The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Quirky Ghanaian Ways, vol III

Bush Meat

The Grasscutter – this is a really large rodent, which in the Western Region is for sale along side the road, and it comes in two forms, fresh, and smoked. It comes under the heading of “bush meat” meaning wild meat. Grasscutter is quite popular though I have not had the nerve to try it. There are even grasscutter cultivation research centers that we see sometimes, and I wonder about what they serve in the canteen there.
[fresh grasscutter & smoked grasscutter for sale on cape coast road]

Snails - I’m not sure that snails actually qualify as bushmeat, but they should. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they are small, delicate, tasty ones the French call escargot these boys are huge, like a grapefruit, and tough as shoe leather, and the taste, well… On our 20th anniversary, Suzanne and I both had soup dishes with fresh snails, mine soup was green, her’s brown, and both of us were unable, physically unable to eat them. That night the only ones that ate well were the mosquitoes. But you can buy these snails at the market, out of bowls, on large platters, and the ladies selling them keep having to pick them up and move them back on platter, or into the bowl. That’s how you know they are fresh. There is an Ewe proverb that says, even the smallest snail leaves behind a trail of slime, and that is for dinner.
[Anna holds a tree snail]

Official Photographing at Public Events
I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to this, but at public events, like weddings, or church services, dance performances, and really anytime a large group of people are assembled, the Ghanaian photographers show up. These guys—and they are always guys—stand up right in front of the speaker, wedding party, performer, or whatever and film or snap (take a picture) with no concern that they are blocking the view, or a distraction. A few weeks ago at church, it was the Ghana@50 Celebration, and so there were photographers everywhere, especially during the sermon. I’m not sure what becomes of these pictures, or video, but I know it is really distracting to see the

[Kofi preaching] [Nii and Adzo Wedding]

The Left Hand
Quirkiness – you never wave, receive or give anything with the left hand.

Tradition - The left hand is the one that is used in the toilet, and so to use it in any social situation as an insult. One time when we were at Kinder Paradise (the proper name for the orphanage at PromProm) we played duck duck goose with the girls and I noticed that the left hand was rarely use, except by the obrunies. This one girl was running around the circle counter-clockwise crossing her right hand over her left, to pat people on the head, just so she didn’t pat using the left hand.

Never using the left hand presents some awkwardness, and is something that is constantly on our minds. For example, the guard brings the morning paper to the screen door. The natural thing would be to push the door open with my right hand, and accept it with my left, but that would be an insult, so I open the screen door with my left hand, and cross over my right hand over my left arm to receive the item.

You never wave with the left hand and so when I am driving and wave to someone, it is always with my right hand crossing over to wave out the window.

Now buying something is even more tricky, because each of us must hand something and receive with only one had. Say I’m buying fruit from my “second wife.” She tells me the amount, I count it out, hand it to her with my right hand while she is handing me the black plastic sack of fruit—also with her right hand—and so we exchange money and black plastic sacks. It is awkward, and when there are several things, I accept with my right and immediately transfer it to my left to hold. It is an intricate dance of fingers as she takes my money, puts my fingers through the loops of the black plastic bag, all the while the left hand is unused.

The Black Plastic Rubber (plastic bag)
Up until maybe 10 years ago I understand, you never saw plastic bags, or rubbers as they are called here. Everyone had a market basket that they carried around for shopping. Today, the market baskets are just for tourists, and the black plastic bags are everywhere…on the street, choking the gutters, caught in the trees along the road, and washing on shore on beach. It is really sad to see so much garbage. Apparently, the plastic bag it is a cultural thing in that it is unacceptable to carry food, or items in your hands. Everything must be in a bag of some sort so people do not know what you have. To carry it without a bag would tempt robbers, or brag, and both are bad, so items must be shielded from view…hence the black plastic bag.

Now my “second wife,” the fruit seller and I have come to an understanding. She doesn’t force black plastic bags on me, but loads everything in my bike baskets. In turn I bring her large bags of black plastic bags for her to reuse and give out to other obrunies.

Greetings –
Greet everyone. Period. Unless you are going to the convenience room (toilet), then you say (in Twi) “don’t greet me,” and the response is “I don’t greet you,” which is funny when you think about it because you’ve just done that. Our Twi Teacher explained that to greet someone on your way to answer nature’s call would be to say to them “I sh__ on you.” We were shocked to hear her say that word, “sh__” because you never, well almost never, hear Ghanaians swear. Maybe they do in their local languages, but almost never in English. In fact us Bucheles had to really clean up our language when we first came to Ghana, and we were pretty good about not using those kind of words.

A few weeks ago I was playing tour guide to our Fulbright friend Michael, who was on the final days of a three month scholarship in the coastal town (and University) at Winaba. So Michael and I were poking around Accra, and I took him to Independence Square, and Independence Arch. The Arch is one of my strongest memories from when we were here before, and I don’t know what it is about memorial things like this arch, but I love just looking at them. They serve no other function than to remind of some great event, and for Ghana, that event was 6 March 1957 when Ghana became the first colony to declare its independence.

So Michael and I are walking through the arch, and I see one of its doors open, and I think, WOW, this is a rare opportunity to see what is inside, so I run through the arch and hop up the stairs. Immediately, one of the gardeners starts yelling at me. “Why did you not greet me?!” She is acting angry, but I think she is just messing with me. She says “In Ghana, you greet first,” and then clicks her teeth at me. I say, “Eh, how did you know I was not going to answer natures call?!” I bring my hand up to make a point. “Then, I would not greet you!” She gets this confused look on her face, thinks about it, cocking her head sideways. It’s a good question, but she says “no toilet there” shaking her head, “it is just there” she says pointing to buildings about 2 blocks away.
“I did not know,” I say, “Eh, I am sorry, I did not greet.” Then she rattles of this sting of Twi at me, and the other gardeners are laughing. I have no idea what she is saying. When she stops, I step forward, bow, and say:
“Good morning Madame, how are you?”
“Fine, thank you” she says, which is what most every Ghanaian says when you ask, and she adds “and you?”
[Elizabeth taking my picture]
“I am fine,” I say placing heavy emphasis on the word fine and she starts laughing with me, and pulls out her camera phone to take my picture. I laugh with her, and all the other gardeners, and I take out my camera to take her picture, and she keeps taking mine, and then she says, “Obrunie, You dash me.”
I say, “Madame, you take me to the top” (of the tower). “Obrunie, you will dash me?”
“I will dash you I say and go to top,” I say drawing out the and really long and she calls over her helper and she leads us to the door, the same one I had, in my hurry, jumped up the stairs and not greeted. Now I was getting a tour.

[Michael climbing out of the window]

When we get to the top of the stairs, the door is locked, but not the windows, and so we climb out and there we are on the top of this monument to Ghana’s independence. There is a great view of the new stadium, of Independence square, of the Osu Castle, which is the seat of government, and these really large black concrete five pointed stars.
[Monica, our “guide”]

I guess the idea of being on top of the Arch was a lot more exciting to me than it actually was. It was something I had hoped to do someday, have the chance to climb up there, maybe because the Arch is such an old memory, and going to the top was a sort pilgrimage to honor that memory.

[A view from the top: Osu Castle]
[A view from the top: New Stadium being build for African World Cup in 2008]
Now that I’ve been to the top, I think of other arches I’ve been to, like

[the Brandenburg Gate]
[the Ark de Triumph]
[Jerash Arch, in Jordan]
[Indepedence Arch on Ghana@50]

And wonder what it is about this architecture that so captivates the human spirit? I think about my uncle Joe, who let a fella from the big city build a arch on his Kansas farm overlooking the interstate, just because he wanted to. I don’t have a picture of that arch, and wonder what has become of it today, and what it was built to memorialize then.

In the Old Testament, a smaller version was called an Ebenezer, and these large stones were upturned to memorialize a certain event, to help us remember, and for our children to ask about, and for us to tell them the story of say, how God gave Jacob a dream here, or there was a mighty victory there, or how 50 years ago this African nation became free.

Friday, May 18, 2007

You know it’s hot (by Suzanne)

[the only time we see lizards like this one is when it is REALLY hot, we've been seeing quite a few lately]

The hot season has been upon us for some weeks (months?) now. Thankfully, it has rained a few times, and been overcast some also, which gives a respite from the heat. On those sunny hot days, though, especially when the light is out, it’s HOT. How hot, you ask? Read on (it’s all true).

You know it’s hot when:

  • You put on deodorant at bedtime

  • You are dripping with sweat - after a 10 minute walk – at 8am!

  • You put on a fresh shirt, and it’s soaked through in a few minutes

  • Your Band-Aids won’t stick

  • Even your adolescent children sometimes fall asleep in the mid-afternoon

  • At the end of the day, your legs are coated with dirt (having stuck to your sweat and dried there)

  • Taking a shower before bedtime is a necessity (see above!)

  • Whether or not you have a hot water heater, or have it turned on, is irrelevant

  • You have to hang the clothes you wore that day out to dry in the evening, or they will mold in your closet (see pict)

  • You need to air out your sheets in the morning or they also will mildew (love that sweat)

  • You can’t make it through the day without drinking 2-3 full 1.5 liter bottles of water

[yesterday’s cloths drying out]

Monday, May 14, 2007

As thoughts turn toward Texas

As thoughts turn toward our return to the States for the summer, now 30 days away, I begin to seek perspective on our time here so far, and mentally preparing for our next tour here. I am already longing the loss of Ghana friends who have moved, or will move away while we are gone this summer, and wonder what next fall’s crop of new ex-pats will bring. It is the way of life here, people come for a season and leave, some stay, some don’t make it and evacuate, and others ask to stay longer.

[This is the last picture taken with Suzanne’s family in Connecticut (check out Fox's cool haircut)]

I can’t help thinking about how green we were when we first arrived, how much we didn’t know, how much we still had to learn and I wonder what next year will teach us. We are still so green, and next year I will have lost one of my teachers. Actually, he has already moved on, I’m talking about Emmanuel, our day guard who took off a few too many days to attend to the details of his wife’s aunt’s funeral. I’m not sure how it all ended, from Daniel I hear “He has stopped his work,” and in one of my last conversations with Emmanuel, he said, “The company, they picks the music, and I dance to it,” but maybe he did not like the tune. What I heard is that his post had been moved from our residence, to another, and instead reporting to work, he moved on. Emmanuel was ready to move on, and if it were not for our friendship, I’m sure he would have months ago. There was a restlessness of his soul that would not be bound to his compound and guarding it, he has had dreams of something greater, and once dreamed, he could never be the same.

[Mission Trip Steve]
I once heard a speaker explain it this way, when our unconscious mind decides something, it is like God sends an angel to whisper in our ears, “So are you going to make these changes, or shall I?” If we’re in a bad job, or bad relationship, or bad the wrong house/town to do what our unconscious mind has decided it must do, there are changes that must be made, and if we’re unwilling to make them, that’s when the Angel steps in and says “Ah! We can do this one of two ways…” the implication is that it will be done and so we have a choice to make. Are we going to quit this job, or shall the angel get us fired? Are we going to choose to move to the house/town where our dreams are waiting, or shall this angel, have us evicted? Are we going to walk away from this destructive relationship, or shall the angel get involved? As the speaker explains, if we consistently decide not to make these changes, and angel does, at some point we’re going to wake up and realize that our lives are in such a mess that only God has the kind of power to mess things up so completely.

[Emmanuel with Vida]
I wonder if this happened to Emmanuel, that his unconscious mind decided that he was destined for more, and what was standing in his way was this job as our guard. I know next month he will begin the school work to complete Senior Secondary school (High School) in preparation for University. I also know this school is expensive, and I wonder how he will afford it, now that he is out of this job, and soon to be out of another. Or will he leave Accra and move back to his mother’s family in Mpoho, in the Western Region. All I know is that when I walk outside to greet our new day guard, I already miss him, and our conversations.

I know that when we arrived in Ghana, I was ready for a change, maybe the Angel had already begun making changes in my life that my conscious mind was not willing to work toward. I hadn’t been fired, our house hadn’t burned down, and Suzanne and I were still happily married, but the one thing that couldn’t continue was the way our lives were being lived. We were ready for a change, and Ghana was all that. Now that we’ve been here a while, and we’ve found a rhythm of life that fits us well, I wonder, could we do it in the states?

I’ve now preached here five times, all at Asbury Dunwell Church (click here for their church website I designed). I am still trying to find my voice here, my message, what this congregation needs to hear, or what the Gospel has to say to it. As I look over what I’ve said in the past, I see an overarching theme of restoring of broken relationships, and I’m not sure that it what is needed here. Ghanaians have much to teach us about relationships, and how not to let stuff, or money, pride or position come between them. God has such a fun way of testing me to see if I really mean what I say. The week after I had said the same, in one of those casual off the cuff remarks, something like “Oh, you know how we Americans like our stuff...” Emmanuel borrows my sunglasses. I guess he figured that since I had two pairs, and he “needed” one, it was acceptable for him to take a pair. After about two weeks of not being able to find this pair, I asked him if he has seen them. He does not answer and conversation drifts to another topic. Another week goes by. I finally ask “Do you have my sun glasses?” Yes, he says, but he needs them to go home to the funeral. I understand that, but I also want my sunglasses back. I feel so petty asking for them, but if I let this go, what is next, a bike, some cookware? The next day he says he has brought them, but then forgets to give them to me, and then he is off to the funeral for four days, and when he returns, he has been sacked, or has stopped his work.

In one of my first sermons, I tried to be cultural, including references to local customs, and how I was trying to understand them. Then I heard a sermon that had none of that, instead it was preached from the Chinese perspective, and the preacher just joked about his Chinese customs, and we laughed with him. But I’m not sure that works for me, when I joke about American cultural quirks, it sounds like “America bashing,” and there is already so much of that going around. It is an interesting and intellectual church, and they expect the best, and when its not offered, they let you know. But our cultures are so different and I wonder what I have to offer them.

On Thursday, I receive several frantic text messages, after many missed calls, and Emmanuel wants to see me. I, of course, am still thinking about my sunglasses, so I agree, and as expected he asks for me to plead with the company to have him reinstated as our guard. I don’t even have to ask for my glasses, after we’re done with the greetings and asking about each other’s family, he produces them, then we talk about what is next. All week-end long I wonder if coming back is right for him, and what part I should play in helping? Of all the aspects of being a pastor/boss/manager of a church, the one I least enjoyed was the balance between pastor/friend/boss with staff. I remember this feeling, the feeling of being able to pick two, and how the third I didn’t pick affects the other two. By this I am talking about the pastor-friend-boss triad, where I assume responsibility for two of the rolls, and the responsibility for the third becomes the staff-person. It is not like these rolls are fixed, they seem to rotate as the situations in life demand it. I wish I had understood this triad better then, maybe I could have been a better friend, when their heart needed one, a better pastor, when soul needed one, and a more proactive boss, when the church needed one.

Several weeks ago I had to put on the boss hat, and have that difficult conversation with Emmanuel who seemed to be away from his post more and more, attending to details elsewhere. It had become a problem, his absence was noticed, and one of these days it would be by the wrong kind of people. I think that is when I knew his unconscious mind had moved on, the conscious mind wasn’t ready, and in steps the Angel, saying, “We can do this one of two ways…” and when he returned from the funeral four days later, it was clear that Angel had stepped in.
[Offering dance at Asbury Dunwell]
When I went to see him he told me his plan all along had been to “stay at his post until we had left the country,” and I thought, but us staying another year is something he had not counted on, and now he was caught between a friendship, and the Angel saying "we can do this one of two ways...." Thank God, we’re in Ghana, and so we don’t have to choose between the relationship (staying friends) and where the unconscious mind may be leading us. It is all about the relationships!
So as thoughts turn toward Texas, I wonder about the relationships we will resume, renew, refresh, and return to knowing that each of us have changed in this year.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bird Flu Week 2

[just to show how chickens are everywhere, see if you can spot the chicken in each of one of these photos, in this case the hen is under the bow of the boat]

It is funny how you know things before you really know them. That the chickens had started disappearing before we actually noticed they were gone, was one thing, but when we heard that there was bird flu here in Ghana, well, we sort of already knew that.

It how now been a week since the public knowledge of the Bird Flu outbreak here in Ghana, and its been interesting to see how it is being handled. For example, at our kid’s school, chicken is gone from the menu even though it is known to be safe to eat well cooked chicken. We’ve seen memos home from other schools in the area warning people not to eat chicken at all.

In the local paper, the Daily Graphic, Suzanne and I were having a discussion on how the reporting matches what we have been told. A week ago the headline “1st Case of Bird flu discovered in Tema,” and the article it reports that the investigation began at the Accra Veterinary Laboratory Tuesday on April 24, a full six days before the US Regional Coordinator for AI (Avian Influenza) says he gathered samples. The US Regional Coordinator spoke of flying to Cairo to the Navy testing lab there, but the article reports further texts being performed in Italy.

In Friday’s edition there is no mention of AI, except briefly in an op ed piece called “Letter to Jomo”. Alongside the energy rationing program, bird flu, there is a rumors about the deadly cell phone virus. This is a new one going around that our kids have heard at school, and even Sarah has been warned from Ghanaian officials that people are dying all over the country from answering cell phones. These calls arrive with an unusually long series of numbers, and a fiery red color. The phone rings. The owner picks it, “Hello,” he says into and bang, he drops dead. Very dead, or at least that’s how the rumor is reported in the paper.

In Saturday’s edition, and really every one since, there is no mention of bird flu, so we turn to other on line news sources from Dubai, and Australia. There we read that suspicions have turned toward Nigeria. Nigeria is the favored suspect here in Ghana. What can be blamed on that country usually is, and in the case of these infected birds, it was a quick association. It seems that since they were discovered near Tema, with Tema being Ghana’s, and for that matter all of West Africa’s preferred port city, the Dubai paper reports that they were smuggled in from Nigeria. It also contains a time-line closer to the one I’m familiar with, that the local labs first tested the birds, and then the Cairo lab confirmed it.

In talking to a friend of ours who is a chicken farmer, and knows the family who’s farm was infected, she says “its been in the area for sometime,” but then adds that it was found usually in isolated cases, but this was a complete farm, 1600 birds, and they were all destroyed. She also says that the authorities had met last month to discuss this very issue, and how it would be handled in Ghana, and now they are following the plan.

As of now, there has not been wide spread panic. There has not been the widespread roundup of chickens like we saw and heard evidence of in the weeks that proceeded our visit to Egypt. I still see the occasional chicken wondering our neighborhood, and at lunch with Suzanne, I heard a sound I had not heard in long time, a rooster crowing. Going home, I even saw a man walking up the street with a head load of young chicks in a cage. They were perhaps a month old, and ready to sell, but there were no buyers. Part of me wants to go to Keneshi Market, and see what has become of the live bird market there, the other part of me knows it is not safe. This is just the sort of place we’ve been instructed to avoid, and yet I wonder. How close could I get and still be safe?

Nothing has really changed for us, oh we’re not eating chicken so much these days—which is good—but my mind keeps going back to a conversation that Emmanuel and I had on the steps of his father-in-law’s house. I was thinking about all the chickens I had seen, and how they live with the people in the village, going in and out of the houses, mother hens and their little chicks following. These are a hardy lot and you never see a dead one on the road, as the stupid ones didn’t live long enough to pass on their stupid genes. I think about how hard it would be to contain an epidemic here, the hundreds of thousands of chickens that would have to be rounded up, slaughtered, and burned, and I wonder if the people would have the will to keep it contained. Emmanuel asked about it once, and I told him about the epidemic that almost kept us from coming and he said he didn’t believe it, that he would be against the slaughter of chickens to stop an epidemic. He is a wise one, and when grouped with the other crisis’ this country is fighting: an energy crisis, killer mobile phone calls, and bird flu, it is easy to see how the people might not take the threat seriously if it reached that stage.

But things are changing, at lunch today at the Ashesi canteen, the lady asked us three times if we wanted chicken, we almost always have chicken, but not today. At the funeral for Vida’s Aunt, no one was eating the chicken the chicken they had ordered, so the returned it to the cold storage store. So we wait, and pray for this country, and its people who are working very hard and just can’t seem to get a break, or when they do, know what to do with it.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Harry Potter Abridged

One of the cool things about this school that our kids go to, The Lincoln School, is how creative the kids are encouraged to be. In the past few weeks both Fox and Anna have filmed reports to hand in, and Grace is filming one this week-end. Here is Fox's creation that he filmed with a couple of his Mormon friends and Anna.

Harry Potter Abridged, part 1

Harry Potter Abridged, part 2

You might think that I had helped Fox out on this, but no, he and his buddies did the whole thing by themselves, including the editing. Anyway, hope you enjoy, and if possible, leave him a comment!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Where have all the chickens gone?

Suzanne had been telling me now for weeks, but it was only Monday that I noticed the silence myself. No roosters crowing. Zero. It wasn’t like when we first came to Ghana when there were chickens everywhere, mother hens leading their chickies all over the neighborhood, roosters crowing from 3am (apparently Ghanaian roosters don’t know the difference between day and night, making it worse on those of us that do).
[Mother Hens like this used to be quite common]

These past few weeks, I’ve been sleeping great, no 3am roosters, and now it is so quiet that it is getting eerie. So we’ve been asking, “Where have all the chickens gone?”

I have asked our guards, and our neighbor’s guards, and mostly what I hear is that they ended up in the Christmas pot, or perhaps it was the Easter one, but I suspect it might have to do with (like everything else) the light outs.

The light out every other day schedule is hitting everyone hard, and it is no surprise that the next round of inflation has come. I think of Linda the dressmaker, who has been Suzanne’s favorite so far, but she can’t keep ahead of the orders when every other day she can’t work for 12 hours. Abena, the tailor up the street, takes a different approach: she has two sewing machines, an electric one, and a hand crank one. Though its much faster with the electric sewing machine, the hand crank machine still gets the work done when the light is out. So I wonder, as people are having to make do on less, if the free range urban chickens have started to make up the difference. Its either that or bird flu, and nobody wants that.
[Watch that Fowl Line]

Last year about this time, there was an out break of bird flu in Nigeria that we thought might scuttle our chances of getting to Ghana on the Fulbright. Nigeria convinced the world that they took care of it, and so here we are. When we went to Egypt at Christmastime it was also eerily quiet. Egypt had just defeated its own outbreak of Bird Flu by rounding up all their chickens and disposing of them. Whatever the reasons are, it leaves us wondering, where have all the chickens gone?

Tonight, we’re at an US Embassy party (our first), and we hear what our kids had heard in school earlier that day, that Bird Flu has been found in Ghana, and worse than that, in Ada (pronounced Ah – Da). Ada is a coastal city that was, in the 1700s, a prominent and powerful nation state. Located at the mouth of the Volta river, it is where the Volta joins the Atlantic (the Volta river flows out of the Volta lake and Akosombo Dam, where our power comes from). If you remember the Stanley Steamer, (Mr. Stanley also being the man who “discovered” Dr. Livingston in East Africa), he once brought one of his steamers up the Volta River, starting at Ada.

But for us, Ada was a day trip just yesterday, on May 1st, or “Worker’s Day,” here in Ghana, when schools and factories are closed (like Labor Day in the US). Since it was a Tuesday, there would be no swimming in the ocean, and fishing. We went with Sarah (our Fulbright daughter) and her good friend Jake, who is visiting from New York City, along with her room mates and friends. We spent a wonderful day at the pool there in an upscale hotel and had so much fun that we didn’t even get around to taking the Volta River boat tour nearby. While everyone was swimming, I got bored and walked to the beach, and from there through the town of Ada. I saw a few chickens, but nothing out of the ordinary.

[I met these boys who wanted me to take their picture, and they started goofing around]

[Here is a typical sea fishing Ghanaian boat with the flag on it]

So tonight at this Embassy party, I meet the Africa coordinator for AI (as they call it, Avian Influenza) and he confirmed what I had heard from our children. Bird Flu has been discovered in Ghana. On Sunday, samples had been collected from sick birds, near Ada. On Monday the samples were transported to Egypt for testing. On Tuesday, the tests confirmed it. On Wednesday (today) it was announced, even at our kid’s school (or, from their parents to their kids to our kids). So what we heard from Fox and Grace was official.

We often eat chicken here in Ghana, fried mostly, but sometimes in stews, or kabobs. Today I was thinking about what I’ve eaten, Sunday: Groundnut Stew with chicken; Tuesday: roasted chicken for lunch (in Ada, of all places!); Today: fried chicken (both lunch and dinner), from the Ashesi Canteen. Our menu is about to take a huge turn around.

I think about how much Ghana is already suffering, and I wonder how much more it can take. Constant power outages, water shortages, increased crime, inflation, fuel shortages and now Bird Flu, and the probable destruction of whatever chickens that are left, the ones that haven’t already ended up in the stew pot, in desperate times like these.

[I saw this TroTro and wondered...]

So I ask for your prayers tonight, as Ghana faces this new challenge. Pray for her people who already suffering, pray for truth and wisdom in facing this challenge head on. Pray for her leaders. Pray for all of us. Pray.

Oh, those quirky Ghanaian Ways Vol. II

Traffic Lights and Light Out
When the light is off, the traffic lights are of course out too, there is no back up. Sometimes Ghana Police sends out an officer on motor bike, or bicycle, or trotro, and when they don’t its lord of the flies, which quickly turns to gridlock, and sometimes, volunteers direct traffic for tips. This is my favorite, because it is fun to watch, these young boys who should be in High School, figure out how to direct traffic.

[Steve dashing the guy, please note it is with the right hand]

I like it because an especially good tip can get you a green light faster, than saying no, and waving them on when they come "asking". Ghana in interesting in that the direct no is taboo, and almost never heard. Instead an indirect no is the norm, which comes in the form of “not today,” or “maybe tomorrow,” or “perhaps.” Almost anything is preferred to a direct no, even if we both know it is not completely truthful. At many of the traffic lights there are beggars, and I used to tell them no, or shake my head, or wave them on with my hands, and the beggar would continue to stare and plead, but now I’ve gotten to the point where I just roll down my window, and ask how they are today. They will ask how I am, and if Suzanne is with me in the car, give a greeting to Madam, then they will ask for something small. If I have it, I’ll give it, and if not, I’ll say “not today,” or “maybe next time,” and it is OK with them. Often we’ll continue to chat about this or that, and then the light turns green, and it doesn’t really seem to matter if I give them something or not, because I might next time.

But with the boys directing traffic, I always try to give them something, and something bigger if I’m in a hurry. Usually there are four or five boys working a single light. One or two directing, and the rest going up and down the rows of stopped cars, asking each one for a small dash. When a big one comes in, like a ¢5000 cedi note (50 cents), the collector will whistle or wave his hands getting the attention of the boy directing traffic, and suddenly the traffic pattern changes, and we’re moving. I like that.

[going through the underpass, following a meat pie guy, slowly]
There is a one lane underpass north of town that is a great short-cut, but too narrow for more than one car to pass at a time. So, there are two men who work the underpass working the site for tips, letting one direction of traffic go through, while the other is stopped, and then letting the other.

Chew sticks
In certain parts of Accra they sell chew sticks by the side of the road. Chew sticks are a sort of primitive toothbrush. The chew stick is made from the wood of a particular tree, the Adom Tree, and the way you use them used is to fray the end of the stick with your eyeteeth, and then scrub that end against your teeth, like an end-on toothbrush. In general, Ghanaians seem to have very good teeth. Maybe its genetics, maybe its diet, or the lack of processed food in, maybe its that sweets are not a craving part of their diet, or maybe it’s the chew stick.
[Bundle of chew sticks]
[Prepared chew stick]
[Emmanuel using chew stick]

Ghana Post
Now understand that there is no residential postal delivery service. I think there might be business delivery, but I’ve never seen a postal truck or a walking postman. Businesses have a P.O. box. Individuals use their place of employment, or if that is not possible, then their church address. So for example to send a letter to Emmanuel, you post it to

Mr. Emmanuel Adjei
7th Day Adventist Church
Osu, Accra, Ghana, West Africa

This system presents its own problems, for example bills. Our electricity is prepaid (see that blog), so are our mobile phones, so no bills are necessary, but the water bill is sent by messenger, who gives the bill to our guard, who presents to us later, and we go to one of the water-bill shacks around town to pay. They don’t look all that trustworthy, and sit right next to the vegetable, used books, or pirated CDs/DVDs shacks around town. What they lack in professional appearance, they make up in convenience. The bill itself is interesting in that it can accrue for many months and this is not regarded as a problem. For example, when we arrived, there was six months of unpaid water bill for which we refused to pay, but after six months of it continuing to show up on the bill (despite paying for all the water we had used), and the land lord promising to pay for what we had not, I decided to just pay the durn thing off.

[I pay my water bill here]

If the utility is not prepayed, and they don’t send a messenger with the bill, then you are expected to go to their office to pay the bill, but how you know when, is beyond me. For example, when we first arrived at the Dade Street House, we had a working land line phone, but I couldn’t figure out how to pay for it, and then one day, it was disconnected. Turns out I should have gone to the Ghana Telecom and paid the previous tenants’ phone bill.
[Ghana post has beautiful stamps]

Different Editions
So this is a US quirky. I guess it shouldn’t be a big surprise, but Time Magazine puts out a different International edition than is distributed in the US. We only figured this out when the international version featured Ghana’s 50th on it, and the US edition didn’t. We kept mentioning it to people back in the states, and they didn’t see it. That Ghana was on the cover to Time was a big deal here, we thought “WOW, Time is really covering Ghana?!” but only later we realized it was only in the International version. The article about Ghana was great, but it didn’t come out in the US editions until a few weeks later.
[Guess which one is the US edition]

The Bats
Near our house is the 37 Hospital, why it is called that, I have no idea, but near the hospital there are bats, many bats, huge bats, and they hang from the huge trees, and when they are active, they fill the skies. Now you would think that with as many bats as there are, there wouldn't be a mosquitoe around. In fact I think they eat pretty well, especially around our house, where we see them flying, but no, there are still plenty, plenty mosquitoes.

So here is the legend about the bats. It seems that many years ago, an Asante Chief became sick and was sent to 37 Hospital for treatment. He came from the capital of the Asante Kingdom which was Kumasi, where there are many bats, and so some of these bats followed the Asante Chief to Accra. But the chief died, and the bats don't know the way home. So here they are waiting for the day the cheif will come out, and lead them home.
[Bats in a Tree]

Space to Space
When land lines were few, and mobile phones were just starting to become available, a new business popped up that opened this new connectivity, to everyone. It was called Space to Space. The name originally came from the first cell phone company, really radio phone service called SpaceFon, and worked off a particular broadcast radio frequency. The desktop phones were quite large, in fact today the derogatory name for them today is a “Key Soap phone,” because the receiver is so large, and about the same size as a bar of key soap. (Key soap is a popular brand of bar soap used to wash cloths, 3 inches square and sold by the inch).

[A Communication Center in Labone]
The earlier edition of this enterprise was called a “Communication Center,” which sprung up when Ghana Telecom’s land-line to mobile circuits became overloaded; so much so that connecting from land-line to mobile phone was almost impossible during the day. Soon people realized that mobile to mobile wasn’t overloaded, and thus the creation of the Communication Center, and later, Space to Space booths. Initially, Ghana Telecom responded to the circuit overloading by jacking up the cost of connecting from land line to mobile phone. So it made economic since to call someone from a Communication Center, and later space to space booth. The Communication Center was basically an enclosed space, often a container. It generally offered fax, and maybe a typing service, but today most of these enclosed centers have given way to the outside Space to Space booths. Usually it is a large umbrella, with a cloth banner hanging from it quoting the rates, a table under it, and a large desk phone sitting on the table. The phone is just for show, it doesn’t actually do anything, to connect the seller takes out a cell phone she has buried in a pouch around her neck, dials the number and hands you the phone, and writes the whole transaction in her book.

One time I was at a remote Methodist Church worship service, so remote that we had to drive several hours to get to it, and none of us had any reception on our cell phones, but this church was near the top of a hill, and wouldn’t you know it, right outside the church, was a space to space booth.

In addition to these Space to Space operating as a public pay phone (and putting Ghana Telecom’s payphone out of business), they also sell prepayed phone cards, and sachet water. Personally, it is hard to see how anyone could make any money doing this. I mean the sachet water sell for 3 cents, space to space 10 to 20 cents/minute, and phone cards have such a small mark-up, 50 cents on a $7 card. And the really funny thing is that it isn’t the owner sitting there in the hot sun all day. They hire it out. I once asked Laura, one of the sellers I often buy water and phone cards from, if this was her booth, and she laughed, “Oh, its not for me.” “So this is not your booth?” “It is not for me.”

[Laura’s Space 2 Space booth in action]