no worries about power.

They are working on a new office in a regular building on their property, so the fun won't last long now...

but when we look back on Cooper's experience with braces we'll always have the Toothmobile.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ghana, The Beach, and Everything

October is fall break time at Lincoln school (can you believe they've been in school for nine weeks already????), so Ted burned some vacation time and we took off.

We wanted to stay in Ghana, but we didn't want to spend our time bouncing over dicey roads looking for badly signposted attractions, so we made a couple of reservations on a couple of beaches and headed west, toward Takoradi and the border with Cote'd'Ivoire (the former Ivory Coast).

Our first stay was at Axim Beach Resort, about a half hour past Takoradi, set on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic, with a nice beach at the bottom of the hill and really fun "rondavel" chalets. Here is one of the signs we followed for many miles back into the bush on the way to the resort...

Here is the stone from the entrance to reception...

You may remember that "Akwaaba" is Twi for

"You are welcome".

This is our chalet...

...and then looking downhill to ours from Cooper's chalet...

(yes, he had his very own room, complete with TV and personal remote. He was a happy boy).

And what a surprise, considering these crazy shy Ghanaians... there was a very interesting carving on the door of our chalet...

She really skeeved Cooper out. :-)

Especially since Ted and I were so pleased to have her on our door.

Cooper's door carving was some warrior or farmer or something boring, which suited him just fine.

We, on the other hand, appreciated having a door that made us giggle every time we went through it.

The beach at Axim has a very small tidal fluctuation, and the surf pounds pretty heavily day and night- people pay a lot of money for machines that replicate that sound, and we just sat on our little porch and let it wash over us, so to speak.

Although Ted and I both admitted to thinking the occasional wave set sounded an awful lot like the ubiquitous jets that zoom over our house a couple dozen times a's all relative.

The beach, looking back toward the hill on which sit the rondavels...

and a shot of the rondavels themselves, nestled in among the palms...

This is Coop making the most of the surf on a day that threatened rain, but never quite managed it until way after bedtime...

When we sat on our porch, these are the views we had...

On our third night there, they had what was billed as a "Burn Fire and Bufet" on the beach.

They set up a really nice buffet after dark and then set a bonfire on the sand for our pyromaniac enjoyment. It was pretty special and very well done.

By this time, of course, poor Coop had enough of rustic African beach living, and we headed out to our next resort- a place built to attract Obronis (although it still surprises us even after all this time how many things about "obroni" hotels still scream AFRICA).

We checked into the Busua Beach Resort, from whence these views came...

(Had we been in America, we would have suspected the Disney
Imagineers of planting this island, two perfect palms
and a grassy hummock for effect. It was just too perfect...)

It was a very nice setting, with a very clean beach.

And really boring. :-)

But Coop was happy, so we sat on the beach for a few days and read our books and swam with him and just relaxed without worrying about getting any cultural advantages.

The upside was our excursion out into the neighboring village and our subsequent discovery of the African Rainbow hotel and its fourth floor rooftop bar, in which they happily served us dinner.

We sat up high, watched the ocean, and ate some terrifically good food- first by ourselves, and then with Coop when we dragged him away from his cushy hotel room and out into Africa again.

While we were busy staying in resorts and reading on the beach, we also managed to do a little exploring.

One of the first things we did was head out the beach road west toward Cote'd'Ivoire from Axim.

This particular region of Ghana was devastated in the 70s by a blight that caused a "wilt" on the producing coconut palms and wiped out the local economy. All this time later, the stumps of the dead palms linger as a reminder...

There are living coconut palms there now, but nothing like the amount that provided them with a living wage so many years ago.

If you ever find yourself on the road to Cote'd'Ivoire, this is what it would look like...

The trick is to stop before you actually get to the border- no Mexican border town can compare to the chaos and corruption of the Ghana-Cote'd'Ivoire border.

And just to keep you from wishing we had taken you with us to sample a new country, feel free to check out any travel guide for our neighbors to the West. Its current condition is simply not conducive to casual visitors.

Or visitors. :-(

But we didn't need no stinkin' foreign countries to entertain us- we had Ghana and what Ghana has is...

Rubber Tree Plantations!

Who knew?

Here is a shot of rubber tree saplings:

and here they are all grown up:

The trees are tapped just like Maple trees in the U.S., except a sticky white rubber comes out instead of maple syrup!

We wanted to stick our fingers in the collection cups really bad, but since we were trespassing to get these shots at all, we decided not to press our luck and had to settle for imagining how odd and gooey that rubber must feel...

Finally, after a week of resort living we had to head back to real life, but we stopped at one last resort to have lunch in an outdoor restaurant set directly on the beach near Biriwa called Anumobo (feel free to rearrange the "O"s and "U"s in that name any way you like- we saw it spelled every conceivable way on signs, in guidebooks and even on their own menus and Reception desk).

They served us traditional Ghanaian lobsters, which faithful readers remember from our jaunt to Osekan Restaurant in Accra. Today however, you get to actually see them (I remembered to take a picture when I had only eaten four of them and there were still some left!).

This is some seriously good eatin'.

And a lovely finish to our relaxing "All Ghana, All Lazy" vacation.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Kente 101

Ghana is (or it should be!) famous as the home of Kente cloth. It is woven by hand in sharp, bright colors by men of the Ashanti tribe.

The "usual" Kente comes in strips about 4-6 inches wide and five or six feet long. If you want a garment, many strips are sewn together to make a large cloth.

There are tons of patterns and each one means something, e.g. "the extended family is a strong force" or "God's Eyebrow" (the ashanti description of a rainbow).

Once again, because my sister Judy came to visit, I finally managed to take some (seriously bad) photos of a Kente weaver doing his thing.

In this badly exposed, poorly framed, confusing picture, you can see

a) the long threads used to weave the cloth lengthwise (this goes on for 25 or 30 feet),

b) the weaver waaa-aaay at the back of the pic, and

c) a finished strip on the far right side in front of Ted.

Heading back to where the weaving guy actually sits, for a marginally better picture you can see the "pedals" for his feet.

This is a complicated set of thingamajigs that the guy manipulates with his feet and toes to keep tension, switch layers, and who knows what kind of cool stuff that one could only understand after much practice and many botched practice cloths.

You can just barely make out the pattern of the cloth he is weaving if you click it bigger and look between his hands.

For the 50th Anniversary celebration, we bought this Kente strip from the guy down the street...

It's at least twice this long, but I couldn't get the whole thing in the picture and still let you see the details.

The fabric is good sturdy cotton-type cloth. Fairly tightly woven so you can't see through it.

When we were in the forest up north to visit the sacred monkeys last spring, our Park Ranger Guide had some kente cloth bookmarks available for purchase.

I couldn't decide on one, so I bought seven. ;-)

Here's a few of them close up...

and here's the whole collection...

And that's your crash course in Kente cloth.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Need for Speed

After more than two years without a mall, a movie theater, or a crappy fast food restaurant, and more than a year since they took away his sad little neighborhood half pipe, you probably think Cooper never gets to have any teen-aged boy fun.

Never fear.

Accra has a Go-Kart track.

I kid you not.

¢70,000 (about $7.50) will get you 15 minutes on the track in a Go-Kart held together with spit and baling wire at the La Raceway.

La is the neighborhood the track is in, near the beach. And this is what it looks like...

Not bad at all. It's a fairly long course and the turns are sharp enough and the guys hit the tires often enough to thrill themselves a little.

Because when you are 15, it's all about risk and skidding and passing your friends.

And when you go to the Go-Kart track outside America, you don't have to worry about all those pesky safety rules and liability disclaimers.

Not that they don't care. This sign for instance...

If you click it bigger you will get the full flavor of the serious nature of the danger of motor sport. :-)

And they did have this sign in the pit area...

Of course, they didn't have any flags or even a flag man. Just a few guys with a watch. When your fifteen minutes are up, one of the guys walks out to the track and points at the pit when you drive by.

Works the same.

Here's Coop and two of the three friends who went Saturday just after their first fifteen minute session. They spent the next twenty minutes dumping adrenalin and discussing how much drift they got (as in Tokyo Drift) and debating the merits of their particular Go-Kart.

Then they got ready to start their second session...

which included the track guys gassing up each Go-Kart with a little jug of gas and a Flintstones funnel.

Nana's ride needed a little help, and as one of the kids said when we were all through-

the track guys go "Oh! It's not working? Let me fix it with this paper clip."

and off they went.

It's just like home.

And nothing like home.

All at the same time.

But at least Cooper gets to be a big high school dork with his friends sometimes.