The Buchele Adventure

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

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ashesi’s New Campus at Brekuso, by Suzanne (photos by Steve, of course!)

Suzanne gives this  lecture hall's first lecture

The morning of the day that I flew back to the States, we went to see Ashesi University College’s new campus that is under construction in the village of Brekuso, north of Accra. As promised, the road there was VERY rough – the last leg of the journey, which might have been 10 minutes on a good road, stretched for 30 minutes due to the need to go 5 mph through some of the worst potholes.But on our approach we were able to get a nice view of the campus up on the hill above Brekuso.

Campus site as seen from the Village
We went with Casper, Ashesi’s chief facilities officer, and Ken, one of the Ashesi drivers. Casper is the main person in charge of the construction on the Ashesi end. In Ghana, construction is overseen by the architects themselves, who act also as the lead construction managers.

Reviewing the Campus Plans
Casper, AKA The Chief
The Ashesi campus at Brekuso is on a site of 100 acres overlooking the village of Brekuso, north of Accra. The views are beautiful, and I am told on a clear day you can see across to Aburi, another town north of Accra that houses several nice hotels, a Presidential retreat center, and a botanical garden. The altitude, winds, and distance from the city make the Ashesi site much cooler than the temporary quarters in Accra, which will be wonderful. Also, I am told that there are no mosquitoes – due either to the wind or altitude, who knows, but let’s all hope that they don’t get imported to the site by anyone!

Corn growing across the valley
The Village of Brekuso
Ashesi’s building project has two separate construction crews working, one on the main academic buildings and another on the dormitories. This was a result of “risk analysis”, or in layman’s terms, not putting all your eggs in one basket, so that if something goes wrong with one project, the other contractor could step in and finish it if need be. Thankfully, BOTH projects are ahead of schedule and show the signs of extremely high quality construction techniques at work. We were all impressed with the obvious safety standards in effect – all workers were required to have steel-toed boots and hardhats (we were issued hardhats on the way through the security checkpoint on the way in). There were signs all over the construction site with the safety rules in effect. We were not allowed in some areas due to possible safety hazards – protocols you see in America, but not so often in Africa. Anna also commented about how happy the workers seemed to be. Although everyone was working hard, there was pride and pleasure in work well-done evident in everyone’s attitude.
chalklining the next course of blocks

Worker smiles because I keep taking pictures of him, and his friends are making fun of him
The new campus is due to be complete ahead of schedule, by May 2010, at which point, hopefully, they will break ground on Phase 2. The current Phase 1 will accommodate 600 students with perhaps the addition of Economics and Liberal Studies majors (in addition to the current Computer Science, Business Administration, and Management Information Systems). The next set of majors to be added will hopefully be Engineering, which will require more facilities (most notably the labs needed for Engineering studies) and also more classrooms and dorms to bring the campus capacity closer to the final target of 2000 students.

Dr. B testing out the Lecture Hall
It was really thrilling to be able to see the construction at this stage. We missed the official ground breaking last August, which I was very sorry to miss, but frankly at that point it was little more than the raw land we had seen in 2007. Seeing the Brekuso campus in July 2010, there was the overwhelming feeling of, “Wow, this is really happening!” I pretended to lecture in one of the lecture halls, which Casper got a kick out of and Steve snapped photos of. There is even an outside lecture area, which I think is a grand idea and am hoping that Southwestern will include in their new Science building.

We saw the canteen, where Ashesi students, faculty, and staff will eat inside, but open air. Phase 1 has five classrooms, plus the outdoor one. The library is particularly impressive, and I am happy that Ashesi’s fantastic librarian, Nina, will have an equally impressive facility in which to operate.
The Library
Ashesi drilled a borehole at the bottom of the hill, with a pump to pump the water up to a holding tank at the uppermost point of the hill, which will then operate using gravity from there. The borehole (well) will not be able to fully supply all the needs of the campus. A rainwater collection system will collect water from the main academic building and shuttle the water via specialized rain gutters to holding tanks in the basement of the building. From there it will be pumped and used for the rest of the campus water needs.
The Well Pump
The well water, we learned, has a high content of iron, which will need to be filtered out of the water along the way. Up at the building site at the top of the hill, we saw the evidence of iron deposits in the beautiful stones that were unearthed during the building process and will be used to adorn the outside of the buildings’ walls, as accents. We brought some of the iron-laden rock home with us, so we could remember the Brekuso campus, and Ashesi, whenever we look at it.
Finished rock veneer 
Rock Pile
The campus will also have a biogas facility that will harvest gas from sewage for cooking. There was hope of using wind power at one point, but initial estimates were more than anyone could reasonably expect of fundraising efforts for it – wind power is not prevalent in Ghana, and with import duties and importing engineering expertise, it was just not possible. But, perhaps when Ashesi has its own engineering professors and students, a wind generator project could be started at that point!
Worker looking at the cistern that will hold rainwater
Status update: as many of you know, we helped fundraise for the specialized rain gutters for Ashesi’s new campus – thanks to ALL who so generously contributed to the fund! You all helped raise just over the full amount: $10,245.00 toward our goal of $10,000.00! So, thanks to you, our friends, we will have raised enough money for the specialized rain gutters for the academic building for Ashesi’s new campus! Thank you!!! And, for any of you for whom Ashesi’s mission has really resonated, they will be fundraising for Phase 2 of their building plan, so please continue to support Ashesi and their very worthy cause to help educate the next generation of leaders of Ghana – we will!
Bird we saw leaving the campus.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day 8 - Leaving Bolga

We had only intended to spend one night in Bolgatanga, but it turned out to be such an interesting town, we spent four, and wish we could spend more, but I have the pleasure of preaching at Asbury Dunwell Church on Sunday, so I need to get back to prepare.

Our last days are spent buying baskets, and saying good-bye to the friends we have made there, and visiting the historic Catholic Church in Navrongo.

[woman head-loading Elephant grass]

Straw Baskets make such great gifts, we’ve seen them for sale at Whole Foods, and in some of the upscale catalogs, but buying them at the market is so much more fun. Finding the basket market on Market Day is easy, just follow back the trail of basket laden bicycles…or ask, which we do, several times.

[baskets on bikes]

[baskets at Whole Foods, in Austin. Snapped right before we left]

Turns out the Basket Market is different than the Market Day market, which is more a live animal auction located next to what the Bradt guide map calls the “New Market.” The New Market sells most of the items you would expect in a major market town, plus a dizzying array of hides sold in thin strips at several vendors. I recognize the skins of lion, crocodile, snake, goat, dog (I’m guessing) and other skins I have no idea, maybe cat, rabbit, antelope? There are 100s, neatly laid out for the practitioners traditional medicine. Elsewhere I see tall mounds of the tanned goat skins that are the traditional dark red leather for wallets, bags, chairs, and floor pillows of the region. Like most markets there is also the place of “broni wa wo,” meaning dead white man’s clothes, but I’m sure they have another name for it, as broni is Twi, a language not spoken here much. We see a shirt from our hometown of Austin, from Hooters, and its signed. Ah! Couldn’t we have found something more honorable from Austin, like a Keep Austin Weird shirt or my favorite: Austin Texas: home of romance, live music, and road construction.

[Hooters shirt]

Then we walk past the animal market and see mostly goats and people leading goats away by bicycle, moto-bike, or stuffing them in the boot (trunk) of a taxi. People joke with us…”Don’t you want to buy a goat?” “Not today,” I say, which I find myself saying a lot. It is not correct to just refuse, or say, no. Street sellers will just continue to work on you, but say the magic words: “Not Today,” and they say “Ok…tomorrow then” and leave you alone.
[Animal Market – fence]

[Animal Market – barbed wire]

[Animal Market – man on bicycle with goat]

[Animal Market – goats]

We keep asking around around for the Basket Market until we are lead to it, which it turns out to be a place we had stumbled into our first day but didn’t know it. Basket sellers remember us from three days earlier first day, “My friend,” or “Mister Steve” they shout, and Anna and I examine their baskets, and after selecting a buyer, we spend maybe 30 minutes bartering for a fair price.

[room of baskets]

The Art of Barter

Bargaining is a social art, one that generally has little to do with price, and all about the game, and its relationship. Sure they want to make money, and will never sell at a loss.

The game begins by the seller offering a crazy high price, like 20 cedi a basket.

I offer 5 cedi. He laughs nervously, expecting me to counter with 50% of the starting price, not 25%. “Five cedi is no good.” There is 30 to 40 seconds when neither of us speak as he fingers the product, expecting me to break the silence and raise my bid. I've learned to say nothing. After a minute I motion to him, open handed, inviting him to respond. His counter is critical because whatever he counters with, I will match from my starting price, and from this point it almost always goes for halfway between our second bids, so it is important to not counter too high.

[they also sell hats, but it is hard to take someone serious when wearing a hat like that]

Next he will say 18, and I say 7, and in a few moments we will have pretty much established that the final price will be 10, which I could have offered as my opening bid, but then we would be settling on more like 15. If the haggling stalls, the seller will quickly put the item in a black plastic bag, and push it into my hand saying “you take” and name the price we’re stuck on, in this case 12 cedi. Usually then something distracting happens, like another seller butting in at this point, or the seller disappearing for a few minutes. I think this is purposeful as it is to seal the deal.

I can try to hand the bag back, but he will refuse it. Setting the bag down is an insult, so I’m left holding the bag, and he makes it sound like we have agreed on his price. I have a choice, I can hand it back, name my price, and once he accepts the bag back, I know he will take my price if I start to walk away. Then he gets all quiet on my, whispering in a low voice, like I’m getting such a good deal, he doesn’t want anyone else to know. “Ok, you take.” Now the key here is to have exact change, because it is poor form to work down the price, and then expect change. The game of barter is that my buying price is supposed to be all I have, and even if we agree on a price, if I don't have exact change, the change will come back a cedi or two short, which seems to be the price of asking for change. [read more about getting change from our friend Nina – click here].

So I felt pretty good about our purchases until I got back to Accra and learned (from our intern-daughter Natalie) I could have gotten them for half that, if I’d gone to the village and bought direct.

The Navrongo Cathedral

[outside, side view]

[outside, front view]

Then we visited the Navrongo Cathedral, the place Nina, our Ashesi friend had told Suzanne about. The town is a bit of an anomaly, predominately Catholic while the surrounding area is Muslim. It seem that in 1906 French-Canadian missionaries established a Catholic mission station by the name of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows. In 1920 a new larger chapel, was built and later dedicated as a cathedral in 1934 and as not only the It is the last of the mud cathedral in Ghana, but the Mother Parish of all the parishes in Northern Ghana.

[inside Altar]

[inside rear]

[wooden pews]

[remember your baptism]

The Cathedral is impressive, painted in the traditional geometric patterns and scenes from everyday life. Its the kind of place that is hard to photograph and still preserve the sanctity of the place.

[geometric side isle]

[bishop's hat]


[Angel with cup]

[A blue door leading outside (for Kaylenn)]

We leave for Austin the next morning, taking an STC...finally, but should have been 14 hours turns into 20 as it kept overheating and the driver stopped to let the engine cool and fill the radiator with water and leak stop. 

Near Techiman we stop for an hour and they are selling tomatoes that have been picked that day, whole boxes of them perhaps 3.5 ft square. I go to make friends with the seller and learn a box is 15 cedi and they are headed to Tamale. “Do you want?” he asks. “Can you put on STC?” I counter. “Somehow,” he shakes his head, all sad looking, and I say “Next time then,” and he says “By all means.”

“Somehow,” or “By all means” are two ways of saying no or not likely without really saying it. Like the young men who will say to me “Your daughter, will she be my wife?” to which I reply “by all means.”

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 7 - Bongo Rock

We had planned to just spend a day or so in Bloga, but it is a nice town, and the Sacred Heart Catholic Guest House is simple, but comfortable and so we stay for what turns into four days. After the adventure with the Crocodiles, Anna decided to visit Bongo Rock, via shared Taxi. A few days earlier I had thought that five was the passenger max, but today the driver crammed seven into his tiny TICA but 60 p, I can hardly complain, about .45 cents.

Bongo is a village just north of Bolga. There is not much to the town, and given the directions we got from the kid from New York who spoke to us on the ride out there, we walk out of town toward the big rocks. It always amazes me to think about what we are doing, walking outside a town we've never been to, toward a place we have only vague directions toward, in the very north of Ghana, West Africa. We've been here long enough for this to seem pretty normal, but then I think about what we're doing and I can't believe it.

We get maybe 10 minutes out of town and a man coming from the other direction asks “Where are you going?” He decides he will lead us, and along the way he calls out for 3 or 4 others join in. There is no discussion of money, but I know at the end I'll dash him some small thing for his efforts. This always seems to happen and I see it as more a hospitality than hustle, and so I'm OK with it because I know we'll get a much better tour if the guy leading us knows where to take us. He asks if we want to see the Traditional or Christian site. We keep saying Traditional and he keeps asking until we say Christian, and then we go there.

The landscape here is very different, the grass is green, clipped short by the goats, who are tied up, not and wondering around. We walk besides fields of maize (corn), and millet, past plots of groundnuts (peanuts), cassava, and okra. But do not see the banana, mango or papaya trees, but find terraced farming here, and lush fields surrounding the terraces.

The Christian site has 4 steel pipe crosses along the path to the top. We gather that the Catholics come out here and if there were a few more crosses, I imagine Holy Week and reenacting the stations of the cross [click here]. It is a challenging climb, one I wonder how many times these boys will do today. They ask about Anna, and watch her very carefully. Its a rough climb, and when I'm losing my breath, I pause to take pictures, sometimes I actually use the camera.

We had been warned about the last step, how it is a leap of faith, but worth the risk. In other words it looks more dangerous than it actually is. How will I know? I had asked the college kid in the Taxi who had been to the rock earlier. “Oh you'll know,” he said. We when we got to the place, we saw a panoramic view of all the north of Ghana into Burkina Faso, breath taking. We could see the different villages and extended family compounds, not that different than flying over the Midwest with the farmsteads that dot the landscape. But to get an even better view, one has to jump across the crevasse to the large rock that looked beyond the trees. Oh, so this is what he had been talking about. The body looks at what the eyes can see and says, better not jump. The mind say, says you can do it, overcome your fear…jump. Its not as far as it looks. The body is skeptical, imagining all the scenarios where it doesn’t make it; the mind say go for it, you’ll be fine.

All day I’ve been thinking about our ride up to Bolga from Tamale. We took one of those long-haul TroTros, the really large ones that seat five across, seven rows deep, and are usually top loaded with bundles of cargo and goats. National Geographic stuff. Sitting this compact, my ears are inches from the two Peace Corps girls behind who talk as if I were not there. I can’t even turn around we are so stuffed in here. They catch up on each other’s lives, discussing everyone in the program and who they are currently “with”. I can’t avoid listening; they talk non-stop for three hours. One boy they talk about extensively, “like when you’re talking with him, he looks all thoughtful, and he gets that like far off look, like he’s thinking deeply about what you are saying…” the other jumps in, “but he’s not” she says. “There is like nothing going on inside.” I’m sure I’ve dropped a couple hundred usages of the word like. These women are such verbal processors, but their words burn in my ears. Am I like that? What would they say about me if they knew me? For three hours I hear them analyze their friends and colleagues, and that boy. “He’s passionate about nothing,” they say. Not that he isn’t passionate, its just that his passion does not have an object. Its talk without action, music without expression, art that can’t evoke an emotion. Passionate about nothingness except looking or feeling passionate. I think about myself, my situation, and wonder what makes me come alive, or back to my current situation, what would I jump across the crevasse to do, ignoring the danger of possible failure?

Someone once said “Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” [Howard Thurman] So have been compiling my list of things that make me come alive, and it seems like such a shallow one, but what would be worse I think, is to lie about one’s own list of passions. So in no particular order this is my list: cooking/food, worship and Ghana.

Cooking - I’ll spend all day, or two cooking a meal, or learning a dish from someone. It is perhaps my most favorite thing to do these days; in fact I get cranky if I don’t spend some time in the kitchen every few days. I was like this growing up too. Once in junior high I remember visiting my Uncle Joe’s farm in Kansas, and making them pizza with my mom. I’ve cooked in most of my friend’s kitchens at one point or another. I love the communal aspect of food, and deeply appreciate that about aspect of the Ghanaian culture. That, except for one dish called “Face the Wall,” one would never think about eating alone here. Food is community, and by definition, something shared. For me its one of the hardest adjustments to life back in the states, how lonely lunch or dinner time can be because people are too busy to stop what they are doing to share a meal, or worse, rushing through it so they can do the next thing; eating with out tasting it. When Suzanne asked what I wanted to do for my 50th birthday, it was inviting friends over and cooking a fabulous meal with them and then sharing it.

Worship - I’m not just saying that because I’m a pastor, and should include something religious on my list (how sad would that be?) I do love worship, I love planning it, attending passionate worship services, feeling the playful love that goes into the service when everything works together, the danger when someone calls an auditable. I love being lost in the experience, as the work of worship helps me approaching the divine. This work can’t be measured by minutes, but only what that experience does, where it takes you. I love a well structured sermon, singing hymns I’ve never sung, connecting words of the hymns with the message, being lead by a talented lead worshipper, or listening to the perfect song following a sermon, like a good cup of coffee after dessert. I love that feeling after the benediction when I feel changed, encouraged, or challenged. I love it on Wednesday when my mind is still working through a “some assembly required” aspect of the sermon, or when I’m wondering years from now, about a particular point or story I heard.

Ghana – I wanted to say Africa, but this continent is huge and diverse, and Africa is already so trendy these days. When I say it, Ghana doesn’t feel like a large enough passion, but it’s a newly discovered one, one I cannot fully articulate. I just know I love being here, and when I’m not, then talking about life here. I like the person I am here. I like the work Suzanne is doing here. I like traveling here, even when it is difficult and things don’t go our way or are dangerous. We’ve learned we prefer the TroTros over the big bus, or the air conditioned vans, or the fast cars or dropping taxis. Its not about the expense, or the planning, it just is simpler and more interesting. I mean an air conditioned van should be nicer, but what about when the guy sitting next to you for three hours is from one of those formerly French colonies, where deodorant is not widely used. In an open air Tro, no problem. In a closed air conditioned van, big problem. I see so many people doing such good work here, and the work Suzanne is doing is leading toward deeper change. It isn’t in an orphanage, or building a church, its preparing Africans to problem solve Africa’s problems, the African way, and it feels like we are connected to something so much bigger than ourselves, something worthy of being the object of our passion, of taking that leap and we both feel so alive.

Back on the Christian Rock site near the Bongo, I wonder if I'm over thinking this whole leap to the next rock and while I am, I watch Anna mountain goat across it with ease. It is worth it I hear from her, and when I’m finally there, we can see far enough to actually see the curvature of the earth.

Then its off to Bongo Rock. It’s the kind of place one wonders how they discovered it. Basically, just a big rock just balanced on a few smaller ones, but when you strike the smaller rocks they sound like a tuned drum, a bongo, and these four guys that have been moving with us all take up stations around the different rocks and start banging on them.

I had noticed them picking up hand sized rocks earlier. There is a rhythm to it, a song of tones, and these guys bang it out. After the concert Anna and I take our turn, and then everyone just rests. We relax in the shade of the rock; the wind blows, our sweat soaked shirts dry, the view is amazing, and we just rest, thankful to be here. Then as if something had happened, it is time to head back. Its an easy walk back to the village.  We see this perfectly white lamp sitting on a rock. Then its a dash to our guides and back in the shared taxi to Bolga (this time just four of us).

Back in Bolga its time for Sugar Cane, and Anna finds a seller and we take it back to the hotel. I remember this treat from when I was a child here, and watching her chew on it, it is a shared memory.